Joyonti Bala Debi's husband gave his life for the cause of an independent Bangladesh in 1971 while she was violated by the occupation army and their local collaborators.
After the war, Bangladesh's founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman condoled her for her loss and gave a Tk2,000 grant.
Four decades after independence, Joyonti's husband Nitai Chandra Debnath has not been recognised as a freedom fighter and she herself has remained neglected.
“I failed to give bribes,” she explained.
She married Nitai in 1966 from Goari village in Bhaluka. Nitai was martyred during a battle in Goalibazaar in 1971. Joyonti was captured and taken to Asim Rajakar camp where she was tortured for two months.
Bangabandhu sent a letter of condolence to Joyonti for her struggles after the war.
Joyonti has since stayed with her brother's family at Joypur village in Bhabanipur Union of Mymensingh's Fulbaria upazila.
She applied to the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs last October for recognising her as a 'Birangana'. But she said she had been asked to pay large sums of money as bribes in the process.
A freedom fighter even asked her for a Tk60,000 bribe to push for her case in the ministry. “I beg for livelihood and stay at my brother's house. Where will I find the money?” she said as she broke down in tears.
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After the war, Bangabandhu wrote to Joyonto Bala Debi condoling her for her loss. Dhaka Tribune
Three million people were killed in the exceptionally bloody nine-month 1971 war when millions of others were forced to seek refuge in India.
Although the government says around 200,000 women and girls were abused during the Liberation War, independent sources put it at 400,000. But the War Crimes Fact Finding Committee estimates the number to be around 468,000.
Nearly 2,000 freedom fighters from Fulbaria applied for recognition. After scrutiny, a list of 156 people was released on April 30.
Fulbaria upazila freedom fighters' council commander AB Siddique said: “Joyonti Bala Debi is undoubtedly a Birangana and her husband is a martyr.”
“But their names are not in the list published by the National Freedom Fighter Council,” he said. “The published list contains names of non-freedom fighters.”
During the selection process, the candidates who were interviewed, recognised Joyonti as a Birangana, and her husband as a martyr.
National Freedom Fighters Council chief Anam Nazrul Islam said: “I have recently heard that Joyonti Bala had applied to the recognition committee. It is possible that among thousands of requests, some things might have been overlooked.
“If she appeals against the decision, we will definitely vouch for her. We will take action against anyone who had asked her for bribes if she complains.”
Joyonti Debi said the published list had a lot of Rajakars or local collaborators of the Pakistan occupation army.
“They bribed their way into the list,” she said. “Freedom fighters are poor, they can not afford the bribes, and so many freedom fighters are not in the list.”