REQUIEM FOR A FALCON
On 18 October 2012, Ekkas arrived in Dhaka. The first thing Balamdini asked me if they would be able to visit Gangasagar for the prayer where her husband was martyred during the Liberation War. I assured her that the authorities have made plans for the visit. She made a request to me if I could accompany her for the visit. Throughout the ceremony for honouring the foreign nationals who made great contribution in our Liberation War, whenever she saw me, she repeated the same request. Time was fixed for her, her son Vincent Ekka along with Col Ashok Tara, Vir Chakra, and his wife to proceed to Gangasagar on 22 October at 7 am after the ceremony. Incidentally Col Ashok Tara, VrC, had also taken part in the battle of Gangasagar as a Company Commander.
Lance Naik Albert Ekka of Indian Army was posthumously awarded the highest military honour Param Vir Chakra for his gallantry in the Bangladesh Liberation War. Ekka was a man of humble means, born in the village of Jari in the district of Gumla in Jharkhand. He was a member of the Oraon tribe, meaning falcon. He was a soldier of the traditional 14 Guards of the Indian Army.
As part of my research, I wanted to know more about Ekka and his family and I had visited them in their village. During my discussion the elderly widow, Balamdini with tears in her eyes said she always wanted to visit Gangasagar to say a prayer in the place of her husband’s death, but her own poverty would never make that possible. Living on the five acres of land given to her family by their Government now on litigation, she makes ends meet with the monthly pension. Vincent’s auto rickshaw is out of order. She felt she would never be able to visit Gangasagar for the desired prayer.I could only assure her that it would be my honour to put in maximum effort to arrange for her visit to Gangasagar so that she could requiem for the departed soul.
After I returned to Dhaka, I thought to myself, Albert Ekka who fought and died for a cause greater than his own was also a father and a husband, and while the memory of his sacrifice has dimmed with the passage of time, his absence is still felt every day by the ones who loved him the most. I could hear Balamdini weeping bitterly and saying, “ I wish I could go to Gangasagar to say a prayer for him.” Her sorrow is something that did not evaporate with time.
41 years have passed since Ekka’s death, yet so few of us know of him and others like him. Death in performance of their duty brought blessedness to them. For their untimely deaths, each of their families has asked for so little. I thought that I should undertake this task with humility, urgency and a profound sense of honour and gratitude for a human who sacrificed his life for my country. It is our duty as a nation to honour Albert Ekka also ensure that his wife, Balamdini, is able to visit Gangasagar for saying her much desired prayer.
As a member of the national committee for honouring foreign nationals who had made outstanding contribution towards our Liberation War, I submitted the citation on Albert Ekka and recommended that he may be honoured with “ Friends of Liberation War Honour” to the committee and explained my experience. I also requested the committee that if my recommendation was accepted, Ekka’s wife Balamdini and son Vincent may please be invited to Bangladesh to receive the honour and also for arrangement to be made for their visit to Gangasagar. The recommendation was accepted by the committee.
Throughout the five hour journey to Gangasagar, Bhramanbaria, Balamdini was saying silent prayer. At 12 pm, we reached Gangasagar, brutal battle site of 1971 where Ekka’s blood mingled with the mud. Coming out from the vehicle, Balamdini touched my hand and said “ Please take me to the place he died. “ I took her and Vincent to the place where Albert fell in honoured glory. There she bent and started her long silent prayer with trembling hands, she was crying. The crowd started growing fast and her prayer lasted long. After prayers we boarded the vehicle and all the way back she did not utter one word.
Next morning before leaving Bangladesh she looked cheerful and happy. She yold me that deep down in her heart she had the desire to go to Gangasagar to pray and God had given her the opportunity. She thanked everyone around for giving her the comfort of heart.
The sacrifices of Ekka, his unflinching sense of ultimate duty are forever enmeshed in the history of our independence and I was happy to be of some service to his family.
Bangladesh is the harvest of blood of many Ekkas. Let them not be ignored or forgotten. Time is now; time is always to remember such heroes.