The chilling account of the orchestrated massacre of Marwari and Hindu minorities in Golahat, Saidpur
June 13, 1971 - it was around 7:30 in the morning. There was a train standing at the platform of Saidpur rail station. The surrounding areas were deserted but for the first time in a few months, a few hundred people were milling around the station.
The day before, at the order of the Captain of Saidpur cantonment, an announcement had been made on behalf of the Pakistan army. To this day, Saidpur has a sizeable Hindu Marwari community, and the Pakistanis were offering them and other Bengali Hindus safe passage to India if they were to surrender. They promised to put them on a special train that would take them from Saidpur rail station across the border to Shiliguri via Haldibari.
Shyam Shundor Singhania was one of the people at the station that day.
“When the Marwaris heard the announcement about the train, we couldn’t believe our luck. We immediately started packing whatever we had left after all the looting that had been going on. On June 13 morning, we gathered at the train station and crammed ourselves into what we thought was the train to our freedom.”
Most of the people on that train never came back.
Saidpur was dripping with blood by then
According to the Saidpur commander of the liberation forces Ekramul Haque, the liberation war actually started in Saidpur three days before March 26, when independence was officially declared.
“On March 23, Pakistani soldiers and local non-Bengalis colluded and attacked Bengalis and Hindus in Saidpur town. The minorities (Bengali Hindus and Marwaris) who lived here were hunted down and killed. Even though it has been 48 years since the war, we still do not know how many people died here during that time.”
The first casualty of the war in Saidpur was not from Saidpur but from Chirirbandar upazila in Dinajpur. Mahtab Beg was the chairman of Alokdihi union at the time, and he was trying to rescue the Bengalis who were trapped in Saidpur. On March 23, he was shot by soldiers and martyred. The Pakistani army did not stop there - they went from village to village, razing them to the ground with their modern weaponry.
On March 24, the Pakistani army arrested Dr Jikrul Haque, then member of the Provincial Assembly (MPA), Dr Shamsul Haque, Dr Badiuzzaman, Dr Aminul Haque, Dr Yakub Ali, Tulshiram Agarwal, Jamuna Prashad Kedia, Rameshwarlal Agarwala, Narayan Prashad, Komola Prashad and others, taking them to the local cantonment. They were tortured there for three weeks. On April 12, They were taken to a place called Balarkhal, on the south-west of Rangpur cantonment, and killed. From the very beginning, the Pakistani army began a campaign of hunting down intellectuals, Hindus and other minorities, alongside their indiscriminate killing of Bengali Muslims as well.
By mid April, Saidpur had been turned into a killing field. Almost 300 Bengali workers and employees of the railway factory were murdered inside the factory – some say they were thrown into its boilers alive. The Pakistanis pushed imprisoned local Bengalis into forced labour, using them to hurriedly finish the construction of Saidpur airport. If they protested, they were subject to brutal punishments.
Saidpur stadium was also used as a site for killings, and it is known locally that the Biharis who lived around it and supported Pakistan would bring Bengalis from various areas and have them shot and buried there. While this information is more well-known within Saidpur, there is still nothing there to commemorate the lives lost. The sites of these massacres are slowly being wiped from the history of liberation. And the Golahat train massacre is even more at risk of being lost from our collective memories forever.
The few who lived to tell the tale
Tapan Kumar Das (72) was only a 25 year old energetic youth at the time, and was one of the people who boarded the train offered by the Pakistani army to try and escape to India. According to him, the train left the station in the morning and slowly moved out of the city, but after around two miles, it suddenly stopped at a place called Golahat. He peeked out through a crack in a closed window, and what he saw made his heart stop. There were rows of Pakistani soldiers standing next to the tracks, and with them were some of the local Biharis. The soldiers held rifles, and the Biharis were carrying sharp ramda (a sharp scythe with a short handle).
“What happened was incredible – a calculated and cold massacre of almost all of the 448 men, women and children, mainly Marwaris, who had boarded the train that day. Numbers vary, but I think around 21 people managed to jump off the train and run for their lives. It started raining, and we used that as cover to get away.”
He broke down into tears while describing the horror.
“They pulled the children down by their legs, pushed them onto the line and killed them. They murdered my younger brother Shongkor Kumar Das in front of my eyes, as well as my neighbour Tilak Kedia. They attacked them with the ramda and just cut them in half, right then and there.”
Gobindolal Das, who also managed to escape the horrific massacre of that day, said “once the train came screeching to a halt at Golahat, the Pakistani soldiers yelled in Urdu, asking us to all come out one by one. Once we got down, they said - ‘we’re going to kill you, but we won’t waste our bullets. You deserve to be cut down like animals.’ And that’s what they did. They used the ramda to slit people’s throats like they were sacrificial animals. Children, the elderly, women - no one escaped their onslaught.”
The Marwaris who were left on the train were divided into three groups - the elderly, the young and the women. The women were marched to an area in Golahat known as Astana-e-Haq and were raped en masse by the Pakistani soldiers and their collaborators. After liberation, none of the women who fell prey to their torture were found again, and there are no records of whether they are dead or living.
To this day, the site of this massacre at Golahat has not been preserved or even identified by any incumbent government. However, the locals took an initiative and built a memorial, but it has become derelict over time.
Tapan Kumar Das shared his thoughts on the importance of preserving the history of the minority community in Saidpur, and how let down he feels by the failure of the establishment to do so.
“I lost my family and my relatives, but somehow I am still surviving. It’s been 48 years, but no one has come to ask after us. There is no trace of their names on the government list of martyrs. Even today, the killing ground at Golahat - which is a witness to a terrible and dark time - has not been preserved or acknowledged in any way. All of the people who lost their lives there are being wiped off the pages of our history.”