“India has been very sympathetic to our request for detection of the graves of our freedom fighters for reburial on the land they fought for. It will open up a new horizon in our relations,” said Shipping Minister Shahjahan Khan, who previously headed the Liberation War Affairs Ministry.
West Bengal, Assam, Tripura and Meghalaya have begun the painstaking process of locating the fighters’ graves, digging up their remains and shipping them home for burial, the Indian High Commission in Dhaka announced earlier this year. The four border states appointed nodal officers to facilitate the process, according to the commission.
The 4,000 or so fighters who died in combat or went missing in action were scattered in borderland states during the nine-month war. As of January, officials had identified 27 graves holding the remains of Bangladeshi fighters.
A site in Comilla on the Dhaka-Chittagong Highway was chosen for reburial, said Liberation War Affairs Ministry Joint Secretary Golam Mostofa.
Ret. Maj. Rafiqul Islam, a1971 war commander who now heads a parliamentary standing committee on liberation war affairs, welcomed expedition of the joint Indo-Bangladeshi effort.
“This is very sad that the family members cannot pay respect to their missing loved ones. If buried here, they would at least get some solace,” he told Khabar South Asia.
A hero comes home
To help with the process, officials compiled a list of names of Bangladeshi fighters, said Ret. Lt. Col. Sajjad Zahir, another 1971 war veteran. “One of my relatives was buried in India,” he said.
Seven years ago, Zahir supervised the first repatriation of one of those fighters.
Hamidur Rahman, a member of Bangladesh’s East Bengal Regiment, was 17 when he died in action against Pakistani forces in October 1971.
His remains were exhumed and repatriated to Dhaka from Tripura in December 2007. And when Bangladesh reinterred his remains on home soil it did so with full military honours, bestowing him the title of Bir Sreshtho (“the greatest of heroes”).
-By Kamran R. Chowdhury for Khabar South Asia in Dhaka