New Delhi: The Maharani of Tripura threw open her royal palace to hundreds of refugees from Bangladesh, a poor tailor stitched the first flag of Bangladesh government-in-exile free of charge and a school teacher hit the streets of Kolkata to raise money for freedom fighters.
As Pakistani troops carried on their genocide trying to prevent the birth of Bangladesh four decades ago, a ray of hope came from the neighbour across the border through unsung but touching gestures from ordinary Indians during that
country`s liberation war in 1971.
These gestures are captured in a new documentary film `Dushshomoyer Bondhu` (A Friend in Troubled Times) by eminent Bangladeshi rights activist and journalist Shahriar Kabir which will have its India premiere on December 18 in Kolkata.
Kabir told reporters Dhaka that what inspired him to make the 90-minute documentary was that while the contributions of Indira Gandhi and other top Indian political leaders, bureaucrats and military officers to the liberation of Bangladesh are well documented what is often forgotten are the acts of the ordinary people of India who helped in their small but invaluable way the emergence of an independent
The film, shot in Tripura, Meghalaya, West Bengal, Jharkhand, New Delhi and Maharashtra, contains interviews of retired military officials, social workers, journalists and cultural activists of India who served the Bangladeshi survivors of the Pakistani army’s holocaust.
These Indians helped with food, medicines and clothes in refugee camps where lakhs of Bangladeshis were sheltered, trained the Bangladeshi freedom fighters and provided moral support during the 15-day war.
Kabir`s documentary is resplendent with several instances of poignant tales of ordinary Indians from all walks of life and contains for the first time video interviews of Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora, who had led the Indian troops in the war against Pakistani army in Bangladesh in 1971, and the then BSF Director General Rustamji, said Kabir.
Mrinmoyee Basu, a school teacher in Kolkata, walked on the streets raising fund to help the people of Bangladesh, a mission that took her finally to Indira Gandhi who studied with her at Viswa Bharati in 1960s.
One day, when Basu gifted a transistor radio set to a Bangladeshi who was the head of a refugee camp in Kolkata, she was approached by a 13-year-old boy, a freedom fighter, for the same so that he too can update himself with news about the liberation war in his country.
Basu agreed and three days later she reached the camp with the radio only to be informed that the boy was killed in the liberation war. The school teacher broke down. Prof Dilip Chakrabarty,who accompanied Mrinmoyee Basu to the camp,
consoled her saying no tear should be dropped for a martyr before he himself began sobbing.
The documentary narrates the feelings of the widow of an Indian soldier Albert Ekka from Jharkhand who was killed while fighting the Pakistani army to save a Bangladeshi freedom fighters` camp at Gangasagar in Brahmanbaria district of that
Now a resident of Ranchi, the widow Balandina was asked how she took her husband`s death. "It was very painful but I forgot the pain as he wanted to save the lives of his co-fighters," she said.
Robin Sengupta, a photojournalist from Tripura, says in the film how he rushed to Akhaura only to find the bodies of women, young and old, stripped of their clothes, some dead while others injured.
"How could I take their photos? They were my mothers and sisters. I could not do it," he said.
The film also has interviews of T N Kaul, Indian Foreign Secretary during Indira Gandhi`s time as prime minister, former Tripura Maharani Bibhu Kumari Devi whose royal palace in Agartala had sheltered war-time refugees from Bangladesh and current Meghayala Chief Minister Mukul Sangma and his wife Begum Raushanara Sangma whose parents had played a stellar
role in helping the refugees, according to the filmmaker.
Yesteryears` actress Waheeda Rahman, who was the chairperson of a committee set up in Maharashtra to help Bangladeshi refugees, recalls how she mobilised the Indian
cinema industry to mobilise funds to help Bangladeshi refugees.
"I went ahead to help because it is humanity that stands high, not language, culture or boundary", said Waheeda in the documentary.
Shaukat Kaifi, wife of poet Kaifi Azmi, and her daughter-actress Shabana Azmi also narrate their activities in the documentary in support of Bangladesh. At a discussion that followed the Bangladesh premiere of the documentary film in Dhaka last week, Planning Minister and former Air Vice-Marshal A K Khandker recalled how a poor tailor near the Bangladesh Deputy High Commission in Kolkata had in the dead of night of April 16, 1971, sacrificed his whole night`s sleep and stitched the flag of the Bangladesh government-in-exile without charging any money.
"When we asked how much he would charge, the tailor said `Sir, please forgive me. I cannot take any money`", recalled Khandker, the then deputy chief of staff of the Bangladesh armed forces.
Noted Indian defence analyst K Subramaniam said "Indira Gandhi`s government imposed a `Bangladesh tax` in 1971 but nobody protested. Now, if a tax of two paisa is imposed, Indians set fire to tram depots."
Shahriar Kabir`s book "Ekattorer Jishu" (The Jesus of 1971), which was made into a feature film by Nasiruddin Yousuf, and his previous documentary `War Crimes 71` vividly bring out the atrocities committed by Pakistani army and by their collaborators during the liberation war.
Since "Dushshmoyer Bondhu" is in Bengali, Kabir said he is trying get it subtitled in English to reach out to much wider audience in India and has approached the Bangladesh High Commission in New Delhi in this regard.