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6 December, 2017 00:00 00 AM

Women freedom fighters

Bangladeshi women played a significant role in 1971 by working as combatants, informants, nurses
Sarbani Roy
Women freedom fighters

“Blessed be she who is both furious and magnificent.”- Taylor Rhodes From the immemorial time, women have been treated as icons of beauty, softness, innocence and magnificence. Traditional patriarchal thinking likes to conceive women as passive, soft and innocent. This archetypal psychology prohibits everyone to see them as valiant fighters. It is almost a taboo for women to join the front line of war. Even in the time of crisis like the Liberation War of 1971, men could not easily come out of their remonstrance. The interviews of some forgotten women freedom fighters reveal that the men wanted to take them as their assistants first. It is only because of their irrepressible thirst for country’s freedom, the women could join the Liberation War despite the frowning of their male counterparts.

From 1947 to 1971, through a lot of bloody struggles, sacrifices and compromises, December 16, 1971 becomes the ultimate gala day in the history of a freedom aspiring nation. In order to get the national flag, we had to sacrifice the blood of 3million martyrs and the dignity of 200,000 women.  This historical achievement leads to a ‘metamorphosis’ by transforming a province to a state, makes the map recognisable in the world atlas.  This recognition tells the story of the infinite contribution of the people of Bangladesh. In a patriarchal society like ours any war implies the valiant fight of men. Men are always exalted for their heroism, made legend for their indomitable spirit. Unfortunately, the contribution of women remains untold. In most cases, the performance of women remains as an unrevealed chapter. The women are not portrayed properly. The majority of their portrayal reveals them as vulnerable and as war victims. Their heroic deeds go unnoticed. Out of the 676 gallantry awards, only two have gone to women. But, in fact, there is no way to demean the terrible sufferings they have undergone during the time of multifarious roles they have played in the Liberation War 1971.

Bangladeshi women played a significant role in 1971 by working as combatants, informants, nurses, and so on. They cooperated with the brave freedom fighters by providing them with food, fund and shelter. Sometimes they collected weapons by playing tricks over the Pakistani army. They showed their unyielding determination by sending their fathers, brothers, husbands and sons to the Liberation War. Sometimes to save the freedom fighters they surrendered themselves to the Pakistani army and became the victims of beastly physical torment. They had to go through mental trauma day after day.

Gobra camp was set up in Kolkata by the government-in-exile, where women freedom fighters were trained up to participate in the frontal war. Shirin Banu, Farquan Begum, Alamtaj Begum, Karuna Begum, Shobha Rani, Bithika Biswas, Meherunnesa and many more women freedom fighters fought for the country. But their stories remain unexplored even today. The nation is not aware about their contribution to the emergence of independent Bangladesh.

While discussing the social services of women during and after the war, Yasmin Saikia said in her book ‘Women, War and The making of Bangladesh- Remembering 1971’(2011)- “ For them these were not heroic acts but were ‘small gestures’ owed to family and friends. They talked about them as routine work- to care for others- and did not claim special status as heroes because they responded to the need of another person.

Precisely because they did not talk of the work as conscious act of bravado but presented them as ‘duty’, the work that individual women did during and after the war has gone largely unnoticed in the national register.”

In her book she cited examples of Suhasini Devi of Sylhet, Dr Syed Ahmed Nurjahan of Chittagong, Jharna Chowdhury of Noakhali   who were social workers, involved in the rehabilitation of distressed women and children during and after the war of 1971. She also mentioned two forgotten women freedom fighters, Laila Ahmed and Mumtaz Begum who willingly joined the ‘Muktibahini’.

Jahanara Imam, entitled the mother of martyrs, didn’t appear in the battlefield with arms. However, the battle she fought is not the least in comparison with the people who laid down their lives for the sake of the country. Her elder son Rumi joined the Liberation war as a freedom fighter.

He was picked up by the Pakistani army and was not seen any more. Her Husband Shariful Imam and another son were also picked up, and Shariful Imam met a tragic end due to the terrible torture he endured in the hands of the Pakistan occupation forces. She also played a prominent role in bringing the Pakistani collaborators to book.

On 25 July, 1971, 164 men were brutally killed and many women were raped by the Pakistani army accompanied by their collaborators in Sohagpur, Nalitabari. The village was left as the village of widows bearing the sign of heinous crime, only 57 women survived to tell their harrowing tales. Is there any way to degrade their sacrifice for the liberty of the nation? But they remain behind the curtain. What compensation we have kept for them? We only feel pity.

After the independence, the women who sacrificed their supreme dignity during the Liberation War were pretty neglected by their kith and kin. They are ostracised by the family as well as by the society. At such a time, our undisputed leader Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman became their ultimate shelter. His government declared the rape victims as ‘Biranganas’ and rehabilitated them by forming ‘Women Rehabilitation Board’ in 1972. The brutal murder of the father of nation was a setback in this regard. However, now a ray of hope is visible at the end of the tunnel. The present government has recognised 185 war heroines as freedom fighters till July 09, 2017. Through this they will enjoy all government facilities which are applicable to the freedom fighters. Yes, better late than never. Let’s hope for the day when all the women freedom fighters will get their long-overdue recognition even if it is posthumous.

The writer is Lecturer, Department of English, Nagarpur Govt

College, Tangail   



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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