My long desired visit to Meghalaya this year in fact pushed me back to the landscape of the days we spent here taking refuge in 1971 during the War of Liberation of Bangladesh. Before I describe the experience of my visit I take the opportunity of being inundated with reminiscences of those days.
It was the first week of June, 1971. Already the Liberation war for independent mother land of Bengali nation ensued in the territory of Bangladesh as the freedom fighters started fighting against the Pakistani occupation armed force and their local infamous collaborators with full vigour, responding to the declaration of independence by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman the Father of Nation. Under such tumultuous situation, my father Dr Akhlaqul Hossain Ahmed, who was a Member of Provincial Assembly (MPA) of the then East Pakistan, moved to Moheshkhola under Meghalaya, India intending to be engaged in organisng the war around that region. It was the reflection of my father's intense gallant patriotism for the motherland, I believe.
In 1971, thousands of Bengali civilians took refuge at Moheshkhola. It was the gateway for the youths intending to join the Liberation War moving from Netrokona, Sunamganj and some parts of Kishoreganj Districts. A youth camp was set up there to recruit the youths for providing them with training to join fight against the Pakistani occupation army. Being in-charge, my father started leading the activities of the said youth camp at Moheshkhola.
In 1971, I was a 12-year-old boy, studying in Grade VIII. On 14 August, my mother Begum Hosneara Hossain travelled to Moheshkhola along with her four children. We took refuge at Moheshkhola and started living in a thatched-roof dwelling shed, I remember.
It was diverse experience indeed. We did not feel pained staying at a poor dwelling shed. However, eventually during our staying there we got the greatest news of achieving independence of our beloved country Bangladesh. And with this we with immense passion started waiting to come back own home land.
It was either 22 or 23 December 1971when we returned to our new born motherland—Bangladesh. Coming back, we discovered our house burned down by the Pakistani occupation army. The loss did not cause any pain to us as we got our home land liberated from the grip of Pakistani occupation army. The memories of the days we spent in Meghalaya, though short, never evaporated from my emotion.
I often wished to visit it again to see the place which wholeheartedly welcomed us, provided us food and refuge in 1971. To me, that place bears testimony of the most glorious achievement of our nation – the liberation. In the third week of April this year when I moved to visit Meghalaya-- a state of picturesque beauty being accompanied by my younger brother Saiful Hassan who was a toddler during the war of liberation.
On 16 April at 01:00 PM we entered Meghalaya, India at about 01:00 PM when we were warmly welcomed by the officers of District Administration of West Garo Hills and South Garo Hills (Tura and Baghmara) and the Border Security Force (BSF). The officials attending and receiving us informed that my entourage and I have been declared as 'State Guest' by the Government of Meghalaya, during our visit. It just made me immensely amazed.
The BSF Officer Mr. Rathore took me to a monument erected after the names of nine martyrs of our Liberation War. All the nine martyrs were BSF soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the cause of independence of our mother land Bangladesh. I placed bouquet of flower with humble tribute at the monument and received guard of honour from the BSF soldiers. There from we arrived at the circuit house of South Garo Hills, Baghmara.
Next morning we moved for Moheshkhola being heavily escorted by the central reserve police of India and BSF personnel. We arrived at Moheshkhola exactly at noon. Our vehicles stopped just at the place where we took refuge in 1971. My brother and I called our mother after we reached the place. It was a rare feeling of conquering something very precious. The Additional Deputy Commissioner (ADC), Baghmara accompanied us in moving to this place. We found a 76 years old man, Jalin Marak a local resident of the Garo tribe. He is conversant in Bengali language. He guided us to the place where the refugee camps were set up in 1971. I myself also could recognise the place where we spent couple of months, taking refuge in 1971. I visited the place exactly where we along with our mother used to stay and roam around. Now a health care centre has been built in that place. Gazing at the place I just became nostalgic and went back to the days we spent here. At 12:30 leaving the site at Moheshkhola we started moving towards Baghmara and there from at 04:30 PM towards Tura, the District Headquarters of West Garo Hills and arrived at the circuit house at 07:30 PM .
On the following morning started heading towards Goalpara circuit house and arrived there at about 11:30 AM where the District Judge, Chief Judicial Magistrate and other officials from District Administration welcomed us. After having lunch, we visited the Brahmaputra River. In the evening, we were given a small but cordial reception arranged at the old circuit house on the bank of the River Brahmaputra. The scenic beauty of Brahmaputra is simply amazing. It added extra joy to the reception.
Next morning at 09:30 AM we started for Tura again and on arriving there we visited some places of the town. Tura is hilly and one of largest towns in Meghalaya. It is filled with green valleys all around. Road condition within the town is very good.
In the evening, the DC Mr. Pravin Bakshi, District Judge Mr. Noor-A- Khan and the Chief Judicial Magistrate met me at circuit house. The District Judge having profound knowledge in law simply impressed me. On conversation, I came to know that the judicial system of Meghalaya is a bit different from that of other parts of India, because there are number of tribal people of different tribes living in the state. Customs of a particular tribe differ from that of another tribe. Thus, customary law is applicable in settling the dispute between the tribal people vis-s vis law of the land is also applicable in the state. Before saying me good bye the Deputy Commissioner, with smiling face, handed me over four local daily news papers in which my visit has been published giving special importance together our photograph. I extended my heartfelt thanks to him.
Before we left Tura for returning Bangladesh I felt attacked with a bit melancholy. I believe the strong support India extended as a trusted and genuine friend during the war of Liberation will remain intact as a strong foundation of the relationship between the people of two nations.
Still I become stricken with countless reminiscences of the days we spent at Moheshkhola, Meghalaya in 1971 during the war of liberation of Bangladesh, taking refuge there. I, with humble tribute, dedicate the experience and feelings I achieved during the visit of Meghalaya to my valiant freedom fighter father, my beloved mother, three millions martyrs, countless mothers and sisters who lost their honour and the freedom fighters who laid down enormous sacrifice for the cause of independence of our dear motherland—Bangladesh.
Justice Obaidul Hassan is a judge of Bangladesh Supreme Court, High Court Division.