1971: Another chapter in world history when intellectuals were targeted | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 14, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 06:44 PM, December 14, 2018

1971: Another chapter in world history when intellectuals were targeted

"We name people Jews or Gypsies, or distinguish them by colours or dress, and apply them to members of groups." Dr. Gregory H. Stanton articulated the given instance to explain “symbolisation” which is one of the ten stages of genocide. This stage is concerned with giving names or symbols to the members of a particular group with a view to committing genocide against them.

Adolf Hitler symbolised the Polish intellectuals during the World War II (WWII) and executed intelligenzaktion pommern which was a Nazi German operation aimed at the elimination of the intellectuals. This scenario seemingly pictures the 1971 operation liquidation sought and implemented by the Pakistani Army and their local collaborators (e.g. Razakar, Al-Badr, Al-Shams). The same incidents happened, among all, in Armenia during 1915 and Cambodia during the 1970s. The foremost commonality of all these genocide is that many academics, politicians, poets, writers, teachers, doctors; journalists were targeted and then killed by the perpetrators.

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Raphael Lemkin coined the term “genocide” for the first time in 1944 which has been derived from the Greek term genos (i.e. race, tribe, or nation) and the Latin term cide (i.e. killing). The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (hereinafter referred to as the Genocide Convention) defines genocide as committing any of the acts such as 'killing members of the group'; 'causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group'; 'deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part'; 'imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group'; and 'forcibly transferring children of the group to another group' with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group (Article 2).

Even though the term genocide itself is of a new derivation, its practice has a long historical period. The incidents of genocide since the enforcement of the 1948 Genocide Convention include Australian "Stolen Generations" (1910 - 1970s), First Sudanese Civil War (1955 - 1972), Brazilian Indian Genocide (1957 – 1968), Tibet (1959 - 1966), Rwanda (1962 - 1963), Zanzibar Revolution (1964), Indonesia (1965 -1967), Nigerian-Biafran War (1967 - 1970), Aché Indians (1968 - 1978), Guatemala (1968 - 1996), Bangladesh (1971), Uganda (1971 - 1979), Burundi (1972), Cambodia (1975 - 1979), Second Sudanese Civil War (1983 - 2005), Sri Lanka (1983 - 2009), Khojaly Massacre (1992), Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992 - 1995), Rwanda (1994), North Korea (Mid 1990s - present), Darfur (2003- present), Mass Atrocities in Libya (2011), Yemen (2011), Syria (2011 - present).

The killings of intellectuals by the perpetrators usually happen during the beginning of every genocide.  It is also termed as eliticide or elitocide which refers to 'the killing of the leadership, the educated, and the clergy of a group'. Among all the given instances, there are a few genocides in which it is evident that the intellectuals were considered mostly a “national group” and thereafter, killed by the perpetrators with an intention to destroy the same.

During the Armenian genocide on 24 April 1915, approximately 250 doctors, lawyers, politicians, government officials, teachers, writers, poets and other Armenian intellectuals were arrested overnight and killed within 72 hours. Subsequently, about 2,345 Armenian intellectuals were arrested and killed in Constantinople. At present, April 24 is observed as the annual commemoration day of the Armenian genocide.

At the time of the WWII, a plan called intelligenzaktion pommern was made to destroy the Polish intellectuals and elites comprising teachers, doctors, priests, and community leaders. The Germans including Adolf Hitler regarded them as threats to their operations of occupying Europe because they apprehended that these people might persuade Poles to refuse to comply with their new German leaders' commands. As a result, they killed more than 0.1 million Polish intellectuals and elites till 1940.

Afterwards, under the purview of the AB-Aktion, second stage of the Nazi Germany campaign, the perpetrators began to disappear and kill the intellectuals as well as the upper class Poles. Under this plan, they arrested more than 7,000 Polish teachers, priests, and community leaders and killed them in various places of the Palmiry Forest. It should be mentioned that the Nazis executed both the plans in order to destroy the leaderships of the Poles.    

In Cambodia, during the rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, an anti-intellectualism plan was adopted with a view to oppressing the persons who used to oppose the political decisions. Specifically, the academics or the people who used to merely wear eyeglasses were targeted and thereafter, killed in several places of Cambodia. It is alleged that more than a million people were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge during the 1970s. This Cambodian genocide is broadly considered one of the examples of state-sponsored genocide of the world.     

From the above-mentioned genocidal experiences, it seems that the Bangladesh genocide including the killings of intellectuals is one of the most inhuman actions committed by the Pakistani Army. On March 25, 1971, Operation searchlight was launched by the Pakistani Army with the purpose of disarming and liquidating Bengali policemen, soldiers and military officers; and to arrest, kill and round up professionals, intellectuals, and students. Right after the said operation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared independence of Bangladesh in the early hour of March 26, 1971. Immediately after that, he was arrested by the Pakistani authorities.

From then on, the Liberation War continued for long nine months (March 1971 - 16 December 1971). In this entire period, the Pakistani Army and their local collaborators continued to commit massive and recurrent horrific atrocities directed against the Bengali civilian populace but failed to frustrate the movement for independence.

The then President Yahya Khan at the February conference: declared "[k]ill three million of them and the rest will eat out of our hands" which is regarded as a campaign of genocide.

It has become a settled truth that following this campaign, approximately three million Bangalee people were killed, about 300,000 women were raped, and nearly 10 million people were deported to India as refugees by the Pakistani Army with the substantive contribution of their local collaborators. In addition, the Pakistani army along with their local collaborators displaced millions of people internally, and they devastated properties of the general population of the then East Pakistan in an unparalleled manner. After such war for the cause of independence and self-determination, we finally achieved our victory on December 16, 1971.

However, we cannot forget the atrocities initiated by the Operation Searchlight on March 25, 1971. The Pakistani Army started exterminating many groups such as nationalist intellectuals, academics and students, cultural figures, media workers, and even sports figures to destroy the Bengali nationalism in a single stroke. Again, they made a plan named Operation Liquidation to kill only the Bengali intellectuals. The biggest number of killings of intellectuals took place on March 25 and December 14, 1971. In this regard, a well-known researcher on genocide, R.J. Rummel, pointed out: "In East Pakistan [General Agha Mohammed Yahya Khan and his top generals] also planned to murder its Bengali intellectual, cultural, and political elite. They also planned to indiscriminately murder hundreds of thousands of its Hindus and drive the rest into India. And they planned to destroy its economic base to insure that it would be subordinate to West Pakistan for at least a generation to come."

The events of killing the intellectuals during the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh raise three particular questions concerning the perpetrators, the places, as well as manners of doing the same. 

First of all, with regard to the question as to who were responsible for killing the intellectuals, Lawrence Lifschultz in his book titled, Bangladesh: The Unfinished Revolution depicts, "[t]he Al-Badr organisation, a fanatical religious group which operated as a paramilitary arm to the Pakistan Army in 1971, was responsible for some of the worst killings during the war, particularly of nationalist intellectuals." Correspondingly, in a report titled, Butchery By Al-Badr, circulated in the Patriot, New Delhi, on December 23, 1971 states: "when the Pakistanis were overpowered, they left the killing to the fascist Al-Badr, the armed wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami. This fascist body has already butchered about 200 leading intellectuals, doctors, professors and scientists..." Furthermore, in an interview, Mr. John Stonehouse, a British Labour M.P., stated to Press Trust of India (PTI) in New Delhi on December 20, 1971 that, 'during his visit to Dacca yesterday (December 19), he got the names of these Pakistani army officers who organised the murders, and members of Al-Badr, an extremist Muslim group, who carried out these heinous crimes [of killing of intellectuals] just before the surrender of Pakistani forces in Dacca.'

Secondly, a report titled, Choranter Chanchollokor Dolil, published in the daily Purbadesh on December 22, 1971 depicts a secret meeting held in Mohammadpur, Dhaka on 9 August 1971 which results in killing hundreds of intellectuals in different places including Dhaka. A book titled Ekattorer Ghatok Dalalra Ke Kothay, reveals that the perpetrators used to abduct the intellectuals blindfolded who were brought at the Al-Badr headquarters set up at the Mohammadpur Physical Training College and butchered at the nearby mass graves. It has been evident that the Mohammadpur Physical Training Institute was a “Torture Camp” where most of the targeted intellectuals were brought after being picked up blindfolded from their home.

Finally, it is commonly known to the people that the intellectuals of Bangladesh were killed to be dumped at the riverside brickfield. More specifically, the main spots of execution in Dhaka city were the marshy land at Rayerbazar near Mohammadpur and another at Mirpur in an extremely barbaric manner. It has mostly been heard that they were either shot in the head or buried alive with their hands tied back. Some had their eyes plucked off too.

Data shows that nearly 80 percent of the intellectuals of Dhaka were killed and many of the distorted corpses were barely recognisable. However, there are some other places like "the Thataribazar killing field, Bosila Etakhola (now Kaderabad housing in Mohammadpur), Shirnirtek killing field, Lohar Bridge killing field at Gabtali (beside Amin Bazaar bridge), several mass graves in Mohammadpur, the killing field in Rokeya Hall of Dhaka University, the mass grave in Adabor and the killing field in Sharengbari in Mirpur which have no mark or sign of identification." As a matter of fact, we typically know about Rayerbazar and Mirpur Boddho Bhumi as intellectuals killing ground.

Just like other genocides around the world, the Bengali intellectuals were killed for the purpose of making Bangladesh a talentless State. In the case of the International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh (ICT-BD) concerning Ashrafuzzaman and Chowdhury Mueen Uddin (ICT-BD (I) of 2013), Ali Ahsan Muhammad Mujahid (ICT-BD (IV) of 2012), and Motiur Rahman Nizami (ICT-BD (III) of 2011), it has already been iterated and proved that the persons of diverse professions namely professors, journalists, activists, doctors, artists, writers, engineers, civil servants and so on were targeted mainly as “national group”. These cases also indicate that they were killed with an intention to destroy the Bengali national group as they were the people who used to promote and seed the spirit of nationalism in the heart of the Bengalis through various social and cultural activities.

The strategy of intellectual killings is not new in case of genocides as it is seen that it happened during Armenian Genocide, WWII, as well as Cambodian genocide. In 1971, the Bengali intellectuals were massacred just because they were the bearers of the nation's intellect and conscience of our nation. 

The writer is currently working as Lecturer at the Department of Law, East West University. He is also a Volunteer and Researcher at the Center for the Study of Genocide and Justice (CSGJ), Liberation War Museum, Bangladesh.  



Books and Articles

[1] Akmam, Wardatul, 'Atrocities against Humanity during the Liberation War in Bangladesh: A Case of Genocide', (2002) 4(4) Journal of Genocide Research 543, 550.

[2] Alam, Helemul, 'Killing grounds left uncared for', The Daily Star (Online), 15 December 2014, available at: <https://www.thedailystar.net/killing-grounds-left-uncared-for-55480> accessed on 5 December 2018.

[3] Bangladesh Documents (Volume II), Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi, 573.

[4] Bangladesh Genocide Archive,

available at: <http://www.genocidebangladesh.org/martyred-intellectuals/> accessed on 1 December 2018.

[5] Beachler, Donald, 'The Politics of Genocide Scholarship: The Case of Bangladesh', (2007) 41(5) Patterns of Prejudice 467, 476 – 7.

[6] Blood, Archer K., The Cruel Birth of Bangladesh: Memories of an American Diplomat (Dhaka: The University Press Limited, 2002) p. 23.

[7] Brownmiller, Susan, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape (New York: Simon & Schuster 1975) p. 30.

[8] Demuynck, Sarah et. al., 'Acts of Genocide Committed since the Adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1951', available at: <http://www.ipahp.org/index.php?en_acts-of-genocide> accessed on 6 December 2018.

[9] Farid, Cynthia, 'New Paths to Justice: A Tale of Social Justice Lawyering in Bangladesh', (2013 - 14) 31 Wisconsin International Law Journal 1, 13.

[10] Hoque, Mofidul, 'Bangladesh 1971: A Forgotten Genocide', The Daily Star (Online), 4 March 2013, available at: <http://www.thedailystar.net/bangladesh-1971-a-forgotten-genocide-50941> accessed on 3 December 2018.

[11] Hossain, Dr. Ashfaque & Umme Wara, 'The United Nations and the International Crimes (Tribunal) Act 1973 of Bangladesh', (2014) Journal of the 1st Winter School (Center for the Study of Genocide and Justice, Liberation War Museum) 1, 11.

[12] Jahan, Raunaq, 'Eyewitness Accounts: Genocide in Bangladesh', (1997) New York: Garland Publishing 1, 291.

[13] Mascarenhas, Anthony, The Rape of Bangla Desh (Delhi: Vikas Publications, 1972) p. 116-17.

[14] Payne, Robert, Massacre: The Tragedy at Bangla-Desh and the Phenomenon of Mass Slaughter throughout History (London: Macmillan Company, 1st ed., 1973) p. 50.

[15] Radeska, Tijana, 'People were killed for being academics during the 1970's in Cambodia', 25 August 2016, available at: <https://www.thevintagenews.com/2016/08/25/priority-people-killed-academi... accessed on 3 December 2018.

[16] Salik, Siddiq, Witness to Surrender (Dhaka: The University Press Limited, 1st ed., 1997) p. 140.

[17] Wara, Umme, 'The 1971 Massacre of Intellectuals in Bangladesh: Genocide?' (2017) 17(1& 2) Bangladesh Journal of Law 99, 101.

ICT-BD Cases

[18] The Chief Prosecutor vs.  Ali Ahsan Muhammad Mujahid, ICT-BD (IV) of 2012.

[19] The Chief Prosecutor vs. Ashrafuzzaman Khan, ICT-BD (I) of 2013.

[20] The Chief Prosecutor vs. Motiur Rahman Nizami, ICT-BD (III) of 2011.

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