Ouderland a man of indomitable courage - Manzurul Ahsan Khan
W.A.S Ouderland “Bir Protick” was a freedom fighter. A fighter, who fought for the liberation of Bangladesh. The Government of Bangladesh gave him Gallantry award, titled “Bir Protik”.The Bangla word “Bir” means courageous or heroic, while “Protick” means symbol. Truly Ouderland was a heroic Freedom fighter of Bangladesh and a symbol of courage and commitment.
It is not only a matter of honour for Ouderland but also a source of great pride for Bangladesh for being able to to give recognition to such great friend, a friend in need. We are celebrating 40th anniversary of our struggle for independence. We are also remembering and honouring others round the world, from India and also from Pakistan who actively supported our cause often with great risk and peril. Many were imprisoned, jailed, tortured and killed during the fight. The Government of Bangladesh has already started giving awards to such persons, many of them posthumously.
Ouderland was employed and living in Bangladesh when Pakistani Military dictator refused to hand over power to the elected representatives of thee then East Pakistan. It was during 1971, when people of Bangladesh started a massive and peaceful non cooperation movement which culminated in dual power. One was peoples power another was Pakistani military power confined mainly in the cantonments. The Pakistani rulers started negotiations with Sheikh Mujib the leader of the peoples movement. But under the cover of this negotiation, and deliberately created illusions about a settlement the Pakistani rulers were preparing for a military crack down. On 25th March midnight the Military Junta launched “Operation Searchlight” and a genocide was started, killing hundreds of thousands, looting ,burning and rape became the order of the day.
People of Bangladesh were compelled to take up arms to save themselves from the atrocities and liberate them selves from the brutal colonial rule.
The Genocide and crime against humanity in Bangladesh was condemned by people all over the world .India ,Socialist Soviet Union, Socialist countries of Eastern Europe and some other countries strongly supported the struggle for independence. The government of the United States of America actively opposed our Liberation Struggle. Besides diplomatic interventions and military support to Pakistan, they even tried direct intervention particularly when the US 7th Fleet with nuclear arms was deployed in the Bay of Bengal. Those were the times of great trial for our people.A people butchered by an Army of a country known as their own and brought up and maintained by their taxes. About ten million people left the country and went to neighboring India for safety.People of India particularly those in Poschimbangal (West Bengal),and Tripura adjacent to Bangladesh had to share the huge burden of so many refugees. People of India voluntarily came forward in support of freedom fighters and Bangladesh people taking shelter in their country.
Even in West Pakistan progressive politicians, poets, writers, intellectuals condemned the crimes against humanity committed by its own government and the army. Hundreds of such people were arrested and faced physical tortures. During the crack down even some military personnel showed sympathy to freedom fighters and saved them from death squads.I knew about at least one case when a young man was taken out from the line waiting for the firing squad and was shown the way out when the officer whispered:”young man , run fast ,I wish you victory.” This young man joined the guerilla forces under my command and told me the story while we were practicing at the firing range. This was perhaps the only occasion when I could not check my tears. I do not know why! May be because I regained my shaken faith and confidence on humanity and existence of good people amongst all nations and nationalities. After the brutalities our heart s turned stone hard. We heard many tragic news about the killings and atrocities during training and actual fighting. As commander I had to convey to my guerilla fighters the news about the tragedies in their families including one when the entire family of my co-fighter was massacred.
During these dark times only ray of hope for the people of Bangladesh was international support and solidarity Politicians. leaders of social movements ,mass organisations, poets, singers and cultural workers, intellectuals and people from all walks of life came out in support of the Liberation struggle in different ways and forms.
There were many people inside Bangladesh who were not Bangali by nationality. There are many “adibasi’s”as we call the ethnic minority or indigenous people. They are of course part and parcel of our society despite cultural distinctions .They not only supported the liberation struggle but participated actively in the armed struggle and embraced martyrdom. There were some other non Bangalis popularly known as Biharis who came to East Pakistan as refugees after the partition of India on religious lines. The ruling class did every thing to sow discord between Bangalis and non- Bangalis National chauvinism was quite strong. Before and after the liberation war began there were many cases of attack and rioting from both sides. Yet there were many cases when people from one community helped and supported people from the other communities. Some non-Bangalis even developed contact with some freedom fighters, and helped others to find shelter, and safe passage to places considered to be more secure.
Many foreigners were living in Bangladesh in 71.Prior to the crack down many were asked by their governments to leave due to security reasons. Many of them on return to there country informed their countrymen of the situation in Bangladesh and its wide, popular, mass movement. and uprising. There were some foreigners who stayed back even after the crack down despite heavy odds. These were foreigners working in diplomatic missions and foreign agencies. A few others like Ouderland were working in some office or business house. Ouderland was one of them. For this section of foreigners situation was most difficult. For Ouderland there was no diplomatic support nor could they choose a place to stay in some place with a hinter land where they could take refuse.He was living in a most volatile area where the situation was most difficult.On the one hand continuing military attack, massacre , kidnappings ,selective killings and growing guerilla actions. Naturally the main concern of many a people like Ouderland should have been to look for safety. But Ouderland a man with great human values, love for humankind and the people he was living with, could not stay as a silent spectator. He was a direct witness to the atrocities and indiscriminate killings going on around him. He saw how some people working under him were, disappearing, there families living in the towns and villages were dying or running for safety from one place to the other. Ouderland tried to help. He could realise while following the events in Bangladesh that its people would never be safe without freedom and for that Bangladesh has to win the liberation war .Ouderland had deep feelings for the people of Bangladesh. But he was not only a man with deep feelings for humanity he was a man of courage. He actively supported freedom fighters, helped them to find food and shelter ,collect funds, store arms and ammunitions , organise operations ,collect information about enemy position and their movements and also help people come out from the jaws of death. Death also lurked on the head of Ouderland.He knew he will not be speared by the occupation army because he was a foreigner. But as a man of indomitable courage he faced the challenge and continued to support the freedom fighters of Bangladesh until the final victory on December 16, 1971
Ouderland has taught every one that crime against humanity, human right violations, denial of freedom and security of life is not only the concern of the people who are affected but also should be a matter of concern for all of humanity. The heroic role of Ouderland BP and many foreigners gives us confidence in the in the inner strength of mankind its ability to defeat and overcome all odds. To imagine and dream of a future like John Lenon :“Imagine all the people living life in peace--------A brotherhood of man------And the world will be as one.”
Manzurul Ahsan Khan
President,Communist Party of Bangladesh.