The West Pakistani rulers launched an offensive in East Pakistan to subdue the Awami League as the latter was set to form a government, its supporters as well as Hindus. This is the first of a four-part series depicting how the Hindus were targeted for ethnic cleansing.
The goon squads of General Yahya Khan – the military and its local collaborators – had targeted and killed more than 25,000 Hindus of erstwhile East Pakistan in the first three months of the Liberation War in 1971, according to historians, researchers and journalists.
Numerous other Hindus were killed along with others in the battlefields and other places during the mass murder of pro-liberation people during the war, in which the total death toll would not be less than three million.
When the army launched “Operation Searchlight” on the night of March 25, it targeted the pro-independence Bengali people based in Dhaka.
The army’s aim was to disarm the Bengali soldiers in East Pakistan Rifles and the police, kill university teachers and students at three dormitories of Dhaka University and Buet – considered as strongholds of the Awami League, and annihilation the Hindus in Nawabpur and parts of Old Dhaka.
The massacre of the Hindus – murders, rape, arson and looting – was carried out systematically across the country until the end of the war, demonstrating the abhorrence of the army and its collaborators towards them. They drove away the Hindus who survived and looted their homes and businesses before allowing them to leave the country, albeit in exchange of money.
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Researchers say the majority of the nearly 10-20 million people (officially 10 million) who took refuge in India were Hindus, who had fled the war zone after being targeted by the military and its local collaborators.
In early April, Peace Committee leaders and activists started helping the Pakistani occupation forces find the Hindus and the freedom fighters, and those who gave them shelter. The military also facilitated the formation and operations of the Razakar force, al-Badr, al-Shams and Mujahid Bahini.
Testimonials of Hindu massacres by Pakistanis
Colonel Nadir Ali, a retired Pakistani Army officer, poet and short story writer, wrote: “My first action was in mid April 1971. ‘It is Mujib-ur-Rahman’s home district. It is a hard area. Kill as many bastards as you can and make sure there is no Hindu left alive,’ I was ordered.
“’Sir, I do not kill unarmed civilians who do not fire at me,’ I replied. ‘Kill the Hindus. It is an order for everyone. Don’t show me your commando finesse!’”
Noted Pakistani journalist and author Anthony Mascarenhas wrote on June 13 in Britain’s Sunday Times: “The Government's policy for East Bengal was spelled out to me in the Eastern Command Headquarters at Dacca.”
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The policy had three elements: the Bengalis had proved themselves unreliable and must be ruled by West Pakistanis; the Bengalis would had to be re-educated along proper Islamic lines.
The Islamization of the masses – this was the official jargon – was intended to eliminate secessionist tendencies and provide a strong religious bond with West Pakistan; and when the Hindus had been eliminated by death and flight, their property would be used as a golden carrot to win over the under privileged Muslim middle class.
“This will provide the base for erecting administrative and political structures in the future,” he wrote.
In April, Major Rathore said to journalist Anthony Mascarenhas on Hindus in Comilla: "Now under the cover of fighting we have an excellent opportunity of finishing them off... Of course, we are only killing the Hindu men. We are soldiers, not cowards like the rebels.”
Before the Bengalis’ break-up with Pakistan, the West Pakistani government had propagated that the East Pakistanis were Hindus due to their multi-dimensional culture, said noted Pakistani writer Ahmad Salim, a former professor at Karachi University.
The Hamood Ur Rehman Commission Report also mentioned an order, which had been given to kill the Hindus of East Pakistan.
The hatred against the Hindus was further exposed on June 14, when the Dhaka municipality authorities renamed 210 roads in the city with Islamic names.
Lalmohon Poddar Road was renamed Abdur Karim Gaznabi Road, Haricharan Road became Mohammad Bin Kashem Road.
Similarly, Shakhari Bazar became Gulbadan, Kishan Banerjee became Alibordi, Nabeen Chand became Bakhtiar Khilji, while Kalicharan Road became Gazi Salauddin Road.
WSJ and Time magazine
The Wall Street Journal reported on July 27 that the Pakistani army had been setting up a network of peace committees “superimposed upon the normal civil administration”.
The report confirmed that formed on April 15, the Peace Committee members had been drawn from Biharis, and from the Muslim League factions and Jamaat-e-Islami.
“The peace committees serve as the agent of the army, informing on civil administration as well as on the general populace. They are also in charge of confiscating and redistribution of shops and lands from Hindu and pro-independence Bengalis. The Peace Committee also recruits Razakars… many of them are common criminals who have thrown their lot with the [Pakistani] Army,” the Wall Street Journal said.
An article in Time magazine dated August 2, 1971, stated: "The Hindus, who account for three-fourths of the refugees and a majority of the dead, have borne the brunt of the Muslim military hatred."
US friends and other journalists
On April 6, Archer Kent Blood, the American consul general in Dhaka, sent a telegram to Washington, saying: “Hindus undeniably special focus of animal brutality.”
Senator Edward Kennedy, who had visited the refugee camps, wrote a report that was part of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations testimony.
The report dated November 1 read: "Hardest hit have been members of the Hindu community who have been robbed of their lands and shops, systematically slaughtered, and in some places, painted with yellow patches marked ‘H’. All of this has been officially sanctioned, ordered and implemented under martial law from Islamabad."
Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Sydney Schanberg covered the start of the war and wrote extensively on the sufferings of the East Bengalis, including the Hindus both during and after the war.
One priest reported to Schanberg about the slaughter of over a thousand Hindus in Barisal in one day. “According to another priest, a meeting was called in Sylhet. Later troops arrived and from the gathered crowd selected 300 Hindus and shot them dead.”
Buddhist temples and Buddhist monks were also attacked through the course of the year.
British journalist Owen Bennett-Jones wrote: “Lt Colonel Aziz Ahmed Khan reported that in May 1971 there was a written order to kill Hindus and that General Niazi would ask troops how many Hindus they had killed.”