Saturday, April 23, 2016

A place that no one knows

Faisal Mahmud

Faisal Mahmud pays homage to the Bangladeshi braves that made our country a true home for us all 

The small, dilapidated gates, and the unpretentious fading signboard claiming “Muktijoddha Rogmukti Bisramagar” (Sanatorium for Freedom Fighters) at College Gate (right across the Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University), might have evaded your eyes while battling your way through traffic on the busy Mirpur Road. And yet it has been there for the past 42 years,practically since our independence in 1971, as a testament to the brave men and women who fought for their country. Muktijoddha Rogmukti Bisramagar is right there, inviting anyone to come in and witness the scars and the heroism that led to the creation of Bangladesh.
The place and the people
Ironically, the ambience inside the sanatorium almost transports you back to 1971; the furniture, colour of the wallsand the broken windows haven’t changed much in the last 42 years. About 17 permanently injured freedom fighters still live there with their families, in five old buildings, spread over some 5,760sq-ft of land. “More than 100 people are living on this small piece of land. It’s really congested in here. Also there are frequent water and electricity problems,” Motiur Rahman, a septuagenarian war veteran, said.
Motiur fought in sector 8 during the Liberation War. “I can’t move my left hand properly for the last 40 odd years. It was badly injured by a grenade splinter during the war. I have been living here since the independence. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman gave us – some six or seven freedom fighters – this land to live on after the war had ended. He also granted us an allowance of Tk75 per month. Then, during the Ershad regime, the allowance was increased twice and we received Tk2,000 per month. Now, from November of this year, we are getting Tk16,000 per month,” he said.
“This is a paltry amount to live on, as the prices of essentials have sky-rocketed. But the Liberation War Trust at least honours us with something,” he concluded.
Chaitonno Biswas, another war veteran, has been living here for the last 42 years. “I lost my left leg while I was fighting in sector 4. Right after independence, I started living here,” he said.
“Life is not easy. We fought for independence, but we could never become free of poverty. The subsequent governments have promised us a lot. But the promises were rarely kept,” he lamented. Recalling the heroic days of the wartime, Abdur Rahim Badshah, another war veteran who fought in sector 3, said: “That’s the best gift of our life – liberation – and we fought for it.” Badshah’s right knee was badly injured while he was fighting at Pachdona, Narsingdi, when his group killed and captured 60 “hanadars” (Pakistani army).
Badshah said after Liberation War, Bangabandhu had granted them this place to live in. “I also got a job at a chocolate factory, and later during Ershad regime, at a sugar mill. But the money that I earned by doing those jobs could never alleviate my poverty,” he said.
He said that the government has restricted 30% quota for the freedom fighters families in any government job. “But when my son passed a bank entrance exam, he was asked to give Tk300,000 for the job. We are no beneficiaries of the quota system,” he said.
The life within
Recreation for these injured freedom fighters is in disarray since the place does not have suitable entertainment facilities. The books in a so-called library are over 20 years old. One freedom fighter even complained that they also do not get to know the current situation of the country, as newspapers are not readily available. The sanitation system is also in bad shape – all bathrooms are in a sorry state, as sweepers do not clean them regularly. 
The wife of one freedom fighters said that the problem with electricity is severe. Also, only few years ago, they got a water connection from the civic body. Previously, there used to be a regular feud among the families for water.
The only solace for these brave souls,however,is the stories they have to share about the war. Every evening, the freedom fighters sit and reminisce about the golden days of the liberation war in 1971.
MdTojammelHaque, 71, has been partially paralysed for the last 41 years since being struck by bomb splinters while fighting at Sector 7, in Rajshahi. He spends all his days in a wheelchair. “What keeps us alive is our kinship with the other freedom fighters,” he said, adding, “We can only hope that since we sacrificed so much during the Liberation War, the government will do something for our families.”
New hope?
The Ministry of Liberation Affairs has taken a project to improve the condition of the lifestyle of these brave souls. For the last two and half years, a big project has been going on in the land on the right side of their home. It is known that another 20 families of injured freedom fighters used to live on that 9,000sq-ft of land. Mohammad Mainul Haq, another injured freedom fighter, used to live there. 
“The government started this project in March 2011. We were given an allowance of extra Tk25,000, on top of our usual Tk16,000 from the Liberation War Trust, as house rent to live elsewhere while the construction work has been going on,” he said.
Abu Shahid Billa, another freedom fighter who used to live here, said after the completion of the project, they will be given an apartment and a shop from the trust in this 14-storey building. “We have already received the allotment paper. We are waiting for the handover,” he added.
Moyezuddin Talukder, the project director, said it is a Tk659.3m project under the Ministry of the Liberation War Affairs. “It will tentatively end in the middle of 2014,” he said.
Talukder said the first five floors of the building will be commercial. “Those will have shops. The sixth floor will have a convention centre and the top seven floors will have residential apartments for the injured liberation war veterans,” he clarified.
The ministry official said that the project is an initiative taken by the government. “Eventually the 17 other families living on that 5,760sq-ft of land will also get an apartment and a shop in this building. On that land, another project of this type will be taken,” the official said.
He further expounded that the present government has taken several constructive plans for the freedom fighters. This project is just one such example of that.  
A place of their own
1.  The sanatorium and the adjoining blocks were originally abandoned properties during the Liberation War. In 1972, freedom fighters treated and released from Suhrawardy Hospital sought shelter there
2.  The properties were handed over to the MuktijoddhaKalyan Trust later. In 1973, the sanatorium was turned into a vocational training centre for freedom fighters through the joint efforts of the MuktijoddhaKalyan Trust and the International Rescue Committee
3.  After the completion of the project in 1977, the sanatorium became a place to stay for permanently disabled freedom fighters and their family members from outside of Dhaka
We fought for the liberation of this country. I find it heart-breaking when I see that Razakars get high positions in the government. We don’t want anything from the government. We just want to see that the war criminals get what they deserve
Said Abdur Rahim Badsha, an injured war veteran

Shared from Dhaka Tribune

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