Freedom fighters, war crimes researchers, martyrs' family members, war crimes prosecutors and different pro-liberation organisations yesterday blasted BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia for her comment questioning the number of martyrs in the country's Liberation War.
Khaleda, through her comment, reiterated what Pakistan and anti-liberation Jamaat-e-Islami have been claiming about the 1971 martyrs, they said, demanding an apology from Khaleda.
They also urged the government to enact a law, like European countries' Holocaust Denial Act, with provisions of punishment for denial of historically established facts and settled issues.
The BNP chief, in her first public address in more than a year on Monday, said, “There are controversies over how many were martyred in the Liberation War. There are also many books and documents on the controversies.”
Khaleda's comment came hot on the heels of Pakistan's denial last month of committing any war crimes or atrocities in Bangladesh during the nine-month bloody war.
Official figure of the war death toll is 30 lakh (three million). Some 2.5 lakh (a quarter million) women were raped by the Pakistani occupation forces and their local collaborators. About 10 million people fled the country to take shelter in India, while millions more were internally displaced.
Experts said in case of war that involved atrocities carried out in vast areas for a considerably long time, headcount can never be the basis for determining the number of causalities. The figure of genocide victims is always determined by the victims' country.
After the World War-II, the allied forces claimed that the Nazi forces had killed six million Jews. Though the lawyers for the Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg Tribunal and later Nazi sympathisers questioned the figure, the official figure remains six million, as was provided by the allied governments.
To prevent distortion of history, 14 European nations enacted Holocaust Denial Act under which denial of the genocide figure of WW-II is a punishable offence. Even the countries which were among the perpetrators of the Holocaust, including Austria and Germany, have banned Holocaust denial, they said.
MA Hasan, convener of the War Crimes Facts Finding Committee, told The Daily Star that the number of martyrs was finalised considering all the aspects. The findings of the committee's research also support the official estimate.
“There are some national issues which should not be debated. Like the national anthem, the national flag and the country's sovereignty. The figure of Liberation War martyrs is one such issue which no one should question,” said Hasan, also a freedom fighter.
“In 197, we fought for dignity, truth and justice and the martyrs laid down their lives for the cause ... By questioning the figure of martyrs, she [Khaleda] eventually questioned her own dignity and integrity,” said Hasan.
“This [figure of martyrs] is not someone's kitchen talk that you can put a question mark over it,” he said, adding that her comment would only serve the interest of Pakistan and its collaborators.
Mofidul Hoque, trustee of the Liberation War Museum, said the figure of martyrs must be treated with due sensitivity and respect.
“But her [Khaleda] comment shows utter disrespect to the millions who laid down their lives and perished in the black hole of genocide in 1971,” he said.
Eminent war crimes researcher Shahriar Kabir on Monday said the stance of Pakistan, the Jamaat and the BNP regarding the 1971 genocide and the ongoing war crimes trial is the same. “I was not surprised by her comment.”
“She simply reconfirmed her stance,” said Shahriar, also executive president of Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee that has been campaigning for war crimes trial for more than two decades.
In a press release yesterday, the committee said that through her comment, Khaleda proved that she was still loyal to Pakistan and demanded that she offer an apology.
After the Liberation War, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the government which led the Liberation War repeatedly said that the Pakistan occupation forces and their local collaborators killed 30 lakh people and different international media also put the same number.
Referring to the example of Holocaust Denial Act in Europe, the Nirmul Committee said, “If such acts are not enacted in Bangladesh and the BNP comes to power in future, the history and the spirit of the Liberation War will disappear and the attempt to belittle the war martyrs will not stop.”
Prosecutor of the International Crimes Tribunal Rana Dasgupta said, “Although Khaleda Zia is a widow of a freedom fighter, she is making comments in the tone of Pakistan and Jamaat.”
He said perpetrators of such crimes always tried to question the figure of martyrs to create controversy over the issue and even the trial of such crimes. “Now, Khaleda Zia is trying to do so.”
Another Prosecutor, Tureen Afroz, demanded that the government formulate a law immediately so that no one could deny historically established facts regarding the 1971 war.
Asif Munier, son of martyred intellectual Prof Munier Chowdhury, said Khaleda's comment was not only disrespectful for the martyrs' families but also for the entire nation. “However, I was not surprised because there is a trend to distort history in our country. And by such comments, we do not get confused because only truth will prevail.”
Bangladesh Workers Party said Khaleda made the comment to make the atrocities of Pakistani army and their local collaborators look trifle. The party demanded Khaleda be brought to book for siding with war criminals.
The Central Command Council of Bangladesh Muktijoddha Sangsad also blasted Khaleda for making “cooked up, false, fabricated, confusing and ill-motivated comment”.
Besides, the social media was flooded with sharp criticisms of the former prime minister for the remark.