Lily Chowdhury, wife of martyred intellectual Munier Chowdhury, shared her experiences of how she lost her husband on December 14, 1971 with the Dhaka Tribune
December — the month of liberation, the month of the intellectual killings.
My husband Munier Chowdhury became a martyr along with other intellectuals on December 14, 1971. He was abducted around 1:30 in the afternoon that day, and disappeared forever.
A drama on his life was broadcast and was also put up on stage in recent years. His abduction was wrongly depicted in both cases. Let me tell you how the last day with his family had been.
I had a tumour removed very recently at that time. We had waited very anxiously for the report for seven days.
When the report said that the tumour was not malignant, it was a very happy day for him. He brought shondesh home. But after about 20 days, the area was hard and swollen again.
Close to the 14th, when I told him about it, he told me: “I will take you to the doctor after the curfew is lifted.” His assurance could not be fulfilled, as the curfew could not be lifted.
He always woke up early. I was a late riser. So I did not know when he went down that day and had his breakfast. We were living at his parents’ two-storied house on Central Road during the Liberation War.
I went down around 9 in the morning and I saw him lying on the floor over a mattress with a transistor radio over his chest. He always used to listen to BBC news. When he saw me, he said: “Do not be afraid anymore, we are going to be independent very soon.”
I did not say anything in response to his notion. I just asked if he wanted something to eat. He said yes, and then had some chapatti with vegetables. I finished my breakfast too and went upstairs again.
Sometime later, he came up and started taking clothes for washing. I told him: “Don’t take my clothes, Amma (mother-in-law) will not like it.” He did not say anything but took my clothes anyway and went downstairs to do laundry.
In those days, there was no maid at home. So my husband washed the clothes while his brother Rusho pumped water from the tube well.
Around noon he took my youngest son Tonmoy for a bath. He took him out in the sun, in the balcony, and rubbed mustard oil on his body first. I stood there leaning against the balcony railing while he did that.
He said: “Tonmoy ke amar ki je bhalolagey (I like Tonmoy so very much)” and kissed Tonmoy.
I can never forget that scene. It still brings tears to my eyes. So much love was snatched away from that baby boy forever.
After he finished bathing Tonmoy, he went downstairs again for his own bath. Then he came back upstairs and told me: “Go and take your bath, water is ready in the bathroom.” This meant that he heated up a bucket of water and brought it up for me.
Suddenly, we heard a rattle on the big metal front gate of the house. I peeped out of the first floor window to see who was shaking the gate, and I saw about five men in their early 20s wearing ash coloured kurtas and payjamas. Later on, I heard that this was the dress for the al- Shams.
My husband asked me to shut the window, so I did. I was picking up fresh clothes about to go for my shower when my brother-in-law came up and told my husband that some boys had come to meet him.
Hearing this, Munier Chowdhury went downstairs. A few moments passed. Then I thought, let me go and see what they are talking about. When I was at the last step of the stairs on the ground floor, I heard my husband say: “Do you have a warrant?”
Suddenly, one of the boys brought out a gun, very swiftly came up behind my husband, and pressed the nozzle of the gun over his back. I saw that his body shivered and he quickly moved forward and got on the camouflaged bus. That was my last glimpse of him.
He never knew that I had come downstairs. For a long time, the vision of that shivering back haunted me.
No, there were no army men — only Bengalis. In the television drama it showed a Pakistan army person in uniform. But I know that it was our own people who killed Munier Chowdhury. In the stage drama, it showed that the abductor boys were draped in black clothes. No, they looked like boys in normal clothes.
My husband used to keep the main gate, the iron grill gate, locked at all times and told everybody never to open it. So I asked my brother-in-law why he unlocked the gate. He told me that they pointed a gun at him.
My 12-year-old son Mishuk told me that Rusho had asked him to fetch the keys, which were kept on a shelf top. Mishuk took the key from there and gave it to his uncle. As long as Mishuk lived, he could never forget that he helped open that gate, which led to his beloved father’s death.
The daughter of one of my brother-in-laws had written a book, a memoir, on the life of her parents. There she wrote that Munier Chowdhury was giving shelter to a person that the Pakistan Army was looking for.
Since he did not disclose the whereabouts of the person he was hiding, Munier Chowdhury was taken away by the Pakistan Army. She lives abroad — I do not know where she got this absurd idea.
Many people misunderstood Munier Chowdhury because he did not flee to a safe place. May I tell you why he did not leave Dhaka? He was suffering from severe pain in his spinal cord. I always told him to flee and he told me: “Lily, if the army chases me, I will not even be able to run.”
One of his brothers told him: “You cannot go. If you go, you will have to take the entire family with you (which meant all the other 13 siblings).”
About going to India, he said: “I don’t know anybody who would give me shelter.”
He never wanted to go, leaving us behind. If he had to go, he would take all four children with him: Two of his own, Mishuk and Tonmoy (Bhashon had by then joined the Liberation War as a muktijoddha), and two of my sister’s children.
My sister was married to one of my brother-in-laws, and when they were imprisoned by the army, the children were our responsibility.
He could not leave behind his aging mother either.
Well, I might as well stop listing the reasons for him not to leave Dhaka. But I will conclude by saying that Munier Chowdhury did not stay in Dhaka to help the Pakistan Army.