Many Westerners have no clue
“ou live in Bangladesh, don’t you?” asked a foreign friend on the phone today. “There is some trouble over there, isn’t there? Muslims and Hindus fighting? It was on the BBC today.”
I proceeded to explain exactly how he had got muddled up with the sad communal fighting in Delhi but after being further questioned, and in explaining everything, I found myself going back in time and explaining 1971 and Bangladesh’s Liberation War.
In fact, when talking to many Westerners, I find that I have to start by explaining where, geographically, Bangladesh is positioned and then explaining the history.
I find myself asking: “Surely you remember the genocide of millions in 1971? No? Then, do you remember the ‘Concert for Bangladesh’?”
“Oh yes” is the reply, and then I try to piece things together and give a potted history of Bangladesh, the “ups” and the “downs,” some of them very bloody.
Sometimes, when reading articles in publications like The Guardian, The Economist, or listening to BBC reports, I wonder why these news gatherers do not talk to foreigners, such as me, who have years of experience of living and working in Bangladesh.
I found myself explaining to my friend about the trial of war criminals and that there is a need for justice to be done and to be seen to be done. There is, I explained, overwhelming documentary evidence -- in film and print media -- against those who have been tried or are on trial.
In addition, there are many eye-witness accounts. It is most unfortunate that a section of people in Bangladesh have continued to deny that there were thousands of collaborators in 1971 who assisted the Pakistan Army in acts of gruesome violence and genocide.
Many of the people, who are in denial, were not even born in 1971. It is very sad to realize that they have been brainwashed about the events of 1971.
In 1971, I was responsible, on behalf of Oxfam, for the supplementary care of about 600,000 Bangladeshi men, women, and children living in refugee camps, and I saw with my own eyes and heard the verbal evidence of acts of brutality experienced by the refugees from the hands of the Pakistani soldiers and their helpers, the so-called Peace Committees, the Razakars, and the para-military members of Al-Badr and Al-Shams.
It was, of course, a great honour for me to receive the “Friends of Liberation War Honour” in 2012 and it is very good also that some Pakistanis with consciences, and who risked their lives in 1971, were also honoured.
At that time, they spoke out about the genocide in Bangladesh but, at that time, were branded as traitors by the Pakistani authorities.
By honouring these Pakistani citizens, it is hoped that the anti-Liberation forces in Bangladesh may see the light and that gradually, in Pakistan, the history books will be more accurately written and that, eventually, a full apology will be forthcoming from the government of Pakistan.
In this “Mujib Borsho,” the Pakistan government should seize the diplomatic initiative and make a full apology for the crimes committed by their forces in 1971. Such a gesture would be very highly appreciated.
Julian Francis has been associated with relief and development activities of Bangladesh since the War of Liberation. In 2012, the government of Bangladesh awarded him the ‘Friends of Liberation War Honour’ in recognition of his work among the refugees in India in 1971, and in 2018 honoured him with full Bangladesh citizenship.