The Days of Slavery - Nazim Mahmud

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Submitted by Jajabor.Backpacker on Thu, 20/02/2014 - 1:15am

The Days of Slavery

- Nazim Mahmud

Theater artist and cultural organizer; Deputy Registrar, University of Rajshahi, Rajshahi

“Ask them to shoot you right in the middle of your forehead”, I looked up into the eyes of the speaker who prescribed such an advice. “That’ll be a painless death, absolutely painless”, said Dr. Syed Sajjad Hussain, my professor in the University of Dhaka. Incidentally, he was the Vice Chancellor of the University of Rajshahi at that time and I was simply a staff member there. So, he could crack a joke in front of me, even if it was about as serious a matter as life and death.

In the eyes of the Pakistani occupying forces, I was a person of dubious character, a suspect. My bank account had been frozen and I had been summoned to the office of the Colonel in the Juberi Guest House. Under these circumstances I asked to meet with the VC to ask for his help, to consult him on the situation, and such was the advice!

According to them my ‘crime’ was undoubtedly quite severe. Dr. Hussain had taken an initiative to introduce Bengali as the official language in the university administration from February 21, 1971. This had been announced in a press conference and was highly acclaimed by the national newspapers. I was accused of being a part of the ‘think tank’ behind this, it was alleged that my ‘evil’ advice and enthusiasm had brought it to fruition. Hence I was blacklisted.

The particular list of miscreants responsible for this, as issued by the VC was found after the liberation. It was published on pages 3 and 5 of the Bangladesh Observer on January 15, 1972. The Observer made another short report on this on February 6, 1972 and The Daily Azad also mentioned this briefly on February 7, 1972. There were the names of 35 Teachers and 2 officers listed for punishment, arranged into four categories according to the severity of their crimes. Among them only one was stupid enough to willingly return to the then prison camp, the University of Rajshahi - me! But why did this happen?!

My teacher, Vice Chancellor Dr. Syed Sajjad Hussain had uttered unreserved praises for the Pakistani Jawans (soldiers) in a speech broadcasted from the Rajshahi Radio station on April 17 or 18, 1971. He also described how life had returned to normal with the wonderful aid of the soldiers and assured that most of the officers and teachers who had left the campus had also returned. After such assurance I had decided not to cross the border. I returned from a village near the border on April 21.

Our tom-tom had come to a halt at the Sardah-Baneshwar cross-road. We faced a long convoy of 70 to 80 military cars. I was traveling with my wife and children, and a sister in law who was a university student then. Her skin-tone was fairer than an average Bangali and perhaps that was the reason to attract the soldiers in the vehicles. The soldiers kept eyeing her from their vehicles and some even passed indecent remarks from behind the wheels. Even then I stood on the tom-tom, hung a broad grin on my face and kept saluting the cars as they passed us by. My wife was a brave lady. She objected to my slave like attitude. But there was only one thought in my mind: We had to survive! We must escape death and spare us the nightmare of witnessing rape.

During those terrifying days of 1971, I was often worried about my wife’s ‘bravery’. Early on the morning of March 25, there was a commotion outside our building. From the verandah of the first floor I saw a soldier standing in front of the building pointing a rifle at the black flag on the roof. He was ordering to take it off immediately and my wife was having a heated argument with him. We hadn’t yet heard the audacious speech of Yahya Khan on Radio, and we didn’t know that the lifeless body of the guard Abdur Razzak was still lying on the stairs of the Administration Building. In the nine months of liberation war we faced death over and over again, and during those terrifying moments the courage of my wife astonished me every time. One day in November a group of soldiers raided my in-laws’ house in Kalabagan area of the city. They said informants had reported that there were firearms hidden in the house. One of them pushed me back with the barrel of his gun and kept threatening me, “Where are the pistols and the bombs? Show us now, or else….” Another snatched away the tea-cup from my youngest sister-in-law’s hand and smashed it, while someone else broke open the chest and started going through the gold jewelry and money. That’s when my wife said sturdily, “Take the arms if you find any, but you can’t take the money or ornaments. If you do, I will report you to the Colonel.”

Who knows why, but they decided to leave us alone that day. We decided to move from that house and accepted the invitation of one of my relatives and his wife, a foreigner, to be their guests and stay out of the picture for a while. An interesting incident occurred the very evening that we returned to the Kalabagan house. A group of Punjabis in plain clothes came by a taxi. As soon as they entered, they secretly hid some pencil like long cartridges under the mattress of a bed in the first room. Then they started searching the other rooms of the house. My wife found out about their scam and while they searched the rest of our home she secretly removed the cartridges and threw them over the boundary wall of the house. The rest of us were unaware of all this. The Jawans started acting like animals when they found out that their scheme had failed. Since my wife had entered that room once she was their prime suspect. They bullied and accused her - “What was in that room? Where did you hide everything?” etc. My wife did not admit to anything. At one point she became mad and in broken Urdu accused them of being fakes instead. She charged them saying, “This is a bogus search, you have come with a design to loot.” and finally threatened them, “Wait and I’ll telephone the Colonel and then you’ll see.” The truth was - we knew no Colonel! As soon as she finished threatening one of the soldiers jumped out into the courtyard and pointed his gun at us. My in-laws, three brothers-in-law, and three sisters-in-law, my son and daughter, my wife and me, we were all standing at gunpoint that day.

But let’s get back to that story of returning to Rajshahi again. After the long convoy of army vehicles crossed us we finally began moving. But we had to halt again at the Belpukuria rail-crossing. A train full of Jawans were going to Sardah. Oh, how they roared!

The signs of the ‘excellence’ shown by the Pakistani army as they progressed towards Rajshahi a week before us still remained visible on both sides of the highway - burnt homes at places, vultures at rotting corpses. I still didn’t know that Shaheb-bazaar had been completely burnt to ashes, my own house had been looted or that Professor Habibur Rahman and Professor Sukharanjan Samaddar had already been killed. I was yet unaware that the dead bodies of Yusuf and Afzal, peons of the VC office were stenching in the university campus quarter P-12/D. Or that Dr. Abu Hena Mustafa Kamal from the department of Bangla, Mujibar Rahman of Mathematics and Dr. Kazi Saleh Ahmed of Statistics were captives at the Pak Army camp in the University and awaiting tortures. Perhaps I returned to the campus only as a proof to the saying “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”.

The University of Rajshahi had been turned into a large cantonment. The dormitories, arts and science buildings, Juberi Guest House, and even some of the residential quarters of the campus were teeming with men in Khakis. They were freely roaming around the campus with loaded firearms, making bonfires with the uprooted fences from the private gardens of the teachers’ residences, feasting on the poultry and livestock taken forcefully from the people living on campus or in the surrounding villages.

When I went to report at the VC office after entering the campus, I met a grade 3 (lower staff rank) staff with his entire family, seeking refuge there. They had suffered unbearable tumult the previous night. I was not supposed to know, but somehow it came to my ears that his wife and his daughter who was still but a child were both raped. Vice Chancellor, Dr. Hussain took me aside and said to me privately, “You are the third man to know it.” He warned me not to mention this to others, “If you tell anyone that our Jawans are involved in such heinous acts, remember that I won’t be able to save you.”

That same evening I was ordered by the VC to arrange a program to celebrate the birth anniversary of the great poet Iqbal. I laugh at the very thought of that remembrance now - how could anyone celebrate a poet’s birthday under such circumstances! But at the time, I was only worried about my family’s survival and hoped that the poet’s birthday celebrations might make them spare me. About ten professors and four army officials were present at the program that was arranged in the lounge of the VC’s House. Every conversation that took place in that room was either in English or in Urdu. Bangla was prohibited.

During the Maghrib (evening) prayer, all the professors prayed like religious Muslims. The army officers, however, lounged on the sofa to smoke and chitchat while the VC kept them company. I loitered around the garden during the break, absorbed in my own thoughts, when suddenly one of my colleagues’ voice startled me. He said, “You seem very worried about dying. Let me ask you then, is death itself really any worse than the way you are now living?” Those words struck a chord with me and suddenly it seemed that the true nature of that life had become clear to me.

That night of April 21, 1971 the University of Rajshahi trembled with the sound of dynamite blasts. The next morning we found the Shaheed Minar in front of the Arts Building in a pile of rubble. I stopped momentarily at the place on the way to the office.

With the hope of seeing the same Shaheed Minar proudly rising to the sky someday again - our days of slavery resumed.


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 was the personal account of Nazim Mahmud, Deputy Registrar at the University of Rajshahi, and a cultural organizer of the city, during April, 1971. Nazim Mahmud passed away several years ago.

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. Tom-tom - A horse carriage pulled by one horse. A traditional and popular transport in and around Rajshahi city.
  • 2. Poet Iqbal - Sir Muhammad Iqbal (Allama Iqbal) is considered as one of the most important figures in Urdu literature. He was was a philosopher, poet and politician. His birthday is celebrated as a public holiday in Pakistan.
  • 3. The University of Rajshahi is the second largest public university of the country and was established in 1953. The University Played pioneering role in the Mass Upsurge of 1969 and in the liberation war of 1971. Dr. Shamsuzzoha, then Proctor and Assistant Professor of Chemistry embraced martyrdom on February 18, 1969 when Pakistani military opened fire of him on the main gate premises when he tried to prevent them from shooting student demonstrators following the 11 Points Movement. He is the first martyred intellectual of the country.

    During the Liberation War of 1971 the university campus was used as a base by the Pakistan Army. The military entered into the university campus in mid April, 1971. Juberi House, the guest house named after the founder Vice Chancellor, Prof. Itrat Hossain Juberi, a noted educationist, was set up as the headquarter of the army at first. Later they shifted their headquarter to Shaheed Shamsuzzoha Hall which was also used as a concentration camp. Over 50 teachers, students and staffs sacrificed their lives to occupational forces. The bodies of students, intellectuals were dumped at the mass graveyard behind Zoha Hall.

    Among the martyred intellectuals are - Prof. Habibur Rahman, Department of Mathematics; Sukharanjan Samaddar, Associate Professor of Sanskrit, and Mir Abdul Quayyum, Department of Psychology. Professor Habibur Rahman was a renowned academic and though he was aware of the impending danger and his colleagues pleaded him to leave, he stayed on the campus with his family. On April 15, the Pakistani army with their collaborators picked him up from his campus residence. He never returned. The Pak military forces dragged Sukharanjan Samaddar out of his campus home and took him away. His grave is in the university’s Central Public Library premises. On November 25 Mir Abdul Quayyum was abducted from his home in the city and after Liberation, 14 bodies of intellectuals including that of his were located on the Padma riverbank near Boalia Club. Later investigation yield that the intellectuals were perhaps buried alive.

    Among the tortured is Mujibar Rahman and Dr. Abu Hena Mustafa Kamal. Mujibar Rahman had joined the Department of Mathematics as a Senior Lecturer in 1967. He changed his name to 'Devdas' as a protest to the atrocities by the Pakistan Army on the Bangladeshi people and sent an official protest letter to the University authority on April 10, 1971. As a result he was arrested and tortured barbarously by the Pak army. He finally lost his sanity. After the liberation Prof. Mujibar returned to the University but the university refused to reinstate him because of the discrepancy in his name. In 1973 he formally changed his name to Devdas and retreated in solidarity of his village home where he has been living ever since.
    Dr. Abu Hena Mustafa Kamal was a poet, educationist, singer and composer. He was a professor at the University of Dhaka in his later career and served as the Director General of the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy and then of the Bangla Academy till his death on September 23, 1989.

    The Pak forces retreated from the university on December 18, 1971. In 1972 the authority established Shahid Smriti Sangrahashala which is the first museum of the country on the liberation war of Bangladesh.


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