By Sujit Chakraborty
Agartala, Dec 8 (IANS) After an eight-year-long effort, the Tripura government has created a “gigantic memorial and park” in memory of the Indian soldiers and Bangladeshi freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives during the 1971 Liberation War.
“The gigantic memorial and park has been built on 20.20 hectares at Chottakhola (in southern Tripura, 132 km from here) at a cost of Rs 7 crore (over $1 million),” Tripura Revenue and Health Minister Badal Chaudhury told IANS. The site is just four km from the India-Bangladesh border.
Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar will inaugurate the memorial and park in the presence of Indian and Bangladeshi artists, intellectuals and freedom fighters on December 16, the day the war ended in 1971 and which is observed as “Vijay Diwas” (Victory Day). It would thereafter be open to the public.
Dipu Moni, then Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister, laid the foundation stone of the “Bharat-Bangla Maitri Uddan” (India-Bangladesh Friendship Park) on November 11, 2010.
“We first thought of and started the initial work of the memorial when we had observed “Vijay Diwas” on December 16, 2009. Subsequently, Manik Sarkar discussed the matter with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina when he went to Dhaka in March 2010. The project was then undertaken officially,” veteran Communist leader and legislator Sudhan Das told IANS.
“A war museum, hillocks, verdant valleys, lakes, plants, sculptures, graveyards of Bangladeshi freedom fighters and with various other elements, this is not just a park but much more than that.
“Developed jointly by at least 10 departments of the Tripura government with the Forest Department as the nodal agency, the memorial and park would also feature a large watchtower from which parts of Comilla, Feni and Noakhali districts of eastern Bangladesh would be visible,” Das said.
Revenue Minister Chaudhury said: “When Pranab Mukherjee was the Defence Minister, I personally met him some time in 2005 and gave him a letter requesting to assist the Tripura government by allocating funds or otherwise to build the memorial. But his response was pessimistic.”
“If the Indian government can build a war cemetery in Kohima (Nagaland) to commemorate the soldiers of the 2nd British Division of the allied forces who lost their lives there fighting Japanese forces in April 1944, why could the Indian government not build a similar memorial at Chottakhola,” the minister asked.
Das said that a Rs 12-crore project had been sent to the Union government, but there was no response.
Renowned artists from Tripura and Bangladesh are part of the project with their creations — from statues to paintings — that will add to the memorial’s attraction.
A museum is also being set up at the park. It will showcase the arms and ammunition used in the Liberation War, rare photographs and war literature. The park will also feature 220 different plant species.
Other highlights include the surrounding hillocks, the Trichna Wildlife Sanctuary and a 500-year-old mosque in Bangladesh’s Comilla district.
Statues of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the founder of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, have also been erected in the park.
“We are grateful to the Tripura government for constructing the park and the museum,” said Bangladesh Liberation War Affairs Minister A.K.M. Mozammel Haque, who was recently here to attend some events.
Justifying the decision to build the memorial in the state, Tripura Minister Chaudhury said: “Tripura had not only accommodated the displaced people but also provided all kinds of support and help to the freedom fighters. The border town of Belonia was attacked by the Pakistani forces.”
He said that some portion of the land would be allocated to the Army and the Border Security Force (BSF) to build small memorials to commemorate their personnel.
Political analyst and writer Gautam Das, who had closely watched the Liberation War, told IANS: “Over 160,000 displaced people from the then East Pakistan had taken shelter in Tripura.
“Our state had many camps in four sectors from where the freedom fighters fought the Pakistani forces in the nine-month-long war in 1971.”
Even after 46 years, the people of Tripura understand the need to celebrate the indomitable spirit of the freedom fighters and Indian soldiers who fought shoulder to shoulder to liberate an oppressed land. The memorial and the park will certainly ensure that the nine-month-long (March to December 1971) bloody war is never forgotten.
(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)