Dr Aleem Chowdhury, a visionary, was killed by the Pakistan Army during the 1971Liberation War of Bangladesh. His daughter Dr Nuzhat talks about her father’s unwavering dedication to the nation’s wellbeing and freedom.
Dr Nuzhat Chowdhury, an ophthalmologist and the daughter of Dr Aleem Chowdhury
By Sahidul Hasan Khokon: As the long-cherished day of freedom finally dawned on the land of Bangladesh on December 16, 1971 and people, mostly youths, came out on the streets chanting slogans of joy, Shyamoli Nasrin Chowdhury was examining every face, hoping that her husband would have joined the rally too.
Her spouse, Dr Aleem Chowdhury, a visionary and an ophthalmologist who had long been targeted for being vocal against the Pakistan Army-orchestrated genocide, was picked in the twilight hours of the armed struggle for freedom.
Her family was yet to come to terms with the possibility that he could have been murdered by the Pakistan Army, like many other visionaries who had shaped the country’s intellectual foundation.
With time ticking by and the hope of Dr Aleem’s return fading away, Shyamoli contacted the wife of Dr Fazle Rabbi, another renowned physician, also picked by the Pakistan Army. Dr Fazle Rabbi’s wife couldn’t hide her emotions as she expressed her doubts about the Pakistan Army returning them alive.
Dr Nuzhat Chowdhury, an ophthalmologist and the daughter of Dr Aleem Chowdhury, revealed that a frantic search for her missing father went on for days.
Mutilated, disfigured, and decomposed bodies of people, killed by the Pakistan Army and their local collaborators, were dumped in the most inhumane manner in different parts of the capital. Each body was carefully examined to be sure if it was that of Dr Aleem. Finally, his brother identified Dr Aleem’s body in Rayer Bazar mass graveyard on December 18, 1971.
In a conversation with this scribe, Dr Nuzhat spoke about her father’s unwavering dedication to the nation’s wellbeing and freedom, both as a professional and as a visionary. “He was not just the best in the profession but also a man ahead of his time.”
Her voice trembling with emotion, Dr Nuzhat said that her father was at the forefront of the struggles starting from the 1952-Language Movement that prompted the world to celebrate International Mother Language Day on February 21.
One of the visionaries and also an ophthalmologist in the country, Dr Aleem blended his political involvement with a vision of equal opportunity for everyone regardless of his class or creed, she added.
“He had a strong conviction that the treatment offered by a physician should be carried out depending on the disease, not on who the patient was. It implies that he envisioned a healthcare system where peasants and day labourers would have access like the ministers and businessmen,” said Dr Nuzhat.
She regretted the void created by the planned butchering and massacring of intellectuals at the hands of the Pakistan Army and their collaborators. Sensing their defeat, the Pakistani regime made a list of the best sons of this soil who were capable of advancing the country culturally and intellectually.
“Imagine where our film industry would have been if Zahir Rayhan remained alive. Just think about the progress we could have made if maestros like Munir Chowdhury and Shahidullah Kaiser were there,” she added.
Dr Nuzhat also strongly criticized the misinformation spread by a vested quarter about ‘Bangabandhu’ and twisted lies about the number of martyrs in the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh.
“There is a misperception that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman ‘Bangabandhu’ – the father of the nation — forgave all the criminals who committed crimes against humanity during the Liberation War of Bangladesh, which is a white lie. He never forgave the ones who committed crimes against humanity like arson and murder,” she underlined.
Reflecting on the dark chapters since the assassination of ‘Bangabandhu’ in 1975, she said that it had been a traumatizing experience to see military dictators giving the murderer of my father political patronage, even the charge of a ministry.
Dr Nuzhat also lamented the lack of attention to the contribution of women, like her mother Shyamoli Nasrin and Jahanara Imam, in advancing the spirit of the Liberation War.
Shyamoli Nasrin testified in 2013 before the International Crimes Tribunal against Motiur Rahman Nizami for wartime crimes against humanity. She revealed that Moulana Abdul Mannan, an al-Badr member, who hid his pro-Pakistan agenda and requested shelter from Dr Aleem, changed his colour overnight and conspired to kill him.
It is shocking that Abdul Mannan, the murderer of my father, later became a lawmaker during Zia ur Rahman’s regime and went on to become a minister during (Lt Gen) Ershad’s tenure, Dr Nuzhat said.
Later, war criminals were entrusted with the charge of ministries during the BNP-Jamaat rule starting in 2001. Finally, hope appeared on the horizon when Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League government initiated the war crimes trial where my mother, among others, testified against the war criminals, she said.