01/03/2014: Enter Bangladesh
Potato seal used to issue permit in 1971
28 February 2014
He received from freedom fighters for entering the country during the Liberation War in 1971. The seal used for giving him the visa was carved out of a potato. The photo was taken at the Liberation War Museum where Alfonsi donated the passport. Photo: Palash Khan
"Entry Bangladesh, 3/4/71" is handwritten on a page in a French passport that has been submitted to the Liberation War Museum to be preserved as a relic of the then East Pakistan's glorious struggle for freedom.
Eight months before the nation won its war for independence, French journalist Philippe Alfonsi got the entry permit from freedom fighters in Chuadanga district. He presented the document to the museum in Dhaka yesterday.
The seal of approval only reflects their farsightedness and that they believed in winning the war against the Pakistanis and establishing an independent country to be called Bangladesh, said Alfonsi, 75, at a press conference at the museum in the capital's Segunbagicha.
"This visa proves how organised the freedom fighters were while fighting the war. Even then they were aware of their duties and responsibilities as people of an emerging nation."
Senior war correspondent Alfonsi along with cameraperson Philippe Dumiz and sound recordist Jean Henaff had come to cover the conflict in erstwhile East Pakistan on an assignment from the French TV channel, "Première Information".
The journalists followed the line of refugees, who were entering India in millions, in the opposite direction towards Chuadanga.
After they had witnessed bombing and machine-gun attacks from Pakistani airplanes, they took shelter inside a bunker where the French people met the freedom fighters, Alfonsi said.
The seal consists of two circles, one inside another, with a hand-drawn map of Bangladesh at the centre. "Dakhsin Paschimanchal (southwest)" and "Chuaganda" are written between the two circles.
The words were probably inscribed on a piece of potato, which was used as the seal, Alfonsi said.
The footage that Alfonsi and his colleagues collected during their three week-stay in the southwest region later opened the eyes of the people of France as well as that of the entire Europe to the reality of the war and helped create a public opinion in favour of East Pakistan's struggle for independence, said Kazi Enayet Ullah, president of France-Bangladesh Economic Chamber.
Theatre activist Prokash Roy came across some 200 minutes of footage on the 1971 Liberation War in France's television archive Ina, while working for a thesis paper for his coursework in 2010.
Enayet provided Prokash with all logistics to collect the footage taken by Alfonsi and another French journalist Alain Cances. While looking for the two journalists, they came to know that Cances had already passed away a few years ago.
Prokash later used the footage in making a documentary named "Bangladesh: the Birth of a Flag".
Receiving Alfonsi's passport, Ziauddin Tariq Ali, trustee of the museum, reminisced about how the people of France, including former president François Mitterrand, had supported Bangladesh though their government had sided with Pakistan.
Because of space limitation, the museum can only display 10 percent of its 13,000 relics, he said, adding it would be shifted to a new location in Agargaon next year and then all the museum's treasures can be exhibited.