When the guns fell silent
Freedom Fighter Shamsuddin Ahmed shared some of his wartime stories with The Business Standard. He along with his friend Abdul Mudabbir Khan (Pearu) embarked on journeys within the country during those tumultuous days. Here are some anecdotes
The crackdown on 25th March 1971 was beyond everyone's wildest dreams, but for those who had been preparing for it for quite some time, it did not come as a surprise.
"In March 1971, I was a final year honours student in the Economics Department of Dhaka University, barely 21 years old. At that time, my roommate at Surja Sen Hall was one of my closest and oldest friends, Pearu (Abdul Mudabbir Khan) of the Statistics Department. Together, we have countless memories about the Liberation War, it is so hard just to pick one or two, but let us try," said Shamsuddin Ahmed.
These young students, who knew their future was uncertain, were firm in their belief – they had to stand by their people and liberate Bangladesh, even if it meant risking their lives.
Snatching shotguns from bank security guards
Their preparation included taking away two shotguns from the security guards at the National Bank (now Sonali Bank) and United Bank Ltd situated in the premises of the DU Registry building.
"On March 17th or 18th, along with four or five of my friends, as part of our military operation to fight against the Pakistani Army, we took two double-barrel shotguns and almost a hundred rounds of ammunition from the bank's guards.
The guards were taken aback by our move because they knew us quite well. We would often come here to take our scholarship money. We convinced them that these guns would be used to save the country," he recalled.
The guns were carefully hidden away in room 528 of Surja Sen Hall and were later used to fight against the Biharis in Pallabi, Mirpur.
Only a handful of students were living in Dhaka at that time, because, from the first of March, at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib's call, there was an indefinite nationwide non-cooperation movement going on. The city was empty and the air was thick with tension and rumours.
Shamsuddin Ahmed said, "On the afternoon of March 25th, we decided to go to Pearu's house in Pallabi where his parents were living. We were scared about their safety as Mirpur was predominantly a Bihari area."
"Before heading towards Mirpur in Pearu's Ford Prefect, we heard that an army check-post had been set up in Farmgate. This scared us because we had one of the guns 'stripped' and concealed under the back seat of the car, but thankfully it turned out to be just a rumour."
They found the parents safe, but remained vigilant throughout that night with the guns, and spent the entire time on the roof of that one-storied house. From there, they could see flares going up far to the South, but it was hard to know what caused them. It was only in the morning when news of the carnage began to spread that we learnt what had happened. The Pakistani Army had mercilessly killed Bengalis, and their bodies were left strewn around the city. Dhaka
University, Pilkhana and Rajarbagh had been almost destroyed.
By early morning, assisted by the Pak Army, the Biharis attacked Bengalis in Pallabi. It was no longer safe to stay there.
"The soldiers came, fired blanks, and then left. But the Biharis continued with their attacks," he added.
"The attacks continued, and it was becoming very obvious that we were going to lose," Shamsuddin Ahmed said.
"We climbed over the back walls of the house and took Pearu's parents to a relative's house at Alokdi village, which is right behind Pallabi."
Alokdi's patriarch, a man known as 'Haji Shaheb', gave them refuge and was extremely cooperative. He even sent a group of his gunmen to join the young men the next day when they returned to Dhaka to continue fighting against the Biharis.
On the morning of March 27th, they learnt that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had been arrested and that the Pakistani Army had full grip on Dhaka City.
He continued, "We had a serious clash with them at the Mirpur Ceramic factory in Pallabi, but we had to retreat because the Biharis were more powerful and had weapons that the Pak Army had given them."
Shamsuddin wanted to join the war, which meant that they would have to separate. But before doing so, they decided to take Pearu's parents to a safer place. Pearu had a relative in Faridpur so they decided to visit him first, to see if he was doing okay, and then take the couple there.
"Before leaving the house in Pallabi, I spotted Khalamma's (Pearu's mother) jewellery box lying in the mess on the floor. It was full of her gold ornaments, vintage things, quite heavy. I do not know why I thought of salvaging the jewellery.
I wrapped them up in a big napkin and slowly pushed it deep into the drainpipe of the kitchen sink."
En route to Faridpur
The two set off for Faridpur on Perau's 50cc Honda motorcycle. When they reached Manikganj, they stopped at a petrol pump to fill the tank.
Shamsuddin went on, "The petrol pump staff did not charge us anything for the fuel. They said you guys are working for the country, you can refill your tank as many times as you want."
By 28th March, they reached Char Kamalapur in Faridpur and found the relative to be alive and well. While coming back to Dhaka, they again stopped at the pump and as usual, the staff were warm, friendly and did not charge a penny.
"We had to bring khala and khalu to Faridpur from Alokdi, so we told them we would be coming again," he said.
In a trembling voice, he continued, "On 31st March, as we were returning to Dhaka from Faridpur, we saw the petrol pump again. An eerie silence had filled the place. The pump was burned to the ground. When we asked around, we were told that just the day before, the Pakistani Army had wreaked havoc in the pump and killed everyone there, including the manager and two assistants."
Training in India and liberating Rangamati town
By mid-April, Shamsuddin Ahmed had gone to Haflong in Assam, India to train.
He said, "After being trained in the first batch of the Bangladesh Liberation Force (BLF), I returned to Agartala. I was given the responsibility of Noakhali 'C' Company, which would be in charge of Parshuram, Fulgazi, Chhagalnaiya and Shonagazi upazilas,"
In July, Shamsuddin was transferred to Demagiri in Mizoram where Sheikh Fazlul Haque Moni and Major General Sujan Singh Uban had established their operational headquarters to liberate the Chattogram Hill Tracts and Chattogram district.
On the morning of 17th December 1971, Shamsuddin Ahmed and Manish Dewan, then a student of Rajshahi Cadet College, hoisted the Bangladeshi flag at the DC Office hill and completed the liberation of Rangamati.
Salvaging the bundle of jewellery
In February 1972, Shamsuddin and Pearu went to Pallabi again, to see the state of the house.
In his words, "Other than the building's structure, there was nothing left of it. The looters had even stripped off the doorframes and the windowpanes. I decided to check on the jewellery, so I went to the kitchen. I put my hand in the drainpipe, and to my utmost surprise, I felt the bundle and slowly pulled it out! Nobody would have guessed that expensive things would be hidden in a drain!"