Joan Baez and our Liberation War

Avijit Roy

Re-Published on December, 2008

 

 

Download “The Song of Bangladesh” (MP3 format)

“I’ve been obsessed with stopping people from blowing each other’s brains out since I was ten.” — Joan Baez

 

Bangladesh, Bangladesh
Bangladesh, Bangladesh
When the sun sinks in the west
Die a million people of the Bangladesh … (~Joan Baez)

It was a dreadful midnight of 25th March, 1971. Most of the students of Iqbal Hall (one of the allocated residence  for the students of Dhaka University) were in sound sleep. Some were taking preparation to go to bed after their laborious daily routine work. All of a sudden, led by American supplied M-24 World War II tanks, “the most civilized” Pakistan Army  cracked down on  those unarmed sleeping Bengali students of Dhaka University area. It’s just a beginning of the story. A melancholic prologue – a bloody preamble of the most cruel genocidal epic  in the world’s history….

“..And the students at the university
Asleep at night quite peacefully
The soldiers came and shot them in their beds
And terror took the dorm awakening shrieks of dread
And silent frozen forms and pillows drenched in red…”  (~Joan Baez)
 

Pakistani armed troops took over the British Council Library and used it as fire base from which to shell at the Iqbal Hall and its nearby dormitory areas. Since Iqbal Hall was  then known as the headquarters of the Free Bengal Students Action Committee, a major portion of the Pakistani Army fury was directed at Iqbal Hall. Just after midnight Iqbal Hall came under a barrage of heavy mortar and machine-gun attack from near the pond in front and the police barracks behind it. In plain words, Pak soldiers created a havoc at that night in that area –  they crucified, slaughtered the innocent students  like animals, killed indiscriminately  to execute the systematic and planned extermination of an entire national, racial, political, an ethnic culture–the entire “Bangalee Nation”.

The story of Bangladesh
Is an ancient one again made fresh
By blind men who carry out commands
Which flow out of the laws upon which nation stands
Which is to sacrifice a people for a land … (Joan Baez)

On that eventful horrible night, instantly at least 200 students were killed in Iqbal Hall. “What transpired around Iqbal Hall, I saw with my own eyes. Raging infernos everywhere; the slum was burning, the cars parked around the residences were burning. The heaped bodies of the dead from the slum were also set on fire near the Nilkhet rail gate petrol pump. The sound of shells bursting and guns firing, the smoke and fire, the smell of gun-powder and the stench of the burning corpses all transformed the area into a fiery hell. Every so often our building was being peppered with bullets. In the midst of this, we, our families, the students and bearers from the Halls, the slum-dwellers, had given up all hope for life, and were waiting for the hour of death.”, said Professor Rafiqul Islam of Dhaka University, who was one of the unfortunate witnesses of the cruel massacre of that night. 

 

Even after two days, visitors still found scattered bodies smoldering in burnt-out rooms, others were scattered outside, more floated in a nearby lake, an art student lay sprawled across his easel. Though the civilized military tried to hide all the facts  from the outer world, many bodies were still there and could never have accounted for all the blood in the corridors of Iqbal Hall.  Mr. Abul Kasem, one of our Mukto-Mona comrade quotes in his article “Reminiscing this bloody day after three decades”-

“… The scene I saw in Iqbal Hall was beyond any description. The whole area was like a battlefield. I knew that DUCSU VP Tofail Ahmed used to live there. There were holes on the walls created by mortar shells. Those holes were visible from afar. When I arrived at the playground of the hall, I saw about 30 dead bodies all lined up for display to the public. Many of the dead bodies were beyond any recognition due to innumerable bullet holes on their faces. That was a gruesome sight. Many people started crying. My friend Jafar used to live in Iqbal hall. I did not see his dead body. Later, I learnt that his dead body was found in his bed. Needless to say, the displayed corpses were merely a small fraction of the students when Pak army had murdered in Iqbal Hall on that dreadful night.”

… that night…blood, flesh….dead bodies were scattered…everywhere. Crystal clear example of homicide; Mass  massacre.  Burned faces, sign of torture on innocent students  ..bulleted.. lying there side by side one after another. Oh …what a pain, agony and distress…what a mournful, grievous and regrettable scene it was. But what those civilized Pak Army officers plea?  Joan Baez uttered in a metaphoric sense –

Did you read about the army officer’s plea
For donor’s blood? It was given willingly
By boys who took the needles in their veins
And from their bodies every drop of blood was drained
No time to comprehend and there was little pain …(Joan Baez)

This is just a part of bloody Arabian night story, dear reader .. which led us a  nine-month long war of liberation ensued, culminating in the emergence of an independent Bangladesh on 16 December 1971. The Liberation War was not , however, you know- fought in the battlefield alone. Thousands of unarmed people including women and children provided support to the Freedom Fighters – in running errands, hiding or transporting arms and ammunition, providing shelter and food, nursing the sick and the wounded and in myriad other ways.

Once again we stand aside
And watch the families crucified
See a teenage mother’s vacant eyes
As she watches her feeble baby try
To fight the monsoon rains … (Joan Baez)

During that time the international media gave vivid and horrifying accounts that a systematic genocide of Bangladesh was perpetrated by the Pakistan Army. Numerous books and films have also documented the genocide. Many artists, performer and singer around the world came for the support of Bangladesh. One of the glorified names is Joan Chandos Baez, widely known as Joan Baez in thousands of musical fans’ hearts. This creative performer and peace activist was born in Staten Island, New York, near the line of her Secondary Transcendental, Neptune. Her album Joan Baez (1960) marked the beginning of a successful recording career which included strong record sales in the early ’60s and devoted fans who followed her progress into the 1970s. At that time Baez emerged at the forefront of the American roots revival, where she introduced her audiences to the less prominent (at that time) Bob Dylan, who in later years became a legendary figure in American music. Baez toured with Bob Dylan in 1964 and 1965, 1975 and 1976 Rolling Thunder Revue tours, and, abortively, in Europe in 1984 and performed renowned songs including, Blowing in the Wind and We shall overcome someday.

Picture : Joan Baez with Bob Dylan, September 1963

In 1971 Baez was just 30. Having heard the news of the cruel massacre by Pakistani Na-Pak soldiers on 25th March, Joan felt so agitated and anguished for the unfortunate death of the students of Dhaka University…that she took her guitar in hand and stated to compose a new song, named – “The Song of Bangladesh”. [Some of the invaluable lines (lyrics) of that song I have put in this article in green color]. From that day, she started giving free performances and free concerts for raising fund for Bangladesh with various anti-war organizations. She started traveling many countries all over the world to disclose the cruel genocide done by  Pakistani soldiers in  the world’s history.  Her activities went on till we achieved our arduous freedom.

This is Joan Baez – the rewound singer and musician of 60’s who felt for Bangali  people, felt for our beloved motherland . Besides her successful musical career, Baez applied her “creative imagination / and artistry” (Neptune / Venus) towards the goal of “peace” (Venus) in the 1960s, she established the Institute for the Study of Nonviolence (1965) and became active in protests against the Vietnam War, giving free performances for various anti-war organizations and peace rallies. The acclaimed “Peace Queen” was jailed twice for participating in “anti-war” (Venus) demonstrations, and in 1964 she refused to pay her taxes. Her disagreement with the U.S. war in Vietnam forced her sending a letter to the Internal Revenue Service, where Joan Baez wrote –

I do not believe in war. I do not believe in the weapons of war … and I am not going to volunteer 60% of my year’s income tax that goes to armaments.”

Later her disquiet at the human rights violations of communist Vietnam also made her equally increasingly critical of its government and therefore she composed  some publications in late 70s for four major U.S. newspapers, in which the communists were accused for  having created a nightmare to common people. This experience ultimately led Baez to found her own human rights group, Humanitas International, whose focus was to target oppression wherever it occurred, criticizing right and left wing regimes equally.

Till today Joan Baez continues to speak and sing for peaceful solutions to violence in the Middle East and Latin America.

Joan Baez. The great ever-green freedom fighter of the history. She fought for Bangladesh, she fought for us, felt for us  from a distant corner of the world and supported us with her songs, strong lyrics and voluntary performances. When I listened  the Song of Bangladesh for the very first time – I could not hold my tears. I was really touched by the composition and its  melancholic tune. The song till today gives me a same mystic feelings that I gain every time when I listen “Aamaar Bhaiyer Roktey Raanganoo..ekushey February”.  I put the full lyrics of the song here for the interested readers –

SONG OF BANGLADESH
 -Joan Baez.

Bangladesh, Bangladesh
Bangladesh, Bangladesh
When the sun sinks in the west
Die a million people of the Bangladesh

The story of Bangladesh
Is an ancient one again made fresh
By blind men who carry out commands
Which flow out of the laws upon which nation stands
Which is to sacrifice a people for a land

Bangladesh, Bangladesh
Bangladesh, Bangladesh
When the sun sinks in the west
Die a million people of the Bangladesh

Once again we stand aside
And watch the families crucified
See a teenage mother’s vacant eyes
As she watches her feeble baby try
To fight the monsoon rains and the cholera flies

And the students at the university
Asleep at night quite peacefully
The soldiers came and shot them in their beds
And terror took the dorm awakening shrieks of dread
And silent frozen forms and pillows drenched in red

Bangladesh, Bangladesh
Bangladesh, Bangladesh
When the sun sinks in the west
Die a million people of the Bangladesh

Did you read about the army officer’s plea
For donor’s blood? It was given willingly
By boys who took the needles in their veins
And from their bodies every drop of blood was drained
No time to comprehend and there was little pain

And so the story of Bangladesh
Is an ancient one again made fresh
By all who carry out commands
Which flow out of the laws upon which nations stand
Which say to sacrifice a people for a land

Bangladesh, Bangladesh
Bangladesh, Bangladesh
When the sun sinks in the west
Die a million people of the Bangladesh

Dear Readers, please think for a moment how many years we took to find Sitara, Taramon Bibi, and Ouderland birpratik among us and give award to them. Isn’t it a high time to tribute Joan before it gets too late?

This article is dedicated to Joan Baez, the eminent freedom fighter who has marched 66 in this year. I wish her long and prosperous happy life.

Long live Joan Baez. Long live Freedom !

Download “The Song of Bangladesh” (MP3 format)


Reference:

1. Reminiscing this bloody day after three decades : Abul Kasem, Daily Independent, 26 March, 2001

2. The Black Night Of March 25th 1971: Professor Rafiqul Islam, Dhaka University.

3. Joan Baez Web Pages.

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