Bangladesh: ‘Price of freedom’ and an exhibition of Raghu Rai

by Swadesh Roy

( December 16, 2012, Dhaka, Sri Lanka Guardian) It is tough to express perfectly in words what a photograph can articulate! We journalists know that sometimes one photograph can articulate what the whole newspaper put together cannot convey. Hence, whenever there is a crisis of expression, a picture is preferred over text. And if the photographer is of the stature of Raghu Rai, he could scale new peaks with his photos.

The event of 10 million people seeking refuge in India was the outcome of one of the world’s most awful manmade disasters of all times. Since the refugees were poor black Asians, hence it was very tough to draw the attention of the western world.

In our struggle for freedom, some photographers claimed such lofty peaks. One such was the indomitable Raghu Rai.
Now as Bangladesh is bracing itself to observe the 41 anniversary of its Victory Day on 16th  December. However, the people of Bangladesh start celebrating it from the very first day of December and continue the celebrations till the end of the month. Besides, this year is to some extent a special year for Bangladesh because after 41 years, the Bangladeshi people are expecting that they will soon be successful in punishing the leader of the war criminals this year; the ones, who had collaborated with the Pakistani army in 1971 to kill, rape and commit arson in Bangladesh. That year, Bangladesh had failed at the successful trial of the leader of the Pakistani army, a person who committed grave crimes against humanity in the country. But after four long decades, Bangladesh is finally going to successfully punish its war criminals through a fair judgment. So the average Bangladeshi, basically the younger generation is in a joyous mood.
They are observing this entire month with various programmes that were the hallmark of the nation’s struggle for freedom and its subsequent birth.
The works of Raghu Rai, indeed his charismatic persona, is at the heart of the freedom struggle of  Bangladesh. In 1971 Raghu Rai was a young photographer of The Statesman, a prestigious and one of the oldest newspapers of India. What he had done for the freedom struggle, nay the nine month-long nightmare of the people of Bangladesh, was duly recognised by Indian government by awarding him with the prestigious `Padmashree’, one of the most important civilian awards of India. It was his work with on Bangladesh that helped him achieve the most prestigious award. True, as a press photographer, it was his part of his professional duty but it cannot be denied that he had put his heart and soul to it and his work and writings amply reflect. The basic work of Raghu Rai on the freedom struggle echoes the theme “seeking refuge”. As is well known, around that time, 10 million Bangladeshis, one-seventh of the country’s population had to flee the country and take shelter in India as refugees.
The event of 10 million people seeking refuge in India was the outcome of one of the world’s most awful manmade disasters of all times. Since the refugees were poor black Asians, hence it was very tough to draw the attention of the western world. But some noble efforts made the rest of the world sit up and take notice; one such noble effort was Raghu Rai’s photography.
Raghu Rai
Today, his photographs are historical documents that stand testimonial to the enormous sacrifice the people of a nation had to offer in order to give birth to a new country. There is another side of the coin: the sacrifice of that the Indians had to make for the 10 million refugees and help in the birth of a sovereign new nation state as its eastern neighbour. At that time, a notable American magazine had written that Sheikh Mujibur Rahaman is the father of this new nation but the then prime minister of India, Indira Gandhi had to bear the pain of the birth of this baby. The photographs of Raghu Rai on the freedom struggle, especially the life of refugees document this pain.
However, this 10 million peoples’ nine month ordeal is basically an untold chapter in Bangladesh. It is a grave sin and a big mystery as to why this chapter remains an untold chapter in the history of Bangladesh. There are thousands of books in Bangladesh that describe the nine- month freedom struggle but basically there is no book on this 10 million people’s horrifying life of that period. There are many documentaries that depict how people were fleeing at the attack of the Pakistani army. But it is a mystery that the Bangladeshi media is not highlighting the life of the refugees of 1971 who had taken shelter in India. May be the reason is that, after liberation within three years Bangladesh had fallen into the hands of the anti-liberation forces who did much confusing work, and hid many truths. Presumably, things will change for the better in Bangladesh as the new generation is very much in favor of liberation and they are the vital players who played a big role in the last elections against the criminals of war. The latter are now undergoing trial. Besides that, they now want to know, how people of the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura and Assam helped the Bangladeshi refugees. They want to know everyinch of the history of the bloody birth of Bangladesh.
In this context, The Indira Gandhi Cultural Centre, Indian High Commission, Dhaka had arranged an exhibition of Raghu Rai’s photographs at the Bengal Gallery of fine Arts in Dhaka. The legendary photographer was present to inaugurate it. A huge number of young people are visiting the exhibition and observing how petrifying life was for the refugees So, the knowledgeable people who desire the new generation to know every inch of the glorious sacrifice of the people of Bangladesh and how India helped us in 1971 are appreciative of this exhibition. Suffice it to say that this exhibition has opened an untold chapter in the history of Bangladesh’s agonizing birth and the new generation of Bangladesh will eventually know the great price their forefathers had to pay for the freedom of the nation.
Swadesh Roy, Executive Editor, the Janakantha, Dhaka, Bangladesh and regular with the Sri Lanka Guardian. He can be reached at


Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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