Red Cross exhibition revives memories

Restoring Family Links

June 02, 2014

Senior Correspondent, 

Many recalled the darks days of 1971 at the opening of the International Committee of the Red CrossÔÇÖs (ICRC) photo exhibition in Dhaka on Sunday. 
The exhibition marking the 150 years of the Red Cross covered its humanitarian role in conflicts including BangladeshÔÇÖs war of independence.
Monwara Sarker could not hide her tears when she tried to express her feelings after receiving an award for her humanitarian role with the ICRC.
She was the first local who joined ICRC team in Sep 1971 when the worldÔÇÖs oldest humanitarian organisation started working in Dhaka.
She was 17 and managed to evade threats from Pakistan army and their cohorts.
ÔÇ£Almighty Allah saved me and I found a secure place at the ICRC,ÔÇØ she remembered with tears.
She is still serving the Red CrossÔÇÖs local mission Bangladesh Red Crescent Society as director in the Missing People department.
The ICRC gave her an award recognizing her role in Bangladesh.
When her name was announced she received standing ovation from the guests that include foreign minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, Prime MinisterÔÇÖs political affairs adviser HT Imam, and high-profile audience including ambassadors of Russia and Egypt.
But she could hardly speak as she stood on the podium for a few minutes, unable to hold back her emotions at the Hotel Ruposhi Bangla where the exhibition was inaugurated few days before it was opened to the public at Dhanmondi Drik Gallery.
That is where the first ICRC office was located in 1971 when she joined it. Ruposhi Bangla hotel was then Hotel Intercontinental, located in a neutral zone.
She thanked ICRC and wished to work till her death for this organisation. 
This exhibition is part of the ICRCÔÇÖs global celebration.
But in Bangladesh it titled it ÔÇ£150 Years of Humanitarian Action in 71 PhotosÔÇØ.
ICRC officials say 71 photos most of them about Bangladesh have been kept in the display to mark Bangladesh's birth in 1971.
After five years of operation, ICRC wounded its Dhaka office up in 1975, but re-established it in 2006 as it found it necessary mainly to train up Bangladesh peacekeepers who serve in UN missions.
Prime MinisterÔÇÖs Political Affairs Adviser HT Imam who was the Cabinet Secretary of the first independent government in Mujibnagar in 1971 became ÔÇ£nostalgicÔÇØ.
ÔÇ£We were looking for international friends to help us. ICRC was the first organisation who came forward to help us,ÔÇØ he recollected.
He remembered how ICRC air lifted Bangladeshi refugees from the overcrowded Tripura state to West Bengal and other places.
Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali who also defected from PakistanÔÇÖs New York mission to mobilise support for Bangladesh during the Liberation War formally inaugurated the exhibition.
He said ICRCÔÇÖs support during the war of independence became ÔÇ£an integral part of our national historyÔÇØ.
ÔÇ£ItÔÇÖs only appropriate that a celebration of ICRCÔÇÖs work since its inception evokes memories of the services it rendered to our people during our struggle for self-determination."
He said the photos bore testimony to the immense sufferings of the people in 1971.
ÔÇ£The ICRCÔÇÖs classified documents, which are yet to be released, would also perhaps recount how in 1971 the world came to witness the biggest genocide of the 20th century since the HolocaustÔÇØ. 
Swiss businessman Henri Dunant founded this ICRC in 1863 in response to the sufferings of injured soldiers abandoned on the battlefield of Solferino in northern Italy.
He documented his horrified memories in a book, A Memory of Solferino, and decided to create an organisation to help war victims.
Since then it has played humanitarian role in most of the conflicts that have taken place around the world.
It also promotes laws that protect victims of war.
But in complex age of todayÔÇÖs warfare, ICRC faces new challenges.
The Bangladesh Head of Delegation Christine Cipolla said the world in which ÔÇ£the Red Cross and Red Crescent operate today is radically different from the one in which our founder envisioned the idea of the Red CrossÔÇØ.
But, she said, ÔÇ£we are needed more than everÔÇØ in a world still marked by vulnerability, poverty and conflict.
In Bangladesh, ICRC carried out extensive humanitarian operation in 1971 war of independence to alleviate the suffering of the victims.
It also helped repatriation of about 120,000 Bengalis stranded in Pakistan, mainly military personnel, civil servants and their families.
It also carried out a large-scale relief operation during the post-war crisis.
In the 71 pictures, ICRC ran its operations from the Serbian-Turkish war in 1876 to recent conflicts in Syria.
The exhibition also showcased the pictures of 1950 post-partition Bangladesh when ICRC helped refugees in Dhaka and Chittagong camps.
Apart from pictures of its 1971-1975 operations, photos of its support to the victims of the worst-ever building collapse and political violence last year also found place in the exhibition which will be opened from June 3 to June 7.