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History neglected: First military HQ of Liberation War at Teliapara needs proper preservation

They came from all over the country for the meeting.

There were around 26 of them — determined and ready — waiting patiently since early morning for “Papa Tiger” to arrive.

As the morning sun rose over the green hills surrounding the bungalow, some became a bit worried. Others quickly explained that he is coming from Agartala, India. Besides, the meeting will start at 10:00am as planned.

It was the fourth of April.

Year: 1971.

Place: Teliapara tea garden of Madhabpur upazila in Habiganj.

A lot had happened over the last couple of weeks. There was a sense of loss and anguish due to the brutality unleashed by the Pakistan occupation forces on unarmed Bangalees through their campaign of genocide launched on March 25 in erstwhile East Pakistan.

But there were hope and determination too as Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had declared the independence of Bangladesh.

So the plans were set in motion. Bangalee army officials decided to hold a clandestine meeting to decide on their course of action.

As planned, they chose the manager’s bungalow at Teliapara tea garden to hold the first strategic meeting of the Bangalee army officials for the Liberation War.

The meeting started at 10:00am as scheduled, presided over by Colonel Muhammad Ataul Gani Osmani — the Papa Tiger.

Many important strategic decisions were made at this crucial meeting to win the war, according to cited documentation.

It was decided that four military zones (each under a sector commander) would be created to lead the already trained EBR (East Bengal Regiment), EPR (East Pakistan Rifles) and police forces and to train as many willing youths as possible quickly to join the fight.

The fight should in the meantime continue on a hit-and-run basis and frontal fights in a given situation. They decided to meet again on April 10 to take further consolidated decisions.

Col Osmani was entrusted with the task of coordinating the Liberation War forces to resist the Pakistan army.

The meeting had also for the first time stressed the necessity of forming a government body with people’s elected representatives.

The bungalow was then turned into the first sector command for sector-3 led by Maj KM Shafiullah. The base was held as the sector command till June 21, 1971, before a Pakistan force’s attack forced sector-3 to abandon the headquarters.

After independence, a bullet-shaped memorial was erected beside the bungalow to commemorate this historic assembly. Though the area is open for visitors, entry to the bungalow is restricted. The tea garden is under the management of National Tea Company Limited.

There’s an alter with names of all the martyrs of sectors 3, 4 and 5 inscribed on it, besides the names of the soldiers and war commanders of sector-3. There’s also a plaque highlighting the significant events that took place surrounding the bungalow.

But this place needs to be preserved in a better way so that people can know of its significance for generations to come, said freedom fighters and eminent citizens.

“Even after 50 years of independence, this historic place has not been properly preserved. There’s no awareness in this regard,” lamented freedom fighter Abdul Malek Madhu, deputy commander of Madhabpur upazila Bangladesh Muktijoddha Sangsad.

“Just think about its significance… led by our commander-in-chief Gen Osmani, the meeting was attended among others by Lt Col MA Rab, Maj CR Dutta, Maj Quazi Nuruzzaman, Lt Col SM Reza, Maj Ziaur Rahman, Maj KM Shafiullah, Maj Khaled Mosharraf, Maj Shafayet Jamil, Maj Mainul Hossain Chowdhury, and Maj Nurul Islam as well as Indian officials,” he said.

“The course of our battle for freedom was set there,” he said. After the meeting, it was said that Gen Osmani fired his pistol and they all formally vowed to take part in the Liberation War, he said. Later, the number of sectors was raised to 11, he added.

Teliapara was also significant due to its location and accessibility to greater Sylhet by road and rail, according to historians.

Besides, this historic place also witnessed many battles for freedom. Freedom fighters led by KM Shafiullah and sector-3 participated in at least 20 guerrilla and direct warfare.

Apart from that, Mukti Bahini had also set up a training camp at Teliapara tea garden to train freedom fighters, said Tofazzal Sohel, coordinator of Sankhubdo Nagorik Andolan’s Habiganj unit.

“Even after 50 years of our independence, no memorial museum has been built there,” he added.

“Teliapara bungalow should be turned into a Liberation War Memorial Museum by properly preserving the furniture, files and other materials used in the bungalow at that time,” he said.

This newspaper visited the historic place multiple times last month but did not see any visitors even in March. Perhaps it was due to the pandemic or the lack of knowledge of the history associated with it.

During the visit, the correspondent was not allowed to enter the bungalow. The guards there without elaborating any further said it was for security reasons.

Even the journey to the place is not a smooth one, which one can easily assume may discourage people from visiting, said locals.

“We always talk about preserving the memories of our Liberation War… but the reality remains quite the opposite,” said locals UP chairman Babul Hossain Khan.

He said on May 7, 2011, a rally was held at Teliapara in presence of many government officials and high-ups from the central command council of the Bangladesh Muktijoddha Sangsad. It was announced that a Liberation War Complex will be built there at a cost of about Tk 10 crore.

LGED was given the responsibility to build the complex by the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs.

“A memorial, alter and plaque were set up at the place. But that’s not enough. More needs to be done to preserve the history of this place… there should be guided tours of the bungalow so that people can learn of its significance,” Babul said.

“I hope the government will take steps in this regard,” he added.

Activist Ali Ahsan Chowdhury Suja echoed him. “An important chapter in the history of our Liberation War was written in Teliapara bungalow,” he added.

Nasrin Haq, assistant professor of the Bangla department of Maulana Asad Ali Degree College in Madhabpur, also spoke about preserving the bungalow as a historic site so that students and visitors can visit the place and learn about its significance.

Contacted, Madhabpur UNO Fatema-Tuz-Zohra said a project was undertaken to develop this place. About the demand for turning the bungalow into a memorial museum, she said she will look into it.

Despite repeated attempts, this newspaper could not get in touch with the manager of Teliapara Tea Garden.

However, former manager Amdadul Haque said the decision lies with the government as the property belongs to them. They can acquire it and turn it into a museum, he added. But there are also tea plantations there, he added.

Contacted, Morzina Akhter, additional deputy commissioner of Habiganj, said a proposal was sent to the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs by the district administration in this regard.

“Hopefully, they will make a decision and inform us about it,” she added.

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