Published:  12:25 AM, 26 March 2020

The sinister night and after

Junaidul Haque

The night of March 25, 1971 is the most tragic of our history. Its tale is the saddest of our history. Fierce animals in the form of Pakistani soldiers acted under the orders of the ruthless General Tikka Khan and jumped on the sleeping citizens of Dhaka. Nearly twenty five thousand people were killed in only a few hours of military operation.

The Pakistanis would not hand over power to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib's elected government but would rule us by brutal force.

Bengalee soldiers, policemen, political workers, students, teachers, sleeping rickshawallahs, street people, slum dwellers - none were spared. Even the girls of Rokeya Hall were mortared to death. Our best minds of the Dhaka University were killed like insects.

I personally feel that the genocide of March 25, 1971 dug the grave of Pakistan. The people of Bangladesh then plunged into their war of freedom with full might. They did not hesitate for a second. The great crime of killing thousands of innocent Bangladeshis couldn't go unpunished.

The undisputed leader of the Bangladeshis, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, did not leave his residence but asked his associates to go into hiding. He courted arrest to save Dhaka from total destruction. His close associates formed the Bangladesh government in Mujibnagar on April 17, 1971 and successfully led the liberation war.

Our people were so united and determined that we never had any doubt that we would be free. I remember with pride that on hearing the news of formation of the Bangladesh government over the Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra, even school kids like us jumped in glee, filling the ether of our village with spontaneous cries of 'Joy Bangla'.

Yes, I was a schoolboy in his mid-teens in 1971, tall and slim. The word 'slim' sounds so sweet because these days I am nearly two hundred pounds. I had a teenager's sensitive mind which was restless with thoughts of the country's future. Our school in old Dhaka was closed in March and I would remain glued to newspapers. I used to walk aimlessly and worriedly a lot during those days. I would go to the Paltan Maidan and the stadium. I would try to collect news and understand what was going on.

On the day Yahya Khan announced the postponement of the National Assembly session, I was watching the cricket match between the Commonwealth XI and Pakistan. Within moments part of the western gallery was put on fire, the match was postponed and Dhaka city was seething with anger. Along with others I jumped from the students' corner of the single-storied eastern gallery and gazed admiringly at the human sea of Gulistan.

They were giving full-throated slogans: 'Joy Bangla', 'Prepare bamboo sticks/Make Bangladesh free' and 'Our thikana is Padma-Meghna-Jamuna'. Our national unity then was the best of our history and its chief architect was none other than Bangabandhu. The widely respected Maulana Bhashani stood behind him like a solid rock. From March 1 Bangladesh was being run by Bangabandhu. The Pakistan government had no control over East Bengal.   

I have vivid memories of March 25, 1971. I was walking through the Nawabpur Road at around noon, sad and thoughtful. Will Mujib-Yahya talks end positively for us? I saw Nabi Chowdhury on his Vespa. The handsome former captain of the Pakistan football team was a DSP then and was in his late thirties. He looked worried. He was telling passers-by to go home and remain careful. He was not sure what was going to happen that night.

He told me the same, smiled wryly and added that the Pakistanis were most angry with the young people of Bangladesh, mainly the students. I am sure he had no clear idea of the fierce attack that the Pakistanis would launch on the Rajarbag policemen that midnight. Nabi Chowdhury died a few years back at the age of seventy. Whenever I think of March 25, 1971 I remember him and his warning.

I go to my school in the afternoon and meet my friends. We don't play. We speculate about our future. I read a little in the evening, have an early supper and go to sleep. I miss the massive machine gun firing and the mortar shelling after midnight. My parents were awake.

They let me sleep, thinking that I would get panicky. My six-year-old brother and two-year-old sister slept too. But my parents had a sleepless night, trying to understand what was going on. At dawn all of us were awake. We were trying to grasp the magnitude of the genocide. I remember one small incident very clearly.

Through the window of my room I saw dozens of crows, sitting on the electric wires and shivering like anything in terrible fear. Shivering in the warmth of March! The genocide was unprecedented in their eyes too. I have never seen trembling crows before or after March 26, 1971. That morning was certainly the saddest in our history.

We understood that it was a military crackdown and that Mujib-Yahya talks had failed. We had guessed that the Pakistanis were killing time but we were not ready for a treachery of this magnitude.

There were rumours galore. Neighbours gathered and talked in fear and worry. Is Bangabandhu alive? Are our fearless student leaders alive? News of the ruthless Shakhari Bazar killings reached us and made us sad. I heard a bragging Yahya Khan speak. Sheikh Mujib wanted to break up Pakistan and this 'crime' deserved punishment.

My young limbs trembled in anger and hatred. Who was the criminal? Who was to face punishment? I suddenly had a clear vision that Pakistan was going to get truncated. Independent Bangladesh would emerge. And the wining and womanizing general would be dumped in the dustbin of history.

Bangladesh overcame great suffering and emerged gloriously as an independent nation on December 16, 1971. Bangabandhu's inspirational leadership, his associates' political wisdom, the great sacrifice of the freedom fighters and the help of the Indian people and government will be long remembered by our people with gratitude.

Unfortunately our youngsters don't get to learn the true history of our liberation war from their text books. So I shall follow popular writer Muhammad Zafar Iqbal and urge my readers to read the correct history of our liberation war from other reliable sources. Why not read our war literature?

The swadhinata poems of Shamsur Rahman in his Bondi Shibir Thekey, the brilliant novels of Syed Shamsul Huq (he wrote profusely and with great commitment on our freedom struggle), the stories of Hasan Azizul Huq, Rahat Khan, Akhteruzzaman Elius, Mahmudul Huq and even the popular stories of Humayun Ahmed and Zafar Iqbal. We can read the plays of Syed Shamsul Huq and Selim Al Din. The brilliant memoirs of Justice Abu Saeed Choudhury, Jahanara Imam, Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury and Belal Mohammad deserve our attention too.

Also the thought-provoking essays of Serajul Islam Choudhury, Sardar Fazlul Karim, Borhanuddin Khan Jahangir, Anisuzzaman and the likes. A liberation war is not a mere war. It has a great influence on the psyche and the lives of human beings. Wasn't the best novel of the world written on war and its effect on the human mind? Isn't it named War and Peace?

I, a modest writer of fiction, also dream of writing a novel on 1971. Till my dream comes true, I shall go on thinking and dreaming about it. I owe it to the martyrs of 1971.    

Junaidul Haque is a critic and novelist    

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