Question: Please introduce yourself.
Answer: My name is Dr Mohammad Abdul Khaleq. I qualified MBBs in 1967. I came to the UK on 23rd March 1969. I qualified FRCS from Edinburgh University in 1975, at Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh. And MCH in Orthopaedics from Liverpool University in 1978. I left UK in 1979 and took a job as a major in UAE army, Abu Dhabi, Dubai. Stayed in Dubai for 20 years, came back to the UK in 1999. Since then I have been working as a orthopaedic surgeon, mostly at a locum surgery. I have now retired and I am enjoying my retirement. I was actively involved in 1971 during the liberation struggle in Bangladesh. So this is my story in short.
Question: Can you tell me about the pre-1971 period. Where you were? How were you feeling? How did you get involved? How did you feel at the time?
Answer: I qualified MBBS in 1967 from King Edward Medical College, University of Punjab in Lahore. I went there as an intern scholarship student. I was employed there as a …. Medical officer. I got a scholarship from the UK government Colombo Plan, for higher studies in the UK. Unfortunately at the last moment due to t discrepancy of power-sharing between East and West Pakistan, my name was removed from the list of candidates for the Colombo Plan. I approached the British Ambassador in Pakistan, he told me the scholarship was awarded by the British government, but unfortunately the Pakistani government had canceled my name, although my name was already forwarded to the UK, and if I wanted to do the FRCS in higher studies, I would need to talk to the British High Commissioner. He arranged a job at the Dudley Road Hospital, now it is City Hospital, as a trainee surgeon. I got the appointment within 2 weeks of asking him to help me. They gave me the visa to come here and also my wife to accompany me in March 1969.
Question: So when your name was removed by the Pakistani government at that time, how did that make you feel as an East Pakistani, as a Bengali?
Answer: Even then I realised the way the Pakistani Army, in particular, the army were treating people from East Pakistan differently. I knew a time would come when we would not be able to tolerate this oppression. A time would come when we would raise our heads and probably be able to live proudly. The day I received a letter that they were going to send me to Vienna for a diploma course, rather than sending me to England for FRCS, I was furious. I approached the secretary of health, and asked why did it happen at the last moment, I had already got my passport and I had received my scholarship, so how was it canceled? He couldn’t answer me very well, so I said I am not going to Vienna, I will go to the UK to do my FRCS. The health secretary challenged me, ‘unless I let you go, you cannot go,’ he said. I said, ‘let’s see how you can stop me.’ Then my passport was canceled by the health department. I went to my father-in-law and explained to him my situation that I couldn’t even leave the country. He had a friend at the Dhaka passport office. He said there was a letter from West Pakistan saying not to issue any passports to you. But I can do something, I am issuing a new passport now. You will leave Pakistan within a week. So that’s exactly what I did.
Question: When your name was removed from the scholarship list, how did you feel?
Answer: I was very sad and angry at the same time. So I thought the best thing to do was to go to the British High Commissioner and make a complaint, because the scholarship was from the British Government. I don’t remember his name now, but he was very helpful. He asked me to come down and he will do something for me. He asked me to sign a form to say I wanted to come to the UK. He said don’t worry give me your contact, and I will contact you when your job is ready. Most of the doctors in the UK, work and study at the same time, so you will do the same. So I got my visa and came to the UK, and I qualified for FRCS in 1975.
Question: In 1971, where were you physically at that time?
Answer: I was working in Birmingham. When I came initially I did not bring my wife over with me. I did not know if I would get married accommodation in the hospital. But I was given married accommodation after 6/7 weeks. For those 6/7 weeks I was living in a room with a friend of mine, a prominent mukthi judha from Bangladesh, Azizul Haq Bhuya.
Aziz and I shared a room in Alcester Road in Mosely for a couple of months. Then I got the house at Moseley Hall Hospital, and my wife came and joined me.
There was a national election in Pakistan in 1970, our leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, I think he could collect (win) all the seats in the name of Awami League in East Pakistan except for 2 seats. He had a good number of seats in West Pakistan as well, so he was the overall winner. He was due to be the president, but then the army general Yahyia Khan and the second in election, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, they conspired against Sheikh Mujhib and refused to hand over the power to him. At that time, Azizul Haq Bhuya and I got actively involved. So we came to my brother-in-law’s house, living at 52 Wordsworth Road, Mr Joglu Pasha. A few other people from Birmingham also joined us; Sobur Choudhury, Goas Miah, Israel Ali. We joined together and decided to make an East Pakistan Action Committee, to protest against this injustice, and we will force the Pakistani Government to hand over the power to our elected leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Question: How did you feel on 26th March when crackdown happened in Dhaka? And how did you react in Birmingham?
Answer: There was a lot of struggle in East Pakistan in those days. We used to hear the bad news on the radio. Then we got a very fiery speech from our leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It inspired us to fight for our freedom, for liberation, rather than fight for his leadership. After the massacre on the 25th March night, after the public killing, we got the message that my wife’s sisters and my sister’s, and not only ours, but thousands of women were hiding and moving from place to place to save their dignity, so that they would not get caught by the army.
I was involved as a group, it is not something I could do on my own. As a group we changed our name to Bangladesh Action Committee and broke away from the Pakistan Students’ Union (me and Azizul Haq Bhuya). Then we wrote (Mr Joglu Pasha wrote on our behalf) a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations, telling him about the atrocities that were happening in East Pakistan. I have got a reply acknowledging the letter. We wrote to the Senate of the United States, which were supplying the arms. We received a reply from Edward Kennedy, (copy is with me) who said he had visited India after receiving our letter, to see the Bangladeshi refugees at the border and saw their miseries. He said he had passed a bill so that no further arms would be sent to the Pakistani army. We also wrote a letter to the army chief of the United States because they are directly involved with the fighting. I have got a reply here from the chief of staff of the US army saying they do not supply arms to Pakistan to kill civilians in East Pakistan so they will take action. That’s all we could do from here. We could not fight physically from here. My job was to go from hospital to hospital during my free time, talk to my colleagues, my seniors, and my consultants and tell them about the atrocities that were happening in East Pakistan. I talked to the patients, the nurses, the relatives to raise public awareness, and create public support. I worked hard for this. We also sent a telegram to Indira Gandhi, we got a reply. I have all these documents.
On the 25th were the atrocities, 26th we heard about it, on the 27th we made a program, and on the 28th we arranged a huge public meeting at Small Heath Park. We informed as many people as we could. We informed people in London, in Manchester, Newcastle, Leicester, Coventry and many other places. We had no mobile phones at that time, but we had friends, who had restaurants in Birmingham. They used the landline phones in the restaurant, and took responsibility one for each city. And told everybody this is the time to take action, come to our meeting, it is not the time to keep silent and accept all this passively, we need to take an active step. That’s why I say Birmingham took the leading role at the time. People came from all over the UK.
On the 3 items on our agenda we said: one, we promise to keep up the struggle, the fighting until Bangladesh is an independent country; second, we will raise funds to support the freedom fighters in refugee camps in India or in Bangladesh; thirdly, we would raise and hoist the flag of independent Bangladesh in a public meeting, while all of us carrying a Pakistani passport.
All night, we made this flag. On 23rd March, Sheikh Mujhibur Rahman, Bhongo Bondu, he raised a flag in his residency in Dhanmondi. We got hold of the information of the flag he held, it was a green flag, with red centre and golden Bengal map in the middle. So we made a flag like that. Our program was that it would be held up by the ladies. There were only few ladies at that time, 10/15 out of thousands at the meeting. They were at the core on the stage at the meeting. There was a tussle at the gate of the Small Heath Park, about 6 people got injured. I took leave for the whole day from my job. My job at the meeting was to carry the first aid box, so I treated all 6 of them. While I was putting a dressing on somebody, someone pushed me and I fell on the ground and got a big scratch and I was bleeding. My wife came, and Mr Gonesh came along, and held me so that I would not get stamped on. That was probably the most dangerous thing we did. We thought as a consequence, the Pakistani government would ask the British government to cancel our residency permit of all of us, and they would take us back to Pakistan and put us all in prison. And we thought we would get the punishment as a traitor against the country. But to our good luck, we got our independence and got a sigh of relief that we are no more Pakistani, and the Pakistani government has no more control over us and we are safe.
Question: Thank you, you gave us a very good description of your campaign, for the international support, and the way you reacted after what happened in Bangladesh. It is surprising to hear about having such a big event just after 2/3 days of what happened on 25th March. You did a tremendous job. I know that Birmingham people took the lead. Did you go anywhere else for meeting purposes? Or for the campaign purpose?
Answer: I was a junior trainee surgeon. I was also studying for a fellowship, FRCS. My life was so busy, I had two children and one baby. Every morning by 7:30 am I used to bring my wife to my brother-in-law’s house, 52 Wordsworth Road, in Small Heath. Then I used to go to work. I was supposed to finish work by 5:30 pm but it never happened for us. I was a junior doctor, I had to stay in the hospital usually until 6:30 pm. Then I would come to the Small Heath meeting, and have my meal over there. Then I would take my wife home, around 10/11 pm. This was my routine for about 6/7 months. I used to attend almost every meeting, I couldn’t do all the meetings, but most of the meetings were in Birmingham. I went to London twice: once to Trafalgar Square, and once to the House of Commons - to meet Edward Heath. But I did not take a prominent part in campaigning outside of Birmingham.
Question: We heard that lots of people were collecting funds for the freedom fighters in Bangladesh. Were you involved? Can you remember anything?
Answers: Most of my comrades, those freedom strugglers, one of them is still alive but he is sick, most of them would go outside factories where people would come out with weekly wages. They would collect the money from the factory gates. Unfortunately, I had no time to do those things. But I encouraged people, I talked in the meeting, I talked to people, I gave contributions this was how I helped in the collection of money.
Question: What was happening during the liberation war in Bangladesh? How were your family affected in Bangladesh? And how were you and your wife affected in this Country?
Answer: There was a time lag between the things happening in East Pakistan, and us receiving that information here in the UK. Unfortunately, television programs were not that advanced in those days. We only had BBC and ITV channels, there were no satellites. These TV programs were mostly controlled. Whatever was happening in East Pakistan was an internal struggle in Pakistan. So it wasn’t taken very seriously until when we raised public awareness here, and people got to know that what was happening in East Pakistan was like Genocide. So then we started getting the information through television, the main media. Before that we got daily news by radio and the occasional telephone call. Talking to relatives was quite difficult, we had to book a trunk call, and sometimes we would ask for someone and they would get the message. We knew that our relatives, my sisters and my wife’s sisters, were not at home because they were in fear that the army would come and take them away. They were living in village homes far away. They were changing their residency on a daily basis, keeping on the move, so that the army couldn’t track them. We knew that we couldn’t continue this way, we had to do something. We couldn’t fight from here, but we did what we could do.
Question: How do you feel after 50 years of independence?
Answer: Yes it is a long time. I go to Bangladesh about once a year. I stayed there for 2 months, just only a few weeks back. I love my country. I’m happy in many ways. I can see signs of development: I saw Padma Bridge, Jamuna Bridge, the road connections to remote places, there is electricity, there is an irrigation system, good crop production, housing development, education, and health, there are developments in every field. But we are significantly lagging behind in one area; we follow Sheikh Mujhibur Rahman had principles of socialism, secularism, nationalism and democracy. Sheikh Mujhib spent most of his active life in prison because he was fighting for the four basic principles. I think we are still in the infancy of democracy. The democratic values we all hoped for have not been achieved yet.