BBC Asian Network: Mintu Rahman on Bangladesh at 40

Friday 16 December 2011, 16:33

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Ed's note: This week, BBC Radio Asian Network has been reporting on Bangladesh as the country commemorates 40 years of independence. Interactive Producer, Mintu Rahman returned to Bangladesh and retraced his childhood journey during War of Liberation. - PM.

Victory Celebrations

On Friday 16 December, Bangladesh marked the 40th Anniversary of its independence, and I was fortunate enough to be part of a team covering the event for the BBC.

I've had mixed emotions about returning to Bangladesh for this event as this where I was born and had witnessed the brutal events of 1971.

Revisiting these old sites, have brought back many memories. When things took a turn for the worse I was only thirteen with six other siblings and only my mother to look after us. My mum was adamant and strong minded and wanted to save us from the grips of a war that eventually claimed millions of people's lives.

When the war started on 25 March, my older brother and I had to flee our boarding school to our village home. Within weeks the war escalated to take in the rest of the countryside which meant no place was safe.

It wasn't long before we heard news that Pakistani soldiers were on their way. We waited till the last minute before moving out. My mum dug a hole at the back of our house and hid our gold, taking only the very basics things that we could carry. Within a few days of that I saw soldiers come to our neighbour's house and tried to abuse his daughter. When her father tried to intervene he was shot dead.

Our houses were burned down and my beloved pet dog was killed. We were made homeless with nowhere to go. Nobody wanted to put us up because some of my cousins had joined the liberation movement and this would put anyone who helped us at risk.

My mum carried us from village to village, through wet muddy bogs and paddy fields. We were robbed of the small possessions we had by collaborators of Pakistan.

After what seemed a life time pleading for a place to stay, hope came in an unlikely form. One of the poorest women in our local area, a former servant in fact, took us into her home. My mother had to handle everything on her own as my father was by this time in the UK. She was prepared to do anything to save us.

Solders were now only targetting young men and boys. Despite this my cousins all decided to join the Liberation Army that was now forming in India. I too wanted to go with them but my mum wouldn't agree. Eventually she gave in on the condition that I didn't actually become a freedom fighter, and that I would go to India and contact my father.

The night of my departure finally came on a dark night. There was a knock on the door, it was my turn. It was a very emotional goodbye between my mother and myself. I remember the tight grip she gave me. It took us three days and nights, crossing three rivers, sewers and canals to make it to the Indian border.

Once I got to India I was in a training camp and I kept in mind at all times my promise to my mother to not become a fighter. I spent my time helping injured soldiers. Now seeing these same places, I often feel that I had been fortunate enough to survive where many of my friends perished, including my roommate, Illiayas.

Bangladesh has come a long way since those days of liberation. Many people associate Bangladesh with poverty and floods, but Bangladesh has indeed prospered in its short history.

I felt privileged to be able to share some of my childhood memories with Sonia Deol. I have had so many heartfelt responses to my appearance on the show. I have never even shared these stories with my own wife and children. After hearing me on the show they were surprised and curious to know why I had neglected to tell them. I explained to my children that this was a deeply upsetting stage in my life, that until now I hadn't wanted to revisit.

Today I went to visit the Geneva Camp in Dhaka, also known as the Camp for the Stranded Pakistanis. It made me very sad to hear stories that were as gruesome and frightening as mine. This made me realise the value of my freedom. I feel very proud to have had a hand in the making of Bangladesh.

Mintu Rahman is interactive producer, BBC Asian Network

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