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History as Ethical Remembrance: Dhaka University, Shaheed Minar, and CP Gang’s ‘Bessha’ Banner – VIII

By Rahnuma Ahmed

November 18, 2015

The (original) Crack Platoon’s portrayal of the enemy

A historic photo, Crack Platoon member Ali Ahmed Ziauddin could confirm the identity of only the person in the middle, Crack Platoon member Abul Fazl Mohd Siddique (Manu), who died in a tragic boat accident in 2004. Photographer’s name not known.

A historic photo, Crack Platoon member Ali Ahmed Ziauddin could confirm the identity of only the person in the middle, Crack Platoon member Abul Fazl Mohd Siddique (Manu), who died in a tragic boat accident in 2004. Photographer’s name not known.

AS I delved deeper into liberation war history and misogyny, into the language of domination and the suppression of suffering, I became curious and began to wonder, how did the original Crack Platoon depict the enemy? What words or phrases did they use?

My friend Shireen Huq who had assisted the guerilla fighters of Crack Platoon during ’71 — she had provided shelter, money, warm clothes and medicine — lent  her copy of Brave of Heart (2006), written by Crack Platoon freedom fighter Habibul Alam, who was awarded the Bir Pratik for his gallantry. (I apologise for the somewhat misleading subtitle, I have perused only Alam’s book, other members of Crack Platoon have written memoirs and given interviews which are publicly available, my use of “the” Crack Platoon here is not because I claim Alam’s portrayal to be representative, but more to differentiate his depiction, from that of the CP Gang’s).

I came across two instances of swearing in the entire book, one, uttered by a Pakistani army personnel,

“…the military policeman…shouted abusively, Bastards! Where the fuck are you trying to go? Roko [Stop]!” (p 180)

The other, by freedom fighter Shafi Imam Rumi, Jahanara Imam’s son, immortalised in her memoir, Ekatturer Deenguli (1986), who was awarded Bir Bikram posthumously,

“Rumi screamed, “Look out! There is a jeep. Those bastards are trying to follow us.” (p 181)

And, the word “Paki” (abbreviation for Pakistani), a racial slur, adorns the cover itself, which consists of a quotation — several lines written by a British journalist, citing an Indian army officer, who’d reportedly used the word “Paki,”

It is not hard to see why, in the vivid ph[r]ase of Colonel Deshpande, “the Paki morale is in their boots.” The Indians are bombarding them through loudspeakers, leaflets and radio broadcasts with a simple message: “Surrender to us now before the Mukti Bahini [the Bangladesh Guerillas] get to you.

— Henry Brandon, correspondent, The Sunday Times, 12 December 1971.

In the rest of the book, Alam uses common descriptive language when he writes about the enemy: “soldiers,” “soldiers were controlling the ferry,” “Pakistani army,” “enemy troops,” “Pakistani rulers,” “the Pakistani artillery,” “army junta,” “the convoy,” “the Pakistanis,” “the sepoys,” “the Ayub regime,” “two or more enemy bodies,” “the non-Bengalis — mostly Biharis,” “the soldier,” “the police,” “the police and army,” “Punjabi soldiers,” “enemy Pakistani soldiers,” “the Pakistani army patrol boat,” “two military policeman,” “razakars,” “the Pakistani gunboats,” and “local [Bihari] touts and informers.”

Of course, some of the categories employed by Alam may be regarded as essentialist, but the point of my exercise is different, and I think it is worth the effort, to be able to demonstrate that a male freedom-fighter has not relied on sexist words to describe his training as a guerrilla, his combat experience, to convey his feelings of loss and pain, betrayal, why he risked his life, his fears, and his fight for freedom. As for those, who are wondering about self-censorship, and how it is far easier when one is writing to mull over words, do away with offensive ones, as opposed to speech when one may suddenly blurt out something inappropriate, my response would be, the banner too is written, plentiful opportunities for thinking through the implications and consequences of the words chosen. Bessha was wilfully, purposefully chosen.

The enemy is described positively in only one sentence, “the well-trained regular troops of the Pakistan army,” the rest are negative characterisations: “the bloodthirsty ruling junta,” “the bloodthirsty Pakistan army,” [a rickshaw-puller says] “those bloody Pakistani soldiers,” “twelve barbarous Pakistani soldiers,” “so-called Tiger Niazi’s Pakistani soldiers were afraid,” “we enjoyed seeing the panicky Pakistanis, who seemed to shrink,” “The young freedom-fighters, after ambushing the vehicles, charged the Pakistani soldiers. The enemy soldiers ran for their lives like scared dogs with their tails between their legs,” “Pakistan army thugs,” “one of the murderous Pakistani soldiers,” “Pakistan army’s atrocities,” “the brutal Pakistan army,” “Captain Bokhari… the ‘butcher of Comilla’,” “the lecherous captain,” “four soldiers now crawled like monkies.”

The worst atrocity mentioned in the book is of a young pregnant woman who had been washing clothes in a pond. The Pakistani army was conducting an operation in a nearby village, Ishraq and Lt Mehboob had slithered into the pond and camouflaged themselves with water hyacinths, she had seen them but had remained unperturbed. Four-five Pakistani soldiers turned up, they walked around the pond, peered at the tall grass, went over and asked her whether she had seen any Muktis. She casually replied, no, she hadn’t. Two soldiers suddenly hauled her up, a third slashed her stomach with a bayonet, the baby was torn apart from the womb, and thrown into the pond. Words used to depict the enemy in this passage are: “Pakistani soldiers,” “Pakistan army thugs,” “one of the murderous Pakistani soldiers,” “Pakistan army’s atrocities,” and “the brutal Pakistan army” (p 264–266).

Now, this brings me to the issue of “projonmo” masculinities, not all, only the bessha-banner holding variant (projonmo literally means ‘generation’; in the renewed/post-Ershad liberation war discourse the word has become a trope for the transmission of the spirit and history of the liberation war from the current generation to the next).

Masculinities: Hegemonic, Victor, Hyper

BROACHING the issue of masculinity — the multiple meanings of manhood — is important; for those not familiar with it as a concept, one can turn to gender theorist RW Connell’s theory of masculinities. Masculinity is a relational term, says Connell, it is always defined in opposition to femininity. When one speaks of masculinities, one is basically speaking of gender relations. “Masculinities are not equivalent to men; they concern the position of men in a gender order”; the order is constituted by the interaction of relations of class, caste, race, sexuality, age, religion and so on. Masculinities can be defined as the patterns of practice by which people, both men and women, but predominantly men, engage that position (Connell says women “can do” masculinities, the women thugs at Tuba…?). Masculinities are multiple, with internal complexities and contradictions. They are socially constructed, are historical (not immutable and fixed, but subject to change), are “ongoing achievements, rather than… static possessions (Sinikka Elliott, 2010); they are context-dependent, being “actively produced, using the resources and strategies available in a given social setting” (Connell, 2000).

The modern use of the term is traceable to the growth of colonialism and capitalism; it has been shaped and forged by notions of European individualism. “There is a gender politics within masculinity” and Connell speaks of four broad categories, which together form a hierarchy of masculinities: hegemonic, complicit, marginalised, and subordinate. The hegemonic form is most valued in a patriarchal culture, and Martin Mills writes, it is “constructed in relation to and against femininity and subordinated forms of masculinity. The dominant masculine form is characterized by heterosexuality, power, authority, aggression and technical competence” (cited by Elizabeth Meyer, 2010). The complicit form, as the name indicates, does “very little to challenge the patriarchal gender order, thereby enjoying its many rewards.” Subordinate masculinities include identities that are perceived as antithetical to masculinity: effeminate and gay men, men who do not “embody or embrace the masculine ideal.” Marginalised masculinities reflect the interplay of gender, class and race relations, such as working class, men of colour.

Does Connell’s theorisation help us investigate projonmo masculinities? What forms of masculinities inhabit the space created by “Piash Karimer laasher bhar, boibe na Shaheed Minar”? Hegemonic? Or, are they complicit, whereas masculinities which inhabit the decision-making realms of the Dhaka University (the hidden patrons) embody the hegemonic, for, as Connell suggests, masculinities are relational.

And what about Bengali Muslim masculinities in occupied East Pakistan in 1971, surely West Pakistani/Punjabi masculinity was hegemonic? And Bengali Muslim masculinities, in relation to them, were marginal? But what about the Mukti Bahini, what forms of masculinities inhabited the terrain of battlefield fighting? Bravery, no doubt, but with an underside to it, rape victims in Ami Birangona Bolchi castigate men for leaving them defenceless, a prey for the Pakistani army. And, above all, for not accepting them in post-independent homes and lives. Shefa accuses Bengali Muslim men above 50 years old of being “morally inferior.” Tara Bannerjee (later, Mrs T Nielsen) mentions the army officer-cum-freedom fighter husband, who would visit his wife in the Rehabilitation Centre and tell his wife, “I can send you a monthly allowance but I cannot take you home.” Maybe he is a general by now, says Tara, and has received an award for his gallantry while “Sultana fights to the last for a living in Tanbajar [brothel].”

Or, should we be exploring context-specific avenues of thought, let’s say, we put aside the trope of the generational divide (central to the revival of the muktijuddho spirit), and think of them instead as a collectivity (riven by age), embodying a renewed “victor” masculinity?

But surely technology has had an impact, many of the “projonmo” and “laasher bhar” groups are online groups (it is important to point out, not all projonmo groups are tools of the ruling party, smaller groups which are self-reflective, non-aggressive, with modest aims, do exist), many of them active participants in the cyber culture of sexual bullying. (Some of the key actors, one hears, run Bangla pornographic sites, still do). Is the culture created and maintained by them hypermasculinist? In a discussion of hip-hop culture, Sara Mills characterises it as: machismo, compulsive heterosexuality, a disdain for elements considered weak and soft, a culture where “being a real man doesn’t merely entail having a proper sex organ; it means acting in a masculine manner.”And, masculine means self-portrayal as “hard, tough and full of rage” (Sara Mills, 2008).

Now, does the inclusion of “Bessha buddhijibi” connote the spilling-over of sexualised cyber bullying and hypermasculinism into the offline, real world?

However one analyses it, the present Dhaka University authorities, headed by its vice-chancellor professor AAMS Arefin Siddique, bears the honour of having authorised the inclusion of the word “Bessha” into public political discourse. But can I say that, in all fairness?

I think so, since the university authorities have not publicly expressed any discomfort with the word, let alone condemn it.


Habibul Alam, Brave of Heart. The Urban Guerilla Warfare of Sector-2, during the liberation War of Bangladesh, Dhaka: Academic Press and Publishers Library, 2006.

RW Connell, The Men and the Boys, Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2000.

Sinikka Elliott, “Men, Race and Emotions: Men of color and masculine productions,” in Rebecca F Plante and Lis M Maurer (eds), Doing Gender Diversity: Readings in Theory and Real-World Experience, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2010.

Elizabeth J Meyer, Gender and Sexual Diversity in Schools. An Introduction, New York: Springer, 2010.

Sara Mills, Language and Sexism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.


To be continued.