Namira Hossain visits the recently opened Liberation War museum
There are few stories more gruesome and horrifying than the birth of Bangladesh in 1971. For those who lived through it however, these are not just stories, indeed it is part and parcel of what they had lived through and an unforgettable bloody history for those who came after. Despite hearing bits and pieces from various sources, many young people of the newer generations remain unaware of the trauma faced by their forefathers not so long ago.
Bengalis had struggled for years against the Pakistanis after the British colony in the subcontinent was lifted- tensions kept rising between the Eastern and Western states of Pakistan and was exacerbated by the Bengali Language Movement which reached its’ climax on February 21st, 1952.
There were more cultural differences as well between East Pakistan and West Pakistan which outweighed their religious unity. And finally, it was the political tensions which pounded the final nail into the coffin and started an outright civil war. West Pakistan feared that the population majority of the East would overthrow their government. The planned military attacks by the Pakistani army on March 25th, 1971 which later came to be known in Bangladesh’s history as the ‘Black Night’, was the last straw to the efforts to negotiate a settlement. Published casualty figures range from somewhere between 1.5 million to 3 million and these atrocities have been labelled as acts of genocide.
The Declaration of Independence by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is just one of the few powerful quotes that have been highlighted at the new Liberation War Museum located in Agargaon and recently inaugurated by the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on April 16, 2017. The inauguration included a moving speech by the Prime Minister who said it is of utmost importance to Bangladeshis to know of their heritage that is soaked with blood and sacrifice.
She talked about the difficult time spent by the the Freedom Fighters when they were afraid of identifying themselves as Freedom Fighters but that the situation has changed now. Freedom Fighter and member secretary and trustee of the Muktijudhho Jadughor, Ziauddin Tariq Ali gave the welcome address and he, along with other Freedom Fighters, believe that ‘if history is preserved, then the younger generations can do research on the genocide, the assault on women and also learn about what Pakistanis did to our country.’
The new sprawling structure includes several galleries, an amphitheatre, a stage and auditorium amongst other things. The impressive building was designed by young architect Tanzim Hassan who won out 70 entries from a country-wide competition. It displays a fighter plane named Hunter that is a relic of the Liberation War, hung right out front. The exhibits range from various newspaper clippings and famous quotes and the contributions by women towards the Liberation War were also commemorated in the museum. There are diary entries by a young girl named Swati Chowdhury who was only in Class 6 during the war and she kept her accounts of the war and also quotes and writings by famous activist and poet Sufia Kamal.
When asked about how all these mementos were collected, Tariq Ali says that they made an appeal to the public before the old museum was inaugurated. ‘Muktijudhho is very close to their hearts, so they wanted the mementos to be preserved,’ he says. The newspaper clippings were also taken from various collections, such as those by the current Finance Minister, Mr Muhith and also from Mr Jalal (a diplomat in Japan) amongst other sources.
The stories that the museum holds within the walls of its’ exhibits are rarely heard of anywhere else. There is a bloody shirt of a four month old called Rehana, whose father was involved in the Liberation Movement. When the Pakistanis entered their house, they tossed Rehana’s body out in the garden and then trampled on her with their boots. Then, they proceeded to drown her in a nearby pond. Her father retrieved her body and kept her dress as a memento which now hangs in the museum.
It is such stories that the public need to learn and be aware of to understand the birth of our nation and that is the kind of experience the Liberation War Museum has tried to encapsulate for its’ visitors. ‘Visiting this museum will give people a feeling of the sacrifice people made in 1971 and how much resilience the population has shown to opposing pressure,’ states Ali. He brings up the seven pillars in front of the building, one of which is an exact replica of a pillar in Naogaon – which commemorates the victory of the fisherman against the Pal kings. Ali says, ‘that has always been the spirit of Bengal throughout history – resilience.’