Genocide matters not the numbers
This article intends not to defend Sarmila Bose’s myth claim about the death numbers as her research already received enough criticism from a number of writers. “Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War” is a controversial book on the Bangladesh Liberation War written by Sarmila Bose. The book caused an upheaval in Bangladesh and abroad. She claimed that she conducted personal interviews from all sides of the War. What did she want to mean about myth-making?
To Bose, is the story of 1971 a decent fable or an eye-catching fictitious story like zombies? As a researcher, she analyzed data to support her hypothesis only, but she missed the reliability, validity, the trustworthiness of the data, instead of claiming that the War 1971 is a myth. She could have a look at “The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide,” by Princeton professor Gary Bass, and Professor R. J. Rummel’s work (professor of political science at the University of Hawaii) including those famous authors. They did not romanticize the Liberation War 1971 like hers. Guss tried at best to provide fact through his surmounted work on the War 1971. He did not supply imaginary ideas to falsify the “selective genocide,” like Sarmila Bose. Bose has no lived experience or personal connection with the loss of life during the Liberation War, except she holds a mere Bengali ethnic identity. Her identity is even lost in the malevolent purpose of her work on the War 1971 because she tried to turn the readers with false hope of building her image and show desperately how West Pakistan Army and Richard Milhous Nixon (the 37th president of the United States) and his colleague Henry Kissinger (Secretary of State and National Security Advisor) did not assist Pakistan to commit genocide, the War crime.
Boissoneault (2016) stated estimates for the total number of deaths range from 500,000 to over 3 million, with the death toll having become politicized over the years, says Lisa Curtis, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center. The ‘3 million’ figure came from the Soviet newspaper, Pravda, reported investigative journalist David Bergman in a New York Times op-ed, and it has been used to create a national narrative about Bangladesh and its formation that allows the government to extend its judicial power.
Like me, many Bengalis lost their loved ones, and many women lost their chastity, their husbands, their daughters, and sons. Many parents lost their children; many brothers and sisters lost their sisters and brothers. I am one of them who lost my cousin and sibling. I lost my dearest elder brother, the most talented a robust young soccer player of Jamalpur ( the then Mymensing District). I wish I could wake up all of my belated brothers: three cousins (brothers) from their graveyard (one was working in the East Bengal Regiment, he was executed during the War, and two were Freedom fighters passed away), including my sibling, my deceased brother. So, they could reply to Sarmila Bose’s account bluntly on death’s reckoning story. “1971: Bengali genocide”, this story matters not the number.
Scorched Village Telegram
However, in this article, I am narrating my lived experience drawing the fact heavily from Guss’s book “The Blood Telegram, Nixon, Kissinger, and a forgotten Genocide” with special emphasis on one area, which was Blood’s concern, the “selective genocide.” Even though my father took all the precautions to keep us safe, the worst happened. Unfortunately, the risk he took to keep us all together under his warm arms did not work out the way he had thought. My family, too, became a victim of the genocide in 1971.
I can remember that evening vividly, that dreary evening that had been hovering over us like a dark thundering cloud for months. My soccer player brother was shackled and brutalized for months after months. His body was sored, but he did not lose mental strength to escape from the prison. One day he somehow broke the Pak Army prison window and walked on feet miles after miles by the Brahmaputra Riverbank to reach one of our relatives, and then he came home, thinking that his home is an abode of peace, which was not. I wish he would not come home that night; instead, he would stay with our relative.
It was a dark blue stary night. Our house was surrounded by kadamba (Bur flower), kathal (Jackfruit), Am (mango), neem (Indian lilac) and tetul (tamarind) trees. Birds were quietly sleeping in their nests. Sweet water dolphins and fishes were relaxing in the river. To keep us awake only bugs were humming at the jungle by the riverbank, and we little kids were sitting under the shadow and deem light of hurricane lamp. Fireflies (jonaki poka) were dancing in the bushes, perhaps their luminescent light showed him the wrong path to come home. He was unwelcomed in his own home.
Even in the middle of the doldrums of the War, my father did not let us pass the time idle. So, we were studying under his guidance along with my siblings. Nevertheless, our minds were scattered with millions of thoughts about War, Pak armies’ badger faces, and my detached loving three brothers. My father sat beside us with a sunken face, and my disheartened mother was preparing dinner for her children calmly. I clearly remember when my brother entered home, the rice was boiling in the oven. While my mother was checking the boiled rice indifferently, my brother appeared from the back-door alley. From the steep riverbank, his shadow quietly walked up to my mother; he hissed, Amma, it is me. We all heard his voice and ran to the kitchen. My startled mother was crumbling down, seeing her shattered son’s face. We were happy to see our brother for a second but became speechless and flabbergasted looking at his broken health as he had been severely tortured.
Swiftly, my father’s associate entered the room and handed a piece of paper to my father. He received one threatening telegram from Jamalpur Army camp, “we will burn your village (semiurban city) if you do not handover your son.” That scorched village threatening telegram devastated both my parents. To find solace, my wounded brother came home on that murky night but could not sleep on his mother’s lap for a moment. Even he could not get time to cry on her shoulders. He only opened his shawl to show the severe wounds; his entire body was assaulted cruelly. He refused vehemently to go back to Pak army prison. He was in denial, but his voice was not heard. A giant soccer player was looking like a lifeless skeleton. I watched my brother’s pained, feared an angry face. I could hear his dreaded, panicked voice, Amma (mother) please do not let me go. My father was trying to assure/console him that he will bring my brother back home soon. My helpless mother pleaded with my father not to send him back to prison instead of letting him go to India by boat. My father said it is not possible; the collaborators guard the boats and riverbank, listening that my mother’s pounding heart seemed about to blow out. It was surprising how he escaped the collaborators’ eyes and walked through the jungles (by the Brahmaputra Riverbank) to reach home. But he could not escape from his father’s home. My father met many high officials and continued his effort to bring back his son. Alas! I was too little to save him. I wish I could protect my brother. My father handed over his physically and mentally bruised son to Pak brutal army, saving the villagers, hoping to get back his son for his honest approach to the Pak army. My brother, ‘a golden sun’, was set down on that night, he was gone forever…
The writer is a Doctoral Candidate working on peace and conflict resolution through science at Curriculum Studies and teacher, Development department, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), Teaching Assistant, University of Toronto, and founder-president of Volunteer Association for Bangladesh-Canada.