A Tribute

Juno the Guerrilla

Farooque Chowdhury

Haider Anwar Khan Juno (b. December 29, 1944) breathed his last on October 29, 2020 in a Dhaka hospital. He was 76. Juno was suffering from pneumonia and other complications. He left behind wife, daughter, son and elder brother.

How to identify Haider Anwar Khan Juno? It's difficult but it's easy as well. He was a son of this soil, son of people's struggles in this land waged for decades against the Punjabi-dominated Pakistani neo-colonial rule. Those were mass movements for democracy, struggles against West Pakistani puppets of imperialist powers. He was an activist, a propagandist, an agitator, an effective organiser, a leader, a guerrilla in 1971-Bangladesh—the epochal time the Baangaalees were waging a War for Liberation. The always soft-spoken fighter with a blazing heart was a friend of many—of students, peasants and labourers, of cultural, student, peasant and labour activists and leaders, of the aged and ailing. He was always silently standing by them in their hours of need. That was his one of persistent work, very few including some of his very close relatives were aware of it.

Haider Juno's journey began as a student activist in the 1960s. Those were the days of organising students, carrying on relentless agitprop among the students and youths, mobilising students, organising processions and strikes. Those were the days of democratic struggle. Chhaatra Union, the Maoist student organisation Juno belonged to, was, without doubt, staunchly anti-imperialist. His position was always anti-imperialist. His position was always anti-capitalism. He was always standing against semi-feudal relations in the rural economy. A stubborn adherent of class struggle, Haider Juno was always for a radical change of the economy and society. Juno was always for the dispossessed, for the downtrodden, for the trampled, for the exploited—the voiceless, faceless, unorganised multitude in villages and urban slums, toiling in factories and crop fields. This was his fundamental stand, a cornerstone of life. Until his brain was working, he did never relinquish this stand, a lifelong commitment. This activism took him to the leadership of the student organisation he was with—Beeplobee Chhatra Union, Revolutionary Students Union. He was its president.

Juno turned into a guerrilla, a communist guerrilla, relying on Bangladesh's poor peasantry. In 1971, as the Pakistan government unleashed its army to carry on genocide to enslave the Baangaalee people forever, Juno had to leave Dhaka, now the capital city of Bangladesh—his central area of student activism. That was late-March-1971. Driving the car Zahir Raihan, the untraced creator of the famed films Stop Genocide, Let There Be Light and Jeban Thheke Neya among many, handed over to the revolutionary communist wing Juno belonged to for using in the guerrilla war they were going to organise, Juno reached Shibpur, miles from Dhaka. He was accompanied by Kazi Zafar Ahmad, a firebrand student and labour leader in the 1960s, Haider Akbar Khan Rono, veteran communist leader and Juno's elder brother, Rashed Khan Menon, a student leader of the 1960s, and a few other activists.

In Shibpur, Juno, Rono, and their followers began organising a guerrilla force. While Rono and Menon moved to Tangail to meet Maulana Bhasani, a left-leaning leader of the toilers, and then, to meet political and military leaders to Agartala, Tripura, the eastern state of India, and Kolkata, Juno, along with Mannan Bhuiyan, began recruiting would-be guerrillas, setting up training camps, supply depots, field hospitals. They began training of the guerrillas while collecting arms—first it was from police stations, then from dacoits and finally, it was from the Pakistan army.

Juno had to travel to Maulavi Bazaar in the northeastern part of Bangladesh to organise guerrilla zones. Those were, at times, 5-7 days walk at a stretch, and, at times, by motorboats and country boats crossing Haors, seasonal water body stretching miles, at times, without food.

Their main base was the Shibpur-Narshingdi area, dotted with small hillocks and girded by rivers including the mighty Meghna. Juno and his group organised the fierce guerrilla war based against the Pakistani army. A number of military leaders with the Bangladesh War for Liberation extended training facilities and supplied arms and explosives while the Communist Party of India (Marxist) provided shelter and money as Juno's men visited Tripura and Kolkata for the purpose of coordination. Juno regularly had to cross the border, which the Pakistan army strictly guarded with a line of fortified bunkers. Those—ambushes, frontal fights, encircling enemy units—were mostly around the Shibpur-Narshingdi area, and in all these fights, the guerrillas won. Martyrs, the felled guerillas, were obviously there, and they were mainly from the rural people.

Juno with life-long commitment to Marxism-Leninism finally moved to the cultural front as he found non-effective debates and useless factionalism destroying a part of the Left, he belonged to. He began organising radical-leaning cultural organisations, united forum of Left cultural organisations, cultural schools and trainings while he authored a number of books including reminiscences of his guerrilla days. The cultural work among the urban middle class, rural poor and industrial workers, he used to tell, was part of the ideological struggle essential for organising struggle of the exploited for a radical change. His work consumed him fully while he was also joining, to his capacity, his wife's, also his fellow travellers from the days of student activism and guerrilla war, fight with cancer, and seriously ailing daughter.

Juno, the unsung communist guerilla in Bangladesh Liberation War, with a background of physics at graduate and post-graduate levels, left behind his brilliant academic career to join liberation movement.

Humble and modest Juno vaai, brother, to many of students, cultural and political activists in the capital city, towns and rural areas, had plentiful time to meet activists planning work for organisation, bringing out publications, exchanging opinions despite his kidney dialysis for many years.

[Note: Haider Anwar Khan Juno's life sketch is in Omar Raad Chowdhury, "Communist guerrilla leader of 1971 Bangladesh Haider Juno is in life support", Countercurrents, September 25, 2020.]
[Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka, Bangladesh.]

Vol. 53, No. 26, Dec 28 2020 - Jan 2 2021