An untold tale of atrocity
A.K.M. Sirajul Islam :
Atrocity began just after deliberation of speech by the majority party leader of the then East Pakistan, father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on 7th March at Race Course Dhaka in 1971. At that time I was working in erstwhile Pakistan Air Force as a Non-Commissioned Officer in the branch of Electronic Technology. I was in-charge of the electronics section of 255 squadron at Sargodha Air Base, the biggest Air Base of Pakistan Air Force where about 50 wireless sets were operating in a room with 50 operators. I was very much trusted by the officers of this squadron due to my performance in my assigned duties.
We used to maintain the strategy and strict vigilance on all aspects of squadron. Air Base Sargodha, is the place where I stayed up to 15th December'1971.
The mental atrocity started just after deliberation of speech by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on March 7, 1971. On this day, I was working in the communication workshop where I was repairing the communication receiver (CR-88). Suddenly, I heard the news that Bangabandhu was delivering his speech at Race Course, Dhaka in East Pakistan. I was shocked to hear the then President of Pakistan General Yahya postponed the date of National Assembly without valid reasons. The news sparked and ignited the souls of East Pakistanis. The entire national activities came to stand still. While listening this news, suddenly, a Pakistani Officer in-charge of the repairing workshop came to my room and saw that I was weeping. He asked me, what happened to you. I did not reply. He asked me to switch on the receiver set and give connection to the control room. At that time many officers at the control room were listening the speech of Bangabandhu and they were stunt and took the speech very seriously. In his outstanding speech, he declared. "Our struggle, this time, is a struggle for our Freedom. Our struggle this time is a struggle for our Independence". He also declared that from then on no one should cooperate with the Pakistan Government. He started Non-Cooperation Movement against the Pakistani rulers. Tremendous activities started by the Pakistani military junta and military hardware started pouring in the then East Pakistan. In West Pakistan, military Officers started to look after the activities of the East Pakistani Officers and soldiers working in military installations. East Pakistanis were kept aloof from the key installations and gradually they started to keep them out of jobs. The political situation in East Pakistan as well as in West Pakistan deteriorated and aggravated to such a stage that on the night of 25th March' 1971 the President of Pakistan General Yahya Khan ordered to arrest the majority party leader Bangabandhu and the Pakistani Army started to arrest and kill the East Pakistani political leaders, University teachers and general public indiscriminately. After 19 minutes of his speech, East Pakistanis working at Sargodha Air base were asked to fall in and later they were ordered to leave the base and go to their barracks and at their respective homes. From that day mental atrocities started against the East Pakistani Officers and soldiers of rank and file. After some days, the authorities of this Air base started to investigate and find the persons involved in politics and were looking after the persons who supported the East Wing leader Bangabandhu. They looked into the bank account of East Pakistanis and find the amount they have deposited and withdrawn it from the bank. They set up a screening board consisting of five members and East Pakistanis working in the base had to face the screening board. I also faced this screening board. They asked me several questions. I was asked by the President of the board which political party did I support? Why did you withdraw money from the bank on 24th March'1971? How much money did you send to Sheikh Mujib's fund? My answers to the screening board were: I do not support any party, my party is dead. I have drawn money to support my family in East Pakistan. I did not send any money to Sheikh Mujib's fund. The screening board in reply to my question said that every human being may support some party but you do not support anyone. You said that your party is dead. Why did you say so?
I kept silent and did not utter any further word. Then they said, you may come now. I left the screening board and went to my residence at Kaliar Town, Sargodha. I was kept out of job for a few days. Bangladeshi Air force personnel lived at their home without any work.
After few days, my Commanding Officer called me to report to the base and work in the operation squadron-255. The 255 squadron was equipped with most sophisticated ground and Air borne equipment. This squadron used to maintain communication with all the MOU's based in the border belt. It also maintained communication with radar station at Sakesar which is 10, 000 ft above the ground. It is about 150 kilometers from Sargodha Air base.
I was very much acquainted and efficient enough to maintain, operate the communication equipment of this squadron. I was asked to work and warned if anything happened during the work, I would be fired. With fear and great anxiety I had to work every day. I was the only East Pakistani who worked up to 15th December 1971 a day before a Victory Day of Bangladesh Actually, I had to work on gun point. Nothing could be done. If I intended to violate their command I would have been killed or I would have to go on crossfire and shot dead. I could not do it as I had a new born son. On the same day, at about 12:00 am, my Commanding Officer said that I am no longer required and must leave Sargodha Air base. He handed over a discharge book to me and asked to leave Sargodha base within 24 hours. In discharge book, I found that I am removed from the service on 15-12-1971 on the following reason and authority:
i. Reason: Under Section 20(1) of PAF ACT. 1953
ii. Authority: AHQ/ 22879/46/ ADP(MNG) dated 25th October 1971. Copy of order is attached below:
On 09th December 1971, my wife gave birth a male child in the temporary hospital at Sargodha Cadet College. The war was going on the then East Pakistan and I was living in fear and anxiety.
As I received the dismissal letter, I requested the authority of PAF Air base Sargodha to pay my salary and other dues so that I can live with my family. But the authorities denied and asked me to leave Sargodha Air base immediately and get money from Mauripur Cantt, Karachi. But they did not give any kind of paper etc. I shifted my house to Satellite town, Sargodha. It was reliably learnt that I would be taken to firing squad if I stayed in Sargodha and did not obey the order. I was not given any money to survive. During my working period, I saved money and continued to live on with that. My salary was stopped and I suffered untold miseries from that day onward. I had to sell all furniture, other goods as well as ornaments; I left Sargodha on way to Karachi on 20th December 1971. Karachi is 1500 km from Sargodha. It was a tedious journey and with anguish and grief I reached Karachi on the next day and lived with a Bengali family in Jahangir Road, Karachi in a sublet house and stayed in that house with fear up to the month of September' 1972. My cash money was exhausted and finding no other alternatives, thought that who is going to support me in the coming days. So, I planned to leave Karachi on way to Afghanistan. I left Karachi with 52 East Pakistanis. Farhana Rahman, English News Reader of BTV and other Government officials were with me. We arranged a party who could take us to Afghanistan and in lieu of these we paid 2000/- Rupees each to the party. The party took the responsibility to cross the Pakistan border and take us to Afghanistan.
We started our journey by train in the morning of 7th October'1972 from Karachi and reached to Sikarpur Railway station (Last Railway station of Sindh Province), at night and stayed at a hotel in Sikarpur. After a day, we started our journey by bus and reached Quetta and somehow passed the night in a small cottage in an apple field.
This could hardly accommodate 20 people but we were 52 in number including minor kids. We passed a dreadful and sleepless night and we were all plunged into fear and untold atrocities. However, the night was over with anguish. On next night, the party who took money brought a truck. Fifty two persons including my nine month old baby was one of the boarders in the truck. Our truck followed the wrong path and reached to a place from where we had to cross rough and tough hilly areas throughout the night. We were asked to get down from the bus and crossed the hills one after another. It was really difficult for us. We stayed three days in the mountain terrain. We were caught by the border forces and negotiated with the patrolling forces and paid 1800/-Pakistani Rupees. After that we started walking through the terrain and reached to Afghan border after few days of walking. Again we had to negotiate with the Afghan border security forces. We were allowed to cross the Afghan border. We started our journey again by truck. The truck did not follow the main road. It followed a rough road for which most of the people became sick. Children were facing acute shortage of milk and food. We had to drink water from the fountain of the mountain. We had to live without food for several days. Life became quite miserable. We reached near to Chaman border of Pakistan territory and stayed in a cottage for a day. Later, two trucks from Kandahar came to rescue us. The trucks took all of us to the Indian Counselor office at Kandahar, a second largest city of Afghanistan. The Counselor office took our responsibilities from now on. We took shower and later took food and in the evening two buses were arranged by the Indian Counselor office to take us to Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan. We all were given accommodation at different hotels in Kabul and waited 27 days for Air Tickets and plane. During our stay we were given money as subsistence allowance. On 27th October'1972, we boarded the plane and reached Delhi Airport from where we were taken to a bungalow and stayed there for three days. Indian authority managed train tickets up to Calcutta and paid 350.00 Indian rupees to me for my expenditure on the way. After 24 hours, we reached to Calcutta and stayed for a night at Calcutta Hotel near to Sealdah Railway Station.
In the next morning, I started my journey from Calcutta and reached Bangaon, the last railway station of West Bengal. From Bangaon, I reached with my spouse to Benapol and flew from Jessore Air Port on way to Dhaka by Bangladesh Biman. Last of all, we reached to our motherland, the land of dream and a land which got Independence after sacrificing millions of lives.
[The writer is a columnist, poet, story writer, and ex-officio of Government of Bangladesh and presently working as Deputy Controller of Examinations in a private university].