Shabbir Ahmed

Forty five years ago, the people of Bangladesh stood against the repressive military regime of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan for establishing their democratic, cultural, and human rights. Many college and university students took arms and left the campuses for the greater cause of freeing the country from the Nazi like forces consisting of the members of the Pakistani military, fundamentalist Jamaat-I-Islami, and Muslim League. One such university student (at that time) was Dr. Nuran Nabi, who took part as a valiant freedom fighter in 1971. He wrote a book titled “Amar Ekaththur Amar Juddha” that was published in 2004. If I translate the title in English, it would have been read as “My Fight and My War in 1971”. In this book, he eloquently described his involvements on various incidences where he fought in different capacities as a freedom fighter. He described as well the bright role of his comrades in the fight for our independence.

Dr. Nabi started his book with the background information that led to the liberation war in 1971. Maintaining both brevity and clarity, he mentioned about the movement for Bengali language in 1952, mandate of the Bengalis in the election held in 1954, Agartala conspiracy case against Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and others, six-point movement, and 11-point movements during 60s. All these incidences and movements paved the way for the independence of Bangladesh. As an active and politically conscious student, Dr. Nabi took part in the non-violent, non-cooperation movement against the brutal military regime of Pakistan under the directives of Bangobandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. In general, the Bengalis of Bangladesh were non-violent. So, they were following the non-violent path while protesting the denial of their democratic rights they wanted to exercise following the election that was held in 1970. But, the brutal Pakistani military and their fundamentalist cohorts did not try to understand the power of the generally peaceful and non-violent Bengalis. They used force and violence against unarmed Bengalis to suppress their democratic aspirations. The military of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan adopted a scorched-earth policy to kill and subdue the Bengalis for good. Accordingly, they started a pogrom on the Bengalis of Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) on March 25, 1971.

In the grisliest night on March 25, 1971, Dr. Nabi critically survived while the brutal army members of Pakistan were firing from the machine guns and from their tanks indiscriminately. He took shelter outside the Dhaka University campus in his cousin’s house instead of his dormitory at Dhaka University. This decision of staying outside the campus saved his life. On March 25, 1971, the prime targets of the Nazi forces of Pakistan were the campuses of the universities in Dhaka. Dr. Nabi described the killings of so many Bengalis in Dhaka including students in Dhaka University. On March 27, 1971, he went out once the curfew was lifted only for two hours. He described the ghastly destruction in the Dhaka City based on his observation of cinders and piled up corpses even after about two days. In front of Iqbal Hall (now Shahid Sergeant Zahurul Haque Hall), he saw a row of dead bodies lying on the roadside. Dr. Nabi got an impression that these dead bodies were brought there after killing them somewhere else. He was shocked to recognize the dead body of Mr. Shah Alam Chisti, a student political activist, who was working alongside him for creating barricades to resist the movement of the Pakistani forces just about a couple of days or so ago. He quickly moved on and was bewildered by seeing the total destruction of Shahid Minar, a monument built to commemorate those who were killed by the Pakistani police during the Bengali language movement in 1952. Within that limited time span of only two hours, Dr. Nabi observed a gruesome beginning of genocide of the Bengalis by the Pakistani military.

All the killings and barbaric acts caused a grave impact on Dr. Nabi. By overcoming many obstacles in an adverse situation, he reached his ancestral home in Tangail and joined Kaderia Bahini (force of Kader named after a valiant freedom fighter Mr. Kader Siddique). Dr. Nabi showed his talent and bravery at many critical junctures during the war in 1971. He worked in the Kaderia Bahini head quarter as well as in many field operations and performed many crucial tasks that had profound effects on many successful operations. Dr. Nabi narrated his perilous journey to India that was beset with danger at every moment for collecting arms, communicating with the Bangladesh government in exile, and communicating with the Indian army for help. It was an utmost necessity at that time to get arms and support from India to fight against the murderous and genocidal military of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Dr. Nabi mentioned about his meetings with Brigadier General Sant Singh, Major General Gill, and other Indian army officers. Along with the fellow freedom fighters, Dr. Nabi collected and brought boatloads of arms during his return journeys that were full of uncertainty, danger, and risk.

During his stay in India, Dr. Nabi mentioned about his meeting with Major Ziaur Rahman. Major Zia expressed his anxiousness for his wife and children, who were in Dhaka cantonment under Pakistani army. Zia said that it was a mistake for letting them go to Dhaka from Chittagong. If one analyzes the roles of Ziaur Rahman and his wife Khaleda Zia during post 1975 era, then one can always question whether it was a deliberate step taken by them to go to Dhaka at a time when people were desperately leaving big cities for some sort of relative safety in remote areas. Be that as it may, Dr. Nabi praised Major Zia for his role as a freedom fighter. In addition to Major Zia, Dr. Nabi met with Major Taher and other valiant freedom fighters in India. He wrote about their active participation and sacrifices in his book. In one place, he mentioned about one of the great freedom fighters of Kaderia Bahani named Mr. Shawkat Momen Shahjahan. While I was in Dhaka, I came to know him in 1978 through one of my friends. At one point of time in early 80s, he told me about the torture unleashed upon him by the Bangladesh military during the brutal rule of Ziaur Rahman under martial law. In independent Bangladesh, many freedom fighters like Shawkat Momen Shahjahan went through sufferings especially under the rule of the successive military dictators of Bangladesh.

Dr. Nabi gave detailed account in words of those who took part actively in the liberation war in 1971. He provided information of those who gave both active and passive supports in the fight of all Bengalis against the marauding Nazi like military of Pakistan. As a magnanimous freedom fighter, Dr. Nabi did not want to exclude anyone who contributed to the war based on his/her own capacity. In one paragraph, he summarized about those who took part in the liberation war in 1971 as follows:

“The people of all ages including one and all took part in the war in 1971. There were young men like us, middle age men like Basit Siddique (an elected provincial assembly member in 1971), political workers and activists like brother Nuru, boatmen, laborers, Bengali army, and Bengalis living abroad. We all together were freedom fighters in 1971.” (translation mine, page 104)

The specialty and uniqueness of Dr. Nabi and other members of Kaderia Bahini lie in their operations and efforts on war by creating a free zone (in Tangail) within Bangladesh during the whole period of 1971. On as-needed basis, Dr. Nabi and other freedom fighters went to India for discussing subsequent actions and collecting necessary arms and ammunitions. He explained how he got signs of imminent victory in one chapter titled “Bijoyer Sanket” (“Indication of Victory”). During his third trip to India in October 1970, he met with Lieutenant General Aurora along with Brigadier General Sant Singh and Major General Gill. In that meeting, he was informed about the landing of the members of the Indian parachute regiment in late November or early December in the Tangail area in 1971. He realized that the resistance against the Pakistani military was going to manifest with the imminent victory by the full support of Indian armed forces. Accordingly, the operations went on and Bangladesh emerged as an independent country following a direct war between Pakistan and joint forces of India and Bangladesh. In that war, allied Indian forces took part actively and effectively to free Bangladesh from the clutches of the Nazi forces of Pakistan.

During the final phase of war, in one incidence on December 14th, a group of Pakistani army men including Brigadier General Quader Khan were captured by the joint forces of Bangladesh and India. Dr. Nabi mentioned about the agitation he and his fellow freedom fighters felt against those captured Pakistani forces. To his surprise, he observed how Indian army officers behaved nicely and professionally with the captured Pakistani forces. The Indian army officers even inquired about their well-beings. After about an hour, a helicopter landed to take them away to India. It was pleasant to read the final stages of our war for independence that completed with the surrender of about ninety three thousand Pakistani soldiers in Dhaka on December 16, 1971. The book continued on describing a few events following the days after the independence of Bangladesh. He described about the first significant trip of Bangabandhu outside Dhaka on January 24, 1972. It was Tangail, where Kaderia Bahini freedom fighters laid down their arms to Bangabandhu.

Dr. Nabi finished his book with the last sentence: “The following day (January 25, 1972) at noon, I started my journey back to Fazlul Haque Hall while remembering the events in the last nine-month war of independence and yesterday’s time in close proximity with Bangabandhu”. He did what was right as a great patriot. At a pivotal point in time, he left his campus to fight to save the country and the people. As a valiant freedom fighter, he fought, freed the country, and went back to his dormitory to pursue his higher studies as a student. I suppose that these transitions and transformations from one phase to the other were not smooth at all at that time for many freedom fighters. Dr. Nabi was successfully able to overcome all the obstacles, achieved higher academic excellence with advanced studies, and always remained committed to the causes of our liberation war. His book will keep portraying the history and associated events of our war of independence in years to come. We should be appreciative and thankful to him for writing such an excellent book that disseminates the history and relevant facts on 1971.