"Bir Srestho" honour

The Bir Srestho (The Most Valiant Hero) is Bangladesh's highest military award. It was awarded posthumously on 15 December 1973 by the Government of Bangladesh to 7 freedom fighters who showed utmost bravery and died in action for their nation. They are considered shaheed (martyrs). Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir is one of them.

His action in the battle of Chapai was at great personal risk, over and above the call of duty and in the face of the enemy.

A. Qayyum Khan

Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir is the only Army Officer who was awarded the highest gallantry award for his courageous and heroic acts in liberating Chapai Nawabganj district, which remained under the Pakistan occupation force throughout the War of Liberation.


Memorial built at killing spot

On 14 December 2011, exactly four decades after Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir was killed, a memorial was built and inaugurated at Rehaichar Moholla to commemorate the war hero.

The memorial was opened by Brigadier General Enamul Haque, the then State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources.

Earlier in 1999, District Muktijoddha Sangshad and Enamul Haque, then Principal of Bir Srestho Jahangir College, took the initiative to construct a monument. Captain Jahangir’s father Abdul Motaleb Howladar came to the town from Barisal and laid the foundation stone at the place of martyrdom. However, construction stopped midway due to lack of funds. Funds were raised from local people to construct the memorial but it was too inadequate and so, the construction work came to a halt.

There has been an attempt to raise funds from local people to construct a memorial for the great martyr. A fund is kept with the deputy commissioner of Chapai Nawabganj but it is too inadequate to construct a memorial.

Alauddin Ali, convener of district unit of Muktijuddha Sangsad (2009)

However, in 2011 the local administration and Zila Parishad took an initiative and built it on Department of Roads and Highway premises at Rehaichar at a cost of Tk 6.5 lakh.

Golam Rabbani, commander of local Muktijuddha Sangshad, Chapai Nawabganj, and Manzur Hossain, brother of Bir Srestho Jahangir said they were happy to see the long-cherished dream of the people fulfilled after a long time.

Earlier, Chapai Nawabganj Muktijuddha Sangshad arranged Qur'ankhwani, dua mahfil and discussion on Sona masjid premises on the occasion of 40th death anniversary of Bir Srestho Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir. They also paid tribute to the martyr after placing wreaths at his graveyard there.

The Daily Star (Bangladesh)

"Bittersweet Victory: A Freedom Fighter's Tale" book by A. Qayyum Khan

Former Second Lieutenant A. Qayyum Khan who had played a prominent role in liberating Bangladesh wrote a memoir recalling the days preceding, during, and post 1971. The 300 pages long memoir entitled "Bittersweet Victory: A Freedom Fighter’s Tale" is split into 7 chapters containing personal recollections, key historical events and commentary.

The book was first showcased in the Hay Festival Dhaka in November 2013. A month later, on 15 December 2013 - exactly 42 years after Chapai Nawabganj was freed from Pakistani occupation – the book was officially launched at a ceremony held at Abdul Karim Shahityabisharad Milonayatan at the Bangla Academy, Dhaka. Lieutenant Colonel Mohammad Ziauddin, Bir Uttam and Commander of 1 East Bengal Regiment (EBR) during the 1971 Muktijuddho, was the chief guest whilst Indian High Commissioner Pankaj Saran was a special guest.

Afsan Chowdhury, who compiled 15 volumes of "Bangladesher Swadhinata Juddho: Dolil Potro" along with Hasan Hafizur Rahman and Dr. Sukumar Biswas, till date the only official collection of documents on the Liberation War, conducted a discussion on the book. Professor Syed Manzoorul Islam, former ambassador Mahboob Alam and Professor Kaiser Haq, were also present at the event.

It is an attempt to analyse the war, not just glorify the heroic aspects of it.

Afsan Chowdhury on the unique selling point of Bittersweet Victory book

Personal account of East-West Pakistan discrepancies

The book begins with a brief introduction to A. Qayyum Khan’s family background and recalls the tumultuous years under West Pakistani leadership prior to 1971.

One wishes that Khan had portrayed more of himself throughout the book. The reader is easily engaged in these opening pages by the portrait of the freedom fighter as an adolescent and a young man in the years preceding the liberation war, caught up in the steadily escalating movement for freedom. Frankly and endearingly, he reveals how his youthful exuberance led him to cast his vote once in his own neighborhood in new Dhaka's Testuri Bazar and then again in Lalbagh in the old city, since he had somehow managed to make himself a voter in both constituencies!

Again and again in the narrative, such moments make his telling refreshingly candid and compelling as well as representative of what many others in his generation felt or saw at that time. Khan recollects, for example, his first sight of the first version of the "red, green, and yellow Bangladeshi flag" being fluttered by Bengali men in the mob which had invaded the stadium grounds during a test match to protest the Pakistani military government's postponement of the national assembly meet in 1971. As he remembers it, what he felt "was pride but also fear".

Dr. Fakrul Alam, Translator and Professor at the Department of English of Dhaka University

Detailed account of 1971

In 1971 A. Qayyum Khan had just got into the undergraduate programme of Dhaka University when the momentous events unfolded and the Bengali nation braced for a long fight for freedom. The crackdown on the Bengalis gave Qayyum Khan no other option but to join the war. He recounts how he and his family coped with the Pakistan army’s brutality.

He [A. Qayyum Khan] recollects the horrors perpetrated by the marauding and blood-thirsty Pakistani army in Dhaka and the dangers of moving around in a battered and besieged city for Bengali youths like him.

On one occasion, he manages to extricate himself from the clutches of the Pakistani soldiers by proving that he was a Khan and a non-Bengali Bihari by displaying his fake identity card. Stuck afterwards in his house and listening to the reports, on the one hand, "of atrocities, mass killings and mass rapes", and on the other, of the mobilizing Mukti Bahini, he opted soon to join the war.

A. Qayyum Khan's narrow escape during those dark days

1971 left an indelible impression on all Bengalis as indiscriminate massacre, destruction and personal experiences intertwined inextricably.

United Press Limited publisher

Naturally, the core of the book deals with the dramatic events of 1971. Qayyum Khan gives first-hand elaborate description of the early days of the Mukti Bahini, its trials and tribulations and how ordinary civilians were turned into guerrilla fighters in a matter of weeks. The book also provides a fairly comprehensive account of the events in Sector 7 during the last three months of the war which led to the tragic death of many gallant freedom fighters, including Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir.

The dramatic accounts of engagements by the combatants of Sector 7 make the battlefield come alive. The book highlights the exceptional role played by Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmad, an unsung hero of Bangladesh’s struggle for independence. There are other points that the author makes including the ease with which freedom fighters of the Gono Bahini were cast aside.

Unsung heroes

Disillusionment in post-liberation Bangladesh

The memoir ends with the difficulties faced by the new nation. Like many of his generation, A. Qayyum Khan shares his frustration and disillusionment at the way Bangladesh has developed post-liberation. His litany of grievances focus on mal-administration of the country, selfishness and nepotism of inept politicians and officers and the marginalisation of muktijuddhas who had made great personal sacrifices to free Bangladesh. Such actions, Qayyum Khan concludes, has led to distortion of the ‘real’ liberation history in favour of one that is beneficial to the political party in power.

If I knew that the end product of the liberation war would be a rotational monarchy where members of two families will run the country according to their sweet will with no regard to laws and their cronies shall always be above the law even when they commit crimes like murder, kidnappings, drug-dealing and hold us hostages to their needs, would I have fought the liberation war? Would my poor rural comrades who bore the brunt of Pakistan Army's brutality would they have fought? The answer is not hard to fathom.

A. Qayyum Khan on the dire situation Bangladesh has found itself post-liberation

We entered Chapai Nawabganj on the morning of December 16th. People rushed out, they brought flowers, hugged us, put food in our mouths. To me, it represented the end of a nightmare. We didn’t realise that there could be more nightmares ahead.

A. Qayyum Khan

Qayyum Khan's account of his experience in the Bangladesh liberation war is very aptly titled: this heartfelt and thought-provoking narrative of his role in the movement that led to his country's freedom is driven not only by nostalgia about the sweet taste of victory but also the bitterness he felt afterwards at what he perceives to be the betrayal of the ideals that made him participate in that war. The man who has written the book more than 40 years after the event is obviously a disillusioned one. For him the sweetness of victory had been replaced in the post-war years by considerable disenchantment.

Lucidly, Khan blends in this book the story of his involvement in the war with his afterthoughts on it, suggesting in the process that many of the problems prevalent in contemporary Bangladesh could be traced to political fissures that had begun to appear in 1971 and that became more and more visible in the years that followed.

...He notes the real problems that the country had to tackle because of the brutal war that had battered its infrastructure but indicates that the bad situation had been made worse by poor decision-making and governance or "inertia" in addition to widespread corruption and partisanship. What was worse, Khan suggests, is "the culture of impunity for the anointed [that] was getting entrenched in Bangladesh". Opting for an almost apocalyptic ending to his book, Khan brings his narrative to an end in the tragic mode sometime in 1974. The country was then on the brink of the famine that would devastate it soon. In Khan's words, "The euphoria and aspirations engendered by victory and the liberation of Bangladesh had turned into despair".

Dr. Fakrul Alam

The true history of our liberation war was indeed written collectively by the people – the combatants, victims and sufferers – event by event, incident by event. Yet, barely a decade after the war, controversies began to appear. And in course of the next three decades, attempts were made to distort our liberation history beyond redemption. What the powers that be did with our history is nothing but a collective shame.

Yet the history that has been created by the people cannot be erased by the dictates of power. Khan's Bittersweet Victory reminds us of that. The book is a refreshing attempt to reconstruct a part of that collective history. In the process it raises many questions, but instead of pointing fingers, places these questions in the larger historical and political perspective of the time, so that his readers can find the answers themselves. Was there adequate preparation for the war? What role did the politicians play during the war? Why was it that immediately after the war, there was looting and plunder when the country needed to pull all its resources together to build a new nation? These are but some of the questions that emerge from his 'bitter' experience during the war and immediately after it. The instances of high handedness, incompetence and lack of commitment that he saw among many of those who mattered frustrated Khan, at times disillusioned him, yet he shows no acrimony towards anyone. His bitterness has roots in his idealism, and his wish to see everyone pursuing a common goal with dedicated and selfless devotion. It is to his credit that he did not allow bitterness to affect the sweetness that he felt when freedom was finally achieved.

Professor Syed Manzoorul Islam

Bittersweet Victory: A Freedom Fighter’s Tale has received widespread accolade in Bangladesh from critics for its great insight, honesty and being bold enough to ask many pertinent questions and delve into topics which many other such books have feared to do previously.

Writing about a war one had fought as a young man more than forty years ago is never easy, as memory begins to play tricks and conflicting emotions threaten to cloud judgement. And if the war happens to be one that was fought to free one's motherland, these emotions can be pretty strong, disrupting narrative coherence, and transforming many of the facts and realities into myths. It is difficult for combatant-chroniclers to maintain strict objectivity or manage the tightrope walk between impersonal and private feelings or between historical documentation and insertion of personal accounts. A Qayyum Khan has, admirably, achieved that feat.

I am reminded of the famous Yeatsian paradox of a 'terrible beauty' being born when an armed uprising for a country's freedom begins as I look at the title of Khan's account of our liberation war, "Bittersweet Victory: A Freedom Fighter's Tale".

...He begins by showing how the war was forced on us, that it was bound to happen given the scale of arrogance and colonial highhandedness the Pakistanis showed. It is important to locate his combatant self in the history of protest and resistance that was a part of the Bengali psyche from well before the 1947 partition. Once Khan took up the formal role of a military combatant, he didn't allow the conscientious objector in him to sleep. He critiqued misguided policies, personalized histories and abuse of authority both during the war and after. One may not agree with all his observations or opinions, but one has to appreciate his frustration since petty power plays and misguided ambition of a few contrasted so sharply with the self-effacing patriotism of the fighters on the ground. Similarly, his account of MAG Osmany's activities during the war may not go well with many who grew an admiration for him but one has to admit the fact that Khan's concern was purely of a fighter who wanted nothing short of efficient coordination and mobilisation of resources by top leaders.

Bittersweet Victory is thus an uneasy read if one takes Khan's often pointed critique of the mismanagement and lapses that he saw in certain pockets of leadership – both civil and military, and the general deterioration of the law and order situation after the war. But the book is inspiring in its account of the wisdom and dedication of most other leaders, and the courage and resolve shown by every freedom fighter and the countrymen in general. Khan has the highest of praise and respect for Bangabandhu, and admiration for the pragmatic leadership of Tajuddin Ahmed. He never allows his frustration to affect his judgement, neither does he claim that his views are the only authentic ones. The readers thus find an ample scope to maintain a dialogue with him, all the while enjoying his crisp and elegant narrative. In the end, Bittersweet Victory is a satisfying read.

Professor Syed Manzoorul Islam

Bittersweet Victory is clearly the work of a freedom fighter whose passion for his country and the war he fought to liberate it is still intensely alive in him. Clearly, too, he has written the book not too glorify himself but to remind readers that the road taken by the country's leaders had brought it to a precipice. There can be little doubt that he thought long and hard before writing the book and it is important to note that he has chosen to write/publish it at a time when Bangladesh's leaders have brought it to another precipitous corner from which it must now extricate itself. Indeed, one is reminded by reading the book at this moment of our history of Marx's famous observation: “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce." The events of 1974 and 1975 were in the tragic mode, but now all around us events arise that make us think that we are going through the most farcical moments of our political history.

Qayyum Khan's book is without a doubt an invaluable addition to the ever-growing library of books about Bangladesh's war of liberation. Not only has he written the book after reflecting intensely about it over a period of time, he seems to have taken great care to write a work that is very readable, fast-paced and instructive for anyone interested in the future of Bangladesh. The publisher, too, appears to have taken considerable care in producing a book that looks attractive and is a pleasure to read.

Nevertheless, one can't help pointing out that the book could have been more carefully copy-edited. Also, since the book quotes again and again from other published books on the liberation war, one can't help thinking that the book could have benefited from the adoption of conventions that are considered to be standard as far as documentation is concerned. This is a particularly important point since on quite a few occasions Khan makes assertions that are quite contentious by quoting others; for sure, such quotes need to be properly contextualized and correctly documented.

But the last words on Qayyum Khan's Bittersweet Victory must be devoted to praising him unreservedly for publishing a very important work. If we are to extricate our nation from the quagmire that our leaders have now led it to, and if we are to avoid more tragic or farcical moments in the future, we need to learn from the history of our independence movement and embrace its ideals once again. This is where the book can become indispensable for all thinking Bangladeshis.

Dr. Fakrul Alam

"Jahangir Bhaban" academic block of Feni Girls Cadet College (FGCC)

Feni Girls Cadet College (FGCC) is a military high school for girls, located in Feni Zilla (District) of Bangladesh, a small southeastern district bordering Tripura in India, Chittagong district, the Bay of Bengal, Noakhali district and Comilla district. The college is located at the Old Airport Area just beside Feni town. The Feni-Chagolnaiya highway passes through the college dividing the campus in two parts.

The college opened on 15 April 2006 and was formally inaugurated on 7 June 2006 by the then Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia through a grand ceremony.

The college is spread over an area of about 47.59 acres (192,595 sq metres). It has an academic block called the "Jahangir Bhaban" (House of Jahangir) named in honour of Bir Srestho Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir. It's a modern 3-storied building which is the hub of the academic curriculum. The building houses the class rooms, art gallery, computer lab, physics, chemistry and biology labs, language lab, departments, Vice Principal's Office and Staff Lounge.

FGCC also has other buildings named after various other Bir Sresthos. This include a cadet mess called "Bir Srestho Matiur Dining Hall" named after Flight Lieutenant Matiur Rahman, an auditorium called "Mostafa Auditorium" named after Sepoy Mostafa Kamal, a college hospital called "Bir Srestho Nur Muhammad Hospital" named after Lance Naik Nur Muhammad Sheikh, and a college library called "Bir Srestho Rouf Library" named after Lance Naik Munshi Abdur Rouf.

FGCC also has three boarding houses called "Khadijah House", "Ayesha House" and "Fatema House" in honour of female members of Prophet Muhammad's family. Each of the three hostels are capable of accommodating 100 cadets.

What others say about him...

He was truly a son of the soil. As Bangladesh burns in political and fratricidal violence, I cannot stop and wonder what Jahangir is thinking as he looks down on us from the heavens.

A. Qayyum Khan

Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir was extremely dedicated to the cause of our great movement of independence. He could very well ignore the call for joining the war of liberation and continue to serve the Pakistan Army. But he willingly accepted all the risks and against tremendous odds successfully defected the Pakistan Army to participate in the freedom fight.

His very decision to escape from Pakistan bears testimony of the highest standard of courage. During the war of liberation he also displayed extreme sense of courage on numerous occasions. In the battle of Chapai Nawababganj he decided to assault on Pakistani defence despite the fact the Indian fire support was not forthcoming as it was planned.

Leadership in combat does not necessarily mean commanding a group of people only, but it is the motivation to undertake the hazards and risks associated with war fighting. Jahangir was a born leader. His philosophy of command was leading from the front. Although he was a sub-sector commander, he never missed any opportunity to plan and conduct the operation himself. Due to his outstanding leadership qualities all the groups of his sub-sector would want him with them in any operation.

Captain Jahangir was a very good organiser. During the war of liberation he had under him people of various background like ex East Pakistan Rifle personnel’s, police, teachers, students, farmers etc. It was indeed a very difficult task to bring all these people in the same footing, keep them happy and at the same time maintain discipline. He was so cool and composed that people used to wonder as to how a boy of 23-24 years of age with such innocent look could act like an iron man.

A blog undertaking character analysis of Captain Jahangir and lessons learnt from his life