The ‘Dead Reckoning: Memories of the Bangladesh War’ brings truth to light
Sarmila Bose, a granddaughter of Sarat Chandar Bose, a famous Indian nationalist leader and a brother of Subash Chandar Bose is a senior Research Fellow in the politics of South Asia at the University of Oxford. She has been a political journalist in India and combines academic and media work.
Sarmila has written a remarkable and unique book entitled ‘Dead Reckoning: Memories of the Bangladesh War’. Commenting on the book, a renowned scholar Stephen Cohen writes:
‘Combining rigorous scholarship and a passionate interest in setting the record straight, ‘Dead Reckoning’ is the finest study yet of the social, cultural and political meaning of the 1971 East Pakistan/Bangladesh war. Sarmila Bose writes in the service of the truth. We are in her debt.’
Sarmila extensively travelled to Bangladesh, visited the areas and sites affected by war, met eyewitnesses who let their hearts out to her. She also interviewed civil and military officials of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh who had performed duties in the battlefield during the 1971 Pakistan’ “India war. Having access to the official records of Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, UK and US governments, she worked diligently to bring the truth and reality to light.
No excerpt from the book is reproduced here owing to copyrights held by the Oxford University Press. However, the instant article endeavours to narrate the facts of the 1971 War. Both Maj. Gen. Hakeem Abdul Qureshi (Pakistan Army) and Mr Archer Blood, the then US Consul General in Dhaka had narrated the nature and temperament of the Bengalis in their books.
‘The Bengalis are a very cultured people. As an agitated group, however, they are like a swarm of honey bees ‘when disturbed, they go on to rampage without distinguishing between the culprit and the innocent and when excited, seem not to care even for their own safety. Hundred of Bengalis were rushing from their shops, and offices shouting and screaming to what was obviously display of anger.’
It is believed that General Yahya Khan was at the helm and hence responsible of launching military action to crush Bengalis. This is an established fact that Yahya had no personal grudge or prejudice against Bengalis. He was sympathetic to their economic grievances and he had enhanced the Bengali representation in the Army and Civil Service. He also gave them the right of ‘One Man, One Vote’ and established their political supremacy. Yahya tried his best to be simpatico with Mujeeb, even he declared him the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Therefore, it is not fair to allege that he ordered the Army to kill 3 million Bengalis and rape 200,000 to 400,000 women. This is still a myth and lacks substantial evidence.
Sarmila questions that when Mujeeb was released from West Pakistan, he gave a statement at Dhaka Airport that 3 million Bengalis were annihilated by Pakistan Army and almost 400,000 women were raped, how everyone accepted his claim without confirmation?
Media also projected these fake figures. Sarmila has advised not to quote these figures unless proved. The Joydevpur incident of March 19 is described in Bengali literature as unprovoked firing by Army on civilians. Contrarily, it was done by armed mob of Bengali Youth, yet the blame transferred to Pak Army. In an air attack on Dhaka, for which Pakistan Air Force was blamed, nearly three hundred orphans were killed. However, the fact remains that Indian Air Force destroyed Dhaka Airport. Why Pakistan Army would attack Dhaka that was being defended by it?
In Hamood-ur-Rehman Commission report, it is concluded that Pakistan Army was embroiled in civil war and was defending the country. Even if the army had not been facing this turmoil, it was impossible to kill three million Bengalis and rape 400,000 women in nine months. In one incident, a Bengali leader informed USA that 1,000 Bengalis were killed but they could only show twenty graves. Given these circumstances, the claim is absolutely absurd and flimsy.
Sarmila concludes that from the evidence available, it can be said with reasonable confidence that 50000-100000 people, both Bengalis and non-Bengalis, would have been killed. The claims of raping and killing women are also still in want of a substantial evidence.
On the other hand, the figure of 90,000 prisoners of war, as often quoted in the books, is also incredulous. The media accepted Bhutto’s claim that he brought ninety thousand POWs from India with grace and dignity. According to GHQ record, the total fighting force in East Pakistan numbered 34000 and civilian officers (Police, Security) were 11,000, hence 45000 personnel became POWs.
Sarmila asserts that Mukti Bahini guerrillas were trained by Indian Army while Al-Shams and Al-Badr were patronized by Pakistan Army. Both parties were involved in killings.
Sarmila also denounces the Bengalis’ claim that 1970 Elections were a referendum for secession. Mujeeb didn’t mention in his election speeches that Bengalis would demand independence. The turnout in East Pakistan (56%) was lower than Punjab (66%) and Sindh (58%) but higher than NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) (47%). Among the 56% voters, only 42% voted for Awami League. 42% vote cannot be termed a vote for secession as 58% voters did not vote for Mujeeb. Most Bengalis did not see Mujeeb as a solution to their problems.
In conclusion, it is pertinent to say that Sarmila Bose has separated the myths from realities based on solid evidence. Pakistanis are indebted to Sarmila Bose for correcting the record of History of Pakistan-India war of 1970.