To mark ‘Victory Day’ on December 16, Hri presents a photo-essay on the life of Shaheed Baqui, one of the few freedom fighters who had been photographed from early years to his death.
We bring you this third photo-essay, in collaboration with the Liberation War Museum of Dhaka, showcasing the images that were part of our international exhibition Lived Stories Everyday Lives, under our project Archives Southasia, an initiative aimed at creating a better understanding of the writing, documenting and archiving of the history of the Subcontinent. The previous photo-essays were in collaboration with Panjab Digital Library and the Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya.
In addition to the images from across Southasia, our travelling exhibition in Dhaka featured a separate section, ‘Bangladesh Special’, which offered a tiny glimpse into the vast collection at the Liberation War Museum, Bangladesh. The Liberation War Museum (Muktijuddho Jadughor) is a museum in the capital-city of Dhaka that commemorates the Bangladesh Liberation War. The Museum holds a collection of over 10,000 items including rare photographs, documents, media coverage, and materials used by freedom fighters and martyrs of liberation war. The images here are from the short life of Shahid Baqui, which ended violently. However, his dream and struggle have been immortalised by the archival materials that his family donated to the Liberation War Museum.
These select images are made available online for the first time in this photo essay.
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PORTRAIT OF A MARTYR: SHAHEED BAQUI
Sheikh Mohammad Abdullahel Baqui was born in a large middle-class family and grew up in Dhaka. He nurtured a dream common to most of the young people of his time, to have a better life for him, for the people around him and also for his country.
Baqui’s father Md. Abdul Bari was a photo-enthusiast. When his eldest daughter Milon gave birth to a child he purchased an ordinary box camera to record the event. Cameras were a rarity at that time and outdoor photographs were taken only on very special occasion. But the family’s camera recorded many interesting moments of Baqui’s life. The family collection also had other mementos of Baqui, his scrapbook, diary, letters etc. Baqui, the young university student, joined the Liberation War and turned into a valiant freedom fighter who was captured and brutally murdered in the last days of the war.
Baqui was born in his ancestral home at Bikrampur, a historical place not very far from Dhaka, on 19 June 1950. He was the sixth among seven brothers and sisters and grew-up in the warmth of a large family. In his final year at school he made a scrapbook pasting different photos and paper-cuttings with his comments.
Baqui enjoyed this early photograph of him posing as elegantly as possible. He wrote a hilarious caption in his own hand: “Here is an American Shahib with a hat on his head and a live hen in his hand. Photographed in 1967 at the maternal grandfather’s home in Sharisabari.”
Baqui’s father Md. Abdul Bari had a family photograph taken on the occasion of his birthday. The meticulously dressed father with his wife at his side and seven sons and daughters standing behind, showed how proud he was of his family.
22 December was the birthday of Baqui’s father Mohammad Abdul Bari. The family celebrated the occasion in 1968 with portrait of a happy family. Dressed in formals, the proud father is sitting in the front with his wife Amena Begum, a housewife. Standing behind (from left) are the youngest son Bahar (now settled in the USA), youngest daughter Nazu (a housewife), third daughter Bali (a beautician), second daughter Shirin (a teacher), Baqui, eldest daughter Milon (housewife) and the eldest son Harun who died in 2012.
This turned out to be the last photograph with all the family members together.
In his scrapbook, Baqui pasted various photos including that of scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose, Fellow of Royal Society of Science and an illustrious son of Bikrampur. In this, he also pasted the photo of Sarojini Naidu, who earned great fame as a social reformer, author and political activist. Underneath Baqui wrote a short caption: “She is the famous lady Sarojini Naidu. She had established the Brahmangaon High School.”
In 1967, Baqui passed the school final exam from Brahmangaon High School. The students appearing in the exam had their group photo taken on the school ground. Baqui wrote the caption: “On the above photograph are present 75% of the students who appeared in the S.S.C exam. Our headmaster Mr. Siddiqur Rahman and English teacher Subodh Kumar Roy are also there with us. The addresses of few students are noted below.”
Baqui studied at Dhaka College, a leading educational institution of the country. It was his blooming period. The photo shows Baqui with his young friends having an encounter with history at Lalbagh Fort, built during the Mughal period. Salek, Ehsan, Monir and Baqui are seen from the left.
The Glittering Reality of the West Vs Grim Life in the East: Baqui, after completion of his HSC exam in 1969 undertook a journey to Karachi and few other places of West Pakistan. The disparity between Eastern and Western Pakistan became obvious to him and caused much anguish. In his diary he made a candid statement about that.
Baqui became a student of political science at Dhaka University in 1970. The youthful exuberance of the first year students is reflected in the happy faces of Baqui and his classmates. Present in the group photo are (from left) Shirin Sultana, Shahjahan, Nasima Karim, Baqui, Nazma Karim and another unnamed friend.
Baqui was an active member of the Student’s League and a popular figure among his friends.
On the night of 25 March, 1971, the Pakistan Army launched its attack against the Bengali people in what was then East Pakistan, and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, before courting arrest, declared the independence of Bangladesh. As the atrocities continued, so began the resistance. Like many other youth, Baqui also had no hesitation in responding to the call of the motherland. On 18 April, 1971 Baqui left home leaving behind this letter addressed to his mother. He went to India to get trained as a guerrilla fighter.
I pay my respect to you and others in the house. At this critical moment in the country I cannot remain idle at home. So alongwith another 20 youth of Dhaka I have undertaken the journey to cross the border. Don’t cry mother. This is minimum we can do for the country. Mother, please pray for the freedom of the country. Don’t worry, by the grace of God, I will return. I may return in 7 days, or might stay for more days. Mother, I will always think of your feet. I wish well of everybody in the house.
Your’s Baqui (Shaju)
After receiving training for a short period, Baqui and his group returned to Dhaka, and began their operation under the very eyes of the occupation forces. He carried out several heroic operations and soon became a unit commander in Dhaka. He developed a clandestine network in and around Dhaka. He grew a beard to conceal his identity and with caution visited their house from time to time to meet his mother. The youthful guerrilla commander showed great courage, but also took great risks. In November he took a photo of him from a studio at Shahjahanpur. He later met his sister at their ancestral home in Bikrampur and told her about the photo, which he kept concealed under the chest of drawers at the Dhaka house.
This was the only photograph of young Baqui as a guerrilla commander. The war seemed to have transformed the jubilant youth into a full-grown man; he had seen much death and cruelty around him, and his eyes reflected that deep pain as well as determination. Baqui the Guerrilla Fighter, Muktijoddha, became the embodiment of the lines from Rabindranath Tagore’s song ‘Amar Sonar Bangla’, “Oh Mother, if your face become pale / my eyes get filled with tears.”
The photo was found at their house after the liberation of Bangladesh when Baqui was no more.
On the winter night of 3 December, 1971 the all-out war between India and Pakistan broke-out and Indian Forces with their full might joined the Muktibahini. The Joint Forces of India and Bangladesh were rushing towards Dhaka and the Pakistan Army in the Eastern theatre was doomed. Baqui and his guerilla group got impatient to do their utmost to usher in the victory. In a moment of slackness, he and his co-fighter Babul were captured by the Pakistan Army on 4th December. They were tortured, brutally murdered and dumped at a road-side ditch in Khilgaon, not very far from his house. With hands tied behind, eyes blind-folded, the two dead bodies were lying in a pool of mud and blood.
Aftab Ahmed, a young press photographer, at great risk to himself photographed the bodies. He hid his camera inside the gunny bag and hurriedly took a shot of the two young freedom fighters embracing death.
Baqui’s family album has preserved many moments of joy, but this one photo by Aftab Ahmed has haunted them ever since.
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