Victims of a genocide

January 29, 2023

Genocide and war crimes allegations with regard to the 1971 war deserve an accurate accounting

Victims of a genocide


wo US Congressmen, Chabot from Ohio, a Republican, and Khanna from California, Democrat, moved a resolution titled Recognising the Bangladesh Genocide of 1971 in the House of Representative on October 14, calling for the House to recognise that “atrocities against ethnic Bengalis and Hindus constitute crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.”

1971 was an exceptional year for the subcontinent. The events referred to are deeply rooted in the region’s history. The area comprising Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, once known as Suba Bangal, was rich in both agriculture and industry. It attracted immigrants and colonisers throughout the medieval period. In 1757, the English East India Company occupied the territory and introduced a discriminatory policy aimed at eliminating Muslims from socio-economic power by promoting upper-caste Hindus. The Islamophobic and White supremacist approach of the EIC was compatible with the outlook of upper-caste Hindus. As a result, Muslims were left impoverished under British rule. After the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the colonisers began discriminating against the Muslim aristocracy in areas that later became West Pakistan. This had a direct bearing on the demand for an independent Pakistan.

Lord Macaulay’s “brown sahibs,” or Indians with English tastes, denied the contribution of Bengali Muslims to the Pakistan movement.They also denied them their rightful share in the country’s civil and military bureaucracy and economic growth. Justice Abu Saleh Muhammad Akram, the senior-most serving judge, was by-passed and Justice Muhammad Munir became the second chief justice of the Supreme Court.The brown sahibs, many from West Pakistan, denied the East Pakistani citizens their fair share of the state’s resources, despite East Pakistan being the main source of export income.

Faced with protests against his dictatorial rule, President Ayub Khan handed over power to the chief of armed forces, Yahya Khan, instead of the speaker of the National Assembly, who was from East Pakistan. Yahya Khan held a general election in 1970. In East Pakistan, the Awami League secured the most seats in the parliament, disallowed rallies by rival parties. On January 18, 1970, they attacked an opposition rally in Dhaka, killing two people and injuring hundreds. The AL had a history of fascist tactics. In 1957, some of its leaders were involved in the killing of the deputy speaker of the East Pakistan provincial assembly during a session. Its student wing was known for campus violence throughout East Pakistan.

In the late 1960s, some supporters of the Awami League in East Pakistan began receiving support from abroad. Former KGB agent Yuri Bezmenov later revealed in an interview that the Soviet Union had helped efforts to break Pakistan apart and that India was also involved in these efforts. Later, more evidence emerged of India’s involvement in supporting separatist elements in East Pakistan.

An Indian friend told the author that he was offered assistance in a personal dispute by being supplied with grenades, which he later learned were officially given to his neighbour while working with India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in East Pakistan during the last days of the Ayub regime.

In August 1971, the then government of East Pakistan published a White Paper on atrocities committed against non-Bengalis and pro-Pakistan Bengalis. However, it had little impact on mainstream media, even in Pakistan.

Despite such claims, as soon as the election results were announced in 1970, negotiations began between military and political leaders in Pakistan. Meanwhile, extremist elements in the AL began targeting non-Bengalis in East Pakistan, looting and vandalising their properties, and committing acts of violence including murder and rape. Neither the martial law authorities nor the civilian government took adequate action against the perpetrators.

On March 25, 1971, the Yahya government decided to take military action. According to a recently self-published book, the killing and rape of non-Bengali communities continued after March 25. A Bangladeshi academic, Taj Hashmi, states in his book,Fifty Years of Bangladesh, 1971-2021: Crisis of Culture, Development, Governance and Identity, that at Siraj Ganj, a small town in northern Bangladesh, he lost many Bihari school friends who were killed by Bengali lynchmobs before the Pakistani army entered the town. A friend of mine from Siraj Ganj,who lived in the town at the time, confirmed this story.He said an unfamiliar person had come to their town a few days before the arrival of the army and instigated the local population to attack non-Bengalis in retaliation for the alleged Bengali killings in Dhaka.

Sarmila Bose, the Indian-American academic, has conducted extensive research on the subject. In 2006, she wrote an article in The Telegraph.It said, “The massacre may have been genocide, but it wasn’t committed by the army. The dead men were non-Bengali residents of Jessore, butchered in broad daylight by Bengali nationalists.”

Notably, the UScongressmen did not mention the massacre of non-Bengalis in 1971.

In August 1971, the then government of East Pakistan published a White Paper on atrocities committed against non-Bengalis and pro-Pakistan Bengalis. However, it had little impact on mainstream media, even in Pakistan. Qutubuddin Aziz published Blood and Tears with 170 eyewitness accounts of atrocities committed against people from West Pakistan, Biharis and other non-Bengalis and pro-Pakistan Bengalis in 55 towns. Decades later, one of the victims wrote that they had contacted a national English newspaper and offered to write about the issue, but the paper was not interested, it wanted to focus on the Pakistan Army’s role.

In March 1971, the martial law regime imposed a war on the population of East Pakistan. This made non-Bengalis and pro-Pakistani Bengalis vulnerable to aggression from secessionist elements. The regime also kicked out all foreign journalists and heavily censored internal press. Subsequent governments in Pakistan chose to remain silent on the issue, and reports of non-Bengali massacres in various parts of East Pakistan were ignored.

As a college student at the time, I participated in several protest demonstrations during the last days of the Ayub regime. However, the reports of organised massacres all over East Pakistan had shocked me. My Indian friend’s assertion that there were RAW agents in East Pakistan seems to make sense.

Genocide is a serious allegation. There must be evidence of organised killings and the elimination of a community for this. The issue is unlikely to disappear soon.The proposition of this resolution should be taken seriously.

The writer is a Professor of Comparative Civilisations and History

Victims of a genocide