The Night That Stood Still

It seemed that time stood still that night. It was almost 1:00 a.m., and I was transfixed, staring at the TV screen. I was looking, but what was I really seeing?

I recall the elections of ’70. I watched TV all night, at my elder brother’s home. One by one the reports came in, and the political party of Bangladesh, the Awami League, was winning seats easily, in Pakistan’s elections. The upshot was that the party that aimed to strengthen Bangladesh’s demands for self-determination emerged as the majority party of Pakistan.

I was boiling over in excitement. Politics was our constant companion then, awake or asleep or busy at work. We were brimming with joy, shouting the slogan, “Joy Bangla!” 

In the wee hours of the night the sky resounded with the slogan, echoing all around. Everyone in Bangladesh appears to have been up all night. As soon as dawn came, I went out to the streets in the crisp breeze. The cool season was just beginning.

We walked in the soft, cool breeze and I thought to myself that we were walking along a road in an independent land at the dawning of a new day. Under the leadership of Bangladesh’s undisputed leader, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, it seemed that Bangladesh had already become independent that day. 

Before we knew it, the day came upon us when Pakistan refused to let Bengalis alone. They pounced in the dark of night to obliterate thousands of people of Bangladesh. All the slums of Dhaka were set ablaze, as were Rajarbag Police Lines, Pilkhana Headquarters of the Border Guard, then called the East Pakistan Rifles, and the student dorms. 

I fled my homeland on the 29th of March. I could not stay another night where all my ideals, culture, dreams and desires had died, murdered. I walked towards the rural areas like a man possessed, eventually crossing the border to reach Agartala in the State of Tripura.

I still didn’t know what I was actually going to do! How could we respond to the Pakistani’s attack upon us? What weapons did we have? How could we wage war with nothing but some emotional motivations?

Still, it became possible. We united and fought for the independence of the motherland. By and by, the 16th of December came. By then, the Pakistanis had killed three million people, dishonored countless of our mothers and sisters, and summarily executed our intellectuals. On the 16th of December we were victorious in the War of Liberation that had been declared on the 26th of March, thrust upon us one-sidedly by Pakistan.

We did get our Bangladesh, and I returned home. With a new enthusiasm, we became engaged in the work of nation building, but a certain fear remained, because we had learned that during the Liberation War, some black sheep of the family of Bengalis had helped the Pakistani army to kill the people of this country, all over Bangladesh.

Where were they? Some of the big fish among them went into self-imposed exile in Pakistan, towards the end of the war, but most of them remained here in the country, in the towns and villages. Those despicable criminals had collaborated with the Pakistani occupiers all over the land to be the cause of the murder, torture, rape and insult to all the people of Bangla, high and low. 

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had taken measures to put these people on trial. The ones against whom evidence was found to prove guilt of atrocities, were sentenced to appropriate punishment.

It is enshrined in our constitution that politics based on religion would not be allowed in this country. Quite a few similarly progressive measures were adopted in the independent, sovereign state of Bangladesh. About 26,000 offenders were imprisoned under these measures. They were tried and each of them were sentenced to be punished accordingly. They will never be forgiven in Bangladesh.

Nowadays it is remarked that the Pakistani army failed to punish us. The example that is given is from the American war of independence against Colonial Britain. George Washington, the leader of the American army and later the first President of the USA, said, “Captured members of the British army shall be treated as prisoners of war, but those of our countrymen who worked against independence as abettors of the British army, helping them against our soldiers, there is no forgiveness for them. They are traitors and they shall be punished severely.”

When a war is going on for a country’s freedom, that freedom is for the country as a whole, for the country’s sovereignty, for independence. In this process, those among the people of the country who were against our Bangladesh, who joined forces against independence, they must receive the direst punishment.

That is how those who opposed the Liberation War were being judged. It was at this time that all of a sudden, on August 15, 1975, our Father of the Nation was savagely killed, along with all his family members –who were with him.

After the assassination of Bangabandhu everything that was written in our constitution to reflect our independence, ideals, freedom and consciousness, was completely erased from the document. Next, those who actively collaborated with the Pakistanis during the war were rehabilitated into this society.  Politics based on religion was permitted again.

After that, for those of us who had participated spontaneously in the Liberation War, it seemed that time suddenly froze. We saw that nine months of a bloody war, nine months of martyrs’ self-sacrifice, nine months of the dishonored crying in despair, everything was scorned. The unworthy offspring of the land, who had opposed freedom and independence, joining forces with the Pakistanis to take up arms against our people or betray them to the aggressors, who brutally killed our fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, they now puffed out their chests and marched forward.

Time froze for all who participated in the Liberation War. The whole country froze to a standstill. Our tears had dried up. 

So, was the consciousness of the War of Liberation ruined? We lost sleep at this thought, for many years, even decades. Our hearts ached to be released from that condition.

We eagerly embraced every hint of being freed from that situation. Eventually, we saw those pro-Pakistani traitors being tried on our soil. Our hopes returned. In our crushed hearts, the slogan of independence found a heady resurgence, “Joy Bangla!”

We saw the trials begin, one by one, of those who killed the people of this land, raped, insulted and ground our consciousness into the dirt. The worst of them were finally hanged, just the other night.

That night time suddenly stood still! Once again, we tasted the ambrosia of the 16th of December. “Victory to you, Bangladesh!”