5 October 2015
REFUGEE CRISIS IN EUROPE ; MY PERSONAL PLIGHT AND WHY I LOVE INDIA BY Imran Chowdhury
REFUGEE CRISIS IN EUROPE ; MY PERSONAL PLIGHT AND WHY I LOVE INDIA
Once and refugee; always a refugee. I guess you can call me that, because in 6 hours time on the fateful 11th day of the month of April 1971 my families life changed from everything to nothing. It can not be penned in a few words ; a very wide canvas to paint into a story, But nevertheless, I shall endeavour to give my readers a glimpse of my life in 1971 and how I see todays refugee crisis gripped the whole heartland of European civilisation.
I know the name of my today’s writing will give heartache to many of my readers who loathe the country I just mentioned that I love; why they loathe ; well, Either they are ungrateful or too wrongly preached to conceive an enemy to perceive. But, I stand firm on statement and will be justify my reasons of calling it so. Those of you are too inclined on the other side of the moral - political or preaching spectrum - you may stop reading it any more or you may read if you wish to do so. it is aways prudent to read all sides of a story instead of concocted one side one…….
The exodus of ocean of human being pouring into the shores of Europe for the last few months is unbelievable and astonishing. The plight of these people knows no bound. Life changing experience, a total culture shock, the nagging thought of uncertainty and fear of starvation. Bleak futuristic prospect and the pain of partying company with their home land - mother land and land of their birth ; is perhaps the worse of all human catastrophe.
The war in the Middle East is something that needs a candid, impartial and straight looking into and spread the message to the rest of unsuspecting world at large. This war in the region is war of islam and it’s war to claim supremacy of one of over the other sectarian sect. Yet, no one seems to have any interest in negotiating to come with a solution for an amicable long term peace but instead engaged in dealing with this a very cynical view of annihilation, war, killing,abolish, genocide and all kinds of inhumane traits of middle age war mongering.
What happened in my life back in 1971 needs a proper narration in order for my readers to understand the magnitude of my plight, destitution, fear and above all the near death experiences and its reminisces haunting me day and night. The worst of any fear and sacredness for a adolescent of a young lad of 11 years old.
The climax of the war of liberation in my country in erstwhile East Pakistan presently known Bangladesh reached its optimum of annihilation of my Bengali race by the Pakistani Army and Pakistani Government and it’s people to a great extend along with their collaborators & Non Bengali residents of East Pakistan. The Pakistan army cracked on the nation of bengal under the cover of darkness on the 24/25 March 1971. they then started to capture the whole country by it’s barbaric army who were indiscriminately started to kill all the people who came in front of them on their way and the killing spree spree did not subside till the day they were made to surrender on the 16th of December 1971.
We used to live in a town called Brahmin Baria ( a town chosen for the Brahmin’s to live) some 90 KM away from the capital city of Dhaka. The Pakistani air force started bombarding the township for to dislodge the freedom fighters who were trying to hold on to the town but the Pakistani airforce bombarded the town in two occasions and on the 11th April at about 15:45 hours a squadron of F 86 Sabre jets raided the city and they indiscriminately bombarded the small town of 5 sq. miles in those days and low flying un challenged aircraft continued their act of barbarism of over 34 minutes and they left the whole place in dismay, confusion,panicked and this was something the peace loving, cultural Bengalis of this sleepy suburban township dwellers never experienced in their life.
As soon as those heavy metal sounding fighter planes stopped and went off the whole town started a panic that Pakistani land forces are marching towards the town from two different direction to envelope the whole town and flush out the rebels in their eyes and in our eyes they were the saviours the best sons of my motherland the freedom fighters in its nucleus of forms. the inhabitants of the town started to evacuate the town and a mammoth exodus of people started indiscriminately towards all directions except the suspected route of the Pakistani Army’s advancing column. Never did we know that, our asking of an independent nation hood would endanger our lives to this climax and never did we think in our wildest of dream that our own country’s air force will be bombarding it’s own citizens for no apparent reasons what so ever ; all we did was asked for devaluation and or an independence and for which they when into this rampage of a killing spree paying no heed to humanity.
The whole town started to flee the town in panic and it was about 17: 00 hours our brother came running from somewhere and told us come on let’s get the hell out of here. We all panicked my younger brother were crying of fear and the deafening sound of the aircraft made us very dizzy and we were all a bit disoriented and just fled the home leaving the pristine beds, the neat and clean house, meat safe full of food and the kitchen full with rice, flour,condiments and spices and the rest of the cooking paraphernalia. The book selves full of books collected by my mother and father over the years in the seating room and the pictures hanging on the walls - we just left the house some how locking it carelessly. Only two little bags and one suitcase full of unnecessary clothes and jumpers and shoes etc. Most of the valuable stuff we just left in the house and in the midst of these panics and shouting and noises my mother forgot to take the cash money from her well preserved steel cupboard; my mothers pride and joy and her pandoras box.
No prearranged destination was chalked out or anything like this. We just wanted to scape from the town before the army enters it from both Bhairab Bazar end and from Akaura end. We took a middle of these advancing columns. From 17:30 to till mid night we walked and walked and walked only heaven knows how many miles that long walk was. My brothers gave in and they could not walk a single more step. We were passing by a village and stopped near the houses and it was one of the darkest of all nights; pitch dark and we could hear the artillery shells pounding - behind us Brahmin Baria was burning ; the plume of the flames could be seen from miles and miles. We finally slept in that house and i ended up sleeping next room by the cow shed and on the floor and with some could odoured pillow and a quilt and one quilt under on the floor over a cane mat ; it was the most generous of act by that house hold ; I have no knowledge who they are and how they have given us the shelter for the night. From 5 o clock to 11 o clock on that day - these six hours have made me from everything to nothing. I was a destitute ; a homeless, an address less no body. Life has suddenly taken the most bizarre of twist and a twist for the worse and bends and the round a-bouts of that twist never ended for the foreseeable future of the nest three quarter of a year. It was that excruciating long saga of misery, fear, death,lack of sleep, starvation and above a gripping cloud of uncertainty looming over the head all the time.
Next day we walked and walked till we reached a village where we had a relative who's used to live there and it was not possible to reach our village as it was in main route the Pakistan Army’s axis of advance. The relatives in their house sheltered us all 6 of us and we stayed there few days and within the next week the collaborators of the Pakistan Army joined hands with the occupying force and they became the main issue for the villagers ; these collaborators acted as the informers,eyes and ear of the barbaric Pakistan Army - They came to know our father has revolted in Sylhet area and now he is in India and my brother was joined the freedom fight and he has just come to arrange a safe abode for us and will fall back to his mission. Loads of whispers, doubts, and threats started to come our way - few near death experience and Pakistan Army came few times marched near the village we were staying and we all had to go and hide in the Jute fields and bushes. Finally, we left after staying in 5 more villages and 1 town we decided that, The stay for us in the East Pakistan is very unsafe and our time is untenable here - we will be a very big trophy for the collaborators to shop us to the Pakistan Army with a very high reward. In few villages we felt even the distant relative were scared to house us and in one or two occasions we were flatly refused.
The darkest of all our hours for us all. It was the most crucial juncture of our life ; my mother one day said let us go back B.Baria to our old house come what may - at least we will die in peace in our own place instead of passing these derogatory life like a trump. The waters were rolling down my mother chins and she was unconsolable. My 2 young brothers were weak and frail- suffering from food shortage, dehydrations, lack of comfort and luxury and above all the culture and the ethos and the customs and practices of the life that we were thrown into was too alien for us to acclimatise. We just could gel in at all. Gone are the days of listening to Sunday after noon matinee drama on the radio, listening to the music in the evening, having a get to gather and sing a song. It was the most vivid of all experiences and the tension - the fear and the heavy bombardment in the B.Baria - Comilla high way popularly known as the C&B road were making us very fearful, scared and above all there was a sinking gut feeling what if we are grassed by someone and if the Pakistan army only comes to get us and for the few of us what if the burn the whole village and kill people indiscriminately. These thoughts were baffling my mother and she fell into a deep kind of depression which was evidently visible.
It was last week of April 1971 finally we made the decision enough is enough - it is time to say goodbye and make this epic journey to go to India. these 2 and half week felt like ages and it is by far the worse of all experiences we have had to face in our lives.
From the village we were staying at the time the nearest indian border was about 20 miles away but there were two major obstacle to cross; one was the B.Baria to Comilla C&B road and the other one was Kasba to Akhura Railway line, Both of these were heavily patrolled Pakistan Army 24/7 and no one knows when the patrols are awaiting for trespassers. Catch and kill them ; hundreds of families and men and women were captured in these places the legend as it was prevailing at the time. Crossing either of these could bring a sudden death at any given time; On the morning of last Friday of April 1971 - We said goodbye to our hosts and my mother was so pleased and overwhelmed she completely forgot to bring her cash money and little jewellery that she brought when we abandoned our house - she forgot to take them with her whilst saying bye to them. The journey starts - my young 15 year old sister was painted with black charcoal to make her look unattractive and mother saying us keep on reciting verses from Quran ; I wondered deep down in my heart what is the point of that ? the guys who are about to grass us and shop us to the Army are constantly reciting the Quran and The Pakistan Army advancing to B.Baria on the fateful night we evacuated were shouting verses from Quran too. So, why these killing if all of us the 3 parties are believer of the same book then why would any one would kill me from the same fraternity. To this days I have never could answer my consciences. The dichotomy of the fallacy remained unanswered.
It was the most exhaustive and fearful of journey of our lives. the throats were dry out of fear, the April showers made the small village tracks slippery, the walking through the paddy fields open patch without any cover and thunder storm crackling down from the sky and the violent wind in the open fields spread over a few thousands of acres to say the least ; finally we could see the ridge line of the scariest feature the C&B road started to unveil itself breaking the sky line. It looked like a ghost’s paradise - we started to inch near it and took a detour to come near a jute field to use that as cover ; My poor brother was the guide who has no knowledge of these areas or route. After 3 attempts and 2 scares we managed to cross the road and started walking east towards the railway line. The drizzle did not fizzle but it intensified its penetrative rain drops striking the face causing itch and pain but the exodus must not be stopped. No rest. The villages near the road and the after the road till up to the rail line was deserted. All the shops were shuttered down- post office signboard was seen on the side of the road, the schools tin shed looked like a place where all the abandoned cattle head found a sanctuary of respite from ploughing and other farming chores. The hindu dwelling area was burned down to ashes and there were not a single standing structure there. My brother befriended with 2 other pilgrims en route - who told us that those houses burned belongs to a hindu caste who are engaged in raw hide business. it was an affluent market village for the surrounding 20 to 25 villages. All burned into ashes.
These two passers by helped us crossing the rail way line ; they know a pattern of Army patrol trolleys ( pushed by captured travellers ; like us) frequency of passing the point. we 8 people are the only walkers and the whole surrounding was noise less and no traces of human being. it felt like a funeral parlour ; an airy silence of solitude and a walk to the unknown ; a fearful epic venture with unchartered outcome.
The rain was not to stop - it came with vengeance. We were all soaked, shivering and the southerly wind was literarily hindering the forward steps on the muddy, slippery village roads in between the barren paddy fields of two villages. There were a very few passers by ; due to the fact that the area we were walking have later on turned out to be the most serious of battle fields in our great liberation war stretching from Salda Nodi - Kasba _ Akhaura axis. No wonder the villages were all deserted and there were no movement of people, Speaks volume.
Exhausted, wet, hungry and totally dehydrated after a long walk for all most all day non stop; my younger brother gave in a long time ago and he was on my shoulder; no one had any energy to talk to each other ; feared like a wet cat and reciting Quranic Verses continuously for the mercy and safe passage to India. The road now entered into a hilly region where the walking became further difficult; the zig zag hilly tracks nestled in the undergrowth and lines of Jackfruit orchards we slowly and gradually reached the Pakistan - India international boundary by then it was almost dusk and the sun was setting on the skies of East Pakistan and we were standing on a saddle of a small hillock over looking the a gorge. Have not eaten since crossing the C&B road and we had very little food. The mosques moazzin gave the Azan for the Magreb prayer from the mosque which literally sits on the foothill of the saddle that we were standing in peace and we were in India.
No border checks, no heavy handed policing, no immigration none what so ever. but the next question was where are we going to stay the night. The border was far away from the nearest habitation; we did not have any more strength left for us to walk. There was no other East Pakistani - Bangladeshi seen in the vicinity. Mother said we need to walk a bit further to the villages that can be seen on the other side of the nullah and the valley which seemed like miles and miles away. we needed to do so before the darkness blankets the day. We again started to walk descending down to the valley from the hill top was a struggle all by itself. We formed a chain and walked in a chain so that don’t slip off. Came down about 250 - 300 feet down to the valley and walked to the nearest village and as soon as we entered the village we saw on the left hand side of the road lies a BOP like installation which we were all very familiar with. We neared to the out post and clearly saw it was a BSF out post; we walked in and my mother spoke to them luckily she was born in Calcutta and had her schooling and matriculation in India before she moved to East Pakistan; she could speak in Hindi fluently at our amazement. She narrated in brief our story and who we are and etc etc. In no seconds they made us sit down and change our cloths and a sikh BSF soldier was send out of the camp and he came back in half an hour by then it was pitch dark. No electricity and he came and spoke to the officer - in - charge and he spoke to my mother and said please go with this gentleman and we have arranged a room for you guys in the nearby house and before you go please have food here and he then took us to the house of DAS babu ; an affluent land owner and with a lavish house with pond - tube well and a well. they gave us their out house for us to stay and we have no cloths, no beddings, no quilts, pillow, bedsheets nor any utensils and my mother then confirms that she forgot to bring the money that she had in the house of our relatives which we left in the morning.
Generosity at its best ; the BSF chap went back and in the next hour he came back with two other helpers with blankets, mosquito nets, pillows and the near by houses of the DAS babu’s family brought us loads of other things and made us feel at home and even the girls took my sister and mother inside their house to change and use all facilities; normally, they have a very strict regime for other people of other religions to enter their inner house ( that is what i was don’t know how far its the truth).
Finally, at last we are inside India; a safe heaven for us all. The Barbaric Pakistan Army and it’s collaborators are not going to be able to touch us. What a great relief and breath of fresh air that was in not possible pen it here. I have no language to express the sense of relief, the degree of fear and the sense of gratitude for these people who embraced us with open arm and they made us feel so at home and their compassion and their caring attitude and their sense of humanity overwhelmed us all. To this day after 44 years it still flashes in my mind’s eyes like as if all of these happened the other day.
A life changing journey that was, A lot of pain, a lot of heartache, a lot of derogatory behaviour, a lot of humiliating experience and more so, all happened in the presence of people who we came in the hours of our most need and was let down by them badly. Gone off a bit with the sense and relation with relatives. Many of them were very selfish and many of them thought we were burden to them and we have no hope to live. At the same time, we are hugely indebted to a few other relatives and non relative generous people who rendered us the most generous of all help during our worst hours of darkness and crisis. I personally have no words to express my gratitude and homage to them.
On the contrary. here we are her in a different country ; though our borders are very porous and it is not humanly possible in those days to guard every inches of the border. But, we still had a lot of reservations and trepidation to cross over.
The welcome that we received and then the subsequent stay in Suriyamaninagar (SURZO MONI NAGAR) special camp near Agartala till the day we were liberated was the best of humanitarian assistance that Indians could give us the bengali refugees of 1971. India was not the most richest country in those days, it’s infrastructures were not the finest, the communications and other facilities were still in its primitive of all shapes and forms. In all of those short comings ; the help India rendered to us is a landmark event of my life. I am ever so grateful to the Indian Government, Mrs. Gandhi, The Tripura people and the govt officials, the BSF and the Indian army. When we were looked down upon by the fellow muslims of Pakistan and they considered us less of a muslim and killing us indiscriminately, raping our sisters and mothers, burning our houses, carrying out mass ethnic cleansing.
The crisis in East Pakistan in 1971 was one of the worst Muslim sectarian cleansing that has ever happened to a muslim country inflicted by another muslim state. East Pakistan in 1971 was perhaps the second highest muslim populated country in the world. Muslim Pakistan army was recruiting in Pakistan to go for Jihad in East Pakistan; Jihad against who ? a fellow Bengali muslim? Ironically, The so called Muslim Umma turned a blind eye and they all sided with Pakistan; To them perhaps we Bengali Muslims were less muslim than that of the Pakistani Muslims. They clearly remained by standers and even to the extend that The epitome of Muslim Umma Saudi Arabia did not even recognise Bangladesh till after 3.5 years of it’s bloody independence.
The humanity took over the religion and like today when I see millions ( only perhaps one Million) of Middle Eastern and North African refugees are not finding any sanctuary in their neighbouring rich countries ; finding no other alternative just to save their lives they are pouring into the shores of Europe after undertaking life and death sea crossing on those treacherous waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
Imagine, these kind of same fate if it was waiting for us in 1971 - I for sure would not have lived perhaps to tell you my and my families story. In excess of 10 Million Bengali 80% of the were probably muslims poured into Indian Poorest of 3 states namely West Bengal, Assam & Tripura and Indian authority , indian public and the Politicians did not utter a single word of annoyance. To my understanding these perhaps was one of the biggest exudes of human being after the World War ii. India itself was in dire economic state of affairs at the time and to provide shelter, food , clothing, medicine and train our freedom fighters and ultimately joining our war; they helped us liberate our country from the Brutal, Barbaric neo Nazi Pakistan Army. Without uttering a single murmur. Is called Humanity at its best. No question was ever asked about our religion whatsoever. I can write pages after pages of my tremulous days of Indian refugee camp and my debts of humanity towards india.
One single country with its crumbling infra structure, roads, rails, have given home to 10 million of Bengalis for 9 long months and yet 27 European Countries can not shelter less than 1 million Middle Eastern & North African Refugees is totally out of order. The surrounding muslim countries with vast land mass, wealth and minimum of population are not willing to give sanctuary to those people who are torn in between wars, poverty, hunger and destitution. Where is the word humanity?
No wonder after 44 years I still personally am so indebted to India for what they did for us in 1971.
With a note of my personal gratitude and homage I declare MY LOVE FOR INDIA.