It is certainly commendable when President George Bush apologizes for the condemnable treatment of some of his soldiers. He is concerned about the image of his nation.
Pakistan should also think of its national image. Pakistan owes such an apology to Bangladesh for the atrocities its men in uniform committed during the last months of its operation in East Pakistan . Mr. Khalid Hasan in his article mentions the late Tony Mescrehnes, who left Pakistan to inform the world about those atrocities. Mr. Khalid Hasan feels sorry that “no Pakistani writer or journalist has had the decency to transcribe a full and honest account of the rape of Golden Bengal.” Mr. Khalid Hasan points out that the journalists were not allowed to write about those atrocities. He concludes, “It is not too late for a Pakistani to write like this about what we did in East Pakistan in 1971.”
I would like to share that I had collected some of those accounts for my book The Discovery of Bangladesh that was published by Colin Venton in 1972. I have quoted Tony Mescrehnes and journalist from the West because there was nothing to quote from Pakistan press. Readers have seen the pictures of the Abu Ghraib prisoners and have read about them. The atrocities committed by Pakistani military in East Pakistan has never been acknowledged by any head of the Islamic State of Pakistan. A glimpse of those atrocities will provide interesting material for a comparison and to think about.
That is how I started:
During the nine-month's civil war, stories of atrocities committed by the Pakistani army have appeared in various newspapers across the world. Their own correspondents who visited those areas and interviewed the victims sent these reports to the newspapers. Some of them are given below.
The Hindustan Times in its 30th March 1971 issue describes how a woman and "her husband had run away from a train stopped by the army. Looking back they saw soldiers, perched on the compartments, shoot down hundreds of passengers. The rail tracks were strewn with hundreds of bodies of men, women and children." Alwyne Taylor in his letter published in the Daily Mail, London, of 3rd April 1971, says, "Dacca is a death house. I saw so much that I won't be able to sleep for years." The Associated Press correspondent, Dennis Neeld and photographer Michael Laurent, made their way into Dacca from Calcutta (India), dodging West Pakistani Army They went on foot and canoe. Their reports appeared in many newspapers of North America on 13th April 1971. They saw "a young girl cringed in a corner of the charred shell of her house. She clasped her baby brother in her arms and her eyes reflected fear . . . Neighbour said her parents died in the army attack." Time (Canada) of 3rd May 1971, writes of "a young man whose house was being searched begged the soldiers to do anything but to leave his 17-year-old sister alone. They spared him so he could watch them murder her with a bayonet."
Peter Hazelhurst, in his letter published in Time (Canada) on 23rd June 1971, describes tragedies of some of the Pakistani refugees recovering from bullet wounds. He met them at the hospitals near the border. Among his many stories only three are included here. The first relates to Hasan Ali, a Muslim, whom he found lying at Gasa Hospital near Bongaon. "The 25-year-old cultivator said that he and two friends were surrounded by 70 soldiers while working in their fields near Jessore in April. They wanted to know whether we were Hindus or Muslims. But they refused to believe we were Muslims. They started to shoot and I fainted.' " Peter Hazelhurst writes about Nethai Padanag, a young Hindu teacher who worked in a village of Mirzapur in Jessore district. The teacher "lost his
right arm and the three fingers of his left hand when a grenade was thrown through the window of his house last month." Haripada Rai was a cultivator at Chunkuri, a village in the district of Khulna. Mr. Rai "and about a hundred Hindus were lined up along the bank of the Chunkuri River last month and machine-gunned by Pakistani troops. Miraculously he was hit in the side of his neck and he survived."
Mr. Colin Smith, who visited Dacca and from there flew over villages in a helicopter, writes in the Observer of 30th June 1971 "East Pakistan has become a dreadful gold rush of horror stories. Every Bengali and non-Bengali has his own tale to tell. In Dacca the Bengalis say the murder of the non-Bengalis happened only in Chittagong, and go on to tell you of their own suffering." According to the Montreal Star of 2nd July 1971, the four British parliamentarians who toured East Pakistan impartially were convinced
that Pakistani military did commit genocide. The military "behaved in an utterly uncivilized manner which would be a disgrace to any country in the 1970s. . . . The delegation leader Arthur Bottomle a former minister of overseas development, said he was sure the Pakistan Army had indulged in a campaign of mass destruction and killing in East Pakistan."
Mr. Murray Sayle, the London Sunday Times correspondent describes his experience in an article that appeared in the Montreal Star of 26th July 1971. Mr. Sayle went to one of the villages ruined by Pakistani military. The empty village had indications of its being a Hindu village. He wondered where the inhabitants had disappeared. "Then, timidly, a woman in a tattered sari with three young children at her heels came forward. She was a Muslim and a refugee herself. Her husband had been killed and she had run away and found this empty village, as I had, by accident. She had been living on some rice the Hindus left behind. But it was finished and she was at her wit's end to feed her children. She did not want to go to the authorities because she was afraid they would find out her husband was 'Joi' Bangla (victory Bengal), the slogan of the banned and smashed Awami League."
Dan Coggin, in Time of 2nd August 1971, describes the refugees he met at the refugee camps. He says that every refugee "has his own horror story of rape, murder or other atrocities committed by the Pakistani army in effort to crush the Bengali independence movement. One couple tells how soldiers took their two grown sons outside the house, bayoneted them in the stomach and refused to allow anyone to go near the bleeding boys, who died hours later. Another woman says that when the soldiers came to her door, she hid her children in her bed, but seeing them beneath the blanket, the soldiers opened fire, killing two and wounding another. According to one report from the Press Trust of India (P.T.I.), 50 refugees recently fled into a jute field near the Indian border when they heard a Pakistani army patrol approaching. 'Suddenly a six-month-old child in it's mother's lap started crying,' said the P.T.I report. Failing to make the child silent and apprehending that the refugees might be attacked, the man throttled the infant to death.' "
Mr. Hugh McCullum, editor of Canadian Churchman, writes in the Observer of October 1971 : "I went into Bangladesh illegally. Whole sections of towns and villages the Khulna-Jessore road are wrecked. I didn't go to Dacca, but the World Bank, never known as a liberal, bleeding heart organization, says 'it looks like a nuclear attack hit the university.' The central bazaar of Jessore is a mass of twisted rubble."
Mr. Sanjib Sarcar, editor of The Aloke-Sarani, Calcutta, interviewed many victims of Pakistani soldiers' barbarity for his book The Bleeding Humanity. From the many stories he gives, two are mentioned here. A seventy-year-oId man told him "while he was coming towards India with his two sons, the army men chased them. They killed one of his two sons on the spot. He himself was injured and was carried here by another son." Sanjib Sarcar describes the experience of a journalist who took shelter in an empty dark room on 26th of March, to find a way to escape. The journalist told Mr. Sarcar:
"There was a small hole in the room. He managed to peep through this hole and see a part of the street. Dead bodies were scattered on the street, on the pavement, slumped in the rickshaws, in front of the shops, everywhere, a street bathed in blood! The houses along the street were damaged by the bullets and machine-gun fire." The next day in the morning he saw this scene, as he describes in his own words :
"Suddenly I heard a truck stopping nearby. There were entreaties of women ... in a moment, cold sweat ran all over my body. Dumfounded I looked at the truck. It was loaded with girls and women of various ages. All of them almost without any clothing. Fear and panic had overwhelmed them. The truck was standing in the corner of the broad road, near the house in which I had taken shelter. The women and the girls were crying, weeping, tears rolling from their eyes. The Army men were laughing at the entreaties of their victims. The women would not get down from the truck. The Army men forced them to get down. And I saw the greatest hateful scene of the century performed before my eyes.”
"It was 10.15 a.m. They raped in broad daylight all the women, young and old. The scene lasted for about an hour. The women almost lost their consciousness; some of them were half-dead. After an interval of a few minutes, the rifles roared. It was the end."
In The Testimony of Sixty, published by Oxfam, Oxford, Senator Edward Kennedy writes of his experiences based on what he saw and heard at the refugee camps. He says that "it is difficult to erase from your mind the look on the face of a child paralysed from the waist down, never to walk again; or a child quivering in fear on a mat in a small tent still in shock from seeing his parents, his brothers and his sisters executed before his eyes; or the anxiety of a 10-year-old girl out foraging for something to cover the body of her baby brother who had died of cholera a few moments before our arrival. When I asked one refugee camp director what he would describe as his greatest need, his answer was 'a crematorium'. He was in charge of one of the largest refugee camps in the world. It was originally designed to provide low income and middle income housing, and has now become the home for 170,000 refugees."
According to the news that appeared in Time, 20th of December 1971, the people of Jhingergacha told the Time's correspondent that the Pakistani soldiers shot the ones who did not understand their language, Urdu. Mr. Anthony Mascarinas, assistant editor of the Morning News, a daily from Karachi, left his home with his family to inform the world of the military's atrocities. His articles have class=Section2 appeared in many newspapers. In the Montreal Star of 15th June 1971, he writes of his experiences encountered while touring the eastern part of the country, along with the military. At Chandpur, the military spotted a young boy running towards his home at twilight of one evening. Major Rathore reached for his Chinese-made machine-gun.
"For God's sake don't shoot," I cried. "He's unarmed. He's only a villager."
"Rathore gave me a dirty look and fired a warning burst."
"As the man sank to a crouch in the bush carpet of green, two jawans were already on
their way to drag him in."
"The thud of a rifle butt across the shoulders preceded the questioning."
"Who are you?"
"Mercy, Sahib! My name is Abdul Bari. I'm a tailor from the New Market in Dacca."
"Don't lie to me. You're a Hindu. Why were you running?"
"It's almost curfew time, Sahib, and I was going to my village."
"Tell me the truth. Why were you running?"
"Before the man could answer he was quickly frisked for weapons by a jawan. The
skinny body that was bared revealed the distinctive traces of circumcision, which is obligatory for Muslims."
"At least it could be plainly seen that Bari was not a Hindu."
"The interrogation proceeded . . . Abdul Bari was clouted several times with the butt end of a rifle, then ominously pushed against a wall. Mercifully his screams brought a young head peeping from the shadows of a nearby hut. Bari shouted something in Bengali. The head vanished. Moments later a bearded old man came haltingly from the hut. Rathore pounced on him."
"Do you know this man?"
"Yes Sahib. He is Abdul Bari."
"Is he a fauji?" (soldier)
"No Sahib, (sir) he is a tailor from Dacca."
"Tell me the truth."
"Khuda Kassam (God's oath), Sahib (sir), he is a tailor."
The journalist told the major "for God's sake let him go. What more proof do you want of his innocence?" Due to the intercession from the journalist "Rathore ordered Bari to be released. By that time he was a crumpled, speechless heap of terror. But his life had been saved." Mr. Mascarenhas continues:
"For six days as I traveled with the officers of the 9th Division headquarters at Comilla I witnessed at close quarters the extent of the killing. I saw Hindus, hunted from village to
village and door-to-door, shot off-hand after a cursory inspection showed they were uncircumcised. I have heard the. screams of men bludgeoned to death in the compound of the Circuit House (civil administrative headquarters) in Comilla. I have seen truckloads of other human targets and those who had the humanity to try to help them hauled off 'for disposal' under the cover of darkness and curfew. I have witnessed the brutality of 'kill and burn mission' as the army units, after clearing out the rebels, pursued the programme in the towns and the villages. . . ."
"And in the officers' mess at night I have listened incredulously as otherwise brave and honourable men proudly chewed over the day's kill."
‘'How many did you get?"
"The answers are stored in my memory."
"All this is done, as any West Pakistani officer will tell you, for the 'preservation of the unity, the integrity and the ideology of Pakistan."
Manila Parishad, a women's association of Bangladesh, made a fervent appeal to the U.N. to set up a special committee to enquire into the atrocities committed by Pakistani army on women. Begum Malika, its general secretary, wrote to most of the world's women associations to pay their sympathetic attention to sufferings of women in Bangladesh. She alleged in her letters that wherever Pakistani military had its camps, it had also women's prisons to satiate their lust. In one of these prisons, near Calcutta, more than 150 women were tortured to death. "Those who became pregnant were given poison by their relations to keep the family's prestige. Many of the women went mad, contracting diseases. Thousands of women in Bangladesh either killed themselves or went insane during he nine-month's action period. India News, published from Ottawa, writes in its issue of 5th January 1972 that "The Indian troops, with the help of International Red Cross, have rescued 51 young girls from various secret places in Narayanganj and Dacca cantonment in the past few days. The girls, aged 14 to 30 years, were found in rooms locked from outside by Pakistani troops. They were reported to be starving for a number of days. The girls narrated harrowing tales of atrocities committed on them."
The Ottawa Journal, in an article by Martin Stuart-Fox, appeared on the 9th of February 1972, writes of the atrocities committed on women. He describes about a young widow, Zobeda Begum of 20 years who "saw soldiers kill her husband. The soldiers then took her from the village to the Dacca camp, releasing her when she became ill after six days. She said she didn't resist the soldiers because she was in a state of shock. Some girls attempted suicide, using their long hair or saris (long draped gowns) to strangle themselves, according to stories told to Mrs. Hamed. To prevent this, Pakistani soldiers sometimes shaved and stripped the women." Mrs. Sahera Hamed, an organizer of the Bangladesh women's Rehabilitation Centre, says that "school girls, as young as 11 or 12, had been taken by the soldiers while on their way home from school." She says that the number of women who suffered will come to "hundreds of thousands. The Christian Relief Missions suggest the round figure of 200,000 women,"
According to India News, Ottawa, "All India Radio's special correspondent says that during his visit to Khulna, he found three dumps of skeletons and skulls in the compound of the radio station which was completely destroyed by Pakistani soldiers before they surrendered to Indian army. The local people said those were remains of unfortunate girls held inside the radio station building by Pakistan army officers. The correspondent says, when he visited the liberated towns and hamlets, he found bodies of girls brutally murdered inside some of the bunkers."
Newsweek, in its cover story of the 2nd of August 1971 issue, writes that the wounded West Pakistani soldiers needed blood. Army commanders forced Bengalees to lie down. "Needles were inserted in their veins and then slowly the blood was drained from their bodies until they died."
Around ten million Bengalees escaped to India to evade death, and about three million dollars were needed daily to feed them. The refugees, from every walk of life and religion, took shelter under roofs, tents, and trees and in empty water pipes. The influx, the greatest the world has so far known, consisted of infants, children, old men and women, ill, hungry, exhausted, terrorized, wounded, orphans and so on. Though the world community extended its generosity to help the destitute, yet the main burden of feeding them fell on the shoulders of India, already a poor nation of 500 million people.
To aggravate the plight, cholera broke out in some of the refugee camps; it took thousands of lives.
David Loshak, a prominent journalist, in his book Pakistan Crisis, calls the massacre "more methodical, planned, and ruthlessly executed than any in modern times since the Nazis". He further says that "whole areas of the town of Khulna were burned down in an operation officially described as 'slum clearance' : at times, the river was choked with corpses. Soldiers at Santihar destroyed almost the entire town and shot every Bengalee they could find, on sight. At refugee camps in India, there are Pakistani babies that have been bayoneted. At Kushtia, Punjabi soldiers raided the house of a businessman and killed all but one (left for dead) of a family of seven. At a village in the east of the province, soldiers murdered two children before their mother's eyes and then shot her as she held the baby. John Hastings, a Methodist missionary in Calcutta, says he has certain evidence that soldiers threw babies in the air and caught them on bayonets and killed girls by thrusting bayonets into their vaginas" (p. 115).
For months after its independence the stories of atrocities continued escaping the pens and mouths of visitors to Bangladesh. According to a report published on page four of the Canadian India Times of the 7th of December 1972, Lotta Hitschmanova, an internationally known woman for her humanitarian work, made these remarks at a gathering in Vancouver, Canada, on the 25th of November 1972 : "What I saw in Bangladesh recently was so shattering that I thought I would have a break down, the first time that I just couldn't take it." Showing the slides she said, "the butchering of the students, the intellectuals, the barbarous rape of very near every Bengali lady including the minors, the burning and looting of every house and the belongings by the West Pakistan soldiers, seemed unbelievable, but it is a fact. The tyrant and the trodden both were the followers of the same Prophet Mohammed," she added.
Mr. Omar Ali, one of the editors of Asiapeace (online) on May 10, adds “another anecdote (an authentic first hand report): General Hamid (chief of army staff) was inspecting the troops in Dhaka and stopped before an enlisted man to ask him: "jawan, kitney hindu maara?". Note that there is absolutely no hint of killing terrorists or rebels. Being Hindu was itself a death sentence in East Pakistan. By the way, this fact is also the reason for some double-mindedness among Muslim Bengalis about this issue. The order was NOT to kill all Bengalis. It was to kill all Hindus. A lot of Bengali Muslims were killed but the supporters of alshams and albadr were aware that the genocide was not aimed at Muslims and a lot of them seemed to suspect that it was not an altogether bad idea.”