The Legacy of the plight of Hindus in Bangladesh - Part-VIII
By Rabindranath Trivedi - for Asian Tribune from Dhaka
Part-VIII: Birth of Bangladesh
Dhaka, 24 July, (Asiantribune.com): On the evening of March 25, Yahya Khan secretly left Dhaka. Anthony Mascarenhas writes: "It was about 5 p.m. on Thursday the 25 March, 1971. Those who witnessed it say they will never forget that moment of departure. In many ways it marked the turning point in Pakistan's history. Ten days earlier, the President had arrived in Dacca in a bouncy mood. Now there was an obvious despondency and the black mood was infectious. The fact that the talks had failed was of no consequence. They were not intended to succeed. The purport had been purely military - the purchase of time for preparedness and the big strike.
Now, even that ultimate decision was behind him." (Rape of Bangladesh, p.1). Immediately the order went out from Eastern Command Headquarters: “Sort Them Out.” Tanks and Trucks fanned out in Dacca and Chittagong, guns boomed and the genocide began. Army tanks and trucks fanned out in Dacca and Chittagong. The guns boomed and the genocide of the Bengalis began. Just before his arrest on the midnight of March 25, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Father of the Nation, issued from his Dhanmondi Residence in Dhaka the Proclamation of Independence to his party men for broadcasting by the radio stations of the then Radio Pakistan. Accordingly on March 26, the Proclamation of Independence of Bangladesh was broadcast from Chittagong Radio station.
"When the first shot had been fired, the voice of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman came faintly through a wave length close to that of the official Pakistan Radio. In what must have been, and sounded like, a pre-recorded message, the Sheikh proclaimed East Pakistan to be the People's Republic of Bangladesh.' The full text of the proclamation has been published in the Bangladesh Documents, vol-I, released by the Indian Foreign Ministry p-286,also The Statesman, 27 March 1971 . It said, "This may be my last message. From to-day Bangladesh is independent. I call upon the people of Bangladesh, wherever you are and with whatever you have, to resist the army of occupation to the last. Your fight must go on until the last soldier of the Pakistan occupation army is expelled from the soil of Bangladesh and final victory is achieved."
This operation by the Pakistan Army was aimed at dissolving the parity issue between the two wings of Pakistan. On the first few days of the Pakistan army's operation, their targets were Dhaka University, Students Halls, police, EPR HQs and the Hindu populated areas, leaders and workers of Awami League, Communist Party, NAP (M), NAP (Bhasani) and their sister organisations. The headless generals of Pakistan had prepared a blue-print for the forcible suppression of Bengali nationalism which they put in operation on March 25, 1971 to 'sort them out' as it was inimical to Islam.
Professor Stanley Wolpert writes: "For most of the world, however, the genocidal massacre unleashed by Pakistani forces on 26 march 1971 was a much louder and more memorable proclamation of the independence of Bangladesh than any proclamation to that effect that Mujib might have on the radio. Clearly, Zulfi agreed with Yahya and Tikka's 'final solution' to their Bangladesh 'problem'. A 'nightmare of fascism' was unleashed with the wanton massacre of innocent people in full view of every foreign correspondent and most foreign diplomats in Dacca. The Consul-General Archer Blood, senior US diplomat in Dacca, cabled Washington at the time to report the "mass killing of unarmed civilians, the systematic elimination of the intelligentsia, and the annihilation of the Hindu population."
With Dacca still burning the next morning and Bangladesh emerging bloody but unbowed, Yahya went on Pakistan Radio to declare, "Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's action of starting his non-cooperation movement is an act of treason. He and his party have defied the lawful authority for over three weeks. They have insulted Pakistan's flag and have tried to run a parallel government. They have created turmoil, terror and insecurity. The Armed Forces located in East Pakistan have been subjected to taunts and insults of all kinds. I wish to compliment them on the tremendous restraint that they have shown. I am proud of them. [ Bhutto: His life and Times of Pakistan, By Stanley Wolpert, Oxford University Press, London, 1993 pp 155-56].
Bangabandhu's declaration of independence was incorporated in the proclamation of Independence on April 10, 1971. Remembering those days, on April 10, 1971 an overwhelming majority of the elected representatives of the people of East Pakistan formed a Constituent Assembly and declared Bangladesh a sovereign People's Republic. After inauguration and swearing-in of the Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh on April 17, 1971 at Mujibnagar the cabinet took responsibility of the day-to-day development in the different sectors. We were at Mujibnagar in 1971; we witnessed the birth of nation-state Bangladesh.
At Mujibnagar on April 10,1971 Bangladesh Government was constituted under Bangabandhu‘s in absentia, Syed Nazrul Islam, acting president of Bangladesh, prime minister Tajuddin Ahmed led the war alone with cabinet ministers who were sworn-in on April 17, proclamation of Independence was read out in presence of public and hundred foreign journalist and Coln (retd) M A G Osmany, MNA became the C-n-C of the Mukti Bahini. Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed had said on April 17, 1971, at Mujibnagar. “Bangladesh is at war. It has no choice but to secure its right of self-determination through a National Liberation struggle against the colonial oppression of West Pakistan.”
We were present and participated on the occasion. 11 sector commanders were appointed by the Mujibnagar Government in July, nearly 1 million freedom fighters were trained by October’71, ‘Z’, ’S’ and ‘K’ brigade force were formed by the liberation army of Bangladesh.
The Pakistani army action against the Hindus was motivated with an ulterior motive, Acting President Syed Nazrul Islam wrote in a (classified) secret note to Home Minister A H M Kamaruzzaman in May 1971:
1. “A large number of evacuees belonging to the minority community are pouring in from the Gopalgonj subdivision of the Faridpur District of Bangladesh. Their properties were looted away, dwelling huts set on fire and they have been driven across the border in a state of total destitution. This has been done by their Muslim neighbours at the instance of the occupation Army and sometimes at the point of their bayonet. But examples are not infrequent when the traitors belonging to Jamaat-e-Islam and Muslim Leaguers avidly joined the looting spree to enrich themselves at the expense of their Hindu neighbors.
2. The (occupation Pakistani) Army has done it with three-pronged sinister motives, viz., to throw out the Hindu population across the border so that they may narrate the gruesome story of repression and thereby ignite a communal tension in India; to defeat the cause of Bangladesh by alienating the sympathy of friendly people of India; to install the Indian Muslims in the abandoned properties of the Hindus, when they will seek shelter in Bangladesh in the wake of communal riots in India.
sd/- Syed Nazrul Islam, Acting president ”
I was told by Home Minister Kamaruzzaman to go for an inquiry into severe communal incidents at Shikerpur and Krishnanagar, in May 1971. The evacuees from Gopalgonj and some parts of Jessore entered into Karimpur and Kechuadanga with lethal weapons to attack Murshidabad. BSF halted their movements and kept them under barrel for four days. When I visited the spot and told them not to create any scene in the foreign land. The Matbar or the Chief of the regiments of different groups of evacuees disowned my arguments and sought permission to withdraw BSF. The Police officer was trembling. The magistrate was silent. I knew if I failed to cope with situation, the Magistrate would order to open fire.
I jumped upon the roof of my jeep and with folded hands said, “My Faridpuree brothers and sisters, I am a Brahmin from your neighboring Thana, beg you to surrender your weapons to BSF, and I am told by the district magistrate that the distressed evacuees would be provided Chira-Gur (fried rice, molasses) and suitable accommodations in the Kalyani Camps. (Kalyani 7-camps were not sited even).” An old man, the chief of the groups, came to me and asked me to show the secret thread (traditional sign for Brahmin). Then I told them, if need be, I would lead your indigenous forces to Murshidabad. They all surrendered their weapons to BSF, but BSF dealt with them badly and forced them to climb the trucks (Yeh Pakistan nahi hai, yeh Hindusthan hai, kabhi ieschhi mat karna,….) which poured them into an empty land of Kalyani. Thirty camps were built up within a fortnight around Nadia district and two special camps near Ranaghat. Mr A H M Kamaruzzaman wrote a letter on 28 May 1071 to the District Magistrate of Nadia.said:
"It is heartening to note that your administration and good self has been rendering laudable service in connection with the relief and rehabilitation of the innumerable evacuees from Bangladesh. It is also highly appreciated that all possible steps are being taken to stop communal flare-up due to heavy influx of oppressed persons.
I am sending my PublicRelations officer Mr. RabindranathTrivedi, to go round the Relief camps and all other important places as per your direction to talk to the person or persons concerned regarding the motivated line of operation by the Pakistan Army and their ulterior objective to suppress the Bangladesh issue before the community of Nations and convert it into an Indo-Pakistan issue or at least a Muslim non-Muslim issue.
I believe and hope that you would give all possible help and assistance in this respect.
SD/- A H M Kamaruzzaman
Minister-in-charge, Relief, Rehabilitation, Home, and Interior Affairs, Government of Bangladesh. Dated: 28th May, 1971.”
It may be noted that the District Magistrate, Mr. Ashoke Ghose, who was not there. Mr. Das Gupta, ADM, was then in charge.Reports by refugees entering India alleging that the Army and the Razakars had let loose a virtual reign of terror as a reprisal. The New York Times on Sept.21 mentioned: “... According to the refugees, the Army leaves much of the ‘dirty work’ to the civilian collaborators-the Razakars-it has armed and to the supporters of right-wing religious political parties such as the Moslem League and Jamaat-i-Islami.”
In July 1971 addressing the Mukti Bahini trainees Kamaruzzaman said: "We must remember we have had to face this terrible war to make up for the mistakes we did in 1947. Our first and foremost introduction is that we are Bengalis. Religion is our private affair. Religion can never be the stick to gauge a Nation. The role of religion in governing a Nation is also minimal. The soul of a country which is formed by its geographical location is also language, its cultural habit and its affinity to local friendly communities. Religion comes next, and is a matter of personal conviction. We believe in the equality of all religions… whatever his creed all subjects of Bangladesh have the same fundamental rights".
The nine-month-long liberation war in Bangladesh drew world attention because of the genocide committed by Pakistan which resulted in the killings of approximately three million people and raping of nearly a quarter million girls and women. Ten million Bengalis reportedly took refuge in India to avoid the massacre of the Pakistan army and thirty million people were displaced within the country .The most important turning point in the history of Bangladesh genesis was “Indo-Soviet Treaty”in August 1971. Amid the atmosphere of mounting tension, this news was received with a great sense of relief and satisfaction in India. The treaty was hailed by all sections of political opinion.
Provisional Government of Bangladesh hailed the treaty. Bengali diplomats quit their jobs extend allegiance to the exile Bangladesh Government at Mujibnagar and built diplomatic missions in Calcutta, New Delhi, UK and USA. Pakistan was busy with retaliation of freedom fighters and the trial of Sheikh Mujib in August1971; world leaders including secretary general of UNs U Thant condemned the process of so-called 'treasonous trial'.
World opinion was created in favor of Bangladesh; US people were donating the concert of George Harrison, amid a chorus of emotional Western pop songs, and with the world lining up to offer salvation of starving ten million refugees in India. I was entrusted with the responsibility to look after special training camps and the refugee issues. Ten million refugees, over 90% of them were minorities, stranded in inhuman, pitiable conditions in 825 Indian camps across the border in West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. We have known moments of suffering and joy and indomitable courage of the Freedom Fighters during the nine months of War of Liberation. Helpless men, women, and children - Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Buddhists, professionals, intellectuals, government servants, students and other common citizens from different walks of life, all victims of Pak-military atrocity--ran across the border seeking refuge in India from the China-made machineguns and artillery and US-made aircraft and tanks of the Pakistani Army.
It was on the 2 November,1971, one month before Pakistan declared war upon India on 3 December 1971, that Mrs. Indira Gandhi said in London, "We in India are determined that we are not going to be saddled with another country's problem. All the refugees must go back. "
The Prime Minister of India undertook journeys to the Soviet Union (September 27-29) and to Belgium, Austria, the United Kingdom, The United States, France and West Germany (October 16-November 13) to inform the governments of these countries of the plight of refugees, the strain that they were placing on Indian economy and the threat that the entire problem of East Pakistan was posing to the security of the sub-continent. "It may be recalled that a joint command between Mitra Bahini, India and Mukti Bahini, was secretly formed in October, 1971. On November 21, 1971, for the first time since the Proclamation of Independence of Bangladesh, India's tanks and trucks with Indian troops and Bangladesh freedom fighters crossed the border north of Calcutta, near Boira, rolling towards Jessore.
At 5-40 p.m. on Friday December 3, 1971 Pakistan Air Force launched premeditated preemptive air strikes on a number of Indian targets. Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was in Calcutta Red Fort Maidan addressing a public meeting. Suddenly she concluded her speech and rushed back to Delhi on hearing of the Pakistani aggression. Twenty minutes after midnight, Mrs. Gandhi making a national broadcast ''at a moment of great peril to our country” said ''today the war in Bangladesh has become a war on India... We have no other option but to put our country on a war footing...”
On December 6, 1971 Mrs. Indira Gandhi announced in Parliament the recognition by the government of India of the 'Gano Projatantri Bangladesh. ”The decision of the government,” Mrs. Gandhi said, “was not guided merely by emotion but by an assessment of future realities.” The last phase of the war between December 4 and December 16 was a history in the modern Guerilla warfare. Toward the end of the thirteen-day war, under the joint command of Mukti Bahini and Mitrabahini entered the Capital Dacca, Pakistan army with nearly 93 thousand well-trained soldiers surrendered. Lt.Gen A.A.K.Niazi signed the surrender document in Dacca on 16 December1971. Indian Army legend Lt. Gen. Aurora, who presided over the historic surrender by the Pakistani troops under Lt. Gen. AAK Niazi in Dhaka. The photograph showing Niazi signing the surrender deed has become an abiding symbol of an epoch-making event in world history that saw the birth of Bangladesh as an independent nation.
The Bangladesh Government-in-exile at Mujibnagar established itself in Dacca on Dec. 22, 1971. And The Government of Bangladesh renamed erstwhile Governor House of East Pakistan as Bangabhaban on 17 December 1971, the Official Residence of the President of the People's Republic of Bangladesh. It was originally temporary official residence of the British Viceroy of India, and later of the Governor of East Bengal and was known as Governor House. This palace is notoriously known as palace clique and conspiracy since 1947 to 12 December 1971.
It may be recalled that on 12 December 1971 the sitting room of the then Governor Dr A M Malik was so accurately hit by the Indian Air Force that Dr. Malik was forced to declare resignation alone with his cabinet of collaborators and seek shelter in Hotel Dacca International, which was declared a neutral territory. Torn papers and government papers were scattered in the every rooms of the governor’s house while we entered in the Bangabhaban on December 22, 1971. One Mr. Mostaque Ahmed, an accountant of the House had shown us many evidences. However, The first Cabinet meeting of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, Dacca, was held at Bangabhaban on December 24, 1971.
Rabindranath Trivedi is a retired civil servant, author and columnist.
- To Be Continued –
- Asian Tribune –