In 1971, all of them put their lives on the line against a heavily armed Pakistan Army, fought relentlessly and won the war to create the independent nation of Bangladesh.
Before joining the war, many of them couldn’t even bid farewell to their families. As they fought the Pakistan Army, their families went through a double trauma — an agonizing wait for the safe return of their near ones from the battlefield and the fear of being abducted by the Pakistan Army and their local collaborators like Jamaat-e-Islami.
These war heroes liberated their motherland from a nefarious fundamentalist force and those who survived the war returned to a heroes’ welcome.
Honoured for their courage and valour in the battle for their motherland, their joining the armed forces was spurred by an urge to protect the country and the revolution that had brought about its independence.
But within just over three years, the assassination of the father of the nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, with his family members unleashed a powerful conspiracy that undermined the entire secular-democratic ethos of the Great Liberation War.
Backed by the US and Pakistan to avenge the defeat of 1971, the massacre and coup of 1975 led to the emergence of the country’s first military dictatorship under Lt. Gen Zia ur Rahman, who was then deputy army chief, but quickly got himself promoted as army chief with strong backing from the forces responsible for the coup.
Hours after the massacre of the Mujib family, junior officers rushed to Zia, for instructions.
Zia told them: “So what if the president is dead, the vice president is here”, as documented in a BBC Bangla report. According to independent researchers, Gen Zia, after being elevated to the rank of army chief, quickly embraced the killers and introduced a black law to protect the perpetrators of crime from justice.
The war heroes, then serving in the Bangladesh Liberation War Army, knew they were in trouble as Pakistan-returned repatriates ganged around Gen Zia. Soon their misgivings came true as Zia unleashed a series of executions to strip the military of freedom fighters on the pretext of a purge to discipline the forces.
The families of those executed still search for the last remains of those killed on Zia’s orders. And though five decades have elapsed, nobody has been brought to justice for these executions.
Now, deprived of justice for almost five decades, the family members of these war heroes turned soldiers, numbered over 1,000, have floated a platform named ‘Mayer Kanna’ (tears of mothers) and began knocking at all possible doors in the hope of tracing the remains of their heroes and demanding a trial for the illegal executions.
‘I STILL DON’T KNOW WHERE TO FIND MY FATHER’S REMAINS’
In an exclusive interview with India Today, these victims of the biggest human rights abuses in independent Bangladesh have shared their ordeals about how their lives got turned upside down as their near ones fell victim of enforced disappearances.
Zia and his cohorts branded these heroes as “traitors” before they were executed. And their families were left to fend on their own.
“I still don’t know where to find the remains of my father, we do not know why he was executed; all we have heard is that he was hanged without any trial in the Central Jail. The killers did not even bother to care for any religious ritual, like a proper burial,” said the son of one of the victims.
At the age of three, Rimna’s father, Sergeant Ashraful alam, was hanged without any trial, leaving her and her mother in hardships.
Accusing Gen Zia for the murder of her father, she said: “I had to spend nights starving; at times, my mother couldn’t manage even a modicum of milk for me. Poverty snatched away my education. Now, only the trial of Gen Zia will give me some solace.”
Mamtaz Begum, the daughter of Corporal Mobarak Ali, said, “When I was just six months old, Gen Zia hanged my father. Killer Gen Zia ruined our lives and is solely responsible for the death of my father; no one gave us any explanation about why he was hanged.”
Nurun Nahar, whose husband joined the air force, narrated her trauma. “From October 2, 1977 till now, I have got no trace of my husband who joined the air force after Liberation. Before that, a letter was dispatched to me mentioning the last location where my husband had been taken – Dhaka Central Jail. Afterwards, unable to find any trace of him in central jail, I with a little child, frantically searched every other jail and place but in vain,” said Nahar, with tears rolling down her cheeks.
“I spent three years with my husband — in three years, I found him to be an honest man — those who can put their lives at stake to serve their motherland against Pakistani forces. He served the armed forces; can you call people like him a criminal?” asked Nahar.
She added: “Why is nobody vocal about our right to get justice? Can feigning ignorance about such killings conceal the truth? I request PM Sheikh Hasina to intervene and help me find the remains of my husband.”
Kamruzzaman Lenin, who also lost his father in the so-called purge, said: “These extrajudicial killings were executed from a political viewpoint – the ideology that opposed the country’s independence and in independent land, the force made all-out efforts to wipe out the ideals our relatives fought for.”
Courtesy: India Today