British India was divided in 1947 into India and Pakistan based on religion; East Bengal became East Pakistan, despite geographical separation and little cultural and historical connections. Punjabis and Sindhis, at the helm of power in Pakistan, could not accept Bengalis as fellow citizens, which eventually gave rise to discrimination, violence and then genocide against people of East Pakistan.
In his documentary titled “Merciless Mayhem”, filmmaker Fuad Chowdhury has tried to recount the events leading to the emancipation of Bengalis from the West Pakistan [now Pakistan] perspective. The documentary was screened yesterday at Bishwo Shahitto Kendro in the capital.
The documentary features mostly interviews of West Pakistanis, some of whom had spent considerable time in the eastern wing working as military officials, bureaucrats and journalists. TV footage of Pakistani politicians sharing some details on the history helped link the narratives and depict a picture of what was happening on the other side when Bengalis were being massacred.
Discrimination and hatred against dark-skinned Bengalis had been visible since Pakistan's formation. Though they comprised 55 percent of the population, only 20 percent resources were allocated to Bengalis.
Almost all of the income from jute export was coming from its cultivation in East Pakistan but the money went to West, apparent from its economic growth and industrialisation.
On November 12, 1970, when a cyclone devastated coastal areas of East Pakistan, around 5 lakh people were killed. Aid and relief materials came from international communities but Pakistani army personnel didn't deliver those to the survivors until November 22-23 on the pretext of not getting transport, said Roshan Zamir, former federal secretary of Pakistan Government, in the documentary.
Then came general election on December 7. A majority in Pakistan anticipated Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's victory after the Awami League's landslide victory under his leadership. That was the first time in 23 years after independence from the British that Pakistanis thought democracy was imminent. Though he was a Bengali, Sheikh Mujib was very popular even among the people in West Pakistan.
Those who were at the helm, however, had something else on their minds.
The announcement of Urdu to become the national language by Muhammad Ali Jinnah sowed the seeds of discord. The following events, one after another, only helped create a situation leading to war. Ethnicity, religion, culture, language all played their part. The rulers of West Pakistan thought Bengali Muslims were not true Muslims as they spoke Bangla which originated from Sanskrit.
Pakistan could have been a utopia had the power been handed over to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, said a journalist living in Canada in the documentary. “In the name of religion, it had been turned into hell,” he added.