In Front of the Loved Ones - Nazma Begum

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Submitted by Jajabor.Backpacker on Fri, 17/01/2014 - 7:26pm

In Front of the Loved Ones

- Nazma Begum
Housewife, Dhaka

26 March 1971, Bangladesh Water Development Board, O&M Circle, Sylhet. We used to live in the Superintendent Engineer’s house. I had sent Tajul Islam, our servant, to bring some eggs for breakfast that morning. He returned with the news that a curfew had been declared and a rickshaw-puller and a local betel-leaf seller had been shot to death by the Pakistani soldiers. A little later we observed from our balcony that many people gathered at a place called Maniratila. I wondered what the gathering was about. How many were being shot to death by the barbaric aggressor army? We were panic-stricken and remained at home. Curfew was being enforced in Sylhet from dawn to dusk almost everyday. Hence, people had much difficulty with their everyday lives. My husband, shaheed Altaf Hossain would do some grocery for our daily meals every evening after the curfew was lifted. Our lives carried on like this.

A Forest Officer used to live on the hillock next to ours. On April 1st, he had heard that freedom fighters might have an encounter with the Pakistani army on the valley between our two houses and he decided to abandon his home. We also decided it was not safe to live in our house any longer, and moved to the house of Mr. Shafiullah, Superintendent Engineer of the Roads and Highways department. After staying there for two days, my husband became very restless as the salaries for that month had not been paid to his office staff. Without salary they would starve. On April 3, he would not wait any longer. He went to his office, then to the bank, and paid the due salaries. He was much calmer and relaxed after all the staff had received their monthly payment.

Later that day we returned home from Mr. Shafiullah’s house. We spent the night in fear. Next morning we found the city to be very quiet; it was filled with dreadful uncertainty. I sent Tajul to the Port Market in our locality to buy some food. Upon returning he said that he had seen no military or their vehicles in the city. My husband ‘hoped’ that they might have fled from Sylhet town. Everything seemed quiet till 3:45 pm, when two helicopters flew over our house and two pickup trucks passed by our house towards the cantonment. Suddenly there was the sound of heavy gunfire and mortar shells from everywhere surrounding us. It lasted till the Maghrib prayer time. From all the noise we understood that the military had infiltrated the city again. We came down from upstairs and took shelter in the room under the staircase. We went back upstairs long after the sound of the firings had ebbed away. Around midnight, my husband woke up and peeked outside through the window to check out the situation outside. He could see that the sky had turned red in the direction of the airport. We assumed that the militaries had set the fire. We spent another night in great anxiety.

The next day, April 5, the firings started again from six in the morning. The firing sounded thicker than the previous day. We ran downstairs to take shelter under the staircase again. We did not even get a chance to eat anything that day. Around 12 pm, a few soldiers banged on our door. We were very scared; but my husband opened the door to face them anyway. I was standing close to him. One soldier started calling names immediately and asked if we were Hindus or Muslims and who he was. My husband replied that he was the Superintendent Engineer at the Water Development Board, and he also informed them that we were muslims. Even then they brought us outside the house and made us line up and ordered to put our hands up. We obeyed in fear. My husband’s office was almost 40 feet downhill from our house. They almost dragged us those 40 feet to the office building. The whole lot of us, me, Nazma Begum (30), my husband Altaf Hossain (48), son Arif Hossain (15), daughter Nayar Sultana (10), son Anwar Hossain (3), and youngest daughter Selina Sultana (1) were standing close to one another. I was four and a half months pregnant at that time. They made my husband stand by the wall of his office building. Even then we believed they would let us go after some interrogation. But no, we were ordered to move away from him. Initially, I did not want to step away from him. But they threatened me. Fearing for my honor, I took my children and stood a little further from him. Then the soldiers moved towards the steps on the slope. At that moment an officer in a green cap appeared in a Jeep and conferred a little with them. Even then I was hoping that they would let all of us go.

But they never had any intention of doing that. One of the soldiers fired his rifle three times and my husband fell down in an instant. My son Arif Hossain ran towards him calling out, “Abba! Father!” and collapsed in a heap over his dead body. The soldiers targeted their rifles again and started counting “1, 2 …”. But before they got to 3, another soldier spoke in Urdu, “Sharif, let it go. He is only a young kid.” They put their rifles down and ordered us to leave the place. When my son came near me, his hands and clothes were drenched red with blood. My daughter Nayar Sultana burst out in tears, “Amma, what will happen to us? They killed Abba!”

They did not let me see my husband any longer and hustled us away from there. We had to leave my martyr husband’s body behind and move towards the town. We took shelter in a nearby house and spent the night there somehow. The next day a person from the PDB (Power Development Board) took us in after hearing about the death of my husband. We had been at his home for a day. On the 7th of April, several persons from the office buried my husband. The PDB engineer took Arif to the burial. After the funeral I moved towards Gopalgonj Thana with my children and took lodging in a local's house. They welcomed us with love and sympathy. After spending quite a few days there, on April 30, we returned to our home in Sylhet. We found that everything had been looted, not a single thing was left. Executive Engineer Mr. Nazrul Islam helped us out that day with food. We stayed at his house for the next few days and then left for Dhaka on the 16th of May. We moved in with a relative of mine in Dhaka.

Ever since then I have written to the Government many times for assistance but I haven’t received any help whatsoever. I have been living a life of hardship and misery with my young orphaned children. Now, I have even lost sight in my eyes.


Translator: Rumman Mahmud


This is from the volunteer translation project of the book ১৯৭১: ভয়াবহ অভিজ্ঞতা (1971: Dreadful Experiences). The book is a collection of witness accounts of 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh, by the country's educationists, writers, professionals, freedom fighters to businessmen and housewives. The original book was edited by Rashid Haider and was first published by Mofidul Hoque of 'Jatiyo Shahitto Prakash' on the Victory Day of 1989.

This is the personal account of a housewife, Nazma Begum from Dhaka, during April, 1971.

The translation initiative was taken with the goal to spread the stories of 1971, our Liberation War to the international audience. A very enthusiastic volunteer team of nearly 40 translators have participated in the project. This is an effort to collaborate the translations under the ব-ই (ebook) format in Sachalayatan: Online Writers' Community with the consent of the volunteers who have worked on the project.

Any suggestion regarding the translation will be appreciated in the comment section. We request the reader to share the post and help spread the stories of 1971. Thank you.

- Editors



  • 1. Shaheed - martyr
  • 2. Maghrib - evening prayer


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