As Bangladesh marks more than 50 years of independence, has it done enough to memorialise its fallen heroes?

A fundamental understanding of a nation's history among its youth is crucial to its progress. But many parts of the country lack memorials for Liberation War martyrs

Published : 25 March 2023, 08:26 PM
Updated : 25 March 2023, 08:26 PM

A declaration of independence heralded the birth of a new nation in 1971. But, it was the blood, toil and sacrifice of millions in a nine-month-long war that cemented the nation's footing on the world map. 

Bangladesh is gearing up to mark 52 years of its existence with customary pomp and ceremony. But many who lived through the Liberation War wonder whether the values and ideals that drove the struggle for independence have been imparted to today's youth. 

One way to connect the past with the present and future is by building memorials and monuments to events of historical significance. 

This leads to another question: has the country taken adequate steps to ensure that the torch-bearers of its future truly appreciate the essence or 'spirit' of the Liberation War? 

Nusrat, a ninth-grader in Brahmanbaria's Sarail Upazila, does not think so. "We have only one Shaheed Minar in our upazila. We place flowers there on Feb 21 [Language Martyrs Day], Mar 26 [Independence Day] and Dec 16 [Victory Day]. 

"But nothing distinct has been done for the martyrs of the Liberation War.”

The facts appear to bear out her sentiments. There is a Shaheed Minar, a monument to commemorate those killed during the Bangla Language Movement in 1952, at schools in every upazila. But that is not the case when it comes to the Liberation War. 

As many as 61 of the 139 upazilas across 21 districts do not have any monuments to honour the martyrs of the war of independence. In these upazilas, children pay their tributes to the nation's heroes on all occasions of national importance.

The lack of monuments has diluted the distinctions between different historical dates for the young generation, according to Jaidul Hossain, a Liberation War researcher. 

"The Shaheed Minar is there for people to pay tribute [to Language Movement martyrs] on Feb 21. But there need to be monuments where people can pay homage to the martyrs of the Liberation War on Mar 26 and Dec 16. Otherwise, the next generation will be misguided.” 

At a time when pro-liberation forces are at the helm of governance, Harun Habib, secretary general of the Sector Commanders' Forum, lamented the lack of initiative to memorialise the martyrs of the Liberation War in many parts of the country and raised concerns about its implications for the next generation of Bangladeshis. 

"A Shaheed Minar can be found in every district and regional town for the commemoration of Language Movement martyrs, but even after 52 years of independence, there is no way to honour the memory of the martyrs of the Liberation War in most areas." 

On the eve of Independence Day in 2018, Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Haque spoke about plans to erect monuments for war heroes in every district and upazila. 

“On Independence Day and Victory Day, we pay homage to the martyrs at the National Memorial in Savar. And on Feb 21, tributes are paid at the Shaheed Minar in each district." 

"We will make separate monuments in districts and upazilas so everyone can pay their respects there on Independence Day and Victory Day." 


Five years have passed since the minister's remarks, but almost two-quarters of all upazilas in the country are still without any monument for Liberation War martyrs, according to officials from the 21 districts. 

But the absence of any monument in three districts of the Dhaka Division -- Madaripur, Shariatpur and Rajbari -- is perhaps the most glaring of all as there are memorials for martyred freedom fighters in three upazilas of the neighbouring Gopalganj district. 

"Several projects have been taken up to preserve the memory of martyred freedom fighters and mark execution sites. In some cases, complications with land acquisitions are delaying the commencement of work. Work has started in other parts,” said Kamrul Islam, executive engineer of the Public Works Department in Madaripur. 

Jane Alam, a commander during the war in Shariatpur, says there is a solitary monument in the Sadar Upazila, which is being renovated at their insistence. But they did not raise any demand to build monuments in other parts of the district. 

Meherpur is inextricably linked with the history of the Bengali nation. It was there in a mango grove that the country's first government was formed to oversee the war efforts. 

And the history of the Liberation War has been preserved in the district. 

“The picture in Meherpur is positive. But I wouldn't say it was because we put in a lot of work," said Meherpur's Deputy Commissioner Munsur Alam Khan. 

"There is a monument in the district town. And we know that Mujibnagar is an important location in the history of the Liberation War. There are many things out there. There is also a monument for the martyrs in Gangni Upazila.” 

Brahmanaria district was also a crucial junction in the most important chapter of Bangladesh's history, bordering the Indian city of Agartala which provided a safe refuge to thousands of Bangladeshis.  

Eight of the nine upazilas in the district have a monument to commemorate the Liberation War with the exception of Sarail, which puts somewhat of a blemish on an otherwise perfect picture. 

Jaidul, a native of Brahmanbaria, also stressed the need to mark out and preserve the many execution sites in the district. 

“Not only memorials, but we also have many execution sites that need to be preserved. I have found about 650 execution sites, mass graves, and torture centres in Brahmanbaria. There are at best 10-15 places that have been preserved. The government has to take initiatives to preserve them all."


Mofidul Hoque, a researcher and trustee of the Liberation War Museum, believes there are other reasons why the younger generations are struggling to grasp the differences between the various dates that shaped the nation. 

“Monuments are an aspect. There have been frontal wars in various parts of our country, where many people have been martyred and have been buried in mass graves. It is important to preserve these places. It is important to build plaques there.” 

To this end, he believes the involvement of local communities is imperative. “The communities where these monuments are located need to be included. Apart from building minarets, communities need to be involved in creating a sense and spirit of freedom." 

Harun of the Sector Commanders Forum emphasised the need to build monuments in every district and upazila where Bengali blood was shed and that had execution sites and torture cells to keep the memory and spirit of the Liberation War alive. 

"But in most areas, initiatives must be taken for remembrance," he said. 

"We are talking about the Liberation War, the non-communal spirit of Bengalis. Although the Pakistanis surrendered in 1971, some quarters are hurting the fundamental spirit of the Liberation War.

In order to provide the next generation with an undistorted view of the Liberation War, therefore, monuments should be built in all districts and upazilas, according to him. 

Officials at the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs say efforts are underway to build Liberation War complexes in districts and upazilas across the country. 

On the initiative to set up Liberation War memorials at the upazila level, Minister Mozammel said, "We have plans. The work has not started, but it will. There will be a Shaheed Minar for language martyrs and a monument for martyred freedom fighters.”