Among the places in Dhaka, only a handful of them including the one in Rayer Bazar, Mirpur Intellectuals’ Graveyard, Jallad Khana, Jagannath Hall, and Rajarbagh Police Line have been protected as a historical site
On the fateful night of March 25 in 1971, the Pakistani military junta resorted to mass killing in Dhaka to implement their blueprint to thwart the Awami League's assumption of office following the election mandate of 1970.
In the following nine months, the Pakistani occupation army and its local collaborators - al-Badr, al-Shams and razakars, resorted to genocide across the country.
Marking that black chapter of history Bangladesh is going to observe Genocide Day today. But the observance comes at a time when the state could not yet make enough measures to protect and preserve most of killing fields and mass graves, where the bodies of the martyrs were dumped by the Pakistani force and their collaborators in 1971.
Most of those places, witness to untold horrors, remain uncared, unprotected, and unmarked till today.
Officials at Ministry of Liberation War Affairs said they have identified 204 mass killing fields and mass grave sites, however private organizations and war researchers say the number would be something in between 1000 to 5000.
Among the places in Dhaka, only a handful of them including the one in Rayer Bazar, Mirpur Intellectuals’ Graveyard, Jallad Khana, Jagannath Hall, and Rajarbagh Police Line have been protected as a historical site.
Rest of the places including the one in Shiyalbari, Government Bangla College in Mirpur, Harirampur and Muslimbazar at Mirpur, Government Physical Education College, Mohammadpur Thana Uttar Simanta and Adabar at Mohammadpur do have any signs or monuments to mark them.
A fish market has replaced Thataribazar killing field, while a road has been constructed through the killing filed at Loharpul in Sutrapur.
“Because of the negligence, we are failing to honor the dignity of the 3m people who sacrificed their lives for the nation,” said Dr M A Hasan Bir Proteek, chairperson at War Crimes Facts Finding Committee, Bangladesh said.
“It is a matter of shame and failure,” said the researcher.
In Dholpur, a city corporation office has been built while a basket-ball court was built over the killing site of Mohammadpur Physical College spot.
There is no sign of identification at Jagannath University which was Jagannath College in 1971 and in the killing field in Rokeya Hall of Dhaka University.
War researchers says these places are now hard to find as the government has failed to take up any initiative except taking up projects to care for those spots and because of this, locals of the areas are also unaware on the importance and historical significance of the places where they reside.
Markets and shopping complexes have take over the place in Mirpur’s Muslim Bazar area where plan is underway to build a multi-storied commercial building at the mass killing spot.
48 years on: Failure to identify victims, recognition of killing sites
The War Crimes Facts Finding Committee, Bangladesh says there were about 5000 mass graves where Pakistani collaborators conducted genocide in 1971.
“Today after 48 years as many as 1012 mass graves can be identified. In those days most of killings by the Pakistani army took place near rivers and wet lands – as a result 70% remains either settled in marsh grave or was washed away,” said Dr M A Hasan Bir Proteek.
The researcher said they have listed 5000 spots in 1999 including 73 in Dhaka city.
According to him, it is a great failure in government's part for their inability to identify the victimes and mark and protect the killing sites.
“It would cost a small sum of money to identify the victims. We have found toolkits some that cost only Tk5000-Tk10,000 each. They can do this without any excuses anymore,” he added.
Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee President Shahriar Kabir said the government should have built monuments in the spots long ago to help people identify and pay their respects there.
“The cultural affairs ministry under Awami League government in 1996 identified 3500 mass killing fields where decision was taken to build same designed monument in each of them so that people can locate those places, but the BNP government later canceled that project,” he said.
Later in 2010, the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs took up the project and sent letters to the deputy commissioners of the districts to send information on the mass killing fields.
“Although the ministry identified about 1000 spots, but the real number would be much higher. Over the course of time, killing fields in government lands have not been identified while the spots in private lands have somehow been occupied,” he said.
The war crime trial campaigner urged the government to identify the locations and act immediately for acquisition of the lands where the killing fields have been located.
In September 11, 2018, Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) approved a Tk442crore project for preserving 271 killing fields and construction of monuments for the mass killing sites.
“It is true that we have failed to conserve the sites, but now we have allocated money for conserving the killing fields. The project will be on the fasttrack and 30%-40% work will be completed by this year,” Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Haque has said.
“The project will help next generation get to know about history and stories on the birth of the nation once it is complete by 2021,” he added.