Exposed: Sarmila Bose



E-Bangladesh is a News/Headlines service and a group blog aimed at bringing the news and analysis from Bangladesh to its readers.

[Mashuqur Rahman, USA.]

[Hat tip to Robin Khundkar.]

Recently I wrote about Sarmila Bose’s apologia for the Pakistan army that was published last September in Economic and Political Weekly. In this week’s issue of EPW, two critical comments were published that take to task Ms. Bose’s “research.” The first comment is from Akhtaruzzaman Mandal, a freedom fighter whose first-person account of finding Bengali rape victims being held by Pakistani soldiers was disputed by Ms. Bose. The second comment is from Nayanika Mookherjee, lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Lancaster University. Ms. Bose had cited one of Dr. Mookherjee’s articles to try to cast doubt on the rapes committed by the Pakistan army in their campaign of genocide in 1971.

Mr. Mandal exposes Ms. Bose’s “research” with the authority of one who has lived history. Below are some excerpts from Mr. Mandal’s comment:

Since Bose knew nothing about this humble freedom fighter and the pride we all bear, she could casually describe me as a muktijoddha accompanying the Indian army. Such description also served her purpose, as she tried to portray me as someone who had no prior knowledge about the land and people of Bhurungamari/Nageshwari, about their suffering and destitution. As guerrilla fighters we were active in the region all through monitoring the day to day developments. We were like the fish in the water, as the saying goes. That is why in my book, not known to Bose, I have also written about few other specific cases of how women had to suffer. But that is another story, quite a long one, let me concentrate here on the accusation made by Bose.

While doing her “research,” Bose never tried to contact me. On the other hand her search for truth took her to Pakistan and she interviewed Lt Col Saleem Zia of 8 Punjab who was stationed in that area and cross-checked my information with this partisan source of hers. Quoting my account Bose writes, “According to Mandal, Bhurungamari seemed like a ghost town. He claims 60 East Pakistan Civil Armed Force (EPCAF) members and 30-40 Pakistani soldiers were captured [as] they had run out of ammunition. He also claims that 40-50 Pakistani soldiers were killed in this battle.” Then quoting her Pakistani source she writes, “Brigadier Zia found 30 injured men, who were evacuated, and 36 able-bodied ones. The rest were dead or dispersed and four or five, by his estimate, were captured.” The anomaly in the description provided by members from two contending side is not new in any battle account. It is the researcher’s job to dig for the truth. But according to our researcher here Akhtaruzzaman Mandal “claims” whereas brigadier Zia “found” and that shows where she is standing as a dispassionate independent scholar. Even in her account about the number of deaths she has not said anything about the EPCAF, who were raw recruits from the villages of West Pakistan and were put into forward position to work as a shield to the Pakistan army.

Now let us take the case of captain Ataullah Khan, the human devil. Bose has been successful in collecting laudable quotes about Ataullah and in her attempt to whitewash the devil’s deeds made a jugglery of the location of Bhurungamari and Nageswari depicting them as two sites completely separated from each other. She writes, “According to this fellow (Pakistani) officer, Captain Ataullah had not been in Bhurungamari before and he was based at Nageswari. He had barely got there when he faced the Indian attack.” Her research or lack of research has led her to greatly differentiate between Nageswari and Bhurungamari and if only she was interested to know more she could have found out that the distance between the two place is only 15 km and at that time, even with a ferry crossing, it took only 30 minutes for a commanding officer to cover the distance by his jeep. The Pakistani captain being based at Nageswari was a frequent visitor to the forward position at Bhurungamari and he was no stranger there.

Bose never asked any woman, any common man of Nageswari and Bhurungamari, about Ataullah Khan but quoted her Pakistani source at length and writes, “This fellow officer of 25 Punjab described [Not claimed: AM] Captain Ataullah as a six-foot plus Pathan officer known for being ‘humane.’ He further stated that he saw people in Nageswari weep upon hearing the Ataullah’s death. According to him, when the Pakistanis were POWs in India after the war, a senior Indian officer had expressed his respect, soldier-to-soldier, to the officers of 25 Punjab and mentioned by name Ataullah, who had become a ‘shaheed’ (martyr).” In the footnote Bose mentions that, “this inclusion of evidence from the Indian side in the future would be of great value in assessing this and many other aspect of 1971 war.” I am happy that she noted the importance of the Indian source which she never tried to use and would request her to look for members of 6 Mountain Division with whom we fought side by side. After 36 long years I cannot remember all of them or their full names, but how can I forget Major General Thappa, Brigadier Josie, Major Chatowal Singh, Captain Shambu, Captain Mitra, Captain Bannerje, Major Bala Reddy, as well as fellow fighters from the 78 Battalion of the BSF and others. Instead of interviewing only the perpetrators of genocide, rape and crimes against humanity she should also try to get evidences from the Indian side.

As Bose has gathered most of her information from highly dubious one-sided Pakistani sources following atrocious and unbelievable lines, “The picture painted of captain Ataullah by his fellow officer, who knew him, completely contradicts the one given by Mandal, who appears to have only seen his dead body. Clearly, if captain Ataullah had been based in Nageswari and only gone up to Bhurungamari the day the Indian attack started, he could not have been responsible for whatever might have been going on in Bhurungamari. Mandal offers no corroborating evidence for his character assassination of an officer who had died defending his country, and therefore, cannot speak in his own defence.”

As a freedom fighter operating in the area we came to know about many of the atrocious acts of Ataullah and this human-devil was not unknown to us. Our informers also brought many news and on that auspicious day we knew very well about the bunker he took shelter in and that is why the Indian army could pinpoint their artillery attack. I have seen his dead body at the bunker and could immediately know that this was the man who brought so much suffering to our people, to the poor civilians and villagers of the area. Ataullah Khan was no soldier defending his country, he was part of a killing machine, doing heinous acts against an unarmed civil population which no professional soldier can ever think of. Such acts can in no way be equated with defending one’s country. In that case all the Nazi war criminals will get acquitted as they were “defending” their own country.

[Read the entire article here.]

Dr. Mookherjee, in her comment, discusses Ms. Bose’s flawed methodology and bias. Below are some excerpts:

To any student of social science methodology and memory studies, the article reveals how the pursuit of “facts” alone disallows any analytical, sociological, historical and interpretative perspective. That it was published in EPW is a surprise indeed.

It is not clear from the article the extent of the research in Bangladesh, how many survivors the author met, particularly women, what was her position towards these women, i.e., her reflexive position. It is clear that she talked to Pakistani military authorities and accepts everything they say to be true but considers all Bangladeshi accounts as predominantly fabricated.

The article accepts every account of Pakistani military authorities as truth while that of Bangladeshis as false and “shrill cries.” Particularly if the accounts are of “illiterate” Bangladeshis they can only be false so the space for any “subalterns” is clearly absent, while those within the military paraphernalia provide legitimate authoritative accounts according to the author. Particularly the role of Bangladeshi women either as witnesses or as raped: like the sweeper Rabeya Khatoon or the sculptor Firdousy Priyobhashini is always of suspect to Bose. Also while mentioning the Hamdoodur Rehman commission of the Pakistani government the author does not mention the instances of rapes and the role of General Niazi as cited in the document.

The article cites the case of Ferdousy Priyobhashini who as a single woman had to look after her widowed mother and young siblings and continued to work during the war and becomes the focus of sexual violence by various Pakistani officers as well as Bengali collaborators.

The article interrogates Priyobhashini’s account questioning why she stayed back during the war and whether her rape was as a result of coercion or a voluntary sexual act by stating that she “willingly fraternised.” By that argument is the article suggesting that Priyobhashini brought the rape upon her since she stayed back? This is extremely problematic and parallels the biases within various rape laws which seem to suggest that women must have brought the rape upon them in different instances.

By this argument the sociologically nuanced analysis of how single women and their sexuality are always suspect, is never addressed and instead Priyobhashini’s experience is highlighted by the derisive comment that she “makes much of her threats.” The complexity of war time violence and the various threatening compulsive situations is well articulated in the work of Cynthia Enloe, Veena Das, Urvashi Butalia, Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin. Primo Levi’s work on the holocaust also shows the complex negotiations made by survivors.

The article also states the account of Champa from one of my articles [Mookherjee 2003] and tries to infer that no rapes happened during the Bangladesh war. My article was exploring how the trauma of rape is understood in independent Bangladesh and in the process I explore how scholars of memory make sense of the process of forgetting. The nuanced arguments I make about Champa is hinged on long-term fieldwork, cross-checking of hospital files and documents and finding the social workers who found her and brought her to the hospital. These are the “evidences” of Champa’s war-time violent encounter of rape. I have also worked with and written about other women who encountered rape during the Bangladesh war. This was done by means of over a year’s fieldwork as well as cross-checking interviews, and examining archival, official documents, etc.

[Read the entire article here.]

Mashuqur Rahman [] is one of the highest read Bangladeshi-American bloggers. Critically acclaimed for his incisive analysis on Bangladesh, US foreign policy and dedicated advocacy of human rights.

[Read posts by Mashuqur Rahman]


E-Bangladesh is a News/Headlines service and a group blog aimed at bringing the news and analysis from Bangladesh to its readers.

2 Responses to “Exposed: Sarmila Bose”

  1. Author Image


    Mash bhai, whether we live in the UK, the US of A, Bangladesh, we must disperse this. For people like me, who were born in or outside of the post-independence Bangladesh, this about our identity. I believe it is incumbent upon us to make this part of all the history classes held in every corner of Bangladesh. I believe this is necessary to prevent vile revisionists like Bose abusing the memory of Bangladesh’s struggle.

  2. Author Image

    Asit Guin

    Madam bose is a practioner os descriptive history. Descriptive history is nothing but story of ghosts and different ghosts become important in different phases of time. History should not be descriptive . Histry should be analytical, with a full ilustration of law of cause and effect.
    What is the cause of 1971 strugle ? it is because pak army denied to transfer power to the electd majority of parliament, the awami league. Jinna was in problem with brute majority of the hindus; so he was in need of partition for his empowerment. But after partition , pakistan faced the broblem of bengali majority. In pakistan, any democratic election is bound to put pakistan under bengali-influenced government. Pak army wanted to get rid of that. So the whole scam.
    What is the effect of 1971 war ? The bangladesh itself. No new ghostly dicovery can dillute this cause-effect analysis of history. If Bihari ghosts speaks of one kind of story, 1965 riot victims will say another story. In 1965, Bengali hindu dominated cotton mills were destryed and cotton mill worker were killed mainly by bihari muslim rioters. Thus west pak cooton mills established their business.
    Let Madam bose be happy with her ghosts. Let Ghosts of pakista also be happy. Those who died for bangladesh, their death is martyrdom. Those who died for pakistan, their death is a matter of joke, because “united” pakistan disappeared.

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