Chuknagar: A shocking savagery
It was around 11:00am on May 20, 1971.
A truck and a jeep, full of Pakistani soldiers, reached the Jhautala area of Malotia intersection of Chuknagar, a small village back then in Atolia union under Khulna's Dumuria upazila.
A farmer was working in his jute field nearby. Before he could understand anything, the Pakistan army fired at him, killing him on the spot. As the occupation troops approached the village, they found a demolished culvert, which connects two parts of the village.
From that point, the platoon got divided into three raiding parties -- one of which entered Chuknagar bazaar, another went towards Malopara-Raypara area along the Bhadra river, and the remaining group strode towards Patkhola Beel.
A huge number of refugees took shelter at that time at Patkhola Beel. As one of the marauding groups found the refugees gathered there, they started firing indiscriminately. Another group coming from Malopara-Raypara area soon joined the army.
People started running frantically for life, but most of them were gunned down. The entire marsh turned into a sea of bodies.
"When they started firing, I ran to a nearby mosque. A girl from our neighbouring house covered me with a mattress to hide me. Although I survived, eight of my family members -- my father, uncles, cousins, aunts -- were killed by the Pakistan army on that day," said Nitai Gain, now in his mid-70s, recalling the brutal massacre.
On that day, more than 10,000 people, mostly belonging to the Hindu community, were slain by the Pakistan army at Chuknagar in only six hours, according to "Bangladesher Shadhinota Juddho: Dalilpatro".
The genocide of Chuknagar was the most brutal and extensive massacre committed by the Pakistan army during the Liberation War. They started the massacre at 11:00am and stopped at 5:00pm on May 20 only due to the fact that they ran out of ammunition. Most of the bodies were dumped into the Bhadra.
"Nobody will believe what happened that day. No words can describe the unimaginable horror. There were so many bodies all around the field that it was impossible to bury them or burn them in accordance with the ritual," Abul Kalam, a merchant of Chuknagar bazaar and a witness to the massacre, told The Daily Star.
"So, the bazaar committee decided to dispose of the bodies into the river as the nearby Bhadra and Ghangrail rivers were quite torrential. We hired 40-45 labourers from the jute warehouses to take care of the bodies. They threw many bodies into the river. People of Chuknagar and the nearby villages became so frightened that they never ventured near these rivers for the rest of the war," he said.
As Chuknagar, now a small town, was located near a navigable river channel and was too remote to be occupied by the Pakistan army, refugees considered it an ideal route for their journey to the Indian border.
Thousands of refugees started to gather at Chuknagar at the beginning of May 1971. On the 18th and 19th of May, thousands of people from Bagerhat, Rampal, Morelganj, Sharankhola, Mongla, Dakope, Batiaghata, Chalna and even many people from as far as Faridpur and Barishal started to come to Chuknagar.
They used to rest at Chuknagar after crossing the Bhadra before continuing their journey to the Indian border.
At that time, Golam Hossain, a Muslim League leader, was the chairman of the Atolia union council. When Golam (now deceased) learnt about the massive gathering of refugees at Chuknagar, he informed the Pakistan army stationed in Satkhira district. They sent a platoon of soldiers on May 20 to conduct a raid at Chuknagar, locals said.
Shushila Bairagi, now in her 90s, is one of the survivors who lost seven of her family members on that fateful day.
She said almost all the inhabitants of her village, named Aushkhali in Khulna's Batiaghata, started leaving their homes on the 4th of Jaishtha (the second month of summer according to the Bangla calendar) and boarded three boats.
Once they reached Chuknagar, they wanted to have their meal and start for the border, she said.
"As soon as we started preparation for cooking, the Pakistan army invaded the area from the west. They were firing at us and we were running to save our lives. My brother-in-law was hit by a bullet and instantly fell on the ground," she said.
"All of a sudden, my son and my son-in-law got hit by bullets. I went to my son-in-law and saw his lifeless body. Then I ran to my son and found him dead. At that time, we could not think of anything else other than saving our lives. The entire field was covered with bodies," she added.
(The article was translated from Bangla to English by Md Shahnawaz Khan Chandan)