Scorched Village Telegram: Selective Genocide (Part IV)

Pamelia Khaled:

Hindu Genocide: Selective Genocide.

 My father was anxious about seeing the dead bodies were often floating on the Brahmaputra River. The dead bodies were flowing from the West (Jamalpur, where my brother was prisoned). The river current was driving the corpse to the east. The faces were down, the hands of the dead bodies were tied at the back. And they were strapped together, 5 to 7. From the riverbank, it looked like a canoe, made with the cut banana plants. The swollen dead bodies were brought to the shore to check if any of them is my brother. Then, the bodies were pushed back again in the water. It was a big relief for my father, not seeing his son in any of those lifeless bodies. I observed this activity without emotion. As a child, I was startled, and I forgot to cry. The dead bodies were usually thrown in the Brahmaputra after shooting the innocents. The bodies were floated for long, so the faces were puffed and bluish that I could remember vividly. 

As my wounded brother was shoved to Pak army prison, my distressed father felt insecure to keep his children at Nandina Bazar’s home.  To save all of us from air bombing, my father dug out a big trench in the middle of our courtyard. Inside the bunker, our storekeeper Shahjahan stored all kinds of dry food, stoves, kerosene lamps and matches, other valuable goods, firewood, clothes, water, etc. We were taught to run into the bunker whenever we heard the sound of airplanes. Every day, safety escapes took place at the Nandina residence. As soon as we listened to the sounds of Warplanes patrolling, firing of machine-guns, or bombings in Kamalpur, the neighboring small town, we ran into the home bunker for shelter. Each day our lives were in peril. Our storekeeper was highly terrified. Each time he was the first to run into the bunker and the last to come out. After a few months of living in shuddering fear and chaos, my father decided to send all of us to our grandfather’s house in a rural area. We walked for miles with all our bags and belongings drawn in bullock-carts, in fear, anguish, pain and sorrow. We left our home. 

Like my brother, many young men were hounded and killed mercilessly. My brother was arrested from the street, but he was not executed right away. They thought this robust young man is a freedom fighter, so they put him in prison to gather information. In The Blood Telegram, professor Guss stated that it was a typical scene in Dhaka, civilians caught from home, executed in front of the doors. The Bengali police barrack was pounded by weapons that killed many and Dhaka university was stormed by the soldiers. They captured, raped, and killed female students to meet their vengeance on Hindu women specifically. There was no resistance as most of these people were unarmed innocent civilians, and the worst target was Jagannath Hall, the Hindu dormitory. The Pak army showed their anger and revenge on Hindus destroying and killing students and professors. The old Dhaka was on fire; the atrocities were everywhere. The shantytowns were burned, and there was a sign of heavy-handed military skirmish across the city. 

On March 25, 1971, the Pakistan army had begun a relentless crackdown on Bengalis all across East Pakistan. Guss described that it was as early as mid-April; the first wave of refugees flew to India. It was made up of many Bengali Muslims, but it was mostly Hindus. It was the fact that Pakistan was systematically expelling Hindus, driving out millions of Hindus daily with the hope to reduce the number of Bengalis in East Pakistan. So, the Bengalis were no longer the majority of Pakistan. However, in a significant speech, Gandhi described refugees of every religion to avoid violence between Hindu and Muslims in India (p. 121). Indira Gandhi was anxious as India had approximately seventy million Muslim citizens, so a vengeful sectarian confrontation was possible by the rightist reactionary Hindu chauvinists’ parties. Blood telegram cleared that it was a selective genocide, but to avoid clashes between the community’s Indian government and its official used different terms to accuse Pakistan of genocide such as “the holocaust of East Bengal, “carnage and genocide.” 

The Indian foreign ministry said that Pakistan lost in the election because the number of Bengali populations was higher in East Bengal, so now they are slaughtering Bengalis, so they would not have to compromise with the majority issue in West Pakistan. However, it was Pakistan’s pre-planned policy of selecting Hindus for butchery (Guss, 2013, p. 122).

While Gandhi visited slapdash camps, she felt overwhelmed; people were wounded, needed clean water, doctors, hospitals, public health workers. She commented, we cannot let continue Pakistan continued this holocaust. However, Yahya, still denying that Hindus were targeted, agreed. Joseph Simpson Farland (the Ambassador of Pakistan during the War 1971) warned him that this ongoing “Hindu exodus”: could spark a war with India, and the flow of refugees would not let up until the army stopped its repression of the locals, particularly the Hindus. Indian diplomats in Islamabad wrote that Pakistan’s real goal was to eliminate the Hindus from East Pakistan, and Yahya’s assurance to take the refugees’ return should not be taken seriously (Guss 2013, p. 150).

It was hard for India to hide an ugly reality from its people that 90 percent of the refugees were Hindus. The reason is that Pakistan targeted killing Hindus in East Pakistan. The population of East Pakistan was only 16 to 17 percent Hindu and this minority comprised the overwhelming bulk of refugees. India secretly recorded that by the middle of June, there were some 5,330,000 Hindus, as against 443,000 Muslims and 150,000 from other communities. One hundred fifty-four thousand fleeing daily in June, and 21,000 fleeing every day in July. The millions of Hindu and Muslim refugees already fled to India. These refugees were welcomed in Calcutta, not in Assam and Tripura. Bengalis in Calcutta did not feel like a separate land; they were generous to East Pakistanis, the Bengalis. They felt they were bonded Bengalis, as kith and kin. 

The Pak collaborators were able to snatch my brother for the second time from his loving family. For the rest of the War period, we 45-50 family members stayed in our grandfather’s home along with two other uncles, their children and grandchildren. My two elder brothers were stuck in West Pakistan. One of them was studying at Forman Christian College, Lahore, and the other was in service with the Pakistan Army in Risalpur, West Pakistan. And one brother was in the Pak prison in Jamalpur, East Pakistan, whom we lost finally. All the memories of 1971 come flooding back, particularly my teenage terror of those days. I can remember what pain and anguish my humble family and my Hindu neighbours suffered. I cannot even begin to imagine what was going on. I am unfortunate like many others, as I lost immediate family members at the hands of those War Criminals of the Pakistani Punjabi army and their Al-Badr and Razakar cohorts. They did not let my parents live peacefully. The entire War period horrified us as my two cousin brothers joined in Mukti Bahini, and my second brother was in prison.

Moreover, we lost our brother (the eldest cousin in our family), who was working in the East Bengal Regiment. The current government sentenced to death a few War criminals, but plenty of local collaborators worked for the West Pakistan Army. Still, they are walking through the nerves of the country. And there were repatriate Pakistani Army officers who orchestrated the genocide of 1971 among them. Possibly there was a shortlist of about 170 officers. They were not on trials.

Saturday, December 5, 2020, is a bad day for Bangladesh because the Islamists smashed an under-construction sculpture of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at the five roads’ intersection in Kushtia city. The sculpture’s face and hands were vandalized in the early morning. The incident took place in Kushtia amid protests by various Islamist organizations across the country over Bangabandhu’s sculpture’s construction, all Bangladeshi newspapers reported. I wonder if this Islamist group can vandalize the founder’s father’s sculpture what they could do with the statutes of Hindu gods and goddesses (the deities). A secular, multicultural Bengali (Secular Bangladeshis) nation is in deep trouble again, including peaceful Bengali Hindus, as their contribution to the liberation war is not recognized.

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.

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