A particular time of the year is never a prerequisite to write about ones motherland, people and sovereignty. Yet, there are some events, historical and immensely significant, brings back such deluge of emotions that it feels almost imperative to come up with words to match the overwhelming thoughts. 26th day of March without any doubt is such a day for any informed Bangladeshi who has a decent idea about the history of the birth of Bangladesh. In the year 1971, on this particular night the Pakistani soldiers had attacked unsuspecting Bangladeshis in their own land with deadly force. Obviously the long term outcome of that ruthless action had only worked in our favour as in only 9 months an independent and sovereign Bangladesh was born. The thick headed military leaders of West Pakistan had concocted a heinous plan to suppress the Bengalis with genocide and carnage, little they knew how such ineffective strategy would bounce back to hound them shortly. However, it wouldn't be fair not to admit that such quick outcome was possible due to timely intervention of India. Without their participation in this war it would be difficult to assume, realistically, that the independence of Bangladesh would happen so soon after a formal war started.
Anyway, I have no plan to write about our independence war today. Rather I plan to focus on the other side of that war - the side that consisted of the Pakistani soldiers and general population who all together carry the burden of the guilt for that totally wrong war often knowing very little of the actual facts.
I was six during the war. My dad was an army doctor. We along with many others got stuck in West Pakistan. We returned home after couple of years of independence once the prisoner exchange program brokered by India went through. Anyway, during our stay in Pakistan we were moved from one place to another, met many locals, often becoming friends. I can not remember any situation where they had treated us in a way that may be considered rude or insulting. *
Since returning to Bangladesh I did not have much opportunity to see a truly Pakistani citizen beside the Bihari refugees who had been eager to move to Pakistan since independence. To be honest, over the years I have read, written and spoken quite a bit about our independence war but never before had I thought of looking at it from a completely different perspective - how does it look at the other side of this coin? The Pakistanis who are blamed generally for all the war time brutalities, murders, rapes, destructions - how do they feel about it? When I lived back in Bangladesh there seemed to be very little need for such investigation. What’s the use? However, once I moved to America and later to Canada, and had the opportunity to get to know many Pakistanis my mindset has changed. I want to share a few of these encounters.
During my studies in the Oakland University located in Michigan eight of us bachelors were sharing a two bedroom apartment. Beside me there was a Pakistani guy and the rest were Indians. Pakistani Usuf who I believe was a Punjabi and I was having issues from the very beginning, practically on all matters. One time during an intense argument he suddenly blurted out, "What happened to all the kids who were fathered by the Pakistani soldiers in your country during the war?"
It is not too hard to realize that his intentions to bring it up were not very nice. I had found myself terribly angry, was at the brink of getting into a physical fight, when my Indian friends intervened. During the independence war of Bangladesh an estimated two hundred thousand females of all ages were violated in Bangladesh and it is quite difficult to believe that anybody in his sane mind can poke fun at that. Not sure exactly what had prompted Usuf to say something so out of line and sickening. He wasn't generally a bad person and such remarks were totally unexpected, even from him. It was clear to me that either he did not have a good understanding of our independence war or he had been fed incorrect information. The answer became clear later.
In the year 2002 when we immigrated to Canada from USA, we came to Toronto first. Like most folks who are from the Indian subcontinent we made our way to Scarborough, rented an apartment in a high rise building. There was nothing to eat at home, so we walked to the nearest strip mall just across the road and stepped into a Subway restaurant. The owner and the only attendant of the store, a middle-aged Indian looking man, greeted us smilingly and said to me something in Hindi or Urdu. Thanks to all the Bollywood movies I had some understanding of Hindi but that was not enough to know the difference between Hindi and Urdu.
I smiled back apologetically and responded, "Sorry brother, I don't understand Hindi very well."
"I didn't speak in Hindi.” The man smilingly responded. “It was Urdu. You must be from Bangladesh. I find many from Bangladesh are quite fluent in Urdu."
I smiled back. "Personally I have no fascination for Urdu. Where in Pakistan are you from?"
"Karachi." As he fixed our sandwiches he looked at me through his heavy glasses and almost shyly said," Who had even imagined that after all the massacres that my country did in Bangladesh during 1971 war we could stand here today and speak like friends?"
I was pleasantly surprised. Yet once more I learned not to judge everybody in the same stereotyped way. Since then, over the years, I have met many others from Pakistan; a few had even become close friends. I have learned how the educational system in Pakistan have been actively trying to establish a theory of conspiracy for the separation of the two Pakistan by catering false and historically incorrect information to their young generation.
Some of the major theories concocted by them are: Hindu teachers were spreading anti-Pakistan teachings; India had instigated it to secure the interest of the 10% Hindus who lived in Bangladesh; Soviet Union took especial interest due to degradation of relationship with Pakistan after the later agreed to allow America to create a military base on its land; etc. The educational text do provide some description of the war, but skilfully avoids mentioning the massacres that were carried on by the Pakistani army with the collaboration of the anti-independence forces residing in Bangladesh like Rajakar, Al-badar etc. However, the good thing is that the ordinary Pakistanis are eager to break out of the lies. A few days back the ex-cricketer turned politician Imran khan had demanded a state sponsored apology to Bangladesh for all the atrocities carried on during the 1971 war. Such apology definitely won’t have any role in wiping off all the scars that were created but would start a timely procedure of healing the wound that still exists between the millions of people of both the countries.
*I have a published book named Damama describing my experiences as a boy during the independence war of Bangladesh. The book was published by Anannya prokashoni. An English version is on the way. This book can be the first read for many kids of Bangladeshi descent to get a simple but factual history of the birth of Bangladesh from the perspective of a little boy.