We salute to William Ouderland, Bir Pratik : A Most Remarkable Man - Barrister Harun ur Rashid
The Dutch-Australian William Ouderland has captured a unique niche in the hearts of Bengalis for his extraordinary feelings and love toward Bengalis. The compassion stimulated him to fight for the Bengalis and he made a massive and magnificent contribution to our Liberation War. It is a rare example for a foreigner living in Dhaka to support actively Bengalis at a time when we needed most assistance from any quarter.
The wonderful story of Ouderland in our difficult days brings a bit of narrative how it all started.
The people of Bangladesh, formerly of erstwhile East Pakistan, constituted 56% of the majority of people of united Pakistan and Urdu was to be imposed on the Bengali people as a state language of Pakistan. The Bengali students spearheaded a movement for the recognition of Bengali language, a very rich language, as one of the state languages of Pakistan.
On 21st February, 1952 a few students paid supreme sacrifice and spilled blood for the mother tongue and that tragic event was considered to be the seed of independence of Bangladesh in 1971.
Political and economic deprivation of the Bengalis prompted Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation, to put forward in 1966 his historic six points, the "Magna Carta" which in effect structured the foundation for an autonomous East Pakistan.
But the military rulers in Pakistan did not accept the six points which eventually belonged to the people as in the 1970 elections was fought primarily on the basis of six points. The Awami League bagged 298 seats of the East Pakistan Legislative Assembly out of 310 and 167 seats in the All-Pakistan National Assembly out of 313. This earned Sheikh Mujib the obvious choice as an elected Prime Minister of Pakistan.
However even though the Awami League emerged as the largest party in Pakistan Parliament, it was not allowed to form the government by the ruling military junta.
In the backdrop of a non-cooperation movement launched against the military regime by Awami League. Bangabandhu declared at a historic public meeting held at Ramna Race Course (renamed Suhrawardy Uddyan) on 7 March, 1971, attended by around 2 million people, "The struggle this time is the struggle for freedom, the struggle this time is the struggle for independence."
Thus in a preplanned manner on 25th March 1971, the Pakistan army embarked on what may be termed as history's worst genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Sheikh Mujib was arrested and taken away to West Pakistan.
The Pakistan Army targeted professors of the university, doctors, intellectuals, film makers, artists and students. In the countryside they killed young and old people--men and women, Hindus and abused women.
The war continued for nine months—from March-to December and Bengali youths, irrespective of religions, known as freedom fighters--gallantly fought with the Pakistani mighty military machine to free the motherland under 11 (eleven) Bengali military sector commanders who were supervised by a Commander-in-chief appointed by the provisional government of Bangladesh constituted on 10th April in 1971 at Mujibnagar.
The war against the brute force was one of the finest hours of Bengali people and the people, media and civil societies across the world including Australia admired, supported and strengthened the cause of independence for Bengali people.
After nine months of war, the Pakistani occupation forces surrendered in Dhaka on 16th December. 1971. Due to the heroic resistance and supreme sacrifices of the valiant freedom fighters Bangladesh finally became an independent sovereign state. Sheikh Mujib returned to the newly independent country, Bangladesh on 10th January 1972.
Many foreigners including the US Consul General Archer Blood and William Ouderland living at Dhaka at the time of war, were shocked to witness the blood bath of Bengalis perpetrated by Pakistani military army in Bangladesh (Archer was soon recalled by Washington).
Dutch-Australian national William.A.S. Ouderland, (1917-2001) was posted as the CEO of Bata Head office in Gazipur in the then East Pakistan on the eve of our War of Liberation.
Brutal repression and occupation of unarmed Bangladeshis by the Pakistani occupation army enthused and motivated Ouderland so deeply that he thought how to lend support to Bengalis to fight the Pakistan army.
During the Second World War, he worked in the Dutch intelligence for some time and he thought it best assist the Bengali freedom fighters by providing intelligence information from Pakistani military officials to them. He deliberately became friendly to unsuspecting Pakistani military officials, collected information and pass on them so that freedom fighters could target the Pakistan military assets and personnel.
He was the only foreigner who was awarded the gallantry award Bir Pratik by the Bangladesh Government. He remained in Bangladesh until 1978 and thereafter left for Australia. He died at the age of 84.
William Ouderland was a remarkable man, He was committed to peace and in that sense he was a true internationalist, a true believer of justice, fairness and freedom. He had been deeply active to those causes and the War of Liberation provided the platform to pursue these ideals.
In February 2010 at the initiative of Kamrul Ahsan Khan of Australia, the Mayor of Dhaka renamed the Road no 84, Gulshan as “Ouderland, Bir Pratik Road” in the presence of H.E. Dr. Justin Lee, High Commissioner for Australia to Bangladesh and former Bangladesh High Commissioners and other distinguished guests. . A Bengali biography on Ouderland was written by Mahbubur Rahman and published in 2010.
On 28th October 2011, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, while attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Perth, paid homage to Ouderland by placing wreathes at Memorial Wall of W A S Ouderland, BP at Karrakatta Cemetery.
We salute William Ouderland for his courageous contribution towards our independence and will remember him for his unique love for Bengali people. Finally I would like to quote what Horatio spoke on the death of Hamlet:
“Now cracks a noble heart, Good-night, sweet prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”
We salute to William Ouderland, Bir Pratik : A Most Remarkable Man
By Barrister Harun ur Rashid
Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.
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