The story of Salam Sikder and his loyalty to the Bangladesh flag
Liberation War veteran Salam Sikder, born in a poor peasant family, left home in early 1971. He told his wife that henceforth, she must take care of their two children.
When filmmaker Kawsar Chowdhury met him in 1997 at Gollamari in Khulna, his eyes were glowing with pride, instilled with the glory of the Liberation War. He was in his early thirties when he joined the Mukti Bahini guerrillas. He and his combatants operated stealthily for months in Khulna and Bagerhat region under Sector 9, commanded by Major Jalil.
The ragtag foot soldiers survived on bare food ration but were defiant against marauding forces. Their objective was one -- to liberate the motherland from the brutal occupation of Pakistan. Salam did not remember how many hit and run operations they conducted in Dacope, Batiaghata, Gollamari, Rampal, and adjoining areas.
On December 16, 1971, heads held high, Salam along with a small unit of foot soldiers, marched into war-ravaged Khulna city. Several dead bodies were strewn all over the city. The flow of the Gollamari canal, a tributary of river Moyur, was blocked by countless corpses in the waterway.
On December 16, in a simple ceremony, the flag of independent Bangladesh was hoisted at a small field on the back of the Gollamari canal. Quickly a flag-stand made of a bamboo pole was erected. A flag was tied to a rope. Who would take the privilege to hoist the flag?
Commander Kamruzzaman Tuku asked Salam Sikder to hoist the flag. He began to cry and said that he was not the right choice when there were other valiant guerrilla fighters.
Finally, all hands joined to raise the flag. It was also decided to build a martyr’s memorial at the same site. The Mukti Bahini commander and others decided that the caretaker would be Salam Sikder and he would hoist the flag at dawn and lower at dusk.
The story does not end here. Till the last day of his life, he raised the flag and lowered it, as demanded by the commander.
He took the honorary job seriously. He lived in a dilapidated thatched house adjacent to the martyr’s memorial. Not a single day, till 1997, had Salam taken a day off. When he did visit neighbours and relatives, he quickly returned before evening to lower the flag.
He never requested his family members to wash the flag. The flag was washed with care as if he was bathing an infant. He lamented that his son often asked why he had spent his entire life for a flag and never took care of the family. He explained that when he left their mother with two sons, he could have been killed in the battlefront.
He appealed to them to seek blessings from the Almighty that their father was alive and said: “I have been born for the flag and I will die for the flag.”
The award-winning Liberation War documentary filmmaker Kawsar Chowdhury in 2004 visited the martyr’s memorial and also met the warrior in fragile health. A brain stroke left him physically challenged and with memory loss.
The following year, the loyal flag caretaker Salam Sikder died -- unfortunately unrecognized for his contribution.
Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be reached at [email protected]; Twitter @saleemsamad.