Army's Jihad Against Shahid Minars in Munshigonj : 1971
the demolition of the central Shahid Minar in Dhaka on March 26,
1971 the Pakistan Army destroyed with vengeance similar minars
in other parts of Bangladesh as the marauding troops fanned out
to the districts and the countryside. This article captures incidents
surrounding Pakistan's Army's depraved operation in Munshiganj,
which the author had the misfortune of witnessing as a young sub-divisional
Munshiganj sub-division of Dhaka, the Army commander found himself
in a new iconoclastic role, but did not know how to execute his
tasks, partly because he had no idea how many Minars were there
in the sub division, and how to go about destroying these. One
morning he summoned me (I was the sub-divisional officer) to his
camp and showed me the orders from his bosses to destroy all Shahid
Minars in the subdivision. He further explained how essential the
destruction of these structures was to the rehabilitation of the
structures, he explained to me, were nothing but an evil attempt
by the 'Kafirs' to establish Shiva lingam. (Older readers will
recall that the original Shahid Minar was a tapered monument).
The Commander did not summon me to consult whether or not to destroy
the Minars; he wanted to know how many of these were in the subdivision.
Commander put me in a predicament. I had no number to provide,
as we did not keep any statistics of Shahid Minars in the sub-division.
I also visualized Army vandalizing the countryside in this mindless
operation, but causing additional harm to the entire subdivision
already traumatized by their presence.
had to give an answer. I speculated that if I told the Commander
that there was at least one in each village, I might deter him
from making so many forays into the countryside. (Interior of Munshigonj
was not easily navigable those days; waterways were the principal
means of transportation.) The answer did not apparently please
the Army Commander.
thought of he and his troops roaming through every nook and cranny
of the subdivision in a search and destroy mission was not very
appealing to him. Yet he had this noble task to destroy these icons
of idol worshippers. He came up with a plan. His troop would destroy
the Minars in Munshiganj town in the first phase. The second phase
would be destruction in the interior as and when his troop visited
day, an army contingent led by a lieutenant dynamited the Shahid
Minars located at Haraganga College and two other High Schools.
Later in the day, the Army Commander dropped in my office and expressed
satisfaction at his troop's achievement. "You know, there
is considerable sawab in destroying these idols. After I explained
the sawab to the teachers there, they helped me remove the bricks
from the dismantled site.'' "They (teachers) know icon worship
is forbidden by our religion", he added. I could only guess
how much of the Teachers' yearning for "sawab" was generated
by the guns pointed at the helpless lot.
Army's dilemma in the Shahid Minar destruction campaign arose in
the second phase, however. It was relatively easy to demolish the
first Shahid Minar that the Army encountered in its visit to each
Thana Headquarters. But what about those dozens of others that
reportedly littered the village side? For safety reasons as well
as transportation difficulties, it was not possible for the Army
to destroy each one of them. Yet, the Army commander felt somehow
obliged to earn sawab by completing his "cleansing" task.
He also had to report compliance to his superiors.
Commander debated in his mind several days whether to embark on
this all out task with his small contingent or seek some other
device. He fell upon the Sub-divisional Officer for support. He
wanted the Officers in Charge of the Thanas to finish the unfinished
task. The six OCs who were assembled in Munshiganj scratched their
heads for a moment, and asked how would the Commander know if these
tasks were actually carried out? Would he go and visit the sites
later? He had no time for visits, the Commander said. The Thana
Officers should provide certificates of destruction, and these
would be filed by the Commander to his superiors.
certificates would keep the Army out of our villages, the OCs would
be too glad to provide them. Within a few days of getting the Commander's
orders, all six OCs provided the Certificates of Destruction. The
Commander reported to his authorities that the religious mission
has been accomplished. Ingenuity of a few OCs saved some property
and lives in Munshiganj, at least for the time being.
Ziauddin M Choudhury,
a former civil servant in Bangladesh, works for an international
organization in the US. E-mail: Ziauddin
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