Shahid Minars ’71

Pak Army’s Jihad Against Shahid Minars in Munshigonj : 1971

Ziauddin M. Choudhury

Following the demolition of the central Shahid Minar in Dhaka on March 26, 1971 the Pakistan Army destroyed with vengeance similar minars in other parts of Bangladesh as the marauding troops fanned out to the districts and the countryside. This article captures incidents surrounding Pakistan’s Army’s depraved operation in Munshiganj, which the author had the misfortune of witnessing as a young sub-divisional officer.

In Munshiganj sub-division of Dhaka, the Army commander found himself in a new iconoclastic role, but did not know how to execute his tasks, partly because he had no idea how many Minars were there in the sub division, and how to go about destroying these. One morning he summoned me (I was the sub-divisional officer) to his camp and showed me the orders from his bosses to destroy all Shahid Minars in the subdivision. He further explained how essential the destruction of these structures was to the rehabilitation of the Pakistan ideology.

These structures, he explained to me, were nothing but an evil attempt by the ‘Kafirs’ to establish Shiva lingam. (Older readers will recall that the original Shahid Minar was a tapered monument). The Commander did not summon me to consult whether or not to destroy the Minars; he wanted to know how many of these were in the subdivision.

The Commander put me in a predicament. I had no number to provide, as we did not keep any statistics of Shahid Minars in the sub-division. I also visualized Army vandalizing the countryside in this mindless operation, but causing additional harm to the entire subdivision already traumatized by their presence.

I had to give an answer. I speculated that if I told the Commander that there was at least one in each village, I might deter him from making so many forays into the countryside. (Interior of Munshigonj was not easily navigable those days; waterways were the principal means of transportation.) The answer did not apparently please the Army Commander.

The thought of he and his troops roaming through every nook and cranny of the subdivision in a search and destroy mission was not very appealing to him. Yet he had this noble task to destroy these icons of idol worshippers. He came up with a plan. His troop would destroy the Minars in Munshiganj town in the first phase. The second phase would be destruction in the interior as and when his troop visited each Thana.

Next day, an army contingent led by a lieutenant dynamited the Shahid Minars located at Haraganga College and two other High Schools. Later in the day, the Army Commander dropped in my office and expressed satisfaction at his troop’s achievement. “You know, there is considerable sawab in destroying these idols. After I explained the sawab to the teachers there, they helped me remove the bricks from the dismantled site.” “They (teachers) know icon worship is forbidden by our religion”, he added. I could only guess how much of the Teachers’ yearning for “sawab” was generated by the guns pointed at the helpless lot.

The Army’s dilemma in the Shahid Minar destruction campaign arose in the second phase, however. It was relatively easy to demolish the first Shahid Minar that the Army encountered in its visit to each Thana Headquarters. But what about those dozens of others that reportedly littered the village side? For safety reasons as well as transportation difficulties, it was not possible for the Army to destroy each one of them. Yet, the Army commander felt somehow obliged to earn sawab by completing his “cleansing” task. He also had to report compliance to his superiors.

The Commander debated in his mind several days whether to embark on this all out task with his small contingent or seek some other device. He fell upon the Sub-divisional Officer for support. He wanted the Officers in Charge of the Thanas to finish the unfinished task. The six OCs who were assembled in Munshiganj scratched their heads for a moment, and asked how would the Commander know if these tasks were actually carried out? Would he go and visit the sites later? He had no time for visits, the Commander said. The Thana Officers should provide certificates of destruction, and these would be filed by the Commander to his superiors.

If certificates would keep the Army out of our villages, the OCs would be too glad to provide them. Within a few days of getting the Commander’s orders, all six OCs provided the Certificates of Destruction. The Commander reported to his authorities that the religious mission has been accomplished. Ingenuity of a few OCs saved some property and lives in Munshiganj, at least for the time being.

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