Thursday, March 28, 2013

Reliving 1971 (part II of II)

This is the second and concluding part of post which describes a visit to Bangladesh’s Liberation War Museum in Dhaka. The first part dealt with the pre-1947 period of the museum. This deals with the post-1947 part


The museum is extremely acerbic about the birth of Pakistan calling it an “artificial” state. The year 1947 is also treated with despair as “British Rule” is replaced with “Pakistan Rule”. 1947 was never an achievement for the Bengali Muslim even at the time. The second partition of Bengal was, as Joya Chatterji shows in her book Bengal Divided: Hindu Communalism and Partition, 1932-1947’ driven mainly by Hindu bhadhralok fears of ‘Muslim rule’ (echoing Urdu-speaking Muslim fears of Hindu Raj in North India)as well as the callous use of Bengal as a bargaining counter by the central Muslim leadership of India. In fact, large parts of the Bengali Muslim leadership including League leaders such as Suhrawardy and Abdul Hashim made a last ditched and, ultimately, futile attempt for a united, independent Bengal just a few months before Partition.

Almost immediately after independence the language question sparked tensions between the two wings. The tension between Bengali and Urdu speaking Muslims had always existed even before 1947 with AK Fazlul Haq leading the Bengali charge against the aristocratic Muslim Leaguers who till then had dominated Bengal politics. Post 1947, shorn of a common Hindu “opposition” the incipient tensions between the two sides erupted fiercely.

Ayub’s ‘horrid dream’ (note to journalist: look up the word ‘nightmare’) was in fact once upon a time Jinnah’s pleasant dream. Well, not exactly a ‘dream’ but a Plan B nonetheless. Jinnah was convinced that East Bengal without Calcutta would have been an economic basket case. When it became clear that under no circumstance was Calcutta going to Pakistan, he had extended tacit support to a plan for a “Greater Sovereign Bengal” that Ayub seems to despise.
*slowly shakes head*

Qaamrul Hassan’s demonic depiction of Gen. Yahya Khan with a call to "annihilate" Pakistanis
The British press does its bit

The Bangladeshi version of Unity in Diversity.  The poster reads: “Bengal’s Hindus, Bengal’s Christians, Bengal’s Buddhists, Bengal’s Muslims, We are all Bengalis”

“Help the freedom fighters. They are also your children.”

 “Every vigilant, Bengal's freedom fighters”

Picture of a statue of Buddha broken by the Pak Army when they entered the Triratna Sharan Buddist Monastry in Naokhali

Picture shows a young woman raped and then killed by the Pakistani Army as she was fleeing to India. As you can see the museum does not shy away from being graphic in order to make a point.

Record sleeve of the famous concert

Human remains from massacres conducted by the Pak army in Mirpur

Newspaper reports victory. The Headline reads “Jai Bengal Jai”. The scratched out word in the title is ‘Pakistan’ replaced now by the word ‘Bangladesh’ cheekily driving home the new political reality.

In spite of the graphic nature of some of the exhibits as well as its attention to detail, the museum seems to have (intentionally?) skipped two major characteristic about the 1971 killings: the selected targeting of Hindus as well as the massacre of Bihari Muslims by Bengalis before the start of Operation Searchlight

“Why kill him? I asked with mounting concern.
“Because he might be a Hindu or he might be a rebel, perhaps a student or an Awami Leaguer. They know we are sorting them out and they betray themselves by running.”
“But why are you killing them? And why pick on the Hindus?” I persisted. 
“Must I remind you, Rathore said severely, how they have tried to destroy Pakistan? Now under the cover of the fighting we have an excellent opportunity of finishing them off."

This is a conversation between Anthony Mascarenhas and a Pakistani Army officer, published in the former's path-breaking Sunday Times article on Operation Searchlight which informed the West about the goings on in, what was at that time, East Pakistan. As Mascarenhas has noted, targeting Hindus was official policy for the Pakistan Army in 1971. Numerous massacres—Madhyapara, Burunga, Shankharipara, Jathibhangam and Chuknagara, just to name a few—were primarily targeted at Hindus and while exact numbers are difficult to come across, there is no doubt that Bengali Hindus were murdered proportionally in far greater numbers than other Bengalis. Shockingly, the museum does not even touch upon this fact preferring to let this great crime by the Pakistan Army go unreported.

The other great crime which 1971 ignores is the killing of Bihari Muslims before Operation Searchlight began. But then again, given that this is an official narrative you’d have to be a bit of a demented Pollyanna to expect this to have been there in the first place.

I ended my tour of the Museum by entering the souvenir shop and buying a poster of Ginsberg’s haunting September on Jessore Road written when he visited a Bangladeshi refugee camp in Calcutta. Can’t think of better way to end this article than by quoting a few lines from what he saw and felt:
Millions of babies in pain
Millions of mothers in rain
Millions of brothers in woe
Millions of children nowhere to go

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