Today is the Martyred Intellectuals Day of Bangladesh. The day is observed every year on 14 December in Bangladesh to commemorate those intellectuals who were killed by Pakistani forces and their collaborators during the 1971 Liberation War.
Notable intellectuals who were killed from the time period of 25 March to 16 December 1971 in different parts of the country include many Hindu highbrows like Dhaka University professors Dr. Govinda Chandra Deb (Philosophy), Jyotirmoy Guhathakurta (English literature), Senior lecturer Santosh Chandra Bhattacharya (History), Lecturer Anudvaipayan Bhattacharya (Applied Physics), Rajshahi University professor Sukhranjan Somaddar (Sanskrit), Politician Dhirendranath Datta, Philanthropist Ranadaprasad Saha with son Bhavani Prasad Saha among others.
On the eve of Martyred Intellectuals Day of Bangladesh, BBC Bangla has published a special supplement with the headline that can be roughly translated as, “Golden jubilee of independence: The story of a family forced to convert in 1971”.
During the war of independence, many Hindus in Bangladesh were forced to convert to save their lives. Only to save their lives, they had to spend their days with a Muslim identity. The family of Sachindra Chandra Aich had to go through such a horrible experience in 1971.
English teacher Sachindra was known as Sachin Sir to everyone in Mymensingh city (then town). At that time he was an English teacher at Mymensingh City College. Sachindra Chandra Aich told BBC Bangla that after March 25, 1971, killings and arson attacks on Hindu families started in his city. Everyone in the Hindu community was suffering.
Although he was employed in the City College, he could not go there because he was a Hindu. Then the principal of the college said, “How can you come to college? The local people are West Pakistani (Muslim) Biharis, they cannot tolerate Hindu people.”
“Having no alternative, I went to the mosque and converted to Islam with my family to save our lives & job. Then I joined the job again,” said Mr. Aich. At that time he, his wife, parents, sister – all had to convert to Islam.
His sister Kanon Sarkar told BBC Bangla, “Even after our conversion, we had some problems. We converted under various pressures.”
“The Pakistani usurper army was desperately looking for one of our relatives. When I met him, he said, ‘If you want to live, then become a Muslim. I too have become a Muslim’. We couldn’t get out of the house. My elder brother also could not join his college job. I was listening that one can’t leave the house without an Islamic card. We were trapped inside the house. Then we saw that there is no way, how long will we be imprisoned like under house arrest? Then we explained to our parents. We have to live first…so we converted,” said Ms. Sarkar.
She added that even after converting to Islam, they did not have peace. “Different types of pressures were applied, such as my younger brother would be taken away. Then we ran to different people (to get him released). During Ramadan, Muslim women invaded our house in groups. They turned our cooking, our rice cookers upside down. They used to ask us why we were not fasting?”
Mr. Aich added that wearing sindoor (vermilion) is very important for married Hindu women. But from then until the country became independent, they stopped wearing vermilion. He said that even after becoming Muslim, they had to flee to different places and hide in the houses of Muslim friends. Expensive gold ornaments had to be hidden.
He often had to go to the mosque to prove that he was a Muslim. Although he did not know much about Surah-Qiraat (recitation of Quranic verses), he used to offer prayers in the mosque while watching others. “On the first day, I was taught how to wash my hands and feet in Islamic manner. I had Muslim students, who said, sir, you can sit and watch others. Then every Friday I would go to the mosque, sometimes I prayed five times.”
“I fasted for the first few days during Ramadan. I couldn’t do it later. But when I went out, I didn’t take food,” he said.
After rejoining his service as a Muslim, he received an identity card. Proof of his Muslim identity was often required at checkpoints in various parts of the city. “Every time I was stopped by the Punjabis (West Pakistan Army), they would ask, ‘Are you a Hindu or a Muslim?’ I would say, Muslim. Then they would ask me to recite Islamic verses. As I had memorized Surah Fatiha by then, I would start reciting. Then army would say, ‘go’,” he said.
Mr. Aich said the day the country became independent, it was as if they had regained their religion back. Kanon Sarkar said, “The day Mymensingh was liberated, we returned back to our home town. On that day, the wife of our rented home’s owner came with a box of sindoor and applied the sindoor on my mother and my forehead”. She added that they did not have to follow any religious rules or make any atonement to return to Hindu Dharma.
Sachindra Chandra Aich said, “If the country had not become independent, we might not have found our identity again.”