July 10, 2012
A witness yesterday told the International Crimes Tribunal-1 that he saw his family being brutally killed during a Pakistani army raid in 1971 and armed BNP leader Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury had accompanied the army.
Salahuddin Quader is facing 23 specific crimes against humanity charges at the tribunal.
Nirmal Chandra Sharma, 67, the sixth prosecution witness in the war-crimes case against the BNP leader, lost his mother, Panchabala Sharma, brother, Sunil Chandra Sharma, uncles, Jotilal Sharma and Makhan Lal Sharma, and nephew, Dulal Chandra Sharma, in that raid.
His father Joyonto Kumar Sharma’s left hand and leg were riddled with bullets. He eventually died after suffering for 5-6 years with those wounds.
Nirmal narrowly escaped bullets and later joined the Liberation War as a freedom fighter.
During his around 100-minute-long deposition yesterday, the witness often burst into tears narrating what had happened at his Modhya Gohira village in Chittagong.
The Pakistani army reached Hathazari on April 12, 1971. Hearing the news, people of the village became worried, said the witness, adding that his family members were contemplating fleeing.
“On April 13, my mother suggested that we have meals before leaving home as we don’t know our destinations,” Nirmal said, adding that while they were thinking about taking the meals an announcement was made from a nearby mosque asking people to stay in their homes.
Don’t leave your homes. Shanti [Peace] committee has been formed. There will be looting if you leave your homes. Don’t leave home, there won’t be any problem,” said Nirmal, adding that they were assured by the announcement.
Nirmal, his nephew and brother began having their meals which his mother served.
He said, “As we were about to finish our meals, we saw armed Salauddin Quader Chowdhury along with Pakistani army at our door.”
One of the soldiers in their own language told them not be afraid and asked them to come out of the room.
“As we stepped outside, they shouted at us ‘Hands-up’. We raised our hands. Two soldiers came towards me pointing guns. My mother, father, brother and uncle pleaded holding their legs [begging for life],” Nirmal said.
One of them in Urdu ordered the witness and his family members to calm down and go inside the room and they followed the order. But five minutes later, the Pakistani army dragged Makhan out of the room to the yard.
Nirmal’s parents, uncle and nephew came out of the room and again pleaded for mercy grabbing the legs of Salahuddin Quader and Pakistani army personnel.
The army ordered them to form a line. “They ordered us to sit in line facing west. Salahuddin Quader and other army personnel went to the east about 15 hands [a local unit of measure roughly the length of one's hand] away,” he said.
“I leaned to a side just before they had opened fire. They sprayed bullets twice. I dropped to the ground for some time.”
He said it was quiet after the shooting and all he heard was some groaning.
Nirmal got up after Salahuddin Quader and the Pakistani army had left.
At this point, Prosecutor Zead Al Malum asked the witness what he saw.
The witness lost the power of speech for some time. Nirmal struggling to control his emotions told the tribunal, “I saw that a bullet had entered my mother’s belly from the left and exited from the right…the insides of her belly had come out.”
The tribunal asked the witness to sit down and rest for some time.
His nephew, who was very dear to his mother, had the same fate. He also found his younger brother Sunil and uncle Jotilal dead.
A bullet had hit the upper portion of his uncle Makhanlal’s head and he died after a few days, the witness said.
He said a bullet severed flesh from his father’s left leg and other bullets pierced his left hand.
Hearing the gunshot, Nirmal’s brother Bimal Sharma rushed to the spot. Bimal lost his speech seeing the bodies.
Bimal and Nirmal left the house and had planned to go to Chittagong in the night of April 13 but they failed as the Pakistani military was patrolling the Rangamati road.
They took shelter in a neighbour’s house, who was a Muslim. Nirmal and his brother left at day break.
Before they left, one of their neighbours, Daru Mia, gave them two topis (Islamic cap use during religious duty). Daru advised them to say that they were going for Fazr prayers if anyone asked them where they were going. Daru also taught them the Kalima (the word of purity and an essence of Islam).
Nirmal then loudly said, “Laa ilaaha illal Lahoo Mohammadur Rasool Ullah”.
When tribunal chairman Justice M Nizamul Huq was giving directives to the typist on how to write the Arabic bit, the defence objected recording the Arabic verse.
Justice Nizamul said, “Why can’t it be written?”
Defence counsel Ahsanul Huq Heena could not give any suitable answer but accused Salahuddin Quader, who was present in the dock, stood up and said, “My lord! It does not sound pleasant to hear the Kalima from a non-Muslim. But if you [the tribunal] see it fit, you can write it.”
“When the accused make requests, we become weak,” replied Justice Nizamul and asked for the verse to be recorded with the defence’s objection.
Nirmal eventually went to India and joined the Liberation War and fought in Sector-1. After independence, he heard that his family members were buried in a big burrow near Shilpara pond.
The tribunal yesterday fixed the defence three sessions of the court proceedings, including yesterday, for cross-examining Nirmal.
The defence would get two sessions today.