Back in 1971, a small office in London was a place where non-Bengalis and Bengalis gathered to wage a movement against the ongoing genocide in the then East Pakistan.
That was where students turned into protesters organising demonstrations, and professionals turned into activists to create pressure on governments around the world to recognise Bangladesh as a sovereign country.
That was how the relationship of Paul Connett, now emeritus professor at a university in the US, and Ellen Connett began with this country, as described by the couple yesterday at a press meet in Liberation War Museum, Dhaka.
The museum organised the event so that the Connetts, who had been honoured as “Friends of Liberation War” in 2013 for their role during the Liberation War, could share their thoughts on and emotions for this country.
Reminiscing those days after 48 years, Paul said, “It seems like just yesterday that we were in London organising 'Action Bangladesh'….A very moving experience.”
The organisation that came into being in that office orchestrated the historic demonstration at Trafalgar Square in London on August 1, 1971 -- 20,000 people gathered to press the demand that genocide be stopped and Bangladesh be recognised.
The first time the couple came to Bangladesh was in 1971, with Mukti Bahini, to provide aid and support. At the time Ellen was caught by the Pakistan army. In a “quick two-day trial” by them, she was sentenced to two years in prison.
She along with other prisoners was liberated by the Indian army two months later.
During their second visit the next year, the Connetts met Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and told him “We have named our son Peter William Mujib. He was conceived in Calcutta (India), but Ellen realised she would be a mother while in prison,” Paul said.
They visited Bangladesh in 1996 to mobilise support for waste management and later as recipients of the “Friends of Liberation War Honour”.
“It felt very nice last night (Monday) to give to the prime minister artwork done by Peter William Mujib,” he said.
This time, Paul said he and Ellen were happy to meet more people and see the progress made over almost half a century.
During their visit to Rohingya camps in Cox's Bazar, the Connetts were “very surprised and pleased to see the fine arrangements at the camps.”
Credit goes to Bangladesh for this, Ellen said.
But there is still no hope for more than a million Rohingya refugees here, they said.
Referring to the famed “Concert for Bangladesh” at Madison Square Garden in New York where the world's iconic stars, including sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar and singer-guitarist George Harrison, performed, Paul said, “We would like to try to organise a second concert for Bangladesh, the proceeds of which will go to Rohingyas.”
“We want to get that same message out: stop this genocide, stop allowing governments like the Burmese to turn their state machinery, their own army on their own people.”