Genocide Day: Bangladesh Remembers the Horrors of 71

Bangladesh Live News | @banglalivenews | 18 Mar 2019

Genocide Day: Bangladesh Remembers the Horrors of 71
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal has said that Bangladesh will observe a one minute black-out programme in the night of March 25 in observance of ‘Genocide Day’. The day will be observed in commemoration of the brutal cruelties inflicted on the unarmed and innocent people by the Pakistani occupying forces in 1971.

March 25, 1971 commemorates ‘Operation Searchlight’, a planned Military crackdown carried out by the Pakistani forces to thwart the Bangladesh liberation war by taking control of the major cities and physically eliminating all opposition.  The genocide began on the intervening night of March 25 and 26, 1971 when the Pakistani forces cracked down on Dhaka with the launch of ‘Operation Searchlight’.


The University of Dhaka was attacked and a large number of students were killed. Death squads roamed the streets of Dhaka, killing some 7,000 people in a single night, says a report filed by noted British journalist Simon Dring. Within a week, half the population of Dhaka had fled, and at least 30,000 people had been killed in Dhaka, says Simon Dring’s report.


Time magazine dubbed former Pakistani leader General Tikka Khan “the Butcher of Bengal” for his role in Operation Searchlight. Targets of the operation included Jagannath Hall which was a dormitory of the Hindu students of Dhaka University, Rajarbagh Police Lines, Pilkhana which was the headquarters of East Pakistan Rifles. 34 students of Jagannath Hall were killed on the first day. Neighbourhoods of Old Dhaka which had majority Hindu population were also attacked. Seven thousand had been killed and three thousand arrested to crush the liberation war on the first day.


The first report of genocide in erstwhile East Pakistan was published by well known Pakistani  journalist Anthony Mascarenhas in the Sunday Times London on June 13, 1971 titled “Genocide”. He wrote “I saw Hindus hunted from village to village and door to door, shot off-hand after a cursory ‘short arm inspection’ showed they were un-circumcised. I have heard the screams of men bludgeoned to death in the compound of the Circuit House in Comilla. I have seen truckloads of other human targets and those who had the humanity to try to help them hauled off for disposal under the cover of darkness and curfew”.


On August 2, 1971Time magazine correspondent sent a dispatch that provided a detailed description of the destruction in East Pakistan. The dispatch wrote “in Dhaka where soldiers set sections of the old city ablaze with flamethrowers and machine-gunned thousands as they tried to escape the cordon of fire, nearly 25 blocks have been bulldozed clear, leaving open areas set incongruously amid jam packed slums”. It quoted a senior US official as saying “it is the most incredible, calculated thing since the days of the Nazis in Poland”.


Narrating the atrocities in Dhaka University, US Consulate in Dhaka reported that naked female bodies in Rokeya Hall of Dhaka University were found in the night of March 25 “hanging from ceiling fans with bits of rope,” after apparently being “raped, shot, and hung by heels” from the fans.


“Here in Dacca we are mute and horrified,” wrote Archer Blood, the then American Consular General and a witness to the genocide and reign of terror let loose by the Pakistani military. In a telegram to different American consulate offices and embassies around the world on March 27, 1971, Blood said, “Evidence continues to mount that the Martial Law authorities of Pakistan have list of Awami League supporters whom they are systematically eliminating by seeking them out of their homes and shooting them down” with the help of local collaborators.


Liberation of Bangladesh was achieved after nine months of relentless war beginning on the night of March 25 against the occupation forces of Pakistan and their local collaborator Jamaat-e-Islami that was the most organized and most active among the Pak collaborators. During this period the Pakistani forces committed monstrous war crimes that left more than three million people killed and over 250,000 women sexually assaulted, let alone the planned elimination of the intellectuals and best Bengali brains of the soil to deprive the newly emerging country of able leadership.


Dr Geoffrey Davis, a physician who worked in Bangladesh during the liberation war on request of World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that the commonly cited figures of rape victims were ‘very conservative’ compared to real numbers. Davis also said that he heard of numerous suicides by rape victims and infanticides during the course of his work and estimated that around 5000 rape victims had performed self induced abortions. Most of the rape victims shared feelings of intense shame and humiliation. A large number of them were ostracized by their families and society forcing them to commit suicide. The treatment meted out to women by the Pak army was supported by Imams and other religious leaders who declared women were ‘war-booty’.


Time magazine reported on the plight of the girls who had been kidnapped and kept in military camps turned in to brothels: “One of the more horrible revelations concern Bengali women, some only 18, who have been held captive in Dhaka’s (then spelt Dacca) dingy military cantonment since the first day of the fighting. Seized from Dhaka University and private homes and forced into military brothels, the girls are all three to five months pregnant. The Army is reported to have enlisted gynecologists to abort the girls held at military installations. But for those at Dhaka cantonment it was too late for abortion. The military has started freeing the girls, few at a time, carrying the new born babies”.


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 before the tribunal 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.

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