Photo Courtesy: Studio ‘H’ (Nawabpur, Dhaka)
My father, Dr. Peter D’Costa, B.H. (Bachelor of Homeopathy), also known as ‘P. D’Costa Sir’ to the students of St. Gregory’s High School in Dhaka, was born at Rangamatia Village of the then Dhaka District (now Gazipur District) on January 5, 1904.
After passing Class (Grade) 3 from Kaliganj Pilot School, Dt. Dhaka, he was semt to study at St. Anthony’s High School in Calcutta. After the Entrance Examinations, he taught at the same school and studied Homeopathy at night at the Dunham College of Homeopathy, Calcutta. After four years, he received his B.H. degree and was awarded the ‘Ratimanjari Dassi Memorial Medal’ for scholastic achievement.
After one year of independence of Pakistan, he returned to his village and practised homeopathy medicines. As the financial condition of the newly-independent country was not strong, he could not do well financially in his practice. In 1951, he left for Dhaka and joined St. Gregory’s High School (English Medium) as a teacher in the primary section. In 1968, he retired from teaching after suffering a stroke.
He was spending his retired life in the village when on November 26, 1971, the West Pakistani armed forces attacked the village and killed 14 persons including him and burnt down about 90% of the houses.
When we received the news that the military started wading thigh-deep water in the beel (marsh) to come to attack the village, men sent their womenfolk and children away to another village on the other side of the small canal. We did the same with my mother Agnes D’Costa, a teacher of Rangamatia Catholic Primary School, and my adopted sister.
In the weekend I had come from work with the Pratibeshi weekly in Dhaka and could not return due to military and mukti bahini (freedom forces) confrontations in different places, including Kaliganj). So on this Friday, November 26, with fright, my father and I were watching the fires at the far end of the village in the west as well as hearing wheezing bullet sounds over the trees. I tried to coax my father, who could walk with some difficulty with the help of a cane, to go with me as far away as possible, but he refused and said: “If they see me old and sick and still kill me, let them do so. I would rather die at home than in the fields and jungles.”
When the bullet sounds became louder, I asked my father to go away with me and again he refused. Then I said that “I have to leave because if they find a young person, they would capture or kill him instantly.” He told me to leave immediately. I touched his hand for the last time and left home and ran towards the other village in the north. As I neared the canal, one bullet wheezed past a few inches by me and struck one of the bamboo trees and divided it in the middle. It scared the hell out of me and I shouted: “Jesus, save me!” and jumped over a cane bush and fell into the canal. I waded knee-deep water and climbed over the side of the canal and reached the other side.
Behind the houses in the field I find about three hundred villagers — men, women and children — huddled on the ground. My future wife and members of her family were also there. A few minutes later, we see two muktijuddas (freedom fighters) running past us away to the east. I shouted and asked them whether they had fired at the soldiers. When they said “yes”, my common sense told me that the soldiers would definitely come to the other side of the canal and search for the freedom fighters.
I told my future father-in-law, Joachim Costa, a teacher of St. Joseph’s High School in Dhaka, that the army would definitely come and, if they find us, would finish us all. He told me to take my engaged finance, her mother and others and walk further up towards the east. As we started to move, others also followed us. We first went to the villages of Deolia and Baktarpur and then finally, just before evening, reached Kapashia village, about three miles north-east. It was a Muslim village where we never set foot in our life. They received us with such care and empathy that we immediately felt at home. They immediately began to offer us water and muri (puffed rice) followed by emptying of some of their rooms for our stay! We will never forget this sacrificing hospitality.
Those who did not move from near the canal, that we left earlier, were ultimately killed by the army.
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