Mohammad Zainal Abedin, NY:
Naeem Ahad, a child prisoner of war, said that the Indians tried to brainwash them while they were detained in the Indian camp.
Naeem, now 56 years old, son of a Pakistani Army officer, was a child of 8 years then in 1971, said his father was posted in Dhaka and they were moved to India along with 93 thousand Pakistani military and civil personnel, after December 16, 1971.
Naeem Ahad, now is a resident of Kent (UK). While talking with me over the telephone, informed me of almost every aspect of his prison life.
“I can clearly and vividly recollect the experience of my captive life in India,” He recalled. “They tried to make our life difficult and horrendous, but could not succeed as our elderly were patient and we as children took it as amusing.” Naeem added.
He explained, “Out of the 93,000 prisoners of war, merely 34,000 belonged to Pakistan Armed Forces. The remaining were civilians and their family members. I was one of them”. “I even remember my POW number, which is 281468.” Naeem disclosed. “The disproportionate figure of 93,000, reported, published or propagated by Indian or international newspapers is exaggerated, unreal and completely untrue. I wish I was 15 years old and I was able to fight and we had 93,000 combatant troops.” Naeem roared.
Naeem added, “I along with my mother, three siblings, two elder cousins and an uncle were moved together to India and detained in a POW camp in Meerut cantonment of UP (Uttar Pradesh), where around 80 families were housed in very deplorable conditions.” “Earlier my brave 13-year-old brother managed to escape to Burma.” Naeem revealed.
He repeated saying “For the first 4 to 5 months, we did not know the whereabouts of our father. We did not know if he was dead or alive. Later British Red Cross located him and gave us the good news. We thanked Allah, the Almighty. He was prisoned in Agra Central Jail. We requested the British Red Cross to move him to Meerut. Initially, he was brought to our camp blindfolded with his hands tied behind his back. This was very embarrassing for us and for him. So he refused to meet with us again in such an inhuman way in front of his children. Indians, perhaps, came to their senses and from there onwards brought him to us without blindfolding him.”
When asked how the POW camp life was Naeem said, “It was horrible, something indescribable but for only for some weak hearted women and children” he remembered and added, they were in a family POW camp No 28. “Hundreds of minor boys, girls and women though were totally innocent but were treated, as if, we were also combatant prisoners of war” Naeem recollected.
Remembering the communal torture, Naeem said, “The Indians were either poor mentally and economically or they suffered from anti-Muslim hatred. They used to feed us with the lowest possible kind of food.”
Naming the items of food Naeem informed me, “Dal and rice or dal and roti were our daily food, sometimes vegetables.” “I don’t remember eating any fruit. For some time, we did not get any meat. Later Indians started giving us meat but only once in a blue moon.” “They didn’t allow us to clean or wash lentils or rice before cooking. They termed it as waste of food. They did not allow sieving of flour (atta) used to cook roti or poori. In the morning we used to get a small size poori (fried roti) and tea. The tea was made of dried milk powder that tasted very horrible. One could see insects in the roti or dal and I felt tiny pieces of stones on my teeth so many times while chewing food. Whenever I noticed an insect, I would quietly pinch it from my bread and throw it away without complaining or bringing it to the attention of my family so they would not stop eating their food.” He added narrating his own experience.
He described, “All of us, particularly the children, suffered from malnutrition due to eating low-grade food.” Naeem confirmed, “The handmade bread that they used to give us as breakfast or lunch was made from rotten wheat with insects, pieces of stone and glass.”
Browsing his memory Naeem said, “Indians kept us under surveillance round the clock.” “They were actually scared of us,”
“Once, at the age of at least nine, when I had a terrible toothache, which I needed to take the treatment by a dentist,” he informed. “My mother continued her effort to inform the camp authority about my problem and after about a week or so, one day the armed guards came to take me to the military hospital”.
“The cruel behaviour of the Indian security forces astonished me, though I was not afraid at all,” he narrated saying, “Though I was a little boy they blindfolded me with a piece of cloth around my eyes. My hands were tied behind my back with a rope.”
He said, there were two armed sentries (army soldiers from Mahrati Regiment) with loaded guns that were also fitted with bayonets. “They couldn’t realize that I could see from beneath my blindfolded eyes. Holding the rope to his which I was tied with, one guard walked in front of me and the other followed me from behind,” he recollected.
“I was made to walk from our barrack to the main gate of the camp,” he continued saying, “There I was mounted on an army jeep and driven to the military hospital of Meerut.”
Regarding the Army jeep, Naeem said, it had two plastic windows at the rear covered by tarpaulin on both sides. “One of the guards sat in the front seat with the driver and the second one with me holding the rope that was tied to my back.” “I rubbed my forehead with the canvas to adjust my blindfold. I did this so that I could see better”.
“Now I could clearly see the road, trees, rickshaws, cars, and pedestrians,” he said narrating the views of the road. “I saw the sweepers cleaning the road, a moo-cow i.e. their gao mata and the shops in the bazaar. I remember the sweet shop that I saw during that journey.”
Naeem said, my hands were untied and the cloth that was used to blindfold me was removed, when I entered the dentist’s room. The dentist checked my teeth. My decayed tooth was extracted and I came out. Naeem added “The Indian army dentist was shocked himself by the way I was brought into his surgery.”
“I was blindfolded again. I jerked my head in such a way that loosened the cloth on my eyes and I could see from the beneath the cloth. My hands were tied again and I was taken to the parking lot where the jeep was parked and I was taken back to the prison camp,” he recollected from memory.
“This to me was short freedom for a few hours during my captivity. I was so happy to experience the fresh air outside the cage like a semi-free bird,” he nararated.
Naeem still asks himself, “I don’t understand why the guards were so frightened of a 9-year-old child? They blindfolded and tied my hand as if I was going to escape.”
He remembered with dismay, they had few clothes, not to speak of even enough blankets during the shivering cold. The Indian government gave them nothing, and added, “most of the belongings that we had brought from Dhaka, were taken away by the camp authority.”
Describing the security measures of the detention camp he informed me, “The camp was encircled by layers of barbed-wire fence. Each corner had a high tower with floodlight where the sentry with a light machine gun kept a constant watch over the camp round the clock. So there was barbed wire fence all around the family (women and children) camp no 28. Behind our camp was a camps for soldiers (JCOs, NCOs and soldiers).
“In front of us was a camp for male civilians. The officers’ camp was at a 10-minute walking distance. There were search towers on all the corners and in between the camps.
Armed guards were active on the ground and patrolled around the camp between the different strands of barbed wires i.e. in between civilians and family camp or family and soldiers camp. Sometimes they had trained watch dogs walking with them (Alsatian or German Shepherd Dogs). Just outside our camp, the army guards would carry out the training of these dogs with a trainer wearing very thick clothes, as the dogs sometimes attacked the trainer’, Naeem said and added, “This was a trick to show us that their dogs were very vicious. However, we were not distressed of it at all. No one was allowed near the fence.” Sometimes they would bring sniffer dogs to detect any underground tunnels for escapes.” “This was just an excuse to torture us, knowing who would escape from civilian or family camp. They just wanted to make women and children stand in the hot sun for long hours” Naeem explained. “We soon came up with a solution for that i.e. sprinkling chilli powder or dried pepper at few places inside officer’s family room and in other parts of the barrack. This trick fooled the dogs. Thereafter the dogs refused to come inside the barrack. We would burst into laughter watching the sentries trying to pull them inside with their leads.”
He remembered, “There were daily roll calls in front of the barrack in the open ground for all the inmates, irrespective of their age and sex whether it was sunny or rainy day. They would make us stand for long hours. Each barrack was frequently searched to see if there were any digging tools or escape trench.”
Describing the horrible conditions of the latrines he narrated, “There were about 10 or 12 latrines (in one line) for all the prisoners (i.e. women and children) of the camp. It was a deep trench with wooden planks on it. There were holes in the centre to sit on and relieve ourselves. Each latrine was separated by the corrugated iron sheet.
Naeem explained “I still remember is the bad odour and buzzing flies and the weak creepy wooden planks, I used to pray for my safe exit as I was frightened of falling in the excrements. This was the only scary part of the prison camp for me.”
Describing the bath area, Naeem re-counted, “The bathroom-cum-washroom was for taking bath and washing clothes. It comprised of a big rectangle hose above the ground (like a dhobhi ghat). The woman and children would stand around it to take a bath. The woman would keep the clothes on as the sentry standing at the watch tower could see from the top. If the sentry tried to peek at us, the women would start cursing him at the top their voices and he would turn around with shame. It was very difficult to maintain their privacy, but they did.”
Naeem said, “There was no school, books, pencils, paper or recreational facilities. There was no radio or TV in the camp. However, some loudspeakers on the barbed wire fence were installed later on for news. However, the 2 years or so in the POW camp made me tough. I now know that my enemy is a coward.”
Speaking about his past time activities Naeem said, “My elder cousin made a cricket bat with some wood he nicked from the cookhouse and a ball from rags wrapped up on a small square wood. We played other games such as hide and seek. We soon got bored as we wanted some adventure being children of army officers. We were a pain for Indian guards who were helpless and just about tolerated us. There were no toys to play with. We soon learned to break barbed wires for making toys of the wires.”
“Soon we made bows and arrows from the barbed wire, broomsticks or an old bamboo”. We children became experts in breaking wires. This kept the guards busy with repairing the holes. We used to throw stones at the guards when they faced the other side and then we hide behind the wall so that couldn’t see us. We tried shooting arrows at the guard on the watchtower to see what height the arrows would reach and if they could hit the sentry. All these were the research and development experiments of kids of my age”, Naeem described with keen interest.
Naeem said sometimes this question still creeps in his head, “Why our army lost this war to these coward Indians who were scared of a child like me? Was the war in 1971 a conventional military war or a political war or planned espionage warfare to disintegrate the biggest Muslim country of the world?”
Pointing to the Indian technique of brainwashing the prisoners of war, Naeem said, “Now when I fairly recollect the days of my captivity, I come to this conclusion that Indians didn’t hesitate to explain the reason for disintegrating Pakistan. Every month some Indian military generals, professors or highly placed civil servants used to visit our camp to deliver propaganda lectures. The main theme of their sermons was to prove that the Indians are a superior nation being the largest country in the region. To brainwash the prisoners, the speakers used to tell stories of the Indian leaders branding them having superior intellect. They tried their best to germinate the idea of ‘Akhand Bharat’ arguing Pakistan would never be able to cope with India, so it is better on the part of Pakistan to merge to India.” “Their dirty tactics did not work to persuade us,” added Naeem
At the end of this long conversation Naeem said, “We were not at all scared of the rough and tough time in the prison camp.” But he mourned saying, “We were saddened and heartbroken by the disintegration of Pakistan. We were more worried about the innocent Bengalee brothers and sisters whom we left behind at the mercy of the Indian Army.”
Concluding the conversation, he said, “Before we left Dacca for India we noticed some brutalities carried out by Indians.” “Indian officers were seen roaming around on roads on looted cars such as Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota and Volkswagen. These cars once belonged to people from East and west Pakistan”. Naeem added.
“Indians had already started insulting the common Bengalees. I saw tears in the eyes of many Bengalee brothers when we were departing,” Naeem recollected.
You see brother Zainal Abedin “together East and West Pakistan were like the strong arms of famous boxer ‘Mohammad Ali’, we floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, unfortunately, now Pakistan is just like a one arm boxer”.
“Alas! I now think, whether the capital that changed from Islamabad to Dhaka will remain there forever” Naeem asked himself,” “or it is transferred to New Delhi and our Bengalee Muslim brothers lost their independence,” and “whether they will be able to celebrate 16th December as their victory Day” he concluded saying “Still I have a belief that our brothers in Bangladesh will resist such bid to secure their independence and sovereignty.”
Naeem continued “Too late at night and I can go on and on but before I say goodbye to you let me quickly tell you about a post-1971 incident narrated by a Pakistani General who visited his parent Battalion in Bangladesh. He was the chief guest and at the end of his address to the officers and men it was time for a question-answer session. A young handsome Bengalee Captain got up from his chair and asked the General, “Sir, how can we build a bridge between Bangladesh and Pakistan”?
“So you see the brothers and sisters from the east and west fell prey to the fake and false Indian propaganda warfare since 1947 and eventually disintegrated. It is never too late we can still rebuild that Captain’s 1000 miles long dream bridge between the two wings”. Naeem concluded*
Mohammad Zainal Abedin,
A journalist & researcher, NY, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
*(Naeem is writing a book on the debacle of 1971 and intends to give further details about his POW camp life)