Bangladesh war trial sparks rival calls for justice

Published: November 23, 2011
One of them gouged out my right eye and stabbed me several times in the chest, says Sairun Nesa who survived massacre. PHOTO: AFP

One of them gouged out my right eye and stabbed me several times in the chest, says Sairun Nesa who survived massacre. PHOTO: AFP

DHAKA: Suspects accused of collaborating with Pakistani forces in Bangladesh’s war of independence are now on trial, but claims of appalling crimes are also tarnishing the “heroes” of that bloody struggle.

Migrant families who moved to what was then East Pakistan after the subcontinent was partitioned in 1947 say they were targeted as outsiders during the 1971 fight to become the independent nation of Bangladesh.

Thrown out of their homes and often murdered during the country’s bloody birth, they believe their suffering at the hands of native Bengalis has been forgotten as Bangladesh focuses instead on alleged collaborators with Pakistan.

The day after Bangladesh declared independence from Pakistan on December 16, 1971, Sairun Nesa survived a massacre in which 15 of her family — including her husband, son and daughter — were killed by “freedom fighters”.

As one of tens of thousands of Urdu-speaking Muslims who had migrated to East Pakistan, Nesa said she and her family were rejected by those fighting to establish independent Bangladesh.

“We were stripped naked at gun-point. Bangladeshi fighters herded us onto the bank of a river. Then they slaughtered us one after another with machetes and knives,” she said.

“With a knife one of them gouged out my right eye and stabbed me several times in the chest,” she said, adding that she was left for dead in a pile of bodies in Goalonda, a small town west of Dhaka.

Bangladesh’s government says up to three million people were killed and hundreds of thousands of women raped during the savage nine-month battle for independence.

This week a special court began its first trial with Delawar Hossain Sayedee, a senior official of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami party, charged with genocide against native Bengalis as he fought to prevent independence.

But the separate attacks carried out by Bengalis against Nesa and other “Biharis” — the migrants who had left India for East Pakistan — remain a hidden crime, experts say.

Even well-documented killings of Biharis have never been investigated, much less brought to trial.

“Everyone talks about the killings of Bengalis (by the Pakistani army) in 1971. But none dares to mention the pogroms that were carried out against Biharis,” said Ezaz Ahmed Siddiqui, a prominent Bihari community leader.

“We estimate that hundreds of thousands of Biharis were killed. In (northwestern) Santahar town alone, several thousand were killed in a matter of days,” Siddiqui told AFP.

After the war, Biharis were not granted citizenship rights in newly independent Bangladesh, lost their property and social status, and were forced to live in refugee camps under UN protection — where many remain to this day.

For decades, Bangladeshi historians and authors have downplayed the Bihari killings, casting them as isolated instances of mob violence.

“We agree some Urdu-speaking people were killed in isolated riot-like incidents,” Mofidul Hoque, a trustee of Bangladesh’s Liberation War Museum, said.

“But it was not a systematic or state-sponsored genocide like what the Pakistani soldiers did to Bengalis,” he said.

A new wave of academics is trying to shed light on the killings, with Oxford University researcher Sarmila Bose’s 2011 book, “Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War”, leading the way.

Bose argues that Bangladesh authorities are in a “state of denial” about the murder of Biharis.

“The nature and scale of atrocities committed by the ‘nationalist’ side had been edited out of the dominant narrative,” she wrote after her book was heavily criticised in Bangladesh.

Ishrat Ferdousi, who recently finished a book on the 1971 atrocities, said attacks on Biharis could be seen as “genocide”.

“I saw at least a hundred Bihari children had been killed, their bodies were floating in the Rupsha river. Some (Bengalis) even boarded boats with machetes to hunt for any Biharis who had survived,” he told AFP.

Sairun Nesa survived after being plucked from the pile of bodies on the banks of the Padma River by a saviour who nursed her back to health.

Eventually, she married him, changed her name and has tried to forget the past — but the frail sexagenarian is still haunted by her memories, telling AFP she was “terrified even to talk” about what happened.

For Bihari leader Siddiqui, official acknowledgement of the atrocities is as important as the trial of alleged collaborators if Bangladesh is to come to terms with its birth.

“All we want is recognition of the crimes. We don’t want any trial. An admission would start a healing process,” he said.

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Reader Comments (26)

  • Usa
    Nov 23, 2011 - 12:31PM

    No pakistani wants to comment on these facts, eh?


  • Strange
    Nov 23, 2011 - 1:07PM

    This is a genocide against muslims committed by muslims. Recommend

  • grinz09
    Nov 23, 2011 - 1:09PM

    Must give them credit for addressing this matter at this late stage. We should also do the same though I doubt if there is the courage and the initiative to do the same. Unfortunately the key person this side i.e. General ‘Tiger’ Niazi has passed away.


  • shaheryar
    Nov 23, 2011 - 1:27PM

    @ usa
    what do u say abt the bengalis who committed such attrocities ???
    well anyways the muslims of sub continent faced a lot of miseries in the past 60 yrs sometimes by the hands of Hindus and sometimes by the hands of Bengalis who did not even bother to think abt the miseries of fellow muslim brethen


  • Hanif
    Nov 23, 2011 - 1:34PM

    So they reciprocated by killing and raping Biharis.Recommend

  • Indian
    Nov 23, 2011 - 1:54PM

    The Bangladesh genocide by West Pakistan army has been rated as one of the top five genocides in the history of the world!! Killing more than 3 million civilians because West Pakistani leadership could not tolerate a victory by the ‘Awami league’ of East Pakistan in a democratic election.. And still the Pakistani army has not learnt the lesson! It continues with the same stupidity in Baluchistan… May they are feeling the 40 year itch since the last division…


  • Jameel
    Nov 23, 2011 - 3:09PM

    Two nation theory at its best. Keep believing in two nation theory and never in one nation theory until country is divided several times over. Baluchis are currently being treated in the same way.


  • grinz09
    Nov 23, 2011 - 3:11PM

    Those Biharis or PAKISTANIS who were ditched and never brought back!


  • Roflcopter
    Nov 23, 2011 - 5:10PM

    shows the hypocrisy of bangladesh.


  • Straight_Talk
    Nov 23, 2011 - 5:20PM

    The history of Bengal from the time of pre-partition politics till the birth of Bangladesh is a very strange story of violence and cruelty of man against man. The incident that is reported here should not be seen in isolation. People like Sairun Nesa were victim of those who were tortured equally cruelly by the Tikka Khan and his soldiers. The bengalis ( irrespective of their religion ) were murdered after severe torture but the Pak soldiers were specially ruthless to the hindus. ” Lajja ” written by Tasleema Nasreen narates in some detail the atrocities of the Pak soldiers. But this is not all. Among these very bengalis, the muslims tortured the hindus in the riots during the partition and the cruelty and torture then was equally barbaric. The hindus who fled the present-day Bangladesh-area ( specially places like Noakhali, where the worst of the riots took place ) during partition will tell you the savagery of loot, rape and murder of near and dear one’s that they went through before and while fleeing to India. Further the victims of partition riots will tell you that many Non-bengali muslims ( like Biharis, Muslims of present UP area, even muslim Pashtoon etc ) came to Bengal to conduct and spread riot in newer areas. Similarly Sikhs came to fight the muslims from outside Bengal.

    I have a question. Who has suffered more ———— the Bihari muslims, Bengalis ( irrespective of religion ), Bengali hindus of East Pakistan, Hindus and muslims of Calcutta in riots after Direct Action ? Can anybody measure suffering ?

    In South asia this is our fate. It did not stop even after partition. India seems to have a riot cycle such that a riot has to happen after a fixed interval. Pakistan also could not save itself from riots. Pakistan ( earlier West Pakistan ) had a sizable non-muslim population before partition. When after systematic ethnic cleansing Pakistan became overwhelmingly muslim the divide between Ahmediya and others, Shias and Sunnis etc widened so that a new ground for further riots was ready. And now you have the Taliban who say their for of Islam is real Islam and rest if Jahalat or Kufr.

    This are only religious riots. Here we also have racial, ethnic, language and caste riots.

    When Sairun Nessa says she is “terrified even to talk” about all these, all of us southasians should realize that with all our culture and historic civilization and great religions we have even failed to become just a normal human being. We all suffer in turns for almost all of us are like this in turns ?

    Rioting is a reflection of ignorance of mind.


  • Lord
    Nov 23, 2011 - 5:21PM

    Its really a shame


  • Pakistani
    Nov 23, 2011 - 5:31PM

    whther you are muslim or not , where ever human rights will be violated these will be outburst,then government of Ayub Khan violated and snatched basic human rights of Bangladeshi people , we should not repeat those mistakes and make ourselves internally strong


  • Aadersh
    Nov 23, 2011 - 6:19PM

    Truth can never remain hidden…I admire people like Sarmila Bose for coming out with the truth…Bengalis only believe in the exaggerated stories of Indians & not on the facts…Even the un-biased Indians admit that the genocide was carried by the Mukti Bahini & not by the Pakistanis…
    Secondly I want to clear it out that I m a Baloch living in Balochistan & I m not a victim of Pakistan army for God sake, check out the ground realities before saying anything..


  • Yuri Kondratyuk
    Nov 23, 2011 - 6:52PM


    Even the un-biased Indians admit that
    the genocide was carried by the Mukti
    Bahini & not by the Pakistanis

    Sir, I admire the hot air, but, please look-up for Archer Blood and The Blood telegram


  • Nov 23, 2011 - 6:56PM

    whatever was done to Bengalis (then Pakistanis) was very bad and in no way justifiable. It won’t hurt us the Pakistanis to apologies for the atrocities committed by some fanatics among us. Good that at the time of separation Bangladesh didn’t say that “we are Pakistan, you guys look for a name for yourselves” what would have we done? they were majority then and they suggested the name “Pakistan”. we learn very little from history, if at all. However Bangladesh should’n go through our mistakes and conduct an open and through investigation into the matter of all those killings of the supporters of united Pakistan.
    Wish you all the best with your endeavor to find truth.


  • Bangladeshi
    Nov 23, 2011 - 7:24PM

    !971 was an unfortunate bloody civil war where atrocities were committed by both sides , as expected in a civil war. I being a bangali bangladeshi really feel ashamed for the killings of so many innocent muslim biharis by “freedom fighters”. Actually the current AWAMI regime is a cult that likes to distort history & didn’t learn anything from History itself. The war crime trail is a farce conducted to harass the opposition & please their indian masters as OUR PM is hoping against all hope that somehow India will come her rescue in the coming election. We are truly a very unfortunate nation to have such a stooge GOV.


  • Cautious
    Nov 23, 2011 - 7:38PM

    @Strange “This is a genocide against muslims committed by muslims.”
    Does that imply that genocide against non Muslims is OK? Somehow Muslims view violence committed by Muslims against Muslims as worse than violence committed by Muslims against non Muslims — it’s apparent that Muslims don’t view non Muslims as having the same value.Recommend

  • Truth
    Nov 23, 2011 - 9:13PM

    the history has been distorted and it has always been said that Pak army killed 3 million “own” people…whereas the fact is that only a few hundred ( relaible sources put figures to only 450) were unintentionally killed by Pak Army and that too happened due to “friendly fire” i.e. our own bombs / firing hitting unwittingly our own east Pakistanis…….whereas Mukti Bahini …force made and financed by india killed 3 million people……!!! I am a bengali and living here in Bangladesh for the last 60 years ….I know what happened…its the media, books, historians and vested interests that have twisted history and made Pak ARMY as villain…although the reality was that it was Mukti Bahini that killed all those innocent people….


  • Mirza
    Nov 23, 2011 - 10:22PM

    The atrocities against Bengalis were committed by the organized army that was raised by “their money”. All killings are shameful and must be condemned. However, BD army after their independence did not kill any Behairs in a systematic way, did they? Rapes and murders happen but not by the army of that country against their own people is the question here and let us not mix it with a lot of fluff and excuses.


  • Nadia
    Nov 23, 2011 - 10:43PM

    If you have the courage, say your name here. I think you are an active member of Jamate islam who has become too nervous to see the warcrime trial going on. show me your reliable sources that put figures only to 450. As you have been living in BD for 60 years and the way you are humiliating Bangladesh and Muktibahini, it loooks like you are someone who used to supply chicken to Gen. Niazi’s camp.


  • Sajida
    Nov 23, 2011 - 11:07PM

    Civil war is always brutal. Just look at what in Fallujah where the suffering will last for generations.


  • Anjum
    Nov 23, 2011 - 11:41PM

    For many muslims this is true. You see, being a muslim we feel very strong fellowship with other muslims through the “Ummah”, like being part of a greater family. I think Hindus, Christians and especially Jews have the same feelings. It comes from: muslims feel being in the receiving end from Christians and lately Hindus and at the same feel their poverty and hopelessness they go i ro defence mode. Inshallah, it will change as muslims re-gain their power and inflience among the communities of the world. Change is happening right now.


  • Anjum
    Nov 23, 2011 - 11:49PM

    I really lack modern research of what happended, the role of various parties and how many was killed and by who. I want it to be done by todays Pakistani historians to whom I have great creadability to.


  • Pakistani
    Nov 24, 2011 - 12:24AM

    those who are talking about muslims killings done by muslims , please be brave enough to mention your countries.
    I will love to remind the action performed in their history and also present
    Please people think from a human perspective , we are all humans and all give reaction to anything unusual happens against human rights


  • I know
    Nov 24, 2011 - 10:03AM

    I Think that Pakistani People are far behind the truth. They dont know about their Army, ISI and Govt.


  • Jaibul anam
    Nov 26, 2011 - 2:46AM


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