Feature Img

1971It was 10th of Srabon 1971.

“I came out and saw the army. They wanted to go inside. I put my hands up like this and said there was no one inside. They flung me away into the yard and dragged my husband and son outside. They shot them both right there, there.”

“They killed every male in the village, every male. When the army was gone, there was not a single man left to bury the dead. We had to drag the bodies ourselves and bury them. Without a bath, without a shroud I put them into one single hole I had dug myself. Not a grave but a hole. No janaza, no kafon, no washing of the dead but only the earth to cover their blood and the body. Nothing else.”

They call Shohagpur the Bewas’ (widows’) village.

* * *

When I first visited Shohagpur in the year 2000 it was difficult to locate. We frequently asked for directions to reach the cluster of amazing greenery, placid and quiet yet with a past full of deaths and struggle. Farida Akhtar of UBINIG who had first unearthed the event had lent us guides which was a great help. Shohagpur-Kakornkandi lies deep inside Jamalpur district, resting against the hills where indigenous Garos once lived and had been dispossessed and forced to become low-landers. India lies just next door separated by the hills.

Floodwaters had cleaved and wounded the road leaving it festering. Two kids stood and watched us struggle. We asked for directions again.

“You mean the Bewas’ village?”

* * *

viewerAncient wooden chairs from ramshackle homes were pulled out to make the visiting sahebs more comfortable. The signs of wretched poverty were everywhere. Memories of death and hunger come out like a hurrying train.

On the 10th of Srabon the army had come and attacked the village without any warning. No rounding up, no questioning, no identification, just shooting to kill. It came swiftly, suddenly as if the angels of death had no time for the niceties of murder. The villagers had walked out of their dilapidated homes at dawn and the efficient soldiers of Pakistan quickly finished them off.

As I heard them and almost forced myself to stare at their faces as they talked, I wondered how could they find this almost hidden village in the high monsoon of 1971 when nearly 30 years later I had found it so difficult to locate?

Why this non-descript village?

In that year it had become a village without old men. All men who would have been seniors today had been killed on that single bloody morning. Children had grown up without fathers in Shohagpur to become labourers who worked in other people’s field. They had lost their possessions to law, custom and ultimately force.

“Life took our men away, our land away, our peace away. We only have our bodies left.”

* * *

There were many questions about that place and they had been left unanswered. I had seen them framed against the past but the palpable hunger and ruinous lives of today led by most of the poor are as much a result of our own deeds. We continued to destroy what the Pak army had mangled on a rainy morning many monsoons ago.

viewer (1)But their life lasted longer than the war and after 1971 we devastated whatever was left. Brutality was only half the tale, betrayal told the rest.

“I have lived next to their graves all my life. I shall never leave here. They lie buried together. I shall not leave this place even if I starve. This is where my place is. This is where I am.” Death holds a greater grip on them than life itself.

* * *

If the burial of the dead in Shohagpur done by the grieving women was an incomplete, botched up makeshift affair, there was nothing disorganized about their starving. Alekjan Begum had stood near a mound housing some of her dead and suddenly began to weep about the memories of starving. She described what foods the foodless of rural Bengal eat. Roots, plants, berries, wild vegetables…things I didn’t want to learn. They scared me.

“For days, we ate them, for days we had no rice… Days after days of banana shoot gruels…ate them… ate them… ate …”

Just as there is something deeply violating about burying the dead improperly without ritual baths, prayers and shrouds there is something equally violent about eating roots, plants, banana gruel to fend off starvation. It doesn’t just touch the body, it rapes the soul.

Everyone in the village told me about Kader daktar. He was the local quack or the healer of Shohagpur. Along with a few of that village they would prey on the refugees passing through to India. A lot of the loot was stored in one of the huts of that village. Few or almost none knew but some did.  One night somebody broke into that hut and helped himself to some of the stuff.

The villagers told me that once the theft was discovered an enraged Kader went to the army post miles away and told them that Shohagpur was a Muktibahini training camp. Nestled against the border it made eminent sense to the Pak army. They mounted an early morning raid. They killed only the men, the ‘Muktis’. No women were touched. Kader had managed to turn harmless farmers and kamlas into Muktis to die at Pakistani hands through his own greed. No mercy was shown to people who were killed on the false charge of being partisans. It was war after all.

Years later, they still insisted they were not fighters. Many of them ran away to India that night but didn’t like the refugee camps. Soon, they returned to their broken homes, their unkept graves, their hunger.

* * *

Kader had two associates — Sona Miyan and Moyna Miyan — and though they moved away to other areas – Haluaghat – after 1971 they were never tried. They have been consumed by the anonymity of such endless processions of facilitators of mass murder.

If one noticed anything in particular, it was the lack of anger or rage. Years of endless hunger and half-fed bellies had taught them some plain truths. And hopelessness. And resignation. And the flame of revenge seeking was blown away by the winds of despair.

* * *

Some people had said that they would like to go and look for Kader daktar or try him or whatever. Maybe bump him off. At least I know what had happened. At least I should have done something.

But then whom should I kill for keeping hunger alive and well in that village where Shohagpur was consumed by the life of Bewas, Bewarish and Bangladesh?

Am I not Kader daktar myself?

I hope 10th of Srabon will be declared as the day of the anonymous dead of 1971.

Afsan Chowdhury is the Executive Editor of bdnews24.com

Afsan Chowdhuryis a bdnews24.com columnist.

13 Responses to “In Srabon I remember the Shohagpur massacre of 1971”

  1. Iftekhar Hossain

    রাজাকারের কাজা বিচার

    একাত্তুরের ভয়াল দিনে
    ঘর পোড়াল আগুনে
    মারল মানুষ নির্বিচারে
    আগে পিছে না গুনে।

    বাংলা জুড়ে মুক্তিসেনা
    বাধ সাধল রাজাকার
    স্বাধীন দেশে মুখ লুকাল
    রইলো বাকি সাজা কার?

    রাজাকারের কাজা বিচার
    এখন তোমার কি উপায়
    একাত্তুরের ভয়াল দিনে
    আমরা ছিলাম নিরুপায়।


  2. Kamal Ahmed Lohani

    It’s one of the heartbreaking tales of 71.

  3. Amol Bose

    Afsan Chowdhury, we are all Kader Daktars, you are not the only one. None of us ever tried to look for these Bewas, let alone helping them.

    Thank you for the article.

  4. Dina Siffat

    Did the government — AL, BNP, Ershad — take any step to help those unfortunate lot of widows?

  5. Akram Ullah

    And we just let them starve! Wow what a country we are!

  6. Roop Sonaton

    Yes. Authors may write beautiful pieces. Some of those may even turn out to be national bestsellers. Afsan may add another feather to his crown and one day may even become a candidate for “Booker” if not Nobel. But does it really matter to those “Bewas” of Sohagpur?

    Trying Kader Daktars are not the main agenda of the government. Kader Daktar is just a killer and NOT a political leader and, for that matter, NOT a threat to the current regime. On the other hand, the government has launched a manhunt against Quader Mollah, who may NOT be a killer, but definitely a political threat to the current government. So they are prosecuting him with whatever charges they could pile up against him, some of them very hard to substantiate. Who cares for the significance of 24th/25th July (Sohagpur Massacre Day)? We only care for December, 2013 when the general election is scheduled to be held. We would like to make sure that “all quiet on the polling front”, considering the fact that without Jamaat, BNP is simply a tiger without its fangs.

  7. Kayes Ahmed

    Afsan, This is a fascinating account. So many of these events are undocumented, especially when there was an influential Bengali collaborator involved. In sylhet it was done in the name of religion and sect. Yes, I hope 10th of Srabon become the Day of the Anonymous dead. More importantly I hope Bangladesh takes on a national project to document these events before time obliterates them.

  8. Golam Arshad

    Afsan: It is another massacre of dreadful tale that never dies. Afsan the irony shall we put the time in a PAUSE mode, wail and cry for Justice or will it be to wipe our tears turn the sorrowful memories and move on and make ourselves a meaningful nation of a BRIGHT progress. Let all the tears and pain embalm our heart to a resolution of turning Bangladesh the best of Nation with its best of people. I pause and I wonder!!

  9. Abul Kalam

    I have never heard of Bewas’ village and that an entire village was robbed off its male members in one genocidal event. More than anything else what I am really surprised of is why did we not hear about such a tragic story in such a long time!

  10. Tonmoy

    We all are Kader daktars. It’s been 40 years since this massacre and it took so long for us to know about this story. Shame on us!

  11. Tonmoy

    Such a heart wrenching piece. Thank you Afsan Chowdhury.

    • Wasi Ahmed

      The writer is one of the most competent persons to talk about 1971 not just with authenticity but a sense of objectivity he is so admirably gifted with. If you are interested you can procure the three volumes (more than three thousand pages) he has written and compiled on ’71.
      Yes, this is a very touching piece.

Comments are closed.