The residents and freedom fighters at Kalbila village in Uzirpur, Barishal felt safe when the Naxalites came
The ten-year-old boy woke up to the hushed voices of strangers. There was a power cut, and someone had lit a kerosene lamp. The window was open and a soft beam came in, making unfamiliar shadows on the wall.
His sister was sleeping next to him so he had to be very careful not to wake her. He tiptoed to the window, peeped outside, and could not believe his eyes.
Four armed Naxalites were sitting inches away from him on the porch. His father was talking to them. There was a no moon that night during 1971 Liberation War.
"I was really excited. I wanted to meet them and see their guns, but I did not go out for fear of what my father might say. I was too young to understand it all, but I can clearly remember that the Naxalites were talking to the men in the house, assuring them that they would protect us," a 58-year-old Bimal Chandra Karati, a former Union Parishad member, told The Business Standard.
His father, Surendranath Karati, owner of a jaggery warehouse in Harta Bazaar, was an affluent person in Uzirpur upazila in Barishal.
"He was politically active and supported Haranath Bain, who won the 1970 Provincial Assembly Election in 1970," he recalled.
Bimal accompanied his father to Buddhishawar Hawlader's house in the village on March 7 to listen to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's speech.
"Since then things started to change in the village as youths started organising meetings in every area, and started preparing to fight for their rights", he added.
"Our house was looted," Bimal said, and added that fearing further lootings the Karati family fled their home and moved in with Bimal's maternal uncle's family in Kalbila village.
It was in that village where Bimal first saw the Naxalites (Nokshal), who stood by the Mukti Bahini in frontal battles, and also supported them from behind the scenes.
The residents and freedom fighters at Kalbila village in Uzirpur, Barishal felt safe when the Naxalites came.
Surendranath constantly feared for his family, and kept thinking of crossing the border into India.
"When the Naxalites came, they promised to provide security to the Hindu community for a fee. My father paid them Tk200 a month, while other villagers paid them as much as they could afford. Some also gave them food and lodging," he recalled.
Meanwhile, two Razakars, Mannan and Hakim Moulavi, were ravaging neighbouring villages.
"We were safe because Mannan, Hakim and Moti Sikder from Sarsina were scared of the Naxalites, and did not dare enter our village," Bimal said.
As a result, the Hindu families in Jhalakathi, Swarupkathi and Banaripara felt safe in their houses.
"My father carried out his businesses at Harta Bazar regularly," he added.
However, luck finally ran out for the Hindus of the area.
On a hot and bright summer morning, when the traders at Harta Bazar were busy selling their goods, a truck entered the market and a number of armed soldiers got out.
With the assistance of the Razakar Bahini, the soldiers apprehended 21 people, including Bimal's father Surendranath, and tied them all with ropes.
"They were told to stand in a line, and then the soldiers started brush-firing on them. Only three men, including my father, narrowly survived. My father had five bullet wounds. Eighteen others were killed," Bimal told this correspondent.
A local practitioner of traditional medicine treated Surendranath and removed three bullets from his body.
"The two other bullets remained in his body till his death in 2005," Bimal said.
He also spoke about the hardship after the razakars looted his father's warehouse.
"We went to sleep with half-filled stomachs. I still feel the pain when I recall those days. We had to face such hardship right up to the time of liberation," he said.