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 second of a four-part series depicting how the Hindus were targeted for ethnic cleansing
Fifty years after liberation, successive governments have failed to recognize several major incidents of systematic genocide perpetrated against the Hindus during the Liberation War as part of a blueprint of ethnic cleansing.
Two major acts of butchery took place on May 20 and 21, 1971 – in Chuknagar of Khulna and Dakra of Bagerhat – after the formation of the Razakar force, which had assisted the Pakistani Army to carry out the massacres.
These incidents were the result of General Yahya Khan’s plans and orders to eradicate the Hindus and weaken the Awami League – as found in documents by senior West Pakistan government officials and army personnel.
The official wartime narratives prepared by the then government led by military strongman Ziaur Rahman also do not contain information of the planned killings of roughly 10,000 people in Chuknagar of Khulna and over 2,000 in Dakra of Bagerhat – mostly Hindus trying to cross the border.
Even the timeline of events of 1971, developed by the Liberation War Museum, does not mention the Chuknagar and the Dakar genocide incidents.
With these two, there is evidence of at least 42 incidents across the country in which the Hindus were targeted and segregated for butchery during the war.
Also Read- How Hindus were targeted in 1971
According to historians, researchers and journalists, the goons of General Yahya Khan – the military and its local collaborators – killed more than 25,000 Hindus in the first three months after “Operation Searchlight”went underway on the night of March 25.
Numerous other Hindus were killed along with others in the battlefields and other places during the mass murders of the pro-liberation people during the war, in which the total death toll would not be less than three million.
Due to the butchery, rape, arson and looting by the military and their collaborators, nearly two million people fled to India.
It began on March 25
From March 25-April 2, the killers massacred nearly 1,500 Hindus at Jagannath Hall of Dhaka University, Old Dhaka, Ramna, Sutrapur and Jinjira.
Their initial plan 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 exterminate the Hindus in Nawabpur and parts of Old Dhaka.
The massacre of the Hindus was carried out systematically across the country until the end of the war – thanks to the local collaborators of the military. They drove away the Hindus, who survived, and looted their homes and businesses before allowing them to leave the country, albeit in exchange for money.
"September on Jessore Road", a poem by American poet and activist Allen Ginsberg, pictures the plight of the millions of people of all ages trying to cross the border to take refuge in India.
According to RJ Rummel, professor of political science at the University of Hawaii, the genocide and gendercidal atrocities were also perpetrated by lower-ranking officers and ordinary soldiers.
Also Read- The Spirit of 1971: The Devil’s Letter
These "willing executioners" were fueled by an abiding anti-Bengali racism, especially against the Hindu minority.
"Bengalis were often compared with monkeys and chickens. Said General Niazi: ‘It was a low lying land of low lying people,’” wrote the anti-war activist.
Rummel also described a chilling genocidal ritual, reminiscent of Nazi procedure towards Jewish males: “In what became province-wide acts of genocide, Hindus were sought out and killed on the spot. As a matter of course, soldiers would check males for the obligated circumcision among Moslems. If circumcised, they might live; if not, sure death.”
Chuknagar genocide still remains ignored
In early April, Peace Committee leaders and activists started helping the Pakistani occupation forces find the Hindus and the freedom fighters, and those who give them shelter.
The military and the Peace Committee units also facilitated the formation and operations of the Razakar force, al-Badr, al-Shams and Mujahid Bahini.
It was May 20, 1971. After a four-hour-long indiscriminate shooting into the crowds, the army and its collaborators stopped considering that everyone in sight was lifeless. No one was running for life. No cries for help were in the air on the banks of the Bhodra River, where hundreds of bloodied bodies were lying.
They left the place after the massacre but left evidence of genocide – numerous bullet shells of light machine guns and semi-automatic rifles, and fresh blood of over 10,000 people on the grass and the river.
The bloodshed was magnified for charging bayonets on the bodies after the killers had exhausted their ammunition.
These people came from Bagerhat and Khulna areas in groups, after walking for miles in the dark for two-three days, and when they crossed the river to converge in Chuknagar near the border, they thought they were safe; but only for a day or so. They came here learning that many people had already crossed the border using Chuknagar, which is considered as a junction.
The genocide in Chuknagar is not mentioned in the books on war published by the government; no library or museum has been built to preserve the memories of the massacre. Only a small monument was erected at the cost of Tk7 lakh in 2005.
The eminent researcher, Professor Muntassir Mamoon, in his book on the massacre titled Chuknagar Gonohatya ’71 (Genocide in Chuknagar in 1971), says that it was the biggest instance of genocide during the Liberation War.
Major (retd) Rafiqul Islam (Bir Uttam) wrote a book, “Muktir Sopanotole”, on the tragedy while freedom fighters’ commander SM Babar Ali gave an account of the incident in his book “Swadhinatar Durjoy Abhijan”.
19 incidents in May
Similar incidents of mass killings took place in Dhapdhup of Panchagarh in April and Saidpur of Nilphamari in June targeting mainly Hindus trying to cross the border. Some 3,500 people were massacred in Panchagarh and around 450 in Saidpur (known as Golahat Genocide).
According to Liberation War researchers, at least 3,500 Hindus were killed in Jatibhanga of Thakurgaon, some 900 in Ataikula of Pabna and around 400 in Kaliganj of Saidpur only in April.
In May, there were at least 19 incidents of targeted killings in the northern districts, some in the south and south-west, and others in Chittagong, Comilla and Sylhet districts.
The killings of Hindus slowed down in the following months – seven incidents from June till November 22, when at least 43 Hindus were killed at Terashri village of Manikganj.