Freedom fighter and Mujib Bahini commander MA Khair is from Hajipur of Magura’s Sadar upazila. Growing up in rural area, he saw the discrimination and oppression towards people during the Pakistan rule. There were no good roads or communication at that time. His house was 4 km away from Magura town and he used to travel by bicycle. “When I was in Class 8, I had to carry the bicycle on my shoulders four times to travel this short distance because there were four bamboo bridges. And, if there was rain, things got worse,” MA Khair recalled.
MA Khair got involved in student politics at an early age. He was general secretary of Chhatra League’s Magura mohakuma unit in 1966, then become vice president of Jashore district’s Chhatra League. He joined the movement against Hamoodur Rahman education commission, the six-point movement. Meanwhile, he began his studies at Dhaka University. He was studying Master's in law during the war of independence. When the call came, MA Khair put aside his books and took up the arms to join the fight the independence of the country.
A three-member team was sent to India in early-March to build contacts that would be helpful when the time came. And one of the team members was Sohrab Hossain, uncle of MA Khair
Right before the crackdown on 25 March 1971, Khan Abdul Wali Khan, then president of the National Awami Party (NAP) and son of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (known as the Frontier Gandhi), told Bangbandhu that whatever they do, the Pakistani junta would definitely launch the crackdown.
“We had instructions from Bangbandhu to leave Dhaka as soon as possible. The leader wanted to face the consequences alone instead of any single member of his party getting killed. The Pakistani junta launched the crackdown and we left Dhaka,” MA Khair said.
They then arrived in Magura where they created a barricade on a point eight miles away from Jhenaidah on the Jhenaidah-Jashore road to block the Pakistani occupation forces. They continued resistance for next two weeks.
“On April 18, I got a truck and went to Chuadanga. Then I went on foot to Darshana. After that, I followed the railway track and walked all the way to India’s Ranaghat. Several others and myself took a train and arrived in Kolkata. Everyone was scattered and so we started looking for the others. In the meantime, the Mujbnagar government has been formed. We heard a new office had been opened and the embassy was in the Park Circus. Sohrab Hossain and AHM Quamruzzaman were monitoring the people arriving every day was well as the opening of camps,” MA Khair recalled.
MA Khair and two others -- Asad Mia and Baby Siddique -- were given a task. “We were told to open a camp in Ranaghat. Asad bhai told me and Baby Siddique to go ahead with two trucks carrying tents and other equipment and he would join us later.” As they arrived in Ranaghat, they found an abandoned mill with open grounds in the front. So they stationed there and planned to set up tents. Meantime, refugees from Bangladesh continued to arrive. “We set up tents and during that time, we cooked coarse rice, vegetables and lentils and served it to people.”
Then they received another order to set up a youth camp instead of the refugee camp. Youths would get orientation here before being sent to a training camp. They operated the camp for three months, then Tofael Ahmed called MA Khair to Kolkata. Tofael Ahmed told us to pack up because they would send us for training. They were mostly picking up the educated youths and Chhatra League activists. Serajul Alam Khan and Sheikh Fazlul Haque Mani, Tofael Ahmed and Abdur Razzaq held a meeting. “They then told us that listen, nobody knows how long the war continues. So, you the young will receive guerrilla training as well as motivational training. You will motivate the people. During the Vietnam war, everyone had training and arms. Now the trained youths would provide such training to the masses and motivate them. And, then the Mujib Bahini was formed. After that, we were taken to the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun, Uttarakhand.”
MA Kahir recalled they left Kolkata by train, then went to Jalpaiguri. After that, they were flown by air force plane but they had no idea where they were going. After landing, they stayed a night in a tent near an airport. They were being flown again. This time when they arrived, they learned this was Dehradun.
“We had received training at Dehradun for seven weeks. Hasanul Haque Inu was our Bengali camp in-charge. We awoke up at 6:00am and had breakfast with a cup of tea. Then we joined the training.” At the training, most of them were students and they almost knew each other. MA Khair himself took about 40 people from Magura to the training. Major Malhotra was their chief supervisor of the training.
After the training completed, they returned to Barrackpore camp. Nur Alam Ziku from Kushtia was in-charge of the camp. Arms and ammunition were supplied from the camp and they then entered into the Bangladesh territory, crossing Benapole border. “We moved at night. There were prior instructions on people receiving us at certain point. We would stay there during daylight and move again at night. We arrived in Magura after walking for three nights,” MA Khair said.
The main mission of the team that MA Khair commanded was hit-and-run. “We were instructed to ambush the military convoy and left the area at once. But our raid drew consequences. The military burnt down the villages. We killed the two soldiers during a hit-and-run in Radhanagar Bazaar in Sreepur. The military then burnt the market to ground,” he said.
The military also razed their village and houses to the ground. There were 27 freedom fighters in MA Khair’s village. On the day, the Mujib Bahini commander had intelligence information that the occupation forces would enter their villages from Jhenaidah since this village and neighbouring areas were still free from their invasion.
Some 40-50 members of Mukti Bahini had camped in the area. So, they shifted the camp to Baraichara in a Hindu area. News arrived the Pakistani occupation forces would also attack there. All but 4-5 of Mukti Bahini left the camp and unfortunately, they were caught. Local Awami League leader Majed Khandakar was among the hostages. The military tortured him brutally.
MA Khair said, “The military convoy crossed our house and reached Baraichara at night. When the Fajr azan began, they opened fire. The military detained 7-8 people and then they came to our village in the morning. At first, they set our house on fire after the local collaborators showed it to them.”
This is the house of the uncle of the national assembly member Muhammad Sohrab Hossain, some collaborators pointed out. At first, the military set fire to the haystack and left. But they returned after a while and torched the entire house. My father narrowly escaped their firings, he said.
Recollecting his war memories, MA Khair said, “We all fled to the nearby field. After that, the military camped at a nearby school, so we planned to attack. We attacked them from all sides though our arsenal consisted of only 303 Rifles and SLRs. We later got intelligence that the army started advancing from Magura and Jhenidah, so we retreated.”
During the battle, one of his men was hit by a bullet in the leg. They were crawling past an open field when the bullet hit him. “We barely managed to escape, and went to a nearby house. There was pile of jute in that house since it was during jute harvest. I hid my injured man in the jute pile. I told the landlord, the military would obviously come here. And the army did come but they could not find him. Then people from that house gave first aid. And we sent a horse cart up in the evening and took him to the camp,” MA Khair recalled.
Recalling another tragic event, the Mujib Bahini commander said a group of freedom fighters went to Jhenaidah’ Shailkupa and camped at a school while there the leaders went to their relatives’ house nearby. The army learnt about this and directly came from Jhenadah. "As they were wont, the army started firing just when the Fazr azan began. Our boys had to escape and the battle left 27 people dead," he recalled.
After the independence, MA Khair joined the civil service in 1973. He served his country, for which he fought the occupation forces, in various capacities until he retired as a secretary in 2007.
Defying all odds, an independent Bangladesh is progressing, he says, adding “Once there were four bamboo bridges on the road connecting my house with the town. Today, we can go to my house by a car along the roads connecting the village from all three sides. I visited Pakistan once during my student life and I saw how developed they had been while we had nothing and we were oppressed. We had no jobs at that time.”
“Whatever we have, we are progressing now because we fought for the country and gained the independence. And I, too, have little contribution. People now have a relatively better life. People’s outlook and attire have changed. We had seen if someone had a shirt in a village, every man would share it while visiting to relatives’ house. Nobody walks barefoot now.”
“We fought for the country. We freed it and we put an end to Pakistan’s oppression. That is why we are progressing today. Nobody dies of starvation now and this is the outcome of the wisdom and sacrifice of Bangabandhu. And this gives me peace of mind,” MA Khair says.