1971 The Doctors’ Frontier -Dr. M.R. Saad
Bangladesh is going to celebrate its 47thIndependence Day on 26th March this year. The war of independence commenced on this day in the year 1971 and ended with the triumph of Bangladesh as an imperial nation against extortionist Pakistani Military Junta on 16thDecember 1971 which ultimately established the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. After the ambiguous partition of British India in 1947, creating the “Pakistan” which had two separate regions known as “East & West Pakistan”. The new state was governed by autocratic West Pakistani rulers. They began to dominate and deprive the people of East Pakistan in various aspects which gradually with a series of movement against them led to birth of a new nation ‘Bangladesh’.
The story of independence is that of bloodshed, massacre and sacrifice. People of all classes from all corners of the countryincluding teachers, journalists, doctors, engineers, farmers, politicians involved in the liberation war. On this following article, the role and contribution of Bangladeshi Physicians and Doctors in the liberation war are being recapitulated.
The first initiative from the Doctors was the formation of UK based medical organizationnamed “Bangladesh Medical Association (BMA-UK) in March 1972 with the active participation of over 1000 expatriate Doctors residing in UK. Famous Ophthalmologist Dr. A.H. Sayedur Rahman was the President and ex-general secretary of Dhaka Medical College students’ union and vascular surgeon Dr. Zafrullah Chowdhury was the Secretary General. In early May 1971, Dr. Zafrullah Chowdhury and Dr. M. A. Mobin who was studying for FRCS degreehurried to the country at the frontline. Dr. Zafrullah and few of his colleagues set up the first hospital in Bangladesh with the help of Major Khaled Mosarrof and Major Akhtar Ahmed who was a physician of 4th East Bengal Regiment in Comilla Cantonment.Death trolls were so high that hospitals were overflowing with large number of dead and injured civilians, rape victims and wounded freedom fighters who required urgent and exigent medical treatment. Due to lack of emergency treatment, many soldiers and civilians would have died because of excessive bloodshed. Witnessing the worst situation, Sector 2 Commander Major Khaled Mosharraf with help of Indian Physician Dr. RathinDatta and Administrator of Red Cross operation in Tripura, India immediately buildup separate hospital and later on handed over the management of the hospital to the Mukti Bahini. A designated refugee camp was built in the “Habul Banerjee’s Lichu Bagan” near Bisramganj at Melaghar, south of Agartala citywhich was modified as a hospital later. In August 1971, Major Khaled Mosarrof allocated TK 50,000 with the help of Major Dr. Akhter Ahmed to set up a make-shift hospital of bamboo and wood. The hospital was established under sector-2. Considering the safety, the hospital was transferred from border area to relatively remote area.
At first, that make-shift hospital had 25 beds but by the time the war ended in December, the hospital had 450 beds. That hospital was called ‘Bangladesh Forces Hospital’ or just ‘Bangladesh Hospital’ which became the first field hospital of Bangladesh for injured unarmed civilians and freedom fighters. Injured and wounded freedom fighters were sent to this hospital every day. Most of the time, there was an operation in the daytime. At the time of emergency, operation was done by the help of hurricane and torchlight. The hospital started with great zeal. Army doctor Captain Sitara Begum along with five others Bengali doctors and large number of women volunteers conducted the hospital. Dr. Sitara Begum joined Bangladesh Hospital at the end of July.Later she was appointed as CEO (Commanding Officer) in the hospital.
Before, she was the doctor of Comilla CMH.In spite of having no previous training in medical practice of female volunteers, hospital was running successfully with much enthusiasm and collective human spirit. Later on, returning from abroad, huge number of medical students along with young school and college girl joined the hospital. Young women who fled from occupied Bangladesh were given hands-on training to become surgical assistant, medicine dispensers, and nurses. The female volunteers learned very quickly in treating the wounded patient, cleaning wound, giving IV (intravenous) fluid and injection etc. With medical supply and resources at a low, they gradually made the small make-shift hospital into a large professional hospital.In this way, Bangladeshi Physicians and Doctors played a momentous role at the time liberation war.
Apart from this, many doctors and medical students all over the country were brutally killed by Pakistani forces during the entire duration of liberation war. On 14th December when the liberation war neared its end, along with other leading intellectuals, many doctors were disappeared and forcefully picked up by the Pakistani army with the help of their local agents and abettors. Taking blindfolding to torture cell and other desolate pits, they were being tormented hard-heartedly. Later on, they were prosecuted by the Pakistani forces.
The initiative of Bangladesh Hospital was appreciated by Provisional Government of Bangladesh.After the Liberation War of Bangladesh ended on 16 December 1971, the Government of Bangladesh awarded Dr. Akhtar Ahmed and Dr. Sitara Begum with bravery award Bir Protik for their remarkable contribution for the hospital in the liberation war.