Miscellaneous

A Miracle from Heaven

A true story of Major Hussain’s daughters who were separated during the gruesome murder of the rest of the family at the hands of Mukti Bahini, aided by his own defected Bengali troops.


1954, PMA Kakul – A bunch of excited cadets from 11th PMA Long Course made their way into the room of their fellow cadet, Amir Muhammad Khan (pronounced as Ameer). On being stormed by his fellow cadets a bewildered Amir Muhammad Khan, obviously intrigued, asked them what was going on. The cadets asked him as to why did he not inform them that his younger brother was to join 13th PMA Long Course, and that he was already there. They told him that if it was not for his striking resemblance, they would not have known that his brother was there. This put Cadet Amir into puzzlement as none of his brothers were supposed to join the incoming course nor was anything of the sort on the cards. A curious Amir accompanied them to see the young cadet who had just reported. On seeing the newcomer, Amir was taken aback by the staggering resemblance of the cadet with him. Though the confusion was sorted out quickly, for the rest of the training period at PMA the two were more than often taken as brothers by various physical and weapon instructors along with the teaching and administrative staff till the time Cadet Amir and 11th PMA Long Course passed out in 1955. At that time neither Amir Muhammad Khan nor the young cadet had the wildest idea as to what destiny had in store for them and at what juncture their respective paths were to converge. More about this later.
1968 – When young Major Muhammad Hussain along with his youthful wife, Imtiaz Begum and their one year old daughter, whom they had named Sadaf, were embarking on the journey to East Pakistan, he did not have the faintest idea as to what tragedy was awaiting him that would devastate his small happy family. Major Muhammad Hussain was posted on deputation from 14 Punjab to East Pakistan Rifles (Paramilitary Border Security Force of the then East Pakistan provincial region under civilian administration. Officers were transferred to command EPR troops). Reaching the shores of East Pakistan was a unique experience for Muhammad Hussain and his wife, who hailed from Munara village in the hilly town of Chakwal. He was both spirited and excited. Soon he was posted to the segment falling in the vicinity of Thakurgaon. This segment was responsible for surveillance and security of the border that bordered the Indian province of Bihar. Since Major Hussain was part of the border guards serving at the border belt, he decided to set up his household in the same vicinity. The nearest Army Garrison, where his Headquarters was located, was that of Rajshahi around 250 kms south of Thakurgaon, whereas Dhaka was 380 kms in the east. Muhammad Hussain was allotted a civilian bungalow in the main hub of Thakurgaon. There, his responsibility envisaged border surveillance and anti-smuggling operations. Soon the house turned into a small heaven for Muhammad Hussain’s small family and life shined in its absolute benevolence. During the next two and a half years, Muhammad Hussain and Imtiaz Begum were blessed with another girl whom they named Irum followed by a son, Khurrem. During the first couple of years there was nothing visible on the political horizon as far as life in Thakurgaon was concerned. Perhaps history was taking a long siesta. There was political turbulence but it was mostly beneath the surface. By March 1971, following the general elections and the events that followed, conspicuous black clouds started to show up in all its venality. Havoc was about to unleash – a dormant monster was slowly coming to life. That was not the time of media; television was limited and the only means of information, apart from word of mouth, was the state-controlled radio and newspapers.


When young Major Muhammad Hussain along with his youthful wife, Imtiaz Begum and their one year old daughter, whom they had named Sadaf, were embarking on the journey to East Pakistan, he did not have the faintest idea as to what tragedy was awaiting him that would devastate his small happy family.


Predominantly, life surrounding the troops is kept simple yet banal. Troops are kept from unnecessary gossip mongering. Information is filtered to muzzle the spread of rumours breeding politicized notions that may trigger panic or anarchy. The hallmark of army training is to keep the rank and file spirited. This is necessary to keep the morale high and to arrest any fissiparous tendencies. The advent of the year 1971 was trumpeted with widespread political incongruities. The rancorous sentiments that had until now been raging inside the cauldron began to take the face of armed ethnocentric clashes. Non-Bengali dwellings, including West Pakistanis and Beharis, were now being subjected to target killings, immolation, lynching, plunder and pillage. The RAW-trained militant group of rebels of Mukti Bahini, aided and abetted by the Indian Army, was no more in hibernation and had openly started challenging the law enforcement agencies. In a bid to cripple the law and order situation and to scuttle the communication system, they started laying roadblocks sporadically, thus paralyzing the entire administrative apparatus of the country. Opportunist and subversive elements including the outlaws masquerading as freedom fighters joined hands to loot, torch and vandalize public and private property in broad daylight. One of the bloodiest chapters of human conflict was being unleashed in all its monstrosity. Appalling atrocities against the hapless non-Bengali population started to unveil in the most barbaric manner. Pakistan Army was mainly being demonized as the epicenter of all political ills befalling the East part of the country, while Bengali people were being depicted as the victims. The Mukti Bahini, as well as the pro-liberation elements guided by Indian intelligentsia, drove East Pakistan’s populace towards violence and national rebellion, translating into xenophobic violence against the non-Bengalis. Towns of Chittagong, Khulna, Santahar and Jessore were the first to get embroiled in this blood smudged episode of ethnic violence. Men, women and children were massacred on the streets, solely on the basis of ethnicity. The killings were executed with shocking bestiality, while incidents of sieges around West Pakistani and non-Bengali dwellings, raids and ambushes increased by the minute. After isolating and cutting off the exit routes, mutilating and violating hapless inmates and their belongings being ransacked was all a frequent sight. 
Major Muhammad Hussain, residing in Thakurgaon with his small family, a wife, two elder daughters, aged around four and three, and a few months old infant son, was cognizant of the situation brewing around him. Especially owing to the fact that most of the Bengali troops of his Battalion had deserted to join the rebellious Mukti Bahini and that they would certainly make an effort to storm his house. His second-in-command (2IC), a captain from West Pakistan, was also living with his wife who was in family way. With the road to Dhaka and Rajshahi blocked by the rebels sporadically, telephone and signal communication had already been destroyed; Muhammad Hussain’s family was now completely marooned, surrounded by the blood-thirsty Mukti Bahini. A whirlwind was about to gather around his small heaven. The scenario was now less murky. Sensing the situation, Muhammad Hussain arranged a 12 bore shotgun with some ammunition for self-defense in his house. He decided to stay back in his house and wait till the routes were cleared and support reached. As for his 2IC, since his wife was in family way, he had no option but to bid goodbye to them in the dark hours of the night in a jeep – in a do-or-die situation to find safety at the nearest hospital. The couple, however, was hunted down and cut to pieces the next day.


The RAW-trained militant group of rebels of Mukti Bahini, aided and abetted by the Indian Army, was no more in hibernation and had openly started challenging the law enforcement agencies. 


July 1971 – Amir Muhammad Khan, now a Lieutenant Colonel, was boarding the last Dhaka bound flight from Karachi to take over as Commanding Officer of 34 Punjab located at Dhaka. On reaching Dhaka, Lt. Col. Amir came to know that his Battalion-to-be had been engaged in clearing up the roadblocks and hurdles put up by the rebels and restoring the lines of communication as well as relief and rescue of the stranded West Pakistani troops and their families from their besieged homes. At Dhaka, he was briefed about the situation at hand with reference to the operation his Battalion was undertaking. Among the names of West Pakistani troops stranded at different locations, one name particularly rang a bell. This was the name of ‘Major Muhammad Hussain’. Amir immediately realized that he was the same officer with whom he bore identical resemblance while at PMA. He was directed to join his Battalion’s main body without wasting any time. The Battalion at that point in time had just entered Thakurgaon.


Muhammad Hussain along with his wife, two daughters an infant son and a Bengali aya (maid) was trapped in his own home. Despite his waning strength, he kept resisting the bloodthirsty Mukti Bahini assailants for two days by firing back from his shotgun before running short of ammunition.


On reaching a desecrated Thakurgaon, Amir called for the whereabouts of Major Muhammad Hussain’s house, the paramount concern that had been pricking Col. Amir’s mind badly. With some effort and quick search patrols, the house was spotted. When Col. Amir entered the house he was confronted with an indescribable ghastly scene. What he was witnessing was more of a slaughter house. With blood stained walls and floors, the house that once was, presented a deadly spectacle. It was too late. The details were provided by the locals. The massacre had occurred a few days before 34 Punjab entered Thakurgaon. He was a brave man and died a brave death. As immanently expected, his house was besieged one night by the pro-liberation mob of Mukti Bahini aided by his own deserted Bengali troops. The locals told a heavily crestfallen Col. Amir. 
Muhammad Hussain along with his wife, two daughters an infant son and a Bengali aya (maid) were trapped in his own house. Despite his waning strength, he kept resisting the bloodthirsty Mukti Bahini assailants for two days by firing back from his shotgun before running short of ammunition. Soon a grenade was lobbed into the house that injured Muhammad Hussain and his wife. The house was then stormed from all directions. A few Mukti attackers, armed with rifles, barged into the house and upon spotting Muhammad Hussain and his wife clutching to her infant son, fired pointblank, killing Muhammad Hussain and his wife, along with the infant son still clinging to her mother. On this, the entire mob fell into the house and started looting. During the frenzy, the Bengali aya took the two girls and tried to escape from the backyard. One ruffian spotted her, chased her and while she was running to the exit from the backyard, knifed the younger daughter (Irum). The aya, in a bid to save her own life as well as of the elder daughter (Sadaf), had no option but to abandon the younger child whom she thought of as dead and escaped with the eldest still alive. The mob, in a looting frenzy, started stabbing the bodies of Muhammad Hussain and his wife. As it was not enough, they then dragged the corpses into the entire village before hanging them upside down with a rope from a tree. Col. Amir was informed that the aya, after having successfully escaped from the scene, went into hiding for a few days. Later, when the dust settled she contacted the local authorities. A search was already going on for them. By that time, the Army had already reached the scene. On indication by the local authorities, the aya was contacted and the traumatized little girl was recovered. An L-19. aircraft was arranged which took the girl and the aya to Dhaka. In the subsequent weeks, after collaboration between the Headquarters of Eastern and Western Commands, the latter managed to locate the maternal grandfather of the girl, whose name was Sher Muhammad, and was a headmaster in a school in the village of Padhrar of District Chakwal. Sher Muhammad, at that point in time, was living with his younger daughter, Ghulam Fatima, and son, Malik Mumtaz Ahmed (later a Colonel). The evacuation of the girl was arranged and the aya was sent all the way to West Pakistan by air to hand over the girl to her maternal grandfather.


The mob, in a looting frenzy, started stabbing the bodies of Muhammad Hussain and his wife. As it was not enough, they then dragged the corpses into the entire village before hanging them upside down with a rope from a tree.


However, a different kind of predicament had engulfed Col. Amir. On the indication of the locals and Army personnel, he saw the graves of Muhammad Hussain, his wife Imtiaz and their infant son, Khurrem. He did not have an iota of an idea of what had happened to the youngest daughter, Irum. The aya (who lived in the vicinity of Thakurgaon) had told him that she was knifed by one of the assailants, and that there was no way she could possibly be alive. But the one lurking question which did not let Col. Amir be at ease was, if the rest of the corpses had been found and buried why not that of the youngest daughter. Could she be alive? Or had she been taken away and buried elsewhere? The chances of which, given the circumstances, seemed improbable. Amir then spread the word in every nook and corner as well as dispatched a number of search parties in the area for a possible hint of the whereabouts of the younger daughter. It is said miracles happen to those who believe. If you believe in something with all your heart and mind, you bring it to life and in the most unexpected ways. At last, Col. Amir got the news that a little girl, seriously wounded, had been found on the roadside unconscious by a sweeper woman from the village of Boda. On hearing this, Col. Amir dispatched parties to the village. By that time it was around September. The hunting parties located the woman and brought her to him. On further inquiry, the woman told him that she had picked up a little girl, around three years of age, on the roadside. Thinking her to be dead she intended to hand her over to the municipal authorities for burial. However, while handling her she realized that she still had a pulse. She then took the girl to her hut and dressed her wounds. The next day she handed her to the Deputy Commissioner (DC), specially deputed to perform martial law duties in the area. The news thrilled Col. Amir and without wasting a minute dispatched parties to establish the veracity of the information. The Deputy Commissioner was easily located and it was revealed that the little girl was indeed in his custody. Almost a month had elapsed, however, the wound had not fully healed and the girl was still in a state of coma, unable to speak. Col. Amir’s sixth sense kept steering him towards the idea of this girl being Major Hussain’s daughter. He then decided to send for Major Hussain’s domestic housemaid, who now lived in Thakurgaoun, in order to have her come and identify the girl.


A miracle from heaven destined to unite Irum with her sister, Sadaf, amidst the catastrophe, trauma and heartache that stamped lifelong reminders on the canvas of their lives. 


When the maid saw the little girl, laying in bed, etherized and unconscious, she swiveled her eyes across the girl’s face and responded, “Nahi sahib jee, ye nahi hai” (No, sir, she is not the one). This dropped a dampener upon Col. Amir’s spirits, who had eagerly wished her to be Major Hussain’s daughter. Dismayed and disappointed he asked the maid to return to her village. However, just as the maid left, the girl began to slowly raise the shutter of her eyes. The face she could view before her now was Col. Amir’s and in a matter of seconds, she gaspingly uttered, “Abu” (Father). At first, Col. Amir considered this a figment of the girl’s imagination as a result of weeks of emotional and physiological trauma, but then almost instantaneously his mind was hit by a kaleidoscope of images that took him back to PMA Kakul where everybody confused him and Hussain as brothers as a result of their uncanny resemblance. 
He shouted and called for the maid who had fortunately not left the house yet and asked her to come and consider checking the girl one more time. “Check closely once more”, he insisted, and at that, the maid took a closer look with patience, this time identifying the girl as Major Hussain’s daughter. In order to reconfirm, Col. Amir asked the maid as to what made her change her mind. The maid referred to the birthmark above the girl’s eyebrow – the birthmark that had been an eyesore for the late Imtiaz Begum (Major Hussain’s wife), who displayed her contempt for it in front of the maid on numerous occasions.
The girl, Irum, was taken care of until she completely recovered. The same maid was asked to chaperone her to West Pakistan, delivering her safely to Chakwal to her maternal grandfather, Sher Mohammad, where she was reunited with her elder sister, Sadaf. Sher Mohammed’s daughter, Ghulam Fatima (Imtiaz Begum’s younger sister) embraced the two girls as a mother and never got married.
Years later when Col. Amir returned to Pakistan, the first thing he did was to visit the village of Padhrar in Chakwal, where upon ringing the doorbell at Sher Mohammad’s house, he was welcomed by Irum, now 6 years old, wearing a beautiful smile on her face.
Had it not been for the similitude that Amir and Hussain had, Irum would never have uttered the word “Abu” before Col. Amir upon opening her eyes that day — a miracle from heaven destined to unite her with her sister, Sadaf, amidst the catastrophe, trauma and heartache that stamped lifelong reminders on the canvas of their lives. 
Acknowledgements
My special thanks to the following individuals, without the inputs of whom this article would not have been possible:
Brigadier Amir Muhammad Khan (Retired)
Ms. Sadaf Ambreen (Maj. Hussain’s elder daughter)
Ms. Irum Sumreen (Maj. Hussain’s younger daughter)
Mr. Tariq Nawaz (husband of Sadaf Ambreen)
Ms. Akhtar Jahan (wife of Col. Malik Mumtaz Ahmed shaheed, younger brother of Imtiaz Begum)


The author is a retired Cavalry Officer. He is a historian and a regular contributor to The Nation.
E-mail: [email protected]
 

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