Age should not be a factor for someone to be considered a freedom fighter
The nation that we have today is because of the language movement and the bloodshed of innumerable freedom fighters. And now it is high time we respect our martyrs and honour those who are alive. In 2014, the government issued a circular fixing the minimum age of a freedom fighter at 13 years of age as of March 26, 1971. Later, in January 2018, the government re-fixed the minimum age of the freedom fighter at 12 years and six months as of November 30, 1971.
On May 19, the High Court Bench of Justice Sheikh Hassan Arif and Justice Razik-Al-Jalil declared the government circulars and gazette notifications fixing the minimum age of freedom fighters at 12-and-a-half years to be illegal. The court stated that the circulars, gazette notifications, and section 2 sub-section 11 of the Freedom Fighter’s Welfare Trust Act regarding the freedom fighters’ age are contradictory to the constitution and illegal.
The court also directed the government to give honorariums to freedom fighters who were not paid their allowances due to the age row within 60 days. The 60 days would be counted from the day of receiving the copy of the verdict from the authorities concerned. The verdict was delivered after hearing 15 separate writ petitions filed by several freedom fighters challenging the legality of the circulars and gazette notifications. One of the writ petitioners was Bir Protik Shahidul Islam Lalu.
He fought in the Liberation War at the age of 10 and was awarded Bir Protik by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Mahmud Hassan, another writ petitioner, joined the government service on the freedom fighter quota. As a result, he is supposed to work till 60 years. However, he was 12 years, four months, and 12 days old on November 30, 1971.
Therefore, due to the fixing of the minimum age required to be eligible to be a freedom fighter, Mahmud is being deprived of the chance. According to many freedom fighters, the gazette notifications are against the spirit of the Liberation War.
The government has so far changed the definition of “freedom fighter” and its list a number of times since the country’s independence. The HC also said during its verdict that the definition of freedom fighter was determined by the President’s Order 94 of 1972. It can be only be changed by the parliament, not by any circular or gazette. The President’s Order 94 of 1972 does not allow the government to fix or re-fix the age of the freedom fighters.
As per the constitution and Bangabandhu’s speeches, Bangabandhu summoned everyone to take part in the Liberation War regardless of their age, religion, and caste. There was no provision of age there. Moreover, the court observed that no country in the world has set an age limit to determine its freedom fighters.
This is because passion and patriotism count most in liberation wars. Love for one’s country cannot be determined by age. Children hardly aged seven or eight took part in World War II.
The freedom fighters and non-freedom fighters are to be specified through historical documents. The freedom fighters should not be specified by age as the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman did not limit the age of freedom fighters.
The constitution does not specify the age of freedom fighters as a factor. Therefore, the government cannot limit the age of freedom fighters. We respect and salute the sacrifices of the freedom fighters and hope we can live up to their expectations of building a better Bangladesh for tomorrow.
Sabrina Zarin, is an advocate of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh.