Sunday, November 27, 2011

65 million collaborators? An immortal piece

The Holiday
Enayetullah Khan Memorial issue
November 25, 2011
M. Serajul

Time is incredible. It passes fast, the good times too fast. Memories compensate part of it. It helps us remember those good times that have passed so fast that we were not able to enjoy those times as we would have liked. As we observe the sixth death anniversary of Mr. Enayetullah Khan’s and record our memories about him, it is hard to convince ourselves that; in fact he left us for his eternal home six years ago.

There are too many memories about him that he has left behind among his friends and admirers. He lived a good and full life but sadly he was taken away from our midst at a time when he could have contributed so much more. But then the ways of the Almighty are mysterious. It is not for us ordinary mortals to understand His ways, let alone question them.

I knew Mr. Enayetulllah Khan or Mintu Bhai but mostly as an admirer. My last conversation with him was when I was Ambassador to Japan. He had gone there on a visit. I guess it was in 2004 or 2005. I came to know he was in town only the day before he was leaving. I could not invite him to dinner but only spoke with him over the phone. He was very happy that I called and regretted that we could not meet.

As a student and a teacher in Dhaka University in the 1960s, Holiday was a weekly that was a must reading for us. I don’t remember I missed any issue during those tumultuous years leading to the uprising of the students in 1969 and the liberation war in 1971. Holiday played a great role in preparing us for the liberation of our country.

Mr. Enayetulllah Khan’s editorials and the way he guided his weekly was a credit to the man. But then those days, there were many other newspapers that played significant roles in our fight for our rights, many more than the Holiday. His role to eternal fame was because of one article that he dared to write in the days after our independence when the dream for which many millions had willingly accepted martyrdom was being betrayed.

That article that he had poignantly titled “Sixty Five Million Collaborators?” was written at a time when the credit for our heroic war of liberation was hijacked by those who fled to India and had taken sanctuary there for fear of the genocide to which the people of Bangladesh were subjected by a Pakistani army that wanted to instill the fear of God amongst us not to think again of independence or right of self determination.

Bangladesh’s war of liberation was one that stands qualitatively in a class of its own among the many such wars and movements that were carried out in the years after the end of the Second World War as part of the process of decolonization across the world. Pakistan military government’s refusal to accept the electoral verdict and hand power to the Awami League was one of the worst recorded betrayals of democracy that has never been answered. When the military junta declared the AL’s electoral victory null and void, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman took over the mantle of leadership of 75 million Bengalis and was catapulted from a Pakistani politician to the level of a world leader.

He united 75 million people of Bangladesh with his speech on 7th March, 1971 with his speech at the historical Course Maidan of Dhaka, like few other leaders in history. Great revolutions of our times, like the Chinese, the Russian, the Cuban and the Vietnamese, to name a few, were successful and owed a great deal to those who led them, like Mao Tse Tung, Lenin, Castro and Ho Chi Min. Yet none of these leaders were able to unite their peoples as Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had with his own. After his March 7th speech, there were just handful of collaborators and misguided Islamists who were not with him. He instilled in the hearts of his people the courage to rise above the fear of life to fight for freedom.

Then came the genocidal crackdown of the Pakistani army beginning on midnight of March 25th, 1971. Such was the savagery of their attack that 10 million of our people were forced to flee the country and seek sanctuary in India. Of those who remained, hundreds of thousands were killed. Those lucky to survive were literally prisoners on death row. The Pakistani military raped many thousands of our women who remained in the country.

Yet, the 65 million who remained were inspired by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s call of independence. They were also inspired by the Mukti Bahini that was led among others by great freedom fighters like Major Ziaur Rahman who had declared independce of Bangladesh on behalf of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman over Swadhin Bangla Radio on the night of 25th March after the Pakistani genocide had started. The freedom fighters were joined by defectors from Pakistani army, police and other para military forces and ordinary folks who chose to remain inside Bangladesh and face the marauding Pakistani army and fight them.

The support the freedom fighters received from the people who remained is stuff that make up fairy tales that speaks of their love for their motherland. There is the story in Newsweek that I still remember that reported an action of the Pakistani army. A unit of the Pakistan Army had hauled a few dozen old and middle aged men (the young had joined the freedom movement) and had asked them for information of freedom fighters who had the previous day carried out a guerilla attack that had killed a Pakistani soldier. Those who were hauled were shot one after another. Yet no one revealed the name of one freedom fighter although they knew who the freedom fighters were and embraced death as martyrs.

When the country was liberated, the 10 million who had crossed into India returned. They were insensitive. They pointed fingers at those who stayed back. They used the excuse of the few who had collaborated with the Pakistan army to accuse the 65 million people that they had left behind to face the Pakistan military. The infamous phrase “16th Division” was coined then, a phrase that described those who fled to India to save their lives and who came back to claim the honour of the liberators. The action of these 16 divisioners were not confronted; rather the government of the time credited them and to many of them, gave the certificate of a freedom fighter that they converted into lucrative government jobs from which most of them retired at the highest level of the civil bureaucracy. The present government has extended that privilege to their children!

Mr. Enayetullah Khan’s article “65 million collaborators?” was written to articulate the frustration of people whose sufferings during the 9 months were just not acknowledged; people who were accused for lack of patriotism by those who fled on the first sight of danger. Unique as has our war of independence been in terms of courage and leadership; it has been equally unique in terms of the way the dividends of independence have been distributed. Those who faced death but never betrayed their faith in the liberation of the country have been questioned for lack of patriotism and those who decided that their lives were more important and crossed into Indian sanctuary have been given the fruits of independence.

Mr. Enayetullah Khan’s great article caused quite a sensation those days. Sadly, the government took no note of it. In fact, it was the government’s failure to acknowledge the sufferings of the people who faced the Pakistanis in 1971 by remaining inside Bangladesh that was a major factor that divided Bangladesh after our liberation; a division that has hindered Bangladesh in major way from realizing the fruits of independence. If we had remained united after liberation the way we were in 1971 under Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, then we could have achieved incredible heights. Perhaps, history would also have been otherwise and not as tragic as it has been.

It is so unbelievable that a nation that so proudly faced one of the worst genocides in history as a nation as united as very few nations have and came out winner is today divided the way it is, the division going back to the issues Mr. Enayetullah Khan penned in his immortal piece. There were people who were against our independence in 1971. They were so few however that they did not matter in the context of our victory except for the fact that they committed crimes against humanity and the need to punish them.

When we won our liberation, it should have been very easy for the Government to catch these betrayers of our independence; betrayers who collaborated with the Pakistani army and committed crimes against humanity. Yet in more than three years of absolute power, the government was unable to lay hands on any one of them. The reason is a simple one. By pointing fingers at all the 65 million people who remained in Bangladesh, the collaborators were given the reprieve.

The failure of the government of the day to pay heed to the message that Mintu Bhai so clearly and so brilliantly articulated did not just allow reprieve to the collaborators of 1971; it permanently divided the country into so called pro-liberation forces and those that these so-called pro-liberation forces have identified as an anti-liberation forces. Thus, in the so-called anti-liberation forces today, there are millions who remained in Bangladesh and faced death every moment and yet did not betray the call for independence given by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. In the so-called anti-liberation forces today are hundreds of thousands who did not cross into India and took up arms against the Pakistani occupation force. The insanity of this viewpoint was taken to its illogical conclusion when a Minister of this government not too long ago identified Major Ziaur Rahman as an agent of the Pakistanis!

Mr. Enayetulllah Khan’s piece “65 million collaborators?” is something that will place him among the greats of journalism across national frontiers despite the fact that the message in it was ignored at great costs to the nation. It will also remain as an example of what went wrong in the days immediately after our liberation and why 40 years into our independence, we are still chasing the dreams for which millions had sacrificed their lives in 1971.

The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan.

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