Knowing 1971

That day is not too far when none of the war heroes and heroines of the war will be not with us to share their stories of 1971. Tasnia Ahmed, Sadaf Tasin after visiting Liberation War Museum, Asiatic Society of Bangladesh, Bangla Academy and looking through pages of novels and memoirs writes about the way young researcher could know about the history of 1971.



December is an important month in the lives of the Bangladeshi’s. It is the time when we all unite to celebrate the birth of our beloved motherland. This December, it will be the 46th anniversary of the independence of Bangladesh. As the youths are always curious to know about the stories of the liberation war, to quench their thirst for the history, we would like to introduce the youth the source of Bangladesh’s history. One of us is a daughter of freedom fighter, ‘I have grown up hearing stories of the liberation war from my father, Farid Ahmed. He was the commander in-charge of Mujibahini at the-then Gopalgonj mohakuma (subdivision), present Gopalganj district.’ Unfortunately, that day is not too far when none of the war heroes and heroines of the war will be with us to share their anecdotes with the upcoming generations. So, to keep the freedom-fighters immortal, the youth of today are taking initiatives. Many youths, especially university students and young researchers are finding ways to archives to know the stories of the liberation war. Also, many young directors are making documentaries, films on 1971.

We get to know various aspects of the ongoing research work by the youths from a young liberation war researcher, Mamun Siddique. He shared with us that, ‘Young people are researching about the liberation war for the last 15-20 years. Moreover, they are not waiting for any organisational support for their research. Many of them are researching from their personal interest and commitment to the society.’ The Asiatic Society of Bangladesh has initiated a research on the liberation war, collecting stories from the 64 districts of Bangladesh. In this project 90 per cent of the researchers are youth. In every district, there is a district coordinator and under him/her in every sub-district there are coordinators who are involved in collecting stories from the freedom-fighters. He further adds, ‘in the district level many books have been published on the liberation war, but as the authors are not aware of the methods of research, the quality of the books are not up to the mark’. On other hand, people who studies history, and are well aware of the methods of research, they are not showing much interest in research works. To produce thoroughly researched works; however, opportunity, sponsorship, interest and motivation need to be established. Unfortunately, without proper funding, less people are getting interested in research related works. Research in itself as a professional endeavour has not developed, let alone research about the liberation war. This gap needs to be addressed with sufficient support from the government, public and private initiatives and so on.

So, what are the other ways to know about the liberation war? Bidding adieu to its old premise in Segunbagicha this April, the Libaration War Museum has a started its journey in its new premise in Agargaon, Dhaka. The old museum was established in March 22, 1996. It was a two storied building with six galleries and had an outdoor theatre. Whereas, the new museum now holds a 3,500 square metre gallery area along with spacious concourse halls and modern audio-visual equipment for multimedia presentation on the history of liberation war and associated events. There is also international standard temporary gallery of 500 sqm for exhibitions and research centre amphitheatre, auditorium, seminar rooms to accommodate a large crowd. In addition, space for two institutes, the Institute for Liberation War Studies and the Centre for the Study in Genocide and Justice is established there. It is open to all, five days of the week.

At the liberation war museum, there is a separate research wing for genocide research of Bangladesh. As we spoke to the library-in-charge and the manager of the museum, we got to know that majority of the researchers involved are youth. They are working relentlessly to archive and research about the war. In addition to the Liberation War Museum, one can also visit Bangabandhu Shriti Jadughor located in Dhanmondi 32. The memories of the war time leader–Sheikh Mujibor Rahman are well preserved in the museum.

Novels and memoirs reflecting on the history of 1971 also opens avenue to the history of 1971.

One can also see look at art work depicting the war or art created at the time to mobilise support for the cause of Bangladesh. In 1971, a team of artists tried to draw the attention of the world by sketching monogram of independent Bangladesh, stamps, posters, banners, cartoons and leaflets, as instructed by the provisional government’s ministry of information and publicity. Painter Quamrul Hassan led the team, Mustafa Manwar, Swapan Chowdhury, Golam Mowla and others visited different camps and participated in different programmes to entertain people and inspire them. Veteran artist Zainul Abedin’s iconic painting ‘Soronarthi’ depicted the horrifying situation of Bengali refugees — people fleeing the atrocity of Pakistani army taking refuge in India. Abedin’s sketch named ‘Muktijuddho’ portrayed a team of freedom fighters marching ahead in full confidence to win the battle. He used black brush in this sketch as a symbol of mourning and rage. This piece of art was very much inspiring to the brave warriors. He refused a title given by Pakistani government to express his solidarity with the freedom fighters. These paintings are a window to the history of 1971.

We wanted to talk to researchers who dedicated their life in researching 1971. Tapan Bagchi, the deputy director of Bangla Academy tells us about what inspired him to take up his research field and how he took it up as a youth. He also tells us about the young people who started with him and how he thinks his research has influenced the youth.

In 1999, Tapan Bagchi researched about the liberation war of Bangladesh and published a book about the history of the war in Gopalganj area.  Last year, he published another book for children highlighting the war’s events in Madaripur. He is working on his next book where the history of Faridpur will be highlighted. He was four and half years old when the war started. Tapan says, ‘Even though I was very young, surprisingly I do have some memories of that time’. He adds, ‘I went to West Bengal as a refugee on my mother’s lap. My grandfather, two uncles and my father was involved in the liberation struggles. My two uncles were involved in direct combat against the Pakistani military and my father was a government official under the Mujib nagar government and was in charge of a refugee camp. The life in the camps was not an easy one. The place was damp. During this time my younger sister caught pneumonia. It was not possible to provide proper treatment over there and she passed away. I feel that this sister of mine is also a part of the liberation war and the sacrifices and hardships that my father and uncles had suffered always made me think I should do something related to the liberation war as I couldn’t participate in it. I realised the best way of doing so is by at least letting people know about its history. As a result, I started researching on this field.’

In 1999, the government started a project to find out and publish the history of the liberation war in each of the 64 districts of Bangladesh. Tapan was appointed with the task of compiling the history of Gopalganj. Many of the 64 districts had young researcher like him. Tapan says ‘We had a group of young researcher, I was in the early thirties back then but there were people even ten years younger than me and women’s participation was prominent. Most notably Zobaida Nasrina and Rita Bhoumik wrote books on Noakhali and Norshingdi zilas respectively. He finished and published the book by 2000. This is how Tapan initiated his research on this filed. When asked about whether his research reaches to the youth, Tapan said ‘My books are taught at various schools therefore, it does get a good number of young audiences. Furthermore, there are freedom fighters who gave my books to their children in order to depict a picture of their chivalry on their minds and a girl named Ranjana Biswas who was inspired to do research on her own area after reading my books. I feel successful, when I see my research inspired a person from my next generation to take up this field.’

Tapan also mentioned a competition about 10 years ago by the Liberation War Museum amongst school students around the country in which the students had to find out an incident of the liberation war that happened in their area. There were a lot of responses. The students went around asking people, interviewing freedom fighters and reading books. The responses are preserved in the Liberation War Museum. This gave the school students a taste of researching on this field.

Tapan believes, history should be documented at least up to upazila level. Furthermore, he believes in order to inspire the youth there should be a course on the liberation war’s history in the curriculum of universities which should be compulsory for the students of all departments. He adds, ‘Many universities have Bangladesh studies in their curriculum which teaches the liberation war as a major topic. Our endeavor is to implement more of this everywhere.’

Tasnia Ahmed and Sadaf Tasin both of them are students  of  Independent University of Bangladesh and BRAC University respectively . 



Independence should not be taken for granted

by Maureen Nawer

According to the dictionary, the word independence means being free from outside control or not depending on another’s authority.

I have known my country to be independent for as long as I can recall. I have learnt that my country has its own government, its own parliament building and proper government body as a separate independent state. We are called the people’s republic of Bangladesh. But was it always so? Of course not. We all were at some point taught in school about how we fought against the inter colonial Pakistani army to earn our much deserved victory as a Bengali-speaking separate nation in 1971. We had to fight for nine long months before we tasted the sweetness of it. Before fear left the hearts of the ones who were alive then.

I was born in the 90’s and never really felt what it feels like to be a part of another nation. I never got the feeling of being in a war, God forbid, I never want to.

I would like to put my thought here today based on what I’ve heard from my elders and what I’ve read from a few books that crossed my path. Probably, I was in my first grade, the first time I learnt that we had a war before we could call ourselves independent. I did not even know how severe it was. War, as I knew, was what I’ve seen in a few movie scenes, but it always had a happy ending. The person we rooted for —the hero, always had victory for himself. So I did not know how the ones who lost someone felt. But I sure felt the fear to some extent. I decided, I would talk to my mom about it. That night when my mom was tucking me into bed, I asked her if she was there when we had the liberation war. Mom, at first seemed reluctant to discuss anything. Then, she probably thought she should let me know. Mom went on telling me about the severity of the situation. I got to know that the Pakistani military killed people of all classes and all genders and of all ages. That is when we decided to fight back. At the call of our father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, people of all classes and genders jumped into the battle ground, whether armed or unarmed. I learnt that my maternal uncle was a freedom fighter himself and that is why he is missing two fingers from his left toe and has a permanent bruise on his forehead. Suddenly, a sense of pride filled me up. The respect I had for him seemed to jump up by margins.

On every Independence Day and Victory day two very popular movies used to be shown on tv to remind us of what we went through to have what we have. One is ‘Ora egaro jon’ and ‘Aguner poroshmoni’. I watched both of them consecutively. I don’t think any movie ever sucked my mind so much till this date as those two. The feeling I got from watching those two movies is I think the closest I can get to having the feeling of being in a war being fought in my country, against my people, speaking the language I speak. I felt raw fear.

In class seven, we were taken to the liberation war museum at Shahbag from school for a visit.  There we were shown artifacts from the war, little stories with pictures were hung around the walls. Being better in Bengali among my friends, I decided to take a walk around and read some of them. The explanations some of them had, gave me goose bumps. There was this huge photo of a half-naked woman hung on the walls. At first, I was ashamed to see such a photo enlarged. Before I could catch my train of thoughts regarding the picture, an officer went on telling us the story behind that particular photo. That’s the first time I learnt that it wasn’t only males who took part in a war, in fact, women at certain places suffered more. Besides fighting with the men, the ones who couldn’t, cooked and provided food for the freedom fighters for which they had to endure torture and rape even. Yes, rape! I was never informed because it was a bad word, a shameful word, something that should not be talked about because I was too young. And that picture was of a woman who was raped and killed by the Pakistani army. I was filled with disgust.

With the passage of time, I read a lot of books. Books, where contributions from different people towards our victory were highlighted, depending on who the writer of the book was and which political party he supported. Growing up, I have understood this much that our generation will probably never know what we went through to achieve this independence we have today, or what the real story was. The real story have been fabricated, manipulated and re-written by so many authors to suit their need to sell the books. But from these books, the new thing I learnt was that not only women, but even men got raped during this war so that their backbone is broken, so that the sense of shame goes higher that the sense of strength and they cease to fight any further. Eventually, I felt stronger in my mind.

I went through a roller coaster of emotions over the years learning little by little about this spectacular history of our country that marks our existence on the world map. But after everything else, pride and strength is what I have felt and I am thankful to my parents who taught me Bengali. Despite being an English medium student, I take pride in saying that I can read and write Bengali fluently. If I wasn’t so fluent, I would never read those books, or take interest in the movies or articles that I came across.

To my opinion, just playing these old footages of Sheikh Mujibur’s lecture in race course maydan and showing these movies on certain days will not interest this generation. We need more exposure. The era we are passing through has the highest source of entertainment. They have the scope to never get bored, so if we are thinking that they’ll take interest and read of their own, we are wrong. We need to teach them. We need to talk to them, sit with them and show them those movies so that they feel what is needed to be felt. Else, this independence will always be taken for granted.


Maureen Nawer is a student of Brac University




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