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'Research' on Bangladesh War -I

day to day accounts of the peoples

DISCUSSIONdecember 15, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly118‘Research’ on Bangladesh WarTwo critical comments on the article ‘Losing the Victims: Problems of Using Women as Weapons in Recounting the Bangladesh War’ (EPW, September 22, 2007).(i) The author writes on a sensitive issue like rape in a totally outrageous manner, offending the sensibilities of the victims.(ii) The article raises various themes without contextualising them. Research on rape and the complexities of war time violence cannot ignore issues of sensitivity and should provide full references of articles for cross-checking, and ensuring methodological clarity. IAkhtaruzzaman MandalMy attention has been drawn be-latedly to the long article by Sarmila Bose (EPW, September 22, 2007). The very title of the article be-trays a biased position onthepartofthe author as it focuses unfavourably on the accused party, the victims, who according to the author use women as weapons in recollecting their memory. I am one of the unfortunates who has been chosen as a prime target in the article. Bose has cited my account of the days of 1971 when as a college student in KurigramIbecameac-tive in the non-cooperationmovement against the military rulers of Pakistan who refused to take any meaningful step to-wards transferring power to the demo-cratically elected representative of the people. I am the poor Akhtaruzzaman Mandal, one of the thousands of freedom fighters, the “muktijoddhas”, upon whom life has vested the great honour to take up arms to fight against the brute Pakistani military oligarchy. Like many of my com-rades I also went through the ordeal of fire and after the liberation of my country went back to my alma mater. After com-pleting my study I have taken up a modest private job.Witness to HistoryThe subsequent development in my coun-try pained me so much that I thought I should write down my experience as a wit-ness to history. A common foot soldier of the liberation forces of my country, my personal account of those days was published in February 1989 titledUttar Ranangone Bijaya (Victory in the Northern Front). This may not be a great literary work but no one reading this book can ever accuse me of using women as weaponsinrecountingthe Bangladesh war (by the way Bose never ever mentioned the liberation aspect of this conflict). In this book I have detailed the day to day accounts of the peoples’ war and the fate of women, as I witnessed them. The book consisting of more than 120 pages has around five to six pages written about the sufferings of women that I got to know. I am more than sure that Bose has not read my book, nor did she know anything about it, because as a “researcher” she very proudly announced that her source was mainly the members of the Pakistani army and has thus revealed that she has no trouble in believing the absurd versions they provided like the one about the people of Nageswari weeping when they heard that the rapist captain Ataullah of the Pakistani army was killed in the frontline battle.But how come that Bose has gone through my account of the day we liberated the border town of Bhurungamari and dissected it in her article as “Testimony of Akhtaruzzaman Mandal”? This requires a clarification. After the publication of my book a short piece of three pages from there was picked up by Rashid Haider, a leading novelist and chronicler of the liberation history, when he edited a collection of memoirs titledBhayabaha Abhignata: 1971 (1971 : Terrible Experiences).The piece written by me was titled ‘Our Own Sisters and Mothers’ and it was the narrative of what I saw in the ghost town of Bhurungamari. We started the final as-sault in the evening of November 13, 1971 and by midnight found the Pakistani guns silenced. Early morning, along with the rising sun we entered Bhurungamari shouting full throated the “Joi Bangla” slogan. There I saw captain Ataullah lying dead in his bunker with a “tormented Bengali” lady lying next to him. The most horrible experience for us was what we saw at the two-storey building nearby, the CO house, where we entered at nine o’clock in the morning and found four women kept locked, two of them completely naked, with signs of torture all over their body.Exposing FactsWhatever I have written is what I saw and I am ready to face any kind of scrutiny from any researcher, academic, interrogator regarding my narrative. This part of my experience got translated into English and was published in the book Genocide in the
DISCUSSIONEconomic & Political Weekly december 15, 2007119Twentieth Century edited by Sam Totten (I am not sure about the name of the editor, but I remember very well Rounaq Jahan of Columbia University contacting me through Rashid Haider to get my permission which I was more than willing to give). May be Bose has read that English translation and also consulted the Bengali anthology edited by Rashid Haider and I must congratulate her for doing that, but her research in Bangladesh stopped here, as she never checked my narrative with Rashid Haider, not to speak of myself. She did not probe any further and my original book with the full account of my participation in the liberation war was probably not known to Bose. That is why she writes, “According to Akhtaruz-zaman Mandal he was a muktijoddha ac-companying the Indian army as they attackedBhurungamari in northern East Pakistan on the night of November 11, 1971”. I was a muktijoddha from its inception and we kept Kurigram liberated till April 23 and Bhurungamari remained under our control till May 28. We retreated as the Pakistani army moved deep into the interior. Ultimately we had to make a stra-tegic retreat to India but we started oper-ating inside the occupied territory from mid-July. In this struggle we were greatly supported by the Indian government, people and the Border Security Force (BSF). It was only in November that the Indian army joined with us, the muktijoddhas, and started clearing strategic border out-posts and towns adjacent to the border. The battle of Bhurungamari was one of the earliest of such clashes. Biased DescriptionSince Bose knew nothing about this humble freedom fighter and the pride we all bear, she could casually describe me as a mukti-joddha accompanying the Indian army. Such description also served her purpose, as she tried to portray me as someone who had no prior knowledge about the land and people of Bhurungamari/Nageshwari, about their suffering and destitution. As guerrilla fighters we wereactiveinthe region all through monitoringthedayto day developments. We were like the fish in the water, as the saying goes. That is why in my book, not known to Bose, I have also written about few other specific cases of how women had to suffer. But that is another story, quite a long one, let me concentrate here on the accusation made by Bose.While doing her “research”, Bose never tried to contact me. On the other hand her search for truth took her to Pakistan and she interviewed Lt Col Saleem Zia of 8 Punjab who was stationed in that area and cross-checked my information with this partisan source of hers. Quoting my account Bose writes, “According to Mandal, Bhurungamari seemed like a ghost town. He claims 60 East Pakistan Civil Armed Force (EPCAF) members and 30-40 Pakistani soldiers were captured – they had run out of ammunition. He also claims that 40-50 Pakistani soldiers were killed in this battle.” Then quoting her Pakistani source she writes, “Brigadier Zia found 30 injured men, who were evacuated, and 36 able-bodied ones. The rest were dead or dispersed and four or five, by his estimate, were cap-tured.” The anomaly in the description provided by members from two contend-ing side is not new in any battle account. It is the researcher’s job to dig for the truth. But according to our researcher here Akhtaruzzaman Mandal “claims” whereas brigadier Zia “found” and that shows where she is standing as a dispassionate inde-pendent scholar. Even in her account about the number of deaths she has not said any-thing about the EPCAF, who were raw re-cruits from the villages of West Pakistan and were put into forward position to work as a shield to the Pakistan army. These poor recruits suffered most in the battle. Moreover, company strength in the in-fantry varies, usually it consists of 139 or more soldiers, besides according to our in-formation three Pakistani company were engaged at Bhurungamari. Even by Zia’s count with 30 men injured and 36 able bodied and four to five captured one has a death count of at least 30, as there was no question of dispersion of Pakistani sol-diers, because in Bangladesh there was no fall back position for them.Distorting InformationNow let us take the case of captain Ataullah Khan, the human devil. Bose has been successful in collecting laudable quotes about Ataullah and in her attempt to whitewash the devil’s deeds made a jugglery of the location of Bhurungamari and Nageswari depicting them as two sites completely separated from each other. She writes, “According to this fellow (Pakistani) officer, Captain Ataullah had not been in Bhurungamari before – he was based at Nageswari. He had barely got there when he faced the Indian attack.” Her research or lack of research has led her to greatly differentiate between Nageswari and Bhurungamari and if only she was inter-ested to know more she could have found out that the distance between the two place is only 15 km and at that time, even with a ferry crossing, it took only 30 min-utes for a commanding officer to cover the distance by his jeep. The Pakistani captain being based at Nageswari was a frequent visitor to the forward position at Bhurun-gamari and he was no stranger there.Bose never asked any woman, any com-mon man of Nageswari – Bhurungamari, about Ataullah Khan but quoted her Pakistani source at length and writes, “This fellow officer of 25 Punjab described (not claimed:AM) Captain Ataullah as a six-foot plus Pathan officer known for be-ing ‘humane’. He further stated that he saw people in Nageswari weep upon hear-ing the Ataullah’s death. According to him, when the Pakistanis werePOW’s in India after the war, a senior Indian officer had expressed his respect, soldier-to-soldier, to the officers of 25 Punjab and mentioned by name Ataullah, who had become a ‘shaheed’ (martyr).” In the footnote Bose mentions that, “this inclusion of evidence from the Indian side in the future would be of great value in assessing this and many other aspect of 1971 war”. I am happy that she noted the importance of the Indian source which she never tried to use and would request her to look for members of 6 Mountain Division with whom we fought side by side. After 36 long years I cannot remember all of them or their full names, but how can I forget major general Thappa, brigadier Josie, major Chatowal Singh, captain Shambu, captain Mitra, captain Bannerje, major Bala Reddy, as wellasfel-low fighters from the 78 Batallion oftheBSF and others. Instead of interviewing only the perpetrators of genocide, rape and crimes against humanity she should also try to get evidences from the Indian side.As Bose has gathered most of her infor-mations from highly dubious one-sided Pakistani sources she could write the
DISCUSSIONdecember 15, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly120following atrocious and unbelievable lines, “The picture painted of captain Ataullahby his fellow officer, who knew him,completely contradicts the one given by Mandal, who appears to have only seen his dead body. Clearly, if captain Ataullah had been based in Nageswari and only gone up to Bhurungamari the day the Indian attack started, he could not have been responsible for whatever might have been going on in Bhurungamari. Mandal offers no corroborating evidence for his character assassination of an officer who had died defending his country, and there-fore, cannot speak in his own defence.”Sensitivity to TortureAs a freedom fighter operating in the area we came to know about many of the atrocious acts of Ataullah and this human-devil was not unknown to us. Our in-formersalso brought many news and on thatauspicious day we knew very well about the bunker he took shelter in and thatiswhy the Indian army could pin-point their artillery attack. I have seen his dead body at the bunker and could immediately know that this was the man who brought so much suffering to our people, to the poor civilians and villagers of the area. Ataullah Khan was no soldier defendinghis country, he was part of a killingmachine, doing heinous acts against an unarmed civil population which no professional soldier can ever think of. Such acts can in no way be equat-ed with defending one’s country. In that case all the Nazi war criminals will get ac-quitted as they were “defending” their own country. I can only request Bose to come to Bhurungamari, come and see for herself. As for evidence I earnestly pray let a re-searcher have the sensibility to read the silence in the lips of the suffering woman, fathom the extent of pain in one drop of tear and feel about the tormented soul. This requires another kind of researcher, not of the Bose type. If such a researcher is interested to get the evidence I am ready to take him/her to my native land of Bhurungamari and introduce him/her to our good comrade “shaheed” Tomezuddin’s wife. Tomezuddin laid down his life in a frontal battle. The Razakars abducted his wife from their house at Dhamer Hat, north of Bhurungamari and she was kept interned in the Pakistani camp. We could only free her after liberation, but by that time she had gone completely in-sane.Weconsulted many doctors and psychiatrists but of no avail. Frequently she turns violent and has to be kept in chains. The old lady is suffering till today and waiting for her death. May be she is also waiting for a researcher to come and interview her for evidences but that re-searcher must know how to read the deep human sufferings. I know for sure Sarmila Bose is not one of them. Akhtaruzzaman Mandal ( is associated with the Kurigram Spinning Mills, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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