By Sunahwar Ali:
(Nirmul Committee was founded in 1992, in Bangladesh, under the leadership of Shahid Janani Jahanara Imam to seek justice for the victims of Bangladesh War of 1971. Spontaneously a UK Nirmul Committee was set in London and other town & cities, in solidarity with Bangladesh’s campaign. This year, 19 January is the 29 anniversary of the campaign. In this article Sunahwar Ali, its Chair from 2000-2005, reminiscence his involvement with the movement.)
The starting of the UK Nirmul Committee soon after the staging of Gano Adalat by the Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee in Bangladesh under the leadership of late Jahanara Imam, was mostly taken up by young people, freedom fighters, progressive politicians and supporters of the Nirmul Campaign, in the UK. The main key leaders of the UK Nirmul Committee were late Sanu Miah who took up the duty and responsibility to keep up ongoing contact with the Bangladesh Nirmul Committee and started visiting Bangladesh regularly. Abdul Malik Khokon was mainly involved with keeping regular links and contact with Bengali community leaders and activists in East London and Ansar Ahmed Ullah who kept doing all the necessary admin and coordination of all activities of the Nirmul Committee. The UK Nirmul Committee was first of a kind that practised collective leadership in consultation with many of the community leaders and mainstream politicians within the Bengali Community.
The first ad-hoc committee of the UK Nirmul Committee was formed with Ansar Ahmed Ullah as the Convenor, Sanu Miah & Abdul Malik Khukon as Joint Convenors and other committee members, totalling of 15. In 2000, Sunahwar Ali, became Chairperson of the UK Nirmul Committee with Syeda Sultana Naznin Shikha, as Secretary and Soyfur Rahman Shamim as the Treasurer.
The publication of the ‘Public Informer’ as a regular bulletin of the UK Nirmul Committee rekindled the issue of war crimes to many people who had almost forgotten about it. The primary campaign by the UK Nirmul Committee against war crimes started with the regular publication of Public Informer initially from Sama Training project based at Commercial Street, East London, but after few issues of Public Informer Sama Training Project ran out of fund & closed and started doing all works from Flat C, Old Laundry, Montclare Street, East London. The bulletin’s work was done overnight with the contribution of many individuals, including Kazi Ashfaque Minto with his IT expertise. Without his help and commitment, it might have been impossible to produce such a publication.
Initially, at the start of the UK Nirmul Committee Lt Col (retired) Quazi Nuruzzaman, one of the Sector Commanders of Bangladesh War of 1971 and central leader of Nirmul Committee came to London and met with Ansar Ahmed Ullah, Abdul Malik Khokon, Sanu Miah, Sunahwar Ali and other members. Lt Col Nuruzzaman also met with other people including Abdul Gaffar Choudhury. Abdul Gaffar Choudhury has always supported the activities of the UK Nirmul Committee. The visit by Lt Con Nuruzzaman was the first by any central leaders. It formalised the Central Committee and the UK Committee’s relationship to carry out tasks and activities seeking justice for war crimes.
At the same time, Jamaat front organisations in the UK were actively engaged in bringing over war criminals, including Delwar Hossain Sayedee from Bangladesh to address public meetings. In 1995, they organised a public rally at the Docklands, London Arena by welcoming war criminal, Gulam Azam, the Jamaat-e-Islam Amir where UK Nirmul Committee organised a demonstration against the event and managed to organise one of the largest gatherings since the anti-racist movement of 1978. Almost over 1,000 people participated at the Altab Ali Park and marched from Altab Ali Park to the Docklands Arena.
The UK Nirmul Committee was instrumental in making a documentary exposing three alleged war criminals residing in the UK. 20-20 Television organised a preview of the documentary ‘War Crime Files’ before the telecast on Ch 4 in 1996. At the preview guest keynote speakers were Lord Peter Shore, formerly MP and Cllr Sunahwar Ali who spoke from a community perspective in the UK.
The UK Nirmul Committee in addition to running activities and campaign against war criminals, started activities engaging younger generation doing works and projects with schools and colleges in East London and got involved working with local history Museums. In 1996, Julie Begum’s book on Bengali Language Movement was launched at Tower Hamlets Council. The same year a two-day Bangladesh Independence Day event at the Jagonari Centre was organised under the joint leadership of Amina Begum, Afia Khatun and Fatima Matin. It was also the start of a bulletin publication ‘Bengali Info’ aimed at the young generation.
From the start of the UK Nirmul committee, both late Lord Peter Shore and late Syed Ashraful Islam was very supportive of Nirmul Committee’s campaign. Lord Peter Shore was a supporter of Bangladesh’s independence movement from the very beginning. His friend, Donald Chesworth, the Chairman of Toc H, gave their building (which is Bangladesh Centre now) to set up Bangladesh’s High Commission during 1971. Late Syed Ashraful Islam MP was a freedom fighter during 1971 and son of first Acting President of Bangladesh Government, Syed Nazrul Islam, during 1971. On 30 May 2010, Syed Ashraful Islam met Lord Avebury, a staunch supporter of Nirmul Committee’s campaign to seek justice. By that time Syed Ashraful Islam had become a Minster for LGRD. On a short visit, he met Lord Avebury, Vice-Chair of UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights, Chairman of Bangladesh International Foundation & Co-Chair, Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission.
He informed Lord Avebury that Bangladesh had made all preparations to seek justice for the Bangladesh War victims of 1971. Syed Ashraful Islam said to initiate trial against those accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, torture, rape and murder of civilians, tribunal and prosecution teams have been established. The prosecution team has already started its work.
Lord Avebury supported the initiative taken by the government to try the war criminals. Syed Ashraf added that the Bangladesh government had amended the 1973 Act to conform to international judicial norms including rights of appeal and open and transparent court proceedings. The meeting was attended by Joint Secretaries of International Bangladesh Foundation Sujit Sen & Ansar Ahmed Ullah, human rights activists Sunahwar Ali, who had moved back to Bangladesh and Raktim Das from the Russian Federation. Syed Ashraful Islam formally invited Lord Avebury to Bangladesh who gladly accepted the invitation.
Finally, the UK campaign has lost many of its key peoples who have made great contributions in the past, including making regular donations, to the Nirmul Committee for its activities. Regular financial and political contributions were made by late Sanu Miah, late Cllr Mushtaq Qureshi, late Dr B B Chaudhuri, late Cllr Shahab Uddin Ahmed Belal, late Aminul Haq Badsha, late Manna Haq, late A B M Ruhul Amin, late MaulanaIjjad Ali, late Syed Ashraful Islam, Abdul Gaffar (Bongo Raj), late Lord Peter Shore, late Lord Eric Avebury amongst many others. Also, former Cllr Abdul Asad and former MP in Bangladesh, Shofiqur Rahman Chowdhury, made a regular contribution.
The UK Nirmul Committee made great achievement due to everyone’s commitments and contribution.
(Sunahwar Ali was the Chairperson of the UK Nirmul Committee from 2000 to November 2005).