The blood that was spilled after the war
By December 20, the war was well and truly over. After nine long months of blood, sweat and tears, the freedom fighters snatched the victory flag. This was their time to return home, meet their beloved ones, and rest on their own pillows.
But like they say, no war is ever truly over all at once.
Four days after the surrender of the Pakistani army, freedom fighters started joining transit camps with arms, ammunitions, mines and other explosives, from where they would finally get to go home.
Moulvibazar Government High School in the district town served as one such transit camp. "We unloaded a truck-load of explosives recovered from the Pakistanis at Moulvibazar Court Road," said Bedananda Bhattacharjee, who got explosives training during the war. "I took them to the school by bus. We kept them at a makeshift storage room at the school, inside boxes, stacked on top of each other."
"After unpacking everything, we had some time in our hands. That's when an astrologer came visiting. A few of us huddled around him to show our hands. We were all in a jovial mood," he recounted.
But this is when tragedy struck.
To this day it remains a mystery exactly what happened, as there is no one left to tell the tale, but Bedananda said they suspect one of the boxes at the bottom of the pile crumbled under pressure and went off, triggering a series of explosions.
As the walls of the school started falling, as its tin-roof was blown away, the entire town was put on alert. The whole of the school area was covered in dust and smoke. The number of freedom fighters who perished was made worse as so many of them had gathered to see the astrologer.
Residents of the town were frightened beyond imagination. Here they were thinking the war was over, but the sight and sound of the explosion made them fear another major attack, said Jamal Uddin, former commander of Muktijoddha Sangsad district unit.
Nearby locals rushed in to rescue the victims immediately. They recovered around 25 bodies, but it is suspected that there were more. Researcher-writer Dipankar Mohanto told this correspondent, "The number of victims is much higher, but several bodies got burnt beyond recognition."
From dreaming of returning home soon, the deceased freedom fighters made their way to a burial ground at the south-eastern corner of the school play ground. A martyrs' memorial was later built in front of it, which is today known as the Central Shaheed Minar of the district, said Misbahur Rahman, chairperson of the district council.
Another monument was later built beside it, with a plaque featuring names of the 25 identified martyrs of the tragic incident.
"To this day, the tragedy of December 20 is remembered as Moulvibazar's Shaheed Day," he said.
This year, different government, non-government, socio-cultural and political organisations have taken up day-long programmes to mark the day.
But despite its significance to the district, the incident is rather overlooked. "There is no research on this issue from the government. There is nothing for future generations to look into," researcher-writer Misbahur Rahman told The Daily Star.