The brutality on Bangladeshi women by the Pakistan Army in 1971
In a short period of 267 days the Pakistan army raped over four lakh Bangladeshi women. It is duty of every human being now to raise a voice to bring the surviving Pakistani War Criminals to justice by an international crime tribunal. Pakistan must be compelled by world community to render an unconditional apology and pay adequate compensation to the victims of sex slavery
Brig R P Singh (Retd) & Hitesh Singh
For over a month Pakistan has been trying to weave a macabre narrative of torture perpetrated by Indian Army on innocent civilian population of Kashmir Valley after abrogation of Article 370. The audience (both residing in Pakistan and Non-resident Pakistanis) has readily accepted this story. It is time for India to reveal the sordid tale of 'Operation Searchlight' unleashed on innocent unarmed people of East Pakistan; and unmask the true (brutal) face of the Pakistan Army. Going by the number of people killed on a daily basis, this was the worst pogrom in history. In a short period of 267 days, an estimated 30,00,000 people were killed, 4 lakh Bangladeshi women were raped and one crore refugees were forced to flee to India, majority of whom were Hindus. A number of studies have been carried out on the Pakistani genocide committed on the people who were their own countrymen till December 16, 1971.
International scholars suggested that the Pakistani Army used ‘rape’ as a weapon of war to terrorise the majority Bengali speaking Muslims, and Hindus. Rape by Pakistani soldiers caused thousands of pregnancies, birth of war babies, abortions, infanticides, suicides and ostracising of victims by their families and society. It has been recognised as one of the major occurrence of rapes during war in the history. As per Raunaque Jahan, a Bangladeshi political scientist, feminist leader and author of massive scale, rapes depicted the racist attitude of Pakistanis against Bangladeshis. Political scientist RJ Rummel, in his book ‘Death by Government: Genocide and Mass Murder’ writes that Pakistan Army looked upon Bengali Muslims as sub humans and Hindus as ‘the Jews were to the Nazis’ scum and vermin that was best to be exterminated. This racism was then expressed that the Bengalis, being inferior, must have their gene pool fixed through forcible impregnation. The idea was similar to that of 'Eugenics', under Nazi Regime in Germany.
Spanish Professor Belen Martin Lucas described rapes as ethnically motivated. Tikka Khan, the architect of ‘Operation Searchlight’ was the Governor and GOC-in-C of Pakistani Eastern Command till Lt Gen Niazi took over on April 11, 1971. When reminded by one of the correspondents that he was in-charge of the majority province of Pakistan, he quipped, “I will reduce this majority to minority.” His words were swiftly put into action by his troops. As per Indian author Mulk Raj Anand, “These rapes were so systematic and pervasive that they had to be conscious Army policy, planned by West Pakistan in a deliberate effort to create a new race or dilute the Bengali nationalism.” His assessment was confirmed by Indian journalist Amita Malik, after the surrender of Pakistan Army on December 16, 1971 when she quoted a Pakistani Army officer as saying, “We are going but we are leaving our seeds behind.”
Aim of raping women was to humiliate Bangladeshis. Therefore, large numbers of rapes were committed in front of the husbands of married women and families of unmarried victims. In some cases genitals of victims were bayoneted after the rapes and some of them were even murdered. Pro-Pakistani and fundamentalist parties like Muslim League, Nizam-e-Islam, Jamaat-e-Islam and Jamiat-ul-Pakistan collaborated with Pakistan army in committing heinous crimes. During Indo-Pak war between December 3 and 16, large number of such victims were liberated by the Indian Army. In 1972, Bangladesh Government launched rehabilitation programme for the rape victims. Women Rehabilitation Camps were established in Dhaka and other cities. Rape victims were shifted to these centres where abortions were performed wherever possible. In cases where pregnancies were in advanced stages deliveries were arranged.
Efforts of Women Rehabilitation Centres were supported by large number of international charitable organisations. International Planned Parenthood Federation was one such non-governmental organisation, which brought Australian physician Dr Geoffrey Davis to Bangladesh in 1972. Davis estimated that figure commonly cited of four hundred thousands of rape cases was very conservative as compared to actual numbers. He also said that he had heard of numerous cases of suicides and infanticides by rape victims. During the course of his work he found that more than five thousand victims had performed self-induced abortions. Such victims developed variety of gynaecological complications and long term after effects. Estimates of forced pregnancies vary. A doctor at the rehabilitation centre reported that 170,000 abortions were performed and 30,000 war babies were born. While Davis said that before Government sponsored abortions began, between 150,000 to 170,000 abortions had already been done. Bangladesh Government’s estimates of war babies were 30,000 while report of Centre for Reproductive Law and Policy placed the figure of war babies at 250,000. An Australian doctor reported in ‘The New York Times’ that vast majority of rape victims were infected with venereal diseases by Pakistani soldiers.
The victims were confined in army camps where they were gang raped almost every night by Pakistani soldiers between March 26 and December 16, 1971. Those girls who were good looking were assigned to officers. They were lucky not to be gang raped since they were meant to satisfy the lust of only one master. Sex slaves of officers were also better off as they were well fed and well looked after. Victims were deprived of their traditional wear, saris, since some of them had committed suicide by hanging by these garments. They were given minimum clothing to cover their bodies to preclude the chances of their running away in case they were fully clothed. In some camps no clothing was provided to them and they remained naked. Food was provided to them by female staff. They were completely cut off from rest of the world and did not know what was happening in the outside world or even in their own country. Rape victims had not only suffered physically but were shattered emotionally and psychologically. Trauma of being physically violated by unknown people repeatedly had immensely affected their psyche.
One of the authors (Brig RP Singh) met some Birangonas during and immediately after end of war in December 1971 and January 1972. They were completely traumatised at that time. In May-June 1971, while assisting civil administration in managing migrants’ camps I visited most of the refugee camps in West Bengal. I saw some rape victims as young as fourteen or fifteen years of age. They looked blank and perplexed. Some of them had their genitals ruptured as they were bayoneted after being raped. Such victims were writhing in pain due to wounds inflicted by Pakistani soldiers. What Pakistani soldiers did to Bangladeshi women was worst kind of sexual perverseness. Could a man be so brutal, inhuman and cruel towards another fellow human being? Did the Pak soldiers have no compassion at all? I wonder till date. During my visit to Bangladesh on 40th anniversary of liberation in December 2011 and in subsequent trips to Dhaka I learnt that agony of Birangonas had compounded in Independent Bangladesh. Bangladesh was liberated on December 16, 1971, but the Birangonas were permanently enslaved in the societal bondage. They suffered immense humiliation and were not accepted by their parents or husbands. They became outcasts in their own country and the society. Some brave ones have narrated their horrifying tales to the world. One of them, Priayabhasani Firdousi, was married to well known social worker after her first husband abandoned her in 1971. She herself was well known sculptor of Bangladesh. Her video interview is available on YouTube. Her face reflects the sordid saga of indescribable misery.
Bina D' Costa is a research fellow at the Centre for International Governance and Justice, Regulatory Institutions Network and Convener of the Security Analysis Program at the Australian National University. She has done an exhaustive research on rape victims of Bangladesh. Bina, in conversation with Dr. Davis, which appeared in a Bangladeshi publication sometime back, has highlighted plight of Birangonas. It mentions the stories of women being tied to trees and gang raped, breasts hacked off, dumped in mass graves, being held in Pakistani rape camps.
When asked if the usual figures of the number of women raped by the Pakistani Army, 200-400,000, are accurate, Davis stated that they are underestimated. As per Davis, “...Probably the numbers are very conservative compared with what they did. The descriptions of how they captured towns were very interesting. They’d keep the infantry back and put artillery ahead and they would shell the hospitals and schools. And that caused absolute chaos in the town. And then the infantry would go in and begin to segregate the women. Apart from little children, all those were sexually matured would be segregated... And then the women would be put in the compound under guard and made available to the troops...Some of the stories they told were appalling. Being raped again, and again, and again... A lot of them died in those [rape] camps. There was an air of disbelief about the whole thing. Nobody could credit that it really happened! But the evidence clearly showed that it did happen.” Rape victims were given the title of 'Birangona' (War Heroine in Bengali) by Father of Nation of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Davis spoke about how President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman labelled the rape survivors as Birangonas to help them reintegrate into their communities, but the gesture largely did not work. After being assaulted and impregnated by Pakistani soldiers, these Bangladeshi women were completely ostracised by society. Many were killed by their husbands, committed suicide, or murdered their half-Pakistani babies themselves. Some women were so scared to go back home after being held captive in Pakistani rape camps, they begged their Pakistani captors to take them to Pakistan with them. (Story of one such Birangona will be narrated in the next article).
Atrocities of Pakistan Army were not only reported by Western, Indian or the media of USSR, but also by most of the Muslim world newspapers. For example, LA PRESSE, a daily of Tunisia, shook conscience of Tunisians by publishing horrifying details of cruelty on Bangladeshis on August 29, 1971. “The three hundred candidates to suicide …were said to have been systematically raped during four months by the Pakistan soldiers of Pathan, Punjabi, Baluch and other West Pakistani units, having been sent to them as prostitutes for the regiments. They would have all become pregnant and that is why a West Pakistani officer considered them “out of use” and thus they would have been released.” There were numerous reports of girls being forcibly taken away from families for sex slavery but only a few are being mentioned here. A Washington Daily, Evening Star, published the news item under the title “Despair in East Pakistan” on October 14, 1971. “...In a clandestine meeting elaborately arranged to elude military surveillance, a Bengali farmer told this correspondent about one such experience. Talking with great reticence and glancing around in fear that he had been led into police trap he said, ‘…The army came to the village on the night of April 11, 1971. One patrol led me away from my house to identify something, and when I got back I found my sister missing. Another girl, the daughter of a neighbour, was gone, and there was a Hindu family whose girl was missing. In the middle of May they released my sister and the neighbour’s daughter, but the Hindu girl is still gone. The two girls who came back are both pregnant and will have their babies. At the place where they were kept there were 200 to 300 girls doing the same thing. They had to wash clothing and forced to have sex with the soldiers two or three times a day. My sister does not know where she was kept.’ Many Dhaka residents, including foreigners, tell of having seen young women taken away by military policemen without even an identification check.”
‘Time’ Magazine corroborated the large scale cases of sex slaves in October 1971. “…One of the more horrible revelations concerns 563 young Bengali women, some only 18, who have been held captive inside Dhaka’s dingy military cantonment since the first days of the fighting. Seized from Dhaka University and private homes and forced into military brothels, the girls are all three to five months pregnant. The army is reported to have enlisted Bengali gynaecologists to abort the girls held at military installations. But for those at Dhaka Cantonment it is too late for abortion. The military has begun freeing the girls, a few at a time, still carrying the babies of the Pakistani soldiers.”
After the war, President ZA Bhutto of Pakistan had instituted a committee under Justice Hamoodur Rahman to investigate the reasons of defeat of Pakistan in December 1971. Hamoodur Rahman Report established that incidents of rapes and military prostitution had sanction from the top military brass. Yahya Khan and other Pakistani senior officers were busy womanising in Rawalpindi. Misdeeds of commander of Pak forces in Bangladesh Lt Gen Niazi were highlighted in the Report. Officers at lower levels were following the wretched examples of the officers commandeering wherever they were in Bangladesh. Unit commanders used to select good looking girls to be presented to their bosses. It was an organised system. Niazi, who himself was indulging in womanising in Dhaka, was asked by the correspondent of a Western daily about the rampant cases of rape by his troops in Bangladesh. He replied that when his ‘troops were living and fighting in the eastern wing they can’t be expected to go for sex to West Pakistan’. These are just a few examples taken from Hamoodur Rahman Report.
200 war criminals (194 from the army, 3 each from Pakistan navy and air force) were released by Indira Gandhi after the Simla Agreement in July 1972. (Their names are available with the authors). Nobody had the right to release them because they had committed the crime against humanity. Therefore, it is duty of every human being to raise her/his voice to bring the surviving Pakistani War Criminal to justice by an international crime tribunal. Pakistan must be compelled by world community to render an unconditional apology and pay adequate compensation to victims of sex slavery as was done by Japanese Government to Koreans in 2015, in case of the misdeeds of Japanese army during World War II.
As regards Islamabad’s propaganda in contrast to Pakistani soldiers the Indian Armed Forces emulate chivalrous and honourable code of conduct that was followed by our national heroes—Maharana Pratap, Chhattarpati Shivaji Maharaj and Maharaja Ranjit Singh—and is enshrined in great Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. On the other hand, Pakistanis glorify looters and rapists like Mohhamed Ghazni, Mohhamed Ghori and Ahmad Shah Abdali although none of whom was born on Pakistani soil. An example of veneration of these villains by Pakistan is naming their missiles after these nefarious characters of history. This is the mindset behind Pakistan’s continuous disregard for human life and dignity towards people of Baluchistan, Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan. n