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War - A century of conflict

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    War - A century of conflict

    Rajinder Singh has emailed My Century about
    his experience of the partition of India in 1947.

    " I was a high school student when suddenly, early
    1947, the political sky overhead became very
    cloudy. Soon darkness descended all round. Since I
    was a Sikh in Multan, there was a very sinister
    dimension to the events unfolding around. Multan
    was a Muslim district of India unlike Ferozepur or
    Jullundur and it was sure to fall on the wrong side
    of any new frontier.

    At first the Muslim demand for a separate homeland
    made no sense to us since we lived under the very
    strong British secular umbrella. That rule was
    extremely firm and fair and unlike today, the
    criminal, however high up in rank, was tried and

    We were puzzled by the term SECOND NATION for
    the Muslims in India. How could the people of one
    country and one nationality be thus split up into
    two nations? Where does the frontier begin and
    end since Muslims were as integral part of the
    national fabric in Bombay as the Hindus were in
    Lahore and Rawalpindi? Why had there been
    absolutely no mention of a second nation during
    one hundred odd years of British rule before then?

    I was puzzled since I lived among the Muslims and
    spoke the same language wore the same dress and
    even sang and enjoyed the same songs. My best
    friends at school were Muslim. How were they
    suddenly to become alien or SECOND nation? What
    will happen to us in Pakistan and what will happen
    to the Muslims in partitioned India?

    We looked up to our great leaders whom we
    regarded as stalwarts. We were told of their
    bravery which was scaring the British into leaving
    India. We were told of their international stature
    and we were assured of their secular credentials.
    Mahatma Gandhi even reassured us by declaring in
    public, "India will be cut upon my dead body."

    Since he was like a semi god to us, we had to
    believe him. All of us then relaxed and started
    looking forward to independence from the British.
    We were told India's wealth would remain in the
    country and we would progress by leaps and
    bounds. We were told by Pandit Nehru to prepare
    for the rejoicing and the celebration of the

    But events moved so swiftly that such thinking was
    left behind. The number of political rallies and
    public meetings and demonstrations increased
    manifold in my city. As a result tension mounted
    and seemed to be going out of hand. Processions
    of Hindus one day and of the Muslims the next
    raised slogans that turned more and more bitter.
    One day the city was rent to the shouts of
    "Pakistan Zindabad," the other day it was "Pakistan

    We started seeing more police on patrol and
    occasionally open top lorries carrying military
    personnel racing along the roads and streets.
    Though their sight was very reassuring my mother
    started cautioning me from venturing outdoors
    alone. She sent me to buy groceries with an
    anxious heart and once when I met up with a
    school mate and came home late, she was in tears.
    She thought I had been stabbed to death or
    abducted to be taken across to Baluchistan or

    On 4 March 1947 there was a big public rally in the
    City Centre to protest against any plan to fragment
    India. We all went home from there with the
    assurance of Unity, Peace and Secularism in our
    land, only to wake up the next morning to see fires
    engulfing the city.

    The Muslims, considering that public meeting as a
    provocation, gathered in several mobs and went on
    the rampage burning Hindu homes and looting Hindu

    I still wake up with nightmares in which I hear the
    piercing shrill cries of women and children being
    roasted alive in their own homes. I was told that
    many who tried to escape by running outside were
    caught and killed. Women and girls were at once
    snatched and dragged aside into side lanes or fields
    to be gang raped. I hate to think of the little
    infants who died in fires, or escaped only to run
    around without a friend or guardian in sight.
    Perhaps they too were stabbed to death, being
    Hindus, unless some kind Muslim took them home to
    bring them up as his own children. Mercy and
    Compassion were the commodities that went
    extremely scarce in those days. Brutality and
    Savagery had gripped the entire city and later the
    whole of Punjab.

    The road to the railway station was clogged with
    the fleeing Hindus on foot, on rickshaws, tongas,
    cars and taxis. My mother had hired a tonga. A
    tonga is a horse drawn carriage normally meant to
    carry four adults. A two-kilometer long journey
    took us nearly two hours. But to my relief we
    escaped any attack along the way. I believe that
    in the following days many Hindus were not so
    lucky. They were robbed or killed everywhere while

    The train steamed in from Karachi, Hyderabad and
    Sukkur, bringing hundreds of refugees who, like us,
    wanted to get to Lahore and then change trains to
    head eastwards towards Amritsar, Ludhiana and

    The train was so full that it was impossible to even
    open the doors. Men, women and children were
    thickly and tightly stacked behind doors and
    windows. They resembled the cattle trains in which
    only a few years earlier, Jews were transported
    across Europe to the East. I saw people begging to
    be lifted off the platform, to be pulled into the
    compartments through the windows. I saw one
    who lost his shoe and another who cried for her
    child still standing on the platform and yet another
    who lost his turban. It was a pathetic sight. How
    did I get on the train?

    Among those killed on the very day after that big
    rally in the City Centre of Multan, was my father.
    He was a practising lawyer in District Court at
    Multan who was very keen on peace and harmony
    in the city. He saw the mobs setting fire to homes
    and looting shops and went straight up to them to
    plead sanity with. But they turned upon him,
    instead, and within seconds his strong and youthful
    body slumped to the ground amidst shouts of
    ALLAH HU AKBAR. What "Glory to Great God Allah?",
    I have wondered ever since.

    Here then was my mother, a widow of a day,
    pleading with the engine driver to pick us up. He
    had seen many a woman crying and pleading along
    the route that day but the sight of my mother
    made him relent. He allowed her and my brothers
    and sister to climb up on to his cabin and then on
    to the coal tender for an open air ride on his
    engine. Luckily we arrived at Lahore railway station
    and then managed to catch the next train for
    Amritsar. The city gave us shelter and a new life.
    Will I ever forget those days?"

    Habibul Haque Khondker, a Bangladeshi
    national, teaches sociology at the National
    University of Singapore, and has sent us his
    memories of the birth of Bangladesh.

    On February 9, 1999 my father passed away. Two
    hours after receiving this shocking news, I was on
    a plane on my way to Dhaka. Although, I could
    reach Dhaka late in that evening, I could not reach
    home to be with my mother thanks to a strike
    called by the opposition political parties in
    Bangladesh led by Bangladesh Nationalist Party
    (BNP). I had to accept the hospitality of a friend
    who lives in the cantonment where I could manage
    to reach from the airport through the short cut of
    an unpaved road. Traffic on the main roads was
    shut down. This was supposed to be a 48
    hours-uninterrupted strike. With some risk, I took a
    rickshaw home the following morning. The burial
    arrangement was made for the following day.
    However, as the strike was suddenly extended into
    the next day in protest of alleged government
    oppression, we had to make all the burial
    arrangement during the strike with great difficulty.

    Bangladesh has become a land of strikes or 'hartals'
    as it is called in the local idiom. "Hartals" were
    invented as a weapon in the struggle against the
    colonial power. The nationalist leaders to squeeze
    out various concessions or register their protests
    used such strikes against the colonial rulers. Since
    then, it has become a convenient political
    strategy. It is quite an irony. To secure the
    undefined political rights of the people, rights of
    movement, of earning a livelihood even the right to
    organize a funeral are being violated routinely. The
    political parties who are supposed to champion the
    rights of the people commit such violation of human
    rights unabashedly. The dubious public support of
    some of the political parties is richly compensated
    by their control of the musclemen, explosives and
    firearms. Strikes are often "successful" not so much
    because of support for the cause but for the fear
    of life and property. Sometimes, the response of
    the ruling party matches the hooliganism of the
    opposition. The criminalization of politics in
    Bangladesh and many other parts of the
    post-colonial world has reached its logical
    conclusion. However, this was not supposed to
    happen. Bangladesh was born with many promises
    and aspirations against the pessimism of such US
    officials who predicted that it would become a
    "bottomless basket case". Of course, the image of
    a basket case is no longer appropriate, yet good
    days are still a dream for many Bangladeshis. But
    when we flocked behind the indomitable
    Bangabandhu, as Sheik Mujib, the father of the
    nation is called, for the struggle of our rights and
    autonomy from the domination of the Pakistani
    rulers our hearts were full of hope and idealism. I
    was part of a generation that fought to secure the
    independence of this country.

    I was born in the middle of the 20th century, in
    December 1952, to be precise, in what is now
    Bangladesh. That was in the wake of the
    springtime of national liberation. The post-World
    War Two disintegration of the imperialist world that
    gave rise to a wave of nationalisms and
    pseudo-nationalisms carved up new nation-states
    in the Indian sub-continent. I grew up as a citizen
    of Pakistan only to see its break up in 1971. Did I
    regret the demise? No. Pakistan was a queer state
    with its two parts physically separated by India.
    Pakistan was created based on what its founding
    father Quaid-E-Azam Muhammad Ali Zinnah called a
    "two nation" theory. However, his nation was the
    other name of religion. The two wings of Pakistan
    had little in common except a common religion.
    Pakistan would have died a natural death unless for
    the circumstances of the late 1960s when the
    movement for provincial autonomy grew in East
    Pakistan under the charismatic leadership of Sheikh
    Mujibur Rahman. The movement led to the collapse
    of the decade long regime of General Ayub Khan
    and a national election in 1970 under the
    supervision of the military ruler, General Yahya
    Khan. Sheikh Mujib's Awami League won a landslide
    victory. However, he was not given the political
    power despite the popular mandate he won. Mr.
    Zulfiqqar Ali Bhutto who was the runner -up having
    won a large number of seats in West Pakistan
    proposed that Mujib be given the mantle in East
    Pakistan and he, West Pakistan. The absurdity of
    this proposal was matched only by the allegation
    that Mujib was to destroy Pakistan. A military
    crackdown in Dhaka saw the destruction of a
    massive nature. The hall of residence I was staying
    was ransacked and many rooms were set on fire.
    Fortunately, I was not there at that moment to
    see my paltry belongings go up in flames. By then,
    I knew that discretion is the better part of valor.
    Like many other students, I fled Dhaka. Others
    were not so fortunate. Scores of students and
    teachers of the Dhaka University were gunned
    down. I lost some of my friends and teachers whom
    I admired. The University was the centre of
    political activism and the very fulcrum of the
    nationalist movement. It was no surprise that the
    University became the first target of brutal

    Although Sheikh Mujib was arrested and sauntered
    away to a jail in Pakistan under the cover of
    darkness, he was very much present in spirit and
    inspired the liberation struggle. Bengalis who were
    painted as a passive, romantic, softhearted people
    proved these stereotypes wrong. With active
    support from the neighbouring India, they put up a
    war of resistance. Many young guerrillas many of
    whom were my friends fought fearlessly. I kept in
    close contact with some of them. However, after
    one of my guerrilla friend's mother was taken into
    custody and was brutally murdered, I panicked. I
    learnt another aspect of fear. I realized that fear
    could make you numb. I along with my mother and
    younger siblings fled our home in a small town and
    retreated into a village. My older brothers and
    father were in other places. I spent most of my
    time reading and listening to BBC in a surreptitious
    manner. At a time when very little information
    could be had on the war, BBC was the only source
    of information and became a household name in

    The liberation war ended with the surrender of the
    Pakistani armed forces to the joint command of the
    Indian and the Bangladeshi forces in Dhaka on
    December 16, 1971. In early, December war broke
    out between India and Pakistan. The involvement
    of India became open. Rather than a brutal
    endgame, the military leaders of India were trying
    to talk their Pakistani counterparts into surrender.
    Lt. Gen. Niazi as commander of the East Pakistan
    forces surrendered to Maj. Gen. Jagjit Singh Aurora
    the commander of the joint forces and his former
    course mate at Deradun Military Academy. I was on
    my way to see the surrender ceremony.

    As I reached the central jail, I saw some returning
    Pakistani soldiers shooting at the passers-by from
    their trucks. I retreated to the safety of my aunt's
    house. Next day, however I braved to the stadium
    to see the legendary freedom fighter "Tiger" Kader
    Siddiqui speak. Kader Siddiqui along with Air Cdr.
    A.K. Khondkar and Maj. Haider were the three
    Bangladeshis who were present at the surrender
    ceremony. Tiger Siddiqui spoke with passion and
    fire. He brought a man on the stage and said"
    "Ladies and gentlemen, this man was being robbed
    but because of my intervention the attempt has
    been foiled." Sensing some misunderstanding, he
    tried to clarify the situation. He said, "please do
    not misunderstand, this man was being robbed. He
    did not rob anyone. No the robber I finished him
    on the spot." He said that in an incredulously
    matter-of-factly manner. His nonchalance sent a
    sense of chill down my spine. This is what a war
    does to the psyche. Feelings are numbed. Emotions
    are banished. I remember the day my friend's
    father was executed in the early stage of the war
    of liberation. His only fault was that he was a
    Hindu. Of course, I never thought of him as a
    Hindu. I remember him as a man who loved animals
    and would feed the birds in the morning. My friend
    Tapan used to recite a quote of Urdu Poet and
    philosopher Iqbal, which he learnt from his father.
    It went something like this: "I would burn like a
    candle so that others get illumination". Those lines
    of Iqbal could best describe Mr. Bose's life. He was
    not afraid of sacrifice. On that fateful morning, I
    saw the son of a local religious leader accompanied
    by an accomplice heading for the house of Mr.
    Bose with a gun in hand. Few days back, I helped
    my friend, Tapan escape. I had not realized that
    Mr. Bose's life was in danger too. Why a cherubic
    personality like Mr. Bose would be a target? As the
    assassins approached his house, I returned to my
    room and turned on the radio to the maximum
    volume. I did not want my mother and my younger
    siblings hear the report of the gun.

    I heard the report, nevertheless, as the birds
    fluttered away in fear. Bangladesh was born out of
    blood. On March 7, 1971, Sheikh Mujib called his
    people to stand up and fight for self-rule and for
    independence. He said: "Once we have shed our
    blood, we will give more blood and earn our
    independence, InshAllah". Little did he know at that
    time about the amount of blood the people of
    Bangladesh would have to sacrifice. Even little did
    he know when he made his triumphant return to
    Dhaka on January 10, 1972 that in three years and
    eight months time, his won blood would also spill on
    the soil of the country that he led to
    independence. On August 15, 1975 in a military
    coup organized by a small number of disgruntled
    army officers - some of them retired - Sheikh Mujib
    and most of the members of his family including
    women and children were brutally killed. I knew the
    family quite well. I was in the same class with
    Sheikh Kamal, Mujib's elder son at the University.
    One day Kamal approached me saying that he
    needed some help in his studies. He told me, " you
    are lucky, you had the time to study. As the elder
    son of a politician who was in and out of jail, I had
    to take the responsibility for my family and I could
    not devote enough time to my studies." I started
    as an unofficial tutor; more as a friend,
    philosopher, and guide of Kamal. The frequency of
    my visits to his household increased. Often I would
    have my lunch at the Prime Minister's house at
    Road Number 32 of Dhanmondi. My mother could
    not hide her surprise when I used to tell her the
    simple menu of rice and Hilsa fish for lunch. Sheikh
    Mujib and his family lived simply without any pomp
    or grandeur, often a trademark of many Third World
    leaders. Rehana, the younger daughter of Mujib
    told me in the summer of 1975 that as she pleaded
    with her father for an air conditioner for the
    bedroom, her father suggested that she should
    sleep on the floor after wiping it with a wet cloth,
    which would make it cool. Kamal was intelligent and
    a young man of many talents. He played the Sitar
    and acted superbly. He played the role of a
    politician at a play in the University. His acting was
    brilliant and he did not mind the role, which
    depicted an unscrupulous politician given to tall
    promises. He confided in me saying that he knew
    why he was given that part. But he was too much
    of a sportsman to mind this little gag. He played
    cricket and basketball and was a major promoter of
    Sports. Abahani, a leading sporting club in
    Bangladesh is his creation. As I became almost a
    member of the Sheikh household, I did not keep up
    with the sliding popularity of Sheikh Mujib's
    government. The frustrations amassed as quickly
    as the expectations. The government was new,
    lacked resources and experiences and was saddled
    with the gargantuan task of rebuilding a war-torn
    economy, and a ruptured society. Administration
    was not Sheikh Mujib's forte. Mistakes were made.
    However, his sincerity and love for his people were
    beyond any doubt. Bangladesh in the first three
    years had to go through a series of crises including
    serious food shortage. The famine that was
    predicted for 1972 eventually came in 1974. The
    government did its best to tackle the situation.
    The Nixon Administration of the United States,
    which sided with Pakistan opposed the creation of
    Bangladesh, which was almost a client state. The
    famine was partly caused due to withholding of
    food shipment to Bangladesh by the US
    Administration at a time when Bangladeshis needed
    food desperately after a devastating flood in 1974.

    The coup of August 15, 1975 took place at a time
    when things were beginning to get better. The
    tragedy for me was more personal. A month before
    the coup Kamal and his younger brother Jamal got
    married. Kamal's wife, Sultana Ahmad Khuki was a
    dear friend. She made a name for herself as the
    golden girl of Bangladesh for her sporting
    performance. She was the first woman blue of the
    University of Dhaka. The murderers did not spare
    her or the other women in the household. Russell,
    Sheikh Mujib's youngest son was a sweet boy of 8
    years old. The assassins did not spare him. The
    cruelty was unrivaled. Even the Pakistan army after
    the arrest of Sheikh Mujib ensured the safety of his
    family members. I spoke to Kamal on the 13th of
    August as he gave me a ride after a prize giving
    ceremony at the Teachers' Students' Center of the
    Dhaka University. On August 15, 1975 after
    listening to the announcement of Sheikh Mujib's
    death on the radio, I called Kamal. The phone kept
    ringing, or that's what it seemed. I thought the
    rest of the family must be too shocked to attend
    my call. Little did I know that the entire household
    had been turned into a slaughterhouse, where the
    bodies of Kamal and Sultana along with those of
    the rest of the family were lying in a pool of blood.

    As a witness to the sacrifices that people of
    Bangladesh made in their struggle for independence
    and schooled in the enlightenment values of love
    for humanity, I find it painful to I see the country
    heading for a social disaster, sinking into the abyss
    of intolerance. Bangladesh is known for a long
    tradition of secularism and amity among its diverse
    and highly intelligent people. The spirit of the
    glorious war of liberation has taken a back seat.
    Yet, in Professor Yunus' Grameen Bank or Mr.
    Abed's BRAC, I see some hope. The heroic people
    of Bangladesh rose to the occasion in 1998 after a
    devastating flood. Again the pessimists predicted a
    famine, a prediction that was proven wrong. The
    government, NGOs and the members of the public
    worked hand in hand heroically and tirelessly. The
    crisis was averted. The salvation for the
    Bangladeshis, as I see it, lies in the inculcation of
    the spirit of the liberation war. Surely, the odds are
    many. Surmounting them calls for a resolve.