On a sulky afternoon in mid-2006, a freedom fighter was beaten up by a group of derailed young men in Dhaka.
The brave freedom fighter, who fought for his country in 1971, had to face the music for protesting something said at a program on Liberation War organized by Islami Chhatra Shibir, the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami – the party that directly opposed Bangladesh’s independence.
Hasan Munawar, a student at the then Jagannath College (now a full-fledged university) in Dhaka at that time, thought something was terribly wrong with the way an entire generation had grown up.
The absence of true history in textbooks was hurting the spirit of the great war. So, he decided to make a move, no matter how small it may be, something that fitted within his capacity.
With a group of like-minded friends, who all believed in the spirit of the great War of Liberation, he formed an organization called “With Living Legends.” They started conducting practical workshops as primary and secondary school around Dhaka, especially in the English medium schools, where local history is dealt with the highest degree of neglect.
Their initial target was to reach at least 500 schools. They visited schools and told stories of freedom fighters to kids with the help of Styrofoam models.
“We made Styrofoam replicas of the setting where a particular battle was fought by a certain freedom fighter,” said Hasan.
The models are usually a Styrofoam board on which there are small plastic trees, soldiers, freedom fighters, gunboats, rivers, army camps, and so on.
On the first day of the three-day workshops at schools, Hasan and his troupe would tell stories using the models. On the second day, they asked the kids to draw pictures of whatever images were formed after the storytelling on the first day. On the last day, they presented the freedom fighter, if still alive, whose story they told the kids.
“It’s very fascinating how children visualize the War of Liberation. Suddenly, for them, freedom fighters ceased to be the vague term they have head sometimes,” said Hasan. “Suddenly, the freedom fighters were superheroes with big muscles and burning eyes.”
Every time a real freedom fighter was presented in front of them, the children had so many questions to ask. And for the freedom fighters, nothing is sweeter than reliving the 1971 memories.
Clearly, the “Legends” in the name of the organization are nothing but the freedom fighters, some of whose stories of immense courage have accented to mythical proportions.
In 2015, Hasan Munawar won the Joy Bangla Youth Award for this innovative way of working to uphold the spirit of the War of Liberation.
The year 2006 was not a very congenial time to work on the country’s true history. Sometimes, even school authorities told them that they could not utter “Joy Bangabandhu” while telling the stories. But that never stopped them.
“There was a time when everyone thought we were crazy. But the Joy Bangla Youth Award in 2015 changed the way people looked at us. They, including our closest of friends and well-wishers, now believe we are up to something – something good and important,” Hasan said.
So far, the organization has conducted workshops in nearly 250 schools in several districts around the country.
With Living Legends usually runs on the monthly subscription of its nearly 150 members. After getting the Joy Bangla Youth Award, many well-wishers have come forward to help them with small monetary donations.
The Liberation War Museum, where Hasan and his friends have been working as volunteers for a few years now, has always helped by supplying them with the true stories of the war.
He also has a theatre group that regularly stages road shows to raise awareness and make people conscious about the War of Liberation and other social issues.
Apart from the school workshops, With Living Legends is currently working on a web portal that would have separate pages on the 11 sectors into which Bangladesh was divided during the war. They are also cooperating with the Liberation War Museum to make separate video documentaries on the 11 sectors.