Commander Monsur Ali - Syedpur

Commander Monsur AliMonsur Ali has the most popular tea and snacks shop in Syedpur – it's next to the railway tracks and station and is visited by people from different backgrounds, from different parties. They all visit his place as he has amazing stories to tell. He is popularly called 'Commander' and is famous as the region's foremost freedom fighter. He is in his sixties and has a great sense of humour. He talked about his family:

My father was a singer [ganer shilpi] so he sang and acted in many theatre plays. In 1952 the rail officer liked his voice so much that he gave him a job in the railway power house. He died in 1966. After my father died my mother had a stroke and died three months later, on my sister's wedding day. Everybody was sitting and waiting for the wedding to start but she died so we had to take care of her funeral before getting to the wedding and marrying off my sister.

At this point I started my life. I had to cook for myself. One after another events started to unfold – bangali jatir odhikar niye ekta andolon – a movement to reclaim Bengali rights.

Flag of Pakistan23 March 1971. From the cantonment the sena bahinis [Pakistani army] started firing on the innocents of this country. Next day, Wednesday, thousands of people started streaming in. The West Pakistanis started firing. People started dying, some fired back. We started getting organised, the borders were open. We were told that if someone comes saying, 'Joy Bangla' then we're supposed to welcome them and put them up and help them take the train to India.

I organised a few young boys from this part and we went to India with the Mukti joddhas [freedom fighters]. We left at 11.00am, crossed the Nitai river and found two of our teachers in the group. My teacher asked me, 'Where are you going?' 'We want to go to the other side,' I replied. So my teacher scribbled something on a piece of paper and said, 'Take this to Mirganj, Pathanpara [in Bangladesh] and give this letter to Monsur Ali and he'll take care of you.'

Head Post Office in Cooch BiharAfter five days we reached a training centre. There we trained for a month and after that we went to Shitolkathi on the border [in Cooch Bihar] and from there we used to fire at the Pakistani army before retreating back to India. Patgram, Burimari village in Lalmoni district was liberated. Then we went to Bawra. This became our headquarters and from there we used to fight in different places but always came back to our own headquarters. In October-November the Pakistani army started retreating and we advanced more and more into Bangladesh. Then on 16 December we were in Rangpur Dakbungalow and thousands of us found a safe place there.

We fought at Shilibari [Rangpur], Chapai, Boro Khata, Choto Khata, Chor Guddu mari, Dauabari, Nageshori, Bhurungamari, Hatibanda against the Pakistani army. We even put a mine under a train – the train blew up and hundreds of Pakistani soldiers were killed, thousands maybe. We took their weapons.

We fought so hard for our Independence; after doing so much, look at the state of our government! It's better not to talk too much. The government has not really respected or done much for us, that's the sadness I live with. I keep the hope that I'll be respected by my compatriots, that's my prayer, as for the government, I've given up hope about it.

The original Urdu-speakers here were peaceful. However, when Urdu-speakers started coming from elsewhere to Syedpur then Syedpur became a dangerous place. These outsiders started killing people, etc. But after all this violence subsided everyone has come back to living together like brothers. Many local Biharis from Syedpur left for Pakistan because they had the resources – funding and contacts, whereas those who came from outside didn't and resented being stuck here.

Those who have got rich here are the non-Bengalis, not the Bengalis. I don't know why. The big businessmen here are all non-Bengalis. A razakar's [traitor's, collaborator's] son is a shilpokoti [rich industrialist], we don't know where he got the money from. Bengalis have been commissioners or Look Tailors, Syedpurchairmen but they haven't been able to go higher. [Somebody chips in to say there's been a Bihari MP. He responds.] Yes, but they haven't been able to get the 'channel' to go higher or manage to get popular backing. Politically they've not been able to rise but economically Biharis in Syedpur have done much better than the Bengalis. That's because the Biharis are hard-working and the Bengalis talk too much. The Biharis use their brains and convert everything into bits of money. Look at Bengalis: shonar Bangladesh, kheye deye korlo shesh – golden Bangladesh, finished off by eating and sleeping.

Let me tell you a story. There are three groups in our country, the AL [Awami League], the BNP [Bangladesh Nationalist Party] and the Jamaati [Jamaat-e-Islami - Bangladesh Islamic Assembly]. A young man bought new clothes for his family for Eid. The pyjamas were too big for the grandfather. So the grandmother cut the six inches off, then the son decided to do the same thing and the daughter-in-law, after all her work done, undertook the task of shortening the pyjamas. What remains?

In Bangladesh, each party has cut off so many pieces off the public exchequer that it now looks nude. Our parties are bleeding the country. As long as people don't believe that the supreme religion is to love one another, then we will not be able to go forward.

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