1971. ‘71. Ekattor. Is it a number? A word? A history? To any Bangladeshi, it embodies the pride of our nation, the struggle for our independence, the pain of loss, the humiliation of being violated, the joy of victory.
The events leading up to ’71 were documented almost entirely by local photographers. It was a story that international media neither knew nor was interested in. The crackdown in the night of the 25th March went barely recorded. For local photographers it was too dangerous to be out there with a camera. A few foreign journalists managed to sneak out or film through the windows of Hotel Intercontinental. They provided the only tangible record of those fateful hours. Others, who recorded those moments, were amateurs who took exceptional risks in preserving the only visual records of the atrocities.
Missing are the subtle nuanced observations of ordinary people, trying to survive, the euphoria and hope of an expectant nation being replaced overnight by the terror of living under occupation. Missing also are photographs that should be here, yet are not, by photographers who have passed away, their archives untraceable. Images have been lost. In once instance the photographer, unwilling to hand it over to a nation not concerned enough to preserve the most heroic moments of its history, hurt and impoverished, destroyed his negatives.
An incredible list of talented and deeply dedicated photographers responded to one of the greatest humanitarian crises of recent times. Their documents are an indictment of those who caused the pain, and the ones who let it happen. It is a tribute to those who abandoned all for the sake of greater good.
Has ‘71 indeed brought liberation to the women and men who toil on our land? To the garment workers and migrant labourers who bolster our economy, but struggle to meet basic needs. Does ’71 only mean freedom for some?
The preservation of these documents remains of crucial importance. Memories and emulsions both fade with time. We owe it to future generations to retain what exists of the only material evidence of our glorious past. We need them to remind the world. “Never, no never again”.