Under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh achieved its independence in 1971. In the dark of March 25, 1971, the Pakistani occupation force slaughtered thousands of innocent Bangalees, prompting the nation to create resistance against them. On this fateful night, the Pakistani military rulers launched the "Operation Search Light" which first hit Rajarbagh police lines where police personnel were in the forefront with their service arms.The invading force had evidently understood that police would be the main obstacle while conducting operation search light and therefore, they attacked the police lines first. According to a statistics, a total of 33,995 police personnel were in service in the then East Pakistan during the Liberation War. Of them, 13,000 denied loyalty to the then government and joined the freedom fight.However, it has been speculated that the figure of police freedom fighters was much higher as around 70 percent of police personnel in some districts joined the war. A government order issued during the period also supported the speculation, saying “The Govt. of East Pakistan, Dacca has been pleased to convey sanction to the creation of the following temporary posts in the East Pakistan police force and deputation thereto, of the officers and men from West Pakistan for a period of 6 months with effect from 1-6-71.”
As time passed, each police station turned into a fort of freedom fighters, hoisting Bangladeshi flag in police lines. After directly getting involved in the activities of Mujibnagar government in exile, the police force intensified the Liberation War. The contribution of police force to the independence was mainly divided into two phases -- a) the period before March 24, 1971 and b) from March 25 to December 16, 1971.
Before March 24, Bengalee police members were taking mental preparation to participate in the upcoming war being encouraged by the historic speeches delivered between March 7 and 24 by great leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, from non-cooperation movement, 6 point-demands and 11 point-demands.The activities between March 25 and December 16, 1971 included getting prepared for war, making first resistance, hoisting Bangladeshi flag in police lines, giving guard of honour to the Mujibnagar government in exile, forming police headquarters, providing training and arms to freedom fighters, making use of police logistics in the war, helping political leaders, and taking part in the freedom fight.
A. Before 24th March 1971
1. 6-point-demand and 11-point-demand:
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman issued the historic 6-point demands in 1966 to make East Bengal a fully autonomous province. In reality it was the first step in a political process to achieve the independence of East Bengal. The Central Students Action Council, formed on January 5, 1969, pressed for accepting their 11-point demand that included the 6-point.
When students and workers of the then East Pakistan were waging a movement simultaneously for materializing the 6 and 11-point-demands, the police personnel of Special Branch (SB) were working behind the scene to take the movement to a logical conclusion. Bangabandhu had immense confidence on police, which was echoed in his historic March 7 speech --“The charge of maintaining law and order has to be handed over fully to police and Bengali EPR". Police discharged the duty according to the expectation of Bangabandhu.
2. Non-cooperation movement
Under the Pakistani second military ruler Yahya Khan, the Awami League got an overwhelming majority in National Assembly in the 1970 election to form a government but the military ruler’s political cohort Bhutto, chief of People’s Party, was hatching conspiracy so that Bangabandhu could not form government. Consequently, “Larkana Conspiracy” involving civil-military bureaucrats and landlords under the leadership of Bhutto began against the rights of Bangalees. Due to the conspiracy, parliament session was deferred for an indefinite period which made the process of handing over of the state power impossible.
Bangabandhu in his speech delivered on February 9, 1971 said “The politics of Pakistan is of conspiracy....... It is sad to make unnecessary delay in calling assembly". On the other hand, Pakistan ruler got the warning that the people of East Pakistan was forging movement with slogan: “Kick out Pakistan. Make Bangladesh free". Bangalee officers used to convey every update to nearby political leaders and police personnel, specially SB personnel, and worked as media for passing the information. Bangalee officers and political leaders kept constant contact with SB personnel for getting updates and fixing next plan. In this way police played their role in the non-cooperation movement.
Bangalee officers in army remained under vigilance so that they could not interact with people. In such a situation, the armed police became a very reliable source of information to common people. Major Rafiqul Islam, Bir Uttam, in his book "Lakkha Praner Binimoye", said “Pakistan government could realize that EPR and police and police force will be main source of people in the region for armed battle. It also could realized that EPR and police will not hold arms against the people of East Pakistan".
Army personnel of West Pakistan felt helpless due to non-cooperation from police as they did not know local political leaders and had no idea about road communication in the region. Consequently, their plans to combat political leaders went in vain. In a write up by Pak general Rao Forman Ali, it has been mentioned that he prepared a list of political leaders in and outside Dhaka and ordered for their arrest. It became impossible for the West Pakistan army to carry out the order without help from East Pakistan police. Thus, except Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, no significant leaders were arrested.The then Inspector General of Police Taslim Uddin Ahmed played a significant role in favour of Bangalis during the non-cooperation movement. He was removed from the post on charge of assisting local political leaders, and non-Bangalee Mozaffar Ahmed Chowdhury was appointed IGP.
3. The general election in 1970
Awami League under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman got overwhelming majority in the election. Police favoured freedom lover people in East Pakistan which made a positive impact in election.
4. Days between 7 and 24 March, 1971 and mental preparation for armed battle
After the March 7 historic speech, police personnel in Rajarbagh police lines was taking preparation for armed battle. There were 14 out of total 19 Subedars and Sergeants who were posted at the police lines during that period. To maintain secrecy, Bengalee police members adopted various tactics when they met frequently to fix their plan. Such practices were followed in different districts outside Dhaka like Pabna, Barisal, Chittagong, Rajshahi, Khulna under the leadership of concern Superintendents of Police.
Police along with mass people held frequent meetings to form Revolutionary Command Council for Liberation War. The solitary Bangalee police personnel moved with mass people and freedom fighters at every remote areas of the country. Each and every policeman at that moment showed their firmness to carry out Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s order, avoiding the tyrant’s instruction.
B. From March 25 to December 16, 1971
1. Bangalee police personnel’s preparation for armed struggle and hoisting national flag of Bangladesh at Rajarbagh police lines
Like others, Bangalee policemen had understood that the political stalemate would not be settled as Pakistan army ruler wanted to use weapon to suppress voice of mass people. Amid adverse situation, Rajarbagh policemen were taking armed preparation, dodging non-Bangalee policemen. At one stage they forced and compelled the then police lines authority to hoist the national flag of Bangladesh instead of Pakistani in front of the armory.
2. First resistance made by Rajarbagh police
Since non-cooperation movement Bangalee police members had sensed as intelligence surfaced that they would be the first target and thus, they became mentally prepared for that. Without waiting for any instruction, they spontaneously built barricades around the police lines on March 25 night, possessing .303 rifles. Being attacked by Pakistani invading force they retaliated with what they have only to make first resistance -- the first of its kind in the history of Liberation War. Many police were killed in the uneven fight against well-equipped invading army. Around 150 veteran police freedom fighters were arrested on that night.
Pak general Rao Forman Ali in one of his books wrote that police in Rajarbagh police lines revolted around 10:00pm on March 25 night and opened fire at army passing the police lines. The reserved police were disarmed at 3:00 am and many of them were injured while disarming them, Rao wrote, adding EPR personnel at Pilkhana were disarmed at 2:30 am. EPR tried to make resistance but they made a bit success, he added.
3. Giving guard of honour to Mujibnagar government in exile
The revolutionary Bangladesh government took oath on April 17, 1971 at Bhaberpara village of Baidanathtala in the then Meherpur subdivision where many foreign journalists and thousand of people gathered. The then SDPO Mahbub Uddin Ahmed Bir Bikram instantly formed a team comprising police and ansar to give guard of honour to the newly formed government’s acting president Syed Nazrul Islam.
4. Formation of police headquarters
A.H.M Kamruzzaman, being the home minister of the Mujibnagar Government, urged all Bangalee officers working at different Pakistani ministries and departments, home and abroad to join under the newly formed government. Responding to the call, a great portion of police members joined Liberation War under different sectors while many others joined at different departments according to their merits. Along other departments of the Mujibnagar Government, police headquarters was also formed at East Pakistan’s deputy high commission’s office in Kolkata and the then DIG Abdul Khalek was the maiden IGP and Home Secretary of Bangladesh government.
Banglaee police members started to interact with the newly formed home ministry or police headquarters. The headquarters set up transit camp at Krishnanagar of Nadia district in India for the police members who had deserted West Pakistan and got them registered at the camp. After registration, the police headquarters took steps to send them to the battle fields and to other works according to their physical strength and merits. Police Headquarters also took steps for altering police uniforms during the period. Initially, the headquarters was formed only with 20 police officers and 15 to 20 officials.
“Actually due to his [Abdul Khalek] earnest effort, sincerity in a time befitting manner, led to the creation of the police headquarters” said Shailendra Kishore Chowdhury, a colleague of Abdul Khalek.
5. Police assistance to civil administration
It became easier to start functioning of civil administration maintaining law and order at the areas freed from invading forces as police headquarters remained vigilant in these areas. With the help of the then Public Works Ministry, police headquarters appointed SPs at every district on December 14, 1971 and the police headquarters was shifted to Dhaka in December 22, 1971.
6. Contribution to war strategy and providing training to freedom fighters
Police personnel first started preparation among themselves and then started regrouping people in different districts inspiring them to join freedom fight. Police also made contribution in providing arms training for local freedom fighters. Since the non-cooperation movement, the arms and manpower of police had been used for voluntary force setting a glaring example.
7. Providing freedom fighters with arms
During the period, every police station turned into a fort for freedom fighters. Since March1, 1971 freedom fighters, at many police stations, started taking training on arms under direct supervision of police during the nightfall. Police secretly handed over the .303 rifles which were kept at police stations and thus it became the first arms for freedom fighters in the battle field. Initially Rajshahi, Barisal, Khulna, Jhinaidah and Chittagong came forward in taking position for freedom fight.
8. Handing over cash and gold ornaments to government exchequer
Police also made contribution to economy of the war torn Bangladesh by handing over cash and gold ornaments. As the news of attacking Rajarbagh police lines spread to Jhenaidah, the then SDP of Jhenaidah Mahbub Uddin Ahmed, Bir Bikram, immediately took away all cash and gold ornaments from the treasury of Jhenaidah Sub division.
When Mujibnagar Government was formed on April 17, 1971, he handed over Tk 4,40,00000 and 25 kg gold which was collected from Jhenaidah, Chuadanga and Meherpur treasury to the then finance minister M Mansur Ali. At the same time, he handed over Tk 20,00000 to Colonel Manjur at sector headquarters. The money receipts were preserved at the Liberation War Museum.
9. Helping freedom fighters in fixing war strategy
It is known to all that police along with freedom fighters fought bravely in the forefront of the battle. Police members gave all out effort to army in designing war plan. Mahbub Uddin Ahmed made significant role in this regard.
10. Police let their wireless sets and other equipments to be used in freedom fight
At the very beginning of the Liberation War police were using their wireless sets to monitor movement of Pakistani army. Patrol police teams in Dhaka town used to provide information constantly over wireless sets to the base stations and police control room. When Rajarbagh police lines was attacked, the information was passed through wireless to all police members in districts, police academy at Sarda in Rajshahi urging them to resist the invading force.
According to constable Shahjahan Mia, who was posted at the wireless unit during the period, it was around 10:30 pm a message reached from a mobile wireless station. The message was “Charley seven for base, how do you hear me over” in reply he said “Base for Charley seven send your message, over".
Then a wireless set of a patrol team at Tejgaon area replied “About 37 trucks loaded with Pak army are proceeding towards Dacca City, over.” In this way police members informed all the news that army was entering Dhaka town. On receiving the message police personnel at Rajarbagh police lines took position for resisting the invading force.
11. Conducting refugee camps
During Liberation War, thousands of people took shelter in bordering areas where many refugee camps had been set up. Police provided arms training at the camps and played roles in maintaining the camps.
12. Assisting political leaders
During the freedom fight police played the crucial role in helping political leaders to cross the borders. For example, police helped the then general secretary of Awami League Tajuddin Ahmed, who later became acting president of Mujibnagar Government in exile and the then lawmaker Barrister Amirul Islam, to cross the Chankhali border in Jhinaidah Mohokuma on March 29, 1971.
13. The then principal of Police Academy, Sarda, Rajshahi
The then principal Abdul Khalek of Police Academy left the academy for West Bengal with a barefoot and wearing a lungi, from where he wrote an open letter to police force which is still being preserved in the DMP museum. In the letter, he urged all Bangladeshi police personnel to join the war saying “We are sons of Bangladesh, we are Bengalee, we are the police force of Bangladesh, we are freedom fighters and it is our moral duty to take part in the Liberation War of Bangladesh.” He made the call to all saying “The fight should be continued until last soldiers of West Pakistani invading army is not driven out from Bangladesh".
He urged the police force who took shelter inside Bangladesh to take part in the war without any delay, saying “We are police and we know how to operate arms. At this crucial moment of Bangladesh, we have to perform a lot of things. We will not go to enemy with a cooperative mind and we will not bow to them. We will sacrifice our lives in the Liberation War of Bangladesh. The people of Bangladesh will never forgive those who were keeping relation with the enemy".
14. Receiving arms from India and distributing those among freedom fighters
The first consignment of arms from India was received by Mahbub Uddin Ahmed, Bir Bikram, on March 29, 1971 and he distributed two LMGs, several boxes of high explosives and grenades of the consignment among the freedom fighters.
15. Active participation in Liberation War and receiving gallantry awards
With Rajarbagh police lines being hit on March 25 night 1971, the police force across the country felt an urge and joined the war. At least 14,000 policemen from different parts including Rajarbagh, Rajshahi, Pabna, Kushtia, Khulna, Chittagong and Chittagong hill tracts took actively in freedom fight and at least 1,100 personnel embraced martyrdom. Six policemen were awarded with gallantry awards -- Bir Bikram and Bir Protik--for their heroic role in the war. Among the veteran police freedom fighters -- SP Mahbub Uddin Ahmed was awarded with Bir Bikram, constable Mohammad Solaiman Bir Pratik martyred Constable Abdul Mannan Bir Bikram and martyred constable Tawhid Ali Bir Bikram.
16. Personal account of martyred police freedom fighters
The number of police freedom fighters who fought bravely and embraced martyrdom is at least 1,100 and of them, six were given the gallantry awards.
The heroism, sacrifice and contribution made by police during Liberation War will be remembered in the history of Bangladesh. The names of many police member remained beyond notice even 41 years after the independence as the task of retrieving documents, among registered and other things, on freedom fighters became difficult.The maiden resistance of police force from Rajarbagh police lines, Khulna, Rajshahi, Sarda Police Academy, Comilla, among others, reflects their patriotism, sincerity, bravery and the self-sacrifice -- which earned them Shadinata Padak-2011" in course of time.