Bangladesh reducing age limit for freedom fighters to below 13

Bangladeshi freedom fighters who fought in the 1971 war of indepence with Pakistan take part in a protest calling for the death penalty for those convicted of war crimes outside the Supreme Court in Dhaka on November 2, 2015.

The liberation war affairs ministry has decided to further reduce the age limit for being recognised as freedom fighters to 12 years and four months.

In October last year, Jatiya Muktijoddha Council (JMC) decided that those who were at least 15 years old on March 26, 1971 could apply for obtaining the freedom fighter status.

The decision was met with huge criticism as the minimum age at 15 excluded many noted freedom fighters like Taramon Bibi, Abu Salek Bir Pratik and Shahidul Islam Lalu who were below 15 when they had participated in the Liberation War.

Revising the decision to address the issue, JMC in July this year said people who were 13 on March 26, 1971 would be able to apply for the status of freedom fighters.

But according to JMC's latest decision, people who were 13 on November 30, 1971 -- instead of March 26, 1971 -- would be deemed eligible to apply for the status.

A lot of people applied to JMC and to the liberation war affairs ministry for reducing the age limit as their age was not mentioned in their school certificates. Following their applications, the issue was raised at JMC's last meeting on November 22 at its office in the capital's Mogbazar.

Contacted, Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Huq said they were yet to finalise the decision. "We will take the final decision at JMC's next meeting."

The previous decisions about the minimum age limit could deprive a lot of people of the status, the minister explained, adding that it was very likely that many had participated in the Liberation War after March 26, 1971.

Besides, he added, many applicants' birthdays were not correctly mentioned in their higher secondary school certificates.

Ministry sources said the ministry had also decided to recognise more Biranganas (war heroines) as freedom fighters.

On October 12, the ministry published a gazette notification adding the names of 41 Biranganas (war heroines), who were victims of Pakistani atrocities, in the list of freedom fighters.

After that, many more women applied to incorporate their names as Biranganas. This prompted the ministry to increase the number of war heroines. "Nearly one thousand women have already applied for recognition as freedom fighters and we will collect applications till the end of December," Mozammel told The Daily Star last night.

The last JMC meeting also discussed issues relating to canceling allowances and benefits of fake freedom fighters.

According to sources, many people who were identified as Razakars and committed crimes against humanity in 1971 were included in the freedom fighters' list and enjoyed allowances.

JMC has already cancelled allowances of 2,575 fake freedom fighters and suspended or revoked certificates of around 500 fake freedom fighters.

JMC, however, has not yet sent any resolution of its last meeting to the ministry.

At present, there are some 2.12 lakh freedom fighters. The number was 1.98 lakh in the 2002 gazette published during the period of the BNP-Jamaat government.

At present freedom fighters, their children and grandchildren enjoy 30 per cent quota in government jobs. In addition, freedom fighters' children and grandchildren get special quotas in public schools, colleges and universities.