I was in Jagannath Hall: Kaliranjan Sheel

শিশিরকণা's picture
Submitted by himika64 on Thu, 06/09/2012 - 1:51am

About an year ago a few of us decided to take on a project on translating literature in Bangla on Muktijuddha to English, so it can reach a wider audience across the globe. The first book that was chosen for this project was " ১৯৭১ঃ ভয়াবহ অভিজ্ঞতা" edidet by Rasheed Haider. It records the first hand accounts of witnesses in their own writings. Here is the first one of those accounts listed in the book. I present it here for your feedback on the translation work, spelling suggestions and any other suggestion you may have to improve upon the work. The original text in Bangla can be found here.

I was in Jagannath Hall

Kaliranjan Sheel

Political activist, Bangladesh Communist party, Dhaka

‘Am I really alive!? Those with me, with whom I had shared a room many a days, just a few days ago we picked up those dead bodies in the morning, dragged them into one place.. all of them.. dead.. but I am alive... how is that possible?’ For days I had this thought. I pinched myself to check if I was really alive. What happened on that dreadful dark night of 25th March, 1971, in Dhaka city or Dhaka University, Jagannath hall in particular, makes me shiver till this day. The crazy game the barbaric monsters of Pak Army played with the unarmed students and respected teachers of Dhaka University, it is not possible for me to write it down, words cannot do justice to such brutality. The political arena was buzzing since the beginning of february. The way the Bangalis celebrated the 21st of february revealed their becoming of a nation. I have never seen the Bangali act so iron fisted for its mother tongue or for its independence.

Student Union started training for preparation of war with dummy rifles. It was all happening on the onset of stalling the national assembly on the 1st of march, starting with the non-cooperation movement, Bangabandhu’s declaration on 7th march “ This fight is for freedom, this fight is for independence” and month long protest, riots and procession. How to fight against the enemy, how to survive under attack, these were the things that were taught in those trainings. I was also a part of the group that was training. Within a few days the training was complete for the first batch and with three groups of female students we marched past on the street. After that the trained ones started training the students coming from different parts of Dhaka. With rifle training the student leaders also used to explain to us why we would be fighting. What we are fighting for, what is our goal.
After 7th March, number student on the regular Halls of DHaka university starts to fall. On 25th march, Thursday morning, we had a regular training session on gymnesium ground followed by motivational talk at the auditorium that went past noon. In the afternoon we took out a procession from the Shahid Minar ( Martyr’s Monument). After the meeting we all gathered at the canteen of Science Annex building. At that brother Nurul Islam, president of the student union came and informed us,” situation is not very well”. He told us to be careful and to gather at Shahid Minar the next day, 26th of march at six thirty in the morning.

I was a little late returning to Hall. I used to stay in the south house of Jagannath hall, room number 235. I fell asleep right after dinner. I woke up at a loud noise near my ear. As soon as I was fully conscious I heard rat-tat-tat-tat sound everywhere, unless a sky-splitting vroom-vroom sound was heard louder than that. All the buildings were shaken at this sound. I have never heard such sound of bombing or shooting. I got startled being in such a situation for the first time in my life. I could not think what to do. First I thought of Sushil. Sushil was the sub-editor of our cabinet. I later came to know when the shooting started he went to the main building and that is where Pak army killed him. Sushil came back to the hall even later than me that night. He used to stay on the third floor, in the room next to the south side stairs. After I came out of the room, the sounds grew louder. With sound, there were sparks of fire covering the sky. I crawled behind the low walls of the verandah towards the south stairs and climbed up the stair to the third floor. When I went close to Sushil’s room- I saw there was light but it was locked from outside. Somebody heard my footstep and someone called out in a very low voice, “who is it?”. When i responded they told me to climb to the roof of the building. A few students have already gathered there to take cover. But I didn’t stay with them. I decided to stay by myself like a selfish. So I started crawling from there towards the north corner of the building. I left my flip-flops on the way, so there is no sound of me moving. I was crawling very low behind the wall so I could avoid the direct path of the bullets. When I reached close to the bathroom-toilet in the north corner I saw an electric heater in laying there in the way. It was connected to a wall-outlet of a room next to me. Maybe it was not turned on then. But I didn’t take any chance and carefully avoided it to go into the toilet. It’s location is such that I could see the north-east and west clearly. I stared at the north side and found the whole building, field, roads and everything on the west it utter darkness. But I could still see that the military was searching out the boys from each room with torch lights and then taking them to the Shahid Minar to shoot them dead. Their dying screams and the sound of the bullet was shattering the skies. If anyone was trying to run, they were shot right there. It sounds like a scene from a nightmare but that is exactly what was happening right there. Sometimes the Pak Army was firing heavy cannons at the buildings. Some rooms were set on fire. At one point I noticed the tin-shed houses in front of the assembly were burning down. Some of the room on the north house were on fire as well. Somehow they were putting the rooms on second and third floor on fire by shooting something through the windows. I heard a few strange sounding shots in between and saw a balloon like fireball coming down from the sky. Some of them were green, some red. In the light of those fireballs everything could be seen as clear as daylight. In that light I saw that there were hundreds of military on field of north house. They were shooting at the Halls with heavy machine-guns without a care and firing heavy cannons. In some of the roads I saw rally of army jeeps scouting with their headlights turned off, stopping and going again. Maybe they were checking if everything was going on fine or not, making sure the destruction and killing went on smoothly.

Suddenly I saw 40/50 military came from the direction of Salimullah hall towards the south house and broke into the dining hall. They turned on the light in the dining room and started shooting randomly. I could also hear sound of breaking things. Some people screamed with their last breath and died. At one point they come out with the doorman of south house, Priyonath with a machine gun pointed at him. They forced him to open the main gate to the hall and entered. Then I could not see them any more. But all I could hear was gun shots, wrecking and dying screams of the students. When I saw them entering the building I slid out through the window of the latrine and lied down on the cornice of the third floor. There were a few Sal trees next to it. One branch of a sal tree was hanging very close to the cornice. I thought for once I would climb the tree. Then thought better of it and drag myself on my back towards the corner of the cornice and lied there breathless. They climbed from first floor to second, then to third floor, I could feel. I heard a few gunshots very close to where I was. Someone right on the opposite side of the wall next to my head was moaning. All I was thinking they are gonna see me any moment and drag me out to shoot me dead. But then I realized they did not see me. They went down by the stairs and called for somebody named “Farid”. A soldier responded and ran down. I waited a long time on the cornice. When I felt there were no more military left on the building, I again dragged myself on my back to the window I slid out through. On one hand there was the risk of rolling out and falling from the cornice, on the other hand there was the military. At last I returned to the latrine with great caution. From there I could see the road on the west, salimullah hall, north house and some part of the east corner. I was watching the havoc created by the military and counting minutes when they will come and get me to shoot me dead.

At one point I saw fire burning in the Salimullah hall. Sometimes the north and west sky was becoming red. I figured they were setting fire somewhere over there. Houses were burning, shops were burning along the with people in those buildings. The rat-tat-tat and boom-boom sound I heard right after I woke up hasn’t stopped for a second in all this time. Many times in between gunshots I heard the dying-screams of several voices. For the whole night the massacre continued.

At a time and direction unknown to me I heard the call for prayer. Few other calls for prayer from different directions could be heard almost immediately following the first one. The call for prayer never sounded so appropriate. For a while the shooting stopped. But only for a second before it resumed in full force. Around dawn an announcement on the mike declared curfew. I thought maybe this will stop the unnecessary killing. But as soon as sunlight filled the earth, one could see that the military was dragging out those in the hiding and shooting them dead. I dug my head in latrine so they wouldn’t see me, occasionally peeking to see what’s going on.
The day rolled on. The military were roaming around the north building and adjoining roads but less in number than the night. I heard voices in a balcony near me. When I was confident that it is the students who were talking I stepped out the latrine door only to find a military pointing a machine gun at me while a few student carry a corpse downstairs. It was the body of the fellow they killed last night on the other side of the wall where I was laying down. It was none but our favorite doorkeeper, a loyal old friend, Pryionath-da. They forced him to show around all the nooks and crevices of the building before they killed him on the roof. Obviously I could not escape them this time. The students hinted me to lift the corpse. We carried his body down from the 2nd floor to 1st floor, from there to the ground floor and then through the south side broken gate to the north side of the bank ( where Sudhir’s cantin used to be, was National bank of Pakistan at that time). A few other bodies from different rooms were piled up there. After a while the Pak soldiers ordered us to sit.Us, means me and a few students, few gardeners, a few launderers, Shankar and his elder brother-two sons of gatekeeper Goyanath and the remaining sweeper folks. We were sitting around the pile of bodies. Sweepers who spoke the same language as the Pak military were requesting them to set them free. Their argument, that they are Bangali and therefore innocent. I don't know if the Military bought it, but they were separated from us. One military guided them through the east side of the laundry, by the Tennis court to the North building field. We thought they would be set free.

Then they ordered us to move the corpses. At Least two military were guarding us from both sides when two of us were carrying the bodies one by one. We took the corpses past the east side gate using the road in front of the assembly. There was a huge tree next to the south side of the gate where we started piling up the bodies. Once we were done moving all the dead bodies we were allowed to rest under the tree. One of the military guards shared cigarettes with everyone and started smoking. Most of us were either sitting or lying down under the tree. I was lying on the root of the tree. Shankar’s elder brother was hugging one military’s feet and begging him to spare his life and to let him go. This annoyed the military as he stomped and kicked him 8-10 times to get him off his leg. All the other militaries under the tree were then cursing and bitching us in language that cannot be written in words. I couldn’t understand all that they were saying, but as much as I could make out of there curse-words was something like, “ You S.O.B, You are gonna free Bangladesh. Come on, lets hear you shout out, “ Joy Bangla”, Will see how Sheikh Mujib frees bangladesh”. and many more unmentionable swear words. Around this time a rally of cars came around from the Racecourse ground and stopped near us. One of the militaries guarding us walked to the front jeep and he was given some orders as i could guess.

Then we were split into a few groups. Each group were taken in their own directions. The group that I was with were taken to the building where Dr. GuhaThakurta used to stay. When we approached the stairs we saw a lot of dead bodies. It was apparent they were brought near the stairs before they were shot dead. I remember one dead body wearing white Panjabi-pajama, a prayer cap and a young face. We were made to walk past the bodies to climb to fourth floor. They were searching each room to see if there were any living souls remaining. They were also looking into the box, suitcases, lockers to find valuables. They couldn’t enter a room on the fourth floor as it was locked from inside. They broke into the room but it was empty except for scattered beddings and clothes. One of us were told to go to the roof and bring down the black flag and the new bangladesh flag. When the flags were brought down, one military took it from us. We were ordered to go down and move the bodies on the stairs next to the previous pile on the street, under the tree. Then we were taken to the two-storied house in front of that building ( It used the be housing for the provost of S.M . Hall). The front door was locked and couldn’t be broken down after significant effort. So we entered the house from the backdoor. Near the back door there was a dripping water tap. I was dying from thirst so I requested permission to drink. But this infuriated the military as they started yelling and cursing again, saying things like, “I’ll pee on your face, that’ll quench your thirst”. We searched all the rooms of the house upstairs and downstairs. There were no more bodies. There was nothing but scattered clothes, suitcase, box, uninstalled fan etc. The militaries searched and took all the valuables they could get their hands on. They couldn’t find a way to take down the flag flying on the roof of that house though they made serious effort to reach it from the patio roof. We were again gathered near the pile of bodies. There a military started a fire on the flags collected so far.

We were told to carry the bodies again and head north. When we came close to Shib Bari we saw that 7-8 militaries pointing a mortar gun at the house of professor Govinda Dev and two military personnel were carrying out sewing machine and other loots from the house. We were told to carry the bodies through the collapsed wall of Jagannath Hall in front of the Shahid Minar facing the North House ( Uttar Bari). There were already a huge pile of dead bodies there. While 2-3 of us were carrying one body at a time a lot of military trucks were standing on the side of the roads in full war artillery. We were even afraid to rest for a moment as the military would charge at us threatening to open fire. All of us that were still alive were huddling together as we moved about.

I don’t remember how many bodies we had carried, but I remember the last body that we carried was of gatekeeper Shunil. The body as still warm. Maybe it was because he died just a little ago or because it was lying under the sun. When we were halfway towards the field from the road we heard a scream coming from the slum. Some of the slum women were trying to run towards us and the military were trying to shoo them away with charging machine guns. When I searched for the reason of this chaos, I saw the military were firing at the sweepers that were summoned from the slums earlier to clear the bodies, and the slum womens were crying out loud and trying to run and save their men. I realized that we were next to go. The other group of people that were carrying the bodies were already lined up before the firing range. One of them was reciting out loud ayahs ( prose) from the holy Quran. I got a chance to know him briefly when we were sitting in front of the bank. He was from Kishoreganj, studying in Jagannath college. He came to visit his friend and was staying the night in the hall. The guns fired. The Quran recital stopped abruptly and everything was quiet.

Two of us were carrying Shunil’s body to the west, where we found the body of Dr. Dev,wearing nothing but a dhuti, his topless body was badly mutilated with his head facing west. At this sight the other boy who was with me said, “They’ve killed even Dr. Dev. Then what left there to fear in death?” I don’t know what I was thinking but I dropped Shunil’s dead body and laid down beside Dr. Dev’s body right there. I was too tired to stand to face the imminent death. I closed my eyes and so many thoughts raced through my mind, but all the time I was anticipating that any moment they will kick me up and put a bullet through me. At one point I started to wonder maybe they have already killed me and I just didn’t feel it. I was not in a state to feel anything at the point. I had lost all senses of being. I cannot tell how much time had passed in this stage. I became aware at the sound of women and children crying near my head. Opening my eyes I found the wives and children of the sweepers, gatekeepers and gardeners wailing over the bodies of their husbands, fathers and brothers. I saw Dulal, youngest son of Goyanath hugging the body of his brother Shankar and crying his heart out. Some of them still had some breaths left in their body and they were begging for water. Some were giving them water. I saw one wounded person crawling past the Shahid Minar dragging himself. I carefully raised my head to look around and found the military trucks were gone. I ducked my head among the grieving women and children and went inside the slum. I first entered the room of electric worker Chitbali. He was not home. His wife was trembling by herself. When I asked for some water she pointed to a pot meaning to help myself. I drank some water and thought of hiding behind the pile of dried cow dung piled at the corner of the room. Sensing my intention the woman started screaming in fear, so I had to leave and hid in the latrine ( toilet) at the west end of the slum.

I could still hear the sound of firing coming from Rajarbagh. Each one of the sound was bloodcurdling. Maybe they were firing tanks. I saw two fighter planes flying over. I spent a long time hiding there when someone knocked at the toilets door. I thought this is the end, it must be the military. When I didn’t open the door, the person said, “ Babu, don’t be afraid, This is Ibu”. Ibu ran a used bookstore on the other side of the road. He said, “ I came to take the women to Mitford hospital, when I heard you are also here, I came to get you too.” First I didn’t want to go. I couldn’t figure out what was the right thing to do. He reassured, “ The streets are clear now. No more military.” So I started with him in my blood drenched clothes through the streets. We were near Bakshibajar, but I still didn’t see any more military trucks, but I saw the burnt and demolished slums on both sides of the railroad. One or two women were trying to salvage what was left of their belongings after the destruction. I saw a couple of folks doing Oju, washing themselves for Friday’s Jummah prayer near a mosque.

Ibu took me past the jail to the banks of Buriganga. I saw many people crossing the river fleeing to the other side. A boatman gave me a free ride upon asking. As soon as I stepped foot on the other side everyone surrounded me asking about what had happened on the opposite bank of the river. Many were terrified to see the blood, now dried all over my clothes and body. The day was nearly gone and I was still describing to the crowd the genocide that I had just witnessed, when someone spotted me and yelled, “ Is that you Kali da?” Upon looking I found Sunirmal Chowdhury, an ex resident at the hall from Sylhet. I described him the whole story. He treated me to tea & Singara at a nearby restaurant. Then he took me to Shimulia, where he was then working. From their I first went to NawabGanj and then around mid april Reached my village Dhamura in Barisal.

On that grisly night of 25th march, the brutal Pak army killed the professors, students, gatekeepers, peon, gardeners, sweepers and anyone in the Dhaka university including Jagannath Hall without any consideration in a such a barbaric way that cannot even be imagined in this age. The new generation cannot even think how much blood was shed, how many lives were lost and sacrifices been made for this flag, for our independence. No nation in this world has shed this much blood for their independence.

Note: This is a verbatim translation with the original speech maintained as much as possible.This is published under the fair use copyright policy. If someone could help me communicate with the editor Rashid Haider or the publisher Mafidul Haq to obtain their permission, it would be highly appreciated. Please email at amihimi at gmail dot com to contact me.


এস এম মাহবুব মুর্শেদ's picture

I will try to make some suggestion. Please take it easy or feel free to reject.

‘Am I really alive!? Just a few days ago we picked up the dead bodies of those cell mates, with whom I had shared a room for many days and dragged the bodies into one place.. All of them.. dead.. but I am still alive... How is it possible?’ This thought haunted me for days. I pinched myself to check if I am really alive. What happened on that dreadful dark night of 25th March, 1971, in Dhaka city or Dhaka University, Jagannath hall in particular, makes me shiver till this day. It is not possible for me to describe the crazy game the barbaric monsters of Pak Army played with the unarmed students and respected teachers of Dhaka University. Words cannot do justice to such brutality. The political arena was buzzing since the beginning of february. The way the Bangali celebrated the 21st of february revealed it's determination to become a new nation. I never saw the Bengali act so iron fisted for it's mother tongue or the independence.

IMHO, the Bengali is a nation and should be treated singular.

শিশিরকণা's picture

I agree, it should be either "the bangali" and singular or Bangalis with plural. Edited to include your suggestion.

~!~ আমি তাকদুম তাকদুম বাজাই বাংলাদেশের ঢোল ~!~

উচ্ছলা's picture

PERFECT – in my view. Perfection hits right on “five star” level.

শিশিরকণা's picture

Ucchola- Please check the grammar and spelling. Please suggest more adjectives that can describe The Pak bahini. Feeling the lack of adjectives that properly reflects the severity of the brutality.

~!~ আমি তাকদুম তাকদুম বাজাই বাংলাদেশের ঢোল ~!~

উচ্ছলা's picture

Allow me 48 hours. Will inbox you what you’ve asked for.
Thanks again for this great piece.

ফারুক হাসান's picture

this is excellent! Hats off!

M.  Emad's picture


About a half-century has passed since Pakistan Army opened the hell-gates during their ‘Operation Searchlight’ Genocide in Dacca (Dhaka) city and rest of the country, but its spectre still hangs over Bangladesh and doesn’t allow the witnesses to forget.

In 1971, I was a politically ignorant junior school student and lived with my family in old-Dacca city. Atmosphere of last few days before the 25th night were inexplicably tense, Dacca was buzzing with rumors.

On 25th March night, after watching TV, I was in deep sleep. Around mid-night I was awakened and found the elders in my room, they looked extremely worried. I could hear terrible gunshots, screams from distance. Pakistan Military already started their ‘actions’ in different parts of densely built-up old-Dacca city — areas between Sadarghat Buriganga terminals and Nawabpur Road — about an hour ago. Sadarghat terminal was about 1.5 miles west from our house.

We went to the rooftop of our two storey house and witnessed indescribable events —- the whole Western horizon (Buriganga river direction) turned red. With the red sky background, gunshots, screams, red bullets, about 10-30 meter tall flames in many places. The fire light dispelled the night and lit up our mohalla.

Similarly, firing, tracer bullets, magnesium flares in the North-West (Dacca University –Engineering University – Pilkhana EPR HQ – Azimpur direction) and Northern side (Kamlapur Rail Station - Rajarbagh Police HQ – Fakirapul etc areas). Pakistan Army’s violence accelerated with time. Red bullets/Artillery shells flew over the sky and exploded.

In 1969-70 I attended a few wedding ceremonies at Pilkhana EPR HQ, Dacca Cantonment (auditoriums) and met a number of West-Pakistani military officers there. They appeared very gentle and kind. On 25th March night it was hard to believe that they were capable of doing such horrible things!

During that night nobody knew where and what was actually happening. We could only guess those ‘unfortunate’ places [‘. . . Oi-jey notun agun lagaichey . . . oita Rajarbagh hoitey parey ‘ (. . . look, new fire . . . that could be Rajarbagh)]. To us Pakistani attacks in ‘North-West’ and ‘North’ directions appeared ‘modest’ compared to the ‘West’ (old-Dacca city). We also thought Pakistan Army’s major target area was the old-Dacca city and its civilians were the most defenceless victims. After 25-30 minutes father took us back to room in the fear of stray bullets and shrapnel shells.

Telephone was dead. We were worried about our relatives in other parts of the city. My Mother —- a great-granddaughter of one of the founders of 1906 All India Muslim League —- was crying and mumbling probably the verses from Quran. Father — who witnessed 1946 Calcutta riots — looked self-absorbed and shocked. And I had no idea that I was witnessing only a part of the Pakistan Army’s ‘Operation Searchlight’ Genocide — the end of a failed state and beginning of a new promising country.

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