A Sector Commander Remembers Bangladesh Liberation War 1971

Discussion in 'Bangladesh Defence Forum' started by MBI Munshi, Nov 12, 2010.

  1. MBI Munshi

    MBI Munshi PDF THINK TANK: ANALYST

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    Humanised history

    Mubin S Khan reviews ‘A Sector Commander Remembers Bangladesh Liberation War 1971’ by Quazi Nooruzzaman


    For the generation of Bangladeshis born after the liberation war of 1971, the war remains an enigma.

    If one were to study in one of the three streams of education that are currently prevalent in the country, you would hardly be taught anything about our glorious history in English mediums or madrassahs, while the text available in the mainstream Bengali mediums are also inadequate, mostly coloured by the interpretations of the political party in power. The literature and art available, though copious in quantity, mostly deals in anecdotal stories or hero-worship, while the non-fiction books and articles are mostly self-glorifying fables. Many of the people alive, who took active part in the war, have since settled into comfortable party loyalties, ‘selective memory’ having become their modus operandi.

    And so this generation lives in a conundrum, bombarded by words such as ‘muktijuddher chetona’ from all around, and yet very little facts on which their emotions can rest upon.

    This is where ‘A Sector Commander Remembers Bangladesh Liberation War 1971’, written by Quazi Nooruzzaman, and translated by Zahiruddin Md. Alim, comes of great use. Lt Col Nooruzzaman, commander of sector-7 during the war of liberation, in this short book which requires roughly a few hours to read, puts down all he remembers of those nine months of liberation war, beginning from the fateful night of March 25, 1971, to the day we achieved victory. In between, in intelligently partitioned chapters, Nooruzzaman discusses the Mujib Bahini, the military crackdown, declaration of the war, the initial resistance, the organisation and training of the forces, the battles, the conflict between politicians and soldiers, the Mukti Bahini, Razakars, Indian Army and the moments leading up to victory.

    What makes this book useful to the generation I speak of, is that it clearly draws the line on the scope and jurisdiction of the author and the book. Nooruzzaman tells us what he has seen, what he remembers, and very little of what he has heard, and most of it, double-checked through various sources who were present with him as the events unfolded. He does not even once try to contextualise, to preach, to indoctrinate, neither does he get lost in reverence for any leader or debate over the comparative roles of individuals during the war. He tells us a story about how he, and the people around him, spent those nine months. And it is such stories that will hopefully stand the test of time, because in generations to come, historians will turn to these texts to construct a formulative history of that period. It is not the job of actors within the events to dictate its relevance in history, time will do that, and like a breath of fresh air, this author appears to be a rare breed who realises that.

    From the jacket cover of the book, we learn that the author had refused the gallantry award, Bir Uttam, citing that the war had been a people’s war and gallantry awards are given to paid soldiers. Knowingly or unknowingly, that this war was a people’s war is what the book succeeds best in establishing the most. While loyalists and supporters harangue about the greatness of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s speech at the Paltan Maidan on March 7, 1971 or Ziaur Rahman’s declaration of independence on March 27, you realise after having read this book (though nothing of the sort is explicitly mentioned) that these individuals, and many others, played such important roles during that period, not just out of their individual greatness, but from a historical necessity, created by the demands of the people. On Mujib’s March 7 speech, we learn, in the author’s own words, ‘we had all hoped that independence would be declared that day. This wish of ours was emotional and controversial’, and on Zia’s declaration, he writes, ‘the people accepted his announcement, not to glorify him, but from historical necessity’.

    The entire narrative is embedded with such forces of people power. We find that when the author had met Major Shafiullah (now retired Major General) for the first time during the war, he and his troops were demoralised, ready to die under enemy fire or be captured and hanged, until the author pointed out to him that there were people out there training themselves, albeit unprofessionally, to go to war, and were desperately looking for leadership. Nooruzzaman, through various incidents and anecdotes, rightly points out that neither the political leadership, nor the military leadership, who most often vie for credit for the war now, were adequately prepared for any kind of war, and in fact, it was the sheer enthusiasm of the people and their hunger to fight back that forced these establishments to take action. The author writes how ‘the political leadership was going on and on about the establishment of a government, but could not find a single leader who could take this responsibility.’ More ominously, according to the author, when he brought up the issue with Khondokar Mushtaque, the latter was more concerned about the fact that ‘the wealth and property of the Awami League leaders would be appropriated by the Pakistan government’ while General Osmani had asked his nephew to deposit his personal firearms to the police on the instructions of the Pakistani government, after the crackdown. Meanwhile, in the military establishment, as Tajuddin said to the author, ‘there was a preoccupation with promotions among the officers.’

    The author comes down heavily on the Bangladesh Liberation Force, now popularly known as Mujib Bahini, a group of freedom fighters recruited from the ranks of the Chhatra League and trained by the Indian Army, who, as we learn from the author, operated independently of the Mukti Bahini, took part in incidents of looting and vandalism, and whose primary responsibility was to ensure that the freedom movement is not hijacked by the left. Nooruzzaman also comes down hard on many of the Bangladeshi military officers for their cowardice, and we are told of a number of officers who ran from the battlefield or went to hospital with self-inflicted wounds (some of who have been later decorated as freedom fighters and even became generals in the army). In contrast, we also learn about a village woman, who, defying her husband directly, provides the Mukti Bahinis with vital information. Time and again, what emerges from the book is whether it be Mukti Bahini, Mujib Bahini, the provincial government or the Indian army, the true forces were the ordinary people who backed the fighters with information, supplies, hideouts, and sheer enthusiasm to make this country free.

    Nooruzzaman dedicates a significant part of the book to his interactions with the Indian army, and while he gives them due credit for all the assistance we received during the war, he rightly points out that it was to India’s benefit that the war concludes quickly so that India can exercise influence over the country in the future. In fact, we once again find the difference in attitude between the establishment and ordinary people, where a certain Indian DC refused the use of his residence to wash the dead body of a Muslim freedom fighter, while an ordinary, poor Hindu Indian, seeing Bangladeshi soldiers injured at war, brought his wife’s washed sari to be torn to attend to their wounds. Towards the end we also hear of a young Indian captain who asks Nooruzzaman to endorse his application to become the Superintendent of Police in Bogra.

    There are many such stories in the book. We learn first hand about Ayub Khan’s aversion to Bengalis from the chapter in which Nooruzzaman explains why he joined the war, we learn about General Osmani and his penchant for threatening to resign every now and then, we learn embedded Razakars who disappeared during operations as well as remorseful Razakars who secretly helped Mukti Bahinis, we hear about the increase in smuggling and looting and about the bravery of Bir Seshtra Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir. All in all, the book is a fascinating account of a fascinating period of our history, told by a man who had the privilege (and at times misfortune) to experience it firsthand.

    New Age Xtra
     
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  2. pmukherjee

    pmukherjee SENIOR MEMBER

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    Can we have extracts of the book in pdf format? Anything that does not impinge on the commercial sale prospects of this book, so that we can read what has been written without actually having to buy the book?
     
  3. integra

    integra SENIOR MEMBER

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    very thoughtful perspective on the matter. After a long time I see someone saying it was the peoples war rather then a political agenda(since the head of the parties always seems to take credit out of it). Which justifies the loss of life we had to encounter.
     
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  4. MBI Munshi

    MBI Munshi PDF THINK TANK: ANALYST

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    It appears there was an early realization by Freedom Fighters that India could not be trusted.
     
  5. saleen_s7

    saleen_s7 FULL MEMBER

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    the old saying still holds true "the more I learn, the less I know"
     
  6. asad71

    asad71 PROFESSIONAL

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    A truthful account of 1971 at last.