Wednesday, June 19, 2024


Dhaka Tribune


Remember March 25

51 years after the emergence of Bangladesh, it is vitally important that the world authorities officially recognize that what happened in Bangladesh in 1971 was genocide

Update : 25 Mar 2022, 07:27 AM

In January 2017, I was invited to participate in and speak at an international seminar, the purpose of which was to explore ways in which the genocide of 1971, perpetrated by the Pakistani forces and their collaborators, can be internationally recognized as genocide. I was asked to address the seminar as I am a witness to the birth of this nation and, in my capacity in 1971 when I administered a refugee relief program for OXFAM, I witnessed many of the results of the genocide and I heard eye witness reports of many more instances of genocide. 

On February 15, 2017, I attended the book launch of a book entitled On Recognition of Bangladesh Genocide in which there are writings by a number of experts including some of the people who attended the January 2017 seminar, including myself. At that book launch, Minister of Commerce Tofail Ahmed was the Chief Guest. A book was shown to the minister – Creation of Bangladesh: Myths Exploded -- written by Junaid Khan and published in Pakistan. It is full of lies and says, among other things, that the members of the Mukti Bahini were responsible for the genocide! 

The minister took the book with him and later that evening in parliament, raising a point of order, made the demand that March 25 be observed as National Genocide Day. It is only right and most just that Parliament, in 2017, voted that March 25 be observed as Genocide Day and I am very proud to have been a very small part of the demand that led to this. 

It is now up to the government to contact members of parliament, especially of Bangladeshi origin, or with strong connections to Bangladesh, in many countries of the world so that they can have debates in their respective parliaments to recognize that what happened in Bangladesh in 1971 was indeed genocide. After national parliaments of different countries have officially recognized that genocide did occur in 1971, there must be pressure on different world bodies to officially recognize the Bangladesh genocide in the same way that the Holocaust of WWII is recognized. March 25 each year can then become recognized in Bangladesh in the same way and with the same respect as February 21, Ekushey.

My memories of the genocide of 1971

In India, we had heard of the genocide; Simon Dring’s eye witness report in the Daily Telegraph at that time estimated 7,000 killed on the night of March 25 in Dhaka alone. A bloodbath followed of hideous proportions. Thousands and upon thousands, including women and children, were rounded up and shot, machine-gunned or bayoneted. The women were raped. From March 25 to 31, it was estimated that about 200,000 Bangalis had been killed. An Italian priest living in Jessore at the time told me that in Jessore itself, about 10,000 had been killed in the 10 days after March 25. 

It is most important to note that a survey of a few years ago, featured in the media of March 23, 2019 and spearheaded by Professor Dr Muntassir Mamun, has found 4,180 genocide locations in 20 districts. In only 10 of the 20 districts surveyed, the survey found 695 murder points, 92 torture centres, 200 killing fields, and 351 mass graves. Unfortunately, however, many mass graves are unmarked or have been built over.

It is very clear to me that many Bangladeshis died on their way to India and many more died after coming to the refugee camps as a result of the injuries and wounds suffered on the way. I saw people with bullet wounds and bayonet wounds and some of them did not survive. In addition, many died from cholera and malnutrition. Moreover, aid officials of the time estimated that between 20 and 30 million Bangladeshi had been internally displaced inside Bangladesh and there would have been significant deaths from those numbers.

Rightly or wrongly, personally I consider all the deaths of all people who left their homes as a result of the actions of the Pakistan authorities and their collaborators as genocidal deaths. Perhaps we will never know the accurate figure. It could easily be over 3 million.

It is important also to record the different forms of genocide. I heard of an incident at Haluaghat, Sherpur which was also recorded by one of the Newsweek correspondents at the time. 

“Young men of the village were called together by a Pakistani Army major and he said that his wounded soldiers urgently needed blood. Would they be donors? The young men lay down on makeshift cots, needles were inserted in their veins -- and then slowly the blood was drained from their bodies and they died.”  

Newsweek’s Tony Clifton, a recipient of the “Friends of Liberation War Honour,” wrote: “The refugees stand patiently, calf deep in stagnant water, eager to tell me their stories so I can tell others. I collect a notebook of horror -- rape and murder and kidnapping. They tell me how they saw their children stabbed, their husbands or brothers executed, their wives collapse with fatigue or sickness. The stories are all new, and all the same.”

Now, 51 years after the emergence of Bangladesh, it is vitally important that the world authorities officially accept and recognize that what happened in Bangladesh in 1971 was genocide. There are many eye witness accounts that have been documented. For example, the powerful writing of Anthony Mascarenhas who visited East Pakistan in April 1971 (his writing, entitled GENOCIDE, published June 13, 1971 by The Sunday Times)

The May 22, 1971 editorial of US publication Saturday Review entitled “Genocide in East Pakistan and the British magazine The Spectator in its issue of June 19, 1971, in an article entitled “Another Final Solution” had the following:

“We, in this country, like to think that among the reasons why we fought the Germans in the last war was to rid the world of the evil of Hitler and his gang and their genocidal “final solution.” It is easier to imagine Germany’s gas chambers than Pakistan’s cholearic [sic]  slaughter in the Bengal Plain, but it remains the case and it ought to be declared that the Pakistani crime now matches the Hitlerian in dimension and horror and threatens monstrously to exceed it. Difficult and unpleasant though it may be, each one of us ought to endeavour to the best of his ability to imagine the enormity of the Pakistani crime.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs should be asked to ensure that all high commissions and embassies around the world must get ready to bring the issue of the genocide in 1971 to their respective host governments and to seek their cooperation.

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.

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