Omar Faruq and the flag of Bangladesh

By Lt. Col. (Retd.) Quazi Sajjad Ali Zahir on 8 December 2012

The writer is a Bir Protik, retired military officer, freedom fighter, recipient of Swadhinata Padak and researcher on the Liberation War

Article courtesy: The Daily Star (Bangladesh)

Omar Faruq was born on March 12, 1950, in Pirojpur. He was the son of Sayedur Rahman Sharif and Kulsum Begum.

Omar was attracted to politics from the time he was a school boy. In 1966 Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman came to Pirojpur to address a public meeting in the Pirojpur town hall maidan. The meeting was aimed at rallying public opinion in favour of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's six-point demand. Moved by Bangabandhu's emotionally-charged speech, young Omar Faruq made a decision to participate in the six-point programme and joined the Chattra League. By the end of 1967, Omar Faruq had become the leader of Pirojpur sub-division Chattra League. On March 23, 1971, he hoisted the flag of Bangladesh in the Shaheed Minar, adjacent to the town hall of Pirojpur; attended by a huge crowd who were cheering the rising flag.

In a meeting of the All Party Students Front of Pirojpur on April 24, 1971, Omar suggested a plan to resist the Pakistan army in case they advanced towards Pirojpur. On March 26, 1971, after receiving the news of massacre in Dhaka and other parts of the country, the people of Pirojpur took out four revolvers, one hundred .303 rifles and 8,000 rounds of ammunition from the government armory and began preparing for the defence of Pirojpur. Faruq along with other newly formed group of freedom fighters took up position in and around the Pirojpur area. The Pakistan army attacked Pirojpur on April 30, and was able to take control of the town by May 3. Even though the freedom fighters resisted fiercely, they were outnumbered and out gunned. Freedom fighters started withdrawing from the town area and Faruq was cut off from his group and went into hiding. On May 29, 1971, he decided to move to India for joining the resistance training there. He boarded a launch but a non-Bengalee policeman named Hanif who was working in the Pirojpur police station identified him. Faruq was taken to the army camp in Barisal where he was tortured when the army realised he was the first to raise the flag of Bangladesh in Pirojpur, and was a member of the Pirojpur resistance.

The Pakistan army then decided to make an example of Omar. Weakened and damaged by torture and the beatings, he was dragged in front of the public, where they cut a portion of his skull and inserted the flag of Bangladesh. As he lay dying, the army taunted him by saying: “You may now shout the slogan of Joy Bangla.” When he died, his body was hung on a tree for several days for the people to see.

In January 1973, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman came to Pirojpur and addressed the people in the same town hall maidan where he had held the public rally in 1966. He spoke at length about the killings of the Bengali population by the Pakistani military, and he made a special mention of Omar Faruq who was killed so brutally for raising the flag of independent Bangladesh.

The brutal killing of Omar Faruq is unfortunately only one example of the thousands of Bangladeshis who were tortured and killed by the Pakistan army. It is a horrific reminder of how the army would go to any inhumane length to intimidate and defeat the spirit of independence of 1971.

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The victims of Halderpur village

By Lt. Col. (Retd.) Quazi Sajjad Ali Zahir on 12 May 2012

The writer is a Bir Protik, retired military officer, freedom fighter, recipient of Swadhinata Padak and researcher on the Liberation War

Article courtesy: The Daily Star (Bangladesh)

Halderpur is a small village in Hobiganj. It is located under No. 7 Boroiuri union of Baniachong police station. In 1971, it was the site of an aggressive Pakistani air attack that claimed the lives of many innocent lives. This is their story.

On April 13, 1971, Halderpur was in the midst of preparations for a wedding ceremony. The bride Anowara Begum was 21 years old. She was born and brought up in London. While in London, her marriage was arranged to 26 year old Dewan Shahid Mia from Khusharhagaira, a village seven miles south of Halderpur. Dewan Shahid Mia was a teacher in the local Maktab (Islamic religious school). A celebratory atmosphere shrouded Halderpur that day. After a sumptuous lunch of Biriani and Rezala followed by sweets, the bride's family arranged for a stick-fight which is a very popular sport in the area. The field was full of people who were enjoying the exciting game.

A few minutes after the game started, a fighter air craft of Pakistan air force flew low over the field. The air craft circled the field twice and then flew away. The villagers although curious, thought it was only a military exercise and did not reflect further on it.

On April 19, at 2 p.m., two Pakistani air crafts (Saber Jets) were seen flying low in the eastern sky at a high speed. People came out of their homes to see what the commotion was about. The air crafts turned around and once over the village, began firing rockets and shooting with machineguns. In a matter of seconds, rockets blasted through the village and fire broke out. The entire village was almost razed to the ground. Dead bodies were littered everywhere. Panicked and confused villagers carried the wounded to the Thana Health Complex for emergency medical assistance.

On April 19, 1971, eleven innocent villagers were killed and thirtytwo were wounded. The dead have been identified as follows:

    1. Angura Khatun, 15 year old (a student of Maktab, daughter of Abdul Make)
    2. Mokbulunnesa, 40 year old (housewife, wife of Fazar Uddin)
    3. Amena Khatun, 10 year old (a student of primary school, daughter of Fazar Uddin)
    4. Angura Begum, 10 year old (a student of primary school, daughter of Ayub Uddin who was a retired police constable in East Pakistan)
    5. Shonar Ma, 40 year old (housewife, wife of Ayub Uddin)
    6. Shajal Mia, 14 year old (farmer, daughter of Sifat Ullah)
    7. Porchan Bibi, 16 year old (a student, daughter of Tamij Uddin)
    8. Kamalar Ma, 65 years old (housewife who came from Nabiganj to attend the marriage ceremony)
    9. Taiyab Jaan Bibi, 65 years old (housewife)
    10. Lal Bibi, 41 years old (housewife, wife of Late Alam Ullah)
    11. Bashanti Rani Shukra Vaidya, 42 years old

Manohar Mia of the village lost five members of his family. He was severely wounded and still carries the scars of the wounds he received that fateful day. The villagers of Halderpur could not understand why on April 19, 1971, their village was attacked by the Pakistan military. Some felt that because of the stick-fight the air craft pilots thought that it was a training field of freedom fighters. The villagers did reflect on the fact that the Pakistan military must have later realized that they had conducted the massacre without reason. But there was never any acknowledgement or apology for the massacre that day. A few months later, at a dinner in the air force mess in Dhaka, an air force pilot of Pakistan air force told his fellow officers that after he carried out an aerial campaign in Halderpur, he realized it was an unnecessary attack on innocent villagers. When asked by one of his colleagues, Captain Nadir Ali, whether he knew of the damage done to the people of Halderpur, he responded, “Only Bengalis were killed, so what why do we have to care.”

Till today no monument for the martyrs has been built in the village in that place of occurrence and no effort has been taken to preserve the graves.

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A king's kingly fight

By Gazi Mohammed Tauhiduzzaman on 16 December 2013

The writer works at Army Headquarters, Dhaka Cantonment

Article courtesy: The Daily Star (Bangladesh)

The Liberation War of Bangladesh was truly a people's war. People from all walks of life irrespective of their politico-economic, ethno-cultural and socio-religious identity spontaneously joined the war to achieve a common mission. The grand triumph of 1971 was the result of a tremendous synergy produced by great heroes of this soil. There were a few collaborators too who were active in hatching machination against the liberation of Bangladesh. Many tribal people of Bangladesh had also contributed gloriously for our independence. The aspiration of emancipation from every oppression and disparity compelled them to fight against the aggression of Pakistan Army. Mong King Mompru Sain was one of the great heroes of the Liberation War. His kingly contribution war had positive effect in the struggle for emancipation.

On being terrified by the heinous atrocities of the Pakistani attackers that started from the dead night of 25 March 1971 many people had to leave their homes for safe asylum. The fear of war left thousands of people internally displaced and they were forced to move to the countryside for their safety. By the first week of April 1971 Pakistani troops took control of the Chittagong city and started looting, killing and conduct of other heinous crimes in the city. To escape from death and humiliation many people from the city left for hill tracts. Mong Raja Mompru Sain was moved and touched by the plight of these fleeing people. He provided shelter to the distressed people knowing full well that his sympathetic action might create wrath of the Pakistani marauding army. Kindness of the Raja overtook all the possible threats and challenges. Emboldened by humanity and stimulated by patriotism he defied all the risks. Raja opened up his granary and exhausted it to feed the refugees who took shelter in his palace. Affected by the horror of the ravaging war, many traumatic people were mentally and physically shattered and suffered from various ailments. Moreover the exhaustion of the haunted journey had terrible effect on those asylum seekers. In those distressful days the Raja established a hospital to ameliorate the sufferings of people. The queen and womenfolk of his tribe on being encouraged by Raja also joined this noble effort and devotedly treated many ailing patients. Their nursing was immensely helpful and appreciable.

Raja Mompru Sain was an ardent supporter of Liberation War of Bangladesh. To thwart the possible Pakistani attack in Khagrachari area he along with his followers joined the efforts of East Bengal Regiment, East Pakistan Rifle and young patriots in developing a defence in the hill tracts. At the initial phase of war the freedom fighters did not have enough supply of arms and ammunition to resist for long against the attacking forces. To augment their military capability he opened his own armory and gave 33 rifles to the freedom fighters. He also donated his private car and jeep to the Mukti Bahini to ease up their communication and movement. Many people of his region on being encouraged by the Raja joined the Liberation War. Infuriated, Pakistani Army engaged armed Mizo cadres to eliminate this audacious Raja for his all out support to the Mukti Bahini.

On 27 April 1971 Pakistan Army launched attack in Mahalchari to rout the defence taken by Mukti Bahini. They started pounding the area mercilessly. Because of such ruthlessness, the defence of Muki Bahini in this area became untenable. At this juncture they decided to abandon their defence for tactical reasons. Raja Monpru Sain finding the situation extremely unfavourable left his palace along with his family and took shelter in Rupaichari Camp, India. After the abandonment of the palace Pakistani Army and their collaborators established their camp there in the palace. The unexpected departure from own circle could not sap the unflinching determination of the Raja. Immediately after reaching India Raja established close contact with the Bangladeshi training camp established at Harina, India and involved himself in training young enthusiasts on guerrilla war. He extended his efforts for the recruitment of the guerrillas. He also contacted Indian Boarder Security Force and confirmed their military assistance in favour of freedom fighters of Bangladesh. He, in a radio talk in BBC, called upon the people of the world to extend their support for the liberation of Bangladesh.

While other two Rajas of Chakma circle and Bomang circle collaborated with the Pakistan Army side and acted against the interest of Bangladesh during the Liberation War, it was only the Mong king Mompru Sain who at one stage physically joined the war which had positive effect on the Mukti Bahini. He also played important role in organising the guerrillas in youth camp. The dauntless Raja alongside other freedom fighters carried out many minor operations inside Bangladesh against enemy troops. In the final offensive he entered into Bangladesh with the allied force and participated in Bhairob and Ashugonj operations. Fighting the enemy courageously he could advance up to Dhaka on December 17, 1971 and relished the victory of allied forces. This hero was awarded with honorary ranks of colonel during war for his courageous contribution in the Liberation War. After the war the king went back to his palace which was looted, destroyed and burnt by Pakistani troops. The Raja practically found nothing in his palace after the liberation as the wrath of Pakistani troops badly destroyed his palace and their gluttonous stomach ate up everything.

Mong Raja Mompru Sain contributed enormously to the Liberation War of Bangladesh. He not only opened his treasury to help the refugees who took shelter in his palace but also mobilised, encouraged and organised tribal people of his circle to join the Liberation War. Being an expert shooter he utilised his skill through imparting training to the freedom fighters. The Raja is a brave hero of our Liberation War as well as a great source of inspiration for the young generation to be imbued with the true ethos and values of our Liberation War. His kindness, efforts, patriotic zeal and courage all are exemplary to us. He is a great son of Bangladesh and we are all proud of such a great Raja. Raja Mompru Sain will live in the hearts of people forever for his glorious contribution and sacrifices. Such a great hero of our liberation is yet to be formally rewarded. His enormous contribution needs official recognition that will otherwise encourage future generations to make sacrifice during the crisis of the nation.

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Sonia Amin: Remembering 1971

By Sonia Amin on 26 March 2013

The writer is Professor, Department of History, University of Dhaka

Article courtesy: The Daily Star (Bangladesh)

It has become difficult now to descend directly down the slope of memory and write about '71, without the events unfolding all around us - casting shadows that twine in and out and toss our souls in different directions - deflecting our single minded gaze. But one has to start at the beginning.

I was a teenager at the time, on the threshold of a university education. My father, a civil servant had,I remember vaguely, brought in a pamphlet titled The Six Points and spoke in hushed but admiring tones about it. He came back from the Race Course on March 7, all the way on foot, but strangely rejuvenated. Looking back now, with all the political wisdom (!) I have gathered over the years, I should have insisted that he take me along.

Then the night of March 25. We were awakened by the sound of screams that rent the night as if doomsday were at hand. From the northern window of our house in Lalmatia on the edge of Mohammadpur, we could see what appeared to be thousands of flares in the sky. We could not tell where the screams were coming from or remember how the night passed into day; some of us spent the hours on prayer mats, while some were just speechless. The next morning an army jeep did the rounds in our neighbourhood (a predominantly non- Bengali i.e. Bihari one) and asked us to bring the 'Joi Bangla' flag down from our roof top. We lived very close to the Physical Education Centre, Mohammadpur, which, I was to realise years later, served as the torture camp for many Bengali intellectuals.

One day after curfew was lifted, I heard our caretaker whispering something to my father about the area not being safe for a family with two young daughters, and thus started our nomadic existence, moving from house to house in various neighbourhoods in Dhaka. I remember the caretaker burying the family valuables - jewellery, land deeds and such stuff beneath the soil in our compound; while we hurriedly threw in clothes into a bag and took off to live at relatives' and friends' houses further and further away from the residence in Mohammadpur.

We migrated to my aunt's place in Dhanmadi first. She was quite a lady, active member of a women's organisation and not one to sit back and meditate while a city burned. I saw her taking off when curfew broke for a few hours, and come back white faced after roaming through what must have been a deserted city. I remember her whisper hoarsely as she stared into vacant space "I have seen the great cremation ground."

We had to change houses quite often. Sometime around May, my uncle Jamil Chowdhury a pro- Bengali civil servant, took off for Calcutta. So did several cousins and my sister- all cultural activists who had been active in the anti-Ayub and anti-Yahya movements. Singing songs of resistance: Janatar sangram cholbei, Joi Bangla Banglar joi, Phul khelbar din noi odyo, Banglar Hindu, Banglar Bouddho, Banglar Christan, Banglar Musulman, and so on. I was left behind with my parents, marooned, it seemed, on a desert island while life was being fought and lived elsewhere. Not to be out-done however, I was on the look out for an opportunity which came my way soon when I overheard another group of activists, mostly from the university based cultural organisation Sangskriti Sangsad, planning a 'trip' to Calcutta at a clandestine meeting at my cousin's house . I used all the energy and wiles available to a teenager to convince my parents to let me accompany them across the border to India, to participate in or witness the great struggle in whatever manner I was capable of. Perhaps my parents were not too reluctant to let me go (with a family we knew very well), considering one of their daughters was already a 'marked' cultural activist, although safely across the border now.

Our journey to India was an adventure. We had to get passes from some member of a shanti committee in Dhaka, don burquas for a 'trip to a holy shrine', drive through Daudkandi to Comilla, take a boat there, then walk the rest of the way to Agartala. Once in Agartala, we joined the family of an Awami League MP, who were fleeing from Dhaka. Though we slept huddled on the bare floor, and used an adjoining copse as a toilet, the air we breathed in felt pure and free. My heart went out to those we had left behind in 'occupied' Dhaka- even though all we had were a few clothes, a small amount of money and our immense sense of determination, pride and adventure.

We took a plane to Calcutta, destination of the pro-Bengali politicians, cultural activists and intellectuals who had fled the wrath of the Pakistani regime. Calcutta - which welcomed us with open arms and served as a haven for the influx from Bangladesh with generosity and patience- I wonder if I ever took a moment off to thank the city in a silent salute? A city where so many of our relatives and friends had taken refuge.

I put up at various places: at a maternal uncle's house (Professor of Presidency College, A W Mahmood ) where my paternal uncle and sister were already sheltered; a family friends' rooms in Sudder Street - a place rented by the late Mr Aminur Rahman, chief pilot to the government of East Pakistan who had defected and fled; at Khelaghar in Kalyani, the children's home set up by Ms Maitreyi Devi. Finally, I found a niche in Calcutta and my little role in the War of Liberation by joining a group of other young men and women in a small two-roomed office at Netaji Bhaban, in what would become the Bangladesh Information Bank- a centre engaged in archiving each day all newspaper and journal entries on the War of Liberation. About twelve of us student-emigres, worked from 8.00-5.00 under the guidance of Mr. Jamil Chowdhury at a salary (paid by the Government- in -exile of Bangladesh) of Rs. 150 a month.

There were rumours of some Bangladeshis in the upper echeleons, living it up ( and rumours were then as always, a dime a dozen) at some place called The Blue Fox. The likes of us were quite content with our 1 Rupee luchi/ghughni breakfast from the vendor each morning and the ocasional evening at Victoria Memorial Ground munching peanuts and savouring an ice cream. Truly we felt fortunate and rich, even though our meagre savings were dwindling by the day. Perhaps it was the magical, ridiculous, enviable hopefulness of youth- we were not down and under for long. Some of us were lucky in that they had their families with them; but many of us never missed the finer amenities we had been used to as members of a middle class in Dhaka for we knew there were millions less fortunate than we in the refugee camps not too far. 'Luchi-ghugni' from the street vendor sufficed though a few among us did end up with jaundice. We did fall terribly sick at times but I am amazed now at our resilience. And always our ears would prick up at news from the war front. We tuned in to Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra on rickety radios, pounced on anyone who came from the battle zones and tried to piece together a comprehensive picture of how the fate of Bangladesh would be decided by the guerillas, muktijoddhas; and the Russo-Indian axis.

And so the days were on. The December 6, the day the government of India granted Bangladesh recognition, was greeted with jubilation at our little office. It seemed things were 'moving'. The director knew Suchitra Mitra well and she came over and sang for us and joined our simple celebration in the yard of the Netaji Bhaban. We pooled some money, bought jilabis, distributed them, and gathered in the back yard. But sadly I cannot recall the songs, the legendary singer sang for us!

We heard the news of the surrender on December 16 at my uncle's place as it was a Sunday. We had gathered for our weekly adda. My uncle Jamil Chowdhury also knew Argyha Sen and we picked him up right away, hired a taxi and rode through the streets of Calcutta all night unable and unwilling to sleep.

Our waiting had ended. Then it hit us: how lonely we had been, how afraid, how homesick and uncertain of what the future held. Like so much flotsam adrift in an uncharted sea. Soon we headed back to the land where a green field waited for us with a red sun and a golden map etched on it.

Forty two years later when I stood at Projonmo Chottor this February holding a candle on the night of the vigil, my eyes must have misted over a bit in remembrance of those days spent in rooms without electricity, lit by a candle on account of the war time blackout. But the unforgettable moment was provided by the night a friend led me by the hand to show me, the simple, inner most circle on the street where the 'core group' of Bloggers and Online Activists, had taken their stand. I could not make out anything in the dark save myriad human forms; but as my gaze strayed upwards, it was transfixed by a huge flag of red and green, swaying in the night sky, creating a canopy over the group that had launched the movement. It was swaying in the breeze gently. The lights from surrounding buildings and the stars, filtered through it, making it gauze-like, translucent. It was only a flag, a rectangular piece of red and green cloth. But for one surreal moment it seemed that 'Basundhara' - the spirit of mother Earth had risen from the fields and forests to shower her blessings on her sleepless children.

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