Our pathfinders


Yesterday, 14 December, was the Martyred Intellectuals Day. As the liberation war neared its end, the then occupation forces on this day brutally killed leading intellectuals of the land. Then on 16 December Bangladesh won victory. Bangladesh won its independence through nine months of indescribable struggle and sacrifice by the people of this country. That is why, 49 years on, we remember this day with both a sense of deep sadness as well as with the exuberance of victory.

On 14 December and 16 December as we recall the 3 million martyrs, certain names leap up in our minds. These are the martyred intellectuals, Bangladesh’s finest, the pathfinders who illuminated our way ahead. Many of them were dragged from their homes between 10 and 14 December and mercilessly killed.

These martyred intellectuals include writer and journalist Shahidullah Kaiser, professor Munier Chowdhury, Mofazzel Haider Chowdhury, Santosh Bhattacharya, Abul Khair, Sirajul Huq Khan, journalist Sirajuddin Hossain, ANM Golam Mustafa, BBC journalist Nizamuddin Ahmed, PPI bureau chief Syed Nizamul Huq, Abdul Alim Chowdhury, Fazle Rabbi, Mohammed Mortaza, Shilalipi editor Selina Parvin and many more. On the eve of independence, the Pakistani military and their collaborating Razakar and Al-Badr forces cruelly killed the cream of the country’s professors, writers, journalists, physicians and more.

We commemorate Martyred Intellectuals Day on 14 December, but it is not only on that day that intellectuals were picked up from their homes and killed by the barbaric Pakistani forces. During the curfew hours on 10 to 14 December 1971 too, they were picked up and killed in a planned manner.

Actually it was from the black night of 25 March 1971 that the frenzy of killing began. The Pakistani rulers had targeted the Bangali members of the police, BDR, (then EPR) and the armed forces. They were bent upon implementing a blueprint to annihilate the independence-seeking political and student leadership, Dhaka University professors in particular, as well as writers, artists and intellectuals from all over the country. They went on a killing spree at the student halls and the houses of the university teachers.

On the night of 25 March they raided the Dhaka University halls and teachers’ quarters, killing professor Govinda Chandra Dev, Jyotirmoy Guhathakurta, ANM Muniruzzaman, Muhammed Abdul Muktadir, Anudwaipayan Bhattacharya, Ataur Rahman Khan Khadim and many others.

We recall the unbelievable bloodshed, destruction and death that gripped the entire Dhaka city deep in the night of 25 March. Curfew had been let up for a few hours on 17 March. I could not control my tears to see our dear daily Sangbad office up in flames. And before that we saw the dead bodies of 10 or 12 police strewn along Bangshal Road. I cannot forget the faces of those bullet ridden bodies, lying with their mouths agape.

Making my way from home in Bangshal Road through Nazirabazar and Nimtali, crossing Medical College to the Shaheed Minar in ruin, I was deeply shocked. Then I walked to Iqbal Hall, in front of the canteen only to be pained at the sight of the dead bodies of 10 to 12 teachers, students and employees. They included geology professor Muhammad Abdul Muktadir. I will never be able to forget those painful and sad days.

I walked from Iqbal Hall, crossed the veranda of Salimullah Hall and peered into the empty rooms. Suddenly in Room 137 I saw a pair of glasses fallen upon the floor. These belonged to a student leader close to us, Lutful Azim. His body was nowhere to be seen. Holding back tears, I went along and saw the ruins left of Jagannath Hall provost and philosophy professor Govinda Chandra Dev’s house.

From there I went on to dear Madhu da’s house and saw death and destruction all around. Later when I read the story of dear friend Kaliranjan Sheel, who had miraculously survived, I learnt that the Pakistani soldiers had gone on a killing spree on the night of 25 March at Jagannath Hall and its grounds.

Opposite the main gate of Jagannath Hall were the quarters of the engineering university professors and I saw the video of the killings filmed secretly in the dark at a distance by Dr Nurullah. It will never be possible to forget the horrors of that night.

While going from hall to hall on 27 Match, I heard from several student leaders and activists that other than Govinda Chandra Dev, Jyotirmoy Guhathakuta has been wounded. He died five days later at Dhaka Medical College Hospital.

Professor ANM Muniruzzaman lived in that building too. I hadn’t ever heard of him being involved in politics. And then Shaheed Saber was burnt to death when the daily Sangbad office was set on fire. The killers took the life of poet Meherunnessa that March too.

On Martyred Intellectuals day, while thinking back of those days and nights, I recall after the nine months of the independence struggle, with the guerrilla force and others, we reached Gopibagh in Dhaka on the evening of 16 December. In the morning I travelled come from Ghorasal by river via Palash to reach Demra at around 4 in the afternoon. We saw Bangladesh’s freedom fighters, carrying their arms, were rapidly proceeding towards Dhaka. The joy of victory was etched on their faces.

Members of the Indian armed forces were speeding in their vehicles to Dhaka too. We had already heard that the Pakistan army was surrendering that day. As we went along, we saw the news of victory had spread exuberance among the people on either side of the river. Joy Bangla slogans resounded everywhere.

As we walked towards Dhaka, a certain sense of uncertainty and fear had gripped our minds. We were not aware of what lay ahead, when we would reach Dhaka. When we reached Gopibagh, night had fallen. We went to our leader Saifuddin Ahmed Manik’s home and spent the night there. By then we had got to know a lot of what was happening, of the deaths in Dhaka and the entire country, of the destruction, the resistance and the surrender of the Pakistani armed forces.

The next day dawned, 17 December. Filled with mixed feelings of joy, pain and excitement, I left Gopibagh to come home to Bangshal. As I went along the way by rickshaw, I saw the remains of fire from Tikatuli to Tipu Sultan Road. There were hardly any people on the streets. Fear still prevailed.

I met my parents, brothers and sister after a long nine months, but there was hardly any joy or excitement in the faces. Perhaps the 9 months had taken its toll and they struggled to shed off the fear. For seven or eight months my mother, brother and sisters had lived in my maternal grandfather’s home in Kapashia. The last two months they had been back at our house in Bangshal. I did not stay home long that morning. I rushed off to the science annex building of Dhaka University. Out freedom fighters’ temporary camp had been set up there.

The freedom fighters, politicians, cultural activists and others gathered there were grieving. Our dear Rabindra Sangeet artiste Zahidur Rahim came up on his Honda to meet us. We all met after so long, still alive. He spoke of the terrible days of survival. We learnt of the terrors that prevailed from 10 to 15 December when the professors, writers and other intellectuals had been killed.

We learnt that our dear writer and journalist Shahidullah Kaiser was no more. Munier Chowdhury was no more. There was no trace of Alim Chowdhury. This was unbelievable, unbearable. We were in a state of shock.

I got to know and became close to Shahidullah Kaiser from 1965 to 1970 when preparations were on for the independence struggle. I would call upon him and he would help out in many ways. Munier Chowdhury was related to me, but outside of that I must say he was one of the finest intellectuals we had, a writer, a dramatist and a language scholar. His son Bhashan had joined the liberation war. I met him in Agartala. I recall his fear and anxiety for his father.

Mofazzel Haider Chowdhury was a Bangla teacher. I would see him at various seminars and discussions. He was a meritorious and good man. We printed his writings in the Chhatra Union publications in the sixties.

I would see Giasuddin Ahmed in the university, a gentleman full of vigour. He would always wear white panjabi and pyjamas. Even when Dhaka was under siege, he would always keep in contact with the freedom fighters and help out in various ways.

Dhaka University’s professor of English SMA Rashedul Hasan and Bangla professor Anwar Pasha were picked up from their homes on 14 December and killed. Anwar Pasha had written a novel around that time, Rifle Roti Aurat (Rifles, Bread and Women).

After Shahidullah Kaiser, among journalists whose names spring to the mind is Sirajuddin Hossain. He was the news and executive editor of Ittefaq. He was picked up on 10 December from his Chamelibagh house, never to be seen again.

I met journalist ANM Golam Mostafa in 1962 when I was a student at Dhaka College. He was working at Purbodesh. We were both with Chhatra Union and he was an important student leader in Dinajpur. I remember him to be a quiet and good man. I met BBC journalist Nizamuddin Ahmed and PPI journalist Syed Nizamul Huq at various programmes.

I had gone to check my eyes twice, in 1968 and 1969 at eye specialist Abdul Alim Chowdhury’s chamber. He was an active and progressive man. When my elder brother fell seriously ill in the mid-sixties, Dr Fazle Rabbi came to our house in Bangshal. I also knew Dr Mohammed Murtaza of Dhaka University. He was involved in underground left politics.

Outside of their professions, these physicians were involved in all sorts of social activities. Just as we were stepping into our independence, so many of these writers and intellectuals were snatched up from the university and various colleges in Dhaka and killed.

As I write of these martyrs, I must make mention of two more names – Altaf Mahmud and Zahir Raihan. Altaf Mahmud was a musician, a composer and a cultural activist. His songs and music direction created a stir throughout the country in the sixties and those songs are still alive. I met him directly at a DUCSU programme on 21 February in 1964. We later grew close. He attended innumerable programmes of Chhatra Union and the DUSCU cultural association throughout the decade. He was progressive and active, and was determined to play a role during the struggle for independence. Many of his songs were sent to the liberation war radio station Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra but were confiscated at the border. Arms and ammunition of the freedom fighters were hoarded in his home. When the Pakistan army heard about that, they picked him up and brutally killed him.

I met writer and film maker Zahir Raihan in the mid sixties. He would write for our 21 February publication and was involved in other activities too. After independence when he returned to the country, he broke down upon hearing that his elder brother Shahidullah Kaiser had been taken away. He was desperate to find and rescue him. He thought Shahidullah Kaiser had been kept at the Bihari camp in Mirpur. On 30 January 1971 the Bangladesh army raided the Bihari camp and he went along with them. He was martyred that day.

I remember meeting him in January just after independence on the stairs of PG Hospital. He said, it’s been a long time. Come over, we need to talk. I never got to go over and it pains me.

The sacrifice and deaths of the country’s finest writers, journalists and intellectuals gives us a deep sense of suffering. At the same time, this struggle and sacrifice inspires us, imbibes us with enthusiasm. They are the beacons of light in our lives. These writers, journalists and artistes will never be forgotten.

The Pakistani rulers wanted to wipe out all those who had awoken the nation’s conscience though their writings, songs, drama and education over the two decades that preceded independence. These martyrs had worked in various ways for the victory of the liberation war. They waited in great anticipation for victory, but they never lived to see that day.

We lost many of them during the nine months of independence struggle. But we were not defeated. We will forever be indebted to our teachers, writers, physicians, engineers and all the martyrs for our victory. We will remember them for all time to come.

* Matiur Rahman is the editor of Prothom Alo.