Chitta Ranjan Dutta, also known as C. R. Dutta, was born to Hindu parents Upendra Chandra Dutta and Labanyaprabha Dutta in Shillong, capital of present day Meghlaya state (north of Sylhet) in India, where his father was posted as a police officer. Back then Shillong was the capital of undivided Assam in British India.
Having started his schooling in Laban Government High School, C. R. Dutta moved to his ancestral home in Habiganj in Sylhet after second grade. The Chunarughat Upazila of Habinganj District in Sylhet Division of present-day Bangladesh contains the ancestral village of Dutta of Mirashi.
In 1944 C. R. Dutta undertook his Entrance exam from Habiganj Government High School and later enrolled at Asutosh College of the University of Calcutta to study (B. Sc) Science. However, he left the College and completed his degree in Daulatpur College in Khulna.
Frustration as a Bengali officer in Pakistan Army
In 1951 24-year-old C. R. Dutta joined the Pakistan Army of newly formed Pakistan. Soon he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant.
During the 1965 Indo-Pakistan War, C. R. Dutta served as a company commander.
Sector 4 (Habiganj area, Sylhet) Commander during 1971 Muktijuddho
Three months that changed his life
Officers in the Pakistan Army received one month holiday every year. However, for C. R. Dutta this seemed a very short time for him to come to his beloved East Pakistan with his family. Therefore, as soon as he joined the army in 1951 he would work continuously for three years and then take a holiday – giving him three months extended holiday.
He carried on with this practice for the next 20 years.
In 1971 it was his three months holiday once again. C. R. Dutta was super excited to return back ‘home’ with his wife and kids. By then he was serving in the Frontier Force Regiment. In January 1971 he had taken his three months leave and headed to his village home in Habiganj. What he was about to experience was going to change his life upside down.
After being away for such a long time, he [C. R. Dutta] thought he’d spend some pleasant days with his nearest and dearest. He envisaged visiting his childhood favourite places with his friends. He’d visit his elders with his wife and kids. He’d spend the next three months moving freely like an unchained horse. But these dreams did not come true. Instead, Major C. R. Dutta was shell-shocked to witness the political decline within the region. Living in West Pakistan he was not aware of the great movement that was taking place in the eastern wing. As a West Pakistani resident they were not informed of the agitation and injustice that were taking place in East Pakistan. There was also no way to find out.
As a West Pakistani resident, C. R. Dutta was not aware of the widespread repression and torture that was taking place in his motherland. His intense re-education had begun.
It was the height of West Pakistan-East Pakistan tension. The Bengalis of the eastern wing had finally had enough of West Pakistani colonialism. It was time to stand up. It was time to fight for justice.
Having awaken to the reality of the dire situation, how could he now abandon his people at such a critical juncture C. R. Dutta thought. From the common man to the Bengali elites, everyone was fighting for their right. Surely it was impossible to even return to West Pakistan?
I could not know that the situation in East Pakistan was so bad. I could not understand that the people of my country were being repressed and tortured.
Major C. R. Dutta,
During this period of internal conflict, whilst C. R. Dutta was residing in Habiganj he heard the thunderous speech of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman that he delivered in Paltan Maidan, Dhaka, on 7 March 1971 – "Ebarer sangram amader muktir sangram, ebarer sangram swadhinatar sangram".
That’s it. C. R. Dutta had made up his mind. He had mentally prepared himself for a possible war.
On 26 March 1971, after the Pakistan occupation army had launched their campaign of mass genocide starting with ‘Operation Searchlight’, Major Dutta received a meeting request from retired Lieutenant Colonel Mohammad Abdur Rab and Manik Chowdhury. They sent few students to inform Major Dutta to attend a meeting at the house of Major-General M. A. Rab to outline their plan of action.
Having received the news, C. R. Dutta left instantly. When he reached General Rab’s house he saw that few student volunteers and members of Ansar Bahini were already there. Armed with little ammunition, they were ready to revolt against the (Pakistani) attack. General Rab gave Major Dutta the orders to conduct a war. He accepted it with a smile and was ready to do his duty.
By then the Mujibnagar Government was not formed. There was nobody or nothing to direct the Bengali people. Each of the muktijuddhas (freedom fighters) bravely fought against the enemy in small groups throughout the whole country. Once such brave group was being led by Major C. R. Dutta.
Habiganj had a rare combination of a lucky trio: MNA Malik Chowdhury, MNA Lieutenant Colonel Abdur Rab (retired) and Major C. R. Dutta. They raised a resistance force with 200 Ansars. They were armed with rifles and 6,000 rounds of 303 ammunition. Soon more EPR troops joined.
On 4 April 1971 Major Dutta was one of the 27 members at a key meeting of senior officers and Bengalis in his locality of Teliapara Tea Garden in Madhabpur upazila of Habiganj district. The historic meeting was led by ‘Papa Tiger’ himself, Colonel (later General) Muhammad Ataul Ghani Osmani and included Colonel M. A. Rab and Manik Chowdhury amongst the attendees. The defecting Bengali army officers pledged to liberate the country and chalked out strategies in the meeting.
Following the formation of the Mujibnagar Shorkar on 10 April 1971 and the appointment of Colonel Osmani as the Supreme Commander of the Bangladesh Liberation Forces two days later, Bangladesh was divided into 11 sectors geographically. A commander was assigned to direct the war in each of the sector. 44-year-old Major C. R. Dutta was appointed the Commander of Sector 4, which covered the whole of the present Sylhet Division and some of adjoining areas.
The sector comprised of the areas between Sylhet police station in the north and Kanaighat thana in the south. The border area extended 100 mile along the Indo-Bangladesh border from excluding Churaman Kati upto including Karimganj-Zakiganj. Initially, the Sector headquarters was at Karimganj, Sylhet (bordering India) but later it was shifted to Masimpur in Assam, India.
Sector 4 was further divided into six sub-sectors with its own commanding officer. These sub-sectors were Jalalpur (commanded by Masudur Rab Saidi), Barapunji (Captain A. Rab), Amlasid (Lieutenant Zahir), Kukital (Flight Lieutenant Kader, later replaced by Captain Shariful Haq), Kailas Shahar (Lieutenant Wakiuzzaman), and Kamalpur (commanded by Captain Enam). Captain A. Rab also replaced Major Chitta Ranjan Dutta as the Commander of Sector 4 later in the war.
Member of National Assembly (MNA) Dewan Farid Ghazi was appointed as Civil Affairs Adviser. He also held the same position for Sector 5 (Durgapur-Danki).
During the nine month Pakistani vicious campaign, approximately 9,000 muktijuddhas (mainly student volunteers) and 4,000 regular members of the Bangladesh armed forces (mainly East Pakistan Rifles troop) fought heroically in this sector.
Following Bangladesh’s victory on 16 December 1971, Major Chitta Ranjan Dutta was given even more responsibility and held various different roles.
In 1972 he was appointed as Brigade Commander in Rangpur, located north-west of Bangladesh. The following year, the “Shimanter Otondro Prohori” (Ever-vigilant Sentinels of the Border, also translated as ‘The Vigilant Sentinels of the National Frontier’) was formed to provide effective border security for Bangladesh. Major Dutta was tasked with leading the paramilitary force. He renamed the formation ‘Bangladesh Rifles’ and became its first Director General.
Later, the Bangladesh Rifles was renamed once again to ‘Border Guard Bangladesh’, more popularly known by its acronym BGB.
From 1974 to 1976 Major Dutta was appointed as Headquarters’ Chief of Logistics. In 1977 he was selected as the Chairman of the Muktijuddha Kalyan Trust. He was also the chairman of BRTC for a short while in 1979.
Major Dutta eventually retired in 1984 after over 30 years service in the armed forces. He currently resides in the DOHS (Defense Officers Housing Society) area of Dhaka along with his wife. His four sons live abroad with their family and make regular trips to Bangladesh.
Advocating minority rights as President of Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council
Over 90% of the population in Bangladesh are Muslim. On 9 June 1988 Islam was declared as the State Religion of Bangladesh with Eighth Amendment Act of the Constitution of Bangladesh by the Government led by President Hossain Muhammad Ershad.
Major General Dutta actively contested against this decision and argued it violated the “four pillars of the nation” embodied in the 1972 Constitution of Bangladesh, namely democracy, secularism, socialism and nationalism. Major General Dutta reminded the government that the Liberation War was fought on the principles of Bengali nationalism, and not religion. By declaring Islam as the state religion, he argued the minorities – who form less than 10% of Bangladesh’s population – were being marginalised even further and made to feel like outsiders in their own country.
First formed 13 years earlier, but officially founded on the same day Islam declared as State Religion
To "fight this injustice", he founded the ‘Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Oikkyo Parishad’ (Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council or BHBCUC) along with two leaders from other minority communities, Bodhhipal Mohathero (Buddhist) and T. D. Rosario (Christian). The non-profitable organisation aims to protect the human rights of the religious and ethnic minorities of Bangladesh.
The BHBCUC is not a political but rather a human rights organization, which works for minority and religious rights in Bangladesh. The BHBCUC informs foreign agencies about the situation of minorities in Bangladesh. The role of the group is to advocate awareness on behalf of minorities, who often face job discrimination or discrimination on religious grounds. They organize protests and write letters to the Bangladeshi government, as well as to foreign governments, including the Canadian government.
The organisation was founded on the same day Islam was declared as State Religion (i.e. 9 June 1988), although announcement was done sometimes later. In fact, the non-partisan organisation was actually founded in 1975 in Dhaka by Major General Dutta – 13 years before the Government declared Islam as State Religion – but it was only in 1988 that the organisation was officially established.
Major General Dutta was appointed the President of the organisation and he has remained in this position uninterrupted till today. In his presidential address, Major General Dutta said that the people did not fight the Bangladesh freedom movement of 1971 to make Islam the state religion.
BHBCUC observed 9th June as ‘Black Day’ in protest to government’s action.
As the president [of Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Oikkyo Parishad] Dutta has fought tirelessly for the rights of the minorities. Dutta has campaigned for the return of the properties confiscated using the Vested Property Act to their rightful owners. Dutta has also been vocal on removal of Islam as the state religion of Bangladesh and supported the restoration of 1972 Constitution of Bangladesh.
The members of the executive committee generally attend meetings every three months, however a meeting can be called at any time. During testing time for the minorities, such as during the General Elections, the members tend to meet with greater frequency. A general meeting is held every year for members from all over Bangladesh, and a convention is held every three years, at which a new executive committee is chosen.
Since its official formation, BHBCUC has branched out internationally. In 1990 the non-resident Bangladeshi minorities of North America formed a branch in New York whilst in 2005 another branch was opened in Toronto, Canada. It also has branches in European countries like France.
BHBCUC is not biased to any religion or political parties or government and not meant for economic or any personal interest. The members and public donations are the source of fund for this charitable organization.
On 17 January 2002 BHBCUC became a member of the Human Rights International Alliance, a non-profit organisation in the United Kingdom that aims to better the community as per the United Nations Charter on Human Rights
Awarded "Bir Uttam" state honour
On 15 December 1973 the Government of Bangladesh introduced the ‘Bir Uttam’ (literally meaning “Better among Braves” in Bengali) award in recognition of the bravery and dedication shown by an individual during the 1971 Swadhinata Juddho. It’s the second highest award for individual gallantry in Bangladesh after the Bir Srestho.
Amongst the prestigious list of awardees were Chitta Ranjan Dutta and Mohammad Abdur Rab.
"Bir Uttam C.R. Dutta Road", Dhaka
On 12 July 2005 the road stretching from Sonargaon Hotel intersection to Katabon intersection in Dhaka was named “Bir Uttam C.R. Dutta Road” after C. R. Dutta in recognition of his great contribution during the 1971 Liberation War.
To keep the memories of the freedom fighters alive to the next generation, the government has taken the initiative.
Mayor Sadeque Hossain Khoka,
C. R. Dutta himself unveiled the name plaque in the presence of the then Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) Mayor Sadeque Hossain Khoka and State Minister for Liberation War Affairs Prof Rezaul Karim.
I feel really proud and thank the government for paying honour to the freedom fighters by naming different city roads after their names.
CR Dutta after unveiling the plaque at Sonargaon Hotel intersection,
Following the unveiling, Mayor Khoka offered munajat (whispered prayer) to bless the road and the heroic sector commander.