Genocide in Bangladesh in 1971: A Different Chapter

অতিথি লেখক's picture
Submitted by guest_writer on Sat, 16/02/2013 - 12:57pm

Kuloda Roy
MMR Jalal

Published in Sachalayatan

Leo Kuper wrote a book titled “Genocide”, with a cover that has multiple numbers in it. The cover says, 1915: 800,000 Armenians. 1933-1945: 6 million Jews. 1971: 3 million Bangladeshis. 1972-1975: 100,000 Hutu, and, at the bottom, in bold capital letters, the word “Genocide” is written. These numbers - 0.8 million, 6 million, 3 million, 0.1 million - represent the numbers of people killed in genocides, these numbers represent genocide. These numbers do not stand for accurate count done by pressing buttons in a calculator. Rather they stand as a marker of planned genocide that darkened the history of mankind.

Kuper is a world famous genocide specialist. His book “Genocide” is also a much acclaimed documentary. This book claims that in 1971, 3 million people were killed in only nine months. This is not some made up story, this is the truth. Till now, a lot of newspapers and magazines bear the published witness of this claim.

Journalist John Saar, associated with the Life magazine, visited Calcutta in June, 1971. He was accompanied by Mark Godfrey. They travelled together in a car to visit the refugees from Bangladesh. Sometimes they visited the borders, sometimes Calcutta and other parts of West Bengal. At that time, the Bengalis of East Pakistan became the victims of atrocities like massacre, rape and torture by the Pakistan army. Those who survived took refuge in West Bengal, India to hold on to their lives. While talking with Saar, a refugee accounted his experience - “Pakistan army surrounded our village from three sides. They set fire to our homesteads. When we came out to flee, they shot at us with machine guns. They killed my relatives.”

John Saar also talked with a woman who was crying. The woman crossed the border with other refugees. She told him - “They chased us. They attacked me with a rod. My child was on my shoulder, the blow cracked my baby’s skull. I am drenched in my baby’s blood, but my baby is no more.”
This issue of Life magazine came out in June 18, 1971. But in this issue, John Saar is not recollecting these stories of genocide where Pakistan army was directly involved. He is telling another story, a different story of genocide, which is more brutal.

In search for a different kind of genocide

It was mid-June, 1971. John Saar visited Karimpur, in Krishnanagar, Nadia district, West Bengal. This village is only 3 miles from Pakistan border. Millions of people from East Pakistan are coming here to take refuge. They lost everything to the brutalities of Pakistan army, their homes, family, friends, properties. These scared people came to India in search for safety, after being chased by certain death. They were saved from direct bullets by the grace of almighty. But still they are surrounded by death threats.

Saar saw the line of refugees that went on and on. Some of them had handkerchiefs stuffed in their mouths. When he went close to a man in the line, he only put the handkerchief away to say the words, “Cholera! Cholera!”. He had nothing more to say. The bullets of Pak army is chasing from the back, and cholera is accompanying them. They can only see darkness in front of them, still they are moving forward to some unknown destination.

The road that divided Karimpur in two and went towards Calcutta, had refugee camps on the left side. 15,000 people took refuge there. But a cholera outbreak has already claimed 700. The rest are fleeing, though they cannot leave cholera behind them. Dead bodies are lying out in the open.

John Saar could see flocks of vultures come down on the fields. They are feasting on the dead bodies with their sharp beaks. Their eyes are glowing. But the number of dead bodies is so huge, the vultures cannot finish them off. They also lost their appetite. They are tearing down the clothes from their bodies. Some of the bodies were still warm. The dead bodies of the people who died from cholera are lying in the roads, fields, drains. John Saar could see the dead body of a child, whose mother had wrapped a part of her clothing around him. The child was sick, and died in the moving truck. The truck did not stop, as there was no point stopping the truck for a dead boy. There are many people on the truck who are sick. May be some of them can live if they can reach the hospital early and get some medication. No one wants to waste time. So, the wrapped up dead body was thrown outside from the truck.

Photographer Mark Godfrey, John Saar’s companion took a picture of one of the buses. Some people are hanging by the door handles, others are on the roof of the bus. In total it would be sixty to seventy people. Some are vomiting. Some of them used handkerchiefs to cover their mouths. Some used their hands as they did not even have handkerchiefs. The people on the roofs of the bus was vomiting, the vomit was coming inside the bus through the open windows. And the people inside the bus were vomiting in the fields and roads. The germs of cholera were spreading everywhere. The people were scared, their frightened eyes went inside the sockets. The bus full of cholera germ was moving, with a dead body lying outside.

“So many people have died, we could not keep count. It’s just not possible to keep counts”, told one volunteer to Saar. These people did not know where they were going, they were just walking on and on. When they became thirsty and exhausted, they drank water from the ditches contaminated with the germs of cholera. They became so weak, once they caught the disease, they could not outlive even a single day.

It was mid-June, 1971. The rainy season had just set in. It would continue till mid-September, the drizzle may continue upto mid-October. The fields are green at the beginning of the rainy season. Lotus bloomed in the ponds and ditches. Amidst this serene beauty, death is playing its own terror game, an inhumane disaster is taking place. John Saar witnessed this, and documented in his report.

He wrote, in the village Katakhali, a group of refugees tried to stop a bus. They were begging the driver to let them in. Those who were sick were lying in the fields by the road. Their families were looking at them helplessly. They did not have the strength to walk. Those who had some money to offer, could get on the bus. They would try to reach in hospital in Krishnanagar to get medical help.

The villages near Karimpur did not have any hospitals, cholera vaccines or medications. The only hospital was in Krishnanagar. That was where the people were trying to get to, by walking, riding on someone’s shoulders, on temporary stretchers or rickshaws.

There was no empty spaces in Krishnanagar hospital. Those who already reached there and alive are kept in open fields. Those who were lucky enough to get medical help were kept in temporary sheds. The sheds were made of bamboo structures, with some clothes on top. Some people were trying to fight off death in these sheds. Their eyes were sunken, they were unconscious or semiconscious. Mosquitoes and flies were everywhere, with stinks of the disease and death. Some of the family members were trying to keep the flies off them with the help of hands, handheld fans or parts of their clothing. The nurses in white dresses were trying to get the saline in their veins. They were trying their best, but it was not nearly enough.

Half of these ill-fated lot were children. John Saar found a little girl, around seven years of age by the roadside. He brought her to the hospital. Her eyes were open, hands limp. The nurse took one look at her and said there was nothing that could be done, the girl was already dead. One tired doctor said, even cats and dogs had better luck than these people. At least they got better attention. These refugees were dying just like rats in traps.

Some of these people crossed 300 miles, barefooted, being chased by Pak army, in a nightmarish state. They did not get nutritious food or pure drinking water. They were covered in dirt and rubbish. The roads became muddy from their feet. The city of Krishnanagar had become a city of terror and death.

India shares 1350 miles long border with East Pakistan. The people who were coming crossing the border were suffering from cholera, typhoid, polio, skin disease and mental trauma. Till mid-June, 5 million refugees had come to India. 1.5 million of them were near Calcutta. 3 million were scattered in various areas. After June, this number reached 10 million.

What was the story of these refugees who were chased like animals? John Saar wrote, to put it in plain words, Pakistan army has attacked the unarmed Bengalis. They killed their relatives and drove them off their homelands. They were trying to annihilate a whole nation. He talked with two elderly man and woman. They did not have the strength to walk normally. They were limping forward. The old lady was using a stick, 15 inches long. She was completely hunched back. They were going together, though they did not know each other. They did not know where their families were, or if they were alive or dead. They were walking from morning to evening. Sometimes they sat down to rest, then got up again. They were also begging, to get some food. They did not have the strength to carry food with them. Two days later, John Saar met the old man again, this time alone. But when he got closer, he realized his mistake, he was not the same man. He never knew where they went.

John Saar met these people, talked with them, and the picture he got is quite terrifying. He wrote, Pakistan army first tried to kill the leaders of the liberation war. Then they attacked the minority Hindu community. Then they attacked any survivors of the first blow, and the progressive Muslim families. The army drove them off their homes, chased them to force them to leave their country. The army even attacked them as they were crossing the border. They separated them from their families, took their belongings. They took off the clothes and golds from the running women, raped them irrespective of age. John Saar noticed that, the number of women was comparatively low compared to men. When asked for the reason, he came to know that Pak army and their collaborators had kidnapped them. They kept them in concentration camps for their carnal pleasure.

The violent rains

The rainy season took no mercy on the refugee camp. There was a new refugee camp name Kalyani, 30 miles from Calcutta. It was an open field where 20,000 people were staying. At first, the field was dry. Saar wrote, the rainy season was soon to come. The sky was overcast with clouds, which turned from grey to black. It was raining in torrents. These people had nothing to protect themselves with except a thin cover made out of dried leaves. The few sheds were insufficient compared to the number of people. When the wind came from from southwest accompanied by rain, they had nothing to save themselves from the assault. They had to live in that condition, from morning till night. The sheds and umbrellas were blown off by the wind. The roofs of the small tents had holes from the continuous rain.

This rain was not a blessing, rather death in a new mask. The fields became muddy. The people were huddled in small groups inside the tents trying to save themselves. The temporary roofs were blown off. Most of the children were naked. The rain came with a drop in the temperature. The children were suffering from cough, cold and pneumonia from the rain and cold weather. Then the flood came with venomous snakes, which made home in the refugee camp.

Some of the refugees in Kalyani camp had tried to make a shed by hanging clothes over a bamboo framework. This one was a permanent camp. They had no food. They starved for three to four days in the pouring rains. Till mid-June, Indian authority was negligent towards these refugees. They considered them as nuisance. The refugees increased the population of West Bengal. So they received very little help. Many of them had no official documents, identity cards or ration cards. They could not collect food, medicine. They died from hunger, from diseases. Some lost their mental balance. Some committed suicide. Some lost their identities forever. They forgot who they were, where they came from. They had only one thing that was certain to them, death. They had nothing more to wish for, from this world - from this civilization - from humanity. What can these deaths be called? Is not this another genocide? One that was planned by the Pakistan army, that required no bullets?

What is the answer to this question?

According to the resolution 260(3)A that was passed on December 9, 1948 in the General Assembly of the United Nations, a genocide is not only limited by mass killing. Genocide is a punishable crime that every state is bound to prevent all over the world. A genocide is any activity that targets the annihilation of the whole or part of a race, ethnicity or community.

So, by definition, a genocide is not only limited to direct killing. According to the resolution 260(3)A, the activities that are legally termed as genocide are -

1. Planned killings of all the members of a group for annihilation.
2. Causing serious mental or bodily harms with a target to wipe them off
3. Deliberately creating such a condition to bring about the complete destruction of a group as a whole or in part
4. Imposing measures that will prevent births within a group
5. Forcibly transferring the children of a group to another group to wipe off their birth identities.

What can be said now? Those who are saying or trying to say that Pakistan army did not commit genocide, they did not kill 3 million people, what will they say about these people that died not from the bullets, but from their planned torture? Will not this number be counted among the calculation of genocide? How much will it be? 50,000? 100,000? 200,000? 2 million? 3 million?

Photo sources:
1. Life, June 18, 1971.
2. Don McCullin, India.
3. Bleeding Bangladesh, Sagar Publishers, Calcutta.
4. Genocide, Leo Kuper.


Roushan Ahmed's picture

Very good Mahbub.

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