Through my eyes… the birth of Bangladesh by Abhijit Dasgupta
Kolkata, 25 March 2021: Exactly fifty-years ago, on March 25, 1971, the Pakistan Army launches ‘Operation Searchlight’. Baluch Regiment within Peelkhana attack Bangali EPR soldiers, 32 Punjab Regiment attacks Rajarbagh Police Lines, elite troops from 18 to 32 Punjab Regiment attack Sergeant Zohuru Haq Hall, Jagannath Hall and Liaquat Hall of Dacca University.., all students’ dorms.
Professor Jyotirmoy Guhathakura and Professor Govinda Chandra Dev, the former and current provosts, are also murdered at their apartments on Secretariat Road.
Dacca shudders as mortar shells are fired and tanks roar down civilian areas.
Commandos attack Sheikh Mujib’s house and arrest the leader of Awami League which had just won an overwhelming majority in the democratically held elections.
The genocide of Bengalis has begun. Ruthlessly the Pak Army slaughter unarmed students and civilians.
It results in the death of an estimated three-million men, women and children; over two-hundred thousand women violated by the Pakistani marauders; and over ten million refugees… 25th of March is genocide day!
Emotionally surcharged, the two Bengals react fiercely… one physically hurt, the other sentimentally aggrieved.
After that midnight massacre on 25th March 1971, the clarion call comes… Some news trickles in, reporting atrocities in East Pakistan.
I am a young photo journalist. I am very keen on finding out what is really happening on the other side of the border.
I hear Bangladesh Mukti Fauz has almost taken control of the town of Jessore across the border.
It is 3 days after the dreadful carnage when I sneak across. After walking for nearly an hour inside East Pakistan the first Bangladeshi flag is seen flying from a trench. It is different from what we now see. The MUKTI Fauz raise their rifles. I take the very first pictures immediately after the dreadful firing on the 25th March night.
My photographs are the firsts to get published. This is the beginning.
Thereafter, it becomes a habit of sneaking across the border, and, invariably; I return with telling photographs. Gamma Presse Images in Paris is my distributor. All my photo slides go there for worldwide distribution. My write-ups get published in the USA, Japan, Spain, Sweden, and Holland. When Gamma closes in Paris, my 35mm slides get lost forever. I only have some black & white brittle negatives today. My sneaking across the border begins with Jessore.
In my around ten such clandestine trips, I cover Khulna, Rajshahi, Natore, Kustia Pabna and then Dhaka.
Thousands cross the border daily is search of refuge. Without hope, in complete despair, fleeing for their lives… they are a warning to humanity of what cruelty of a rogue can be. The only thing I can do is to write about the atrocities taking place and with photographs depict the misery of the people and of the apathy of the world beyond. I think of bringing out a booklet. It will have my photographs and I collect write-ups from many eminent persons. Mrinal Sen, Buddhadeb Guha,
Ramapada Chowdhury, Barun Haldar, Sadhan Banerjee, Jiten Sen, Mihir Sen write. My booklet has to be small enough to be smuggled across to West Pakistan to reach and stir the conscience of the people of Pakistan. From my Asian Rally connections in 1970, I send the booklets to Colombo from where they go to a friend living in Karachi. EXODUS 1971 AD the first edition is published and more than 500 copies are smuggled in to Pakistan.
The booklets in envelopes are innocently left behind in libraries, clubs, post offices, and educational institutions. I get commendation letters from Satyajit Ray, Jyoti Basu, Khushwant Singh, and many others.
50 years… time to share at least my Black & White photographs. It has photographs of my endeavours with the Mukti Bahini culminating in having breakfast with the then Prime Minister and meeting all of Bangabandhu’s family. Sheikh Kamal, Bangabandhu’s eldest son takes me around in his jeep. Sheikh Hasina is a young lady then. And I get to see Bangabandhu’s house. The house looks as if a tornado has hit it… It bears signs of vandalism by men gone berserk. All glass panes are broken, walls pock-marked with bullet holes, smashed furniture, pictures were torn to shreds scattered on the floor, electrical fittings ripped out, bathroom pipes wrenched out of the walls, taps missing…