It has been more than 40 years since H M Chowdhury was part of what he calls the “theatre of war”.
In May 1971, the IAS officer (now retired) was posted as Sub-Divisional Officer at Sonamura in Tripura, along the then East Pakistan border. He recalls the heavy shelling from across the border by the Pakistan military and by the Razakars. More than 2.5 lakh Bangladeshis, far outnumbering the local population, fled to the safety of neighbouring Sonamura.
Chowdhury was in-charge of caring for the safety of the evacuees, till Bangladesh officially came into being.
Under him, the local administration set up camps, provided shelter and food to the refugees, several of whom had lost family members in their efforts to escape the violence.
Today, Chowdhury is packing his bags to fly to Dhaka — as a state guest — where he will be receiving an award from the Bangladesh government, under the aegis of National Committee to Honour Foreign Friends of the Bangladesh Liberation War.
A letter addressed to him by Dr Dipu Moni, Bangladesh Foreign Minister who is also the convenor of the committee, says, “I take great pleasure in conveying to you that upon recommendation of the National Committee, the Government of Bangladesh has decided to formally recognise your contribution and to express gratitude on behalf of the people of Bangladesh.”
Chowdhury, who lives in Greater Noida, says: “It was a time of great strife. More than 2.5 lakh people from Bangladesh streamed in... (they) had been tortured by the Pakistani forces. The border in my sub-division of Sonamura was 80-km-long, and mostly porous. For nine months, we gave them shelter and security. We had to arrange for food, medical supplies and shelter. In the light of the constant shelling from across the border, it was a huge task. There were lakhs of others as well, who were relatives of those on the Indian side and they came to live with them. I was only doing my duty.”
Though the evacuees outnumbered the residents of Sonamura, Chowdhury says the residents were “hugely co-operative”.
“Nearly everyone who evacuated, came with stories of