Bangladesh: The Demolition Of Ramana Kali Temple In March 1971
The birth of Bangladesh in 1971 was a unique phenomenon- it was the first nation state to emerge after waging a successful liberation war against a postcolonial state.
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 mostly over 70 percent were Hindus. Ten million Bengalis, of whom 80% were Hindus, reportedly took refuge in India to avoid the massacre of the Pakistan army, and thirty million people were displaced within the country were poor Muslims and Hindus.
In Bangladesh there are more than 30,000 temples and religious citadels in Bangladesh, and most of those were ransacked, demolished and desecrated.. Thousands of people-men, women and children-were killed and women raped by Pakistani army and their local stooges and collaborators of the so-called peace committees looted Hindu properties. When the burden of the killing became too much for the army, the Pakistanis enlisted and trained paramilitary units made up of non-Bengali Muslims and Bengali collaborators from right-wing religious parties.
Shri Shri Ramna Kali Temple: The 500 year old famed spiral temple was considered a symbol of Hinduism and its heritage in Bangladesh*
Massacre At Ramana Kali Bari: An American Eye Witness
On that night of 25-26 March on the orders of General Yahya and the Pakistani ruling clique the Pak forces armed with mortars, cannons and recoilless guns attacked the citizen in their sleep. In an attempt to drown in blood and silence in terror the upsurge of Bengali Nationalism, the military junta of Yahya Khan unleashed the most barbaric war of extermination against the entire people of Bangladesh. In the wake of this war the occupation Pakistani Army have been indulging in an unparalleled orgy of wanton loot, rape, murder and destruction. It is these gruesome happenings which have been characterized by U Thant the then Secretary General of the United Nations, as “one of the most tragic episodes in human history” and as “ a very terrible blot in the page of human history.”
"On the night on 27 March 1971 all the 250 Hindu men, women and children, who lived in and around the 700-year old Ramna Kali Bari in the heart of Dacca, were massacred. The priest of the Temple Swami Paramananda Giriji held the deity and prayed to Goddess Kali and he remained like that until incendiarism of the Pak army 'cremated' him alive along with all others.
An American eyewitness said: "There are no more Hindus in Ramna Kali Bari… I went to see it. Houses were still aflame and bodies were stacked at grotesque angles." This American added, "The sight staggered foreigners allowed to see it --- among them Mr. David Gordon, head of the World Bank in Pakistan". About 100 corpses were put on display in the village on 29 March 1971.
Dr John E. Rohde of USAID noted that “on the 29th we stood at Ramna KaliBari, an ancient Hindu village of about 250 people in the center of Dacca Ramna Race Course, and witnessed the stacks of machine-gunned, burning remains of men, women and children butchered in the early morning hours of March 29,1971. I photographed the hours later.”
Mr. Gordon Allott's speech in the Senate on July 14, 1971 mentioned that the 'Ramna Kali Bari is an ancient small Hindu settlement situated in the middle of the Dacca racecourse. Even during the most violent Hindu-Muslim riots of partition, the village was able to avoid participation in communal strife …on March 29, a pile of bodies charred and machine-gunned, was on visible display in Kali Bari. The entire village was burned to the ground.'
There was something of a joker in Yahya Khan. Perhaps because of the World Bank officials’ disapproval of the destruction of the Ramna Kali Temple, the military President of Pakistan or his trusted Governor, General Tikka Khan, sanctioned Rs.20, 000 for rebuilding, the temple which had been not only razed to the ground but after the rolling of bulldozers over it not a single brick remained there.
The Ramna Kali Bari and the two villages are now an extension of the grassy racetrack of Dhaka.
When a World Bank official was shown a temple, a foolish stage show was arranged to convince him that the Hindus were freely pursuing their religious duties. A non-Bengali police constable was made to shave off his head leaving a tuft on it. He put on a dhoti and was made to sit and offer flowers as if he was doing the usual puja. When the Inspector- General of Police and others brought the World Bank official there, the fake Hindu priest seeing his boss, jumped up to stand to attention and gave a smart salute, said Mr. A B M Musa of Times, London and BBC correspondent at Dhaka.
A new report, that Pakistani invaders raided the Temple and the Ashram again around end of April or early May in 1971, was published in January 31, 1972 issue of 'Daily Purbadesh' on the destruction of Ramna Kali Temple and Ma Anandamoyee Ashram.
Loren Jenkins of Newsweek, U. S. A. was in Dhaka on March 25-26 and here is what he reported:
“ When the army decided to strike, it attacked without warning. Houses were machine-gunned at random. It was a blatant exercise in terror and vengeance, there can never be any excess for the sort of fire-power we saw and directed against unarmed civilians. There can be no excuse for the mescals burning of the shanty homes of some of the most impoverished people.” (April12, 1971)
Don Coggin, correspondent of Time, U. S. A. reporting from Dacca wrote:
“Before long, howitzer, tank, artillery and rocket blasts rocked half a dozen scattered sections of Dacca. Tracers arched over the darkened city. The staccato clatter of automatic weapons were punctuated with grenade explosions and tall columns of black smoke towered over the city. In the night came the occasional cry of Joi Bangla “(victory to Bengal) followed by a burst of machine gun fire” (Time, April5).
Saturday Review, edited by Norman Cousins, reported:
“A machine gun was installed on the roof of the terminal building at Sadarghat, the dock area of old Dacca. On March 26, all civilians within range were fired upon. After the massacre, the bodies were dragged into buses, some were burned. Some were dumped into the Buriganga river, adjacent to the terminal,” (Saturday Review, May 22).
Quoting reports from British citizens who were evacuated from Dacca few days after the start of the military operations, Guardian, United Kingdom, April 5 wrote
Another British eyewitness account described how troops in Dacca shot nine professors, their families, and 21 students in one of the University resident buildings, Similar attacks were alleged to have taken place in three halls.
At TantiBazar, troops surrounded the area and set fire to the bamboo and thatch houses in an area of a quarter of square mile where thousands lived. Women and children who attempted to flee were machine-gunned and bayoneted.
“Two small Hindu villages ( Ramna Kali Mandir) on the infield of the Dhaka horse-racing tract (near the central district) were surrounded by the army and every man, woman and child was massacred. Three days later, a heap of bodies three feet high, remained where they fell when they were machine-gunned.”
Not only in Dhaka, But also in Chittagong, Mymensingh, Sylhet, Jessore, Khulna, Dinajpur, Pabna and Kushtia as well as in scores of villages, Yahya Khan’s west Pakistani army committed such atrocities on hundreds and thousands of Bangali women. Even old women and literally kids of twelve years were not spared. All foreign Correspondents have testified to this horrible rape of Bangali womanhood. Robert Payne describes scenes of systematic mass slaughter around Dacca (Dhaka) that, while not explicitly “gendered” in his account, bear every hallmark of classic gender-selective roundups and gendercidal slaughters of non-combatant men:
In the dead region surrounding Dacca, the military authorities conducted experiments in mass extermination in places unlikely to be seen by journalists. At Hariharpara, a once thriving village on the banks of the Buriganga River near Dacca, they found the three elements necessary for killing people in large numbers: a prison in which to hold the victims, a place for executing the prisoners, and a method for disposing of the bodies. The prison was a large riverside warehouse, or go down, belonging to the Pakistan National Oil Company, the place of execution was the river edge, or the shallows near the shore, and the bodies were disposed of by the simple means of permitting them to float downstream. The killing took place night after night. Usually the prisoners were roped together and made to wade out into the river.
They were in batches of six or eight, and in the light of a powerful electric arc lamp, they were easy targets, black against the silvery water. The executioners stood on the pier, shooting down at the compact bunches of prisoners wading in the water. There were screams in the hot night air, and then silence. The prisoners fell on their sides and their bodies lapped against the shore. Then a new bunch of prisoners was brought out, and the process was repeated. In the morning the village boatmen hauled the bodies into midstream and the ropes binding the bodies were cut so that each body drifted separately downstream. (Payne, Massacre [Macmillan, 1973], p. 55.)
It may be mentioned here that Shri Shri Ramna Kali Temple and Ma Anandamoyee Ashram were built on 2.22 acre land in Dhaka. This land is situated on the southern side of the then Race Course Ground (Presently Surawardi Garden) and on the opposite side of Bangla Academy. The Kali Temple was built by "Dasanagthi" group of people who were followers of Sankaracharyay. Swami Gopal Giri of Badri Narayan Joshi Math came to Dhaka about 500 years ago and first founded a monastery at Ramna says the historian Muntashir Mamun. At that time the monastery was known as " Kaatghar ". Subsequently, the main Temple was built here by Haricharan Giri.
This very Temple, built about 500 years ago, was destroyed on March 27, 1971 by the Pakistani invading army. Sreemath Swami Paramananda Giri was the temple priest when the Temple was destroyed. Although the Temple was built in the architectural style of Bengali Hindus, Islamic style was also noticed on the structure. 120 feet high peak extending over the second floor of the main Temple could be observed from far distant places. The peak of the Temple could be noticed as a landmark structure of Ramna in the well publicized photograph showing Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahaman lecturing at vast public gathering on Race Course Ground on March 7, 1971.
Beautiful image of Goddess Bhadrakali was seated on a wooden throne in the Temple and the Temple was surrounded by the wall of the Race Course Ground. To the right side of this image was the deity Kali of the Bhawals. The priests, worshipers, and other devotees lived in the rooms on north-east and western sides of the Temple. There was also a Shiva Temple on the side.
Regarding the efforts for rebuilding the destroyed Temple and Ashram, the Justice K. M. Sobhan Commission noted that such demands came not only from the Hindus, demands also came from the respectable representatives of the society to rebuild the famous Kali Temple and Ma Anandamoyee Ashram in independent Bangladesh. Even the religious minded Khadem of the Mosque expressed his desire to rebuild the Temple. The respected representatives of the society, who gave testimony to the inquiry Commission, realized the necessity to rebuild the historic Kali Temple and Ashram at Ramna and construct a memorial with the names of the martyrs carved on it. This will establish correct historical perspectives and bring consciousness in the minds of the people about the freedom struggle. The memorial will appear to the freedom complex now under construction.
So far the public Inquiry Commission could collect names of about 50 people among those who died in the hands of Pakistani invading army on March 27, 1971 at Ramna Kali Temple and Ma Anandamoyee Ashram. Names of all the martyrs could not be found because most of the survivors of the diabolical massacre, perpetrated by Pakistani invading army at Ramna Kali Temple and Ma Anandamoyee Ashram, left the country at different times. Their whereabouts could not be collected at the initial stage of inquiry. The Public Inquiry Commission will make every effort in future to collect testimony from those survivors and print a complete list of names of all the martyrs. While the Commission was investigating the destruction of Ramna Kali Temple and Ma Anandamoyee Ashram and mass murder committed there, specific sections of a confidential report prepared by a Commission formed under the leadership of Hamudur Rahaman, retired Chief Justice of Pakistan, were published. A very small part of the incidents of destruction and gruesome murder perpetrated by the Pakistani occupying forces in 1971 in Bangladesh was included in this report.
However, the conscientious people of the society were shocked and hurt to know from whatever little was published. The amiable citizens of Pakistan were also vocal and demanded trial for the war crimes. For the information of the people of Pakistan and the world, the report was also published in English. In order to investigate these incidents, a "Public Inquiry Commission for Destruction of Ramna Kali Temple and Ma Anandamoyee Ashram and Mass Murder" was formed on March 27, 2000. The Commission included six members and they are 1) Justice K. M. Sobhan, Chairman; 2) Prof. Muntashir Mamun, Member; 3) Writer Sahariar Kabir, Member; 4) Journalist Basudeb Dhar, Member-Secretary; 5) Dwipen Chatterjee, Member; and 6) Chandra Nath Poddar, Member.
On the occasion of Durga Puja 2000, the Awami League government of Sheikh Hasina finally conceded the demand of Bangladeshi Hindus that had been made perennially, to allow worship again on the site of the original temple. Since then, every year, a delegation of Bangladeshi Hindus has had to formally request permission from the government, and if this is granted, a temporary pandal (stage) is constructed at the site of the original temple, enabling Hindus to worship, and this structure is called "Ramna Kalibari".
However, as soon as the festival ends, the pandal has to be dismantled as per the regulations of the city authorities. In 2004, a semi-permanent makeshift place of worship was built, and an image of the Goddess Kali was installed. It has been repeatedly alleged that visitors to the reinstated image of the Goddess Kali at the site of the original temple are harassed by the police. It is alleged that this is done with the full knowledge of local authorities to prevent the site becoming seen as a formal place of worship. Up until this point, there was nothing on the site to indicate either the history of the temple or recognition of the massacre that had taken place there in 1971.
In June 2006, the BNP government of Khaleda Zia finally announced that it would grant permission to rebuild the Ramna Kali Temple, 35 years after it was demolished, and 34 years after its remains were cleared and replaced with grass. However, the news was not universally welcomed by Bangladeshi Hindus; the Government is insisting on a relocation away from the original site on a less prominent site within the Suhrwardy Udyan; the proposed structure will also be considerably more modest than the original grand building that was truly an icon of the city.
With the framing of the Constitution of the Shri Shri Ramna KaliMandir and Ma Anandamoyee Puja Uddjapan Parishad in June 2009 and The Parishad has been working on constituting a new elected committee to march on in fulfilling the long cherished dream to rebuild the Shri Shri Ramna Kali Temple: The 500 year old famed spiral temple was considered a symbol of Hinduism and its heritage in Bangladesh*
(To Be Contibued - Tomorrow)
Shri Rajen Thakur is a freedom fighter, an organiser of Mujibnagar Government and columnist- author.
- Asian Tribune -