Yesterday afternoon I went down to Shahbagh to absorb some of the atmosphere of the protests related to the War Crimes judgement in the case of Quader Mollah. I talked to some old friends and made some new ones and my mind went back to early December 1990 when, at midnight, I joined young and old on Mirpur Road, Dhanmondi, and we hugged each other on the occasion of the ‘return of democracy’ to Bangladesh. The emotions in the air on the two occasions were somewhat similar.
After running Oxfam’s Refugee Relief Programme in
India assisting 600,000 refugees, I was in Dhaka
in January 1972 to assist in the assessment of the rehabilitation needs of Bangladesh
after months of destruction by the Pakistan Army and those collaborators who
had made the work of the army much easier. I was in Dhaka
on January 24th 1972 when, as I remember, an order was issued to put
on trial those who had collaborated with the Pakistan Army. I remember having
animated discussions then with excited Bangladeshis about what might happen
next and talking with them about the Nuremberg
war crime trials which took place after the Second World War (1939-45).
I was not, of course, a witness to any of the atrocities which are related to the War Crimes trial. I did however meet many people who came to
as refugees who had been wounded and/or raped by people who had been their
neighbours but who had in 1971 suddenly become collaborators of the Pakistan
Army. Two incidents remain clearly in my memory.
One day in early July 1971, I was at the Bongaon/Benapol border crossing where our medical teams were providing all refugees with cholera vaccine, first aid, food and water as they streamed across the border into
in their thousands. I noticed one family carrying a dead man. I asked why they
had not organized the burial earlier. I was told, “Father was killed by a
Razakar, a man who had been my father’s friend and neighbour for many years. We
were so shocked that, as we live close to the border, we decided to bring
father’s body to India
where we can bury him with a more peaceful frame of mind.”
On another occasion, I was visiting one of the refugee camps in Barasat,
West Bengal, and came across a man
who had a bayonet wound which had turned septic. As a result of the high fever
he had, he was delirious and kept repeating that it was not an Army person who
had attacked him, but a Bengali Razakar.
In addition, when I came in January 1972, I visited Shakhari Bazaar, Rayer Bazaar and, later, Jalladh Khana and learnt about the respective slaughtering that that happened at those places.
When I lived in Bangladesh in the late 1980s, people did not talk so readily about the history of the Liberation War and I have found that some of the generation that were born after Liberation did not learn so much about 1971 unless there were family members who had been Freedom Fighters who could teach them the true facts. It was therefore a very positive aspect of the gathering at Shahbagh that I saw so many people there were clearly born after 1971.
In March 2012, at the time of receiving the ‘Friends of Liberation War Honour’ from the Government of Bangladesh, the media frequently asked me for my opinion about the War Crimes trial and if I felt it was too late. My reply was that it is never too late to set the record straight and bring people to justice. I pointed out that even more than 60 years after the Second World War, Nazi criminals were still being tried and that the trials following the wars in
were taking place many years later too. In 2007, the leaders of the Jamaat, who
are now being tried, made statements that there were no anti-liberation
collaborators of the Pakistan Army. It is to the great credit of the Sector
Commanders that their pressure resulted in the War Crimes Trial being
re-started. However, what about those who had been tried and sentenced prior to
1975? What has happened to them? What about the thousands who were awaiting
trial but who were released after 1975? The masses, the patriotic thousands,
who are gathering in most district towns of Bangladesh and Shahbagh as I write,
want some clear answers very soon.