During War, I was only 9. I was the silent observer of “selective genocide,” and my father’s action proved that it was a Hindu Genocide in the beginning. In my village, they did not kill my father or his Muslim friends. Since the beginning, the Pak army attempted to kill all Hindus, our neighbors, but my father prevented them from killing Bengali Hindus. They were poor, lower-middle-class people, and most of them were engaged in petty business. It was a humanitarian gesture that was being undertaken by my father out of humanity to fellow Hindus, his neighbors. They were very much afraid that they were about to be killed solely because they were Hindu.
I grew up in a Hindu neighborhood. And my soul was developed with the beauty of a mixture of Hindu and Muslim religions. Furthermore, the essence of Bengali secular, liberal cultural values at home impacted my secular mindset. My father protected Hindu people as his own families, brothers, and sisters. During the War, Pak collaborators brought together all Hindu men by the Brahmaputra River’s side and asked them to make a queue; the intention was to shoot all of them and throw their dead bodies in the Brahmaputra River. My father stood up in front of them and asked them why they are going to kill these innocent people. He told them these Hindus are his neighbors and live with these people last 20 years. If they want to kill these poor Hindus, they must kill him first. I do not know where he got this courage to argue with the ferocious Pakistani collaborators. And what convinced my father that they would not kill him and let go all Hindu men.
People of my village knew well that my father was a just man. All Bengali Hindus, Muslims, including Biharis respected my father, and they revered him as their guardian. His charismatic leadership personality and liberal philosophy saved all those Hindu men.
On that very night, my father suggested those Hindu men (who were our loving people, whom we called dadu, didima, mama, bhai, bon ( grandpa, grandma, uncle, brother, sister, etc.) to leave their homes and sail to India by boat before dawn. To save Hindu women and children (of that village/bazaar), my father opened his door to make a shelter in our Nandina home. He arranged for a Hindu cook to prepare their food. My father also let them use his other house to save Hindu young women’s lives. My third brother, a graduate student, and his friends took that very responsibility to save Hindu young women. I can remember the Hindu cook Arun, a young man, had to make 70-80 roots daily and mix vegetables for the Hindu women and their children. Serving so many people was feasible because my father was a merchant, and his store was full of sacks of flour, sugar, and oil. But the daily life and business activities were stopped for the War, and looters were busy robbing all Hindu shops and homes.
All my Hindu friends received shelters in our homes, and my mother and sister taught them short Quranic verses and Kalimah (declaration of faith). For example, the first Kalimah: There is none worthy except Allah, Prophet Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. In case, the Pak army asks them any question to prove if they are Hindu or Muslim, so they can answer. Some of my Hindu friends also learned how to perform prayers five times prayer (namaz) within this short period. These all narratives might be unreal to someone like Sarmila Bose, who does not have a rich lived experience, which is important to write an authentic account about the reliable tales of War 1971. I do not know how my father seized so much love, passion, and sense of duty and responsibility towards fellow Hindu men and women, as well as Biharis. He was an enlightened soul, a transformed man certainly.
Below I jolted down the evidence on selective genocide from the political scientist Guss (2013) and other authors. Liberation War 1971 started by the Pak army and they attempt to a selective genocide, killing Bengali Hindus was the first motive of this War. Earlier I mentioned that to employ selective genocide, I relied broadly on Guss (2013). I decided to limit this article to the discussion of genocide, not violence on Hindu women and mass rape issue in 1971, as I have word limits.
First, I introduce the preface of the War. The prelude of War indicates how cyclone hit hard and provoked the Civil War. But cyclone was not the main cause that prompted the Civil War in 1971. On November 13, 1970, a massive cyclone Bhola hit East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Cyclone Bhola was a devastating tropical cyclone that struck East Pakistan and India’s West Bengal. It remains the deadliest tropical cyclone ever recorded and one of the world’s deadliest natural disasters. The State Department assessed 500,000 were dead, Sunil Khilnani, a politics and history professor at Ashoka University, India, mentioned in 2013. A few weeks before the election, a colossal cyclone (at the Bay of Bengal) ripped across the eastern province and hit the North.
Although it killed a few hundred thousand across the country, there was no response from the Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan government (3rd President of Pakistan) or the U.S. administration. They came and promptly fled back to West Pakistan, leaving it to international agencies to assist and repairing the damage. But relief aid or assistance did not arrive even after three months. On that stormy night, the winds shrieked to 150 miles an hour. The next day, I found none of my friends’ homes are unaffected; only our home survived because it was a one-story brick building. There was a hue and cry outside as my poor neighbors became homeless by night. All tin shade and thatched homes were shattered. People were busy collecting their lost items and repair their homes. At night, I could hear the roaring sounds of the storm but went to sleep at some point, for sure. I was a child, but the grim morning scenario was vivid; therefore, I still can recall. My all poor Hindu friends were homeless by night. My father lent his hands to buy tins and support them in rebuilding their roofs. About the loss, Blood’s consulate reported at least 230,000 people died from the storm, which was 15 percent population according to U.S. humanitarian agencies. The State Department put the death toll even higher, at half a million as many of them drowned.
One U.S. Colonel remarked it was worse than anything than the Vietnam battlefield experience. A horror scene was narrated by Guss (2013): the human corpse and animals’ dead bodies, and alive bodies were piled together. People tried to take shelter at the top of the trees, even trees were swept clean away.
To save coastal people from the seasonal cyclone there was no effective disaster management system in East Pakistan. No people were alarmed or evacuated from the cyclone zone. Guss noted, “bodies were still floating in inland rivers, mass graves being dug, the smell of dead bodies were on the air.”…Three months have passed, but nothing was done for the victims, no relief, no aids from West Pakistan or U.S. The cyclone and uncaring mentality of West Pakistan hit hard Bengali nationalists and civilians. “Bengalis in East Pakistan felt alienated by all means” (p. 23). He further noted that knowing the high number of deaths how Kissinger warned U.S. president Nixon that hostility is now worse and U.S. emergency relief efforts could threaten Yahya authority, they stopped sending relief.
The election was two weeks away only. Awami League leader Sheikh Mujib came to visit cyclone areas and supervised his party’s relief efforts personally. After he returned to Dhaka, he declared that the people’s Pakistan government was guilty of murder. West Pakistan had a huge army but did not come out with any help to bury even the dead bodies. Only after the three weeks of the devastating cyclone, the election was set on December 7, 1970. Awami League won with the overwhelming majority of seats out of 169. Awami league won all except two. The election was free and fair, people’s will was impressive. On the other hand, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Bhutto (later became the 9th Prime Minister of Pakistan) also received an impressive victory in West Pakistan, but because East Pakistan was more populous, Mujib won twice as many seats, Guss described. Guss asserted, Blood thought that the best possibility would be a confederation, keeping Yahya as a president of both wings. Bhutto could be the prime minister of West Pakistan, and Mujib could be the prime minister of East Pakistan.
“Mujib could not compromise of autonomy. But the confederation was better than a military crackdown” (Guss, 2013, p. 33), as Blood thought. An extended series of negotiations between Yahya, Bhutto, and Mujib resulted in nothing. Yahya suspended the opening of the National Assembly; the schedule was on March 3. To the East Pakistanis (Bengalis), it seemed outright a political theft. There was still a chance to avoid slaughtering and stop the bloodshed by leaning hard on Yahaya. But it did not happen. Kissinger used Nixon’s friendship with Yahya. And Yahya began his killing orgy.
“Yahya tried to build a new government in East Pakistan to replace the elected members and outlaw Awami League. He created a puppet regime with the support of the East Pakistanis,” (Guss, 2013, p. 110) a group of collaborationist politicians (who lost in the election), devoted to a united Pakistan. The state department instructed Blood not to try to discourage Yahya from shooting. Although there was pressure from militant Bengalis, Mujib requested other East Pakistani politicians to keep Pakistan’s wings together, maybe some kind of confederation. But Bhutto was adamant on one Pakistan. Yahya rushed to West Pakistan, quitting the talks once for all. Whatever anticipation there had been for a political compromise, it was evaporated (Guss, 2013).
In an interview, Blood said,” It would be right after March 25 when we began to report the crackdown. I will admit we did it very bluntly. ..5,000 people probably being slaughtered that night (2014).” The military went into villages, rounded up the Hindus, and shot them en masse. About 300,000 Bengalis in total were murdered. The vast majority were Hindus” (Khilnani, 2013). Indira Gandhi’s (3rd Prime Minister of India) government was shocked when they received the savage military crackdown news in Dhaka. She mentioned that India had to resist such injustice and atrocities. India realized that Pakistan is inflaming a civil war.
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.