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war71Sarmila Bose, a denier of rape committed by Pakistani military and an apologist for Pakistani atrocities in East Pakistan in 1971, returns with (perhaps with more distortions) her new book ‘‘Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War’’ scheduled to be discussed at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington DC, on March 15, 2011. Around 2005-06, she was widely rebutted for her distorted views on the Liberation War in an article “Anatomy of Violence: Analysis of Civil War in East Pakistan in 1971” published in the Oct 8, 2005 issue of the Economic and Political Weekly. (i)

In the article, while Sarmila Bose rightly pointed out that “there has been little systematic study of the violent conflicts during the nine-month long civil war,” she and others (see, e.g. Bose, 2005; and Mohaiemen, 2008) (ii), so-called ‘self-righteous’ truth seekers appear to be filling the vacuum in rewriting, revising, and, even, twisting the history of Liberation War on their own volition, based largely on selective references, reports published by Pakistan government in 1971, and the eye-witness accounts of the Pakistani military officials.

For example, both Bose and Mohaiemen termed the 1971 crisis in East Pakistan as ‘civil war’ although the 1971 crisis is most commonly referred to in Bangladesh as either Liberation War (or Mukti Juddho) or Independence War (Shadinota Juddho). The use of the term ‘civil war’ in reference to 1971 in East Pakistan is an attempt to “deflect the attention from its genocidal connotation” as argued by Mookherjee (2006) in a rebuttal to Sarmila Bose’s article (iii). Indeed, instead of referring to such analyses as being “a systematic analysis of the context and nature of violence in the conflict of 1971,” as Sarmila Bose claimed, one must reject such articles as systematic attempt to discount the severity of the brutal assault of Pakistani military on Bengali people.


In her article, she claimed that (a) “The civil war was not merely between the two wings of Pakistan, but also within the territory of East Pakistan, between Bengalis and non-Bengalis, and Bengalis themselves, who were bitterly divided between those who favoured independence for Bangladesh and those who supported the unity and integrity of Pakistan,” (b) the atrocity in East Pakistan was provoked by the resistance of Bengali nationalists, (c) violence committed by both sides with Bengalis attacking Biharis at the beginning of the war, provoking Pakistani military and Bihari reprisals followed by Bengali retribution against Biharis toward the end of the war and afterwards, and (d) no evidence of rape of Bengali women by Pakistani Military could be found.

Her prevarication reflected in her: constant and deliberate attempt to depict Pakistani military officials as compassionate individuals, apparently, to deflect the severity of genocide committed by Pakistani military on the Bengali populace; heavy emphasis on Bengali atrocities on Biharis; deliberate and frequent use of the word ‘male’ to discount the violence against women; use of the phrase “collective punishment” to justify mass killings of Pakistani atrocities; frequently terming the ‘freedom fighters’ as ‘Bengali nationalist rebels’ to deflect attention from the broader historical, cultural, social, political, and economic context of West Pakistani discrimination behind the Liberation War; and, the use of specific example based on selective references, reports published by West Pakistani regime, and interviews of former Pakistani military commanders to deny the broader perspective of the West Pakistani military atrocities.

The review of only one study, by Beachler (2007), containing an objective analysis of the Liberation War, would expose her distorted views and undoubtedly prompt one to throw the 16-page contorted analysis of the Liberation War into the historical recycle bin. (iv)


Sarmila Bose’s views of the Liberation War remind the author of the denials by a group of academia of the major genocides in world history including the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide. In “Why deniers deny?”, Charny, a leading scholar on Genocide studies, wrote in 2001, that “… deniers are not necessarily rabid anti-some people, like anti-Semites and haters of Armenians, but may more simply be out for their personal gain, economic advantage, or even more simply career advantage — research grants imply a combination both of financial resources as well as opportunities to engage in research in desired settings.” (v)1

In another article, Charny and Fromer (1990, 1998) presented five “conceptual characteristics of ‘innocent denial’.” Among the five, one referred to as ‘Innocence-and-Self-Righteousness’ appears to fit the profile of Sarmila Bose. According to this feature of denial, “The respondents claim that they only intend to ascertain the truth. Moreover, they do not believe that human beings could have been so evil as the descriptions of the genocide imply (as reflected in Sarmila Bose’s defence for Pakistani military officials). Furthermore, even if many deaths took place a long time ago, it is important to put them aside now and forgive and forget (similarly, Sarmila Bose proposed, in the last sentence of her article, “efforts towards reconciliation, rather than the recrimination that has so far been its hallmark .”).(vi)

Sarmila Bose derives her credibility from her being affiliated with multitudes of renowned organisations, being a Hindu of Indian origin, and being a Harvard graduate. However, her apparent objectivity, true intentions, and wisdom are exposed in her passionate defence for Pakistani cause reflected in a co-authored article published in ‘Christian Science Monitor’ on April 11, 2005(vii). In the article, not only did she defend the US sale of F-16 to Pakistan, but she also referred to Pakistan as a stable Muslim democracy and praised former military ruler General Musharraf as a moderniser.


Dr. ABM Nasir is an Associate Professor of Economics at the North Carolina Central University, USA.

(i) Bose, Sarmila (2005). “Anatomy of Violence: Analysis of Civil War in East Pakistan in 1971.” EPW, October 8.

(ii)  Mohaiemen, Naeem (2008). “Accelerated Media and the 1971 Civil War in Bangladesh,” EPW, January 26.

(iii)  Mookherjee, Nayanika  (2006). “Skewing the history of rape in 1971 A prescription for reconciliation?” EPW, Vol. 41 No 36: 3901-3903.

(iv)  Beachler, Donald (2007). “The politics of genocide scholarship: the case of Bangladesh,” Patterns of Prejudice (2007). Beachler also indicated that “No book-length study of the genocide in Bangladesh has been published in the United States; essays about it have appeared in some collections on genocide not in others.” Beachler also referred to only one article “Atrocities against humanity during the liberation war in Bangladesh” by Akmam, Wadratul (2002) appeared in the Journal of Genocide Research.

(v)  Charny, Israel W. (2001). “The Psychological Satisfaction of Denials of the Holocaust or Other Genocides by Non-Extremists or Bigots, and Even by Known Scholars,” The IDEA Journal, July 17.

(vi)  Charny, Israel W. and Fromer, Daphna (1998). “Denying the Armenian Genocide: Patterns of thinking as defence-mechanisms,” Patterns of Prejudice, 39-49.

(vii)  Milam, William B. and Sarmila Bose (2005). “The right stuff: F-16s to Pakistan is wise decision.” Christian Science Monitor, April 11.

20 Responses to “Return of Sarmila Bose”

  1. S.Khan

    I think she is doing an excellent job in bringing out the truth. We should be sorry to all those who lost their lives mainly East Pakistanis (Bengalies), West pakistanis, Biharis, and Indians who fought with Mukti Bahnis.
    Bangladesh people need to think rationally about their distorted version on all accounts. Unless they correct themselves in their history, majority of world will continue to treat them and believe them as they are.
    It is also time for others to speak truth.

  2. Sarwar Chowdhury

    Sharmila Bose’s denial of ethnic cleansing and rape carried out by the Pakistani military on the unarmed civilians of Bangladesh will hardly have any altering influence on the discourse of the Liberation War of Bangladesh.

    Bose’s interpretation is much too weak to deserve any serious attention either from researchers of the War of Liberation, or from those of us who are still alive and bear witness to the holocaust let loose by the Pakistani military in 1971.

  3. A K Shamsuddin

    Well, Sharmila Bose is deliberately sucking us all into this number game, to prove her anti thesis of Bangladesh Liberation War. This is a ploy, on which she has chosen to thrive, as some people prefer to make hay out of misinformation.

    The exact number is always difficult to ascertain, although it does not make the core narrative any different or weaker. Yahya Khan relished himself by saying: let us kill three millions of them, and the rest will eat out of our hands.

    Let us not attach too much importance to a fringe narrator like S Bose, who may be in the payroll of those who want to survive by self denial and deceit.

  4. Naeem Mohaiemen

    To add further to my earlier post.

    1. My original essay did not have the phrase “civil war” in the title. This was inserted by EPW (Economic & Political Weekly) editors without my permission.

    2. After publication of the essay, I sent a rejoinder to EPW, which they published.
    09-02-2008 [LETTERS]
    Issue : VOL 43 No. 06
    February 09 – February 15, 2008

    The full text of that letter is below:

    ‘Genocide’, Not ‘Civil War’
    In the January 26 issue you published my essay on ‘Accelerated Media and 1971’. Unfortunately, at some point in your editing process, the title of my essay was changed to ‘Accelerated Media and the 1971 Civil War in Bangladesh’. This was done without my knowledge and unfortunately has resulted in controversy among Bengali blogger circles, especially among the secular left.

    In the body of the text, at various times, I used the phrases “1971 genocide”, “Bangladesh genocide”, “liberation war”, “conflict” as well as the phrase “civil war”. However, by taking the phrase “civil war” and elevating it to the title, EPW has inadvertently made that phrase into a symbol for my overall assessment of the 1971 war. If I had wished to use an explicit descriptor in the title, I would have chosen “1971 genocide” and not “civil war”.

    The use of the phrase “civil war” has become politically volatile in Bangladesh because several key members of the Jamaat-e-Islami (which was involved in collaboration and death squads on behalf of the Pakistan army in 1971) have tried to use this phrase to block the growing efforts to hold war crimes trials to make key Jamaat leaders accountable for their role in 1971. Jamaat and its sympathisers have argued that 1971 was a “civil war” and/or a war “between India and Pakistan”, and therefore the question of war crimes for Jamaat leaders is invalid.
    Naeem Mohaiemen
    Dhaka, Bangladesh

    3. EPW published my rejoinder and subsequently re-posted a revised version of the essay with the title corrected to “Accelerated Media and the 1971 Genocide in Bangladesh”
    26-01-2008 [PERSPECTIVES]
    Issue : VOL 43 No. 04 January 26 – February 01, 2008

    The original version of the essay, with the incorrect title “1971 civil war” is circulating on the net, but EPW now hosts the correct version as per my wishes.

    4. Although I did not use the phrase “1971 Civil War” in the title of the essay (which would have made it the overarching descriptor), instead using “1971 Genocide”, I did use the phrase “civil war” in body of essay, along with the phrases “1971 genocide”, “Bangladesh genocide”, “liberation war”, etc. If you look at the intra-Pakistan (East vs. West) as well as Pan-Pakistan (West Pakistani progressives attempting to align with East Pakistan left, for example) tensions and conflicts between the years 1976-1970, you could argue that conditions of internal semi or soft (unarmed) civil war were beginning to manifest. These conflicts sometimes ran along the lines of civilian vs military, democracy vs dictatorship, East Pakistan vs West Pakistan, Bengali nationalism vs Punjabi power, Bengali vs Urdu speaking Mohajirs, etc. Some of these cleavages led to Tariq Ali to foresee, in “Pakistan: Military Rule or People’s Power”, the rise of a pan-Pakistan socialist, or people’s movement, that would somehow channel the global “spirit of ‘68” (in which Ali was an active player, especially in London). He was however blindsided by the force and trajectory of Bengali nationalism and its convergence with events such as the landslide victory of the Awami League in the 1970 elections. It is the deadlock over the election results, Bhutto’s refusal to accept the results, and the continued goading and collusion with the Yahya Khan military regime, that led to the first genocidal crackdown of March 26th. That night marked the beginning of the 1971 liberation war.

    It was the March 7th speech that transformed a civil war into a liberation war. To talk about such a transformation does not minimize the liberation war.

    5. I’m aware that Sarmila Bose’s use of “civil war” is linked to a very different hypothesis and/or agenda, but that is not the same as my use. I do not agree with Bose’s hypothesis and we do not share common ideological space.

    6. However language has a continually changing political role. In 2007, Jamaat and Jamaat aligned spokespeople began a soft campaign (via TV and print) to argue that “1971 was a civil war between two brothers”. Jamaat’s use of this phrase is for a very different political agenda, possibly to minimize the importance of war crimes. I would never allow my language to be appropriated by anyone for that purpose, and as such, I no longer use the phrase “civil war” in any of my writing.

    7. In my most recent op-ed related to 1971, which was a review of the film Meherjaan (Daily Star), I described 1971 as “a genocidal war whose ferocious modes included sexual assault and rape” and “Two generations of Bhuttos have passed away without acknowledging the paterfamilias’ role in the genocide”.


    8. To know my stance on war crimes, read this co-written op-ed:

    1973 War Crimes Act
    Jyoti Rahman & Naeem Mohaiemen

  5. Naeem Mohaiemen

    Thank you Afsan Chowdhury, for setting the record straight: “Naeem Mohaiemen is very much a pro-1971 Bangladeshi activist and by calling 1971 a civil war – description that has validity from certain intellectual points of view- doesn’t lessen any of his credentials.”

    I disagree with Sarmila Bose’s hypotheses regarding 1971 and we share no common ideological ground. To conflate the two of us together in this article is incorrect.

    The citation Dr Nasir provides for my article is also incorrect, as it presents the original title of the essay, which EPW later corrected to “Genocide”, after receiving my rejoinder.

    Dr Nasir most likely found Haseeb Rahman’s blog post, which brought up this “civil war” issue. The context was my review of Meherjaan. I posted a rejoinder to Haseeb’s post, which Dr. Nasir does not seem to have seen.

    If you go to EPW

    And search my name in Archives, you find two items:

    1. My rejoinder sent to EPW

    Genocide’, Not ‘Civil War’
    –Naeem Mohaiemen–
    09-02-2008 [LETTERS]
    Issue : VOL 43 No. 06 February 09 – February 15, 2008

    2. EPW’s corrected version of my essay, which does NOT use the phrase “civil war” in title

    Accelerated Media and the 1971 Genocide in Bangladesh

    It was at the time of the 1971 war in Bangladesh that television began to change the “rules” of conflict journalism – a complex situation, with multiple causes and linkages to colonial structures was flattened into a “good versus evil” narrative. The genocide was a marker of the trend in TV coverage of conflict zones, the first victim being the news cycle – the focus is always on the “hot news”, which becomes “cold” very quickly, shifting the spotlight on to the next “hot spot”.
    –Naeem Mohaiemen–
    26-01-2008 [PERSPECTIVES]
    Issue : VOL 43 No. 04 January 26 – February 01, 2008

    • ABM Nasir

      Dear Naeem,

      Thanks for the clarification. I wasn’t aware of the fact that the term “Civil War” in your article was changed to “Genocide” on a revised version published on the January 26 – February 01, 2008, issue of EPW. After reading that version, I will rightly note this change in my forthcoming writes-up.

      Having said that, I would say that your referring to 1971 crisis in East Pakistan as “Civil War” in six instances (appeared in pages 36, 38, 40) in the January 2008 issue of EPW and changing it to “Genocide” in the revised version would surely raise question why you had to retract the term “Civil War” which apparently you apparently don’t subscribe to. Perhaps, you may have explained the reason in your letter (which I am yet to read) titled “Genocide’, Not ‘Civil War’” published on February 09 – February 15, 2008, issue of EPW.



      • Naeem Mohaiemen

        Dear Mr. Nasir
        I have posted a second response at March 24, 2011 at 4:01 am (see above) which explains further the thinking based on which I used the term “civil war” (in the body of the essay, not the title). However, I also point out that since 2007 when JI started coopting this term for an agenda of negating war crimes, I have stopped using this term.

  6. nazmul haque

    Sarmila Bose was 12 years of age in 1971 and I was at my 17. I have seen all those atrocities, organised murders, rather genocide by the Pakistani army and displacement of millions of people, immense sufferings of humanity in the ‘refugee camps’ in India for the fleeing people of Bangladesh (the then East Pakistan). Hundreds and thousands of hungry malnourished children in the camps, thousands dropping dead due to acute malnutrition and contaminating diseases. All those things are documented by different press and electronic media such as BBC and whole world seen it. It does not matter what Sarmila Bose writes.

    I was beaten mercilessly by Pakistani army, three of my ribs were broken, one of my fingers was cut off. Fortunately survived.

    Had Sarmila Bose at her 12 been here in 1971, she would have very likely been raped. I have seen many women and under-aged girls raped and ravaged in Pakistani army camps. I would like to ask Sarmila Bose given the situation, if you were raped by Pakis in ‘71 and fortunately or unfortunately survived the ordeal, after 40 years, are you going to forget and forgive them. If it is yes from your side then I must say you are more Pakistani than the Pakistanis. A Bose more than Suvash Bose. This lady may be Harvard literate but not educated enough, “There has been little systematic study of the violent conflicts during the nine-month long civil war,” that is research! Really.

    • ananymous

      Atrocities whether they were committed by Pak army on Bengalis or Mukti Bahini on biharis, all are negative deeds, and we should avoid getting into similar situation in future. For me, (and it is my personal opinion) creation of a new country, Bangladesh, was result of Pakistani politicians’ and army’s hatred towards East Pakistani people.


    Dear Sir, my personal experience since 1 March 1971 was that our politicians squarely failed to handle the situation. Both Z. A. Bhuttu and Sk. M. Rahman were anti-Ayub politicians, still how could they allow the situation to get so bad and how could the military obtain the opportunity to act?

    I was in the famous meeting on 7th March and bear the witness that it was an all-party affair. I like to mention Mr. Nagar, a BUET student who led a procession from Tongi Industrial Area to that meeting venue. Actually, the meeting could not be started unless the procession from Tongi had arrived at the venue. Later he was tortured by the police and later in 1977 when situation became favourable he came out of jail. He was mentally and physically crippled to die a pre-mature death. Who remains responsible?

    I was in the university premise on 25th March 1971. Nobody warned the BUET students that an army crack-down is imminent. You know the then govt. postponed the 1st March assembly session and re-scheduled it on 25th March. So from the morning of 25th, Awami League was aware that since they are not attending the meeting an army crackdown is absolutely certain. I was incidentally outside the campus and by 5:30PM, I came to know that a curfew was imposed at 6PM. That saved my life. Those politicians fled to the safety and our fellow students became fodder to the gun. In Suhrawardy hall of BUET my friend and elder brother Jewel (4th yr, electrical) was killed by the army. Who remains responsible?

    We fought against Ayub not to glorify any person. Please refer to Dr. Humayun Azad. We were not anxious for any New Governor General for our country. We were anxious for democracy, state intervention in i. education, ii. health service, iii. fair price for farmers, iv. state support in modernisation of agriculture and proper post-harvest technology, v. state support in infrastructure building and iv. industrialisation. Nothing happened. All we got is international finance in labour intensive readymade garments, ruination of traditional sectors, mass immigration of both educated and uneducated citizens to wealthier countries.

    Present day Bangladesh, running ‘by the corrupt for the corrupt’ is anti-thesis to all that we hoped since 1948 till end of 1973.

    Thanking you very much.

  8. Ezajur Rahman

    We Bangladeshis like to complain when other people express doubts about the numbers we love to quote but we never do any serious substantive analysis of our own. We repeat the numbers so much that we believe them and that’s all that matters. Sarmila Bose is right to question our numbers, however ineffectually, when it seems we are incapable of proper research of our own.

    • Shotto Roy

      Well said, Mr. Rahman. You also seem to be agreeing with Prof. Nasir who quoted Beachler (2007) that little research indeed has been done on this issue.

      But, what do you propose to do? Would you please write something on what research on ‘1971 crisis’ would be commonly agreed as ‘subtantial analysis’? It seems Sarmila Bose also claims to have conducted an objective analysis. But you are saying she did it ineffectually.

      I am confused. Please help me on this.

      Your truly,

      S. Roy

    • Adnan Choudhury

      The works of Sarmila Bose go much deeper than simply questioning the validity of the war numbers. If someone delves deep into her works, and attended her talk that day at Woodraw Wilson Center, one recurring theme found in her voice is the attempt to bring somewhat of a “parity” between the West Pakistani violence and the violence committed by the Bengali forces.

      She claims her work to be a rare “scholarly” work on the 71 conflict, but it is clear from her writings and talks that she has certain pre-conceived notions common of a Pakistani Apologist.

  9. Adnan

    Pakistan has forever been in denial of what happened in Bangaldesh in 1971. But if you ask one simple question then they always shut up, how come your military lost half of your nation in 9 months? Or Why did the Pakistan Army surrender Dhaka without a fight?? Not out of any care to the loss of that would have happened, they just did not want any more of their soldiers to die. They knew they had lost the people and would lose the war sooner or later. SO why die for something that you will lose in the end?

  10. afsan chowdhury

    The only way to deal with S Bose is quality research not insults. Very few work on rape in 1971 would pass a credibility test as most are hyper-emotional diatribes that raise temperatures not issues. Drs. Nayanika Mukherjee and Bina D’Costa are two exceptionally competent exceptions. To counter Bose we need to focus on reliable research and not political myths like three million dead and 300 000 raped which are unproven.

    S Bose is a bad researcher, her main weakness and she quotes Niazi and other army staff on killing and rape by the Pak army. It’s surprising how Harvard tolerates her. Perhaps her Bose connections there help. She is also pro-Pakistani -the mig story- though her friends say she is not. I think she has found a niche -poking holes in Bangladesh 1971 books- and is hanging on to that for academic survival. See, posts get written on her.

    Western people take her seriously because she provides research, however bad not polemics. The Western academic world is rather fatigued by our claims so they give her space. She uses our stories and claims of war suffering in 1971 as her material to debunk the Bangladeshi narrative.

    Its still possible to collect evidence and statements from Pakistanis where a lot of evidence exists. The book titled ” East Pakistan: The Endgame by Brig (R) Abdul Rahman Siddiqi. An Onlooker’s Journal’ is probably the best book on the topic and it quotes Niazi and other Pakistani officials on such matters that is their support to atrocities including rape. Siddiqui should be honoured as the most objective writer on 1971 anywhere. Mohiuddin Ahmed of UPL, Muntassir Mamun of Dhaka U and myself interviewd him too during our Pakistan visit.

    We need Pakistani help to reconstruct the history of 1971 as part of a network of interested scholars running across the world. SDPI, a Pakistani think tank even organized a conference attended by many Bangladeshis and Pakatanis on the topic. Pakistan’s educated elite is the most liberal one amongst all south asians and nor are they hyper nationalistic like us or Indians. They will help us.

    And Naeem Mohamimen is very much a pro-1971 Bangladeshi activist and by calling 1971 a civil war – description that has validity from certain intellectual points of view- doesn’t lessen any of his credentials.

    Congratulations for bringing Sarmila Bose to the table.

    • Shotto Roy

      Dear Mr. Afsan Chowdhury,

      You mentioned “To counter Bose we need to focus on reliable research and not political myths like three million dead and 300 000 raped which are unproven.”

      How do you prove that how many were killed or raped in 1971? Or can you prove that three millions were not killed or 300,000 were not raped? You seem to be an expert on that issue because you write so much on the Liberation War (woops, should it be called civil war or Independence War?).

      S. Roy

  11. Rifat Mahmud

    Well, there is justification for many of her works, but how the hell she could term ‘Liberation War of Bangladesh’ a ‘civil war’? If confederates had won the war of 1860s in USA, would it be ever called the ‘American Civil War’?

    • Kazi Salim

      I can’t even imagine how an educated lady ignore and take the atrocities, rape, killings and destructions in Bangladesh so lightly and totally deny that there were any incident of rape case committed by the Pakistani Occupation Army!

      Is she totally ignorant or unaware of what the situation was during the time? She should apologise to the people of Bangladesh for her irresponsible comments in her so-called book. It only supports the misdeeds and inhuman crimes by the Pakistan army during 1971.

      Bose should first read and gather knowledge about genocide carried out the by the Pakistani military junta, before writing anything on Bangladesh’s Liberation War.

      • Somnath GuhaRoy

        She’s doing it deliberately!
        You can’t awaken a person who’s pretending to sleep, and using that pretence to earn money and name.
        There’s a saying in Hindi that you better avoid a naked person, or you will be put to shame!

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