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Dhaka Tribune

Making the first flag of Bangladesh

The story of the creation of the first flag of Bangladesh is both attractive and exciting. It’s the fruit of a team spirit and a creative expression of the fertile brains of rebellious Chhatra League leaders and workers
Update : 05 Jan 2022, 03:22 PM

From my father’s narration:  

The national flag signifies a people’s emergence and a nation’s acceptance into the world. The national flag reflects a nation’s emotions, feelings, love, language, culture, and cultural identity.

To earn its cherished flag, the Bengali nation suffered indescribable and unimaginable torture and sorrow. We engraved our names in history forever through the way we valiantly created and earned our national flag.

The story of the creation of the first flag of Bangladesh is both attractive and exciting. It’s the fruit of a team spirit and a creative expression of the fertile brains of rebellious Chhatra League leaders and workers.

I was involved in the making of this flag of our dreams from the very beginning to end.

Thoughts about the flag didn’t just show up suddenly. It’s what the situation demanded and had become absolutely necessary. It was created in suspense over just 24 hours. On March 2, 1971, the flag was raised for the first time on Dhaka University premises at Kala Bhaban. Euphoria was in the air among the students and the public in attendance.

I joined Chhatra League in 1962. I was a college student at the time. The situation at Dhaka University was horrific. National Students Front (NSF), a pro-Pakistan militant government student organization, had caused almost all anti-government political activities to come to a halt on the Dhaka University campus. Leaders and workers of progressive student organizations weren’t feeling brave enough to carry out protests and processions. Many self-sacrificing Chhatra League leaders were regularly openly beaten up by NSF cadres.

To help us move ahead from these circumstances, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman called upon Chhatra League leader Serajul Alam Khan and asked him to search all over the country for some fearless young men. As per Bangabandhu’s demand, Seraj Bhai recruited 8-10 candidates and took them to Bangabandhu’s house. I was one of those men.

That day Bangabandhu made a short speech addressing us. We were just blown away by his look, personality, bravery and diction. Soon after, Seraj Bhai started “working” us, his recruits, whispering the message in our ears from time to time. From then on, we started to live at Iqbal Hall and slowly turned it into a Chhatra League base camp. According to plan, we eradicated NSF from Dhaka University’s campus and continued the protests and revolt uninterrupted.

In 1962, with Bangabandhu’s approval and Serajul Alam Khan’s leadership, Nucleus or Swadhin Bangla Biplobi Parishad was formed with the goal of waging an armed struggle for freedom. From its inception, Chhatra League leaders Kazi Aref Ahmed, Abdur Razzaq, Sheikh Moni and I were involved.

In 1964, Bengal Liberation Front was formed and Kazi Aref Ahmed, Abdur Razzaq, A.S.M. Abdur Rab joined the group. Under Bangabandhu’s initiative, Bangladesh Liberation Front was restructured to form the “Bangladesh Liberation Force” in 1966. Aside from Serajul Alam Khan, at this stage, Chhatra League leaders such as Kazi Aref Ahmed, Abdur Razzaq, A.S.M. Abdur Rab, Sheikh Fazlul Haque Moni, and Marshal Moni also provided leadership.

In 1970, “Joy Bangla Bahini” was formed, and I was its Deputy Commander. In 1971, during our liberation war “Mujib Bahini” was founded and I was its Dhaka City Guerilla Commander. Mostafa Mohsin Montu was a Dhaka District Commander. Sheikh Moni was our Supreme Commander.

It was the 6th of June 1970. Right after sunset, a few Chhatra League leaders crowded into Room 116 in Iqbal Hall. Present were Serajul Alam Khan, Kazi Aref Ahmed, Abdur Razzaq, A.S.M. Abdur Rab, Shajahan Siraj and Marshal Moni. Outside the room, Chhatra League leaders Chishty Helalur Rahman, Ikramul Haque, Nazrul, Shib Narayan Das and Reza Shahjahan were waiting.

Courtesy

First, a decision was made to design a flag. Everyone present expressed their views and opinions and decided the flag’s background would be Bengal’s signature colour green. In the middle would be a red circle symbolizing the sun. In the middle of the circle would be a gold-coloured map of Bangladesh. After the final decision was made, Chhatra League leader Shib Narayan Das was tasked to trace the flag’s concept on paper. To make the drawing more precise, Shib Narayan Das was then sent to room 410 of the Engineering College’s (now known as BUET) Sher-e-Bangla Hall. Chhatra League leaders Hasanul Huq Inu and Salahuddin Ahmed used to live there. They saw the tracing done by Shib Narayan Das and used it to draw the flag beautifully on plain white paper.

Shib Narayan Das brought this drawing of the flag to Serajul Alam Khan in the middle of the night. Now all that was needed was cloth and a tailor.

An extremely brave, wise, and skilled operative was needed to create the flag. Did Chhatra League have any such workers who could exceptionally execute this plan with faith and courage?

In the middle of that night, at around 2 am, Mostafa Mohsin Montu and I was waiting in Room 151 of Iqbal Hall when I was summoned to Room 116. Seraj Bhai gave me the monumental task of collecting cloth, finding a tailor, and getting the flag sewn according to the drawing.

During this period, I had to always keep in mind that I had been sentenced to 14 years of imprisonment under Martial Law and thus moved around with extreme caution. Bangabandhu had tried his best to have this prison sentence rescinded on behalf of Montu, Selim and I but failed. It’s important to mention here, in 1968, with the approval of the political leadership, Montu, Selim and I attacked four Pakistani armed soldiers in Dhaka’s New Market and took away their guns to fuel our rebellion. In our absence, we were sentenced to 14 years of imprisonment by the Martial Law court. With this 14-year sentence on my head, I struggled and fought for my country until we were liberated. My prison sentence was only thrown out of the court after we gained independence.

Anyway, that night, Seraj Bhai said to me, “I don’t know from where but get this flag made according to this drawing and bring it to me before the night ends. I trust that you’re the only one who can do this.”

As soon as I got these instructions from Seraj Bhai, I created an outline in my mind about who I could find, where, and how they could help me make this flag. With the drawing in my hand, I quickly moved along my escape route. I passed the railroad lines along with the slums of Nilkhet, towards the Home Economics College, Azimpur Colony, up and down the boundary walls of Azimpur Graveyard, to the north of New Market, towards the Kacha Bazaar/wet market. At the time there was a mosque inside New Market and another tin-shed mosque by the wet market (currently Super Market). There were a few shops next to this tin-shed mosque, one of which was owned by a non-Bengali. He was a tailor and usually slept in his shop.

I got there and knocked on his door. He asked in a loud voice, “Who is it so late at night?”

I told him who I was and then said, “Mujhe ek jhanda banana hain, darwaza kholo/I need to get a flag made, please open your door.”

The tailor responded from inside, “Jhanda to Gulistan mein milta hain, udhar jaiye/You can get flags at Gulistan, go there.”

I responded, “Mujhe alag ek jhanda chahiye, darwaza kholo/I need a different kind of flag, open your door.”

“Darwaza kholo/Open your door,” this time I hurriedly told him to open it and the consequences of what would happen if he didn’t open his door

He cracked open the door, saw me and said, “Khasru Bhai aap bahaut taqleef mein hain/you are very agitated.” I scared him with my gun and said, “Jaisa jaisa main chahunga, waisa waisa karo/Do just as I wish and say.”

At this point, I am excited and perspiring heavily, I don’t have time to waste. I showed him the drawing and said, “Mujhe aisa jhanda banana hain, abhi chahiye/I need a flag made like this, I need it right now.” Then I proceeded to look for red and green fabric among the bundles of fabric he kept in the store. But red and green cloth was nowhere to be found. The non-Bengali tailor then mentioned that I might be able to find red and green fabric at Khaleq’s Tailoring Shop, which happened to be located on the third floor of Balaka Bhaban, next to Chhatra League’s office. Khaleq’s shop’s name is “Pak Fashion Tailors.” Khalek also slept in his shop.

I instructed the non-Bengali tailor to go to Khaleq’s shop, tell him about me, make the flag there with the help of the drawing and bring it back to me. He pulled his shop’s shutters down and set off for Khaleq’s store. I sat down on a stool in front of his store and pretended to wait for him. A few moments after the non-Bengali tailor left, I climbed up to New Market’s roof in the blink of an eye, keeping my head down, I ran across the roof with my eyes on Balaka Bhaban. I was worried that the tailor might take the drawing to Pakistani soldiers and bring them straight to me. The times were such that no one could be trusted. Pakistani spies were everywhere, and I got proof of that shortly.

Crouching down from New Market’s rooftop, I could see that the lights were turned on at Pak Fashion Tailors. Within minutes, I could hear the sounds of a sewing machine running, flowing through the silence of the night. At one point, the sewing machine stops, the lights also go off at Pak Fashion Tailors. I headed back to the non-Bengali tailor’s shop and waited for him there. He arrived and said, “Lijiye Khasru Bhai, Khaleq ka pass kapra mila, woh hi banake diya/Here Khasru Bhai, found the cloth at Khaleq’s, he made it himself.”

I opened the flag to take one quick glance at it. I folded it, put it inside my t-shirt and started going towards my destination. I came to the east side of New Market by Azimpur Graveyard’s boundary wall. Towards the New Market-Nilkhet roundabout, I could see a few car headlights slowly heading towards the East Pakistan Rifles (EPR) gate. In the beginning, I thought maybe those cars were EPR but after I climbed the boundary wall, I peeked over from the other side to see Pakistani soldiers getting down from the car and quickly surrounding the area. I sensed they must have come by information about my activities from somewhere.

I almost got caught fighting for the country countless times like this, surviving by the edge of my teeth. I evaded certain death 11 times.

I grew up in Azimpur’s Nutan Paltan Line area. I knew this area by heart. Around that time, Azimpur Graveyard was a big jungle, you could hear foxes howling as the sun set. People were scared to go into the graveyard even during the day. I quickly moved through the graveyard, climbed the boundary wall into Azimpur Colony. Then, hanging like a monkey from Azimpur Colony’s boundary wall, I climbed onto the boundary wall of the Home Economics College. I climbed the wall into the College and then again I climbed the boundary wall of the Home Economics college to go towards the Nilkhet slums. Past the rail lines, climbing over Iqbal Hall’s boundary wall towards Iqbal Hall’s west gate (present-day Extension Building). I used to keep with me duplicate keys to the locks on this gate. I opened the lock and entered the Hall. To evade capture and carefully enter and exit Iqbal Hall, I used to use different routes at different times of the day and night that nobody else would know about.

During the last few hours of the night, I entered the Hall and went to Seraj Bhai. Chhatra League leaders were huddled around waiting for me with bated breath. When I handed Seraj Bhai the flag, he hugged me and said, “I know you can do it.” Everyone else also chimed in, saying, “Khasru’s name will also be written in history.”

I was honoured to be able to complete this historically important job.

The Chhatra League leaders then went on to elaborately discuss when and where this flag was going to be used.

A few days later, Seraj bhai said to me, “Come to Bangabandhu’s house with the flag.” We (Hossain, Murad, Rumi, Nazim, Bholku and I) got into a jeep, with the flag hidden on me, and we arrived at Bangabandhu’s house. We showed Bangabandhu the flag of our dreams. Seeing the flag, he was exuberant. He couldn’t hold his joy, it was infectious. Serajul Alam Khan, Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana were standing behind Bangabandhu. They greeted me with a round of applause.

Bangabandhu said to me, he would let me know when and where I would be flying this flag out in the open but I had to keep it hidden for now. We brought the flag back to Iqbal Hall with us.

On the 1st of March 1971, when Yahya Khan announced the postponement of the National Assembly session, the people of Dhaka were enraged. That evening, following Bangabandhu’s orders, Swadhin Bangla Chhatra Sangram Parishad was born. It was Swadhin Bangla Chhatra Sangram Parishad’s decision to call a hartal the very next day, on the 2nd of March.

A protest session was held by Swadhin Bangla Chhatra Sangram Parishad at the Bot Tola of Kala Bhavan on the evening of that day. Following Seraj Bhai’s instructions, Chhatra League leader Jahid Hossain tied the flag at the end of a bamboo stick and took it on a procession from Iqbal Hall to Kala Bhavan’s Bot Tola.

Rab Bhai raised Joy Bangla Bahini’s flag with his hands that day and waved it left and right from Kala Bhaban’s garage roof, eventually tying it there. The huge crowd present there clapped their hands to welcome our new flag.

We had finally crossed the first mile towards our path to independence. We kept crossing mile markers like this, one after another, making our way towards our ultimate victory.

 

Rohena Alam Khan is the daughter of freedom fighter, BLF Member and Dhaka City Guerilla Commander during 1971, Quamrul Alam Khan Khasru

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