Those who saved lives at the cost of their own | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 21, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:59 AM, April 21, 2021

Those who saved lives at the cost of their own

A tale of the medical team of then Sylhet Medical College during the Liberation War

"Don't just chant slogans and hold processions; form an emergency first-aid squad and prepare for massive bloodshed."

These were the instructions of Dr Shamsuddin Ahmed for his students on March 21, when then East Pakistan was preparing for a long struggle for freedom.

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The doctor, then head of the department of surgery at Sylhet Medical College, was almost certain that something bad was about to happen, and it did. Pakistan army's genocide started on the night of March 25.

Dr Shamsuddin, intern doctor Shyamal Kanti Lala, ambulance driver Korban Ali and nurse Mahmudur Rahman were among the few healthcare providers at the hospital in the early days of the Liberation War.

And for their loyalty to the service, they were brutally killed at the hospital by Pakistan army on April 9, 1971.

Their heroic tale has been engraved at Sylhet's Martyred Intellectual Graveyard and in many articles, including "Ora Daktar Mereche (They Killed Doctors), published in Sheikh Fazlul Haque Moni's edited "Banglar Bani" newspaper in 1972. It was then included in one of the eight volumes of "Bangladesher Swadhinata Juddher Dalilpatra".

Sylhet Medical College, which was later named after General MAG Osmani, was at Chowhatta area, presently where Saheed Shamsuddin Ahmed Hospital is located.

After March 25, numerous injured patients used to get admitted to the hospital, and the team of Dr Shamsuddin put their heart and soul into treating them.

Meanwhile on March 27, 1971, a resistance army of people from different backgrounds was formed under the leadership of retired Lt Col Mohammad Abdur Rab, Major Chitta Ranjan Dutta and politician Manik Chowdhury.

The resistance defeated Pakistan army in several frontline battles, and by April 7, freed all of Sylhet division, except Sylhet town.

When the freedom fighters started attacking Pakistan army to free Sylhet town, more casualties were being reported.

In those days, whenever gunshots were heard, ambulance driver Korban Ali rushed to the spot, rescued the injured and returned to the hospital, where Dr Shamsuddin Ahmed, Dr Shyamal Kanti Lala, nurse Mahmudur Rahman and others treated them.

They even treated injured Pakistan army soldiers, as they believed in the noble oath of doctors to treat everyone.

When the fight was too intense in Sylhet town and surroundings, Dr Shamsuddin let almost all other doctors and staffers leave the hospital, but he stayed along with a few others.

While others were leaving, Dr Shamsuddin handed them first-aid medicine and kits, so they can serve people wherever they go.

On April 9, the fight between the resistance army and Pakistan army became more intense. A Pakistan army convoy was ambushed near the hospital, where three Pakistani soldiers died and two freedom fighters were injured.

The injured freedom fighters were brought into the hospital, and Dr Shamsuddin was preparing to operate on them, but right then, Pakistan army cordoned the hospital.

Even though killing doctors was a direct violation of the Geneva Convention, the platoon of Pakistan army, led by Major Riyaz, killed 11 persons, including Dr Shamsuddin, Dr Shyamal, Korban Ali and Mahmudur Rahman.

An article written by Liberation War researcher Apurba Sharma quoted Mukhlesur Rahman, a ward staffer of the hospital who survived the mass killing.

The survivor, who was also shot, said Pakistani soldiers opened fire around 11:15am, and Dr Shamsuddin was the first person they killed. They then shot one person after another to death.

Although deaths of the 11 persons were recorded, Mukhlesur told the researcher that at least 17-19 were killed that day.

The dead bodies were left at the hospital's premises for four days, until the curfew was relaxed on April 13. Then locals buried the martyr's bodies near the hospital.

That location is now known as Martyred Intellectual Graveyard of Sylhet.

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