Coming as I do from an extended family with over a dozen FFs of various, shapes , sizes and ranks no to mention gender, it’s not a great big deal to be one. Everyone did something during the war and having done something, it’s not discussed in family gatherings ever.
Except for the two regular army officers who are also gallantry award winners and two from India who have also been formally recognized by the Government of Bangladesh, none took certificates. Nobody considered it necessary to prove anything or gain something. It was thought that whatever was needed to be done was done and that’s it.
The certificate culture
Soon after the Victory, the certificate culture exploded and real and fake ones flooded the market. There were many uses for them, most for personal benefits. To be honest, people who had these certificates were not always respected but many were looked upon as those who had a plan for gaining something. Most genuine FFs rarely disclosed their role.
It’s also true that proving patriotism was not a big issue then and admittedly, patriotism was itself not so profitable as it’s now. The two heinous activities of that period were grabbing Non-Bengali property and becoming administrator of abandoned industries of Pakistanis. Both were disreputable and carried huge stigma.
But they were also very profitable and in those days of shortage, the criminals soon began to become necessary, successful and ultimately socially acceptable. Once it was considered “Ok” the number of people who wanted to be “patriots” rapidly increased. A certificate became a pass to prosperity and power. And we entered the “certificate culture”. It was not about who did what. It was about what could be done with that piece of paper.
Who is an FF?
While working with the History of war of documents project, I have seen documents that testify to the way the war was conducted. This mostly relate to the official/formal part of the war though as the informal war is visible in the state’s eyes. Ten process to become an FF, usually began with reception camps, selection for FF training, training period which not everyone completed but many did. After this was positing followed usually by operations and actions.
Not all were part of the same uniform though all belonged to the same war. Thus there were different types of warriors. Some were militarily defined like ex-members of the regular Pak army – Niyomito bahini – who had joined the cause, BDR members, police members, ansars etc.
There was also the BLF that is the group which was raised directly by the Indian army also known as Mujib Bahini . Then there were the informal bahinis like the Qaderia, Hemayet bahinis who were not trained in India etc.
A different stream was the Leftists fighting against Pakistan. These were mostly inside Bangladesh because as Maoists followers they were suspect in India. Occasionally they also conflicted with the Mujibnagar loyalists particularly the warriors with political backgrounds.
There will be more if we dig deep enough. Shouldn’t all these people be eligible for a certificate?
The wider war and Birangana FFs
Meanwhile, there were various other categories which make a case for wider certification.
Almost every village and cities had people who risked their life, helped the FFs and others , guarded the habitat, gave shelter, helped in para-military and full combat roles even if to a lesser extent and so on.
It should be noted that not all trained warriors participated in a battle but played support roles. Most were armed, some were not. Some may have passed a war without firing a shot though they contributed in many ways. Are they eligible?
For example, the officers of the second war course that is those who were trained while the war was on at the Murti based training camp as officers graduated after the war was over. Are they FFs or not? Technically they didn’t fire a shot but were being made ready as full members of the regular army of liberation.
But the FF tag becomes very fluid when we take the case of the sexually violated women. They have been recently declared as Freedom Fighters officially. More than many other descriptions and parameter choosing, this expansion of the identity of the violated as FF is the most apt.
By accepting them as FFs, we have actually expanded the understanding of the role of society in our liberation war. Only those trained in camps and names registered in official books are not FFs but anyone whose role has contributed to the war is an FF.
Are all FFs?
But will there be resistance if one says that all are FFs but no one can deny that there are different kinds of contributions and roles. Even within the FFs there are many kinds. So we should accept that given the very unusual nature of the war of liberation, participation was unusual too. By those terms every contributor can be certified an FF. Except for those who collaborated, everyone is a warrior for freedom, some armed, some unarmed, some otherwise.
If we can do so, the honour of the term will remain, the patriotism net will be widened and the benefit seeking which has now become established with FF certificates will be very lessened. It will restore much needed glory to the certificate and reduce its misuse significantly.
Those who are in difficulties should all be helped but that has little to do with patriotism rewarding. Those who are in a stressed situation are another matter but in general, the FF after 50 years must be a symbol of patriotism not benefit seeking.
There are many examples including in my family of being offered benefits and refusing. Support for those who need it is a matter of need and can’t be a corollary of patriotism to seek a promotion or job extension.
An FF is that person who has helped the war. He may choose to have a certificate but all who helped have a right to one. Dignity is always an issue. That’s one reason why we went to war.