“When he asked who is interested in joining the Liberation War, only I stepped forward,” Harun said with joyful glittering eyes.
That morning Harun-or-Rashid bunked classes at his college and went to Republic Square (now Lokanath Dighir Maidan) in Brahmanbaria, to catch a glimpse of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
When seventeen-year-old Harun and his friends reached the square, it was already crowded. They pushed through the spectators to get close to the stage for a better view. They pushed and shoved others till they reached a point from where they could see their hero.
"I joined the 1971 Liberation War because I was inspired by Bangabandhu's speeches," the 65-year-old told The Business Standard. Forty-nine years later, the freedom fighter recalled his memories of the Father of the Nation and the war that shaped Bangladesh.
Harun was always mesmerised by the Father of the Nation and considered Bangabandhu his idol. He told this correspondent how enchanted he was by the speeches of the great political leader.
"After enrolling in a college in April 1970, I also joined the Pakistan Cadet Corps (PCC). Sixty of us were trained by a retired army havildar at the Niaz Mohammad High School playground. In addition to physical exercise, we were trained with a dummy wooden rifle," he said.
"The morning of March 26, 1971 changed my life," he recalled. That morning Humayun Kabir, then vice-president of Brahmanbaria Government College Chhatra Sangsad came to the training field and gave us a speech.
On that dreadful morning, Harun-or-Rashid learnt about the massacre carried out by the Pakistani military the night before.
Humayun also told the trainees that they immediately needed to join the Liberation War.
"When he asked who is interested in joining the Liberation War, only I stepped forward," Harun said with joyful glittering eyes.
"Humayun came close and said my mother would blame him if I joined the war, but I was firm in my decision and assured him that it was my own decision, and nobody would blame him if anything happened to me," Harun added.
Following my lead, thirty other youths also came forward to join the Liberation War and free the country from the Pakistani military. The men still did not know what was awaiting them in the near future.
Humayun explained that they will be trained to carry out guerilla attacks in the dark of night. So, according to the plan, they started gathering in the southern corner of the college compound every night after 10pm.
But there was a problem. When the secret trainings began, they found out that there was a big light in the adjoining Baptist church. So, they hurled stones to break the light and continued their training in the darkness for a few days. It was in those trainings where Harun learned many war tactics, including how to fire a rifle while crawling.
After completing the guerilla training Harun and the other fighters all got a rifle each from the government armory.
"Former Mahakuma Administrator Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmed rebelled against the authorities for our rifles" he said, adding that he got a Mark-4 rifle.
Soon after that ten guerilla fighters including Harun were given the responsibility of guarding a tower in the Titas Gas field in the Ghatura area as the destruction of the tower would snap communication between the guerilla fighters.
But the Pakistani military was not an easy nut to crack. Harun recalled one of his close encounters with the army.
"One night our fighters were hiding to ambush a platoon of Pakistani soldiers who were supposed to arrive in the area through Gokarna Ghat. But they outsmarted us. Rather than using the waterways, they dropped the soldiers from helicopters and kept firing at us from fighter planes," Harun said.
During that encounter Harun was responsible for delivering packets of bullets to the freedom fighters.
"Alpha Company Commander Captain Mahbubur Rahman of Sector 3 in 1st East Bengal Regiment gave us the duty. We took the bullets from Gokarna Ghat to fighters in different areas," he said.
The frontal warfare was yet to begin in Brahmanbaria at that time. One day, Captain Mahbubur called us to Poirotala Rail-gate.
"On the way, as we walked along the rail tracks, we would grab our rifles and duck to appear as dead tree trunks whenever a Pakistani fighter jet came in sight," he said.
On April 13, 1971, eighty-five freedom fighters including Harun went to Tripura for war training. They were primarily stationed at Gokulnagar Meghna camp and later moved to Baghmara training camp. "It was in Baghmara where a 37-person squad was formed," Harun recalled.
Harun's eyes glittered with excitement as he recalled the moment when he was declared the leader of the squad.
"I was declared leader of squad-7 owing to my previous PCC and guerilla trainings. However, three of my teammates could not accept the decision as I was only 17," he added.
The trio refused to accept Harun's leadership, so the trainer arranged a shooting competition.
"The condition was that whoever wins the competition will be the leader of the squad. I competed against the other three and won, hence I remained the leader and they had to accept it," Harun said.
After 21 days of training, Harun was deployed in sector 3 to lead a group of 76 freedom fighters.
He led the team to Montola camp from the sector headquarter in the Hezamara area of Tripura. On reaching there, they participated in one of the major battles at the border under the leadership of Camp Commander Captain MA Matin.
"Our afternoon routine never changed. We would sit down every afternoon and make strategies of attacking the Pakistani camps inside Bangladesh," Harun said. He added that they would go back to the Indian side every day after attacking the camps inside Bangladesh.
Harun's eyes sparkled as he recalled one frontal battle memory.
"On November 30, we arrived at Ushabazar camp in Tripura. Informers told us the battle would start at 2pm, but one of our fighters accidentally fired his rifle before the scheduled time. That was a big mistake because the Pakistani soldiers realised we were there and started firing back," he said.
The freedom fighter also spoke about a major battle in Akhaura upazila of Brahmanbaria. His team also fought against the invading military in the Durgapur, Chandpur, Ajompur and Rajpur borders. But soon after another blow came when Harun received a message that ordered him to stop fighting.
"On December 5, 1971, we were told to stop fighting. I was very surprised by the order. When I asked why, I was told that India had not yet recognised us as a sovereign country, and we would only resume fighting after getting recognition from them," Harun said.
That was a moment of despair for the freedom fighters because they had all come a long way and did not want to go back now.
After dinner when everyone gathered to hear the news on the radio, the Akashvani radio station from Kolkata said Bhutan had recognised Bangladesh as a sovereign country.
There was a sigh of relief, but a bigger surprise was yet to come. Shortly after Bhutan, India also announced that it recognised Bangladesh as a sovereign country.
"It was around midnight when I heard the news. I cannot tell you how happy it made me. I still get goose bump when I recall that night. The energy and enthusiasm which had been drained from us for a few hours was now redoubled. We got orders to resume the fight for our land," he told this correspondent.
The Pakistani soldiers had become quiet.
"We were not sure if they had all been killed or had run away. But things started becoming clear on the dawn of December 6 when the allied forces saw an observation post and shot at it, freeing Akhaura," remembered Harun.
After that, Harun's squad went to the Shahbazpur camp in Sorail in Brahmanbaria. There he met Humayun again.
"Humayun said somebody had told my parents that I had been killed in battle. My parents were in despair so I went to see them that night after everyone had gone to sleep," he said.
When Harun entered Brahmanbaria, all he saw was devastation. The Pakistani soldiers had massacred many people in the district and had fled on December 8.
Harun said he was frustrated because they could not officially put-up the flag of independent Bangladesh even after the military had left Brahmanbaria.
"Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury, a brave soldier of the Mukti Bahini, first raised the flag of Bangladesh in Brahmanbaria," he recalled.
The camp in Brahmanbaria was set up at the Niaz Muhammad Stadium area. Harun stayed there till December 16, the day when the country was freed from the Pakistan occupational army.
"Meanwhile, on December 9 a group of freedom fighters joined our camp and fought a battle to free Ashuganj, which was finally liberated on December 10," he said.
Harun, a former commander of the Muktijoddha Sangsad in Brahmanbaria, said many of the freedom fighters have passed away. He hopes that the government will do more to recognise the contribution of all the freedom fighters and keep their memories alive.