The Bewas Village
The Bewas Village
Shohagpur is so remote that even
local people didn’t know where the village was.
We frequently asked for directions to reach the cluster
of amazing greenery, placid and quiet yet with a past
full of deaths and struggle. Farida Akhtar of UBINIG
had lent us two guides, which was a great help. Shohagpur-Kakornkandi
lies deep inside Jamalpur district, resting against
the hills where indigenous tribes of Garos once lived
and now have been dispossessed and forced to become
low landers. India lies just next door separated by
the hills. The guides said that they had come by another
route hence the confusion of location.
We had run into a post-flood gash
on the terrible, unkempt road. Floodwaters had cleaved
and wounded the travel way road leaving it unhealed.
We had to alight to let the rented car negotiate the
absence of any ‘road’ on a road. Two village
kids stood and watched. We asked for directions again.
“You mean the Bewas’
village ? “
Our guide was recognized by the villagers: seeing us
ancient wooden chairs were pulled out from ramshackle
homes and placed under shades. Soon conservation began.
As it always is and in that village even more insistently,
memories of death and hunger tumble out all too easily.
Sitting in the courtyard of a widow we listened.
On the 10th of Srabon the army
had come and attacked the village without any warning.
No rounding up, no questioning, no identification, just
shooting to kill. It came swiftly, suddenly as if the
angels of death had no time for the niceties of murder.
The villagers had walked out of their dilapidated homes
at dawn and the efficient soldiers of Pakistan quickly
finished them off.
As I heard them and almost forced
myself to stare at their faces as they talked, I wondered
how could they find this almost hidden village in the
high monsoon of 1971 when nearly 30 years later I had
found it so difficult to locate?.
Even more puzzling was the why?
Why this village ?
Today it had become a village without
old men. All men who would have been aged today had
been killed on that single bloody morning. Children
had grown up without fathers in Shohagpur to become
labourers who worked in other people’s field.
They had lost their possessions to law, custom and ultimately
force. They owned no land.
“Life took our men away,
our land away, our peace away. We only have out bodies
I used the testimonies and the
interviews for an episode of a BBC series on “women
and 71” and was in fact pleasantly struck by the
public response which was quite high. And when offers
to video it came from others I became a little concerned.
It seemed there was a ‘market’ for such
horrors. Economic market, political market, other kinds
of market and I for once felt possessive of other people’s
memories. I was afraid they would be manipulated.
There were many questions about
that place and they had been left unanswered. I had
seen them framed against the past but the palpable hunger
and ruinous lives of today were as much a result of
our own deeds. We continued to destroy what the Pak
army had mangled on a rainy morning many monsoons ago.
I wanted to record the life, past
and present and not just the war months. That is by
itself such a simple limited narrative but their life
lasted longer than the war and after 1971 we devastated
whatever was left.. Brutality was only half the tale,
betrayal told the rest.
So I cobbled together a team of
pre-employment youths, full of imagined 1971 and yet
innocent and willing enough to learn, got some funds
from the Grameen Trust and returned to that and other
villages. There were other women as well whom we had
heard and wanted to record their voices before time
I came out and saw the army. They
wanted to go inside. I put my hands up like this and
said there was no one inside. They flung me away into
the yard and dragged my husband and son outside. They
shot them both right there, there.
killed every male in the village, every male. When the
army was gone, there was not a single man left to bury
the dead. We had to drag the bodies ourselves and bury
them. Without a bath, without a shroud put them into
one single hole I had dug myself. Not a grave but a
hole. No janaza, no kafon, no washing of he dead but
only the earth to cover their blood and the body. Nothing
I have lived next to their graves
all my life. I shall never leave here. They lie buried
together. I shall not leave this place even if I starve.
This is where my place is. This is where I am.
If the burial of the dead was an
incomplete, botched up make shift affair, there was
nothing disorganized about their starving. Alekjan Begum
stands near a mound housing some of her dead and suddenly
weeps about the memories of starving. She describes
foods of the foodless of rural Bengal. Roots, plants,
berries, wild vegetables…things I don’t
want to learn. They scare me.
For days, we ate them, for days
we had no rice.. Days after days of banana shoot gruels..ate
them.. ate them… ate …
Just as there is something deeply
violating about burying the dead improperly without
baths, prayers and shrouds there is something equally
violent about eating roots, plants, banana gruel to
fend off starvation. Food which field animals have.
It doesn’t just touch the
body, it rapes the soul.
Kader daktar the local quack was the healer of Shohagpur.
Like some others of that village they would prey on
the refugees passing through to India. A lot of the
loot was stored in one of the huts of that village.
One night somebody broke into that hut and helped himself
to some of the stuff.
An enraged Kader went to the army
post miles away and told them that Shohagpur was a Muktibahini
training camp. Nestled against the border it made eminent
sense to the Pak army. They mounted a classic early
morning raid. They killed only the men, the Muktis.
No women were touched. Kader had managed to transform
harmless farmers and kamlas into warriors and killers
through his own greed. No mercy was shown to people
who were killed on the charge of being partisans. It
Years later, they still insist
they were not fighters. Many of them ran away to India
that night but didn’t like the refugee camps.
Soon, they returned to their broken homes, their unkept
graves, their hunger.
Kader had two associates –
Sona Miyan and Moyna Mian- and though they moved away
to other areas – Haluaghat – they have been
consumed by the anonymity of such endless processions
of facilitators of mass murder.
If one notices anything in particular,
it’s the lack of anger or rage. Thirty years of
endless hunger and half-fed bellies have taught them
some plain truths. And hopelessness. And resignation.
And the flame of revenge was blown away by the winds
Hunger is more certain than a full
belly, a kuli’s work more possible at Nalitabari
Bazar than some relief programme to improve their lives.
When we gave them some money out of our shooting budget,
they were stunned. Nobody had ever given them anything
barring some government rations many years ago. Then
they began to fight amongst themselves. They didn't
want a tube well or something like that. They just wanted
to eat as much as they wanted. Just once in the last
people had said that they would like to go and look
for Kader daktar or try him or whatever. Maybe bump
him off. At least I know what had happened. At least
I should have done something.
But then whom should I kill for
keeping hunger alive and well in that village where
Shohagpur was consumed by the life of Bewas, Bewarish
and Bangladesh ?.
Am I not Kader daktar myself