The diplomat monk
The Buddhist envoy who ‘just cried in front of people abroad for Bangladesh’ in 1971
The diplomat monk
Prabir Barua Chowdhury
For someone who all his life has believed and preached that Ahimsa Paramo Dharma or non-violence is the ultimate dharma, it is not easy to take up arms and go to war.
So, Pundit Ven Sangharaja Jyotipal Mohathero, after leaving the motherland for India like millions of others in April 1971, was looking for some other way to do something for the liberation of Bangladesh.
The Buddhist Bhikkhu (monk) found his path after he came to know that some of his close acquaintances in Laksam of Comilla were murdered by the Pakistan army.
He decided to launch a campaign among Buddhist countries to expose the Pakistan barbarity and drum up support for the cause of Bangalees.
As a representative of war-time Bangladesh government, he travelled to Sri Lanka, Thailand and Japan. During the high-profile visits, he never gave up his way of life as a Buddhist monk. Whenever abroad, he stayed in temples.
His campaign helped prove to the world that the spirit of the Bangalees’ war was non-communal and people irrespective of religion and belief had stood up against the Pakistan occupation forces.
Apart from campaigning, Jyotipal used to visit Buddhists in different refugee camps to deliver speeches to boost their morale and teach them how to pass through such a difficult time.
However, it took four decades for the state to honour the Buddhist monk for his role in the Liberation War. Jyotipal Mohathero was given Ekushey Award in 2010 and Independence Award in 2011 but both posthumously.
Born in Laksam in 1914, Jyotipal Mohathero was known to Pakistan government as he was elected president of Bouddha Kristi Prochar Sangha. He was also respected for different social activities like setting up schools and orphanages.
The orphanage he set up at Baria Gaon in Laksam was opened to refugees, including Muslims and Hindus, from the end of March until he left for India. He used to collect food and medicines from different sources for the sick refugees.
For all this he was blacklisted by the Pakistan military. The occupation force was annoyed with him as he dedicated his two books to persons who had left the country for India in early days of the war.
The Pakistan army moved to pick him up on April 16 but failed as freedom fighters had broken the bridge on their way to the village.
When he heard that the military was after him, he left his temple with the help of his students and reached Agartala on April 19.
It was in Agartala he learnt about the killing of some of his fellows and decided to launch his campaign.
On April 22, Jyotipal called Gopal Bhushan Chakma, an Indian government employee and his follower, and expressed his willingness to hold a press conference on East Pakistan crisis. Gopal invited journalists including reporters of Akash Bani, Ananda Bazar and Jugantor and correspondents of the foreign media.
At the press conference at Prachya Vidya Bihar, a monastery of Agartala, he described how Pakistan army was conducting genocide, burning houses and torturing women.
Sree Jyotipal Mohathero hands over $2,000 to then prime minister Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to help the flood victims in 1974. Photo: Scan from Bangladesh Mukti Songrame
As a religious figure he got attention from journalists and the next day, international media published his interview with high priority. Akash Bani and Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra repeatedly broadcast it.
The Mujibnagar government realised that the Buddhist monk would be the right person to persuade the Buddhist countries to recognise the new nation. Besides, he could inform the global Buddhist community about the Pakistan army’s atrocities.
Bangladesh mission officials, especially Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury, HT Imam and Akbar Ali Khan, started a regular communication with the monk on behalf of the government.
Jyotipal issued another statement with updates on Pakistan army’s brutalities and sent it through telegram to UN secretary general U Thant; Sri Lankan prime minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike; president and general secretary of World Fellowship of Buddhists and officials of Bouddha Sobhatritto Sangha.
Jyotipal got the results of his endeavour within a few days. The government of Sri Lanka and religious organisation World Fellowship of Buddhists expressed their worry over the situation in Bangladesh.
After this he took four more Buddhist monks with him and wrote a joint statement on May 12 as eyewitnesses of the massive torture by the Pakistan army.
At about the same time, Dhaka Betar, which was being operated by Pakistan junta, claimed said that the information of the Akash Bani and Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra over the war was totally wrong.
To verify the statements of the Buddhist monks and others, a delegation of 35 foreign journalists came to Agartala. They especially sat with the Buddhist monks and recorded Jyotipal’s speech.
This trip of journalists played a great role in exposing Pakistan Army’s mayhem on innocent Bangalees, including minority community people. After this, International Buddhist community urged the Pakistan government to stop the attacks immediately.
To counter the statements of Jyotipal and his team, some pro-junta Buddhists claimed that their community had been living in East Pakistan peacefully. They alleged that monk Jyotipal had introduced Hindu refugees as Buddhists to foreign visitors.
In response, Jyotipal made an intelligent move. He told the Indian government as well as Bangladesh mission that he would like to set up a separate camp of Buddhist refugees so that the foreigners could identify them easily.
After getting nod, he built the camp at Tota Bari hill and at its entrance of he put up a signboard reading “Bouddha”.
This intelligent move established him as a vital figure in diplomatic campaigns for the Liberation War. Indian and Mujibnagar government decided to send him to Buddhist countries. He went to Delhi on July 8 and started preparation for campaign abroad.
On July 21, Jyotipal and another Buddhist activist Ven Sridharma Birio met Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. She listened to them and before leaving said, “I am thinking what is to be done.”
In the meantime, Bangladesh High Commission offered a fresh passport to him but under a different name. The Buddhist monk did not agree to accept the offer. Later, the high commission issued his passport using just one part of the name, Jyotipal.
Jyotipal and advocate Fakir Sahabuddin left for Sri Lanka from Delhi on August 7.
In Colombo, they got extensive support from the Ceylon Committee for Human Rights in East Bengal which had been working in favour of the Liberation War from the very beginning.
The committee had arranged two conferences where the two delegates presented the full picture of East Pakistan.
In five days, the duo met educationists, scholars, chiefs of the different government offices and Sri Lanka Buddhist Congress president Bipula Sar Thero, ministers and others.
The visit was extensively covered by all the news papers of the country.
On the last day of visit, they met five lawmakers in the Ganoparishad Bhaban where they described the total situation and requested them to stop the flying of Paksitani aircraft which in the guise of passenger planes were carrying soldiers and arms through Sri Lanka. It was only one flight route which was open for Pakistan to enter East Pakistan.
The lawmakers wrote a letter to Sirimavo Bandaranaike to take action in this regard.
Next day, after boarding his plane for Thailand, Jyotipal saw in the newspaper that the Sri Lankan government had restricted Pakistan aircraft landing in their airport. It was a huge setback for the Pakistan government.
The delegates reached Bangkok on August 11 and got extensive support from Bishwa Buddha Sobhatritto Sangha by sending messages to the Buddhist countries including China, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Louse, Nepal, Bhutan, and headquarters of Asia Buddhist Peace Conference in Mongolia.
After getting the message of the Sangha, Bhutan government sent a letter to Jyotipal thanking him for informing it the actual situation. The kingdom of Bhutan on December 6, 1971 became the first country to recognise Bangladesh.
From Thailand, the two-man team went to Japan on August 16. There, an organisation named Bangladesh Liberation Committee helped them a lot. It was led by a Japanese named Dr Prof Nara, who could speak Bangla.
Famous English daily The Mainchi and Japanese- Language newspaper Chugai Nip published interview of Jyotipal and Sahabuddin.
The two worked in Japan for seven days. Jyotipal then came back to India to participate in an international conference on behalf of Bangladesh. Sahabuddin went to Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore for campaigning.
After the conference, the monk came to his camp at Agartala on October 8 and stayed there until January 7, 1972. He returned home — now a sovereign, independent country — with his fifteen followers.
He was back to his Barai Gaon temple the next day. It was totally ruined by the Pakistan army. His library, which had hundreds of books, was destroyed too.
Jyotipal met Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at his Dhanmondi residence on January 12. When Bangabandhu hugged Jyotipal and congratulated him, the Buddhist monk just said, “I did nothing for the country. I just cried in front of people abroad for Bangladesh.”
After serving the country and the society for another three decades by establishing many educational institutions and orphanages as well as monasteries, including World Peace Pagoda, Jyotipal Mohathero died on April 12, 2002.
Books: Bangladesh Mukti Songrame by Sree Jyotipal Mohathero; Jyotirmoy Jyotipal by Prashata Kumar Barua.