Rewriting history for vengeance

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Category : History, Munshigonj

Ziauddin Choudhury: “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” -George Orwell

On March 25, 1971, when hell’s gates were opened and the marauding Pakistan army launched its war on the civilians of Dhaka, I was in Munshiganj, about twenty miles from Dhaka physically, but practically hours away because it was connected only by water with Dhaka at that time. As Sub-Divisioal Officer (SDO) of Munshiganj then, I was tethered to my job during the entire non-cooperation movement called by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, attending to only urgent law and order work as directed by him. I had returned only two days before the crackdown, after a meeting at Dhaka with the deputy commissioner, without a clue of the Pakistan army’s diabolic plan that would be unfolded soon.

The first clue of the dastardly attack on Dhaka came to us when Dhaka Betar Kendro (rechristened name of Radio Pakistan, Dhaka, during non-cooperation movement) stopped broadcasting patriotic Bengali songs and instead reverted to its original moniker with dire messages from General Yahya. This was followed by messages from police in Dhaka to their counterparts in Munshiganj, and from relatives of town people trapped in Dhaka. Rumour of massive death and destruction and impending strike of Pakistan army on Munshiganj town panicked the people. This state of panic would continue for two days, only to be aggravated by stories of Pakistan army’s horrific acts from people who fled Dhaka after the curfew was lifted there.

An incident occurred in Munshiganj when people of the town were driven to extreme anxiety with the prospect of an army attack looming large. A band of local political leaders came to see me in my office seeking some advice on what to do. Among them was the elderly local president of Pakistan Muslim League. In a clear and emphatic voice, the man who claimed he had raised the flag of Pakistan on August 14, 1947 said to me: “This is not the Pakistan that we wanted. We will resist.” Going a step further he added: “Let the Indian army march in. It will probably save us.”

The statement by him was perhaps an emotional outburst made at a moment of extreme anxiety and possibility of meeting a dire fate like the people in Dhaka two days before. But the feeling he expressed at that time was shared by almost everyone who had lived through that period in the then East Pakistan, irrespective of religious identity. Pakistan, which was built on the hopes and aspirations of the majority of the Muslims of East Bengal, had stumbled face forward. It was no more a country for the Bengalis. They had been targeted as enemies. The people who helped create Pakistan were now treated as traitors. Even those Bengali Muslims who would later collaborate with Pakistani authorities were suspects in the eyes of the Pakistani army, and they knew it.

In the nine month period of occupation most people of the then East Pakistan went through a common fate of living in horror, under a constant threat of either death or confinement. The army did not spare towns or villages from pillage and arson based on religious or party affiliation. An ironic example of such wholesale punishment was burning of the house of the Muslim League president of Munshiganj only because his son was the security officer of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The other instance was the army’s burning of a whole village in the same subdivision suspected as a hideout of freedom fighters.

Barring a small segment of the population that was motivated by religious ideology, and a few political opportunists who thought they would gain from Pakistani rule, the whole of Bangladesh was united by the common goal of attaining freedom from an oppressive power. In fact, our freedom could not have been obtained in that short period only with India’s intervention. It was possible because people across the entire political spectrum, Right to Left, gave their overwhelming support to this fight from within. They all believed in a free Bangladesh and gave unequivocal support to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s call, starting from the day it was broadcast. The call was the inspiration that people would listen to repeatedly in clandestine radios in villages and towns. There was no one, including those who had once opposed Sheikh Mujib politically, who would deny at that time either this call or the leader who had made the call for freedom. This is our history.

Today, some forty plus years later, divisive forces that were responsible for upholding the failed cause of a failed country seem to be rearing their heads and attempting to rewrite history. They are poised to mislead the country with nonsensical claims that need to be put to rest. Revisionist history has never paid in the past, and it will not work in the future. For this, however, we need timely awakening and nipping of these attempts in the bud with proper guidance and education of our people, our youth in particular.

The writer is a former civil servant.

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