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Delhi bid to repatriate muktijoddha remains

New Delhi, July 21: New Delhi has agreed to help Dhaka identify and repatriate the remains of over 2,400 Mukti Bahini fighters buried in India or in no-man’s land between the neighbours’ borders during the 1971 liberation struggle.

Four Bangladeshi officials were in India in June to visit graveyards in Agartala, Shillong, Guwahati, Calcutta and elsewhere to identify sites where the muktijoddhas (freedom fighters) were buried, foreign ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said.

The officials were led by Lt Col Sajjad, a Pakistan army paratrooper who had switched sides after witnessing the horrors committed on his Bengali brethren.

They compiled a list of 2,416 martyrs from graves in the erstwhile muktijoddha camps in India, near the hospitals where they were treated, or in no-man’s land. Some 2,000 of these graves are in Meghalaya’s West Garo Hills or in the no-man’s land outside its borders.

To explain the challenge Sajjad’s team faced, Akbaruddin cited how they located the grave of war hero Hamidur Rahman with the help of local people who participated in his last rites 40 years ago.

Only 24 of the 2,416 — less than one per cent — have so far been identified by name, though. Many of the rest may need to wait till exhumation and DNA testing are done.

Indian officials are trying to help with research in identifying the martyrs. Akbaruddin said the governments of Tripura, Meghalaya, Assam and Bengal had appointed nodal officers to aid the effort.

Officials on both sides, however, agree it would be difficult to repatriate the remains of all 2,416. They are considering repatriating the remains of those buried close to the border and putting up plaques on the rest of the graves.

The plaques are likely to mention the name, if the freedom fighter has been identified, and his role in the war, or at least that the person died trying to liberate his motherland.

An official agreement on the matter is likely to be formalised in the coming months after the two foreign secretaries discuss it next week in New Delhi. South Block sees this as a step in strengthening bilateral ties.

“We in India deeply appreciate the initiative taken by the Bangladesh government in March this year to honour the people of India and the Indian armed forces for their contribution to the liberation of Bangladesh, a cause which is very close to our hearts,” Akbaruddin said.

He said that during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Dhaka visit last year, the two countries had agreed that it was important to preserve the memory of those who had contributed to the liberation of Bangladesh through initiatives such as observing the anniversaries of their martyrdom.

Bangladesh estimates that three million people were killed in the 1971 war but independent estimates put the figure between 300,000 and 500,000.