Alongside other freedom-loving people of the country, the police force of Bangladesh also played a distinctive and glorious role in the Bangladeshi nation's quest for freedom and liberty. Although normally entrusted with the task of enforcing law and order, when the moment of truth arrived and the very existence of the nation was threatened with extinction by a marauding occupation force, many Bangali policemen switched sides, took up arms and joined the Great War to liberate the motherland. Facing a modern army equipped with deadliest and most lethal weapons, these brave sons of the soil - armed with ramshackle weapons and little combat experience - displayed the highest degree of valour and courage in dislodging the occupiers in the initial stages of the war. Then they amalgamated with their comrades-in-arms from other spheres to snatch a momentous victory for Bangladesh within a span of mere nine months.
When we look back through the pages of history, we see that from the very outset of 1971, many Bangali policemen were losing patience with the politics of intrigue played by the Pakistani military regime. This restlessness became acute as the month of March started rolling and reached a peak when the dark night of 25 March approached. The police identified themselves with their civilian brethren - who were being denied their democratic rights of self-determination and freedom. As the non-cooperation movement against the Pakistani regime intensified, the police started to play a direct role in it. Many stray incidents of minor revolts against the Pakistani authority can be recalled from this juncture of history. Amongst these, the refusal of the Bangali policemen on 24 March to unload arms and ammunition from a Pakistani ship anchored at Chattogram Port stands out as a glorious example in patriotism. Even in the face of a barrage of gunshots by the Pakistani military, they remained firm in their resolve. Another noteworthy instance was the hoisting of black flag atop his official residence by the then DIG of Rajshahi division Salauddin (Mamun) Mahmud in protest against shooting dead of some Bangali citizens by Pakistani troops on 3 March 1971.
Then came the ominous hours of 25 March - one of the darkest nights in the history of Bangladesh. The Rajarbag Police Lines in Dhaka was made one of the first targets during the savage assault on Dhaka by the Pakistani military. In the face of a massive incursion by the occupying army equipped with tanks, cannons and sophisticated armoury, our patriotic policemen armed with mere rifles put up one of the bravest fights in history. They fought like tigers and resisted the enemy throughout the length and breadth of that dark night until their last bullet was exhausted. The rest was history. The Martyrs' Memorial at Rajarbag today symbolizes the supreme sacrifices of those brave policemen who laid down their lives so that their posterity could live with dignity and freedom.
Not only at Rajarbag, Bangali policemen were among the first to revolt against the occupying forces in almost all sub-divisions and districts of the country. Along with the East Bengal Regiment, the EPR and Ansars, they were to subsequently form the backbone of Bangladesh liberation force. During the first phase of the war, they inflicted heavy casualties on the occupation army and repulsed the Pakistani assaults at places like Dhaka, Chattogram, Cumilla, Noakhali, Sylhet, Mymensingh, Khulna, Jashore, Faridpur, Kushtia, Rajshahi, Pabna, Dinajpur, Bogura and Rangpur districts. The names of many police officials in those districts are legends even today. They armed their personnel so that the Pakistani army could be resisted and fought.
Salauddin (Mamun) Mahmud (martyr) - the then Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police in Rajshahi division, Mohammad Shahjahan - the then Additional Superintendent of Police (SP) in Dhaka district, Mahbubuddin Ahmed - the then Sub-divisional Police Officer at Jhenaidaha, and Shah Abdul Majid (martyr) - the then SP at Rajshahi district stand out among them. Except for the cantonment areas, the police force in association with their comrades-in-arms from other domains could initially keep the virgin soil of Bangladesh free from enemy clutches, although for a brief period. There were martyrs galore, but naming a few would not do justice to the unknown thousands.
Following the Rajarbag Police Lines episode, the Battle of Rajshahi Police Lines (Rajshahi sadar) took place on 26, 27 and 28 March 1971. More than 50 policemen and ordinary people were martyred during this encounter.
The Pakistani troops of 25 Punjab Regiment were stationed in the military camp located at Rajshahi Upashahar on 26 March 1971. When they opened fire inside the Rajshahi Police Lines on the day, the Bangali police members stationed there also fired back. There was apprehension that the Rajshahi Police Lines would be attacked as a follow-up to the attack on Rajarbag Police Lines in Dhaka on the night of 25 March. Based on that assumption, the Bangali members of the Rajshahi Police Lines dug some bunkers inside their premises.
At that juncture, the Bangali Havildar Ramzan Ali was in-charge of the armoury or arms depot of the police lines. The leadership was then taken over by the Bangali Havildar Atiar Rahman. He took possession of the armoury's key and distributed arms and ammunition stored there among like-minded Bangali policemen. The
non-Bangali policemen in the police lines were few in number and mentally very weak. The activities of the Bangali police personnel inside the police lines were not unknown to the Pakistani forces. Therefore, the commander of the Pakistani military camp directed the DIG of Rajshahi Police Mamun Mahmud to order the surrender of the Bangali policemen at the police lines and hand over the key of armoury to the army before they could launch the attack on the police lines on 26 March. But the DIG ignored that directive.
The Bangali policemen were in fact preparing for a war of resistance in line with the DIG's directive. The Pakistani troops went back when the Bangalis returned fire after the Pakistanis opened fire on them. A number of innocent people were killed due to exchanges of fire between the two sides. On 26 March evening, the DIG Mamun Mahmud was summoned to the Rajshahi cantonment for discussions over radio with Pakistani Brigadier Abdullah of Rangpur brigade headquarters. He was taken there, but he never returned and no trace of him could ever be found. His martyrdom was reported in the Indian media in April.
The Pakistani troops took up position around the police lines on 27 March and attacked the lines at noon. At this time, the deputy commissioner of Rajshahi sought help from the assistant commander of EPR Captain Gias Uddin Chowdhury by contacting him through wireless. But as the transportation network was in a bad shape, it was not possible for the EPR men to arrive swiftly in Rajshahi by crossing 60 miles after overcoming barricades put up by the resistance fighters on Naogaon-Rajshahi road. In this situation, the Bangali policemen of the police lines had to face the Pakistani forces with their light weapons only. The exchanges of fire continued throughout the night.
The Pakistani troops took recourse to deception in the morning of 28 March. At 10 am on the day, they called for a halt to firing after raising a white flag, and then headed for the military camp. Becoming confused by this ploy, many among the Bangali policemen returned to their barrack. But some of the policemen stayed back inside the bunkers. When they were preparing to take lunch, the Pakistani forces took advantage of the situation and suddenly attacked the police lines by throwing mortar shells and deploying machine-guns. The wireless tower of the police lines collapsed after being hit by a shell. The barrack then caught fire. Despite making efforts, the policemen failed to cope with this sudden assault by the Pakistani military. They then left the place through a rear path. Around 42-43 Bangali policemen and other personnel were martyred during this battle. The SP of Rajshahi district Shah Abdul Majid was subsequently arrested by the Pakistani Army on 31 March, and he remained traceless since then.
A memorial monument as well as a museum has been constructed at the Rajshahi Police Lines in memory of the martyred policemen. The school cum college at the Rajshahi Police Lines has been named after Shaheed Mamun Mahmud. It may be recalled that Salauddin (Mamun) Mahmud was the eldest son of the physician Wahiduddin Mahmud and the renowned litterateur, writer, poet cum feminist Shamsunnar Mahmud. The latter was a favourite pupil of the pioneer of women's awakening in Muslim Bengal Begum Rokeya, and Dhaka University's oldest women's hostels were named after this charismatic duo. Mamun Mahmud was also an outstanding footballer of the province during the 1950s, a noted Rabindra Sangeet artiste, and the first editor (1956) of the police magazine 'Detective'.
The roads of the Rajshahi police lines have been subsequently named after some of the martyred policemen. These are: Shaheed Police Super Shah Abdul Majid Road (the road on the eastern side of Rajshahi Central Botanical Garden), Shaheed Constable Ramzan Ali Road, Shaheed Constable Raju Fazar Road, Shaheed Head Constable Tajem Ali Road, Shaheed SI Babar Ali Road, Shaheed Armed SI Enayet Khan Road, and Shaheed Constable Moslem Uddin Road.
The job of the police is to maintain law and order in places and localities under their jurisdiction. But in 1971, the courage and valour with which thousands of Bangali policemen responded to the call of the motherland and joined the Bangladesh War of Liberation at its very formative stage will always remain a shining example for generations to come.
Dr Helal Uddin Ahmed is a retired Additional Secretary and former Editor of Bangladesh Quarterly.
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