1971: Shall we remember, forget, or fabricate?

undefined  The Daily star | Victory Day Supliment | December 2006

1971: Shall we remember, forget, or fabricate?

Rubaiyat Hossain

It is debated whether or not a comprehensive and objective history of Muktijuddho has yet been written or not. It seems that the history of Bangladesh’s Muktijuddho is still in its making. Thirty-five years since our independence, the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs is still struggling to come up with a finalized list of Muktijoddhas.

While the history of Muktijuddho is reinterpreted by our political parties to meet their individual political imperatives, strong nationalist rhetoric reign the bulk of war literature, and Bangladeshis still cannot agree over who declared their independence on March 26, 1971 — our history is being written and authorized elsewhere!

In the United States of America, Sarmila Bose a Harvard scholar of Bengali origin and family connection with Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose is working on a project called “1971: Images, Memory, Reconciliation.”

Sarmila Bose’s statement in “Anatomy of Violence: An Analysis of Civil War in East Pakistan in 1971,” that: “In all of the incidents involving the Pakistan army in the case-studies, the armed forces were found not to have raped women” created quite a stir in Bangladeshi print media.

Regardless, Ms. Bose continues her project, “1971: Images, Memory, Reconciliation,” with the intention of providing a “basis for an analytical approach that challenges both the silence and the unsubstantiated rhetoric that have obscured the study of the conflict of 1971 to date.”

Ms. Bose also claims that: “Bangladeshis are understandably more voluble about the birth of their country, but have done less well at systematic historical record-keeping, and a vast proportion of literature put out on 1971 is marred by unsubstantiated sensationalism.” I may have strong empirical evidence to counter her first statement, but I somewhat agree with the last one.

We surely have not done enough of systematic historical record-keeping of Muktijuddho history. The attempt to collect and compile Muktijuddho history has been fragmented and interrupted. For example, some records were collected under Jatiya Swadhinotar Itihash Parishad between 1972 and 1973. It seems after that the projects slowed down, and picked up its pace again under Muktijuddher Itihash Lekhon O Mudron Prokolpo between 1977 and 1987. A very worthwhile document came out of this project, the fifteen volumes of Bangladesher Swadhinota Juddho Dolil Potro edited by Hasan Hafizur Rahman. Reputed historians such as Afsan Chowdhury and Dr. Sukumar Biswas were part of this endeavour.

After a long interruption, in 1996, another project was undertaken by Mukitjuddho Gobeshona Kendra to collect oral history of Muktijuddho. However, after collecting 25,000 interviews in 19 compiled volumes this project was interrupted. After the formation of the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs in October 2001, the ministry has taken possession of all documents collected by Bangla Academy and Muktijuddho Gobeshona Kendra.

A new endeavour started under the ministry to compile the history of sector-wise armed conflict. The original plan of Awami League government in 1996 to collect oral history from all 64 districts and publish a total of 91 volumes of Muktijuddho history has been interrupted by the four-party alliance government after the 2001 election. Such interruptions and change of action plan surely creates hindrance in collecting a coherent historical narrative of 1971.

Another curious element of Muktijuddho history I discovered as an MA student researching in the field was the obscurity of Muktijuddho history keeping in Bangladesh.

For example, there is no official figure based on empirical evidence of how many people actually died during the nine months of 1971. How many women were raped and how many war babies were adopted by foreign families still remain unknown.

I was told at the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs that they are currently engaged in compiling a list called the “Nei Talika.” This list aims to document all of those who were not listed in the past four compiled lists: the Jatiya Talika, Kallyan Trust Talika (those trained in India), Voter Talika, Muktibartar Talika. It is also surprising a national effort to compile the list of freedom fighters was not initiated until 1980!

As Muktijoddha Certificate earns one certain benefits, there is no shortage of forgery these days. Thus the true identification of real freedom fighters becomes even more obscure. As we lose the identities and voices of those who really fought and suffered in 1971, we also begin to lose parts of the real picture of our Muktijuddho.

We have buried women’s memory of war under our ideology of honour and shame. In doing to you have lost yet another segment of Muktijuddho history. The truth is in order to really understand 1971 one has to look at it from every single angle possible.

If we really want to learn about Muktijuddho, we need to read not only Ferdousi Priyobhashini, but also General Niazi. We have to read Chorompotro as well Nurul Qadir’s “Blood and Tears” — a book about the plight of Biharis in 1971. We have to understand accounts of freedom fighters, and also look at the foreign policy documents to comprehend the larger geo-political scheme. We have to look at the fifteen volumes of Dolil Potro edited by Hasan Hafizur Rahman in order to get first-hand factual documents and testimonies. We may also visit Muktijuddho Research Center and Muktijuddho Jadughor, but still we will not have factual data. We would still lack numbers and strong empirical evidence to prove what really happened and how many really died.

In fact, our government needs to begin a research project and document 1971 from all different angles. For example, as we need to documents the songs, poetry, and literature produced during 1971 to understand the emotional and cultural temperament of the people, we also have to employ archeological teams to bring us hard historical evidence at hand for what really happened.

Thirty five years is a very long time and then again it is also a very short time. There are still bones buried underneath the land that we walk on. There are numerous gonokobors in the country that one could dig up to find history. It really is not too late. In fact, this is the right and ripe time to start such an endeavor.

As confused we have been between Vande Mataram and Muslim League, Muslim League and Awami League, between Joy Bangla and Bangladesh Zindabad, autocracy and military regime, pseudo democracy and militancy in the name demanding an Islamic state, we will be truly headed for a national doom if we do not make a conscious and honest effort right now to document a comprehensive and objective history of 1971.

Rubaiyat Hossain is an independent film maker and Lecturer at Brac University.

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