Remembering 26th March, 1971
A few days back, when I wrote about plebiscite in Kashmir, I tried to point out the pain of redrawing the border. Ironically, within a few days, I am writing up the next one, exactly on the conditions before redrawing a border. March 26th is known to be the Independence day of Bangladesh. But, the day before marks the beginning of the biggest genocide in post world-war era.
The reason I am writing this article is to educate Indians and Pakistanis about these incidents. I found it to be shocking that most Indians still remember 1971 as the year when India defeated Pakistan in a brisk war. A lot of Pakistanis also think that it was a “fall of Dhaka” due to the betrayal of East Pakistan. While both India and Pakistan continue to protest a few thousand murders in Iraq, they should also look a few years back to see their neighbors and ex-countrymates killed en-masse.
Let’s get into the topic now. I can start with the build-up to this incident. After the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951, political power began to be concentrated in the President of Pakistan, and eventually, the military. The nominal elected chief executive, the Prime Minister, was frequently sacked by the establishment, acting through the President.The military dictatorships of Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan, both West Pakistanis, only heightened feelings of deprivation of East. Finally, when Sheikh Mujib’s Awami League won a clear majority in the elections of 1970, the West Pakistan establishment refused to allow Mujib to form a government. The party won 167 of the 169 seats allotted to East Pakistan, and thus a majority of the 300 seats in the National Assembly. On 3rd March 1971, the two leaders (Bhutto was the other) of the two wings along with the President General Yahya Khan met in Dhaka to decide the fate of the country. Talks failed. General Tikka Khan was flown in to Dhaka to become Governor of East Bengal. A unit of East Pakistan Rifles refused to obey commands to fire on Bengali demonstrators, beginning a mutiny of Bengali soldiers.
Then came the March 25th, 1971. The Army started what was named as ‘Operation Searchlight‘. The commandos easily captured Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at the beginning of the crackdown. Army assaulted the Dhaka University area and killed unarmed students present in the halls, and also some professors, then moved on to attack the Hindu areas and the old town. Captured Bengali soldiers, EPR and Police personnel were executed or improsioned without trial.
In an editorial, The Daily Star, a leading Bangladeshi newspaper, reproduced some accounts of the day. I quote a few incidents of atrocities from the same source :
– “At Jagannath and Iqbal Halls, students were mown down mercilessly. Other students were forced to dig a large grave and once that was done, they too were shot. All the bodies were dumped into the grave, which was then bulldozed by the army.”
– “Soldiers burst into the quarters of the philosopher Gobinda Chandra Dev and murdered him. They also killed the mathematics teacher Rafiqul Islam. And they left Jyotirmoy Guhathakurta, a senior teacher in the English Department of Dhaka University, seriously wounded.”
– “Outside the campus, the soldiers razed the Kali Mandir, a Hindu temple inside the Race Course compound, to the ground. In similar fashion, they blew up the Central Shaheed Minar before the Dhaka Medical College Hospital. On the streets, common citizens were murdered at random. Rickshaw pullers died even as they slept on their three-wheelers.”
– “The military also set fire to the Ittefaq and Sangbad newspapers, leaving those inside dead or wounded.”
There are many more accounts of the incidents of 25th March by Journalists. The famous ones were from Simon Dring (British Journo to capture the incidents first) and Arnold Zeitlin (Associated Press). Rediff and Globalwebpost sites also reported the same incidents successfully. Among eyewitness accounts, one from Rafiqul Islam is available in English on the net. A private site has also depicted the dateline of 25th March.
What was the reaction in India? There was not much of reaction among the people of India other than in West Bengal. The political leadership was busy chalking out a strategy for separation of East Pakistan. The common people were hardly aware of what was going on. The aftermath was known to all – India-Pakistan war of 1971 and the Liberation of Bangladesh. The world was also kept in dark. More frustatingly, people who cite examplify genocide with Iraq and Afghanistan, take out pocessions and rallies in soliderity with them, simply forget Bangladesh.
I feel Pakistan did absolutely nothing to accept the war-crimes committed by the Military. The atrocities were established in Hamoodor Rahman Commission report. But, the accused were never prosecuted. The Govt of India released all PoWs, including those accused of genocide. Remembering the incident, I hope that people of Pakistan would soon understand the atrocities committed by their Army and pressurize their govt to issue a former acknowledgement of the war-crimes.