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Charbaria massacre, never to be forgotten

by Khan Helal

By the time April of 1971 was coming to an end, the Pakistan army started to form an idea of Barishal as a bastion of freedom fighters. The onslaught first began on the 18th of that month. They attacked Barishal city with a barrage of bombs.

But a coordinated attack was yet to come. After the fall of Faridpur city on April 24, a large contingent of the occupation force started their march towards Barishal. The following day, on the 25th, they launched simultaneous operations by road, water, and air, according to historians and freedom fighters.

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That day, the occupation force carried out a massacre at Charbaria union, killing around 47 people.

The story unfolded at Bhurghata point. As the Pakistan army reached the area, they suddenly came under attack from freedom fighters in Kotoksthol area. Five Mukti Bahini members and several Pakistani military personnel were killed in the clash, recounted freedom fighters of Barishal city.

The massacre at Charbaria began after Pakistan paratroopers on two helicopters landed in the area.

At the same time, three gunboats started firing at Junahar and Shaistabad areas. The freedom fighters rushed to set up camps at Mahabaj High School in Charbaria, to try to contain the Pakistan army on the river.

Flight sergeant Fazlul Haque, lieutenant Imam Al Mehdi, and habildar Panchanan Ghazi were in charge of the camps. The freedom fighters tried to take advantage of their position by anchoring two steamers named “Irani” and “Majvi” near Jhunahar and repelling the incoming Pakistan gunboats.

When the gunboats crossed Jhunahar and Taltali, the freedom fighters fired from Shaistabad and Charbaria. But soon, shells rained down from the gunboats. The freedom fighters were no match. The two steamers — Irani and Majvi — drowned fast.

Locals said no one was spared in the massacre. Everyone, from two-year-olds to 90-year-olds, were killed. There were 25 people who were injured from the gunshots, many of whom later lost their working capacity and died of various diseases. At least 200 houses were set on fire there, they said.

Abdul Mannan was a 10th-grader at the time. The Charbaria native had lost both his father Abdur Rahman and grandfather Ali Azim Khan in the atrocity.

“It was around 10 or 11am. At one point of their attack, they went down to Taltali and started firing from door to door.”

“It took until the afternoon for the violence to subside a bit. But the danger was far from over, as some soldiers remained stationed in the gunboats,” Mannan continued.

The next day, they set fire to some houses in Charmonai union and fired on their residents, he said. “The army kept marching towards Barishal city. A number of anti-Bangladesh people welcomed them in Barishal launch area.”

“The following day, all the bodies were buried,” chronicled Mannan. “It was also the day when all the seven family members of Abdus Sattar Hawladar were killed, after the occupation army found out that they were hiding in a trench.”

“A memorial for the deceased was later set up at Hawlader Bari, and another one was built at Taltoli Bazar. In addition, I’ve built a library in memory of my father, martyred Abdur Rahman,” Mannan said.

However, very few people have traced down the families of all the 47 martyrs there. Many families, including the Hawladar family, have been wiped out by indiscriminate firing of the Pakistan army, said locals.

Putul Ghosh, divisional secretary of Sector Commanders Forum, said it was the first massacre by Pakistan forces in Barishal region. Once breaching through this area, the army proceeded to set up their military base in the city’s Wapda area and continued the onslaught across different parts of Barishal over the next couple of months.

Journalist Nazrul Biswas of Charbaria told The Daily Star on Sunday, “Today is a day of mourning for the people of the union. The Charbaria massacre shall never be forgotten.”

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