Secret History 1971

in Samuel Totten, et al.
Century of Genocide: Eyewitness Accounts and Critical Views
New York: Garland Publishing, 1997
Chapter 10, pp. 291-316

This testimony appears in Arnica Malik’s The Year of the Vulture, pp. 102-104.

On April 19, 1971, about 35 soldiers came to our village in a launch at about 8 A.M. A couple of days earlier, I had asked the Sheikh’s father and mother to leave the village, but they refused. They said. “This is our home and we shall not go away.” Soon after I heard the sound of the launch, a soldier came running and said, “Here Maulvi, stop, in which house are the father and mother of the Sheikh?” So first I brought out his father. We placed a chair for him but they made him sit on the ground. Then Sheikh Sahib’s amma [mother] was brought out. She took hold of my hand and I made her sit on the chair. The soldiers then held a sten-gun against the back of the Sheikh’s abba [father] and a rifle against mine. “We will kill you in 10 minutes,” said a soldier looking at his watch.

Then they picked up a diary from the Sheikh’s house and some medicine bottles and asked me for the keys of the house. I gave them the bunch of keys but they were so rough in trying to open the locks that the keys would not turn. So they kicked open the trunks. There was nothing much inside except five teaspoons, which they took. They saw a framed photograph and asked me whose it was. When I said it was Sheikh Sahib’s, they took it down. I tried to get up at this stage but they hit me with their rifle butts and I fell down against the chair. Finally, they picked up a very old suitcase and a small wooden box and made a servant carry them to the launch.

Then they dragged me up to where the Sheikh’s father was sitting and repeated, “We shall shoot you in 10 minutes.” Pointing to the Sheikh’s father, I asked: “What’s the point of shooting him? He’s an old man and a government pensioner.” The soldiers replied, “Is lire, keonki wohne shaitan paida kira hai” [“Because he has produced a devil.”]. “Why shoot me, the imam of the mosque?” I asked. �Aap kiska imam hai? Aap vote dehtehain” [“What sort of an imam are you? You vote.”], they replied. I said: “The party was not banned, we were allowed to vote for it. We are not leaders, we are janasadharan [the masses]. Why don’t you ask the leaders?” The captain intervened to say that eight minutes were over and we would be shot in another two minutes. Just then a major came running from the launch and said we were to be let alone and not shot.

I immediately went towards the masjid (mosque) and saw about 50 villagers inside. Three boys had already been dragged out and shot. The soldiers asked me about a boy who, I said, was a krishak (cultivator). They looked at the mud on his legs and hands and let him go. Khan Sahib, the Sheikh’s uncle, had a boy servant called Ershad. They asked me about him. I said he was a servant. But a Razakar maulvi, who had come with them from another village, said he was the Sheikh’s relative, which was a lie. The boy Ershad was taken to the lineup. He asked for water but it was refused.

Another young boy had come from Dacca, where he was employed in a mill, to enquire about his father. He produced his identity card but they shot him all the same. They shot Ershad right in front of his mother. Ershad moved a little after falling down so they shot him again. Finally, the boy who had carried the boxes to the launch was shot. With the three shot earlier, a total of six innocent boys were shot by the Pakistani army without any provocation. They were all good-looking and therefore suspected to be relatives of the Sheikh.

After this, the Sheikh’s father and mother were brought out of the house. Amma was almost fainting. And the house was set on fire and burnt down in front of our eyes until all that remained was the frame of the doorway which you can still see. Altonissa, the lady with the blood- stained clothes of her son, is the mother of Torab Yad Ali who was shot. They did not allow her to remove her son’s body for burial, because they wanted the bodies to be exposed to public view to terrorize the villagers. They also shot Mithu, the 10-year old son of this widowed lady. She had brought him up with the greatest difficulty-they never had anything to eat except saag-bhaat (spinach and rice). They shot little Mithu because he had helped the Mukti Bahini. You can now ask the ladies about their narrow escape.

Shaheeda Sheikh, Sheikh Mujib’s niece, then added that fortunately all the women were taken away to safety across the river to a neighbouring village three days before the Pakistani soldiers came. For months they had lived in constant terror of Razakars pouncing on them from bushes by the village pond. Beli Begum, Mujib’s niece, a strikingly lovely woman, told me how she had fled from the village when seven months pregnant and walked 25 miles to safety. Pari, a girl cousin, escaped with a temperature of 104 degrees. Otherwise they would all have been killed.

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Collected from Eyewitness Accounts: Genocide in Bangladesh

 

 

in Samuel Totten, et al.
Century of Genocide: Eyewitness Accounts and Critical Views
New York: Garland Publishing, 1997
Chapter 10, pp. 291-316

This testimony is from Amita Malik’s The Year of the Vulture, pp. 141-42.

Another pathetic case is that of a woman of about 25. Her husband was a government officer in a subdivision and she has three children. They first took away the husband, although she cried and pleaded with them. Then they returned him half-dead, after brutal torture. Then another lot of soldiers came in at 8 or 9 A.M. and raped her in front of her husband and children. They tied up the husband and hit the children when they cried.

Then another lot of soldiers came at 2.30 P.M. and took her away. They kept her in a bunker and used to rape her every night until she became senseless. When she returned after three months, she was pregnant. The villagers were very sympathetic about her but the husband refused to take her back. When the villagers kept on pressing him to take her back, he hanged himself. She is now in an advanced stage of pregnancy and we are doing all that we can do to help her. But she is inconsolable. She keeps on asking, “But why, why did they do it? It would have been better if we had both died.”

————
Collected from Eyewitness Accounts: Genocide in Bangladesh

 

বীভৎস যৌন নির্যাতন, কিন্তু এড়িয়ে গেছেন সবাই

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একাত্তরে আমাদের নারীদের ওপর পরিচালিত পাকিস্তানি সৈন্যদের যৌন নির্যাতনের ধরন কতোটা ভয়াবহ, কতোটা বীভৎস ছিল- যুদ্ধ চলাকালে এদেশ থেকে প্রকাশিত কোনো দৈনিকে তা প্রকাশিত হয় নি। প্রকাশিত হয়নি বিদেশী সংবাদ মাধ্যমে পরিবেশিত বাংলাদেশের যুদ্ধ সংবাদেও।

১৬ ডিসেম্বর বিজয় অর্জনের পর থেকে জাতীয় দৈনিকগুলোতে পাকিস্তানিদের নারী নির্যাতনের বেশ কিছু সংবাদ প্রকাশিত হলেও ধর্ষণ ও অন্যান্য যৌন নির্যাতনের ধরন, প্রকৃতি, শারীরিক, মানসিক প্রতিক্রিয়াগুলো নিয়ে খুব কমই গবেষণা হয়েছে। “স্বাধীনতা যুদ্ধের ইতিহাস লিখন ও দলিল প্রামাণ্যকরন” প্রকল্পের তৎকালীন গবেষক, বর্তমানে ইংরেজী দৈনিক ডেইলি ষ্টারের সিনিয়র সহকারী সম্পাদক আফসান চৌধুরী এজন্য ইতিহাস রচনার সনাতনি দৃষ্টিভঙ্গিকে দায়ী করে বলেছেন, দেশের মুক্তিযুদ্ধের ইতিহাস লিখনে বরাবরই সশস্ত্র লড়াই, ক্ষমতাসীন পুরুষদের কৃতিত্ব গ্রন্থিত করার উদ্যোগ চলছে, কিন্তু তৃণমূল পর্যায়ে লাখ লাখ নারী অস্ত্র হাতে যুদ্ধ না করেও যেভাবে যুদ্ধের ভয়াবহতার শিকার হয়েছে, সনাতনি মানুসিকতার কারণে কখনই তা নিয়ে গবেষণার উদ্যোগ নেওয়া হয়নি।

মুক্তিযুদ্ধে পাকিস্তানি সৈন্যদের যৌন সন্ত্রাসের ধরন সম্পর্কে প্রথম তথ্য পাওয়া যায় ১৯৭৫ সালে প্রকাশিত আমেরিকান সাংবাদিক সুসান ব্রাউন মিলার রচিত “এগেইনেস্ট আওয়ার উইল: ম্যান, উইম্যান এন্ড রেপ” গ্রন্থে। দেশে এ বিষয়ক গবেষণাকর্ম প্রকাশিত হয় খুব কম এবং যা হয়েছে ৮০ সালের পর থেকে। যুদ্ধের পর ৭৬-৭৭ সাল পর্যন্ত গ্রহণ করা এ বিষয়ে ক্ষতিগ্রস্তদের সাক্ষাৎকার একমাত্র প্রকাশিত হয় প্রামাণ্যকরণ প্রকল্পের অষ্টম খন্ডে। কিন্তু এই খন্ড যাচাই করে দেখা গেছে, এতে মোট গৃহীত ২৬২টি সাক্ষাৎকারের মধ্যে নির্যাতনের সাক্ষাৎকার মাত্র ২২টি।

প্রকল্পের তৎকালীন গবেষকদের সঙ্গে যোগাযোগ করে জানা গেছে, প্রামাণ্যকরণ কমিটি তাদের কার্যালয়ে প্রায় সাড়ে ৩ লাখের বেশি পৃষ্ঠার তথ্য সংগ্রহ করেছে। এরমধ্যে মাত্র ১৫ হাজার পৃষ্ঠা গ্রন্থিত আছে। বাকি লাখ লাখ পৃষ্ঠার তথ্যের মধ্যে নারী নির্যাতন বিষয়ক বেশকিছু ঘটনা আছে। প্রকল্পের সাবেক পরিচালক অধ্যাপক কে এম মহসীন বলেন, ‘ডকুমেন্টগুলো এখন জাতীয় ও মুক্তিযুদ্ধ বিষয়ক মন্ত্রনালয়ের দায়িত্ব গ্র্রহনের পারস্পরিক টানাহেচড়ায় অরক্ষিত অবস্থায় আছে। যতোদূর জানি, বেশ কিছু ডকুমেন্ট চুরিও হয়ে গেছে।’

মুক্তিযুদ্ধ সংক্রান্ত লিখিত সূত্র, সমাজকর্মীদের সঙ্গে কথা বলে জানা গেছে, ২৫ মার্চ থেকে পাকিস্তানিদের ধারাবাহিক ধর্ষণ উন্মত্ততার সঙ্গে মধ্য এপ্রিল থেকে যুক্ত হতে শুরু করে এদেশীয় দোসর রাজাকার, শান্তি কমিটি, আল বদর ও আল শামস্ বাহিনীর সদস্যরা। এরা বিভিন্ন স্থান থেকে নারীদের ধরে আনার পাশাপাশি ধর্ষকে অংশ নিয়েছে। প্রত্যেকটি ক্যান্টনমেন্ট, পুলিশ ব্যারাক, স্থায়ী সেনা বাঙ্কার ছাড়াও বিভিন্ন স্কুল কলেজ, সরকারি ভবন ধর্ষণের কেন্দ্র হিসেবে ব্যবহৃত হয়েছে।

জানা যায়, একাত্তরে পুরো ৯ মাস পাকিস্তানি সৈন্যরা অতর্কিত হামলা চালিয়ে ঘটনাস্থলে, কনসেনট্রেশন ক্যাম্পে বাঙালি নারীদের ধরে নিয়ে গিয়ে দিনের পর দিন আটকে রেখে ধর্ষণের যে ঘটনা ঘটিয়েছে অধিকাংশ ক্ষেত্রেই তা গণধর্ষণ। বেশীর ভাগ ক্ষেত্রে বাড়ির পুরুষ সদস্য, স্বামীদের হত্যা করার পর নারীদের উপর ধর্ষণ নির্যাতন চালাতো পাকিস্তানী সৈন্যরা। ৯ থেকে শুরু করে ৭৫ বছরের বৃদ্ধা কেউই পাকিস্তানী সৈন্য বা তাদের দোসরদের হাত থেকে রক্ষা পায়নি। সুসান ব্রাউনি মিলার তার গ্রন্থের ৮৩ পাতায় উল্লেখ করেছেন, কোনো কোনো মেয়েকে পাকসেনারা এক রাতে ৮০ বারও ধর্ষণ করেছে। ওয়ার ক্রাইমস ফ্যাক্টস ফাইন্ডিং কমিটির “যুদ্ধ ও নারী” গ্রন্থ থেকে জানা যায়, এক একটি গণধর্ষণে ৮/১০ থেকে শুরু করে ১০০ জন পাকসেনাও অংশ নিয়েছে। একাত্তরের ভয়াবহ ধর্ষণ সম্পর্কে একমাত্র জবানবন্দিদানকারী সাহসিক ফেরদৌসী প্রিয়ভাষিণী তার সাক্ষাৎকারে (একাত্তরের দুঃসহ স্মৃতি, সম্পাদনা শাহরিয়ার কবির) জানান, “রাতে ফিদাইর (উচ্চ পদস্থ পাকিস্তানি সেনা কর্মকর্তা) চিঠি নিয়ে ক্যাপ্টেন সুলতান, লে. কোরবান আর বেঙ্গল ট্রেডার্সও অবাঙালি মালিক ইউসুফ এরা আমাকে যশোরে নিয়ে যেত। যাওয়ার পথে গাড়ির ভেতরে তারা আমাকে ধর্ষণ করেছে। নির্মম, নৃশংস নির্যাতনের পর এক পর্যায়ে আমার বোধশক্তি লোপ পায়। ২৮ ঘন্টা সঙ্গাহীন ছিলাম”।

পাকিস্তানি সৈন্যদের ধর্ষণের বীভৎসতার ধরন সম্পর্কে পুনর্বাসন সংস্থায় ধর্ষিতাদের নিবন্ধীকরণ ও দেখাশোনার সঙ্গে যুক্ত সমাজকর্মী মালেকা খান জানান, সংস্থায় আসা ধর্ষিত নারীদের প্রায় সবারই ছিল ক্ষত-বিক্ষত যৌনাঙ্গ। বেয়োনেট দিয়ে খুঁচিয়ে খুঁচিয়ে ছিড়ে ফেলা রক্তাক্ত যোনিপথ, দাঁত দিয়ে ছিড়ে ফেলা স্তন, বেয়োনেট দিয়ে কেটে ফেলা স্তন-উরু এবং পশ্চাৎদেশে ছুরির আঘাত নিয়ে নারীরা পুনর্বাসন কেন্দ্রে আসতো।

পাকিস্তানি সৈন্যরা আমাদের নারীদের একাত্তরে কতো বীভৎসভাবে ধর্ষণসহ যৌন নির্যাতন করেছে তার ভয়াবহতা সবচেয়ে বেশী ধরা পড়ে ১৮ ফেব্র“য়ারীর ৭৪ সালে গৃহীত রাজারবাগ পুলিশ লাইনে একাত্তরে সুইপার হিসেবে কাজ করা রাবেয়া খাতুনের বর্ণনা থেকে। প্রামান্যকরন প্রকল্পের অষ্টম খন্ডে গ্রন্থিত ঐ বর্ণনায় কয়েকটি অংশ: রাবেয়া খাতুন জানান, ‘উন্মত্ত পান্জাবি সেনারা নিরীহ বাঙালী মেয়েদের শুধুমাত্র ধর্ষণ করেই ছেড়ে দেয় নাই অনেক পশু ছোট ছোট বালিকাদের ওপর পাশবিক অত্যাচার করে ওদের অসার রক্তাক্ত দেহ বাইরে এনে দুজনে দুপা দুদিকে টেনে ধরে চড়াচড়িয়ে ছিড়ে ফেলে ছিল। পদস্থ সামরিক অফিসাররা সেই সকল মেয়েদের ওপর সম্মিলিত ধর্ষণ করতে করতে হঠাৎ একদিন তাকে ধরে ছুরি দিয়ে তার স্তন কেটে, পাছার মাংস কেটে, যোনি ও গুহ্যদ্বারের মধ্যে সম্পূর্ণ ছুরি চালিয়ে দিয়ে অট্টহাসিতে ফেটে পড়ে ওরা আদন্দ উপভোগ করতো । ’ রাবেয়া খাতুনের আরেকটি বর্ণনায় জানা যায়, ‘ প্রতিদিন রাজারবাগ পুলিশলাইনের ব্যারাক থেকে এবং হেডকোয়ার্টার অফিসে ওপর তলা থেকে বহু ধর্ষিত মেয়ের ক্ষত-বিক্ষত বিকৃত লাশ ওরা পায়ে রশি বেধে নিয়ে যায় এবং সেই জায়গায় রাজধানী থেকে ধরে আনা নতুন মেয়েদের চুলের সঙ্গে বেধে ধর্ষণ আরম্ভ করে দেয়। ’

১৬ই ডিসেম্বর বিজয় অর্জনের পরও পাকিস্তানি সৈন্যরা বাঙ্কারে আটকে রেখে নির্বিচারে ধর্ষণ করেছে বাঙালী নারীদের। বিচারপতি কে এম সোবহান প্রত্যক্ষ দর্শনের অভিজ্ঞতা থেকে বলেন, ‘ ১৮ ডিসেম্বর মিরপুরে নিখোঁজ হয়ে যাওয়া একজনকে খুঁজতে গিয়ে দেখি মাটির নিচে বাঙ্কার থেকে ২৩জুন সম্পূর্ণ উলঙ্গ, মাথা কামানো নারীকে ট্রাকে করে নিয়ে যাচ্ছে পাক আর্মিরা। ’

বিভিন্ন সূত্রে প্রাপ্ত তথ্য থেকে জানা যায়, পুরোপুরি পরিকল্পিতভাবে পরিচালিত পাক আর্মিদের ধর্ষণ-উত্তর অন্যান্য শারীরিক নির্যাতনের ফলে বেশ কিছু মেয়ে আত্মহত্যা করেছে, কাউকে কাউকে পাকসেনারা নিজেরাই হত্যা করেছে; আবার অনেকেই নিরুদ্দিষ্ট হয়ে গেছে। ঢাকা বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের ইতিহাস বিভাগে অধ্যাপক ড. রতন লাল চক্রবর্তী ৭২- এর প্রত্যক্ষদর্শনের অভিজ্ঞতা থেকে জানান, ‘ যুদ্ধের পর পর ডিসেম্বর থেকে জানুয়ারী, ফেব্রুয়ারি পর্যন্ত শহরের বিভিন্ন স্থানে উদ্বাস্তুর মতো ঘুরে বেড়াতে দেখা গেছে বেশ কিছু নারীকে। তাদের ড্রেসআপ এবং চলাফেরা থেকে আমরা অনেকেই নিশ্চিত জানতাম ওরা যুদ্ধের শিকার এবং ওদের যাওয়ার কোনো জায়গা নেই। ’

তথ্যসূত্র: উক্ত লিখাটি ভোরের কাগজ, ১৮ মে ২০০২ ইং এ প্রকাশিত

শেষ কথা: এতো বিভৎস নির্যাতনের কোনো বিচার আজও হয়নি। বিশ্বের কাছে এসকল তথ্য অজানা। বিদেশ কেনো আমাদের নতুন প্রজন্ম যুদ্ধের ভয়াবহতা সম্পর্কে কতোটুকু জানে তা নিয়ে প্রশ্ন আছে। এবং এই পাকিস্তানি সৈন্যদের সহায়তা দানকারী আলবদর আলশামস এখনও বীরের মত ঘুরে বেড়ায়। এই কি ছিল আমাদের নিয়তি?

আপনাদের সবাইকে ধন্যবাদ। একটি কথা উল্লেখ করেছি – উক্ত লিখাটি ভোরের কাগজ, ১৮ মে ২০০২ ইং এ প্রকাশিত। উল্লেখ করা উচিত ছিল লেখাটি সংগ্রহিত। আমি শুধু টাইপ করেছি মাত্র।

কথাগুলো এইজন্য বলা কারন, অনেকে ভাবছেন পোষ্টটি আমার লেখা তাই উল্লেখ করলাম লেখাটি সংগ্রহিত।

আপনাদের ধন্যবাদ।

 

Rahnuma Ahmed

History is never more compelling than when it gives us insights into oneself and the ways in which one’s own experience is constituted.

Amitav Ghosh, in a letter to Dipesh Chakrabarty

I do not see my life as separate from history. In my mind my family secrets mingle with the secrets of statesmen and bombers. Nor is my life divided from the lives of others.

Susan Griffin, A Chorus of Stones

‘We hated it if anyone asked us about her’

‘MANY widowed mothers were forced to re-marry, some for reasons of social security,’ these were Amena’s opening words when I went to interview her. Amena Khatun works as a conservator and archivist for the Liberation War Museum. She was speaking of their family life after 1971.

Things did not always transpire as intended, she added. Her mother’s second marriage had been short-lived.

My father? He is Shahid Abdul Kader, he had a furniture business, it was new. But by then the war had started, and his friends and workmen had left to fight for liberation. I was a few months old, my other brother, the one younger to me, was not yet born. My elder brother was two and a half years old. I think my father was planning to go away, to join the struggle, but it happened before he could make arrangements for us. They took him away. We lived in Mymensingh, our area was full of Biharis, I think they could sense what was happening, and they targeted my father. Actually, it was a Bengali woman, a razakar, who came and called him. She came and said, so-and-so wants to talk to you. My father stepped out and found a group of Bihari men and women waiting for him. It was May 28, 1971.

My grandmother, it was her, my nanu who raised us. Her struggle was much greater. My mother? Oh, she was very young, only seventeen or eighteen, she hardly understood anything. She was forced to re-marry, this was later, in 1977 or 1978. She had no other choice.

For us kids it was a new experience, we had not seen a man before. My mama was five years older to me, he and my older brother, they were the only men in the house. My uncles came later but nanu didn’t like them, she was worried that they would take us away, put us to work on the farm, that we would have to give up our studies. My younger chacha had wanted to marry my mother but she didn’t agree to the proposal. She said, he was like a brother.

And in the middle of all this, here was this new man, we could tell that he was intimate with her. When he appeared, she was a different mother. Sometimes I think, did we deserve this? If my father had lived, life would have been very different.

By the time my mother gave birth to a daughter, that phase [her married life] was over. That little sister of ours was the most exciting thing that could have happened in our lives, she lit up our home, all our dreams centred around her. We couldn’t think of anything else. We didn’t want to.

But whenever we went to the village, people would say, she was born of your mother’s second marriage, wasn’t she? We hated the sound of those words. Of course, what they said was true, for them it was not unusual. They were just curious, they would keep asking us and I don’t blame them. But I hated it, bhaiya didn’t like it either. My sister? She was too young to understand. But how can you stop people talking, and so we stopped going to the village. We wouldn’t go, hardly ever.

Much later, right before my sister took her matric exams, we were forced to tell her. In a sense, she found out for herself. You see, her friends kept asking her, ‘But if you were born in 1971, how can you be this young?’

I guess we needed to grow older to come to terms with the truth.

‘A dirty nigger’. Racial prejudice and humiliation in the British Indian army
‘As a child, I remember hearing only idyllic stories of my father’s life in the British Indian army,’ writes novelist Amitav Ghosh, in a letter to historian Dipesh Chakrabarty.

But towards the end of his life, before he died in 1998, my father told me a very different story. During the siege of Imphal, he had turned away from the main battle to confront a South African officer who called him a ‘dirty nigger’. After this, other stories poured out, stories of deep-seated racism within the army, very different to the idyllic picture that Amitav had grown up with. He writes, why did my father (and, in some sense, all our fathers) avoid telling us these stories? Speaking of such things must have been difficult, he muses, especially because they were at odds with their vision of themselves as ‘high-caste, bhadra patriarchs’. He adds, what may seem to be mere instances of racism were not so, they represented the system itself. Western liberal thought, whether that of JS Mill, or Bentham, or any other nineteenth century British writer, is built on racism, writes Amitav.

His question is: if we reproduce these silences of history, are we denying or abetting in structures of exclusion and oppression?
Post-independence armies of South Asia

Did racism survive the departure of the white colonisers in 1947? Are post-independence armies of South Asia non-racial and hence, non-racist? Is it meaningful to talk of race and racial differences in our cultures?

East Pakistani (later Bangladeshi) scholars spoke of ethnic differences in racial terms. They said, Pakistan’s military commanders perpetuated the recruitment policies of their colonial masters. ‘Martial races’ – meaning Punjabis and Pathans – were over-represented in the national armed forces, whereas the majority Bengali population, and smaller minorities like the Baluchis and Sindhis, were largely excluded. Indian historians maintain, imperial institutions like the army and the civil service allowed particular forms of racist practices, because of their proximity to the ruling race. They also say, racism survived independence. The north-eastern provinces, known as the seven sisters, have been subjected to decades of racist oppression by successive Indian governments.

Is ethnic discrimination in Bangladesh racist? Educated paharis, who have suffered militarily, tell me that ‘ethnic discrimination’ as a term does not do justice to the horror of their experiences. I was speaking to a young woman whose father was hung upside down for days, and later died a broken man. And to a young pahari man who was detained for several weeks, and was severely traumatised because of what he was made to witness.

Family secrets can be state secrets. Our mothers and fathers need to tell us stories. We need to discover ways of talking about silenced histories. And about the silenced present.

First published in New Age 26th May 2008

 

in Samuel Totten, et al.
Century of Genocide: Eyewitness Accounts and Critical Views
New York: Garland Publishing, 1997
Chapter 10, pp. 291-316

The following testimony is from M. Akhtaurzzaman Mondol’s “Amader-Ma Bon” (“Our Mother and Sisters”) which appears in Rashid Haider (Ed.) 1971: Terrible Experiences, p. 197. It was translated by Sohela Nazneen. Reprinted with permission.

We started our fight to liberate Vurungamari from the Pakistani occupation forces on November 11. 1971. We started attacking from West, North and East simultaneously. The Indian air forces bombed the Pakistani stronghold on November 11 morning. On November 13 we came near the outskirts of Vurungamari, and the Indian air force intensified their air attack. On November 14 morning the guns from the Pakistani side fell silent and we entered Vurungamari with shouts of “Joy Bangla” (victory to Bangladesh). The whole town was quiet. We captured fifty to sixty Pakistani soldiers. They had no ammunition left. We found the captain of the Pakistan forces, captain Ataullah Khan, dead in the bunker. He still had his arms around a woman-both died in the bomb attack in the bunker. The woman had marks of torture all over her body. We put her in a grave.

But I still did not anticipate the terrible scene I was going to witness and we were heading toward east of Vurungamari to take up our positions. I was informed by wireless to go to the Circle Officer’s office. After we reached the office, we caught glimpses of several young women through the windows of the second floor. The doors were locked. so we had to break them down. After breaking down the door of the room, where the women were kept, we were dumbfounded. We found four naked young women, who had been physically tortured, raped, and battered by the Pakistani soldiers. We immediately came out of the room and threw in four lungis [dresses] and four bedsheets for them to cover themselves. We tried to talk to them, but all of them were still in shock. One of them was six to seven months pregnant. One was a college student from Mymensingh. They were taken to India for medical treatment in a car owned by the Indian army. We found many dead bodies and skeletons in the bushes along the road. Many of the skeletons had long hair and had on torn saris and bangles on their hands. We found sixteen other women locked up in a room at Vurungamari High School. These women were brought in for the Pakistani soldiers from nearby villages. We found evidence in the rooms of the Circle Officers office which showed that these women were tied to the windowbars and were repeatedly raped by the Pakistani soldiers. The whole floor was covered with blood, torn pieces of clothing, and strands of long hair. …

————
Collected from Eyewitness Accounts: Genocide in Bangladesh

 

Atrocities against Bengali women

__ As was also the case in Armenia and Nanjing, Bengali women were targeted for gender-selective atrocities and abuses, notably gang sexual assault and rape/murder, from the earliest days of the Pakistani genocide. Indeed, despite (and in part because of) the overwhelming targeting of males for mass murder, it is for the systematic brutalization of women that the “Rape of Bangladesh” is best known to western observers.

In her ground-breaking book, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, Susan Brownmiller likened the 1971 events in Bangladesh to the Japanese rapes in Nanjing and German rapes in Russia during World War II. “… 200,000, 300,000 or possibly 400,000 women (three sets of statistics have been variously quoted) were raped. Eighty percent of the raped women were Moslems, reflecting the population of Bangladesh, but Hindu and Christian women were not exempt. … Hit-and-run rape of large numbers of Bengali women was brutally simple in terms of logistics as the Pakistani regulars swept through and occupied the tiny, populous land …” (p. 81).

Typical was the description offered by reporter Aubrey Menen of one such assault, which targeted a recently-married woman:

Two [Pakistani soldiers] went into the room that had been built for the bridal couple. The others stayed behind with the family, one of them covering them with his gun. They heard a barked order, and the bridegroom’s voice protesting. Then there was silence until the bride screamed. Then there was silence again, except for some muffled cries that soon subsided. In a few minutes one of the soldiers came out, his uniform in disarray. He grinned to his companions. Another soldier took his place in the extra room. And so on, until all the six had raped the belle of the village. Then all six left, hurriedly. The father found his daughter lying on the string cot unconscious and bleeding. Her husband was crouched on the floor, kneeling over his vomit. (Quoted in Brownmiller, Against Our Will, p. 82.)

“Rape in Bangladesh had hardly been restricted to beauty,” Brownmiller writes. “Girls of eight and grandmothers of seventy-five had been sexually assaulted … Pakistani soldiers had not only violated Bengali women on the spot; they abducted tens of hundreds and held them by force in their military barracks for nightly use.” Some women may have been raped as many as eighty times in a night (Brownmiller, p. 83). How many died from this atrocious treatment, and how many more women were murdered as part of the generalized campaign of destruction and slaughter, can only be guessed at.

Despite government efforts at amelioration, the torment and persecution of the survivors continued long after Bangladesh had won its independence:
Rape, abduction and forcible prostitution during the nine-month war proved to be only the first round of humiliation for the Bengali women. Prime Minister Mujibur Rahman’s declaration that victims of rape were national heroines was the opening shot of an ill-starred campaign to reintegrate them into society — by smoothing the way for a return to their husbands or by finding bridegrooms for the unmarried [or widowed] ones from among his Mukti Bahini freedom fighters. Imaginative in concept for a country in which female chastity and purdah isolation are cardinal principles, the “marry them off” campaign never got off the ground. Few prospective bridegrooms stepped forward, and those who did made it plain that they expected the government, as father figure, to present them with handsome dowries. (Brownmiller, Against Our Will, p. 84.)
——–

 

Atrocities against Bengali women

__ As was also the case in Armenia and Nanjing, Bengali women were targeted for gender-selective atrocities and abuses, notably gang sexual assault and rape/murder, from the earliest days of the Pakistani genocide. Indeed, despite (and in part because of) the overwhelming targeting of males for mass murder, it is for the systematic brutalization of women that the “Rape of Bangladesh” is best known to western observers.

In her ground-breaking book, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, Susan Brownmiller likened the 1971 events in Bangladesh to the Japanese rapes in Nanjing and German rapes in Russia during World War II. “… 200,000, 300,000 or possibly 400,000 women (three sets of statistics have been variously quoted) were raped. Eighty percent of the raped women were Moslems, reflecting the population of Bangladesh, but Hindu and Christian women were not exempt. … Hit-and-run rape of large numbers of Bengali women was brutally simple in terms of logistics as the Pakistani regulars swept through and occupied the tiny, populous land …” (p. 81).

Typical was the description offered by reporter Aubrey Menen of one such assault, which targeted a recently-married woman:

Two [Pakistani soldiers] went into the room that had been built for the bridal couple. The others stayed behind with the family, one of them covering them with his gun. They heard a barked order, and the bridegroom’s voice protesting. Then there was silence until the bride screamed. Then there was silence again, except for some muffled cries that soon subsided. In a few minutes one of the soldiers came out, his uniform in disarray. He grinned to his companions. Another soldier took his place in the extra room. And so on, until all the six had raped the belle of the village. Then all six left, hurriedly. The father found his daughter lying on the string cot unconscious and bleeding. Her husband was crouched on the floor, kneeling over his vomit. (Quoted in Brownmiller, Against Our Will, p. 82.)

“Rape in Bangladesh had hardly been restricted to beauty,” Brownmiller writes. “Girls of eight and grandmothers of seventy-five had been sexually assaulted … Pakistani soldiers had not only violated Bengali women on the spot; they abducted tens of hundreds and held them by force in their military barracks for nightly use.” Some women may have been raped as many as eighty times in a night (Brownmiller, p. 83). How many died from this atrocious treatment, and how many more women were murdered as part of the generalized campaign of destruction and slaughter, can only be guessed at.

Despite government efforts at amelioration, the torment and persecution of the survivors continued long after Bangladesh had won its independence:
Rape, abduction and forcible prostitution during the nine-month war proved to be only the first round of humiliation for the Bengali women. Prime Minister Mujibur Rahman’s declaration that victims of rape were national heroines was the opening shot of an ill-starred campaign to reintegrate them into society — by smoothing the way for a return to their husbands or by finding bridegrooms for the unmarried [or widowed] ones from among his Mukti Bahini freedom fighters. Imaginative in concept for a country in which female chastity and purdah isolation are cardinal principles, the “marry them off” campaign never got off the ground. Few prospective bridegrooms stepped forward, and those who did made it plain that they expected the government, as father figure, to present them with handsome dowries. (Brownmiller, Against Our Will, p. 84.)
——–

 

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