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48 years on, no list of the fallen intellectuals

  • Published at 11:27 pm December 14th, 2019
Martyred_Intellectuals_Memorial
The Martyred Intellectuals Memorial built in memory of the intellectuals who were killed on December 14, 1971 Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Such a lapse marks a historical failure, especially at a time when Bangladesh is all set to celebrate its victory from the occupation of Pakistan

The nation observed the 48th Martyred Intellectuals Day yesterday. However, despite all the years that have elapsed since the end of the War of Liberation in 1971, the government is yet to publish a credible list of the intellectuals murdered by the Pakistan occupation army and its local collaborators.

Such a lapse marks a historical failure, especially at a time when Bangladesh is all set to celebrate its victory from the occupation of Pakistan.

All governments since 1971 have failed to prepare a list of the murdered intellectuals despite making repeated pledges to come forth with details of the abduction and brutal killing of the nation’s brightest individuals 48 years ago.

The massacre was resorted to by the Pakistan army and Razakars as Pakistan sensed its imminent defeat in its war against Bangladesh. The perpetrators were clearly determined to leave the Bengali nation bereft of its intellectual classes at the dawn of freedom.

Researchers, academics, students and family members of the martyred intellectuals all have but one question: “When will the complete list of fallen intellectuals be published?”

In addition, they have also voiced their disappointment at the fact that no more than eight to 10 martyred intellectuals annually make the headlines in the country.

They fear that a delay in preparing the list will distort history, leading to a dissemination of misleading information about the sacrifices of those who laid down their lives in the defence of national freedom.

'List to be out next year'

After paying tributes to the martyred intellectuals yesterday, Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Haque said that the government would publish a complete list of the intellectuals killed during the War of Liberation next year. 

“We have already received information relating to some 300 intellectuals who were martyred and, following a scrutiny, a list will be published next year,” the minister said. 

It may be recalled that four days after liberation, on December 20, 1971, a spokesperson of the Provisional Government of Bangladesh said in a statement that 360 intellectuals were killed before the Pakistan army surrendered on December 16. 

However, according to Banglapedia, a total of 1,111 intellectuals were killed in 19 districts during the Liberation War.

On the other hand, the documentary, “Bangladesh”, by ASM Shamsul Arefin quoted a 1972 government publication as saying that 1,109 intellectuals were killed during Operation Searchlight launched by the occupation army on 25 March 1971.

The documentary reveals that among those killed were teachers of 21 universities, 637 primary schools, 270 secondary schools, and 59 colleges, 50 physicians, 41 lawyers, 13 journalists, and 16 music composers, filmmakers and cultural personalities.

Terming the failure to prepare a list of martyred intellectuals shameful, Asif Munier, son of the martyred Munier Choudhury, said: “It has widened the space for those plotting against the spirit of the Liberation War to manipulate history.”

Meanwhile, genocide expert Umme Wara was of the view whatever the situation had been during the war, the truth is that it was already late when the government initiated a move to compile a credible list of those killed.

"The list should have been sorted out much earlier,” added Wara, who is assistant professor at the criminology department of Dhaka University.

Completing the list now, she opined, will take much time as witnesses or those who knew about them have either died or sources relating to the killings are getting increasingly faded.

Besides, the efficiency of district level officials responsible for compiling the list is in question as definitions set by the government have made it difficult to differentiate between martyrs and martyred intellectuals.

The DU teacher, nevertheless, appreciated the government’s move regarding a completion of the trials of such fugitive war criminals as Chowdhury Mueen Uddin and Ashrafuzzaman Khan.

The two men, who were Al-Badr leaders, were sentenced to death for their role in the killing of 18 intellectuals between December 11 and 15, 1971. Both fled the country after liberation and were last reported to be in the United Kingdom.

Echoing Wara’s sentiment, Liberation War researcher and historian Muntasir Mamoon said:  “As the days go by, the chances of a compilation of a comprehensive list of martyred intellectuals recedes. We feel there is now no more room to delay the process.”