In January 2017, I was invited to participate in and speak at an international seminar, the purpose of which was to explore ways in which the genocide of 1971, perpetrated by the Pakistani forces and their collaborators, can be internationally recognised 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 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 Mar 25 National Genocide Day.
On Feb 15, 2017, I attended the launch event of a book entitled ‘On Recognition of Bangladesh Genocide’ which was published by the ‘Forum for Secular Bangladesh & Trial of War Criminals of 1971’. Inside are writings by a number of experts, including some of the people who attended the January 2017 seminar, including myself. Then Minister of Commerce Tofail Ahmed was the chief guest at the event. A book was shown to the minister entitled ‘Creation of Bangladesh: Myths Exploded’, written by Junaid Khan 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 evening in Parliament, raising a point of order. He made the demand that Mar 25 be observed as national Genocide Day and made the demand while holding aloft the book written by Junaid Khan.
It is only right and most just that parliament voted that Mar 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 across the world so that they can have debates in their respective parliaments to recognise 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 Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Rushanara Ali and Rupa Asha Haque.
Once the national parliaments of several countries have officially recognised the genocide of 1971, pressure can be brought to bear on different international bodies to officially recognise the Bangladesh Genocide in the same way that the Holocaust in the Second World War is recognised. Mar 25 each year can then be recognised in the same way and receive the same respect as Feb 21, International Mother Language Day.
My memories of the genocide of 1971 are as follows:
In India, we had heard of the genocide from the night of Mar 25. Simon Dring’s eye witness report in the Daily Telegraph at that time estimated 7,000 people were killed on the night of Mar 25 in Dhaka alone. A bloodbath followed of hideous proportions. Thousands upon thousands, including women and children, were rounded up and shot, machine-gunned or bayoneted. Many women were raped. From Mar 25 to Mar 31, it was estimated that about 200,000 Bengalis had been killed. An Italian priest living in Jessore at the time told me that about 10,000 had been killed in the 10 days after Mar 25 in Jessore alone. But what about the total numbers that were killed or assassinated? Near the end of May 1971 I remember a Dhaka University professor and refugee Samir Paul who helped us organise camp activities telling me that it was estimated that one million Bengalees had been killed in Bangladesh.
It is most important to note that a recent survey, featured in media reports on Mar 23, 2019, and spearheaded by Professor Dr Muntassir Mamun, found 4,180 genocide locations in 20 districts. In just 10 of the 20 districts surveyed, they found 695 murder points, 92 torture centres, 200 killing fields and 351 mass graves. Unfortunately many mass graves were left unmarked or have been built over.
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 survive. In addition, many died from cholera and malnutrition.
Moreover, aid officials of the time estimated that between 20 and 30 million Bangladeshi had been internally displaced in 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 three million.
It is important to also record the different forms of genocide. I heard of an incident at Sherpur’s Haluaghat, which was also recorded by one of the Newsweek correspondents at the time.
“Young men of the village were called together by a Pakistani Army major and he said that his wounded soldiers urgently needed blood. Would they be donors? The young men lay down on makeshift cots, needles were inserted in their veins-and then slowly the blood was drained from their bodies and they died.” Newsweek’s Tony Clifton, a recipient of the ‘Friends of Liberation War Honour’, wrote.
“The refugees stand patiently, calf deep in stagnant water, eager to tell me their stories so I can tell others. I collect a notebook of horror – rape and murder and kidnapping. They tell me how they saw their children stabbed, their husbands or brothers executed, their wives collapsing with fatigue or sickness. The stories are all new, and all the same.”
Now, 47 years after the emergence of Bangladesh, it is vitally important that the world authorities officially accept and recognise 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 East Pakistan in April 1971 (his writing, entitled ‘GENOCIDE’, was published on Jun 13, 1971 by The Sunday Times).
The May 22, 1971 editorial of US publication, ‘Saturday Review’ entitled ‘Genocide in East Pakistan’. And the British magazine, ‘The Spectator’ in its issue of Jun 19, 1971, in an article entitled, ‘Another Final Solution’ included 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 cholearic 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.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs should be asked to ensure that all high commissions and embassies around the world must get ready to bring the issue of the genocide in 1971 to their respective host governments and to seek their cooperation in recognising it.