The situation in and around the Ramna Kali Mandir and Ma Anandamoyee Ashram near the University of Dhaka campus was terribly disturbing.
Some 75 Hindu families living there were gripped with fear after hearing heavy gunfire and news of murders of students and teachers at Jagannath Hall, a non-Muslim DU dormitory, the day before March 25, 1971.
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Tensions flared when the Pakistani army visited the hippodrome temple of Ramna Maidan, now Suhrawardy Udyan, at around 11 a.m. the next morning. They asked the families not to go anywhere and left.
There was a curfew in place.
Within 15 hours, another group of Pakistani soldiers broke into the temple. It was around 2 a.m. on March 27.
The soldiers detained Swami Paramananda Giri, a temple priest, and forced him to recite “Kalima”, an Islamic statement of faith, in front of those present.
“’Are you Hindu or Muslim?’ the soldiers asked Paramananda.
“As he replied that he was the priest of the temple, the army forced him to recite Kalima,” recalled Shankar Lal Ghosh, a witness who was around 17 at the time.
“The Pakistani army then brutally shot him with a bayonet in the stomach. To reconfirm his death, they also fired bullets,” he told this newspaper.
People started running frantically for life.
The women broke their shakha, their shell bracelets, and wiped their sindoor, vermilion dots placed along their hairline. They did not want to be recognized as Hindus.
Some even started shouting “Pakistan Zindabad”. Some tried to hide inside the temple and ashram, but the soldiers found them.
Dilip Das, another witness, said women and children were forced to queue while men queued separately. “They [Pakistanis] opens fire on the lines. Then they set fire to the temple and the ashram.”
Dilip, then about 12 years old, lost his father and two sisters that night. It was by sheer luck that he and his mother managed to escape the temple to the High Court premises through a pocket door.
Shankar, who was one of those in line, also considers himself lucky. “A bullet somehow missed my head… I passed out,” he recounted the nightmare.
“I didn’t know how long it was before I regained consciousness. When I opened my eyes, I found myself under motionless bodies. I realized that I had been shot in the joint wrist of my right hand,” Shankar said, pointing to the scars. of the ball.
He fled at dawn after the barbaric forces of Pakistan finished their atrocities.
During the military operation, Beli Rani broke through the temple wall cuddling her two-year-old daughter and took refuge in an unfinished building in the High Court premises.
She however lost her husband Shaurya Das and two other relatives.
“When day broke, I went back to find out what had happened to them. But it was all over,” said Beli, now in her late 60s.
Family members of the martyrs set up a public inquiry commission headed by Judge KM Sobhan in 2000 to compile a list of martyrs and find out the extent of the brutality unleashed by Pakistani forces at the temple.
The commission’s report says that upon arrival, Pakistani forces began throwing some kind of explosives and, according to some witnesses, fired cannons, blowing the back of the temple.
The commission found the names of 50 martyrs, although its preliminary report indicated, according to witness statements, that at least 85 to 100 were killed by marauding Pakistani forces.
Outside the main gate of the temple, built around 300 years ago, an epitaph is erected with the names of the 61 martyrs of the massacre.
A letter to Senator William B Saxbe from Dr John E Rohde, a doctor evacuated from East Pakistan in 1971, contains a description of the massacre in the Ramna area.
Senator Saxbe featured it in his speech to the US Senate on April 29, 1971, according to University Press Limited’s “Bangladesh Documents.” It was first published by the Ministry of External Affairs of India in 1971-72.
Rohde wrote: “The 29 [March] we stood at Ramna Kali Bari, a former Hindu village of about 250 people in the center of Dhaka Ramna Hippodrome, and witnessed the piles of machine-gunned, burning remains of slain men, women and children …. I photographed the scene hours later.”
According to the book, Gordon Allott, during his speech to the United States Senate on July 14, 1971, said that even during the most violent Hindu-Muslim riots of the partition, the village of Ramna was able to avoid participating in communal disputes.
“On March 29, a pile of around 70 to 100 charred and machine-gunned bodies was visible in Kali Bari. The whole village was burned down,” he added.
Bipul Roy, secretary-general of a committee mobilizing for the recognition of the martyrs of the temple massacre, said: “The massacre at Ramna Kali Mandir and Ma Anandamoyee Ashram attracts little attention in the discussion of the genocide centered on the war of liberation.
Bipul, who lost his grandfather and older brother in the massacre, said none of those killed in the temple massacre have been recognized as “martyrs of the war of liberation” by the state.
They organized different programs and press conferences to get this recognition, but to no avail.
“We requested the appointment of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to submit our request to him in 2019, but we have not obtained it yet. We request the Prime Minister to respond to our request,” he said.
Liberation war researcher Muntassir Mamoon said those who lost their lives in the Ramna massacre should be recognized as the martyrs of the liberation war.
“At least the names on the plate [of the temple] should be recognized,” said Muntassir, one of the members of the Public Inquiry Commission.
When contacted, Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Haque said that there are two types of liberation war martyrs – one is Gono Shaheed (unarmed victims of massacres) and the other is one who embraced martyrdom on the battlefield – and these have been recognized by gazette notifications.
“The government is planning to prepare a list of Gono Shaheed. If we prepare the list, we will definitely include the names of people who lost their lives at Ramna Kali Mandir,” he said.