I met him after many years during the glorious Ganojagoron Moncho movement. It felt like meeting the Prince of a fairy tale, but in reality, it was not quite like that. I tell you a true story now.
His name is Syed Shahidul Haque Mama. I suddenly rang him up on his phone. On the other end, Mama roared like a Royal Bengal Tiger, “Dosto, where are you?”
He came to see us where some of his friends, Toffee (and her charming daughters Rhidi and Nandita), Mahmud, Mujib, and I were present. It was like the Latin phrase ‘Veni, vidi, vici’ reportedly written by Julius Caesar in 47 BC as a comment on his short war with Pharnaces II of Pontus in the city of Zela (currently known as Zile, in Turkey).
In fact, on that evening, he came, he saw, and he conquered us once again – a valiant freedom fighter of 1971. His other identity is as the very strong prosecution witness against Abdul Quader Molla, the ‘butcher of Mirpur,’ Dhaka in 1971 in the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT).
As my friend, we read together in the Department of History of the University of Dhaka during the period of 1972-76. Everyone is unique and has his or her own individual positive qualities. Humour, loyalty, compassion, trustworthy, friendship, and citizenship are some of the few good qualities a person should have. And he possesses as much of those human qualities. He can be personified as the symbol of purity, sincerity, generosity, bravery and patriotism
A freedom fighter is honoured in all lands and in all times because he fights for a noble cause: the freedom of the motherland. Mama is a freedom fighter of our liberation war of 1971, the true hero, who risked his life in line with spirit of many freedom fighters to bring our country into existence.
He did not fear for his life. He refused his family’s requests to stay home, and ran away to join the war.
The people of Bangladesh fought a glorious war of independence in 1971.
They fought for nine long months and defeated the brutal and well-trained Pakistani forces.
Bangladesh became a free country.
Many freedom fighters gave their lives for the cause of the motherland. We owe our freedom to these noble fighters and their sacrifice for the cause of the motherland.
Mama, the freedom fighter, is one of them. We recalled with inspiration, the historic declaration of the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman: “The struggle this time is the struggle for freedom, the struggle this time is the struggle for independence.”
Shahidul Haque Mama was inspired by Bangabandhu’s speech, which drove him down this path of freedom. He, like all his compatriots, are immortalised in the history of Bangladesh. His valour still echoes in Mirpur, his determination, many say, knew no bounds. He was a hero who brought about a new wave in our liberation war for independence in the Mirpur area in 1971.
His valour and heroism in 1971 is praiseworthy. Mama recounted the liberation day of Mirpur on January 31, 1972 in which he actively took part. He said, “This was also a great victory for us, since we fought against the last remnants of enemy. For us, that day was a day of celebration because, with our own eyes, we had seen the enemy crushed. We had seen the enemy frozen with fear and surrendered.”
He always expands on the only expectations he has of the nation that differentiates between those who are true and those who are false: Come forward to protect the simple, oppressed, and the freedom fighters, and it will lead to greater welfare. Keep your role in establishing justice in all places, and work for the betterment of the people. Participate to establish a better place to live for our future generation.
What I can really say of a gentleman like Mama is that he is of the utmost civility, nobility, and authenticity, who was self-exiled in Sweden for many years. When the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) in Bangladesh was set up in 2009 to investigate and prosecute suspects for the genocide committed in 1971 by the Pakistan Army and their local collaborators, Razakars, Al-Badr, and Al-Shams during the Bangladesh Liberation War, he could not remain silent and stay back in Sweden.
Conscience gave him a good jerk. He returned to his beloved motherland only to give testimony against the butcher of Mirpur. He gave sensational but true revelations in the ICT for the tribunal to pass their verdict of capital punishment for Abdul Quader Molla, the war crimes criminal, when many freedom fighters did not come up to do so. We should salute him for his fearlessness for speaking untold truths in the ICT.
All those who worked with Mama during our independence war of 1971 noted his humility, his charm, his deep concern for the co-fighters, and his incorruptibility – refusing to enjoy the privileges that his reputation might have earned him, and eating, sleeping and training with his comrades.
I believe he can give us knowledge and vivid pictures of our liberation war. I have talked with many of the younger generation regarding his interviews telecast on different TV channels, and they all showed tremendous interest in finding out more from him about our supreme sacrifices, the high magnitude of atrocities committed by the brutal Pakistan Army, and their ugly and barbarous cohort Jamaat-e-Islami and their killing squads: Al-Badr and Al-Shams.
He is a special kind of hero who fights with nothing more than ideas. He slays falsehoods with the sword of truth. He chases bad ideas with good ones. With his simple style, he wants to fight despair with hope; fear with courage; anger with reason; arrogance with humility; ignorance with knowledge; intolerance with forbearance; oppression with perseverance; doubt with trust and cruelty with compassion.
Above all, he speaks truth to power and to those who abuse, misuse, overuse, and are corrupted by power.
I remember Mama in the hopeful, faith-filled and resolute words of American poet James Russell Lowell (“The Present Crisis”):
“When a deed is done for Freedom, through the broad earth’s aching breast…
Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide…
In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side…
For Humanity sweeps onward: where to-day the martyr stands…
Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne…”
When speaking of my great friend Mama, I could be accused of exaggerating his virtues, hyperbolising his contributions to the Bangladesh War of Independence, and overstating his importance to the cause of truthfulness and boldness.
Perhaps I am biased because I hold this great man in such high respect, honour, and admiration.
If I am guilty of bias, it is because seemingly in Bangladesh people have stopped making genuine heroes like Shahidul Haque Mama.
Above all, you may call him one of the true voices of Bangladesh.