April 5, 1971 is a black day that lives on in the memory of survivors and the Liberation War generation of Lalmonirhat.
On that day, Pakistani forces — with the help of the Biharis — had started picking up Bangalees from around Lalmonirhat and taking them to a spot near the railway station area.
Siblings Saiful Islam, 68, and Akter Hossain, 66, among the few detainees who survived, recently shared with The Daily Star their memories of the massacre that followed.
Saiful and Akter were 18 and 16 years old respectively and their family lived in the town’s Wireless Colony area, as their father, late Entaz Ali, was a railway employee.
“A group of Bihari led by Kala Khan, alias Kala Gunda, came to our residence at around noon. They forcibly entered our house by breaking open the doors,” said Saiful.
“They took us near the railway area. We saw many Bangalees who were brought there in a similar way,” he added.
They did not count the number of people there, Akter said.
“But after independence, we came to know that over 600 people were there. Of them, 88 were family members of railway staff, including a few doctors from the railway hospital.”
The Pakistani forces kept the people standing in a row. Suddenly, following a directive of a Pakistani Major Seresta Khan, they opened fire on the Bangalees.
“The bullet-hit people instantly fell to the ground. Almost all of them died on the spot. My brother and I sustained bullet injuries on our arms and legs. We also fell on the ground and pretended to be dead,” said Akter.
Then, the brothers said, the Pakistani forces asked members of the local Harijan community — who traditionally work as sweepers — to dump the bodies into nearby canals.
Subsequently, the forces and their collaborators left the scene, assuming that all the people were dead.
“At that time, a Harijan man Nanna Bashfor came to us hearing our screaming and asked us to flee quickly.
“Our physical condition was so bad that we could not stand up. But we started crawling and left,” recalled Saiful.
The brothers are still haunted by the brutality of that day’s massacre, said Akter.
BANGALEE-BIHARI CLASHES DURING THE WAR
This is not the only major incident in which Biharis played a prominent role in the killing of Bangalees.
Survivors and freedom fighters said Biharis in Lalmonirhat had helped Pakistani forces throughout the entire Liberation War.
As Lalmonirhat was a railway divisional headquarters, many Urdu-speaking non-Bangalees, or Biharis as they were referred to, had been working and living there for a long time, they said.
On February 25, 1971, clashes took place between Bangalees and Biharis in the town.
Later, on March 26, a Bangalee college student Shahjahan Ali, a resident of the town’s Thana Para area, was shot dead by Bihari fighters at Up-Yard colony, now named Shaheed Shahjahan Colony.
He was Lalmonirhat’s first martyr.
On April 1, Pakistan forces — accompanied by Biharis — arrived in Lalmonirhat by helicopter.
At that time, Bangalee members of EPR (East Pakistan Rifles), police, students, and ordinary Bangalees attacked Lalmonirhat Air Base — leading to the deaths of Pakistani army personnel and Biharis.
Valiant freedom fighter Abu Bakkar Siddique said the then Lalmonirhat Sadar Police Station’s Officer-in-Charge Mir Mosharrof Hossain, who was later martyred, led the operation.
In retaliation, the Pakistani army along with Biharis, conducted a massacre on April 4 and 5, said Siddique, also the commander of Lalmonirhat Sadar Upazila Muktijoddha Sangsad.
Thousands of Bangalees fleeing from other parts of the country were also passing through or temporarily sheltering in Lalmonirhat, a northern bordering district town, and adjoining areas at the time.
They comprised a large number of those slain by the occupation forces, the Biharis, and the Razakars.
There are around a dozen mass graveyards in Lalmonirhat, but these are still neglected and unpreserved, said Siddique.
“We urge the government and authorities concerned to take necessary measures to preserve the massacre grounds to keep the memories of our heroic sons alive for the young generation,” he said.