S Q Chy stood with Pak shooters: witness

ul 9th, 2012

A witness put BNP leader Salauddin Quader Chowdhury on Monday at the scene of an execution on the morning of Apr 13 in 1971, which he miraculously survived but lost five of his family.

A lawyer of the Chittagong district court, Nirmal Chandra Sharma, told the first war crimes tribunal how his family had been lined up outside their village home in Rauzan and shot by Pakistani soldiers. The six-time BNP MP was with them at the time, he said.

Set up to deal crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War, the three-judge International Crimes Tribunal-1 indicted Salauddin Quader on 23 charges of war crimes on Apr 4.

The witness broke down several times as he remembered his mother, nephew and uncle lying dead at the scene. The 67-year-old lawyer’s another uncle had also been injured in the head and only managed to moan out as the Pakistani soldiers had left. He died several days later.

The father of the witness lay sprawled out on his face on the ground with his left hand riddled with bullets. His thighs were also badly injured. Nirmal’s father became crippled and went on to live another five years or so after liberation.

Nirmal said he had feigned to fall just before the Pakistani soldiers opened fire on his family at their courtyard and thus survived the execution. He got up and fled the scene along with another brother who was not at home during the shooting.

Pakistani soldiers had come to their doorstep and called them out promising that no one would be hurt. In his minute-by-minute description of the scene, Nirmal said that Salauddin Quader had come with the Pakistani execution squad.

Later that evening the witness managed to flee his home in Rauzan, where Salauddin Quader is alleged to have committed a number of crimes in 1971. Nirmal Chandra eventually reached India’s Agartala and turned into a freedom fighter joining liberation forces in Sector 1.

The sixth prosecution witness’s deposition was completed about half an hour before the scheduled lunch recess.

The Context

Nirmal’s story began from Apr 12 of 1971. The Pakistani Army had gone past the weak resistance that people had apparently set up to prevent their advance in Hathazari in Chittagong. “This made us very nervous and we started wondering about where to go or what to do.”

Early next morning, they had decided to leave the village under Moddho Gohira and go elsewhere. “But before that mother said we should all eat up since there was no telling what was to come.”

All agreed and the Sharmas began preparing for an early meal and then leave.

Soon there was an announcement on the loudspeaker of a nearby mosque saying that the people should not leave their houses: “Nothing would happen to the people. A peace committee has been formed,” the announcement said.

“This announcement from the mosque reassured us greatly.”

Even an uncle of the witness, Nirmal Chandra’s elder brother, and others of his family who had already left the village looking for a safer place returned after the assurance.

The announcement had also warned that in case people left, their houses would be looted.

“On being sufficiently reassured, we did not hurry about our meal. But we went about it in a relaxed manner thinking that things would not be too bad.”

But Nirmal’s family had hardly sat down for breakfast when Pakistani soldiers showed up on their doorstep calling him out. “Salauddin Quader Chowdhury was with them.”

Salauddin Quader in ICT

The prosecution submitted formal charges against Salauddin Quader on Nov 14, 2011 and the tribunal took them into cognisance three days later.

A former prime ministerial adviser on parliamentary affairs when BNP chief Khaleda Zia was in office, the Chittagong MP was shown arrested for war crimes charges on Dec 20, 2010, five days after his arrest.

The investigating agency submitted a 119-page report with around 8,000-page data to the chief prosecutor on Oct 3 in a bid to prove allegations of war crimes during the 1971 Liberation War.

The BNP leader was indicted on Apr 4 on 23 counts of war crimes.

The Execution

The Pakistani soldiers called Nirmal to come out of the house in ‘their language’ which must have been Urdu. They reassured that he would not be hurt, but as soon as he came out of the house the soldiers barked, ‘Hands up!’

“I put my hands up and wondered whether to grab hold of anyone.” But there were too many soldiers and it was very likely that they would kill the entire family, Nirmal said he thought and decided against any rash moves. “So I simply stood there with my hands up, while the rest of the family began to cry fearing for my life.”

Three soldiers advanced towards him, two of them with their fingers on the triggers and the weapons cocked. At this Nirmal’s parents fell on their feet begging for his life. “The third one told them to shut up go inside.”

At this everyone went inside but within 4-5 minutes Nirmal’s uncle who had left and came back, was hauled out to the courtyard and once again the family began wailing and went out of the house begging for Jyotilal Sharma’s life. “All of us were crying and we fell on their feet begging for mercy.” SQ Chowdhury was also among the people they were begging mercy from, said Nirmal.

Unmoved the Pakistani soldiers told his family to line up and they finally realised that the soldiers would shoot them. Nirmal’s mother Panchabala, his nephew, two uncles Makhanlal and Jyotilal, his brother Sunil and Nirmal himself were eventually made to sit down on the ground in a line.

“And then the soldiers walked away to stand at about 10 yards from us and prepared to shoot.” Nirmal feigned to have been hit and fell to a side. “I was not hit but I lay there very still pretending to be dead and could hear a faint moaning after they stopped firing upon us.”

Once the execution squad had walked away to another direction, Nirmal got up from his position to find his mother hit in the stomach with her entrails out on the ground. “She was dead,” said Nirmal failing to restrain himself anymore.

Nirmal said his nephew was also hit in the stomach and had died. His youngest brother Sunil and his uncle Jyotilal had also died on the spot.

Nirmal’s other uncle, Makhon Lal had been hit in the head and could only manage to moan. The witness kept describing the bloody scene in between his outbursts while the court kept telling him to sit down, calm himself and then resume.

“And then I came upon my father. He was a healthy man. His left armed was riddled with gunshots and his left thigh was also badly hurt,” said Nirmal showing the court how his father lay sprawled on the ground.

The Escape

Nirmal’s other brother Bimal had been away during the shooting and was afraid to come any close to the scene. Nirmal found him and they went off to another village crossing a Halda river.

They returned in the evening to see that the bodies still lay there. His father was still alive, “He had bled all day. He could faintly say ‘water’. I gave him some water but could not do much.”

Fearing that the squad might return, the two brothers fled the scene. In the evening, after dark they went to a neighbour’s house, who were rather warm and welcomed them to stay. “The family had been preparing to go to bed, and the beds were already made. But they offered their beds to us and told us to sleep while they kept a watch.”

After passing an almost sleepless night, one Dhanu woke them up early in the morning and told them it was time to move out.

“He gave us two caps to wear and wore one himself.” The two brothers were told that they would tell anyone meeting on their way that they were to offer their ‘Fajr’ prayers. “He also taught us a kalema to recite as proof,” said Nirmal reciting the Kalema Tayeb, which was the first message prophet Mohammad received from the Almighty.

However, no one really challenged them on their way and they safely crossed the Chittagong-Rangamati Road. At one point, Dhanu left them and returned while the two brothers kept walking towards India.

“We reached Ramgarh two days later from where we went over to Sabroom.”

The witness then joined the war and fought in Sector 1. After the war, he returned to the village to find out that his uncle, who was moaning out, had lived for several more days but died eventually, while his father had become a cripple. “He lived for about five years or so.”

Defence Objects

Defence counsel Ahsanul Huq raised an objection when the tribunal attempted to have the Kalema Tayeb included in the court records. He said, “It would be inappropriate.”

The tribunal asked the defence counsel why he was raising an objection, to which the counsel simply said that this would not be appropriate to add to the testimony of Nirmal Chandra Sharma.

The tribunal chairman said, “You are a senior lawyer, and we would like to hear the reason for your objection. And when it comes from you, it should be a legal one.”

Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, who visibly refrains from speaking out, spoke out loudly saying that the first message from the Almighty — meaning ‘There is no god but Allah, and Mohammad was his messenger’ in Arabic — “would not be appropriate in the mouth of a non-Muslim”.

“It is a matter of taste. If you find it distasteful you should not record but if you don’t find it so then you need not delete it,” said Chowdhury.

He was backed up by his counsel this time. Ahsanul Huq said, “This is the same reason that I had also objected to the words.”

The tribunal could not agree with the defence and decided to keep the kalema in the records as had been recited by the witness.

Defence counsel Ahsanul Huq was asked to begin his cross-examination right after the deposition was completed. The tribunal also directed him to complete the cross-examination within three sessions. Ahsanul Huq said he was not prepared and would need four sessions.

“I am willing to start the cross-examination today but would like some time to prepare.”

The tribunal chair did not agree and said, “We do not expect to hear this from someone like Ahsanul Huq.” The judge said that the counsel was quite capable to conduct the cross-examination and wanted him to continue.

Ahsanul Huq abided by the court’s order after lunch recess and continued his cross-examination till almost 3.30pm when he requested an adjournment. The prayer was granted. The defence counsel will resume on Tuesday morning.

Salauddin Quader in ICT

The prosecution submitted formal charges against Salauddin Quader on Nov 14, 2011 and the tribunal took them into cognisance three days later.

A former prime ministerial adviser on parliamentary affairs when BNP chief Khaleda Zia was in office, the Chittagong MP was shown arrested for war crimes charges on Dec 20, 2010, five days after his arrest.

The investigating agency submitted a 119-page report with around 8,000-page data to the chief prosecutor on Oct 3 in a bid to prove allegations of war crimes during the 1971 Liberation War.

The BNP leader was indicted on Apr 4 on 23 charges of war crimes.

Quader Molla Case

The second tribunal saw conclusion of cross-examination of the first prosecution witness against Jamaat-e-Islami Assistant Secretary General Abdul Quader Molla.

The tribunal also fixed Jul 15 for order on a defence petition to review Jamaat Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujaheed’s indictment order.
Abdur Razzaq, Jamaat’s lead counsel at the war crimes tribunals, argued for the petition.

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