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2302A banyan tree in Dhaka called Kennedy

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  • Tarek Fatah
    Sep 1, 2009
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      September 1, 2009

      Remembering Senator Edward Kennedy in Bangladesh

      Tarek Fatah
      National Post

      In the late hours of March 25, 1971, as the citizens of Dhaka slept, the Pakistan Army launched a war on its own people. By the time the sun rose, thousands of students in two university residential halls were dead and countless more lay wounded.

      Dhaka University had been a hotbed of political activism for decades. To the generals of the Pakistan Army led by president Yahya Khan and his feared commander in then “East Pakistan,” General Tikka Khan, it had to be vanquished. The army also had a score to settle with an old tree on the campus grounds that was rumoured to have cast magical spells of rebellion on the young men and women who mingled underneath it.

      After the first massacres, soldiers were sent to kill the giant banyan tree, lovingly known as “Bawt Tawla.” Under its branches, many generations of Bengali students had gathered, conspired and then gone out to change the world. 

      It was under this tree that the language movement of 1953 was launched. Here in 1968, students had risen up against the military rule of General Ayub Khan, leading to his humiliation.

      By the time the sun set on March 25, the Pakistan Army had blown up Bawt Tawla, ripping the very heart out of Dhaka University.

      “It was a sad day as if someone had destroyed the very essence of our lives,” says Fuad Chowdhury, a Canadian filmmaker who witnessed the carnage.

      “I saw the random killing and shooting of civilians. Canon fire destroyed part of my house, but the next morning when we saw the tree gone, we were devastated,” he adds. “Bawt Tawla was gone forever, we thought. But we were wrong.”

      A million lives and two years later, after the Bangladeshis had defeated the Pakistan Army and achieved independence, a white American politician would come to the spot where the old tree stood and plant a new sapling. 

      Today, almost forty years later, that sapling has grown into a new Bawt Tawla, and under it students mourn the passing of the man who planted that sapling: senator Edward Kennedy.

      Ted Kennedy had a huge following all over the world. Some admired him for his charisma, others because he was the brother of JFK and RFK. But in Bangladesh, he was revered because he spoke up when no one else in the U.S. dared to say a word.

      [To read the rest of the article and listen to senator Kennedy's son speaking at his father's funeral, click http://www.AverroesPress.com]