Published:  12:26 AM, 26 March 2020

War of Liberation, heroes and heroines of 1971

Waliur Rahman

In celebrating our victory in the glorious war of Liberation-the nation in Lamartine's words was making together the sublimest of poems. The French thinker likened the joys of 1848 revolution to the passionate love of an individual. He was euphoric with the 1848 revolution and what it meant for human history.

Tchaikovsky's 1812 symphony celebrating the Russian victory over Napoleon's ambition, the quintessential music heralding hope and future by Beethoven in his 9th symphony on the Congress of Vienna-all were encapsulated in the raptures of the celebration in Bangladesh.

The culmination of our celebration during the Silver Jubilee of victory in 1996 was the ceremony for laying the foundation stone for the victory monument. It was the same place where Bangabandhu made his clarion call on 7th March 1971. It was the same sacred soil where the defeated forces surrendered ignominiously, bringing to an end a most cowardly military adventure in human history with 3 million martyrs and 300,000 dishonored women in the country.

The victory monument would be a glorious remembrance of the martyrs of the nine-month-struggle for national liberation. It will be a monument to the sacrifice of the 15,000 valiant officers-soldiers of the Indian forces. Perhaps a separate memorial would be more befitting; the French built Arc de Triomphe, Emperor Titus constructed Arco Di Tito near the Colosseum, Trafalgar Square stands as the victory monument. A monument is like a cathedral-it makes a nation proud of its history and its past.

The occasion was made more poignant with the presence of 24 of our friends who defied the oppressive war machine, who protested the cowardly attack on unarmed civilians, who were appalled with the killings of the University professors, teachers and students; who protested the murders of the intellectuals on the 14, 15 and 16 December 1971 just on the eve of our victory.

Thus we had on hand embellishing the stage, just behind Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, such personalities as Simon Dring of the Daily Telegraph and Arnold Zeitlin of AP; these two evaded the Pakistani dragnet on the fateful night of March 25,26,1971 and were the first to expose the brutality of the murders and mayhem of a blood-thirsty genre of Pakistani generals; the generals who wanted in vain to snuff out the thousand-year-old dream of a free and sovereign homeland for the Bengalees, a dream that was crystallised by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

On the stage we had Martin Woollacott of the Guardian who visited some killing fields in Faridpur under cover of darkness and shocked the world by exposing the brutal nature of the Pakistani campaign. A Halagu or Chenghis Khan destroyed a large part of thencivilised world including Ghazni or Khorasan he recalled, but in 1971, the blood-thirsty generals in the name of religion were destroying another civilisation in a remote corner of Asia, in Bengal.

The former American Consul-General, Archer Blood, whose factual and professional reporting from Dhaka enraged the State Department of the Nixon-Kissinger Presidency; the Secretary of State, was so angry that Archy was recalled from Dhaka. An angry Kissinger didn't even brook his presence in the State Department lest he contaminated his colleagues there on the tragedy of Bengal.

He was sent to the War College to cool his feet. John Kelly of UNHCR who negotiated the resignation of Governor Malik and his Cabinet on 14 December 1971 also responded to the invitation of the Prime Minister.

He actually drafted the resignation letter, which the Governor was forced to sign from the safety of the bunker of the Governor House after 2/3 raids of the Allied Forces on the last bastion of the humiliated and retreating enemy force. On hand were Professor Peter Bertocci, Professor Charles Ashton and Professor Enayetur Rahim of the United States. They defied the unofficial news embargo imposed on Bangladesh tragedy and sensitised the American public and the influential Academia.

Also on the stage were Annada Shanker Roy, Bhabani Sen Gupta, Sunil Kumar Gangopaddhaya, Shantimoy Roy, Deb Dulal Bandopaddhaya, PN Dhar and Ambassador Muchkand Dubey. They all played seminal role during those fateful days of our national liberation in not only advising the heterogeneous Indian population but also sensitising the world at large and above all strengthening the hands and resolve of Mrs. Indira Gandhi in facing the problem of Bangladesh.

The ubiquitous Rashid Suhrawardy, the son of our great national leader Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy also responded to the Prime Minister's call. Rashid is remembered with gratitude by the people of Bangladesh for the way he broke ranks with his sister who tragically sided with the Pakistani military junta. Rashid's voice was heard in every nook and corner, every village and hamlet, rivers and rivulets of Bengal and it rejuvenated our young Mukti Bahini guerrillas who threw a gauntlet to the marauding but demoralised enemy forces.

The address of the Prime Minister electrified the crowd and built an instant bridge between the past and the present and subsumed the thousand-year-old history of the Bengalee dream into one of victory and jubilation-a jubilation to be substantiated only with economic progress, which the Prime Minister underlined in no unmistakable terms. On 7th March 1971 Bangabandhu called for national emancipation and freedom. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called for economic independence and economic freedom.

On the 16th evening and 17th morning the history of Bangladesh was recreated and relived in Ganobhaban and Bangabhaban. Bangabandhu spent his last evening at Ganobhaban. Our honoured guests, at the dinner hosted by the Prime Minister, could hardly stop reminiscing on their time with the Father of the Nation. Simon Dring used to call him Mujib Bhai; others called him Poet of Politics.

At Bangabhaban President Shahabuddin was faced with the history of 25 years ago on the day when John Kelly turned himself into a raconteur about the events of those December days. Annada Shanker Roy was a bridge between many events of the subcontinent. The President deeply appreciated the noble litterateur from Bengal.

Earlier, the 15 December colloquium at the BIISS provided a unique opportunity for recording the reminiscences of our friends. The warm words of welcome by the State Minister for Foreign AffairsWar of Liberation and Politics of Bangladesh Abul Hassan Choudhury and the luncheon reception of Foreign Minister AbdusSamad Azad at the State Guest House allowed our honoured guests ample scope to have a flavour of the Silver Jubilee celebration.

While ruminating the sweet memories of our victory, the sudden but inevitable passing away of great hero/actor of the present century's filmdom, Marcello Mastreoianni reminded us of the great human drama he played in the film 'SUNFLOWER' an epic story of a war, of human drama, of life and death. Marcello Mastroianni belonged to an era perhaps gone forever-the post-war languer, the daily human drama where poverty and passion with paparazzi on hand make life sweet-La Dolce Vita.

He belonged to the pre-Vietnam, and pre-Bangladesh era. It was the interregnum- the time when terms like 'scotched earth' policy and 'we want the land, not the people'-such ideas had almost become dormant. We had seen and enjoyed Marcello Mastroianni's films in a time and age when genocide and murder in the University Halls and Campuses was not even 'dreamt of. Thus he remains embedded forever- in our memory with an age gone by.

Our glorious war of national liberation has all the setting of inspiring great literature, epic stories and sagas. Count Tolstoiimmortalised Russian resistance to Napoleon's ambition; Homer has woven a web of characters-of human history in his Magnum Opus-Odyssey and Iliad. Tristan and Isolde thought of the medieval history of love and conquest. The vibrant animation of movement of history and people render these artistic creations as immortal treasures of the heritage of mankind.

Muktir Gaan (Song of Freedom) is one such creation. Lear Levin and Catherine Masood deserve our commendation. The historic 7th March Speech of Bangabandhu, the great journey of the Freedom Train piloted by Nurul Quader Khan, the famous battle of Pahartali of Maj Rafiqul Islam, BU or Tawfique Elahi Chowdhury, BU, heroic exploits, or Taramon Bibi's contribution could one by one form the grist in the mill of our creative artists.

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands or millions such sagas surrounding our glorious war. Each of them could be immortalised; each of them could form a part of the compendium of our folk history and national literature.
This would be the beginning of the writing of the true history of the War of Liberation.

The writer is a former ambassador and former secretary in the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs

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