Friday, December 14, 2007


Reopen trial of razakars
Kanchan Gupta

Last week a significant event took place that was largely ignored by our ‘national’ newspapers and news channels which, at the moment, are busy tripping over each other to defend the presiding deity of 10, Janpath and berate Mr Narendra Modi, the favourite whipping boy of Delhi’s la-di-da secularists. But for robust reporting by Bengali newspapers, we would not have known that the remains of Hamidur Rahman, legendary hero of Bangladesh’s liberation war, till now interred in a grave in Tripura, were handed over to Bangladeshi authorities on December 9. Thirty-six years after laying down his life to liberate Bangladesh from Pakistan’s tyrannical rule, Rahman has at last found his rightful place among other fallen mukti joddhas in his homeland.
The touching story of Rahman’s supreme sacrifice deserves to be recalled and retold, if only to silence Jamaatis on both sides of Padma — and ‘intellectuals’ who provide legitimacy to their canards; among them Ms Sarmila Bose whose ‘history’ of the liberation war is a stunning example of negationism — and refresh memories of those terrible days of mass slaughter and rape by Pakistani soldiers who were helped in their dark deeds by collaborators, known as razakars and drawn from Jamaat-e-Islami, Al Badr and Al Shams. Many of them are still alive; some of them have served as Ministers and legislators in Begum Khaleda Zia’s hugely corrupt Government and actively promoted radical Islam; a whole lot of them would find themselves behind bars and walking the plank if Dhaka were to reopen the trial of collaborators and take it to its logical conclusion.
Rahman was a sepoy in the First East Bengal Regiment of the Mukti Bahini, the liberation force set up with the help of volunteers often armed with nothing more than .303 rifles and grenades, to fight Gen Tikka Khan’s Army of Pakistani marauders. Legend has it that on October 28, 1971, Rahman was ordered by his company commander to attack the base camp of Pakistan’s 39th Frontier Force near Paharmura, 145 km from Agartala. The resources of the Mukti Bahini were already stretched and there weren’t too many fighters to be spared for the mission. So Rahman set off alone, armed with two grenades. He stealthily crawled to the camp’s two machine gun posts and took them out even while he was being strafed. Rahman died at the age of 17 years. Later, inspired by his valour, other mukti joddhas tried to capture the Pakistani camp; scores of them died.
An old-timer recalls, “Rahman’s body was brought to Hatimarachara, 40 km inside Tripura, by Rehman Mian and given a proper Muslim burial.” After the fall of Dhaka and the liberation of Bangladesh, seven of the bravest mukti joddhas were posthumously conferred that country’s highest gallantry award, Bir Shreshtha. Rahman was one of them. But there was never any real effort by the post-liberation regimes in Dhaka to bring the hero home. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, after an initial burst of enthusiasm to enshrine the guiding principles of the liberation struggle as the founding principles of a secular, democratic Bangladesh, began pandering to the same forces that had fetched ruination and worse on Bangladeshis.
By the time he was assassinated on August 15, 1975, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had lifted the ban on the Islamic Academy whose Urdu-speaking patrons and members had actively colluded with Gen Tikka Khan’s Army, imposed prohibition and declared gambling illegal. Perhaps it was not entirely coincidental that within a couple of years of Bangladesh’s birth and repudiation of Islam as an overarching national identity, Islamic groups had begun to show signs of revival. Nor is it coincidental that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman should have sought and secured Bangladesh’s inclusion in the Organisation of Islamic Conference; he travelled to Lahore in 1974, ostensibly to attend an OIC summit but used the opportunity to break bread with those who had tormented, tortured and killed three million Bangladeshis. It is not surprising that ‘Joy Bangla’ should have been replaced by ‘Khuda Hafiz’ while he was alive; nor is it surprising that his daughter and inheritor of his political legacy, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, should be perfectly at ease brokering deals with suspect Islamist organisations.
The military regimes that ruled Bangladesh after Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s assassination — first headed by Maj Gen Ziaur Rahman, who was assassinated on May 31, 1981, and later by Lt Gen HM Ershad, who was chased out of office by a pro-democracy movement — worked towards subverting the history of Bangladesh’s struggle for independence which, in a sense, began in 1948 when Mohammed Ali Jinnah declared that “Urdu, and only Urdu shall be the official language of Pakistan”. The Bengalis of East Pakistan revolted, horrified by the very thought of being asked to abandon their cultural identity. The language agitation, culminating with the brutal crackdown on protesting students on February 21, 1952, now commemorated as Ekushey and International Mother Language Day, marked the beginning of Jinnah’s “moth-eaten Pakistan” falling apart.
The Arabisation of Bangladesh has continued unabated since then, as has the corruption of Bangladeshi society. If Maj Gen Zia was guilty of issuing the infamous ‘Indemnity Ordinance’ that allowed the guilty men of 1971 to escape punishment for their crimes, his widow, Begum Khaleda Zia, is guilty of legitimising the Jamaat-e-Islami, which had collaborated with the Pakistani Army and now insists that the butchery and mass rape 36 years ago was no more than a “civil war”. A Jamaat MP in the last Parliament, Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, apart from heaping abuse on those who fought for Bangladesh’s liberation, has on more than one occasion described Hindus in that country as “excrement” to the nodding approval of Begum Khaleda Zia. Which does not mean Sheikh Hasina Wajed has stood by the spirit of the liberation war; on the contrary, she has contributed in equal measure to Bangladesh’s politics of hate, violence and disruption.
Mr Fakhruddin Ahmed’s military-backed caretaker Government, which now rules Bangladesh, has shown remarkable persistence in reviving the spirit of 1971 and restoring faith in the principles that motivated mukti joddhas like Hamidur Rahman to embrace death in the prime of their lives. This is far beyond the remit of the caretaker Government, but comes as a welcome departure from past policy. He must now reopen the trial of collaborators, especially those who killed the best and the brightest of that country in what is known as the ‘slaughter of intellectuals’. That would be a fitting tribute to those who dreamt of and fought for a truly free — mukto — Bangladesh on the 36th anniversary of that country’s liberation tomorrow (December 16, 2007).


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