I grew up in a political environment. My mother and father
were both part of the Communist Party. In fact my mother was the 'Gono'
Party's central member. My maternal uncles were also very political. My
involvement was a long-term process - it didn't just start with the War. At
the time the war started I was studying Bangla Honours at Edward College.
Women fought in different ways away from the
forefront in the Liberation War. They somehow, almost miraculously tore down
trees and laying them down on streets, barricading the Pakistani soldiers
from moving forward. To Bengali freedom fighters they provided rice, shelter
and information. Every house was a camp against the Pakistani Army.
Socially, women could not just join the war by showing up in a sari. I went
in men's clothes-pants and shirts. I was 21 year old, lean and thin. Nobody
could identify me as a woman. Only a couple of my close associates knew.
Pakshi Bridge in Pabna is where I saw my first
armed conflict. I was in the forefront at the first phase of the war. There
were 28 of us in my military camp. Almost all of them died.
Sometimes people who were right next to me were killed.
What I saw as we moved forward was the remains of massacre after massacre.
Lots of corpses on the streets. The group often had to split up, we were
often separated for long periods of time from those we knew through the
struggle. When we advanced from Pabna to Pakshi Bridge in Kushtia, I found
myself among a group of strangers. When I did come across familiar people
and we inquired about people who were missing I would get answers like "He
died in the juddho." When I first saw a Pakistani soldier, I was disgusted.
Our rights, our votes, we should have had our Prime Minister, but they
denied these things to us and instead turned on us. The freedom struggle was
the work of a lot of anger about that, which is what gave us the inspiration
There were some difficulties as a woman. In order to hide my identity, I
would not bathe for days. Sometimes, I would go 10-15 days with bathing. A
cousin who knew my identity, would explain to the others in the pond that I
didn't know how to swim. When I had to go to the toilet, I had to wait until
The Pabna District Commissioner, Nurul Kader Khan knew there was a woman
among the group, but he couldn't identify me even when I was standing right
in front of our group as he addressed us. Once a foreign journalist who
found out their was a woman in our regimen, asked to see me. Mr Khan asked
our group where I was. He was shocked when someone responded pointing to me,
"She's here." The journalist took a picture of me with a gun, which brought
me a lot of recognition. The Statement of India, wrote a piece about me
titled, "A Shy Girl with a Gun." But I actually fought only for a short time
with arms. There were so many others, Taraman Bibi, Runa Das,
Bithika Biswas who fought with me. But they didn't get published at the
I was in Pabna till April. I carried a 3-knot 3-Rifle, a 2-2 bolt these were
weapons our Pabna DC collected from the police to distribute to
people. We didn't have many arms. We used what we had. I started off using a
large fish 'boti' (knife to cut fish) for a long time. When we ran out of
ammunition we had to retreat further and further. We eventually went to
India for support and to request for more weaponry. In India, they didn't
give weapons to us at first.
There was a training camp for women. Sajedur Chowdhury was in charge of the
women's training camp in India. I was in the first batch, which had 234
women. We organised ourselves and motivated the people of India to support
the Bangladeshi cause. The Communist Parties of the two countries had a
I provided nursing and military training to some of the women in the camp.
Though I thought I would eventually return to Bangladesh to fight in
the war, I did not end up returning for the rest of the year. My first day
back in Bangladesh was first of the new year, 1972. When the war was over,
we thought all of our dreams would come true. All of our dreams did not
materialise. Our secular constitution was replaced with an Islamic
constitution, we did not get freedom of religion, freedom from hunger,
freedom from discrimination.
There is a long history and politics behind the war. A lot of misinformation
has been produced since 1971 and now it is creeping into our
children's history books. That is why it so important for me and others who
were part of history to tell our stories.
Alamtaj Begum Chhobi
In 1971, I was just 16 year old and an active part of the
leftist party of Barisal. I was too young to know what it really meant to be
political activist. I did not know what would become of me, what people
would say. I first came in contact with the leftist movement when I was in
class 9. I started absorbing ideas through my brothers, Humayan Kabir and
Firoz Kabir, who were very active in the movement. They would have their
fellow party friends over the house quite often and I would overhear what
they were talking about as I served them tea. I read the leaflets they left
lying around the house. Pretty soon I was helping them write the leaflets
and paint walls with slogans using crushed coal for ink. In those days women
had to wear a 'ghomta' (a veil over their head). Things like romance and
talking to boys were not done, at least not openly. Women did not have
exposure to a lot of things. Nevertheless, when the time came to stand
side-by-side with the men to defend the country, women stepped up to the
cause. No woman was forced to go or called to go. Everyone went on their
own. What was the point of staying home? Either way we would be attacked at
the hands of the Pakistani Army or by rajakars (Bengali collaborators).
My mother cried a lot when I left. She still cries for my
brothers who died in the war. When I joined, I met many courageous women
Monika, Bithika Ray, Reba, Rekha, Nur Jahan.Some had been tortured, some had
lost their houses to arson, some came with their husbands. My first weapon
was the 3-knot-3 rifle. We didn't have a whole lot of arms. Later I carried
a light machine gun (LMG), the pistol and hand grenades. At first I was
scared about joining the war. But then my courage built up and it has stayed
with me. To this day, I have no fear of dying.
When the Liberation War began, Bengalis formed a
togetherness for one cause that had ever existed before or will ever exist
again. There was no difference between male and female. We often slept side
by side across the floor, but at no point were we ever disrespected.
I wore a sari when I joined, then I started wearing a lungi. When that
became too inconvenient and finally I moved on to wearing
shirts with pants.
It was the practical thing to do. We had to go through rice
paddy and khals (small lakes), wading knee-deep in water. Sometimes the
water even came up to our shoulders. We had to stay in the same clothes
often for 4 or 5 days at a time without bathing or eating. During the war I
killed members of the Pakistani Army and rajakars. I used my guns and I used
my bayonet. I gained a lot strength of mind during
that time. That strength of mind is helped me through the bad times.
The first man I killed was a rajakar. I thought it was
justified because he has betrayed and wronged people. The rajakars, who were
Bengalis, would guide the Pakistani Army to houses that had young women or
active freedom fighters. The Army tortured, raped and killed these people to
set an example and send a message to the terrorised Bengali people on where
they stood. When victory was declared in December of 1971 it was the most
My return to home was a different story. People did not look
highly on women who joined the war. And though not a single Pakistani Army
officer had laid a hand on me during the war, rumours had gone around about
the possibility that I was manhandled or worse. Two months after
independence, my husband was lured out of our house by government officials,
taken to Jhalokati and killed. I was three months pregnant.
After his death, I went to a relative's house in Dhaka
because I knew I would not be accepted back home. She sent me back to my
father's house. The community did not receive me well. My parents took me
in, but I got cold treatment. I kept going back and forth between my in-laws
house and my parent's house. I knew I had to stand on my own. I took up odd
jobs paying a monthly salary of taka 40. I sewed, I tutored until I was
financially solvent. I used to cry a lot. I used to beat my daughter. I took
my anger out on her. I have
nothing to hide. Have I said anything that should bring me shame? This is
just the bare truth.
What I faced after I returned from the war, it cannot be
expressed in words. And it did not stop with family and community. Politics
was once a higher cause, became debased. Since independence, I have not
continued politics. I have been earning a living and raising my
family. I have learned a lot from life experience. My mission is to pass
this knowledge to my daughters. The pain of hunger is a strong
pain. The real war is not fighting in the battle fields. It is what comes
after the War. I have led a very different life. I am happy
about that. It has given me the opportunity to have many valuable life
experiences. If I could tell anything to today's young woman
I would tell them to educate themselves, they have many opportunities we
didn't. Learn to stand on your own.
Many people have asked me to join politics. But I didn't. I
regretted making that decision at the time, but now I know I made the right
decision. I have never asked anyone for anything. That may be why I did not
The interview I gave for BBC and German radio, my words in
The Daily Star, these are my certificates. I do not need an inauthentic
"official" certificate from the government. I may not be well-educated, but
I know right from wrong.
The Liberation War of 1971 didn't just begin overnight. It took long years
of mobilising people towards the cause of gaining an independent nation. It
took time to motivate people, educate people on their rights, and prepare
people for this kind of movement. My
family and I had been involved in this process leading up to the war.
Fighting for independence was in my blood. My mother was a "Bhasha Shohinik"
(activist in Language Movement of 52). Before that, my parents and maternal
uncles were active in the struggle for independence of India from the
British. The Brits called them "terrorists". I had been involved with Chatra
League for years. The West Pakistan governance created a disparity between
the two Pakistans, they cheated us. We realised we had to stand on our own,
we had to survive, we had to protect ourselves.
Bengalis are generally a peace-loving people. But when the Pakistani's
unleashed such unbridled, inhumane atrocities, we as a people
became furious. When the war started, I helped establish camps for those who
lost their homes. Among the displaced in the camps, we selected the young,
strong ones to fight in the war. We collected arms and provided arms
We also collected funds for food, shelter, medicine and establishing nursing
centers for the wounded. I was the leader of the Women's
Guerilla Squad in Agartala. I trained women to fight and use arms. We used
our friends and relatives who were on duty in the Pakistani Army to help us
free the captured.
Because of all my activities, I always carried a Chinese pistol. When I was
with the others, fighting on the streets, I carried grenades.
During this terrible time, I saw villages set on fire, burning in the wake
of the Pakistan's infiltration. The corpses we saw along our path
saddened me and fuelled the fires to fight against injustice.
Sometimes we didn't eat for days, we walked miles, sometimes eating fruits
on our way. I did not face too much trouble joining the
cause of war as a women. Actually, I was trained from childhood to do this.
Besides, I went to a coed school and came from a broadminded family. We all
went through lots of trouble, but we did it for love of our nation. In the
name of "Desh Prem" people can do anything.
After Muktijuddho, I did not associate with any political party because the
country was free. The political party was just a vehicle to get
there. Instead, I put my energies into social work, humanist activities,
working for the poor. I write and I have actively called on the
government to recognize freedom fighters. When we were fighting, we had a
dream that all our people would be able to eat and enjoy
fundamental rights. However, big powers have a role to play, they make the
rules, preventing us from realising those dreams.
We, the smaller countries must demand that the big powers play fairly. Right
now, I am 'hanging' in between jobs. I was a Deputy Director and Senior
Assistant at different levels of a ministry. But because of my associations
before the war, sometimes we get shafted by different governments. Those who
fought for the cause of war all were involved in political parties, it was
for a greater cause. But now we are being punished for that.
In 1971 her name was Kanon
Banik. She hails from
village Manikkandi of Mokshedpur PS in Gopalganj district. At the
beginning of the Liberation War Pakistani forces in collaboration with the
razakars took away Kanoan from her house,
raped and tortured her. The Pak
Army came to the village adjacent
to Kanonís village in May 1971. They set fire to
houses. They looted houses after house. In August a razakar named Muji came
to Kanonís house. He told her grandma:
We will make all malauns (Infidels or
Hindus) Muslims. No nomo (Hindu) will be allowed in our golden
Pakistan. Only Muslims will live here. Next evening, Muji came along with
some military personnel. They dragged out Kanon from the house. Kanonís
father tried to resist. The Pakistanis shot at her father. The army kicked
her grandma when she also came to rescue Kanon. They tortured Kanonís mother
pushing her on the ground. Later Kanonís mouth was tied and she was boarded
on a boat. Soon they started beating her on boat. Bleeding started from
different parts of her body as they bit her. But it was only the beginning.
After she was taken to the camp, barbarous torture continued. The Pakistani
forces raped and tortured her every night. During the confinement, she
witnessed how women were tortured and killed, how women tied up with bamboo
poles were gang-raped. She also witnessed how Bangalee youths were tortured,
how they abortively tried to make the Bangalee youths to chant ďPakistan
ZindabadĒ. When the tortured youths wanted water, they were offered urine.
After two months of her
confinement, one-day freedom fighters attacked the camp. She and some others
were rescued. The freedom fighters took her to her house, but her family
fearing attacks by army and razakars and social taboos didnít allow her to
stay at the house. She went to the freedom fighters' camp. Here she learnt
cleaning arms, operating rifle and exploding grenades. She also took part in
a number of operations. She again returned to her home after the country was
liberated. But again her parents denied to receive her. Then she got shelter
at the house of a Muslim family. Mosharraf Sheikh, a freedom fighter of the
camp where Kanon had got shelter, married her and she was given
a new name-Nazma Begum. Mosharrafís parents left him for
marrying her. Valiant freedom fighter Nazma Begum is now living an inhumanly
impoverished life at a slum in Dhaka. She, along with her ailing husband and
four children, has to starve most of the days.
Rokeya Khatun hails from village
Malanchi of Bagharpara district. As a young girl, Rokeya a
politically conscious Bangalee joined the war, without informing her
parents, to liberate her motherland from the occupation Pakistani force.
Follwing a short training at Bagharpara freedom fightersí camp, Rokeya went
to the front line of the guerrilla warfare. At one stage of the war, Rokeya
was caught by the Pakistani forces. She was in prison for six months and the
hell broke loose on her. At that time she was denied food while being raped
and tortured by the Pak troops. When the freedom fighters rescued her,
Rokeya turned into a mere skeleton.
Rokeyea was caught by the
Pakistani and razakar forces at the end of June 1971. Soon she was
bloodstained following bayonet charges. At this stage she was taken to
Jessore Cantonment and kept in a darkroom. Then the soldiers started
grilling her and beating her with the rifle butts. Beating was followed by
group rape and other forms of sexual tortures. She was kept in the
cantonment for six months almost without foods. If she tried to resist, she
was tortured with burning cigarettes. For being repressed and kept with
minimum food month after month at the end she had no strength to resistance.
During the long imprisonment, she was not given water properly. She was
given little water once a week and with that she had to take shower and wash
the blood smeared clothes. The freedom fighters rescued her in December. But
by that time she was almost dead. Rokeyaís family took initiative for her
marriage when she came back to her family after independence. But some
villagers said: Khan (Pakistani) army kept her
in cantonment for such a long time, what else she has now? Due to
social stigma Rokeya was unmarried for a long time. At last she was married
off with her mid-aged brother-in-law, who had already four children. Rokeya
gave birth to two more daughters. At present her husband is terminally ill
and Rokyea runs the family working as a housemaid.
In the 33 years of the
independence Rokeya has neither received any recognition nor any support
from the government. Worse, Rokeya has still to bear the taunts of the
people: We didnít lose our chastity at the
hands of Khan soldiers like you.
Once a valiant freedom fighter who
gave all a woman can treasure for the nation thirty three years later Rokeya
is now a poor housemaid cleaning dishes in peoplesí houses in a country the
prime minister of which laid herself voluntarily to the officers of the
occupation army and the ministers who she fought against in the war.
In 1071, Fatema Khatun was 18. The
young girl of village Indra in Bagharpara PS of Jessore district had taken
arms to protect her motherland. During the war Fatema fought in the front
line hand in hand with her male comrades. At one stage of the war she was
caught by the Pakistani forces. She was put in the prison where hundreds of
Pak solders poked her flesh day and night. tarted her life in prison.
After the beginning of the war,
Fatema took training along with her brother and two female friends. During
the training period, she took part in several front line combats. At the end
of June, 1971, Fatema, along with some of her comrades, was caught by
Pakistani troops during an uneven battle. Within hours, she witnessed the
gruesome killing of her brother at the hands of the Pak occupation forces.
Then started her brutal captive life. As soon as she was taken to an army
camp, Fatema was raped by a razakar. Later she was taken to Jessore
Cantonment and was kept confined in a dungeon. Barbarous tortures were
unleashed on her day after day, night after night. As she tried to resist
she was burnt by the cigarettes. Sometimes, all members of a Paki platoon
raped her tying her hands and legs on poles. They left her senseless.
Platoons after platoons tore her body apart. Group rape continued throughout
her imprisonment. During her imprisonment, she was scarcely given any meal.
At one stage of her captivity Fatema became pregnant. But the Paks didnít
spare her group rape. Due to repeated rape during pregnancy, Fatema gave
birth to a stillborn baby. During the entire period of her imprisonment,
Fatema was never allowed to have a shower. When the freedom fighters rescued
her from cantonment on December 6, she was almost dead.
Even after the independence, the
valiant woman is subject to social stigmata. After Ziaur Rahman came to
power in 1975, her mother sent Fatema to a different town to absolve her off
the stigma attributed to her during the liberation war. Fatema tried to
start a new life, she got married. But her husband left her when he came to
know that she was kept confined in the cantonment. The second husband also
left her for the same reason. Now Fatema along with her two sons has to
starve. The money she gets working as a housemaid canít afford her two meals
Freedom fighter Halima Parvin hails
from village Indra in Jessore district. She had
taken arms in 1971 with the dream of freeing the country from the Pakistani
occupation forces. At one stage of the war, she was
caught by the occupation troops and had to go
through a terrible time for six months.
One day in April 1971, the razakars and the occupation forces attacked
Halima's village. Her house was set ablaze. Halima
joined hand with the freedom fighters to save
herself and her motherland. But she was caught by the Pakistani forces in
June. Then started the frightful time. At first
she was kept at a razakar's camp where she
was subjected to brutal tortue and rape. The rajakars after tearing her
apart raping her in groups piereced
her body with bayonets. Half dead Halima was
then taken to Jessore Cantonment blindfolded. There
started another chapter of barbarous torture. She
was given food twice a day. The Pakis poked her blood smeared body
like hordes of pigs days and nights. During her long
six-month confinement, she also witnessed how
other women were tortured. She was compelled to dig graves for the
women who died due to torture. She dug many graves for
the women who were killed after group
rape. She also witnessed how the Pakistani army forced
victims to undergo abortion. Halima wore a bloody
sari and a blouse throughout her six-month stay
there. Whenever she tired to protest the
torture she was slit with the bayonets. Still
today her body bears the marks
of torture she was subjected to day after day
Freedom fighters rescued her on December 6 and returned Halima
to her parents. Even after the
independence, some razakars tried to kill her. She fled from home and got
shelter at the house of an uncle. The razakars were still
so powerful that they made her father isolated
from the society. The family could not arrange her marriage for
long. In 1983, she got a job of a
maid at Maheshpur Hospital. Next year she married
one of her maternal brothers. But parents of her husband
left their son for marrying a girl raped
by the Pakistanis.
Halima has two children and a husban and
her family lives on her
income which is so small that the members of the
family can scarcely afford one decent meal a day. Her
younger son has impaired vision. But due to
extreme poverty Halima can't afford her sonís treatment.
Like her peers Halima is living an unbearable life
in a country which he gave everything to free.