With reference to the Vijay Diwas celebrations that I attended on the 16th of December, the pictures of which are in the link below, I thought it might be worthwhile to share an excerpt from my novel Across Borders – that gives a peek into the circumstances surrounding the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971 – incidentally also the year I was born.
After Partition of British India in August 1947, two new states
were formed. One was the secular state of India and the
other the Islamic one of Pakistan, made of two culturally
and geographically separate areas to the east and west of
India. The western zone was officially termed West Pakistan
and the eastern one called East Bengal. It later came to be
known as East Pakistan, which is the current day Bangladesh.
Though there was not much difference in the population of
the two zones, political power came to be concentrated in
West Pakistan. This led to many grievances with the
perception that East Pakistan was being exploited. In March
1971, the rising political and cultural discontentment in East
Pakistan was met by a fierce suppressive force from the
ruling elite of West Pakistan.
This brutal crackdown by the West Pakistani forces led to
East Pakistan declaring its independence and the beginning
of a civil war. It resulted in the cessation of East Pakistan, to
form the independent nation of Bangladesh. This war led to
a vast number of refugees flooding the eastern part of India.
Faced with a rising humanitarian and economic crisis, India
started organizing and aiding the Bangladeshi resistance army,
known as the Mukti Bahini or the Liberation Army. The Mukti
Bahini was made up of Bengali military, paramilitary and civilians,
using guerrilla warfare tactics to fight the West Pakistan
army. The war broke out in March, 1971. The
Bangladesh Liberation War was an armed conflict between
East Pakistan aided by India versus West Pakistan.
The army units directed by West Pakistan launched a military
operation in East Pakistan. It was directed against
Bengali civilians, students, intellectuals and armed personnel,
who were demanding the separation of the East from
the West of Pakistan. India aided the Mukti Bahini by providing
economic, military and diplomatic support, leading
Pakistan to launch an attack on the western border of India,
thereby starting the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971. In December
1971, the Indian army and the Mukti Bahini defeated
the West Pakistani forces deployed in the east. The surrender
resulted in the largest number of prisoners of war since
World War II. During this war, there were widespread killings
and violation of human rights and atrocities by the Pakistani
The intellectual community was murdered on the instruction
of the Pakistani army who picked up physicians, professors,
writers and engineers in and around Dacca. They murdered
and left the bodies in mass graves. There are many
such mass graves in Bangladesh and many more are discovered
continually. Many women were tortured, raped and killed
during this war, giving rise to a large number of war babies.
The Pakistani Army also kept numerous Bengali women as
sex-slaves inside Dacca cantonment, mostly captured from
Dacca University and private homes. There was also violence
perpetrated by the Bengali nationalists against non-
Bengali minorities like the Biharis. A large number of people
fled East Pakistan to seek refuge in India during the time.
The Death of My Hero
It was the first week of May 1971, at the peak of the killings
of noted civilians and intellectuals during the Bangladesh
Liberation War. Late one evening, a Pakistan Army jeep
loaded with soldiers arrived at Ronjit uncle’s office-cumresidential
premises at Vishnuganj in East Pakistan. After a
loud knock on the main door of his office where he also
slept on most days, Ronjit uncle came out. The armed soldiers,
with guns pointing in every direction, asked him to get
into the jeep. Under the circumstances, not wanting them to
know there were other family members inside, including
women and children, he complied with their wishes. He left
in his night-suit and robe, without informing anyone that he
was leaving. However the next day he returned home, after
a night with members of the Pakistani Army.
Two days later, the Pakistani army, with the obvious help of
their local collaborators, once again abducted Ronjit uncle
from his residence. This time on the way out at gun-point,
he called out softly to his younger son Romit, who was
working late with him in the office, to say he was leaving.
Little did he know that this leave-taking would cost him dear?
The armed soldiers directed his son to get into the jeep as
well, leaving behind his young bride and a year-old son.
Luckily no other members of the family, above all the women,
stepped out then, or who knows what might have been done
to them. After the night of their leaving home, no one ever
saw Ronjit uncle or his son Romit again. They were officially
declared missing, though presumably murdered shortly
after their abduction.
However, there is no evidence to date of their murder, as
the bodies were never found. Their surviving widows continued
to dress as married women for the next twelve years,
as is the Hindu custom, in the hope their husbands may return
someday. I was lecturer at a college in Delhi University,
married by then and pregnant with my first child. I read of
Ronjit uncle’s abduction along with two other men of repute,
in an international newspaper at the college library.
The news in bold letters, making me intuitively certain Ronjit
uncle had been killed, brought tears spurting out of my eyes.
I called the Red Cross Society in Delhi to verify the news,
but could get no further information. It was alone in my room
that evening, with vivid images of my life with Ronjit uncle
since leaving my childhood home that I bitterly wept for the
death of my hero.
If you’d like to read more, it’s available in the link:
The media reviews and event updates are all in the link below: