Bangladesh Holocaust of '71
It was the most brutal genocide ever known in the history of mankind. History has never seen such a large number of people wiped out in such a short period of the nine months of the Bangladesh liberation war. Between March 25, 1971 and December 16, 1971, Pakistani occupation army and their local collaborators killed 3 million innocent, unarmed people, violated more than a quarter million women; destroyed most of the factories, roads, bridges and culverts, burned houses, engaged in indiscriminate arson and plundering and created such an unbearable situation that 10 million people were forced to leave their country.
The Pakistani military junta headed by General Yahya Khan carried out a genocide in Bangladesh, which has no comparison. Systematic killing, rape and other barbaric methods were used on the Bengalis in the name of 'protecting the integrity of Pakistan' and 'to protect Islam'.
On March 25 midnight, the Pakistani forces suddenly cracked down on the sleeping people of capital Dhaka. Their first target was the residence of teachers, officials and employees and student dormitories of Dhaka University, once known as the Oxford of the East. The police and East Pakistan Rifles (EPR) headquarters followed. Then came the slums, markets and Hindu-populated areas in Dhaka, most of which were torched. They killed university teachers, employees and students either in their rooms or by firing squad in the campus gardens. Some were taken away and remained missing. They sprayed bullets as people fled from burning homes. These people died without knowing their crime. It is estimated that around 60,000 people of the city were killed on that single night.
The Pakistani occupation forces followed similar methods across the country and the genocide continued during the next nine months or until the country was freed from their clutches. Apart from mass killings, systematic killing of identified personalities or professionals was carried out under a blueprint. This process started with the slaying of Dhaka University teachers and reached its peak ahead of the Victory Day on December 16, 1971, as they realised their defeat was imminent.
In conducting the killings, there was a priority list. They had identified five sections of the populace as their main enemies: 1) leaders, activists and supporters of Awami League, 2) communists and socialists, 3) freedom fighters and their associates, 4) the Hindu community irrespective of sex or age and 5) students, intellectuals and professionals.
There was no specific type of killing. The Pakistanis at first shelled by tanks and mortars to kill a large number of people of a locality. Then they killed innocent ones lining them up after taking them away from their houses. Some were put to death by bayonets or burnt alive by the barbaric Pakistani army. They also slaughtered people like animals. In some cases, people were tortured for months until death emancipated them. The last method was followed especially for the freedom fighters. There are many people who witnessed that freedom fighters being dragged on the streets pulled by army jeeps, which would only stop to confirm whether or not their prey was dead.
The major methods used by the Pakistanis to torture the Bengalis were: 1) verbal abuse coupled with beating until blood oozed out, 2) poking with bayonet or beating with rifle butts after hanging the victim by the leg from the ceiling, 3) the victim was stripped and kept standing for hours in public 4) burning the whole body with cigarette, 5) pushing needles through nails and the head, 6) spraying injuries with salt and chilli, 7) pushing electric rod through the anus, 8) giving urine for drinking when the victims screamed for water, 9) pushing ice through the anus or injuring the entry point of the anus with cigarette burns, 10) the victim, with his hands and legs tied, was put into a gunny bag and kept under the scorching sun, 11) keeping the injured's naked body on ice slabs, 12) denying sleep for days, high powered lights focussed on the eye, 13) giving electric shock to the sensitive parts of the body, 14) uprooting nails with the help of tweezers and 15) the head was repeatedly forced into hot water with the body hanging from the ceiling. Besides, extremely brutal sexual torture towards moth men and women was also very common.
Many accounts of brutality of Pakistani occupation army and their local collaborators were published in the international media that horrified conscious and aware people across the world. A report published in Newsweek on June 28, 1971, titled "The terrible blood bath of Tikka Khan", quoted Tony Clifton, a correspondent of Newsweek, who visited some refugee camps in Agartala of India. Clifton wrote:
"Anyone who goes to the camps and hospitals along India's border with Pakistan comes away believing the Punjabi army capable of any atrocity. I have seen babies who have been shot, men who have had their backs whipped raw. I've seen people literally struck dumb by the horror of seeing their children murdered in front of them or their daughters dragged off into sexual slavery. I have no doubt at all that there have been a hundred 'Mylais' and 'Lidices' in East Pakistan -- and I think, there will be more.
My personal reaction is one of wonder more than anything else. I've seen too many bodies to be horrified by anything much any more. But I find myself standing still again and again, wondering how any man can work himself into such a murderous frenzy."
Quoting other eye-witnesses of the Bangladesh holocaust, Newsweek wrote, New Jersey Congressman Cornelius Gallagher, who visited the Agartala hospital, says he came to India thinking the atrocity stories were exaggerated. But when he actually saw the wounded he began to believe that, if anything, the reports had been toned down. A much-decorated officer with Patton in Europe during World War II, Gallagher told me: "In the war, I saw the worst areas of France, the killing grounds in Normandy, but I never saw anything like that. It took all of my strength to keep from breaking down and crying."
Other foreigners, too, were dubious about the atrocities at first, but the endless repetition of stories from different sources convinced them. "I am certain that troops have thrown babies into the air and caught them on their bayonets," says John Hastings, a Methodist missionary who has lived in Bengal for 20 years. "I am certain that troops have raped girls repeatedly, then killed them by pushing their bayonets up between their legs."
All this savagery suggests that the Pakistani army is either crazed by blood-lust or, more likely, is carrying out a calculated policy of terror amounting to genocide against the whole Bengali population.
The Pakistani army junta would not have been able to unleash such atrocities without the active help and cooperation from the political parties named Jamaat-e-Islami Muslim League and Nizam-e-Islami Party. It was the Jamaat-e-Islami, the religio-political party led by Ghulam Azam, who from the very beginning extended all kinds of moral and physical support to the Pakistan army in their genocidal act by holding meetings and processions, writing articles in newspapers and forming killing squads like Razakar, Al-Badr, Al-Shams, etc.
The whole world burst into condemnation on March 25, 1971 when the infamous General Tikka Khan initiated a trail of genocide on the innocent people of the then East Pakistan. When everyone was awed and thunderstruck at the inhuman attack inflicted upon the Bengalis, Ghulam Azam met Tikka Khan on April 4, 1971 to assure the latter of his full support and cooperation (The Purbodesh, April 5, 1971). Ghulam Azam had another intimate meeting with Tikka Khan the next day, following which Ghulam Azam labeled our liberation war a blatant act of "Indian interference and infiltration" and declared, "patriotic people of our province will help the armed forces to counter and destroy the evil designs of India". (The Dainik Pakistan, April 7, 1971).
As a first step to help the Pakistan Army, Ghulam Azam formed a "Peace Committee" on April 10, 1971. The main objective of forming this Peace Committee was to resist the liberation war and to destroy all freedom fighters. The first meeting of the Peace Committee expressed their gratitude to the Pakistan Army for their maiden successful military operation of genocide and bitterly condemned the freedom fighters and the freedom-loving .people of our country as anti-Islamic. As a matter of fact, to a man like Ghulam Azam, Pakistan, Jamaat-e-Islami and Islam are synonymous. That is why, opposing Pakistan, to them, was opposing Islam; mere criticism of Jamaat-e-Islami tantamounts to opposing Islam itself. On April 12, 1971, Ghulam Azam led a Peace Committee procession against the liberation movement in Dhaka and at the end he prayed to Allah for granting success to Pakistan Army's crackdown on the civilian population of the then East Pakistan (The Dainik Sangram, April 13, 1971).
Alongside the Peace Committee, Ghulam Azam took a leading role in forming an armed force to help the Pakistan Army. At his instruction, one of his followers, A.K.M. Yusuf formed the Razakar Force in May 1971 with 96 Jamaat workers at an Ansar Camp at Khan Jahan Ali Road, Khulna. In the beginning, the Razakar Bahini was under the leadership of the Peace Committee. But on June 1, 1971, General Tikka Khan by proclamation of the East Pakistan Razakar Ordinance 1971 abolished the "Ansar Bahini" and turned it into "Razakar Bahini"-- but its leadership remained in the hands of Jamaat-e-Islami. On September 7, 1971, Pakistan Defence Ministry through an official order (No:4/8/52/543 P. S.= 1 /Ko/ 3659 D-Ko) elevated members of the Razakar Bahini to the status of auxiliary force of the Pakistan Armed Forces.
What the Razakars did after a short training was go to the rural areas, loot recklessly, kill innocent villagers and torture women. Used as guides in the largely unfamiliar, previously unknown areas and as advanced elements of the attacking army, they were very frequently praised by the Pakistani Generals. In a workers' meeting at Hotel Empire in Dhaka on September 25, 1971, Ghulam Azam said, "The purpose for which the Jamaat-e-Islami joined the Peace Committee and the Razakar Bahini was to keep Pakistan intact, in other words, to save Pakistan ... By embracing martyrdom, Jamaat workers have expounded the spirit that they would rather die than see Pakistan broken into pieces, disintegrated" (The Dainik Pakistan, September 26, 1971).
The Jamaat leader and founder of the Razakar Bahini A.K.M. Yusuf in a Razakar meeting held on October 11, 1971 in Khulna praised the Razakars for "resisting disgruntling activities of the miscreants and the infiltrators" (The Dainik Pakistan, October 13, 1971). General Niazi, Martial Law Administrator of the Eastern Wing after taking salutes at the passing out ceremony of the Razakar Training Camp at Savar, Dhaka observed, "Razakars' duty obligates them to identify and annihilate all Indian elements on the one hand and bring the misguided youth to the right path on the other" (The Dainik Pakistan, November 28, 1971).
Another heinous act perpetrated by the Jamaat and their associates during the liberation war of 1971 was the formation of killing squads named Al-Badr and Al-Shams Bahini. Exact replications of Hitler's Gestapo, they formulated a blueprint to kill the intellectuals by the butcher members of young Jamaat workers. Trained and inspired by their leaders, Matiur Rahman Nizami and Quamruzzaman and members of Islami Chhatra Sangha, the student front of the Jamaat-e-Islami, time and again met Pakistani General Rao Forman Ali and hatched one of the most despicable conspiracies in human history, that is, "a blue-print entailing the elimination of the intellectuals". Other chores included hunting out the freedom-lovers and executing them when found, proselytizing Hindus into Muslims by coercion, propagating Pakistani and Jamaati thinking through seminars and pamphlets and leaflets and confronting the freedom fighters, whenever possible. This murderer gang conducted an abominable rampage of killing on the great "pride" sons of the then East Pakistan just prior to their formal defeat and surrender to the liberation forces. This Al-Badr Bahini was responsible for the killing of many prominent writers, journalists, professors, physicians, engineers, scientists and hundreds of other intellectuals. On September 14, 1971, the Sangram, party paper of the Jamaat-e-Islami, wrote under the caption "Al-Badr, Al-Badr is a name! A surprise saviour! Al-Badr is a pledge! Wherever you have freedom fighters, you will also have Al-Badr. Wherever you have miscreants, you have Al-Badr there, too. To the Indian agents, spies and to the miscreants Al-Badr is nothing but Azrail (the angel of death)."
On November 7, 1971, there was a meeting of the Islami Chhatra Sangha at Baitul Mukarrom premises commemorating the historical "Badr Day" at which Ali Ahsan Muhammad Mujahid put forward a four-point programme. The declaration said, "We will not rest until the day India is made to cease to exist in the world of nations, ... from tomorrow, any book(s) written by Hindu author(s) will have no place in libraries, nor will there be any place for any publication that pampers the Hindus ... Their sale and advertisement will be completely prohibited ... anyone found to violate this prohibition will be burnt to ashes by the volunteers, volunteers charged with the flame of belief in the existence of Pakistan ... ln order to materialise this goal, you need to hold the Quran onto your chest, hold your heads high and straight and move forward with all the determination of a 'Mujahid'-- the warrior, glorified and idealised in Islam for extreme sacrifice for the cause of Islam. If need be, we will march upto New Delhi and hoist our national flag there signifying the achievement of greater Pakistan."
Mir Kashem Ali, the then General Secretary of Islami Chhatra Sangha, announced the pledge of "Badr Day": (A) We will resist Indian attack, (B) We will eliminate all miscreants, (C) We will establish an Islamic society (The Dainik Pakistan, November 8, 1971 ).
Matiur Rahman Nizami, the Commander-in-Chief of the Badr Bahini, wrote in the Sangram on November 14, 1971, "Days are not far off when our Al-Badr youths fighting alongside the Pakistani Army will trample and humiliate the Indian Forces, demolish India and will have the Islamic flag hoisted all over the world." The two other leaders of Al-Badr Bahini, Ali Ahsan Muhammad Mujahid and Mir Kashem Ali, in a statement, published on November 23, 1971 urged all members to "get ready as a soldier". Around this time, one of their pamphlets said, "Remember, you are fighting not only to save Pakistan; this war is also geared towards saving Islam. Please follow instructions given by our Amir (Ghulam Azam) to save our motherland from the evil hands of 'Namrud'."
The people, who were branded as miscreants and Indian agents, "Namruds" and bastards by the leadership of the Jamaat, were, in reality, the "pride sons" of this country, the heroes among heroes, the freedom fighters. It is through their life-risking struggle, indomitable, enviable sacrifice and human blood that the independence of Bangladesh was achieved.
Those who perpetrated one of the most brutal atrocities since the dawn of history went unpunished. Just after the war the government led by Bangabondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman started the trial of local collaborators under the law popularly known as "Collaborators Act". After the assassination of Bangabondhu and his close associates, General Ziaur Rahman assumed power and stopped the trial process that had started since 1972. Gen. Zia also accommodated a huge number of war criminals and collaborators of Pakistani occupation army in his party named Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Since then, the family members of the victims of war along with the members of the civil society have been crying for justice.
Finally, after 39 years of the holocaust of '71, International Crimes Tribunal was formed in Dhaka, at old High Court building on March 25, 2010 under International Crimes (Tribunals) Act enacted in 1973, for the trial of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated in Bangladesh during the nine-month-long liberation war of 1971.
If we want to stop genocide or any kind of war and crimes against humanity, the perpetrators must be brought to book in order to ensure justice and peace as well as to protect human civilisation.
Shahriar Kabir is a writer, journalist, filmmaker, researcher on the liberation war and genocide of 1971 and a human rights activist.