Wednesday, February 6

Scattered memories of 1971

Remember when I said that the local Bangladeshi's themselves are not that keen to go ahead and prosecute the war criminals, here's another view. If you treat your genocide memorial museum in this half hearted manner, what do you expect the rest of the world to do? I quote:

The bookshelves of the Muktijuddho Jadughor, the Liberation War Museum, in Dhaka, are overflowing with personal accounts of heroism, flight and suffering that took place during that year. But almost all of those who have written about the war were either directly involved in it, witnesses to its events, or have a vested interest in airing their opinion after the fact. Somewhat counter-intuitively, this wealth of information ends up dramatically complicating the attempt to separate fact from fiction, emotion from reality, and rhetoric from 'truth', in the course of any attempt to construct a nuanced account of 1971.

Textbooks prepared under the military regimes and the governments of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) tried to drop all references to India, and refer to Pakistan not by name but as hanadar bahini, the 'enemy army'. This skewed presentation in the textbooks has led legions of Bangladeshi schoolchildren to believe that the mukti bahini, the Liberation Army, actually fought against India in 1971.

Part of the reason interested quarters today are able to question the existence of war crimes against women is that there have been no histories written of this episode of the war, there are no testimonial, or interviews. For the most part, this issue has been brushed aside, since it requires us to look within ourselves, at the strictures and structures of our own society as well as to condemn the brutality of the other. Clearly the ambiguous figure of the birangona (the shamed one) cannot be easily contained within a generalised glorious narrative of the nation.

The Jadughor exhibit alleges that there were 50,000 such 'collaborators'. It includes the identity card of one such individual, one Hossain Ahamed, a member of the Muslim League and of the Dacca City Razakar Organisation. There is also a letter to the secretary of the Thana Peace Committee written on 7 June 1971 by a certain M Joynal Abedin, stating that he had been forced to flee his house, as the Mukti Bahini had "attempted to arrest and kill" him. Abedin also noted that he was a "supporter of the Muslim League and worked in favour of the same during the last general election" – before asking whether he could move into a house, the particulars of which he listed as follows:

Owner: Kumar Dhirendranath Chakrabarty, s/o late Monoranjan Chakrabarty (Manik babu), Village Ulipur (Jotder Para), one south facing tin shed, measuring 20 x 10½ and two bamboo houses.

What is intriguing about this information is the level of detail provided. The use of nicknames suggests a particular level of familiarity. It is certainly possible that Abedin knew Chakrabarty, whose name suggests that he was Hindu, and whose abandoned house suggests that he might have joined the ranks of the refugees who fled to India.

There is little doubt of the immense human tragedy that accompanied 1971. But, as with 1947, such human tragedy was also accompanied by great hope and celebration – the birth of a new nation, and, for many, liberation from oppression. However, the Bangladeshi dream has not quite gone the way it was originally envisioned, and Bangladesh has spent many years under military rule, including today. Perhaps the final question to ponder has to do with the legacies of 1971. Do the divisions that surfaced in 1971 carry with them a portent of what is to come? And, in perhaps the bitterest of ironies, why has Bangladesh's political history, in the 35 years since independence, begun to resemble that of Pakistan?

Tragic, but then, people deserve the rulers they deserve!

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