The nefarious aim and the brutal execution have made the killings of intellectuals during the War of Liberation one of the darkest episodes in Bangladesh’s history.
The same reason gives a reason to observe the day separately just two days before the Victory Day to recall the sacrifices made by the brightest children of this nation during the painful birth of the country.
Although a large portion of intellectuals were abducted and killed by the Pakistan army and its collaborators from December 10 to 14 in 1971, Bangalee scholars were murdered throughout the nine-month war. And the atrocities targeting them were carried out across the country.
The government prepared a list of 1,222 martyred intellectuals and published it on December 13, 2020. Earlier, immediately after the independence, the Ministry of Information published an introductory book on Bangladesh where there were names of 1,070 intellectuals.
Besides, the names of martyred intellectuals are there in ‘Buddhijibi Kosh’ (Encyclopedia of Intellectuals), Buddhijibi Smarak (Intellectuals’ Memorial) and ‘Smriti Ekattor’ (Memory of 71) of Bangla Academy, and Martyr Intellectuals Commemorative Postage Stamp issued by Bangladesh Postal Department.
A major portion of these intellectuals were from outside Dhaka. According to Banglapedia, some 1,111 intellectuals, including 86 in Cumilla, 91 in Jashore, 72 in Rangpur, 61 in Dinajpur, 53 in Pabna, 75 in Mymensingh, 43 in Faridpur, 62 in Chattogram, 65 in Khulna, 75 in Barishal and 54 in Rajshahi, lost their lives during the war.
Family members of martyred intellectuals from outside Dhaka, historians and Liberation War researchers have said the observance of the day has solely become Dhaka-centric. Some prominent and familiar names are repeatedly pronounced while the contributions and sacrifices of intellectuals from small towns have remained largely ignored and unrecognised, they said.
Dr Zobair Ghalib, Kashem’s grandson and deputy director of the Directorate General of Family Planning, said a field in Joypurhat town was named after his grandfather but he is yet to be recognised as a martyred intellectual.
He said every year he sees that the Martyred Intellectuals Day is observed in the country with solemn respect but no one recalls his grandfather.
Amal Krishna Som was a brilliant stage actor in Jashore. He was also involved with all progressive movements and pro-liberation activities before the War of Independence.
On March 27, 1971, Pakistan army cordoned off his house in Sashitalapara of the district town and abducted Amal Som and his younger brother Arun Krishna Som. They never returned.
Even after 51 years of independence, Amal Som’s family has not been recognised as a ‘martyred intellectual family’.
Amal Som’s wife Reba Rani Som said, “In 1973, Bangabandhu gave me a cheque for Tk 2,000 as part of support for families affected by the War of Liberation. After him, no government did provide us any assistance. Even we haven’t yet got the recognition of a martyr family.”
Eminent historian Prof Muntassir Mamoon said the blueprint to kill the intellectuals was handed over to Al-Badr in June, 1971 when the force was formed.
“Since its inception, Al-Badr members along with other auxiliary forces of Pakistan army carried out these killings. Intellectuals, categorically, had been the target of the occupational forces from the very beginning of the War of Liberation. By December 16, everyone realised this,” he said.
He also said remembering all intellectuals is a must to pay the nation’s debt to them and it is also essential to inspire the new generations with the bold stories of their ancestors.
Bangla Academy Literary Award-winning Liberation War researcher Afsan Chowdhury said intellectuals had sacrificed lives throughout the country.
He said, “Apart from Dhaka, if you look at other areas, a large number of intellectuals were killed there too. We should also remember them. The observance of the Martyred Intellectuals Day has become a bit Dhaka-centric.”
“As a nation, we’ve forgotten to recall the martyred intellectuals from outside Dhaka,” the veteran journalist and academician said, describing it as a problem between the centre and margin.