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Horrors of 1971 revisited
Horrors of 1971 revisited
Over the last couple of years the International Crimes Tribunals have been hearing cases relating to crimes against humanity committed in 1971.Testimony by prosecution witnesses continue to revive the spectre of genocide and rape, with thousands of freedom fighters killed and dumped in mass graves and hapless women sexually assaulted and massacred.
From their testimony one can visualize the barbaric and gruesome manner in which the freedom fighters were killed / maimed and the women sexually assaulted, their bodies mutilated and dumped in sewer pipes and mass graves. A vivid picture of killing / maiming of freedom fighters, destruction of homes and properties and torture of women emerges from their testimony.
 
 
Mohammad Salimullah, another prosecution witness against Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, recounted in his deposition that a red jeep starting from Goods Hill residence of Salauddin Quader Chowdhury would go around various parts of Chittagong every morning and return in the evening filled with young women. Some among those brought in the jeep would be taken to a neighboring house for night-long sexual assault while others would be handed over to the Pakistani army officers to be used as comfort girl. ‘I can still hear the shriek of these girls’ said Salimullah as he broke down sobbing while deposing.
Abbas Uddin Ahmed, a prosecution witness against BNP leader Salauddin Quader Chowdhury (now hanged), deposed before the Tribunal that he had seen dead bodies of pregnant women with unborn child lying in the open. He also described how Salauddin Quader Chowdhury’s Goods Hill residence in
Chittagong was used as torture cell where freedom fighters were killed, maimed and subjected to other forms of brutality while women were sexually assaulted
before being killed.
 
 
Mohammad Salimullah, another prosecution witness against Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, recounted in his deposition that a red jeep starting from Goods Hill residence of Salauddin Quader Chowdhury would go around various parts of Chittagong every morning and return in the evening filled with young women. Some among those brought in the jeep would be taken to a neighboring house for night-long sexual assault while others would be handed over to the Pakistani army officers to be used as comfort girl. ‘I can still hear the shriek of these girls’ said Salimullah as he broke down sobbing while deposing.
 
 
A prosecution witness in the case filed against senior Jamaat ideologue Delwar Hossen Saeedi (now sentenced to life-long jail), broke down with emotion when he told the court that Saeedi, along with some accomplices, picked up three of his sisters from his home and handed them over to a Pakistani army camp at Pirojpur. The witness could not control his emotion as he said that his sisters were ‘repeatedly raped in the camp’ and sent back home after three days. While sobbing he also told the court that ‘they forced me, my parents and siblings to convert to Islam and say prayers at a mosque’.
Davis also said that he heard of numerous suicides by victims and infanticides during the course of his work and estimated that around 5000 rape victims had performed self induced abortions. A doctor at the rehabilitation center in Dhaka reported 1, 70,000 abortion of pregnancies caused by rape and birth of 40,000 war babies. Many of the victims suffered from feelings of intense shame and humiliation. A large number of them were ostracized by their families and society forcing them to commit suicide.
 
 
Another witness in Saeedi case, Madhusudan Gharami, could not hold his tears back while deposing in the court as he described how he returned home one day to know that his wife had been raped by Saeedi. The couple was newly married then. While weeping he said “my wife had been raped. ... she was in great pain”, “but she told me ‘don’t worry about me; you go and hide, otherwise they will kill you’ and I fled”. After the war his wife Shefali gave birth to a daughter. “The villagers used to say a lot of things for her”, Madhusudan added. Traumatized by the rape and stigma the couple decided that Shefali would go to live in India with the new born daughter for safety. That was their last meeting and Madhusudan never heard anything from Shefali since then.
 
 
The exact number of women exploited by the occupation forces of Pakistan and their local collaborators including the Jamaat-formed militias al- Badr, al-Shams and Razakar during the liberation war of Bangladesh is not known. The numbers vary, but the gruesome story they tell continue to remain as heart rending as before even though more than four decades have passed since then.
 
 
Estimates of women sexually assaulted during the liberation war vary from 200,000 to 400,000. Dr Geoffrey Davis, a physician who worked in Bangladesh
following the liberation war on request of World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that the commonly cited figures were ‘very conservative’ compared to
real numbers.
 
 
Davis also said that he heard of numerous suicides by victims and infanticides during the course of his work and estimated that around 5000 rape victims had performed self induced abortions. A doctor at the rehabilitation center in Dhaka reported 1, 70,000 abortion of pregnancies caused by rape and birth of
40,000 war babies. Many of the victims suffered from feelings of intense shame and humiliation. A large number of them were ostracized by their families and
society forcing them to commit suicide.
 
 
After the war, the rape victims went through a second ordeal. A report from the International Commission of Jurists said ‘whatever the precise numbers, the teams of British and American surgeons carrying out abortions and the widespread government efforts to persuade people to accept these unfortunate girls in to the community, testify the large scale on which rape occurred’.
 
 
The ongoing war crimes trials have enlightened the new generation, particularly those born post-1971, and laid bare the extreme brutalities and distress inflicted on their forefathers and freedom fighters by the Pak collaborators and the heavy cost paid by them during the Liberation war. The new generation is also being made aware of the gruesome consequences of abuse of religion to justify heinous crimes like killing and rape.



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