Can a self respecting nation treat its brave sons like this? | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 21, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 10:56 AM, April 09, 2015

FREEDOM IN THE OFFING

Can a self respecting nation treat its brave sons like this?

Here we publish a speech given by Major General M. A. Manzoor, Bir Uttam, at a seminar organised by Bangla Academy. It was published in Sangbad on March 26, 1977. Major General Manzoor was the Sector Commander of Sector 8 during the Liberation War.

THIS is my first opportunity to speak to an audience after our Independence. I convey my sincere thanks to Bangla Academy for affording me this opportunity. First my deep respects to those brothers and sisters whose blood has created the opportunity for this discussion. Many learned persons have commented on the Liberation War -- I don't have the ability to make such erudite comments. I will, as a soldier, present my own views on the Liberation War as I have understood it.  

The background of our freedom struggle was written long in the past when our predecessors realised that there was a need to live in this land as a separate national entity. For ages the people of this land had been enslaved. The Bengalis had never been free in the real sense or had never participated in the task of determining their own destiny. But we had always dreamt to break free from this environment and shape our own society, culture and economy in a free atmosphere. At times our nationalist urge had caused severe tremors. The Fakir-Sanyasi revolt, the peasant revolt, the Wahhabi and Faraizi movements and the revolt against indigo farming were manifestations of our nationalist feelings. But we succumbed every time due to lack of unity, and in the face of rapacious rulers our dreams failed to materialise. But somewhere during a phase in that struggle, when the colonisers were evicted from the subcontinent, our hearts were filled with delight. We dreamed of a glorious free nation. But we awoke to a rude shock. A hard truth dawned that the newly found independence was only a phase in the quest for real independence; then started another struggle. A new start was launched with the Language Movement of 1952. Thus, every time in celebrating February 21 we celebrate the first step of our revolutionary nationalist awakening. 1971 was the armed phase of the glorious struggle when the people of this country took up arms. An amazing unity not seen before, a determination to struggle unto death and a mood of nationalism was created. There is not another example in the subcontinent of a collective resolve to sacrifice everything for independence. Except for a handful of selfish and misguided people the entire mass of the people had lent their support for independence. And only this unity and people's support made independence possible. Everywhere in this land, in the towns and villages, we received spontaneous and unstinted help of the people. Without this support it would have been difficult for us to survive, much less gain independence. It is true that we have gained independence but our struggle is not over yet. If we had retained the same unity and sense of dedication of the days of 1971 then we would not have faced difficulty in enjoying the fruits of independence; we would have progressed much in the task of nation building. 

Many people have said and written many things about the Liberation War of 1971. Many have made profits out of publishing colourful books with attractive covers. But how many of them have written about the brave son, printed the face of the young boy aged 16 of a small village who bade farewell to his mother vowing to liberate the country and in keeping that vow never returned to the embrace of his mother. Where is the account of the brave deeds of the brave soldiers of the Bengal Regiment or the East Pakistan Rifles? Of those who were decorated with Bir Shrestho for their bravery? Were their sacrifices any less significant than the death of a few intellectuals and politicians? Our real history is in the tale of the valour and sacrifices of thousands of youths, thousands of common men. We have to write that history which will be an inspiration for the future generation.

It is not possible for me to lay out the details of the events of the War of Liberation. But I would like to narrate a few incidents that are examples of incredible patriotism of the common man. We were stuck on the banks of the Madhumati since December 8. On the other side was enemy's strong defence. It was necessary to gain information about the strength and deployment of the enemy; came forward two young men. In the course of their effort to gather intelligence they were caught. One was killed and the other returned with severe wounds on his throat. That incredibly brave young man also died but not before giving us the details of the enemy by writing and drawing sketches. 

On another occasion in another battlefield in Satkhira one of our companies was encircled by the enemy. It was not being possible to provide them ammunitions and logistics. Even experienced soldiers were not willing to risk their lives to reach them. At that time 5 or 6 young boys came forward -- they were between 12 and 16. In the cover of the night risking their lives they continued to supply the company with replenishment. But one of them was killed by the enemy during their third foray. When his comrades returned with the tiding of his death his mother broke down in a heartrending cry. I went up to console her but returned in silence. An old woman had sheltered a group of freedom fighters one night and cooked meal for them; even gave them some molasses and puffed rice for the road. But next day the occupation forces burned down her hut, the only possession she had, for this offense. She did not repent her action nor did she demand compensation for her loss from the government. These small deeds of bravery are actually the real stories of our independence. But we witnessed a very dangerous picture after the country was liberated, a wicked attempt to fulfill personal lust. And in this lust were lost the expectations and the spirit of the Liberation War. Attempts were made to distort history.  Thus we lost a grand opportunity to take our country forward towards development and progress. Had we utilised that opportunity we would not have to face the situation that we are facing now. In the post-liberation phase the collective strength of the freedom fighters could have been employed for the development of the country. By making the most of the enthusiasm and the aim for which they had participated in the war we could have started a new chapter. But that very strength was misused for political gains. As a result, most of the freedom fighters went astray. Instead of the gratefulness and good wishes of the nation they were given an insignificant certificate. Having deposited their weapons after the war they then went around seeking jobs and favours displaying that certificate. The freedom fighters were insulted and the spirit of the War of Liberation was denigrated. Acts of some of the misguided youth gave immense pleasure to those evil forces that had opposed the war. Can a self respecting nation treat its brave sons like this? 

There is constant effort to attack our independence and sovereignty. Some individuals and groups, in order to hide their misdeeds and at the behest of external forces, are putting impediments to our freedom. At a time when it is essential to forge unity there is constant attempt to create a divide. These misguided people should be identified and made to shun the wrong path. This is our collective responsibility. If need be, and for the greater interest and for the sake of further strengthening our unity, they should be destroyed from the root. Just as we are facing direct assault on our freedom, there is an indirect attempt to distort our nationalism by misinterpreting religion on one hand and on the pretext of cultural liberalism on the other. Our religious, cultural and social practices are well established and self sufficient -- there is no need for fanaticism, no need to import distorted culture from outside. What is needed now is full utilisation and development of whatever we have. The people mostly live in rural areas. And it is their economic development that should be our first priority. And all our efforts should be to develop the rural economy. 


Source: Bangladesh: Muktijuddher Bhugol o Itihas, Edited by Sukumar Biswas , Agami Prokashoni, May 1996.

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