The civil servants of Bangladesh played a pivotal role in running the Mujibnagar Government (Bangladesh Government-in-Exile) during the liberation war of 1971. But it is a matter of great surprise and regret that some of them have not yet received official recognition as freedom fighters. Some have even passed away without getting that much desired acknowledgement by the state. The case of one such administrator would make things clearer to the readership of this article.
Born on October 01, 1927 in Uttar Khamer village of Kapasia upazila under present-day Gazipur district, Md. Abul Kashem Khan was an EPCS officer of the 1954 batch. After getting senior scale in the civil service, he was appointed Additional Deputy Commissioner of Noakhali district in September 1969. Revolting against the autocratic military regime of Pakistan, he joined the Mujibnagar Government in 1971 and actively participated in the War of Liberation. He served as the Zonal Administrative Officer for West Zone-1 (Balurghat) of Bangladesh Government during the Liberation War. He was based at Gangarampur of West Dinajpur in West Bengal, India, during the period.
Immediately after independence, Khan was appointed Deputy Commissioner of Rangpur district. He soon restored the administration of that district, which suffered serious disruptions during the Liberation War, through his untiring efforts and dedicated services. Thereafter, he did other important assignments including that of Additional Commissioner and Commissioner in-charge of Rajshahi division. He went to the USA for a six-month training course in 1974, and was subsequently appointed a Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, which was his last assignment. While serving in this position, Md. A. Kashem Khan suffered a sudden and untimely death while under treatment at P. G. Hospital, Dhaka, on January 14, 1975. All the above facts and figures have been taken from a Resolution of the Establishment Division (dated January 16, 1975), Ministry of Cabinet Affairs, and published in The Bangladesh Gazette (Bangladesh Government Press) on January 17, 1975.
A memo sent by the General Administration Department of the Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh (dated November 19, 1971) to the Defence Secretary clearly mentioned the names of Zonal Administrative Officers/Zonal Chairmen of the government (Documents of Bangladesh War of Independence, Volume-3, Pages: 235-237). According to that list, the Zonal Administrative Officers were: 1. S. A. Samad [Southeast Zone-1 (Chittagong-Chittagong Hill Tracts-Feni), Sabroom]; 2. K. R. Ahmed [Southeast Zone-2 (Dacca, Comilla, Noakhali), Agartala]; 3. K. A. Hassan [East Zone (Habiganj-Moulvibazar), Dharmanagar]; 4. S. H. Chowdhury [Northeast Zone-1 (Sylhet Sadar and Sunamganj), Dawki]; 5. Lutfur Rahman [Northeast Zone-2 (Mymensingh-Tangail), Tura]; 6. Matiur Rahman [North Zone (Rangpur), Coochbihar]; 7. M. A. Kashem Khan [West Zone-1 (Dinajpur-Bogra), Balurghat]; 8. Z. I. Bhuiyan [West Zone-2 (Rajshahi), Maldah]; 9. Shamsul Haque [Southwest Zone-1 (Pabna-Kushtia), Krishnanagar]; 10. B. B. Biswas [Southwest Zone-2 (Jessore-Faridpur), Bangaon]; 11. M. A. Momen [South Zone (Barisal-Patuakhali-Khulna), Barasat]. The name of M A Kashem Khan was at the serial number 7 of that list.
After his premature death, Khan's wife Begum Nurunnahar faced a tough time as she had to single-handedly take up the reins of her family. It was to her credit that she could groom her two sons and three daughters through untiring efforts while living at Siddheswari of Dhaka. But a tragedy again befell the family when the younger son suddenly died in 1998 while studying MBA at the IBA of Dhaka University. The elder son now lives abroad while the youngest daughter and two grandchildren now live with her. Begum Nurunnahar is now around 80 years old, but one of the tragedies in her life has been that she has not yet been able to obtain the freedom fighter certificate of her husband despite repeated efforts since 1999.
As a last-ditch effort, she submitted a petition to the then state minister for liberation war affairs on November 05, 2012 with all supporting documents including copies of the memo on her husband's position as Zonal Administrative Officer of Mujibnagar Government, resolution of the Establishment Division on her husband's death published in Bangladesh Gazette, and the inheritance certificate of her family. The state minister referred the matter to the secretary for quick disposal. But unfortunately, instead of sending the case to Jatiya Muktijoddha Council (Jamuka) for resolving the matter, the then controversial secretary of the ministry (accused in corruption cases) chose to send it to the Ministry of Public Administration in January 2013. The case was virtually killed through this move, as the Ministry of Public Administration never bothered to give any reply.
Now, the big question is why the freedom fighters who had worked in the Mujibnagar Government would have to approach the government for recognition, when the government itself can proactively resolve the matter by issuing gazette notifications of its own accord. For example, based on the records of the Mujibnagar Government as published in the Documents of Bangladesh War of Liberation (GOB), a gazette could easily be published condoning the status of Zonal Administrative Officers who had served in the Bangladesh Government-in-Exile. Alternatively, a complete list of all Mujibnagar officers and employees could be prepared based on available records, and then published in a single gazette, thereby sparing the freedom fighter civil servants the travails of pursuing their individual cases.
It would have been interesting if a survey was conducted to find out how many among the Zonal Administrative Officers of the Mujibnagar Government succeeded in obtaining Gazette Notifications in their favour, and what were the criteria for their successes. The Golden Jubilee of the country's independence is approaching fast, and it is high time that we take concrete measures for repaying the debt of gratitude that we owe to our freedom fighters, at least through according them due recognition.
Dr. Helal Uddin Ahmed is a former editor of Bangladesh Quarterly. firstname.lastname@example.org
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