Saturday, March 02, 2013

Some things must never be forgotten

Hiranmay Karlekar

A long struggle against daunting odds has kept the values and memories of Bangladesh's Liberation War alive. This is a remarkable achievement

The mass upsurge in Bangladesh, demanding death sentence to those guilty of crimes against humanity during the country's Liberation War in 1971, has erupted suddenly. The legacy of the liberation struggle and memories of the atrocities, mass murder and rape by the war criminals and the Pakistani Army, which galvanised the young demonstrators, had, however, been kept alive by a group of dedicated people working against daunting odds. Many who had collaborated with the Pakistani Army, mainly leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami, its auxiliaries like al Badr, al Shams and the Razakars, had been arrested after Bangladesh's liberation on December 16, 1971. Some had gone underground. A few, like Golam Azam, perhaps the most hated of them all, had fled to Pakistan just prior to it.

While Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's grant of an amnesty to War Criminals in November 1973, had enabled them to return to public life, the military dictatorships running Bangladesh after his assassination on August 15, 1975, promoted them to undermine the influence of the Awami League-led secular and democratic elements. Thus Major-General Zia-ur Rahman, Begum Khaleda Zia's husband, who became Chief Martial Law Administrator on November 19, 1975, and President on April 27, 1977, allowed Golam Azam to return to Bangladesh in July, 1978, on a Pakistani passport and two weeks' visa. Allowed to stay on, he was secretly made Amir of the Jamaat when it was revived in May 1979. Abbas Ali Khan acted as officiating Amir. Islami Chhatra Sangha was rechristened Islami Chhatra Shibir. Both organisations became active as the military dictatorships headed by Zia-ur Rahman and HM Ershad sought to progressively Islamise Bangladesh and wipe out the values and memories of the liberation war including Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's historic role.

Counter-efforts began simultaneously. On March 21, 1981, the Chairman of the Central Command Council of the Muktijoddha Sangsad (Freedom Fighters' Council) , Lt-Col (Retd) Qazi Nur-Uzzaman, announced the programme of an anti-al Badr/Razakar week to be observed from May 1, 1981. He demanded the trial of all traitors including Golam Azam, adding that the Muktijoddha Sangsad would try them by forming a People's Court if the government did not. On March 25, 10 opposition parties, including Awami League, expressed concern over the activities of communal parties and met to discuss a programme of action. Awami League leaders said at a public meeting on April 5 that no longer would there be any mercy for Razakars and activists of al Badr. In a statement on April 16, Bangladesh Lekhak Shibir (Bangladesh Writers' Camp) expressed grave concern over the re-emergence of “merchants of religion” like Razakars and organisations like al Shams and al Badr and the Jamaat. Accusing the BNP Government of supporting the criminals, it endorsed the Muktijoddha Sangsad's campaign against the murderous political forces they represented and urged people to carry forward the movement in association with organisations of the toiling masses. An important landmark was the establishment of the Muktijuddher Chetana Vikas Kendra (Centre for Developing the consciousness of the Liberation War) in 1984 to identify the collaborators and war criminals in the administration.

General HM Ershad's declaration in June 1988, of Islam as Bangladesh's state religion and the Jamaat's formal election of Golam Azam as its national Ameer in December 1991, triggered strong reactions. The first led to the formation of the Shairachar o Sampradayikata Protirodh Committee (Committee to Resist Despotism and Communalism) and the latter, Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmal Committee (known popularly as Nirmul Committee). The latter tried Golam Azam at a people's court in Dhaka on March 26, 1992, which sentenced him to death before a gathering of about half-a-million people who had collected in the teeth of the Government's furious opposition.

The late Jahanara Imam, one of whose sons, Rumi, a freedom fighter, was savagely murdered by the Pakistanis in1971, was Nirmul Committee's first convener. The momentum the committee generated has survived her passing. Shahriar Kabir's meticulously documented and devastating workm Ekattorer Ghatak O Dalara Key Kothaye (Who and Where The Killers and Agents of Seventy-One), made an important contribution. It, along with similar other publications, made sure that nothing was forgotten.

First published in The Pioneer, 28 February 2013