How the only video recording the Dhaka University massacre was shot
I went to bed early on the night of March 25. I had read in the newspapers earlier that day that an agreement between Bangabandhu and Yahya Khan would come soon. So we were rather perplexed when we woke up in the middle of the night at the sound of a huge explosion.
After the explosion, there was a pause; then the horrific sound of gunshots and explosions of mortar shells began. We took shelter in the passage between the bedrooms and the bathrooms to save ourselves from stray bullets. I could not resist my curiosity and crawled near the window, trying to see what was happening outside.
Back then, I lived on Fuller Road. My apartment was on the fourth floor in a complex built for the professors of the Engineering University. It was across the old Assembly Hall. From my window, I could see the field in front of Jagannath Hall, a dormitory for students of Dhaka University.
That night was pitch black. However, I could see that the dorm and its surrounding roads were occupied by the army. A little later, some of the dorm rooms caught fire. I could see soldiers searching every room with flashlights. I didn’t consider it safe to continue watching from my window; so I returned to the corridor. We stayed up all night listening to gunshots that never stopped.
As dawn broke, I crawled back to the window and looked out again. I could not see a soul anywhere; only countless brickbats on the road and two large white sheets spread across the field. I was a bit relieved: perhaps, there weren’t that many casualties. But what happened next – I had never thought I’d see anything like that in my whole life, and I hope no one has to ever witness such horrific scenes.
It was morning by then. From the west end of the field, where the main dormitory of Jagannath Hall is located, appeared twenty or so Pakistani soldiers and with them two injured students. The soldiers were carrying the two students.
For a moment, I thought that the soldiers would perhaps take the injured students to the hospital. They carried the students near the white sheets. Then they removed the two sheets, to my horror, I realised that the sheets were covering many other dead bodies.
The injured students sat facing east; the dead bodies remained behind them. Two of the soldiers moved a little more to the east and then faced them and aimed their rifles. For a second, I saw the two students begging for their lives with outstretched hands, and then the guns fired.
None of the soldiers shot more than two or three bullets. The two soldiers came near the fallen bodies—perhaps already dead—and shot the last bullets from a close distance to ensure that they really were dead. They had light firearms, so the gunshots were not very loud.
This was the first time in my life that I witnessed murder, and that too, the murder of the injured in cold blood. An army vehicle moved through the streets announcing the curfew and warned everyone not to look through the windows. I had to think of our safety before I could even feel the mental shock from the event.
But I didn’t stop looking, because I was quite sure that if the windows were closed and the lights were off, nothing indoors could be visible from the outside. I was only hoping that the worst was over, that I would not have to see any more. However, it was only the beginning.
A little later, some soldiers brought along several more injured people from the western dorms. Just like before, they were brought near the dead bodies and the soldiers aimed their weapons at them. Then the firing started, somewhat aimlessly. Some of the captives were standing, some were sitting. The soldiers shot them at close range. There was a puff of dust around the victims as the bullets passed through their bodies and hit the ground behind them. The pile of dead bodies on the field kept rising.
Later, the foreign TV journalists asked me what my mental condition was back then, what gave me the idea of filming this massacre. Actually the idea was not quite mine. After watching the cold-blooded murders of injured, unarmed people twice, I realised there would be more; there would be a genocide today. And I wished naively that we were armed as well. It was then that my cousin Noseem said, “Brother, we should record this.”
I remembered that I had a video camera with a video cassette recorder (VCR) at home. It was a Japanese first generation portable VCR that was very heavy, probably the first of its kind in the country. I set up the camera as soon as possible, with a black paper set in front of it that had a hole through which I had inserted the lens, and I placed it facing the window pane. Only the camera lens showed through the curtains. I also slightly parted the window and placed a tiny microphone outside the window. As I was setting everything up, two more batches of people were shot dead. In the video*, I recorded the last three batches of the killing. The last one was the most horrific.
In the video, the captives were being brought along from the eastern side of the field. Some were wearing lungi and t-shirts, some didn’t wear a shirt at all. I guess they were sleeping when they were captured. They were brought near the pile of dead bodies and were also shot dead.
Then, suddenly the field was clear. Already, the pile of dead bodies was quite high. I thought perhaps the massacre was over. But soon I saw about forty armed soldiers lining up along the northern side of the field. They were tall and fair, most probably because they were Punjabi soldiers. These soldiers were not the ones seen before; they had not participated in the killing. Those who had fired were shorter and darker. About ten of these non-Punjabi soldiers appeared from the eastern side of the field with approximately twenty-five hostages. I thought maybe they were brought to take away the corpses.
But as soon as they came near the bodies lying on the ground, the soldiers accompanying them moved a little towards the east and aimed their rifles at them. Everything was dead silent for a few moments. I saw one of the men, someone with a beard, kneel down and beg for mercy. The guns roared, spraying the people with bullets, and their bodies fell. The dust rose all around as the bullets pierced through the bodies and hit the ground.
When the firing stopped, I saw that only the bearded person was still alive. It seemed as if no one had aimed directly at him. The man started begging again. A soldier kicked his chest trying to make him lie down. But the man kept firmly kneeling. Then they shot him down. His lifeless body finally lay with those of the others.
The Punjabi soldiers who were standing along the northern side now joined the others. Some of those that took part in the shooting moved the bodies around to check. When they found somebody alive, they ensured death with a few final shots.
After a while, all the soldiers left. It was quiet and empty all around, except for the countless dead bodies in the Jagannath Hall field. A van drove by with a round rotating antenna on its roof. I realised it was checking for microwave detectors or any signals in case anyone was broadcasting anything. I thought my video camera might transmit some signals, so I quickly turned the recording off. I hit rewind and checked if the footage was captured properly. Then I removed the tapes and dismantled the setup.
It was past 10 am by then. We feared that there could be an attack on us anytime and decided it wasn’t safe for us to remain there much longer. I fled to Old Dhaka with my family and relatives, despite the curfew. I saw a great bulldozer digging just before we left, that was around one o’clock. I cannot say what happened next. But I figured it was digging up graves to bury the bodies. And my guess was confirmed after independence.
[Excerpted with permission from the book, Bangladesh 1971: Dreadful Experiences, published by Shahitya Prakash (February 2017), and edited by Munawar Hafiz, Salwa Mostofa, Ashfaqur Rahman and Farhana Binte Sufi. The original Bangla version was edited by Rashid Haider]