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A friend, a fighter and a free spirit: A tribute to Taramon Bibi, Bir Protik

  • Published at 02:32 am December 16th, 2018
WEB_Taramon Bibi_Akku Chowdhury_Courtesy

At only 14 years old, she was not dragged or drafted into war, but volunteered to fight for her motherland

When I think of Taramon, all I see is the image of a tall woman with buck teeth and big eyes, in a white saree, standing at the door of her low-roofed thatched hut. She was giving me an obvious ‘what do you want’ stare as I entered the courtyard of her village home in Mymensingh in 1996. 

This was our first meet - I was accompanying a team from the BBC who wanted to interview her for a documentary, which included the famous journalist Simon Dring and his experiences from the dark and heinous night of March 25, 1971. He He was able to witness the horrific onslaught of killing and burning that night and managed to smuggle a film roll out when he was expelled from the country, and it was his report that woke the world to Pakistan’s reign of terror. Anyway, the BBC team also chose to interview Taramon Bibi, one of the two women who were awarded as Bir Protik for her valour beyond the call of duty in the battlefield. She is one of 151 civilian freedom fighters who have been given this gallantry award, but she herself knew nothing about it.

As time passed she, as well as the government back then, forgot the contributions and images of freedom fighters. Taramon came to know in late 1995 for the first time that she was being honoured by the state. 

At only 14 years old, she was not dragged or drafted into war, but volunteered to fight for her motherland. I didn’t have the fortune to meet her during the war, since the guerrilla forces were trained and logistically supported by the Indian Forces and fought in their own designated region or sector. But when I first met Tara, after a few awkward moments, it seemed like we were two teenagers from 1971, meeting after a short lapse of time. Even though she came from a rural background - a peasant’s daughter with hardly any schooling, while I grew up in an urban metropolitan setting, going to public school and hobnobbing with Pakistanis - we were both connected by the fire within us, we could not stand the exploitation of the Bengalis, and we knew that we would have to break our shackles and free our people. We were drawn by the passion of the call by Bangabandhu to fight for the emancipation of all. 

But the irony of it all is that for almost two decades, not only the freedom fighters but also the spirit of 1971, was disowned by those in power. After 1975, after the father of the nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, along with his family and political allies, were massacred, the nation went through a period of amnesia. The supporters of Pakistan infiltrated business, politics, bureaucracy, military and government and destroyed and distorted history. Villains became heroes overnight. A generation grew up with lies and in darkness. It was not until the movement for the trial of Pakistani collaborators in 1991, led by Shaheed Jononi Jahanara Imam, that there was a Renaissance of the spirit of 1971. 

In 1995, a teacher of a college in Mymensingh discovered Taramon and the world came to know of her bravery. Taramon and other freedom fighters, especially those from marginalized families, were given their due recognition. Up until then, they had all been forgotten. It took 24 years for the nation to show their gratitude but by then she was not only afflicted with physical ailments but emotional ones too. After 1995, her financial situation and health care might have improved but she told me her frustration was deeper than ever at “not seeing the country she fought for and in the way she envisioned.” 

After 1996, when PM Sheikh Hasina came to power, we breathed a sigh of relief because we knew she would not ever attempt to erase 1971. From that year onwards, Taramon Bibi and I met often and shared our frustrations, joys and pain in a way that only comrades in arms could. For most freedom fighters, 1971 is a stronger umbilical cord that ties us together than any other relationship in our lives. We don’t die, we just fade away!

Taramon, to me, not only symbolized the struggle of the people but that of women all over the world - making endless sacrifices and suffering injustice unnoticed and unseen, with no one to stand by them. Regardless, they continued their selfless duties towards their children and families with no expectations whatsoever. In 1971 Taramon, like many of our youth, sacrificed everything for the liberty, justice and freedom of their brothers and sisters - expecting nothing but maybe torture or death in the hands of a Pakistani soldier. 

She and many others left everything they knew to face the enemies and kill or be killed in the battlefield, not for the sake of killing, but to make the statement - ‘never again’. She stood up to injustice and she was victorious, but unfortunately in reality, she did not live to see the end of inhumanity in the Bangladesh that she created.

The author is a freedom fighter