Name: Benilal Dasgupta

Fatherís Name: Dhiren Mohon Dasgupta

Vill: Kundihar, P.O. Banaripara

Dt: Barisal

Age in 1971: 29yrs.Education in 1971: B.A.

Occupation in 1971: School Teacher, Present Occupation:Service

 

 

 

Q.What did you know about the post election events in 1971? What was your feeling about it?

 

A.At the time I was an active member of Bhasani NAP (National Awami Party). However at the present time I am not a member of any political party. In 1970 just before the parliament elections a council meeting of the party was held and the party was split into two on the issue of national elections. One section was in favor of the elections and the other was against it. I was against participating in the elections. In those days the political situation in Pakistan was such that we did not think an election could be meaningful. That is why we were against elections and therefore boycotted it. We apprehended that something was goingto happen which couldnít be overcome by politics of election. From that time we had been thinking of an armed revolution but we didnít think it would take a turn towards full independence of Bangladesh. Awami League won in the elections as we had expected. But the power was not handed over to our representatives which created political instability in the country. We then realized that some thing was going to happen, or a revolution could take place and we would have to make our contribution to it.

 

 

Q.In the month of March 1971 what was your impression about the situation and what did the people in general think about it?

 

A.People of our country were not so educated. Even then those of us who were alert wanted to fight a liberation war. We tried to convince the general masses in this direction and organize them for it. It was high time that the repression, indifference and domination on East Pakistan must come to an end. People were convinced it was not possible for us to remain with them (west Pakistanis) any longer. This was the general impression amongst our people. So we tried to organize them in favor of full independence for East Pakistan and launched an active movement towards it. This was the reason when the liberation war began, by then we had already made substantial progress in this direction.

 

Q.Did you hear about Bangabandhuís speech of Mar 7? What did you think of it?

 

A.I heard the historic speech of Bangabandhu Sh. Mujibur Rahman of Mar 7, 1970. I wouldnít say that it was a clear declaration of independence, but certainly it was one which had given us the direction in which we should move. The way he had spoken about independence, freedom, it all amounted to a declaration of war of independence. But to fight a war one needs preparation, that preparation we didnít have till then. Even then webegan to take mental preparation for such a war. Bangabandhuís Mar 7 speech was certainly an inspiration and helped us prepare for a war of liberation. On that day I was in Dhaka. I was one in those lakhs of people who had gathered around him to listen to his speech. We were involved in active politics, and as politically conscious individuals, we found in his speech a sense of direction which our leader Moulana Bhasani had expected of him long before. As an activist belonging to Bhasani NAP, I responded to Bangabandhuís call for independence. I thought there was certainly a positive element in his call.

 

 

Q.What was your reaction to the Pakistan Military Juntaís attack on Mar 25, 1971?

 

A.I was then in my school. On Mar 26, I was in the Headmasterís official residential quarter of the Gaba School. I heard about the military crackdown on Dhaka on my radio from BBC, Voice of America and Indian radio broadcast. It immediately occurred to me that an aggression of genocide, ruthless repression and murder must have been going on: we were more or less sure that these events would turn into a full-scale war.

 

 

Q.What did you do when the Pak army attacked us in 1971?

 

A.After the fall of Dhaka in 1971, the Pak army attacked several other places, (our) Barisal was also one of those. As I have alreadymentioned I was Headmaster of Gaba School when it happened. I saw hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were streaming into our area from Dhaka and other areas for safety. Our area, marshy as it was, was thought to be comparatively safer than many other places. Some places in Atghar and Kuriana Union, Swarupkathi police station and some areas around constituted this safer zone. One can say, the whole area being marshy was thought as safer than villages around. It is also comparatively inaccessible. There are in total 37 villages in this zone. The city dwellers started pouring into this area. They thought this area was safer because the Pakistanis knew very little about marshy land. There were fruit gardens and sugar cane fields around. Normally the flood water inundation reaches about 15/20 ft .in depth. Perhaps the Pakistan army would not venture to launch an attack in such an adverse condition. From this impression thousands of men, women and children were pouring in to the area looking for safety. In the meantime Barisal fell to the Pak army in the month of April. After the fall of Barisal the local criminals started looting, stealing and got involved in all kinds of antisocial activities. They always wanted the Pak army to come to the area so that they could join hands in doing mischief.

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Pak army first came to Banripara; it was most likely in May, or beginning of April. From Banripara they moved towards Rayerhat. I was a Headmaster of one of the schools of this locality. This was a Hindu majority area. The Pak army rounded up the Hindus and took them to the bank of a canal.These Hindus were harmless citizens and had no interest in national politics. At this time a younger brother of mine named Bimal Krishna, who later became a martyr, and I followed them and watched the scene. We were hiding in a guava plantation on the other side of a wide canal. We saw 70 or 80 of them were killed in just one brush fire. The victims were all Hindu. At that time they hadnít killed any woman. They only killed the male members. We saw this act of mass murder. Some time later Shahid Bimal Krishna and I crawled to the area and found that some of the victims were still alive, half dead. In this group some of them were my students. With some difficulty we pulled them out of the canal. One of them finally survived. He was the son of a businessman of Paba, and was a student of mine reading in class IX then.

 

The Pakistan army did not attack Kuriani on the same day. They attacked Gaba, Hossainpur Union of Ramchandrapur, Brhamaner Hat from all four sides. They started killing Hindus of these areas. Simultaneously they organized some people to collect information about Hindu residences and their identities. It was noticed that some people with caps on their heads accompanied the army men identifying Hindu homes of the area. And then they looted these homes and then burnt them down. At that time Shiraj Sikdarís Sarbahara bahini (trained armed political cadre) were stationed in this area constituting Atghar- Kuriana). A freedom fighterís contingent under the command of Capt. Beg was also active in the same area. The Sarbaharaís were stationed in a place called Bimruli. I was in Gaba area. We were very weak in strength; we had a very few people in the beginning. Capt Beg took them across to Bharat(India) for training and planning. With the departure of Capt.

Beg and his troops to India, Shiraj Sikdar and his fighters became active against the Pak army units stationed in the area, and built up resistance against them. The Pak army units came out of the Police Station, attacked and looted homes and raped girls. My own home was looted on the same day. They physically tortured my old father and burnt down his cottage. They looted everything that my father had possessed.

 

SirajSikdar in those days was known as Moti in our area. Siraj Sikdar and Selim Shahnewaz are not alive today. They died because of internal feud amongst themselves after the liberation of the country. We attacked Banripara thana jointly combining our forces. It was our objective to attack the Banripara thana and simultaneously the peace committee meeting. The peace committee meeting was taking place in the house of the Sahas close to the thana. But somehow our plan was leaked out. We still do not know the secret of it. When we attacked the thana there was a counter attack on us; shooting from inside the thana aiming at us. Since our weapons were not as advanced as those of the enemiesí and we had scanty supply of ammunition, we had to retreat. In this attack two of their police men

were killed.

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That day for the first time they came to know about our existence.They found out that I was around them with a big fighting force. The same night we left our camp known as Burirbari camp and taking a speedboat went to Siraj Sikdar in the safe area of Atghar Kuriana. We knew that our camp would be attacked the very next day. At that time we had an intelligence group who informed me that the Pak soldiers could launch an attack on us the same night. I had informed Siraj Sikdar about it but he said in that vast area it was not possible to launch an attack with less than a division strength (well over 10,000 soldiers). But we saw at around 3.00 in the morning that the guava plantation where we had camped, a large number of people were engaged in cutting down the trees all around and soon they cleared off the entire plantation. Then they cut down the sugar cane plantation and the whole area became a vast empty space. There were some canals around the guava plantation and throughout the year these were filled with water15/16 ft deep. Thousands of men, women and children desperately tried to hide themselves in these canals. The Pakistan army surrounded the area with the help of 3/4 thousand students of Pir Sharshinaís madrashas and scores of men supplied by the chairmen of union councils all around. Pakistan army killed countless men, women and children. The same day the Pakistan army set up a camp at the Kuriana School and they took away young girls and women less than 45yrs of age. They spent a few days there and played hell with lives of the captured victims. They killed any one they could find.They looted

houses of the entire area around. They turned it into a completely desolate place. A few days later the Pak army left the area.

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After the Pakistan army left we visited a house near the Kuriana school. We found 35/40 women, all aged between 12 and 45yrs.. They were all raped by the Pak army jawans. Some girls were taken away by the Pak army. Till now they have not been traced. I would like to mention here that after this incident Siraj Sikdar left the area with his men. Only I and some boys returned to my area, Gaba. Gaba was by then an endless desolate area. Everywhere the Pak army carried out mass killing and looting. After this disaster I settled down to recruiting a few boys and giving them necessary training. Before this I had organized a small group of boys as freedom fighters. And now we became a very strong group. There were no others in the area. There was no group under the leadership of Awami League in this zone. Neither

there were any Sarbaharas (Siraj Sikdar group) around. So our group appeared as the only combined all party group in this area.There were elements from Bhasani NAP, Muzaffar NAP, Communist Party, Awami League and many others who believed in liberal politics. I remember Enayet bhai who belonged to the Communist Party was with me. A couple of days later the Pak army captured him and till to-day he has remained untraced. This is the way we fought in those days. Our zone was surrounded by big rivers, streams, canals and smaller water bodies. Almost everyday the Pakistanis used to patrol our area in gun boats. We had very frequent clashes with them. We came to lime light in the locality as a very powerful contingent. At that time the Pakistan army was scared of even hearing the name of Benuís group or Benu bahini. In our armory the most effective weapon was some powerful bombs which were even more deadly than heavy guns. Finally we found out that unless the Pak invaders were in a very big group, they wouldnít dare to come to our area.

 

Then came the muktibahini troops belonging to the Mujibnagar Government. In this area the sub-sector commander was Capt. Shahjahan Omar. He came to Barokota. After his arrival in the area we were asked to close down our unit. Three or four days later Capt Omar visited our camp which was then set up in the Zeminder house of Barokota. After he came to our camp he gave me some arms and ammunition. Whatever light arms we had, those were not enough to face the powerful Pakistan army. Even then we had to fight with the Pakistan army at leastten times each week in different fronts and different areas heavily depending

on our conviction and courage.

 

I had control over Banripara area, Atghar, Kuriana union, Swarupkati thanaand Ghuitta union, Gaba and Ramchandra union of Jhalakati thana. There was another area, a paart of Sarupkati thana. All together the area was vast, all under my control. We had to face the Pakistan army with a lot of strength that we had to organize. At the end Capt.Omar accepted my existence and approvedmy activities.

 

In the meantime many boys left for India. They took regular FF training. Some of them started coming back home. Some of Capt.Omarís boys were from our area. I brought them back. This increased our strength. We had no heavy weapons. I tried to make some bombs locally. We captured Banripara thana with whatever arms we had. We were getting prepared for a bigger attack by the Pak soldiers because we knew they would do it. 3 or 4 days later the Pak troops came in a big steel bodylaunch with two gun boats, one in front and the other at the rear end of the launch. The soldiers were packed inside the launch. We dug trenches and bunkers all along the canals and both sides of the river banks. We are determined to fight or die. We took a resolve not to allow the Pakistanis to land. To fight with this strong Pak contingent I requested Capt. Omar to give us a rocket launcher and a mortar but although he promised we didnít get his support at the end. I was in a fix. It was a hollow promise, I thought. When the Pak troops launched attack after they crossed Swaripkathi thana, I along with my bahini launched attack on them from the banks of the river. The Pakis were indiscriminately shelling the area and used heavy machine guns. Shelling all along and firing machineguns they advanced as far as Chaulkati. All along their route we fought with them. I would like to mention here that we felt the presence of fighter air planes in the sky over our head. It seemed the Pak army was given air cover during their ground action. When they were returning from Cahulkati towards Banripara thana we also fought them on their way back. Since we had no heavy weapons they did not worry about us and ignoring resistance put up by us returned to Banripara thana. Quite some of our fellow fighters sustained injury,

a couple of them became Shaheed.

 

On that day one of our comrades named Delwar became Shaheed. Some of them, not known to us were captured and taken away by the Pak army, a few were shot and killed. It was about 3:30 pm. The army captured the thana which was under our control till then. After they entered the thana they looted many homes, set fire to the Banripara port, they also set fire to the mosq- ue. We came to know that some local people were with them. These people were associated with the union council. They put on borkha(veil) to guide the army to our area. There was a bridge on the eastern side of the thana building and the port was on the southern side. Beside the port there was a Saha(Hindu business community) house adjacent to the port. The Pakistan army spent the night in the launch at this spot. Banripara port is huge. The Pakis set fire to the port and all around there was only blazing fire.That night a comrade of mine Abdul Quader, a member of the Bengal Regiment, and I opened fire on the launch with LMGs (light machine gun). It was night time. Some of the Pak soldiers were busy in merrymaking in the launch. Perhapsthey thought the area was free of freedom fighters. After we fired there was a big commotion inside the launch. For almost twenty minutes there was an exchange of fire between us and we fired several hundred rounds of ammunition on them. They left Banripara the same night. We got news from Barisal that a large number of them were admitted to the Barisal Hospital. We also received news the same day that 35/36 of them died of bullets fired by us. Their bodies were found. After the Pak soldiers left Banripara we reoccupied the thana. They never returned to Banripara. We set up our permanent camp at Banripara as a liberated area.

 

After this we fought with them(Pak army) in many areas. One day they attacked us in front of Jambhu island from a gun-boat. We were about 12/13 of us and had very light weapons. We attacked the gun-boat and drove it away. Being attacked by us the gun-boat speeded towards Shwarupkathi via Kaukhali. Most likely the name of the gun-boat was Jahanghir Bahadur. Attackedby Cpat. Shajahan finally the boat capsizedat Shekherhat. As revenge the Pak army carried out a terrible massacre at Gabkhali. After this the enemy refrained from coming our way. The war was about to end then.

 

Let me narrate some past incidents. The Razakars and the police forces harmed us most. They had with them the local culprits. Once they kidnapped my father to get release of some Razakars we had captured. An army officer came to my father from Ferozepur and requested my father for the release of the Razakars. My father did not agree (and he was arrested). Finally the then thana administration and the local dalal (Pak agent) released my father. After this incident we killed three Razakars who were linked with very serious crimes. The Razakars told us and gave us in writing that the local chairman had forced four of them to join the Razakar squad. I had always led my operations from my camp. It was rumored that they supplied my hand-drawn picture to different places. They also declared a prize of Tk 20,000 for information leading to my capture. So there were many attempts to catch me employing various methods. One day I had dinner at the house of a friend at Alta village. The very next day the whole village was burnt down by the army. The army tried its utmost to capture me but they failed. I left the night before. At that time it was our primary duty to bring back peace and order. In order to do this we had faced many clashes with the associates of the Pak army. The Razakars based at the thana had by then disappeared. My area was then a completely free zone.

 

After this we moved to Barisal town. My unit joined the forces fighting for theliberation of Barisal town. At the time my camp was on the Barisal Girlís College hostel which was once the home of Chand Sil. I hold the Peer of Sarsina fully responsible for the massacre at Kuriana-Atghar by the attack of the Pak bahini. Under his leadership thousands of Razakars and madrasha students joined the Pak bahini and fought shoulder to shoulder with them against the liberation forces. Even to-day we do not know how many people were massacred at Atghar and in the 37 villages of Kuriana Beel(marsh) area by the Pak army and their associates. I feel very sad that till now, after 25 years, this area has not received any help or rehabilitation support from any quarter. Even during the massacre my comrades reached relief materials, like food, clothes, medicines etc taken out of the looted booties of our enemies and Razakars, for the luckless people of the area. We collected money, clothes, medicines etc from different hats, bazaars at different times and distributed these to the affected people. We did not fight the liberation war only with weapons, we always tried to help the victims with food and shelter, and tried to rehabilitate them. After Barisal was liberated our work more or less came to an end.

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We thought those who joined the liberation war and fought for our freedom, at least they would be able to live in peace with their children. They would get two meals a day. But this didnít happen.

 

I deposited my weapons at Perojpur. It was then a sub-division. I deposited the largest stock of weapons including one hundred and fifty two thousand pieces of ammunition. Many boys of my unit were absorbed into the newly created militia forcs. A few months later the government disbanded this force. Even to-day, after twenty five years, many of them have not been able to stand on their own feet. I sometimes feel guilty for this painful situation. The administration of those days did not attach importance to this problem. At least now it is time to rehabilitate them.

 

 

Q.Why did you join the liberation war?

 

A.I was a citizen of the then East Pakistan and Bangladesh. I thought as a conscious citizen it was my moral obligation to fight for the liberation of my country. That is why I fought for the freedom of my country-men.

 

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Q.When did the Pak army attack your area? And how did they do it?

 

A.The Pak army first came to my area in May 1971 and assembled in the thana compound. Then they split themselves up in several groups and spread all around. Four or five of these groups launched attack on a number of fronts. They killed a very large number of people. They burnt down scores of homes and hearths. They had manylocal associates. They looted homes and handed over young women and girls to the Pak army jawans. Specially these miscreants targeted Hindu families. Very often they lined up men on the banks of the river and shot them down. The Pak troops used to come out in the morning and return before sunset. They used to take shelter in the thana buiding. From the thana they would spread out in different directions. They killed, looted and set fire to the homes of the villagers.

 

 

Q.When did the actions of the muktibahini begin in your area and how did the local people take it?

 

A.In May my are fell to the Pak bahini. Then I started organizing my unit. With a handful of boys and very little weapons we started our activities. In the beginning we stopped looting and then attacked the homes of the looters. In many instances we set fire to the homes of the local miscreants. People hated these looters. They were more harmful than the Pak bahini. We recovered some looted articles and distributed among the people. The villagers liked the muktibahini boys. They thought, although not very strong, at least these boys were able to protect them from the local miscreants. As we were getting strong we felt we would be able to liberate our country.

 

 

Q.Who were the people of your area who joined the Razakar bahini and the Peace Committee?

 

A.In our area mostly the peasants and minor businessmen who joined these forces. Unemployed youth and people with very little education constitutedthe majority in the Razakar bahini. The fellow who first became the chairman of the peace committee was from Chakahar. He was a neighbor of Shere Bangla A.K. Fazlul Huq. His name was Ali Mia. He was the first person to organize Peace Committee in this area. He was the chairman of the Banripara Peace Commi-ttee. We caught him when we attacked Banripara thana. He was killed by the freedom fighters. The man who led the Razakars in my area was named Abdul Aziz. He disappeared from the area soon after liberation.

 

 

Q.Were the anti-liberation elements caught? And how did they get away?

 

A.We caught many anti-liberation elements and many of them were thrown into the prison. Later on many of them were released because of the general amnesty declared by the government. After they were released they started taking revenge on us. With the help of the administration they started conspiring against the freedom fighters and those who were in favor of liberation war. As a result many freedom fighters were evicted from their homes and became innocent victims of conspiracy hatched by the anti-liberation elements. If the government hadnít pardoned them by declaring general amnesty, this painful situation could not have been created.

 

 

Q.What was the condition of schools, colleges, mosques, madrashas, temples, bridges and homesteads of your area after the liberation?

 

A.The schools were in terrible condition. During the past nine months the students didnít go to schools for fear of the Pak army coming any time. For fearof the army the kids stayed away fromschools. Many teachers were killed by the Pak army, so also many students. Many schools were burnt down The Pak army received help from the administration of the nearby Chakhar Fazlul Huq College. We had complaint against the teachers of this college. The teachers had very friendly relations with the Pak army officers. They destroyed the temples and moths(prayer area of Hindus) of the college, they destroyed our family home and our temple and moth. Their local associates took advantage of the situation. Most of the residential houses were burnt down and bridges were destroyed. At that time there were many bridges in our locality. We also blew up some of them to prevent the Pak army invading our area. Almost all the Hindu temples were destroyed and Hindu homes burnt. The Pak army had special grudge on the Hindus. They destroyed 90 per cent of the Hindu homes in our area.

 

 

Q.Which are the areas where indiscriminate killing, arson and looting took place? And who committed these acts?

 

A.Gaba, Ramchandrapur Union, Kuriana, Atghar of Swarupkathi thana, Ghuitta Union of Uzirpur thana and old thana area of Banripara were very badly destroyed. The local Razakaras helped the Pak army as also the three thousand students of the madrashah of the Peer Sahib of Sarsina. They burnt down the whole area, looted homes, raped women and carried out indiscriminate killing.

 

 

Q.Did any one become shaheed during fighting?

 

A.In my area Matiur Rahman became shaheed while fighting in the house of Sarshina Peer and Delwar Hossain beame shaheed while fighting with the Pak army at Banripara. Abdus Sattar of Rajapur became shaheed when his unit attacked Banripara thana. Bimal Krishna Das became shaheed at Babuganj and Zafar of Razzakpur became shaheed near Barisal ltown.

 

 

Q.How many freedom fighter groups were there and who were they? And who were the leaders of these groups?

 

A.I was the Base Commander of the Banripara Thana Base. My group was split into several sections. These sections were commanded by Abdur Rashid,Kazi Motiur Rahman, Keshabchandra Das, Hasan Ali, Moslem Khan and others.

 

 

Q.During the war where were the freedom fightersí camps in your Banaripara thana area?

 

A.My camp was in Banaripara. The others were in Gaba, Burimari, the headmasterís residence of Gaba School, Narer Kathi of Swarupkathi thana and one atthe house of Barabanik of Banaripara.

 

 

Q.Where were the Rajakar and Shanti bahini camps or offices located in Banaripara?

 

A.The main camp of the Razakars was in the thana building and in Saha bari(house) and Banik bari

 

 

Q.What was the role of the Banaripara thana administration during the war?

 

A.The Banripara thana administration was totally opposed to us during the war, specially the police administration. They were totally opposed to the liberation war. They did a lot of torture and repression and killed many people. They set fire to my house also. The policemen and the police officers in the administration committed a lot of raping during those days.

 

 

Q.How many women and girls were raped in Banaripara area, do you have any idea?

 

A.According to my information at least 6/700 girls were raped in Atghar Kuriana. Besides these, about 25 to 50 were raped in Banaripara area.

 

 

Q.In your area how many homesteads were burnt down, how many homes looted and how many people were killed?

 

A.In the Gaba Ramchandrapur union, Atghar Kuriana union, Ghuitta union and Banaripara thana, all together, particularly the Hindu homes, about 90% were looted and set on fire. In 37 villages in that area about 50,000 people were slaughtered by the Pakistan army.

 

 

Q.What did you do when the war ended?

 

A.When the war ended I again joined the school. I served the Gaba School as Headmaster till 1974. Then in 1979 I joined the Meghna Petroleum Company as a Depot Superintendent. Till to-day I am working in the Meghna Petroleum Co.. I am now a Senior Sales Officer posted in Chittagong.

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††††† Interviewer:Niranjan Dasgupta Anu

††††† Date of interview: 10 August, 1996†††††

††††† Translation:Faruq Aziz Khan