This piece was written on the occasion of March 26, the day when as one of my friends had aptly put “the world became pregnant and bore a new country called Bangladesh”. It marked Bangladesh’s 41st Independence day.
I stand atop the mounted floor of my apartment’s roof, over the newly embellished cream-colored tiles. I stare ahead of me at the monstrous skyscrapers of Dhanmondi dominating the skylines with prestige. I think of this evening. I think of what it might have been like at this very instant back in 1971.
Although the Indian writer Sharmila Bose has firmly argued that the figures of the Bangladesh liberation war were fabricated, I try to imagine the moment, the time when the city was shivering after the loss of around 4000 unarmed civilians within one midnight at the hands of a brutal regime that was supposed to protect them. I try to feel the darkness that had engulfed the sun which had risen over Dhaka on March 26, 1971. And all that I get is the stench of death, the death of a vibrant, overpopulated city. People ambushed and then run over by the military tanks in an effort to mix the dead with the mud. Alas! From the mud we rise and to the mud we return, and it is there that we meet the Hereafter.
I see people running. Not in the year 1971, but today. Running about their daily affairs, working hard to meet their everyday needs. Trying their best to make some sense of their life. These are the people, I think to myself, whose diligence have given our country economic progress and emancipation. These are the people because of whom at only 41 years of age, Bangladesh is already the 42nd largest economy—ahead of the colonialist nation that had devastated and exploited it before its liberation—- according to IMF in terms of purchasing power parity . These are the people who make me proud today for working towards the golden future of the glorious land of Bengal, towards the legacy begun by the illiterate Dravidians, continued by the courage and power of Shaista Khan, Siraj-ud-Daula, Preeti Lata, Titu Mir, Sher-e-Bangla, Maulana Bhashani, Sheikh Mujib and countless others. These are the people who teach me to live, enjoy and blog.
What was it like for these people back in that pitch dark day of March 26, 1971? Were they still running about? To bring food and shelter for their families? Or only to flee the darkness that loomed ahead and awaited them eagerly? Was the Adhaan to signal the commencement of night still so loud back then as it is today? And did the men and women still prostate and switch off radios and televisions after the Adhaan even on that particular day?
The spirit of freedom and egalitarianism has penetrated permanently into our hearts the day Sheikh Mujib took the mike on 7th March and announced freedom from tyranny as soon as even one ounce of blood was dropped from a Bangladeshi man. Ever since that day we have taken pride in being part of a nation that has been oppressed and treated as second-class ever since its formation after independence from the British Raj. We know for a fact that no matter how many Sharmila Boses rant at us and accuse us of being story-tellers, no matter how turbulent our political arena has become, no matter how rampant corruption is in our everyday lives, we are a nation that can be proud of its achievements. We are a nation looking for peace, diligence and simple lifestyles.
It is always very exciting to hear remarks about the War of Independence from foreigners. And what could be better than a quote directly from a new generation Pakistani? One interesting link I made recently is with Nayab Fareed, a Pakistani student studying Mass Communications in Abu Dhabi. This is what Nayab had to say about the Bangladesh liberation war:
“All I know is that Bangladesh was once East Pakistan & then they got separated. It was our fault till an extent. I asked my mom but she told me that she herself was a kid back then. We lost a war to India because of some East Pakistanis when they disclosed some secrets about the navy (I am not sure which incident Nayab is referring to at this point but the Daily Prothom Alo recently published a report on a group of Bangladeshis in the Pakistan Army who accumulated arms and ammunitions for the Bangladesh cause) That’s what I heard once. Also, I heard it was our fault too. Discrimination. We were not very fair to them. At the moment my own country is in a mess, so we discuss Pakistan or maybe other Muslim countries like Palestine/ Iraq/ Afghanistan. It’s disappointing though. Pakistanis regret it & still wish it was our part. I know the Pakistani version of the story, never heard the Bangladeshi version though.”
Of course, expecting a Pakistani to know something about the liberation war is pointless really. The history lives only with the ones who suffered. It is transferred only by those who had been afflicted with pain, with an anguish so terrible to bear that it becomes an offense not to transfer it on in words, thoughts and deeds. Actually, I half expected Nayab to tell me straight in the face that Bangladesh was the result of the India-Pakistan rift as described by many conspiracy theorists. But whatever it was, Bangladesh paid dearly. We lost 3000000 civilians including freedom fighters, children and women, while countless mothers and sisters were raped incessantly till their death. In addition, the country suffered huge droughts after the war as a result of which many more lives were claimed.
Although the Bangladesh government later on proudly proclaimed the raped women as ‘war heroines’ the damage was already done. This is what Taslima Nasrin, an eminent Bengali writer currently exiled from the country for her sectarian writings, had to say later on about one of her aunts and the month of December when the war finally came to an end:
“……………It is December now. This was the month when 18 years ago, nine months after the war, I, as part of a bunch of kids, did procession in the backyard tying a piece of cloth, with red on the dark green and yellow map in the red, on a piece of bamboo, and uttered: Joy Bangla.
In Mymensingh, from March until November ’71, the head Imam of the big Mosque has dumped many into the well after slaughtering them in his own hands. It was in December again when the city people brought out countless corps from the well in order to find their nearest ones. My relatives went out to search for those who had left for the war, or vanished without for good. Pakistani soldiers looted our properties, burnt our house before they left, took my father away and bashed him with boots and bayonets, shot two of my uncles and left their dead bodies on the road, plucked my brother’s right eye out. In December two out of my three uncles, who had left for the liberation war, returned. Sixteen days later, from the Pakistani camp, returned home my 21 year old aunt. Some of the neighbors, who fought for liberation and returned home, have lost their hands, some their legs. Still December is the month when the relatives of the crippled war victims became overwhelmed with joy for their homecoming.
But nobody expected my poor aunt’s return home. They all would have been relieved if she did not. Ever since, I always proudly referred to my father, brother and uncles. I was proud of our losses. But I never mention my aunt. Today stepping out of all damn inhibitions, I am proudly saying that: in the darkroom of the military camp ten brutish lechers (Pakistani soldiers) have incessantly raped my aunt for 16 days.
Our society did not pride on my aunt. In newspapers and magazines, in conferences, meetings and seminars the big shots went loud about raped women. Their pompous title “War heroines” for the victim women of war is nothing but a farce in the name of liberalism.
Although everybody accepted the ravage, the torture by boots and bayonets, even dreadful deaths unleashed by the war-they did not accept the hapless accident: rape.
In December, the political leaders were shouting outside for the honor of the raped mothers and sisters; then in December, the month of our victory, as the last resort to keep her honor: my aunt hanged herself on the wooden beam of their house.