As a foreigner living and working in Bangladesh for many years, I was honoured when I was invited to participate in and speak at an international seminar in January this year, the purpose of which was to find ways in which the genocide of 1971, perpetrated by the Pakistani forces and their collaborators, will be internationally recognized as Genocide.The seminar was arranged by the ‘Forum for Secular Bangladesh & Trial of War Criminals of 1971’. I was asked to address the seminar as I am a witness to the birth of this nation and, in my capacity in 1971 when I administered a refugee relief programme for OXFAM-UK which assisted 600,000 Bangladeshis, I witnessed many of the results of the genocide and I heard eye witness reports of many more instances of genocide.Other speakers at the seminar were from Canada, India, Nepal and, of course, Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi speakers told the audience that for some years they had been demanding that the government of Bangladesh declare March 25 as National Genocide Day.
On February 15, 2017, I attended the launch of a book entitled, ‘On Recognition of Bangladesh Genocide’, which is published by ‘Forum for Secular Bangladesh & Trial of War Criminals of 1971’ and in which there are writings by a number of experts, including some of the people who attended the January seminar (including myself). At this book launch at which the Minister of Commerce, Mr Tofail Ahmed was the Chief Guest, a book was shown to the Minister entitled, ‘Creation of Bangladesh: Myths Exploded’, written by Junaid Ahmad and published in Pakistan. It is full of lies and says, among other things, that the members of the Mukti Bahini were responsible for the genocide. The Minister, who was in a hurry to join Parliament discussions that day, took the book with him and later that day in Parliament, raising a point of order, he made the demand that March 25 be observed as National Genocide Day and he made this demand while holding aloft the book written by Junaid Ahmad.
It is only right and most just that Parliament has voted that March 25 be observed as Genocide Day and I am very proud to have been a very small part of the demand that led to this. It is now up to the government to contact Members of Parliament, especially of Bangladeshi origin, or with strong connections to Bangladesh, in many countries of the world so that they can have debates in their parliaments to recognize that what happened in Bangladesh in 1971 was indeed genocide. For instance, in the British Parliament’s House of Commons, there are, to my knowledge, three Labour Party members of parliament, Tulip Rezwana Siddiq, the niece of the Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina; Rushanara Ali and Rupa Asha Haque.
After national parliaments of different countries have officially recognized that genocide did occur in 1971, pressure can be brought to bear on different world bodies to officially recognize the Bangladesh Genocide in the same way that the Holocaust of the Second World War is recognized. March 25 each year can then become recognised in Bangladesh in the same way and with the same respect as with February 21, EKUSHEY.
My memories of the genocide of 1971 are as follows:
In India, we had heard of the genocide from the night of 25 March. Simon Dring’s eye-witness report in the Daily Telegraph at that time estimated 7,000 killed on the night of March 25 in Dhaka alone. A bloodbath followed of hideous proportions. Thousands and upon thousands, including women and children, were rounded up and shot, machine-gunned or bayoneted and the women were raped. From 25 to 31 March, it was estimated that about 200,000 Bengalis had been killed. An Italian priest living in Jessore at the time told me that in Jessore itself about 10,000 had been killed in the 10 days after March 25.
It is most unfortunate that the details of mass graves (and how many bodies) all over the country have not been properly recorded. Only last year, in Kaliganj, Gazipur, I heard of hundreds of Bangladeshi male Christians being machine-gunned into a mass grave nearby a church in 1971.
However, what about the actual numbers? By end of May 1971, I remember a Dhaka University professor, Samir Paul, who was, as a refugee, helping us to organize camp activities, telling me that, till then, it had been estimated that one million Bengalis had been killed inside Bangladesh until that time (May 1971).
It is very clear to me that many Bangladeshis died on their way to India and many more died after coming to the refugee camps as a result of the injuries and wounds suffered on the way. I saw people with bullet wounds and bayonet wounds and some of them did not manage to survive.
During the cholera epidemic of 1971, I remember that in one refugee camp of 15,000 persons, over 750 died in one month — about 5%. People should also remember that many of the refugee camps were severely flooded during the heavy monsoon of 1971. Sanitation could not be maintained and many died of gastro-enteritis as well as cholera. By September 1971, hundreds of children were dying every day from malnutrition and doctors who had also, earlier, worked in Biafra, were of the opinion that the malnutrition in the Indian refugee camps was worse than that of Biafra. Many more children died as a result of the severe cold winter. In mid-November an accepted figure of numbers of children dying was 4,300 per day in the refugee camps alone. I remember attending a coordination meeting at that time when it was estimated that by the end of December 1971 up to 500,000 children would have died largely from malnutrition.
Aid officials of the time estimated that between 20 and 30 million Bangladesh had been internally displaced inside Bangladesh and there would have been significant deaths from those numbers.
The US government archives may suggest that a total of only 300,000 died and the Pakistan archives say that only 2 million refugees came to India. Everyone should know that both these figures are complete nonsense!
Rightly or wrongly, personally I consider all the deaths of all people who left their homes as a result of the actions of the Pakistan authorities and their collaborators as genocidal deaths. Perhaps we will never know the accurate figure. It could easily be over 3 million.
Now, 45 years after the emergence of Bangladesh, it is vitally important that the world authorities officially accept and recognize that what happened in Bangladesh in 1971 was genocide. There are many eye witness accounts that have been documented. For example, the powerful writing of Anthony Mascarenhas who visited in April 1971 (his writing, entitled ‘GENOCIDE’, published June 13, 1971 in The Sunday Times).
The May 22, 1971 editorial of the US publication Saturday Review, was titled ‘Genocide in East Pakistan’. And the British magazine, The Spectator, in its issue of June 19, 1971, in an article entitled, ‘Another Final Solution’, had the following:
“We, in this country, like to think that among the reasons why we fought the Germans in the last war was to rid the world of the evil of Hitler and his gang and their genocidal ‘final solution.’ It is easier to imagine Germany’s gas chambers than Pakistan’s choleric slaughter in the Bengal Plain, but it remains the case and it ought to be declared that the Pakistani crime now matches the Hitlerian in dimension and horror and threatens monstrously to exceed it. Difficult and unpleasant though it may be, each one of us ought to endeavour to the best of his ability to imagine the enormity of the Pakistani crime.”