Remembering a forgotten genocide

Mashuqur Rahman

Mashuqur Rahman

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 countrys 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 historys 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.

142 Responses to “Remembering a forgotten genocide”

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    Muhamad [peace be upon me]

    So, technically, you’re a Pakistani? 🙂

    Again, good post.

    One of my maternal uncle was a victim of that ‘last minute frenzy’ you’ve mentioned. Sadly, this maternal uncle was naive to believe that the Pakistanis would spare his life because he could communicate in Urdu. We will never know how they abused him as a translator.

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    A Qader

    Dear Mashuqur Rahman

    I must THANK YOU for such a splendid work. I am sure our museum doesn’t have this collection, would you kindly lend to them and advise to archive these. After reading Pakistani Journalist’s (Anthony M) article in Sunday Times of June 1971 (although I knew all of these), the following things are clear.

    1. The Islamists, like Jamaat’s role during liberation war once again has been confirmed with evidence. They did it with full knowledge of day-to-day killing of so many Mukti Bahinis and civilians.

    2. Bangladesh came into being in the name of Sheikh Mujib.

    3. Pakistanis were using Islam to make Bangladesh a colony (excerpt is given below) without any Bangalee in the armed forces, administration or any high role – what an idiotic and illiterate armed forces Pakis were, and our Razakars and Al-Badar leaders should be tried now for triple crimes – one for fighting against Bangladesh and the other for helping Pakis to make us colonised knowing we would be sub-human if Pakistan succeeded and thirdly for doing the above two in the name of religion. For the first point – one can relate it with their political conviction (which is also criminal), but for the second and third points – it is crime not only against us but also against humanity in general – there should not be any problem to convince prosecutors of International Court with these points. These animals must be tried. No more but and if. Cheers, AQ

    The excerpt from the Sunday Times, 13 June 1971:
    [“We are determined to cleanse East Pakistan once and for all of the threat of secession, even if it means killing off two million people and ruling the province as a colony for 30 years”. I was repeatedly told by senior military and civil officers in Dacca and Comilla. The West Pakistani army in East Pakistan is exactly doing that with terrifying thoroughness.]

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    Mohammad Zaman Apu

    Absolutely agree on the comments provided in this section. We are not only humiliating ourselves by letting some of the leaders of genocides be again leaders of the country, but also disrespecting each one of the deaths of our Shadhina Juddher Shahids. In addition, the survivors of the war, the victims of abuses and rapes, and the stunned witnesses of those killings who are alive still get numbness when they try to remember. It is Jamaat, of course, however, we should not forget the others who are the shape-shifters, and adapt to other political parties. Regardless of party affiliation, we need to bring each one of these murderers to justice, be that person is in Jamaat, BNP, or in Awami League, or in any other party.

    I read the novels, the books, and history of a number of versions. I notice one pretty common theme, the person who was on the part of committing the genocide in 1971, that person possibly still a “public” leader and “figure”. Can you believe that?

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    Engr. Khondkar Abdus Saleque

    Tremendous work. Every sensible Bangladeshi must condemn the architects of Genocide of Bangladesh . The war criminals must he boycotted and hated .We must never forget the scarifice of Millions .The Bangladeshis wherever we are we own our origin to the supreme sacrifice of these valiant people .The genocide of Bangladesh can only be considerd with ethnic cleansing in different parts of the world.

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    Nasiruddin Yusuf has done a great job. Joya was superb in her role.

    Since August 1975, Ziaur Rahman tried to distort our history. He reinstated the very razakars portrayed in ‘Guerilla’ into the mainstream of our politics. He even destroyed many records and footages of our War of Independence at the national Film Archives. Zia’s wife Khaleda kept the tradition going by establishing venomous razakaar war criminals like Nizami and Mujahid into the cabinet. These criminals were allowed to fly the bloody red and bottle green flag in their cars in independent Bangladesh. Nothing can be more disgraceful for Bangladesh.

    Yusuf has for the first time since 1975 (after more than three decades) taken us back to the real 1971in big screen. I am sure we will see more of the attrocities comitted by the Pakistani army and the local collaborators the razakaars in the coming days.

    History may be temporarily shut down by blockhead military despots but it can be never changed.

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    Khalid Masood

    Sarmila Bose’s groundbreaking book Dead Reckoning shatters many of the partisan myths that have been nurtured on the 1971 war. There is need for introspection. Pakistan and Bangladesh have to move forward in their relationship. It is pointless to continuously rake up the past.

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