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.