The first Indian to fight in Bangladesh’s Liberation War

Published : 1 April 2022, 10:30 PM
Updated : 1 April 2022, 10:30 PM

Very few know the first Indian who took up arms to fight in the Liberation War of Bangladesh alongside the freedom fighters from that country. This was a Bengali officer of India's Border Security Force who, in his own words, was emotionally moved by the tales of torture and terror unleashed by the Pakistani forces on the night of Mar 25, 1971.

Major Parimal Kumar Ghosh, PK to friends, is a hero responsible for the first victory of the freedom fighters, a tale of valour and courage unknown to most Bangladeshis who are now celebrating the golden jubilee of independence.

Ghosh has written a day-by-day account of those turbulent days in a special issue on the war published recently by the BSF and called 'Bordermen 2021'. His four-page article is titled 'BSF Made History in 1971'.

On the night of the Pakistani army crackdown and the arrest of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, then Major PK Ghosh was commanding the F company of the 92nd BSF Battalion in Tripura's Sabroom region, responsible for four border outposts of Amlighat, Samarendragunj, Nalua and Sreenagar.

The amazing story of Major PK Ghosh begins early on the morning of Mar 26, 1971.

Let's check out his story in his own words as in the 'Bordermen 2021' article under the subheading 'FIRST CROSSING OVER AND FORMATION OF FIRST MUKTI BAHINI BY BSF'.

Ghosh writes:

"On 26 March 1971 morning Pakistani Army sent an Infantry Battalion, supported by an Artillery Battery, elements of Engineers and Signals from Comilla Cantonment to Chittagong to counter Zia's forces. It was under command of a Brigadier. They deployed about 10-15 men for protection of Subhapur Road bridge. At about 1400 hrs, my East Pakistan Rifles (EPR) contact Havildar Nooruddin came to me at Srinagar BOP along with Prof. Obaidullah Majumdar, MNA (Member of National Assembly) and Dr Amir Hussain, Awami League leader. They briefed me about the grave situation in East Pakistan and asked for immediate help from India. They also informed that the villagers, in particular women, were terrorized by Pak troops stationed at Subhapur bridge and requested me to dislodge them. I was sympathetic, assured them to convey their request to higher authorities but expressed inability of BSF to take any action against Pak Army personnel at the bridge. However, I offered tactical advice.

"They became highly sentimental bought emotional pressure on me. After sometime I gave up, took the cover name as Prof Ali and accompanied them. Villagers came out to meet their leader Prof Majumdar and raised slogan "Joi Bangabandhu, Joi Bangladesh……".

Prompt came a burst of LMG fire from Pak soldiers but no damage was done. Quickly, I carried out reconnaissance.

"At about 1700 hrs formed the 1st Group of Mukti Bahini with 6 EPR boys under Hav Nooruddin, gave them motivational talk and oath on the spot. Deployed them in groups of 3 each, on either flank of Northern end of Subhapur bridge with clear instructions to deny entry of Pak soldiers to the villages and water point, also to fire only one round at a time to conserve own ammunition and draw fire from Pak troops.

"I returned to my Srinagar BOP at about 1900 hrs and initiated a special SITREP without mentioning my crossing over the international border.

"On 27 March 1971, morning, Lt Col A K Ghose, my CO, came to me at Srinagar expressed happiness and thanked me for my special SITREP. I was hesitant but as a loyal soldier disclosed my crossing over to Subhapur on 26 March. Suddenly attitude of my CO changed, got angry, shouted on me "How did you dare to cross the international border? You may face court martial …….". He left in anger. I felt bad but not sorry for my decision to stand by the ill-fated unarmed innocent civilians across the border.

"Fierce fighting in Chittagong and exchange of firing at Subhapur bridge continued. Pak soldiers at Subhapur were running short of food, ammunition, there was no replenishment and they were demoralized. A few were killed and a few ran away. ….

On 28 March 1971 morning Pak soldiers at Subhapur surrendered and were killed by Hav Nooruddin and his men. This was our first victory. We hoisted the flag of Bangladesh over Subhapur bridge in presence of a large number of villagers."

There is no doubt that Ghosh risked a court-martial by crossing the border without clearance from his battalion commander.

But in the article, he details how his initiative was later positively appreciated by senior BSF and army officers and how his F company fought with the freedom fighters, mostly from EPR, in the historic battle of the Shubapur bridge until 12 May when the Pakistanis regained control. After Mar 30, the F company joined the fight with the Bangali freedom fighters and fought to dislodge and defend the Shubapur bridge. Denial of this bridge to the Pakistanis hampered the movement of their war supplies from Chittagong port to Dhaka and elsewhere in the country. On Apr 21, 1971, the Pakistani army launched their major direct attack to post the Mukti Bahini. The BSF not only supplied them with mortars and taught them how to fire but BSF jawans under command of Major Ghose also fought the Pakistanis and killed a large number of them.  It was only on May 7 that the Pakistani army captured Feni and five days later on May 12, they captured the Shubapur bridge after fierce fighting, in which both the Bengali freedom fighters like Havildar Nooruddin and the small BSF detachment fought like tigers. One Sikh captain, Harpal Singh Grewal was among the four BSF soldiers killed during the fierce fighting.

Even after the Pakistanis took over the Shubapur bridge, the BSF and the Mukti Bahini made it impossible for them to use it from transporting war supplies.

PK Ghosh is a man of few words but he believes the BSF's vanguard role in the 1971 Liberation War, especially its covert role in fighting alongside the Mukti Bahini often in civil dress deep inside Bangladesh, is something much has not been written about. I have known Ghosh since my days in Tripura as a journalist. He is a historic figure and a man of deep secrets. This is the first time he has written about his unauthorised border crossing on the first day of the Liberation War and how he got drawn into the fight after hearing the stories of Pakistani torture.

The Sheikh Hasina government has awarded the Liberation War award to many Indians who played important roles in the 1971 Liberation War.

But if there is one Indian who deserves the award, it is PK Ghosh.

At the twilight of his eventful life, in his apartment in Delhi where he has settled down with his wife Trisha Ghosh, the daredevil soldier who served in senior positions in the BSF and the Ministry of External Affairs, at the Indian embassy in Paris, looks back satisfied that he responded to his sentiments and joined the fight with his Bengali brethren against the Pakistanis on the very first day of the war.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher