Towards 1971 VI: Conclusion: Unexceptional Violence

[Part 6 of 6 — A short version of this series was published at DAWN – Books & Authors]

That three million perished in the 1971 conflict is widely stated around the world. Salil Tripathi points out that “Killing three million people over 267 days amounts to nearly 11,000 deaths a day. That would make it one of the most lethal conflicts of all time.” Is that so? Numerous scholars have concluded that the figure of three million is exaggerated and incorrect. Sarmila Bose contends that “it is possible to estimate with reasonable confidence that 50,000 – 100,000 people perished in the conflict in East Pakistan in 1971, including combatants and non-combatants, Bengalis and non-Bengalis, Hindus and Muslims, Indians and Pakistanis.” The Bangla Academy’s district surveys, conducted between 1996 and 2001, Naeem Mohaiemen mentions, also found the figure to be much lower.  However, the importance of establishing statistically sound estimate of casualties and other war-crimes notwithstanding, as Sarmila Bose points out, there is no magical number of dead that needs to be hit before one can refer to a mass killing with the historically charged label of genocide.

The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948 states that:

genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
Continue reading “Towards 1971 VI: Conclusion: Unexceptional Violence”

Towards 1971 V: Women and the War of 1971

[Part 5 of 6]

[…] men see the abuse of “their” women as a degradation of their masculinity. What counts is not the suffering of the women, but the effect it has on men.

Ruth Seifert, “War and Rape: Analytical Approaches”

All facets of the 1971 conflict and the subsequent nation-making processes had a devastating impact on women, including rapes, exile, displacement, camp-life, loss of family, social ostracization and financial insecurity and the consequent exploitation, and the subsequent silencing of their voices. “Women’s vulnerabilities” Bina D’ Costa reminds us, “increase with the intensity of conflicts” and “rape of the enemy’s women is often strategically used to terrorise the enemy population.” D’ Costa refers to Ruth Seifert’s “War and Rape: Analytical Approaches” to make the crucial point that “rather than considering rape as an aggressive manifestation of sexuality, it must be understood as a sexual manifestation of aggression.” The abuse of women serves as a communication between men of the opposing sides that signals one’s triumph and the failure of the other to defend their women whose destruction is conceived as the destruction of the enemy’s cultural identity.
Continue reading “Towards 1971 V: Women and the War of 1971”

Love in the Time of Contempt

[This is a guest post by my friend Anil – who x-posted on my request – he is a very qanuni dude – sepoy]

(Cross-posted at Dorf on Law)

Right in time for Valentine’s Day, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has sent Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani a love letter – in the form of charges for contempt of court. That handwriting had been on the wall for weeks now, but was sealed with a kiss on Friday, when a bench of the Court led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry denied Gilani’s appeal to dismiss the contempt notice served upon him last month. The appeal hearing itself appears to have been a stormy affair, with Chaudhry and other judges reportedly “almost shouting” at Gilani’s lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan – who happened to serve as the Chief Justice’s own lawyer during the happier days of the lawyers’ movement back in 2007. “How can you being a senior lawyer write this?” snapped the Chief Justice. “We are very embarrassed by remarks [in your filing].” Continue reading “Love in the Time of Contempt”

Towards 1971 IV: The Enemy Within

[Part 4 of 6]

Marshaling colonial legacies, the post-colonial state seeks to consolidate the nation as a new form of empire, demanding hyper-masculine militarization and territorial and extra-territorial control. This requires the manufacture of internal and external enemies to constitute a national identity, constructed in opposition to the anti-national and non-native enemies of the nation.

Angana P. Chatterji, “The Militarized Zone,” Kashmir– The Case for Freedom

After all, there is little wiggle room in the binaries inscribed onto nationalism or colonialism by current historiography: one resists or perishes; one is either a hero or a traitor.

Sepoy, “The Middle Man”

My uncle’s sister moved from Indore, India to Dhaka when she got married to a man who had migrated to Dhaka during the 1947 partition of India. That would make her and her husband, in Bangladeshi parlance, Biharis, a catch-all pejorative term for those that migrated to East Pakistan during the Partition from various regions in India. Her husband, Shafiq Bhai (pseudonym), built a successful business in Dhaka and was a wealthy man. One evening during the war of 1971, they were visited by Pakistani soldiers. Rumors spread that Shafiq Bhai was collaborating with the Pakistani army. My uncle’s family maintains that accusation to be untrue. In any event, armed men came for Shafiq Bhai and took him and his two adult sons with them. They shot dead all three of them. Then their house was firebombed, killing one of their younger sons and injuring two daughters. From then on, a Bengali friend of Shafiq Bhai’s murdered son guarded the rest of the family, and helped them migrate to India. After they emigrated, their home was looted. After the end of war they came back and married their daughter to the Bengali man who had helped them.
Continue reading “Towards 1971 IV: The Enemy Within”

Towards 1971 III: A Few Good Pakistani Men

[Part 3 of 6]

I hate all armies. Yours, mine—all armies.

-Muhammad Zinnatul Alam, the lone survivor of the Thanpara massacre.1


The main focus of Sarmila Bose’s much talked about book, Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War is the civil war in East Pakistan, and not the international war between India and Pakistan or the Cold War context of the conflict, though they are not completely ignored. Her stated aims are to study and scrutinize how the war of 1971 is remembered, perhaps to illuminate what is willingly forgotten. Growing up in West Bengal, India, Sarmila Bose was familiar with a particular narrative about the conflict: “Our Bengali brethren …once again fight for freedom” from their fellow countrymen from West Pakistan, who “seemed for some inexplicable reason intent on killing them all.” India had played the role of “white knight to the beleaguered Bangladeshis.” The latter claim she deftly dismantles.2 During her research, realizing that something was off, she militated against this narrative (and her Bengali informants). As Naeem Mohaiemen points out in his incisive review of her book, “her fury was of the naïf making a late discovery. What animates Dead Reckoning therefore is that palpable rage.” Having grown up with my own nationalist blinders, I empathize with the rage that comes with the realization that one has let oneself be duped. But Bose’s research and her book, perhaps still guided by the force of the nationalist narratives, “goes so far to the other side as to create a new set of biases, even more problematic.”3
Continue reading “Towards 1971 III: A Few Good Pakistani Men”

  1. Sarmila Bose, Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War, Columbia University Press, June, 2011, p97 []
  2. For India’s role in exacerbating the conflict, see Eqbal Ahmad, ‘Notes on South Asia in Crisis,’ Bulletin of Concern Asian Scholars, Winter, 1972. Available online at []
  3. Naeem Mohaiemen, “Flying Blind: Waiting for a Real Reckoning on 1971,” Economic & Political Weekly, vol xlvi no 36, September 3, 2011. []

Towards 1971 II: The Making of a Tragedy

[Part 2 of 6]
Painted on a wall inside my old school.

 Translation: The Ideology of Pakistan: Every nation has a specific civilization and culture. The civilizational and cultural capital of the Muslims of the Subcontinent comes from Islam. This capital, their beliefs and religious rituals, mannerisms, religious and historical literature, literary and technological research, is preserved in their literature and philosophy. On this basis, the Muslims of the Indo-Pak Subcontinent understand themselves to be a separate nation. This was also the reason why two societies, that is, the Hindu society and the Muslim society, came into being in the Subcontinent. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Allama Muhammad Iqbal stressed that Muslims are not a a faction but a separate nation. When with the beautiful efforts of these elders, Muslims came to believe firmly that Congress, established by an Englishman Allen Hume, is an anti-Muslim Hindu organization, they put forth a demand for a separate homeland for themselves. Foundational Principles of the Ideology of Pakistan: 1. The Muslims of the Subcontinent constitute one nation. 2. The Muslims will live freely in accordance with the eternal principles of Islam. 3. The Muslims of the Subcontinent need a free country to retain/maintain their separate/distinct national existence, so that they can make religious, societal, political, cultural, and economic progress. Truth is weary of bodies without soul / The living God is the God of the living.

Continue reading “Towards 1971 II: The Making of a Tragedy”

Towards 1971 I: A Personal Journey

[Part 1 of 6]

Forgetting is imposed as a strategy to hide the haunting memories that cannot be revealed without destroying our romance with nationalism.

~Yasmin Saikia

During the many blackouts and power outages in the Pakistan of my childhood, my family used to sit in the veranda of our home cursing the electricity department and cooling ourselves down with hand-fans. But on cool autumn nights, blackouts were rather enjoyable, and we would ask Ammi to sing. ‘Aa ja sanam, madhur chandni mein hum,’ a Raj kapoor and Nargis number, apt for a moonlit night in the veranda, was her favorite. That was also the song that she and her favorite nephew (her eldest brother’s first son) used to sing at Eid dinners as a duet. The whole family adored him. He was brilliant and a high achiever. Every kid in the family, to this day, is compared to him: Those that do well in their studies are likened to him and those that don’t are chided to try to be like him. I never got to meet my cousin.
Continue reading “Towards 1971 I: A Personal Journey”