W.A.S. Ouderland, Bir Protik (4th highest gallantry award in Bangladesh), who was actually a Dutch citizen and was posted as the CEO of Bata operation in the then East Pakistan on the eve of the War of Liberation in Bangladesh, never thought that he would train and assist the freedom fighters to create an independent Bangladesh rather putting his attention to increase the volume of sales of his company.
The mass killings in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) in 1971 vie with the annihilation of the Soviet Prisoners of War or the genocide in Rwanda as the most concentrated act of genocide in the twentieth century. In an attempt to crush forces seeking independence for East Pakistan, the West Pakistani military regime unleashed a systematic campaign of mass murder which aimed at killing millions of Bengalis, and likely succeeded in doing so. The human death toll over only 267 days was incredible compare to other worst genocides of the World War II era. The Pakistani army and allied paramilitary groups killed about one out of every sixty-one people in Pakistan overall; one out of every twenty-five Bengalis, Hindus, and others in East Pakistan. Rape, abduction, and forcible prostitution during the nine-month war proved to be only the first round of humiliation for the Bengali women.
Today people of Bangladesh feel satisfied and contended as they can freely move around in the country without questioning or imposing any kinds of restrictions on them. But this satisfaction is due to the efforts taken by the freedom fighters to free the country from the authoritarian Pakistani rule. Freedom fighters gallantly fought with the enemies to free the country. The indomitable courage and commitment of freedom fighters helped to imbue Bangladesh as an independent nation.
Although freedom fighter" is a term for those, who engaged in an armed struggle, the main cause of which is to achieve, in their or their supporters' view, freedom for themselves or obtain freedom for others, but during the liberation war in Bangladesh, people from every part of the society took part in the war in a various way with or without arms as the liberation war and the independence was not an act of a single person or event and there was hardly any family who did not lose something in the war. The total number of freedom fighters during Bangladesh War of Liberation was not recorded anywhere, but according to the Bangladesh government in exile, the total number of freedom fighters was 105,000, which includes members of 11 sectors, Mujib Bahini, Kader Bahini, and Hemeyet Bahini while the present Minister of State for Liberation War Affairs A.B. Tajul Islam confirmed that in all 210,581 freedom fighters joined the liberation war.
The Bangladesh liberation war witnessed widespread atrocities committed mainly on the Bengali population of East Pakistan, at a level that Bangladeshis maintain is one of the worst genocides in history. Difference in religious standpoints in the then East and West Pakistan, economic exploitation towards East Pakistan, conspiracy to uproot Bengali language and nationalism, impact of cyclone in East Pakistan in 1970, dominating political attitude by West Pakistani leaders, military preparation in East Pakistan, Bangobondhu's speech of March 7, and finally the mass killing of March 25, apparently triggered the independence war in Bangladesh.
Every Bangladeshi in the then time was expected to involve in the war. A man fighting for his own country, no doubt, is an act of rare bravery, but it becomes unusual when an alien fighting side by side with the sons of the soil.
People, who were not in the course of such sufferings and were foreign nationals during the liberation war in Bangladesh, but felt the acute need to make the world aware of the extent of genocide and took part directly or indirectly in the war, are really highly respected and deserve heartiest gratitude. Brutal repression and occupation of unarmed Bangladeshis by the Pakistani occupation army reminded Ouderland of the similar brutalities perpetrated by the Nazis in occupied Europe. He was not the only one, who fully appreciated the legitimacy of Bangladeshi resistance against the brute forces of occupation, but there were several others, who felt the same ideology and directly or indirectly took part in the war. As the War progressed, Ouderland secretly began to train and assist local youths around the city of Dhaka in the art of guerilla resistance.
Although Ouderland was the only foreign national to have been honored with gallantry award “Bir Pratik” for his outstanding contribution to the war of liberation, but there were thousands of foreign nationals who had supported Bangladesh in many form and fashion during liberation war. They had raised funds, made posters, flyers, joined in rallies, wrote articles, raised awareness, and sang songs. They also gave shelters and words of comfort to those individuals who had disowned their nationality from Pakistan and had no country to call their own for nine months. These individuals did what they could out of their loves for humanities and had shown their utmost disgust against the inhuman atrocities and genocide against the people of Bangladesh.
George Harrison brought the attention of the world to what was happening in Bangladesh during the independence war through his concert in New York in 1971. Without his effort, much of the suffering endured by the Bangladeshi people at the time would have gone unnoticed. His concert for Bangladesh raised money for war-affected people with performances by Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, and Bob Dylan. On the other hand, Senator Ted Kennedy (MA-D) bravely exposed the plight of millions of Bangladeshi refugees in India during the liberation war. As a chairman of the then US senate's refugee committee, Kennedy tried to persuade the US to allocate funds for the Bangladeshi refugees in India.
With unprecedented support of India, it became easier to the local heroes to form an independent Bangladesh. The then Indian Government led by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi provided shelter, food, clothing, and medical aid for 10 million refugees. They helped freedom fighters with training, arms, and ammunitions, campaigned for release of Bangabondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and mobilized international public opinion in favor of independence of Bangladesh. According to the former chief of the Indian army’s eastern command Lt Gen (retd) JFR Jacob, 1400 Indian troops were killed and 4000 wounded during the Liberation War of Bangladesh.
To become the world’s 139th independent nation, Bangladesh suffered a genocide perpetrated by Pakistani Army and their allies. While millions of Bangladeshis are celebrating the country’s 39th Independence Day, they are remembering the supreme sacrifices and gallantry of the country’s bravest and enlightened people. But people who were not part of Bangladesh and not even the part of sufferings, but put their lives, emotions, and supports along with general people to form a independent Bangladesh, deserve the recognition out of decency, out of moral obligation, and out of gratitude as the people of Bangladesh owe this to them. #
March 24, 2009, New York
Ripan Kumar Biswas is a freelance writer based in New York. The writer could be reached at: Ripan.Biswas@yahoo.com