Md Shahjahan Mia, the then constable of Rajarbagh Police Line Control Room, was serving as the wireless operator of Rajarbagh wireless base station on the black night of March 25, 1971, when the first shots of the conflict were fired.
The air was heavy with fears of an impending attack by the Pakistani Army.
With disregard to his own safety, Shahjahan Mia decided to deliver a crucial message to police stations across the then East Pakistan, thereby saving the lives of countless people.
“Around 8pm that night, I met the son of the then Awami League president Gazi Golam Mostafa,” Shahjahan said.
“He alerted me that the Pakistani Army was mobilizing at the cantonment and could launch an attack on Dhaka that night. Bangabandhu was calling upon everyone to make preparations.
“As soon as I heard the news, I rushed to the dormitory and shared the information with my colleagues.”
‘We felt the need to arm ourselves’
Shahjahan said it was around 9:30pm when he and his fellow policemen rushed to the Rajarbagh Police Line.
“As we discussed the matter, we felt the need to arm ourselves,” he said. “Reserve Inspector Mofiz Uddin was in charge of the armoury at that time, but he refused to give us the key so we took it by force.
“We armed ourselves with the weapons from the Rajarbagh police armoury. Around 300 people were in possession of firearms. We divided ourselves into two groups.
Shahjahan said one of the groups took up position in Shahidbagh, Malibagh, Moghbazar and Pak Motor (now Bangla Motor) areas. The other group positioned itself in Chamelibagh, Shantinagar, Bailey Road and at the Intercontinental Hotel, site of the present day Ruposhi Bangla Hotel.
Shahjahan, however, had a change of mind. Instead of taking up position with the others, he rushed with one other policeman towards the wireless base station in Rajarbagh.
“Around 10:10pm that night, we received a message from a police patrol team positioned in Tejgaon Industrial Area,” he said.
“The message said: ‘Charly seven for base. About 35 to 37 trucks loaded with Pak army are proceeding towards Dhaka city from the cantonment. Over.”
The message left no doubt in Shahjahan’s mind about what was going to happen.
He continued: “A constable sounded the base alarm around 10:20pm, and everyone came running. The main armoury was already empty, so, the policemen broke the lock to the reserve armoury and armed themselves.
“The policemen took up positions around the base. The flag of the independent Bangladesh was flown, and everyone saluted it.”
Bangali policemen took up positions on the roof of Don School (now Eastern Plus Market). There were also barricades erected by the policemen at key points on the roads.
‘Bangali police fired the first shot’
Shahjahan recalled that at around 11:30pm, a Pakistan Army vehicle stopped in front of a barricade in Chamelibagh. A few army men left their vehicle to clear the road.
The first bullet for the freedom of Bangladesh was fired from the roof of the then Don School by a policeman. Two Pak Army men died on the scene, and a few were left injured.
Rajarbagh Police Line was one of the major targets of the Pakistan Army during the March 25 attack. It also saw the first armed struggle of the Bangali people against the Pakistani military junta.
The Pakistani Army used SLR (Self Loading Rifle), LMG (Light Machine Guns) and mortars against the Bangali police.
The police defended themselves with .303 British Rifles, and successfully held off the first wave of attack.
“The wireless base station became deserted shortly after the fighting started,” Shahjahan said. “There was no electricity. I tried to start a generator, but failed.”
Shahjahan’s initial response was to pick up his .303 rifle and start preparing for the battle that was raging outside. But then he remembered the rousing words of Bangabandhu.
“He told us to fight the enemy with whatever we can muster,” he said.
“I had a big weapon with me: my wireless set. I thought to myself, if I fight, I could save my own life. But, if I can send an alert to all police stations and units posted across the country, I can save a lot of people.
“I could send messages to the whole of East Pakistan with it. I could alert the people that the Pak Army had begun their attack, and that we had mounted a defence and started our fight against the enemy.
“So, I changed my mind, and sent a crucial message to all stations from my wireless set.”
Shahjahan’s message travelled through the airwaves that night at around 11:55pm.
It said: “Base for all stations of East Pakistan Police. Very, very important message for you. Keep note. Keep listening, watch. We are already being attacked by the Pak army. Try to save yourself. Over and out.”
Shahjahan could not stay at the wireless station after sending the message a few times. He and his fellow operator, Munir, went to the roof of the administration building, and joined 40 to 50 policemen already holding defensive positions there.
Pakistan Army’s revenge on Rajarbagh Police Line
During the initial phase, the Pakistani Army could not advance. Later they brought in a tank and destroyed the main gate of Rajarbagh Police Line.
The Pakistan Army then massacred many policemen inside the base. They also used gunpowder to torch Provincial Reserve Forces’ barracks.
As the flames reached the sky, the police line became an inferno.
The Pakistan Army detained and tortured hundreds of Bangali policemen after the destruction of the police base.
Many policemen were released on March 28 under condition, and were ordered to report at the Mill Barrack Police line in Gendaria area the following day.
As Shahjahan journeyed to Mill Barrack, he witnessed thousands of bodies belonging to civilians, including women and children, on the roadside. They had been murdered by the Pakistan Army.
The sheer brutality of the military junta deeply affected Shahjahan.
The police officials in Mill Barrack were unable to provide any directive to the recently released policemen. So, Shahjahan left Dhaka for his home in Durgapur area of Netrokona [then greater Mymensingh] on March 30.
Fighting for freedom
Shajahan took a brief moment to be with his family. Soon after, Shahjahan and two of his brothers left Bangladesh for India to train in guerrilla warfare for a few weeks.
He returned to his homeland and participated in the Liberation War of Bangladesh in the 11th sector as a freedom fighter.
Shahjahan engaged enemy forces in Dharamapasha, Kalmakanda, Durgapur and Haluaghat.
After the Pakistani forces were defeated, Shahjahan Mia surrendered his weapons at the then East Pakistan Rifles Headquarters in Mymensingh.
He rejoined the police force as a sub-inspector on December 23, 1971.
Shahjahan received numerous accolades, including from the Home Ministry and the University of Dhaka.
In the twilight of his life, he has only one dream. Shahjahan wants the government to award him and many others the honour of freedom fighters with titles for participating in the battle of Rajarbagh Police Line.