Friday, July 6, 2007

The memory remains - War memorial at Mirpur Jalladkhana killing field


The memory remains
Faizul Khan Tanim visits the War memorial at Mirpur Jalladkhana killing field and returns with haunting stories of an unforgettable legacy

A surprising site at the gates of the recently opened war memorial is a group of street children, ranging from four to six years olds, lined up in front of the memorial gate, and singing patriotic songs like Mora ekti phool ke bachabo bole judhho kori and the national anthem Amar shonar Bangla ami tomai bhalobashi. They sung with so much passion and devotion that even commuters on the street took a break and stood for some time to see that emotional scene. As you enter the monument site, you realise it is a small area of land upon which different parts the memorial stands. On the left of the gate, a mural, made of burnt bricks, stands boldly. Eminent artist Rafiqun Nabi says, the first time he entered the site, he was pain-stricken trying to visualise the mass murders, and the idea of a mural struck him. Later, Nabi and Muniruzzaman created the mural titled ‘Jibon Abinashwar’ (Life Immortal). ‘The mural depicts the mutilated bodies of numerous martyrs on the grave while the sun of liberation is shining on them. And Life Immortal means that the spirits of those dead bodies are still with us and they will never die’, adds Nabi. One visitor Lal Miah from Dhanmondi was staring at the mural. Staring at the names of the 467 mass graves inscribed on the premises, he says, ‘I am very disturbed that till this day we do not have a proper list of the valiant warriors and at the same time a list of all the collaborators of the Pakistani army – the Razakars’. ‘Would you believe that I am also a freedom fighter?’ says Abdur Rahman, another visitor. ‘It hurts me when I know for a fact that plenty of the collaborators from then are now displaying certificates of freedom fighters. Tell me how the younger generation will believe that my certificate is not fabricated?’ he says. To the right, where the two ends of the triangular walkways meet, stands the infamous pump house which served as the torture chamber. And inside is the 20-feet deep water tank, now enclosed around the border with black tiles where the butchered body parts of men, women and children were dumped. The 20-feet deep water tank, where the skulls and bones were stored, visitors can now see covered with thick glass, inscribed with ‘We bow our heads in deep respect to all martyrs’. Not only that, patriotic lines and inscription are inscribed all over that little room which provoke volatile and depressing feelings, and make your hair stand up. Sharikul Islam Bablu is not only a witness to the barbaric activity that took place here in 1971; he also almost got killed by Biharis himself, though he was only a kid when the incident happened. ‘On July 28 or 29 I came to Mirpur to see what was happening. As I came to a mosque for Zuhr prayers, I noticed that while coming out after finishing prayers another Bihari boy named Jalal was following me.’ ‘He then called three other boys who then dragged and forced me in to the Jalladkhana,’ he says. ‘They had already placed a cut on my throat when two other Bihari boys Nasir and Aslam came to my rescue and helped me escape,’ he remembers with a shudder. ‘The memory still haunts me wildly,’ added Sharikul. One of the Liberation War Museum trustee and also the architect of the memorial Rabiul Hussain says ‘the space upon which the monument stands is undersized – three and half or four kathas of land and therefore I tried to make use of most of the available space. The architecture in that sense is not that flashy and we kept it simple following some basic geometrical patterns because we all thought that such a place deserves an uncomplicated design’. ‘Soil from six places around the country has been brought and the site would soon host more interesting relics and objects of interest related to the genocide and our liberation war,’ added Rabiul. According to the Liberation War Museum sources, the museum’s trustee freedom-fighter Akku Chowdhury, with the help of Bangladesh army initiated the extensive digging work in the spot on November 15, 1999 and since then, unearthed 70 skulls, 5392 bones and artifacts like prayer beads, caps, mutilated shoes, wallet and many more items from the site, which bears the horrific memories of genocides in 1971. They are all displayed in that chamber. The human body parts bore signs that the victims were brutally beheaded and tortured to death and their bodies were chopped into pieces before being dumped into marshlands. Identities of 27 martyrs were confirmed by close relatives and their names are written on the premises tablets. K M Nasiruddin, caretaker and co-coordinator of the memorial and an official of the Liberation War Museum says, ‘Almost 25,000 victims were slaughtered and their body parts dumped in this site. This site is one of over 467 mass graves and this memorial bears the name of all the other mass graves across the country. ‘Although Bangladesh earned its liberation on December 16, 1971, the Mirpur suburb was not liberated until January 31 1972, he adds. ‘Even though the memorial project started earlier, vigorous work has been put in during the past one year and almost Taka 15 lakh has been invested. The memorial will soon have all the reports of genocides from around the world, accompanied by documents, pictures and more’, added Nasiruddin. Visitors to the memorial believe that this structure is a bridge between the new generation and the past and our history. ‘When such a structure has been erected by our older generation, the least that this generation can do is take the trouble of visiting the site and try to know our roots,’ says one visitor.

*This article was first published in Daily New Age July 06 2007 - http://www.newagebd.com/2007/jul/06/jul06/xtra_inner2.html

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