It is a true story that I am going to tell you now. The other day I saw him after so many years. His full name is Syed Shahidul Haque Mama.
He was a valiant freedom fighter of 1971. His other identity is that he was a strong prosecution witness in the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) case against Abdul Quader Molla, the “Butcher of Mirpur.”
He is my friend. We studied together in the Department of History at the University of Dhaka from 1972 - 1976. A freedom fighter is honoured because he fights for a noble cause, which is the freedom of the motherland. He was a freedom fighter, a true hero who risked his life.
The people of Bangladesh fought a glorious war of independence in 1971.
They fought for nine months and defeated the well-trained Pakistani forces. Bangladesh became a free country. Many freedom fighters sacrificed their lives in service of our nation.
We owe our freedom to these noble freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives for the cause of the motherland. Mama, the great freedom fighter, is one of them. Mama was greatly inspired by the speech of Bangabandhu, which drove him to become a freedom fighter. His valour still echoes in Mirpur. His determination, many say, knew no bounds. He was a great hero who gave new life to our war in the Mirpur area in 1971.
Mama recounts the liberation day of Mirpur on January 31, 1972, in which he actively took part. He said: “This was also a great victory for us, since we fought against the last remnant of enemy. For us, that day was a day of celebration because with our own eyes we had seen the enemy crushed. We had seen the enemy frozen with fear and, surrendering.”
What could I really say of a gentleman like Mama? He is a man of the utmost civility, and authenticity, who lived self-exiled in Sweden for many years. When the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) in Bangladesh was set up in 2009 to investigate and prosecute suspects for the genocide committed in 1971 by the Pakistan Army and their local collaborators, Razakars, al-Badr and al-Shams during the Bangladesh Liberation War, he could not remain silent and stay back in Sweden.
His conscience gave him a jolt. He came back to his beloved motherland only to give testimony against the “Butcher of Mirpur.” He gave detailed but true revelations in the ICT, so that the tribunal could give the verdict of capital punishment to Abdul Quader Molla, the war criminal. We should salute him for his fearlessness, and for speaking up.
All those who worked with Mama during the war noted his humility, his charm, his deep concern for other fighters, and his incorruptibility. He refused to enjoy the privileges that his reputation might have earned him, and he ate, slept and trained in the company of his comrades.
I believe he can give us more information and more vivid pictures of our Liberation War. I have talked with many people of younger generation about his interviews on different TV channels, and everyone has shown tremendous interest in learning more from him about our supreme sacrifices, the extent of the atrocities committed by the brutal Pakistan Army, and their ugly and barbarous cohort Jamaat-e-Islami and their killing squads, al-Badr and al-Shams.
He is a special kind of hero who fights with nothing more than ideas and the truth. He slays falsehoods with truth. He fights bad ideas with good ones. He wants to fight despair with hope, fear with courage, anger with reason, arrogance with humility, ignorance with knowledge, intolerance with forbearance, oppression with perseverance, doubt with trust, and cruelty with compassion. Above all, he speaks truth about those who abuse, misuse, overuse and are corrupted by power.
When speaking of my great friend Mama, I could be accused of exaggerating his virtues, and his contributions to the war of independence, and overstating his importance to the cause of truth.
Perhaps I am biased, because I hold this great man in such high respect. If I am guilty of bias, it is because it seems that in Bangladesh, people have stopped making genuine heroes like Shahidul Haque Mama.