Mainstream, VOL LIV No 34 August 13, 2016 [Independence Day Special 2016]
Monday 15 August 2016
by Sukharanjan Sen Gupta
Arundhati Ghosh of the Indian Foreign Service (1963 batch), who recently passed away in New Delhi, came into prominence in 1971, during the Bangladesh liberation war. On March 25, 1971, the Bengalis of the then East Pakistan rose in revolt against the colonial domination and exploitation by the Punjabis of West Pakistan and declared independence. Indepen-dent Bangladesh came into being. The Pakistani rulers unleashed a reign of terror on the unarmed Bengalis of East Bengal. They became the easy target of the Pakistan Army. Their property was looted and burnt, their womenfolk were raped and innocent men, women and children massacred by the Pakistani Army which came to be known as the ‘Khan sena’.
Tens of thousands of panicky Bengalis started pouring into the neighbouring Indian States of Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura to save their lives. Accommodating and feeding the Bangladesh evacuees became a major problem for the Government of India. Sealing the 2217 km long West Bengal-Bangladesh porous border was neither physically possible nor desirable from the humanitarian point of view.
Several lakh Bengali-speaking people crossed the border and took shelter in the villages of West Bengal. By May 1971, the Central Govern-ment opened an office in Writers’ Buildings (which was the seat of the State administration) and posted two IFS officers there to deal with the developing situation. One of the two was Arundhati Roy. The other was A.K. Ray. Arundhati’s job was to supervise the evacuee camps and deal with their manifold problems and liaise with the State Government. Arundhati made a mark in her job and became a specialist on the political crisis in Bangladesh.
In December 1971, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi decided to send the Indian Army to help the freedom fighters or the Mukti Bahini of Bangladesh. Within a fortnight Bangladesh was liberated. Arundhati was associated with all the activities that ultimately ended in the defeat of the Pakistani Army. In the fitness of things, Arundhati was posted as a First Secretary in the Indian High Commission in Dhaka—a post she retained for almost three years.
A go-getter type by nature, she had no difficulty in mixing with and befriending the young workers of the Awami League and the two factions of the National Awami Party— Bhasani and Muzaffar. She would sit with them, engage them in adda for hours. She could soon come to the familiar relationship of tui with these youngsters. In the process, she not only made friends among all the major political parties, but, as a diplomat, could get a clear picture of their thinking, of the ideas they had about a host of contemporary problems and of what was going on in their respective parties. She proved more than equal to her sensitive task. The basis of her future rise in her diplomatic career was laid during those eventful days and years in Bangladesh. I still remember her as a bright and jovial young woman in her early thirties, quite uninhibited in her approach but always alert about her duties.
On a personal note I may add that she was the sister of Ruma Pal, a former judge of the Supreme Court, while her brother, Bhaskar Ghosh, was a former chairman of the Prasar Bharati. Her sudden passing away has given me a shock. My tributes to Arundhati.
Now in his mid-eighties, Sukharanjan Sen Gupta is a veteran journalist who had worked for newspapers like Ananda Bazar Patrika and Jugantar and reported widely on the Bangladesh liberation war.