The official histories of the 1971 Liberation War always note that 200,000 Bangladeshi women were abused over the course of the conflict (See: Bangladesh Liberation War Museum website). It is a fatal error. But why does it remain circulation? Why has the government not fixed this statistic even today? This information is demonstrably incorrect as nearly 400,000 abortions occurred after the end of the war (Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape. 1975. Susan Brownmiller. Page 81). And, according to various statistics, more than 100,000 were killed after they were raped (Mass Rape and the Inscription of Gendered and Racial Domination during the Bangladesh War of 1971. 2012. Nayanika Mookherjee). So the number of women abused is much higher.

At the Liberation War Museum, on various sites such as Banglapedia and Wikipedia and other national and international media, the government of Bangladesh reports that nearly 200,000 rape cases were committed during the war. The process of determining the actual number of rape cases was based on the number of missing women reported at police stations across Bangladesh.

In ‘The Changing Face of Genocide’, Geoffrey Davis writes, “During that time, two girls were missing on average every day in each police station. The number of police stations is 480, and the occupancy has lasted 270 days. By this way, the number was 2 lakh 68 thousand 200 people.”

“For the other reasons, the girls have been missing, the number of the concerned board figure brought two lakh! So far, this is the number of official rapes.”

But after this, Davis went on to write that the calculation in this regard is faulty.

‘The Changing Face of Genocide’ is the diary of Geoffrey Davis, an Australian doctor who came to Bangladesh immediately after the war at the request of the World Health Organization. He came for the treatment of heroin abuse victims and abortion. According to him he found 360,000 pregnant women in the country (Picking up the Pieces: 1971 War Babies’ Odyssey from Bangladesh to Canada. 2015. Mustafa Chowdhury).

Davis made statistics through a sample survey conducted across the country. A few sample districts were in the northern region, He reports that between 400,000 and 430,000 women were victims of the Liberation War (1971 Rapes: Bangladesh Cannot Hide History. 2012. Anushay Hossain; Women’s Media Center Conflict Profile: Bangladesh. 2012. Michele Lent Hirsch). In addition to this, a documentary by Dr Davies, later on Dr Muntasir Mamun came in the book ‘Biranganga 1972’, which was seriously denied in Pakistan’s documentation of Bangladeshi women’s rape.

One of the researchers studying war atrocities across the world, Susan Brownmiller, wrote in her 1975 book ‘Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape’ that the number of rapes during the Liberation War was about 400,000. She wrote: ‘‘During the nine-month terror, terminated by the two week armed intervention of India, a possible three million people lost their lives, ten millions fled across the border to India and 200,000, 300,000 or possible 400,000 women (three sets of statistics have been variously quoted) were raped. Eighty percent of the raped women were Moslems, reflecting the population of Bangladesh, but Hindu and Christian women were not exempt.’’ (Against Our Will : Men, Women and Rape; Susan Brownmiller; Page 81)

Dr MA Hasan also noted a higher estimate in his book ‘Black Chapter of History: Torture of the Women of Ekattor’. Referring to his own survey, he wrote, “In the study of 257 people selected from 25 different interviews conducted in 25 of the 42 districts of the country, it has been proved that 202,000 women have been raped in 1971 alone. The number of raped and abused women across the country is upwards of 450,000” (The Rape of 71: The Dark Phase of History. Dr MA Hasan. Page 3).

In 1971, the incidents of rape by the Pakistani Army and their associates were also reported on international media, though the number of reports is very small compared to the total. If it seems incredible to the people of our country that 500,000 to 600,000 women of our country could have been tortured by the Pakistani Army, the following reports may bring home the scale of the issue:

1. “The Razakars have not kept their activities in the hands of extortion, now they have opened the brothels too. They opened a camp in Agrabad in Chittagong where young beautiful girls were kept in custody, and the Pakistani army officers were provided at night. Also, many girls are kidnapped every day for themselves, many of them have not returned.” (Sunday Times: Jun 20, 1971).

2. “They killed my parents and beat them both with guns. Then three people raped me and laid me on the floor,” said one 16 years old girl; a refugee of Petrapole refugee camp.” (Times: Jun 20, 1971).

3. “On 11th April the soldiers came to our village. One group came and took me out of the house to show me what to look like. I did not see my sister again. My neighbor’s daughter and a Hindu girl also faced similar mockery. In mid-May, they left my sister and neighbour behind. But the Hindu girl was not found. Both of those who returned were pregnant … [they] would have to sleep with the soldiers three times a day.” (New York Times: Oct 11, 1971).

4. “Recently, the Pakistani Army surrounded the village, raped all the women between the ages of 12 and 35 and shot all the men over 12 years old.” (Newsweek: Nov 15, 1971).

Similar reports can be found in books as well.

1. At a conservative estimate, in 1971, with the help of their friends, Razakars and brokers, they raped and tortured more than 400,000 women in Bangladesh. Such events have not happened in the history of the world. (The Rape of 71: The Dark Phase of History. Dr MA Hassan).

2. Nearly three hundred girls were abducted by the Pakistani Army within seven days of the declaration of independence from various places of Dhaka. With the help of the freedom fighters and joint forces, Narayanganj, Dhaka Cantonment and other small towns, around 55 ill and half-dead girls were rescued from the Red Cross. (Genocide in Bangladesh, by Kalayan Chaudhury, Orient Longman, pp 157-158).

The temporary positions held by the Pakistani Army were not recorded. This means that attacks on village or regions, and massacres and mass rapes were not recorded. The victims of such attacks were nearly one-third of Bangladesh’s population. Thus, the number of rape was innumerable. Even counting the pregnancies is not sufficient to determine the number because a pregnancy is not the inevitable outcome of rapes. In addition to these attacks the Pakistani Army and the Razakars and Pakistani collaborators kidnapped a large number of girls, which is a matter of common knowledge. We must also remember that many fled to India as refugees and never returned to Bangladesh. It is estimated that ten million Bengali people took shelter as refugees in India, many of whom were women. And even they did not know how many had been victims of rape by local Razakars.

The totality of this evidence suggests that the number of women raped and abused during the 1971 Liberation War is much higher than our current estimates. As such it is necessary, for both our history and for our future, to recognise and update these statistics to account for the full extent of this suffering.

Hasan Hamidis a researcher at the National Archives of Bangladesh.

3 Responses to “How many women were abused in the Liberation War?”

  1. SMS

    …And the Razakars and the Al-Badrs assisted the Pakistani animals led by even worse kind of animals in carrying out these atrocities – all in the name of Islam!

    • Lisa

      and the Jamaat E Islami Razakars are BNP’s Best Mates, What the Pakistani ISIS Razkars did to Our Women in 1971, They are doing the SAME in Syria and the Middle East Today, under the Patronage of BNP Jamaat Tower Hamlet Politicians and their Pakistani Friends !

      • Danke Tyre

        Can you explain yourself a little better, Lisa? How could you mix-up Razakar, Al-Badar and Pak Army atrocities with brutalities by different groups in Syrian conflict? False and fabricated comparisons make your case weak and pathetic to neutral readers.

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