Written by Qutubuddin Aziz
Friday, 26 March 2004 00:50
Page 12 of 13
“I am the lone survivor of a family of nine; all my dear ones were butchered in Laksham in March 1971 by the Bengali rebels”, said 59-yearold Masoom Ali, who was repatriated to Karachi from Dacca in February 1974.
Masoom Ali’s 26-year-old son was employed as a ticket checker in the East Pakistan Railway at Laksham. He was killed in the carnage. Masoom Ali had this painful memory of the murder of his family:
“Most of the non-Bengali residents in Laksham were Railway employees and their families. Many of them had come from Bihar and West Bengal in India by opting for service in East Pakistan at the time of the 1947 partition of the sub-continent………”
“The non-Bengali element in Laksham’s population did not exceed 1,000. Amongst them were also some families of West Pakistan origin. The Bengalis referred to all of us by the generic name of Bihari. Since the first week of March 1971, because of the Awami League’s uprising, acute tension existed in Laksham and the non-Bengalis were apprehensive. The police force was immobilised as far as the safety of the non-Bengalis was concerned; no policeman was willing to rescue any non-Bengali from the thugs...........
“In the night of March 19, 1971, about 500 Bengali rebels, many armed with guns, raided the Railway quarters wherein lived the non-Bengali employees and their families. The raid was conducted with such suddenness and ferocity that we had no time even to think of escape. A killer gang broke the door of our house and opened fire on all of us. In a matter of minutes our house was turned into a slaughter-house; they killed my son, his wife and their four small children and the teenage sister and brother of my daughter-in-law. One of the killers struck me on the head and I was unconscious for two days. The federal troops, who took over control of Laksham on April 16, 1971, arranged the burial of my dear ones. For months I was mentally disturbed; I had dreadful nightmares. I think that at least 800 non-Bengalis perished in the March 1971 massacre. I still remember those lurid bloodstains on the walls and floor of Railway Quarter No. 93/H in Laksham where my kith and kin were done to death before my stunned, helpless eyes. I wish I hadn’t survived”.
“These broken glass bangles arc my most cherished possessions; they are the only mementoes I have of my two pretty daughters who were kidnapped by the Bengali rebels from our house in Rajbari in the March 1971 rebellion”, said sobbing Hafiza Begum, 46, in Karachi after her repatriation from Dacca in January 1974.
“The butchers slaughtered my 55-year-old husband before my eyes and dragged my brave, shrieking daughters at gunpoint to shame and death”, Hafiza tearfully added.
Hafiza broke down a number of times as she narrated the harrowing details of the gruesome tragedy in her life. She said:
“Rajbari had never experienced any tension between the Bengalis and the non-Bengalis before the March 1971 uprising of the Awami League. We lived in the Ganeshpur locality in a cluster of a dozen non-Bengali houses. Since early March, alarming rumours were afloat but our Bengali friends told us that there would be no violence in Rajbari against the non-Bengalis.............
“In the night of March 19, 1971, I was sitting in the house of a neighbour when our locality was raided by a large gang of Bengali rebels. Yells of “Joi Bangla” and the screams of the victims rent the skies. I rushed towards my house. On the way, I saw the killer gangs smashing the locked doors of the houses of non-Bengalis and attacking the inmates with daggers, staves, iron bars and scythes. As I entered my house, I saw the butchers attacking my husband who was resisting them. I heard the cries of my two unmarried daughters who were trying to beat back the attackers with frying pans and small sticks. I joined the fray in support of my family. One of the butchers struck me on the head and I collapsed on the floor. The next day, when I regained consciousness, my husband lay dead by my side. There were stab wounds all over his dead body. I had excruciating pain in the neck and the left side of the skull. There was no trace of my two daughters; I crawled into the room where my girls lived, I found these broken bangles; their abandoned Saris had bloodstains. Like a mad woman, I limped out of the house and shouted for them. I found no survivors in the houses of the non-Bengalis. A frightened Bengali woman who lived in my neighbourhood helped me hobble back to my house and advised me not to stir out otherwise the killers would get me. I placed my husband’s blood-soaked body on a cot inside a room because it was impossible to bury him just then.....................
“After the Pakistan Army liberated Rajbari in the third week of April 1971, my husband was laid to eternal rest in a local graveyard along with the other slain non-Bengalis. For days, I roamed all over Rajbari town in search of my two kidnapped daughters but I could not find them. The killers, it seemed, had kidnapped scores of non-Bengali young women, ravished them and killed most of them just before the federal troops regained control over Rajbari.................”
Hafiza was sent to Dacca and lodged in a Relief Camp for destitute women and children. In January 1974, she was repatriated to Karachi.
Two of the few survivors of the March 1971 killing of non-Bengalis in Rajbari were Zarina Khatoon, 35, and her husband, Tamizuddin, who was employed in the Power House in Rajbari. They lived in peace until December 17, 1971, when India accomplished the armed grab of East Pakistan and the Mukti Bahini went on the rampage against the non-Bengalis. Zarina and her husband, along with their eight month-old son, fled from Rajbari to Goalundo where, it was rumoured, the Red Cross would protect the non-Bengalis and accommodate them in relief camps. At Goalundo, a killer gang gunned to death Zarina’s husband in the market place before her stunned eyes. The Mukti Bahini gunmen tossed Zarina and her suckling child into a jail in Faridpur town where hundreds of non-Bengali women and children were held captive. Zarina said:
“Life in this dungeon of a jail in Faridpur was worse than death; many scores of women died of hunger and disease. We ate barely a meal a day; the rice was full of stones. Any one who protested against the abominable conditions in the prison was given a beating by the prison guards. After six months, I was set free along with some other non-Bengali women. All of us looked like skeletons. I got a job as a maid-servant in the house of a Bengali businessman who had fattened on the wealth of a West Pakistani family which was liquidated by the Mukti Bahini after it captured Faridpur. He paid me no salary because, he said, he was protecting me from the Mukti Bahini...............
“When the Red Cross invited applications from non-Bengalis wishing to go to Pakistan, I immediately applied for repatriation. In February 1974, the United Nations repatriated me to Karachi from Dacca by air.............”
Six months of incarceration in Faridpur jail and the horrifying memory of the 1971 massacre of her husband and many of her relatives in Rajbari, Faridpur and Goalundo have made Zarina a nervous wreck. “I am continuing to live only for the sake of my little child”, said Zarina, with tears brimming in her eyes. “I can never forget the cold-blooded shooting of my husband in the market-place in Goalundo,” she added. In 1969, Zarina’s husband had worked for six months in the Power House in Faridpur. In 1972, during her captivity in prison and, later on, when she worked with a Bengali family as a maidservant, Zarina found no trace of the dozens of non-Bengalis she had known in Faridpur in 1969. She was told that most of them had been killed.