Virtual Bangladesh: History: A Nation Awakened - The Legacy of Jahanara Imam
A Nation Awakened - The Legacy of Jahanara Imam
By Jamal Hasan
Jahanara Imam, we'll never forget you, nor shall we forget the year,
1971, when Bangladesh waded her way to independence across the swift currents
of a river of blood. Sinister forces were acting against the birth of
our nation - few could equal the zeal with which traitors had taken to
selling their souls to their imperial masters. They were so eager to keep
us enslaved for the next millennium that they went ahead with their diabolical
scheme to annihilate the intelligentsia of our motherland through mass
killings. And that is why every conscientious citizen of Bangladesh felt
so let down and humiliated when the Father of the Nation, just freed from
a Pakistani prison, granted general amnesty to these criminals.
I was in Tangail, in prison like environment, during the nine months
of the war of liberation in 1971. During those days, I had a premonition
that even if we achieve independence, we will not be able to keep alive
the spirit that had spurred us to freedom. I was painfully aware of our
proclivity to ignore the lessons of history. I would often fret about
the future of independent Bangladesh during those fateful months. I was
cut to the quick, but not quite surprised, when Bangabandhu announced
general amnesty for the despicable Razakars.
We had a moral obligation to bring the killers and rapists of 1971 to
justice, not only to uphold the dignity of our ravaged nation but also
to gain recognition for the enormous sacrifices that we had been forced
to make on our road to freedom. Bangabandhu's general amnesty came in
the way. To add insult to the injury, the unthinkable happened - the military
surreptitiously ushered the anti independence forces into the corridors
of power through the back door. Ironically, it was a freedom fighter,
General Zia, who dealt a devastating blow against the very spirit that
had led us on the path to freedom.
I used to be in constant pain over a question - if the pro-Pakistani
forces were indeed destined to come to power in independent Bangladesh,
what purpose did it serve to sacrifice three million lives during the
war of liberation? Did Munir Choudhury, Dr. Alim Choudhury, Altaf Mahmud,
Mofazzal Haider Choudhury and the countless Rumis of our country become
martyrs over a worthless cause? Wouldn't it have been a lot less painful
if we had negotiated for a confederation instead?
But after all is said and done, it remains a fact that the three million
martyrs of the war of liberation have left an indelible mark on history.
It is vital to bring the mass murderers of 1971 to justice not only to
uphold the dignity of our nation but to regain our self esteem as well.
And it is just as important for the Pakistan government to accept full
responsibility for the despicable crimes and to tender public apology.
Half a century after World War II, it wasn't too late for Japan's Emperor
to publicly apologize for the crimes against the Korean people. Need we
say more to persuade Pakistani authorities to do the needful?
The constant erosion of the spirit of liberation in post-independence
Bangladesh had left me without hope. When Zia was in power, I wrote an
article in the Bangladeshi weekly, Holiday, to give vent to my despondency.
The main thesis of the article miraculously survived the ruthless editing
of the pro- Chinese editor. Four years later I immigrated to the United
States. Since then I have endeavored hard to remind fellow Bengalis of
the spirit of '71 and of the days of blood and fire. In addition to writing
in the ethnic press, I have personally contacted many intellectuals and
politicians to create a general awareness of the unspeakable crimes of
1971. Among them are Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel and Professor Stanley
Wolpert. I have also been encouraging a few people to work toward a Congressional
hearing on the mass killings in Bangladesh.
The publication of Jahanara Imam's "Ekattorer Dinguli" ( Those Days of 1971) was a seminal event in the history of Bangladesh.
It proved to be a catalyst for the renewal of faith in our destiny as
an independent nation. The publication was a diary she had maintained
during the war of liberation that claimed the lives of her husband and
son. Jahanara Imam had watched the war from a point of vantage and had
paid very dearly for the privilege. Her diary, like that of Anne Frank,
was the personal account of a tragedy whose true magnitude might never
be fully fathomed by those that did not experience it first hand. "Ekattorer
Dinguli" electrified Bangladesh as no other book ever had.
All of a sudden, I came to hear of Jahanara Imam's crusade against the
mass murderers and their agents. She earned my respect through her ability
to rise above petty politics even as she struggled to bring the criminals
to justice. Three years ago, when Awami League leader Abdur Razzak came
to visit Florida, I reminded him of our duty to pursue the criminals relentlessly.
I am happy that, today, he is a key man in the committee that is crusading
to avenge the crimes.
Last year, my friend, Dr. Zafar Iqbal, introduced me to Jahanara Imam's
surviving son, Jami. And it wasn't long after that I finally established
contact with Jahanara Imam, herself. I sent her copies of all my writings
and informed her of my efforts toward a Congressional hearing on the genocide
in Bangladesh. I congratulated her for bringing in a new tide of hope
in the moribund politics of our mother land. I told her of my wish to
take active part in the movement she was leading. She was happy to learn
that I had taken it upon myself to send Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel a copy
of the English translation of her "Ekattorer Dinguli".
I managed to convince her that the proposed Congressional hearing would
go a long way toward bringing the criminals to justice. I introduced her
to the articles of Khaleda Islam who has been writing tirelessly for the
last ten years of our inhuman ordeal in 1971. Ms. Khaleda Islam has been
relentlessly demanding the trial of the Pakistani war criminals in various
Bangladeshi, Indian and even Pakistani publications in U.S.A.
Jahanara Imam is no longer with us. She arrived in the political arena
like a meteor and gave a new lease of life to a people who had been stagnating
for quite a while and had lost their self esteem in the bargain. We will
not forget Jahanara Imam's contribution to the awakening of our nation.
Thanks to her, Bangladesh has been born again! The trial of the criminals
will be the culmination of the movement that she had led so courageously
till her death. Bangladesh will regain her dignity in the comity of nations
as the criminals are made to answer for their deeds in a court of law.
Jahanara Imam, we'll never forget you. You'll remain enshrined for ever
in the collective consciousness of our nation.