Today marks 37 years of independence for a tiny country I love, a country that gave me birth before it was itself born, a country founded on the belief that freedom is precious and worth dying for, a country of brave martyrs and brave survivors, a country of unfulfilled promises called Bangladesh.
Thirty seven years ago today the Pakistan army and their Islamist allies launched a campaign of genocide against 75 million of its own citizens. The army was intent on massacring into submission 75 million Bengalis who had committed a singularly unforgivable crime. Months earlier the Bengalis had gone to the polls and voted for a candidate of their choice to become the next Prime Minister of Pakistan. The Pakistan army responded to the vote with a genocide. In the name of “God and a united Pakistan” the killing began.
In the end, the Pakistan army failed in its purpose. Nine months later, an army that had engaged in the killing of millions of its citizens surrendered in humiliation to the Indian army and Bangladeshi freedom fighters. An army that was so adept in machine gunning unarmed civilians proved to be no match for men and women who could shoot back.
A new nation was born. But at great cost. Up to three million Bengalis were killed in nine months of genocide. Two hundred thousand to four hundred thousand Bengali women were raped. Ten million refugees had fled to India. Cities were devastated, villages had been razed, and the new country’s intellectual class had been massacred in a last minute frenzy of madness.
I was a child during the genocide of Bangladesh. I am one of the lucky ones – I survived. But I have been haunted all my life by memories of those who did not. I am haunted by watching the hopes of those who fought so bravely for the ideals of democracy, for freedom to speak without fear of persecution, for freedom from relgious bigotry, for freedom from poverty, dashed repeatedly over the last three decades. I have watched the Islamists who were apparently defeated in 1971 come creeping back into the Bangladeshi political mainstream. I have watched the cottage industry of genocide denial grow in Bangladesh. I have watched as family members of the millions killed have pleaded in vain for some measure of justice. I have watched known genocide perpetrators live as free men in Bangladesh, in the United States and United Kingdom. I have been again and again let down by successive American governments that pay lip service against genocide after the fact but do nothing to prevent them. I have had to witness the top American diplomat in Bangladesh have tea with a leading Islamist and known perpetrator of genocide.
I have grown weary and my hair is graying. The child that lived through the genocide is now a grown man. In the years to come, the generation that lived through the genocide will be gone forever. Gone will be the eyewitnesses to one of history’s most brutal killing sprees.
So we collect our stories and collect every fragment of documentation we can find. We want to leave for our children the memory of what our fathers and mothers fought and died for. We want to leave for the world the memory of a genocide that the world should never forget.
Today my good friend and fellow blogger Rezwan has launched a website to collect what needs to be collected. Bangladesh Genocide Archive has been launched as a platform to collect together in one place on the Internet the available documentation on the genocide perpetrated on the people of Bangladesh in 1971. For our children and for the world.