Their memories still burn bright

Their memories still burn bright

The foreign guests now in Dhaka to receive state honours for their or their family members’ contributions to the cause of Bangladesh’s liberation 41 years ago had a busy day yesterday. In the morning, they went on a river cruise on the Buriganga and visited Bangabandhu Memorial Museum at Dhanmondi. They spent the latter half of the day at the Liberation War Museum at Segunbagicha and Shikha Chironton at Suhrawardy Udyan.

For many of them, it was a trip back to 1971 — a year that saw Bangladesh win freedom, defeating the Pakistan army and their collaborators. For those who saw the war firsthand or were participants in it, it was a vindication of the truth they knew would emerge someday, with Bangladesh rising to its full glory as a free country.

And those who have come to Dhaka on behalf of an earlier generation of their family members who watched Bangladesh take birth through the tragedy of genocide and the intensity of war were clearly proud of those they had come to represent in the free capital of a free Bangladesh.

And yet everyone, in natural and spontaneous manner, cringed at revisiting the days when the horrors of genocide and other atrocities by the occupation forces were juxtaposed with the valour and sacrifice of the Bangalees.

They said they were happy to see an independent Bangladesh striving for prosperity by braving numerous odds. They wished the nation a very bright future.

Noted British journalist Simon Dring, who was a correspondent of the Daily Telegraph during the Liberation War, is one of the witnesses of the massacre of unarmed Bangalees by the Pakistani forces.

“Tanks crush revolt in Pakistan,” was the headline of his story published in the Telegraph and it was the first report that told the world of the brutalities of the Pakistani army.

Pakistan had claimed there was no massacre, but Simon Dring had proved it in his reports. Although the Pakistani government ordered foreigners to leave the then East Pakistan, he hid in Dhaka to document the war.

“I went to the Race Course Maidan on the historic March 7 [of 1971]. Observing the body language of lakhs of people, I realised that something dangerous would happen,” Dring told journalists after visiting the Bangabandhu Memorial Museum yesterday morning.

Lt Gen (retd) Jack Frederick Ralph Jacob, who served as Chief of Staff of the Indian Army’s Eastern Command that routed the Pakistan Army in the then East Pakistan in 1971, said, “We fought not only as an Indian army, but were emotionally moved to be beside the people of Bangladesh.”

“It is a great honour. I am honoured,” he told reporters after visiting the Liberation War Museum yesterday.

The prizes will be awarded in two categories — Friends of Liberation War Honour and Bangladesh Liberation War Honour. Each award includes a medal, a crest and a citation.

President Zillur Rahman and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will hand over the awards at a ceremony at the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in the capital tomorrow.

Of the 75 awardees, 21 are alive and will receive their awards personally. Fifty-four posthumous awards will received by the relatives or representatives of the award winners.

He is a nephew of former West Bengal chief minister and well-known politician Siddhartha Shankar Roy.

Sanjit said his uncle, then a central minister of India, came to Bangladesh in 1971 to strengthen the morale of the freedom fighters.

Siddhartha Shankar Roy, who was originally from Bikrampur, Dhaka, was in charge of relocating millions of Bangladeshi refugees from Salt Lake in Kolkata after the Liberation War.

“He [Siddhartha] would have been very happy if he were alive today. I’m really proud that you are honoring my uncle,” Sanjit told The Daily Star yesterday.

Bibhu Kumari of Tripura said 1971 is still fresh in her memory. During the war, she sheltered Bangalee refugees. “It would have been so nice if Maharaja could come here,” she said.

His father Edward C Dimock was a professor of Bangla at the University of Chicago and came here during the war.

“My father asked the then US government to give aid to the Bangladeshis, and that giving weapons to the Pakistanis was not a good idea,” Dimock said. He will receive the award on behalf of his late father.

“I’m overwhelmed by the loss of lives in 1971. But I’m also feeling joy that the Bangladeshi people created a new nation. I’m happy that you generously invited me here. I wish all Bangladeshis the best for their future.”

The Daily Star also spoke with the wife of the late Naoaki Usui, who was a war correspondent of Ryudo, a Japanese monthly magazine, back in 1971.

One day in 1971 her husband told her that he would come to the then war-stricken East Pakistan to cover the war, Kuniko Usui said. She could not take it at first, but she said she knew that nothing could stop him as “he wanted to be a journalist…a war journalist.”

Robert Capa, the legendary Hungarian-born photojournalist who covered five wars for over 20 years of the 20th century, was Naoaki’s idol, she said. Naoaki wanted to follow the path of Robert Capa and so he came to Bangladesh as a photojournalist.

“He [Naoaki] stayed here for two months.” Returning to Japan, he had arranged for coverage of his photos in Japanese newspapers, Kuniko added.

(Shariful Islam, Hasan Jahid Tusher, Porimol Palma and Wasim Bin Habib contributed to this report)

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