Dr. Kamal hossain

Remembrance of December 16, 1971

 

By Abul Kasem

On this day of the 16th of December all Bangalees are going to celebrate throughout the world our extremely costly freedom.There will be many functions, ceremonies and remembrances that may bring tears to many and smiles on many faces In this briefre-count, I am going to tell you some of the events that I saw with my own eyes and what I had experienced personally on thisday in 1971.

In the month of November and December 1971, it was quite clear that the allied forces are going to win the war. In fact, towards the middle of
November all stations of AIR were already giving the ultimatum to the
Pakistani Army that they had no alternative but to surrender. I heard the speech given by the Indian force's chief General Sam Maneckshaw to that effect. Ofcourse, the Pakistan army never admitted their hapless situation and the Dhaka Radio predicted the eventual victory of Pakistan and the destruction of all the Kafirs and the Munafiqs. Very few Bangalees ever tuned to the broadcasting of the Pakistan radioknowing full well that those propagandas were nothing but bunch of boloney. Our most favourite radio station was the BBC and our most reliable person for accurate report was Mark Tally. There were two sessions of the BBC Bengali service. One was early in the morning and another one was at night. I guess very few Bangalees ever missed any one of those sessions of the BBC. Therefore, the BBC was the heart and mind of the Bangalees in those turbulent times. We will never forget Serajul Islam and Shyamal Lodh of BBC for their untiring, emotional and spirited reporting on the events in Bangladesh. For 24 hour news every one tuned to AIR whichever AIR station may be that (Calcutta, Delhi --- etc.). We also heard the personal voice of Indira Gandhi in the recognition of Bangladesh as a sovereign country. These are the moments no Bangalees of my generation would ever forget.

Any way, by the end of November 1971 the Allied Air Force had the complete control of the sky. Although there was curfew enforced for most of the day, very few people really bothered about that. People would venture out to nearby place for theirshopping needs. Many people dug trenches in their house compound for bomb shelter. However, most people preferred to go to their rooftops to watch the dogfight rather than going inside the trench. We had very little food to eat. But we were so happy that we forgot food. I remember eating rice with only daal (lentil) and salt. But they even tasted so good!

Just about a couple of weeks before the surrender of the Pakistan Army, the Indian airplanes dropped leaflets all around Dhaka (possibly all around Bangladesh too) in English, Urdu, and Bengali about the hopeless condition of the Pakistan Army and warned them of their consequences in the hands of the enraged Bangalee if they delay their surrender to the allied forces. The leaflet also guaranteed the protection of the POW's (prisoner of war) according to the Geneva convention. Everyone could feel that war was coming to an end although all around Dhaka there were quite a few bombings by the Allied Air Force. Those bombings were strictly limited to the cantonment and airport area. There were very few civilian casualties
due to those bombings. In fact, every one welcomed those bombings. At night, we could hear constant machine gun fire and sounds of explosions. Those were the signs that our own Muktibahini people are already in Dhaka and they will not let the Pakistani army go too easily.

Twenty-four hours before the surrender, there was a special announcement by all the stations of AIR that the Pakistan Army had decided to surrender. The official instrument of surrender ceremony will be held on the very place where Sheikh Mujib declared the freedom of Bangladesh almost nine months earlier on 7th. March, 1971. That is, the racecourse. It was such an irony.


The news of the surrender ceremony spread like a wildfire. Quite predictably, the Pakistan Radio kept silence about the surrender ceremony. We got the confirmation of the surrender in the trembling voice of Serajul Islam of BBC. I cannot describe my feeling (and the feeling of all the Bangalees) with that piece of news. We could not sleep the whole night waiting to witness the surrender ceremony. The AIR also warned people not to harm any retreating Pakistani soldier by shooting, throwing stones, etc. If any one is caught doing that, he would be dealt with severely by the allied command. The announcement said that if any Bangalee finds any Pakistani soldier who is injured or in any way invalid then he must be taken to the nearest hospital or to the allied command immediately. With those announcements the allied force was able to restrain any desire by the Bangalees to take the revenge onPakistani soldiers who were all but demoralized on that day.

At around 1.00 P.M of 16th December 1971 we (my younger brother and I) started walking from our home at Lalbagh to the race course. The surrender ceremony was scheduled for the late afternoon may be around 3:00 to 4.00 P.M. When we came to the street, we saw throngs of people. People and people, people everywhere in the street. For a moment I thought it was like another March 7th. We saw many Mukti soldiers in plain clothes but with small machine guns hanging by their shoulder. People were simply hugging and kissing them. For one Mukti boy there were hundreds of people waiting just to touch him. How may I forget those unforgettable scenes! When we came near to the medical college, we were surprised to see a column of Pakistani soldiers walking on foot with their automatic rifles on their shoulders. We also saw a person injured with gunshot lying on the street and a few people trying to carry him to the hospital. We heard from them that the injured person threw some stones at the retreating columns of the Pakistani soldiers and they had no choice but use their rifles to protect themselves. As far as I know, this was the only case of attack at the retreating soldiers by the Bangalees. It is really surprising how the Bangalees resisted their temptation to take their revenge on the retreating Pakistani soldiers. We followed to the letter the directives given by the allied forces concerning our fallen enemies. All Bangalees should remember this gentle and forgiving nature of ours.

We finally made it to the racecourse at around 2.30 P.M. The area was
already crowded with people. I saw a huge convoy of Indian soldiers had
surrounded the area where the surrender ceremony was to be held. We were quite lucky to find a place very close to the ceremony site. Everyone was hugging and kissing each other. It was as if every one was born again. I saw a few tables and chairs had already been placed where the ceremony was to take place. A few Indian army officers were sitting there. I saw General Aurora sitting at the centre chair. He was flanked on both sides by other few army officers with many stars. I guessed they must be some Brigadiers and Lt. Generals. The Pakistani General A.A.K Niazi had not arrived yet. Every one was waiting for him. Many people chanted slogans like Joy Bangla, Joy Sheikh Mujib, Joy Indira, Joy Aurora, etc. These were impromptu slogans. I did not hear any slogan condemning Niazi and his actions. People were simply overwhelmed. They had forgotten the hate. They simply wanted to celebrate their victory for once and all.

After about 20 minutes, an army jeep arrived at the site. It was the jeep that brought General Niazi and some of his Lieutenants. General Aurora and his men stood up. I saw General Niazi and General Aurora saluted each other in chost military fashion. Then General Niazi took his revolver out of his holster and put it on the table. Thi, of course was symbolic. The two Generals then shook hands and to our great surprise hugged each other. It was just unbelievable! I never expected that to happen! I thought I saw both the Generals eyes were wet. All the gestures of General Niazi suggested that at last he was relieved. I thought that General Niazi was simply happy to surrender to the Indian army rather than dying in the hands of the Mukti boys. At last, he was on the hands of the professional soldiers who will ensure his safety and survival.

Then we saw General Aurora requested General Niazi to sit beside him. The two generals then chit chatted while exchanging pleasantry. At times we even saw them laughing a little bit. Then another Indian army officer brought some papers. I saw General Niazi sign one of those papers first. Then General Aurora signed. Both the Generals then stood up, saluted each other and hugged again. There was a thunderous clapping and cheers from the crowd. Those were very very poignant moments for those who witnessed them. Then we saw General Aurora ushered General Niazi in his (Gen. Aurora) military jeep. The twogenerals then drove off the racecourse ground leaving the winter dust composed of dead grass and fallen leaves. The surrender ceremony thus ended abruptly without any fanfare. It was really a very brief ceremony. No pomp and circumstances to speak about. Every one then started heading home.

When we arrived home at around 5.00P.M, we heard three chilling news.

The first news was the death of Pintoo, our next-door neighbour at the hands of the Razakars. We went to his house to hear the details. Pintoo's younger brother Montoo told us that both the brothers (Pintoo and Montoo) were taken away on the 9th December by a few sweet-talking Razakers. They were held captive along with many other young students and some elderly people. They were kept in a dark room and tortured regularly. The Razakars branded them as enemies of Islam. They wanted to know the whereabouts of many Mukti boys who were their friends and classmates. I saw the torture marks in Montoo's body. I saw a deep cut on his shoulder and his swollen eyes. Montoo then told us that the Razakars killed his brother (Pintoo) in front of him by shooting him in his head. The Razakars then warned to kill him (Montoo) too if he did not tell the whereabouts of his Mukti friends. The Razakars also told him of theirs (Razakars) grand plan. The plan was to kill all the University going students in Bangladesh before the Indian soldiers enter the city of Dhaka. They even showed him an endless list of people they had targeted to eliminate. Eventually, Montoo managed to escape his captors. How he did that is another story to tell.

The second piece of chilling news was the missing of Dr. Fazle Rabbi. His
house was just stones throw from our house. Dr.Rabbi was picked up from our area on the same night as Montoo and Pintoo were picked up. Montoo told us that Dr. Rabbi was tortured along with them. One day, the Razakars took Dr. Rabbi in another room and shot him there. Montoo did not know what the Razakars did with Dr. Rabbi's dead body. We went to Dr. Rabbi's house to express our sorrow. His wife was crying. I saw his brother typing a letter, stoically. I guessed it was addressed to the UN Secretary General.

The third chilling news was the kidnapping of my closest friend Badiul Alam who was the President of EPSU of the Ahsanullah Hall of EPUET (now BUET). He and I were also covertly involved with provision of financial and logistic support to our Mukti boys. Eyewitnesses told me that on the 13th of December 1971 a few people came in a jeep and told Badiul that they had some good news to give him about the Mukti Bahini and requested Badiul to join them in their jeep. Some of my friends told me that those people were members of the Islami Chatra Sangha of EPUET. I am not one hundred percent sure, though. Until today, no one knows what happened to Badiul. I am certain that his skeleton is in one of the mass graves that have been found all around Bangladesh.

Thus, I ended the 16th December 1971 mostly with personal sadness, with some grief and a little bit of joy knowing that we have a separate homeland call Bangla Desh (yes, it was spelled that way throughout the turbulent days of nine month period). I never knew that one day I would be asked by someone whom I met very recently in the cyber space to write about this day for posterity. Lest we forget, it was the day that engendered a new beginning for 75 million proud people who call them Bangalees. We were told that this new nation is going to be a secular nation for all people irrespective of who is Christian, Buddhist, Hindus, and yes, Muslim. But after 29 long years, what do we see in the horizon? Whatever happened to our call for secularism? How did Bangladesh abandon the cherish goal of our founding fathers? Isn't it a real betrayal? These are the mixed feeling that I have in this auspicious moment.

(Note: This recount was published in the Daily Independent, Dhaka on the
16th of December, 2000)

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