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Guerilla on the Newsweek cover: Prothom Alo

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71-year-old Hebzul Bari holding up a copy of Newsweek published on 6 December 1971 within him, as a freedom fighter, featured on the cover Khaled Sarkar

It is hard to say what grabbed the attention more: that suppressed anger in his eyes or the cold steel Sten gun. Both were aimed menacingly at the enemy. This was the Newsweek cover of 6 December 1971, Bangla Desh Guerillas. This is a document of the history of the Liberation War. But who is this guerilla positioned in the jungle? Where is he now?

This question popped into the mind many times while researching on the Liberation War. Then a recent post on a Facebook group of 'rare photographs of Bangladesh,' aroused this curiousity further. This is a group of around 500 thousand members and a certain Sultan Mahmud posted up the picture of this Newsweek cover. He even mentioned that this valiant freedom fighter was Hebzul Bari, a sort of grandfather of his. That was a thrilling piece of information and so the search for Hebzul Bari began. He was found and contact was made.

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Young fighter Hebzul Bari on the cover of Newsweek. The picture was taken by Frederick Ohringer-Nancy Palmer. Collected from the Liberation War Museum

The fighter

It was the afternoon of 20 January this year. Hebzul Bari was to come to a shopping centre in Tongi of Gazipur City Corporation area. He arrived in a black jacket and red tie. He was thin and tall, his hair and beard tinged orange with henna. The 21-year-old young man on the Newsweek cover was now 71. Despite his years, his words and manner still held that bright spark of youth.

After exchanging greetings, we walked towards the Tongi Pilot School and College. He told me that he had been living in Tongi for about 25 years now. He had five children, four of whom were married. He and his family were doing well.

The war

Hebzul Bari had joined the police in 1969 and was posted to Chattogram. Then the Liberation War broke out and he joined up with the 4th East Bengal Regiment. From 25 to 28 March he fought against the Baloch Regiment. During the four days of the battle, food and ammunition were running out and the freedom fighters were struggling. At the directives of Major Ziaur Rahman, fighters held back from their attack for a few days. In that time, news reached Hebzul Bari's village home in Brahmanhata of Nabinagar, Brahmanbaria that he had died.

So the next day his family was in for a surprise when he turned up at home. He is the youngest of 11 siblings. He stayed at home for a few days them went to the headquarters of Sector 2 in Meghalaya, India. From there he went to Ampinagar for a month's training in mortar shelling. He was next sent to Major Haider and Commander Mohammad Abdul Aziz, Bir Pratik's group in Dhaka city for mortar shelling. He took part in an operation in Dhaka under Mohammad Abdul Aziz. Hebzul Bari was a lance nayek and section commander at the time. Some of the notable attacks he had carried out at the time were at Dhaka cantonment, the naval headquarters, Ichhapura, Gausia army camp, the Demra ferry ghat, Bashabo, Rampura, Badda, Gulshan, Shahzadpur, Rampura television station and more.

The Newsweek cover

Hebzul Bari had a lot more of memories to share of the various operations in Dhaka. But how did the Newsweek cover come about?

"It was around October or November in 1971. Two foreign journalists and a photographer came to the Ichhapura camp at around 11 in the morning. Commander Abdul Aziz directed us to cooperate with them. We got ready," recalls Bari.

Icchapura is an area in Rupganj Upazila of Narayanganj. There was a freedom fighters' camp there and that is where these journalists had turned up.

Hebzul Bari went on to say, "We were given lungis and shirts in India and would wear those most of the time. That is when 12 or 13 of us followed the journalists and took up battle stance. They took our photographs.

The Sten gun Hebzul is holding in the picture belonged to one of his co-fighters. Hebzul Bari said, "You can see a blurry image of someone else in picture. That's MA Akkas of Muradnagar in Cumilla." Inquiries revealed MA Akkas is seriously unwell at present.

No idea about the magazine

After the war, Hebzul Bari joined the Bangladesh army and retired in 2000. He had no idea that he had featured on the cover of the world-renowned Newsweek. He vaguely knew his picture had been used in a book and many people had seen it. He said, "In 1972 one of my co-fighters Albert told me that my picture had been printed in the book 'Bangladesh Genocide and World Press,' edited by Daud Hossain and Fazlul Quader Quaderi. I managed to get the book. It was black and white picture appearing on page 493." When he saw the picture in 1972, he was overcome by emotion. "It felt good," he said.

The picture on the cover of Newsweek was taken by Frederick Ohringer-Nancy Palmer, according to the Liberation War Museum.

Suruj Miah, a brave freedom fighter of Rupganj, fought alongside Hebzul Bari in the war. He said, "Hebzul Bari, Md Abu Akkas, Md Abdul Hannan and I were in the same group. We were assigned to mortar shelling. I was among the others in that picture. Many pictures had been taken."

"I just wish the country does even better"

Hebzul Bari spends most of the time with his grandchildren. He also thinks a lot about the country. He said, "We fought for the country. We liberated the country. That is a huge achievement. There is nothing more I want in life. I just wish the country does even better."

 

This feature appeared in the online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir