From 2004, the Liberation War Museum of Bangladesh started a nation-wide programme where school-going children asked their families and neighbours about their memories from 1971 and wrote them down. Through this initiative, the Museum has been able to collect over 51,000 testimonies from the 64 districts of Bangladesh. This year, we bring to you some snippets of the oral history that the Museum is painstakingly continuing to collect and preserve through the programme ‘NotunProjonmokeMuktijuddherChetonayUdbuddhokoron” (Inspiring the new generation through the spirit of the Liberation War)
What if he calls me Ma again?
I was 35 during the Liberation War, and by then I was already a widow with two daughters and a son. When the Pakistani army came to our village (Alinagar in Chapai Nawabganj), I took them and hid in our mud hut. I could hear people screaming and running around outside. That time, they didn’t find me.
I tried to leave the village with the rest of the villagers but by then, the army had come up our river in boats. We hid as soon as we saw them. There was a young mother there and somehow, her baby got out and started crawling towards the Pakistanis. I could only watch from my hiding place while they stomped on the child and crushed its little chest. They also took the mother away.
It was after that my son said – Ma, you have to let me go. Don’t be afraid for me, I will go to war. How could I let him go? He was only 18 years old, what could he know of war? But he said again, Ma if you stop me, you will be insulting every person in this country, every woman and baby who suffered like that. My only son took my leave and went to war like that. And he never came back.
I still wait for my boy. I stand at my door looking at the path. I am 80 years old now but I keep thinking, what if he comes back? What if he calls me Ma and holds me again?
Collected by Ajmeera Khatun
Alinagar High School
They shot 18 people in front of me
In 1971, I was a tenth grade student at Brojomohun College living in NotunBajar, Barisal. We are four brothers but once war started, I had no idea where my older brother was (he didn’t live with us). Local Razakars told my father that they would show him a safe spot for his family, but they actually took him away and murdered him. I still have no idea where his body could be.
When the fighting broke out, I took my two younger brothers and climbed over our back wall to run away. We walked for three days before reaching the AtgorKuriana village. We were starving but we only had water to drink. There was nowhere safe to stay at night. However, we met a kind, elderly man who helped my brothers to reach India, and I went back to Barisal on my own. For a few days, I wore a cap and grew a beard to pretend to be a Muslim.
From AtgorKuriana in Barisal, I joined Sector 9 of the freedom fighters and received my training. Then I dived head first into the war. At one point, I was caught and the Pakistani soldiers beat me badly. They rubbed chili powder into my eyes and continuously kicked me with their boots. Somehow, even in that state, I managed to run and jump into the nearest pond. I cleaned my face in the water, and hid underneath the kochuripana. There were seven to eight soldiers, and I was on my own. They shot at me in the water but couldn’t see me in the dark, and after around ten minutes, they moved away.
I spent the night in that pond and at dawn, starving and in wet clothes, I walked to the marketplace of a nearby village. I only had 25 paisa in my pocket. I spent five paisa on a cup of tea and two paisa on some bread but while eating, I again heard gunfire in the distance. I ran towards the forest and cut my feet on thorns. I fell into a fever and spent three days in that forest in a half-conscious state. I don’t remember any dates or days. When I finally recovered a little, I started walking. I didn’t know any directions but I happened upon a village. I was almost mad with hunger by this point – I didn’t even remember that I had some wet money in my pocket and just begged some people for food. After a little food, I started walking towards Khulna, and ran into some friends on the way.
We went into battle on the Khulna-Satkhira border and faced death multiple times. The army captured 20-25 of us and made us stand in two rows. They shot 18 people right in front of me but I ran for my life. I ran in zigzags so they couldn’t shoot me and somehow escaped.
Collected by Lata Karmakar
Barisal Government Girls’ High School
We buried him with banana leaves
My father Al Hajj Nizamuddin was a businessman. When the war started, he sat in his shop and predicted that the Pakistani aggressors would not leave anyone alive. In the first week of April 1971, the East Pakistan Rifles, Bengal Regiment and a few members of the army came together in Chhatak, Sunamganj. My father went to meet them along with Peyara Mia, Kabir Mia, Siraj and others, and joined their cause.
At the time, there were three ferries at the Lamakazi port which the Pakistanis used to move their jeeps around. On the night of April 9, my father and a few others sunk those ferries and stopped the Pakistanis from reaching this side of shore. Until April 27, Chhatak was free and safe but on the 28th, they attacked the town from three different sides – the railway, C&B road and the riverway. My father was part of the forces defending the rail station and exchanging fire with the Pakistani forces. A lot of people from Chhatak Bazaar and Bagbari village died that day.
My family had already left town by then. When things got really bad, my father and the rest of the forces retreated to India. After a few days, he came back to Bholaganj and then to Madhabpur to see my mother, who was there with her family. On the way back, he fitted a mine to one of the empty trains standing at Ghargaon, Madhabpur and blew it up. This also destroyed the Tajpur rail connection and deterred the Pakistanis from using it to Madhabpur.
My father then became part of the 5thBholaganj sub-sector. His commander was Major Mir Shawkat Ali, and the commander of the Alpha Company One was Fakruddin Chowdhury. Under the latter’s command, he was part of an operation in Tukur Bazaar. He still remembers how during that battle, a young freedom fighter named Firoz was killed. There was no cloth to bury him in, so they used banana leaves. After that, a man named Mostafa also died in a battle in Telikhal. Baba and the other freedom fighters tried very hard to retrieve his body, but they failed. Many freedom fighters were injured, and Baba was one of four who managed to escape by jumping into the river at dawn and swimming to the Batrai village.
My father was also part of the battle near Majargaon Khal, where they exchanged fire with a lot of Pakistanis and Razakars. By August 14, the freedom fighters from our area were able to hoist the Bangladeshi flag at Chhatak Railway Circuit House.
Collected by Gulnahar Akhter Mimu
Chandranath Girls’ High School