Dhaka International

When the Black Night fell, 46 years ago

Jalladkhana is one of the several war memorials in Dhaka. Inaugurated in 2007 as ‘Jalladkhana Killing Field’ in Dhaka’s Mirpur area, the site, which housed a pump house before the Liberation War, still bears marks of the violence that took place in 1971. At the memorial, where personal belongings of the victims are kept, details about other genocides of the 20th century are displayed on plaques. The countless names of victims, collected from various locations across Bangladesh, and written on the gravestone-like pillars in the triangular courtyard, give proof of the extent of the massacre. In 1999, an excavation carried out by the Liberation War Museum unearthed 70 skulls and 5,392 bones of men, women and children from the area. Bangladeshi officials say the Pakistani Army and its local militias chose a well in Jalladkhana to dump bodies.

“The killing was not limited to Dhaka but spread all over. Nobody was spared. In some cases the victims were dumped in dozens in 15-20 feet pits, bodies were mutilated. Most marshy land, drains and canals in Mirpur were full of bodies,” says M.A. Hasan, convener of the War Crimes Facts Finding Committee. Dr. Hasan, who lost his brother in Mirpur, supervised the excavations of Muslim Bazaar and Jalladkhana in Mirpur.

Ziauddin Tariq Ali, a trustee of the Liberation War Museum in Dhaka, said that in 1998 alone they had identified 577 mass graves and more than 400 later. “The actual numbers will be much higher,” he added. Of the 70 mass graves of greater Dhaka, 23 are in Mirpur alone.

Forty-six years after the bloodbath, Bangladesh observed March 25 as Genocide Day, marking the atrocities committed by the Pakistani Army. “Kill three million of them and the rest will eat out of our hands,” ordered united Pakistan’s last military ruler Gen. Yahya Khan, before the start of ‘Operation Searchlight’ on the night of March 25, 1971. The operation was undertaken in order to deny handing over power to Mujibur Rahman whose Awami League had won elections, and to curb the growing agitation by Bengalis.

On the night of March 25, known as ‘Black Night’ in Bangladesh, hundreds of people were killed, including students and teachers at Dhaka University. The next day, Mujibur Rahman declared Bangladesh as independent, launching the Liberation War. Roughly 10 million people were forced to flee the country to India and up to three million killed during the nine-month-long conflict. Sections of the Bengali population have long demanded that the government declare a Genocide Day to mark the war atrocities. On March 20, Parliament passed a unanimous resolution, declaring March 25 the Genocide Day. A few days later the government gave its approval.

Islamabad still in denial

Though Pakistan has expressed “regret” over the “excesses” committed in 1971, it has always denied the allegations of genocide, a position that doesn’t have many takers. “The genocide in Bangladesh was one of the worst in 20th century, but was not recognised by the UN mainly due to the Cold War scenario,” said Mofidul Haq, a genocide researcher. According to the confession of a Pakistani solider, who was among the 93,000 prisoners of war who returned home after India, Bangladesh and Pakistan signed their 1974 treaty, “We were told to kill the Hindus and Kafirs.”

The war came to an end with the Pakistani Army’s surrender to the joint command of the Mukti Bahini and the Indian Army on December 16, 1971, but for many Bengalis, the wounds remain unhealed. “Every mass grave is an ocean of blood and tears,” says Dr. Hasan of the facts-finding committee.

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Printable version | Aug 16, 2020 2:34:46 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/when-the-black-night-fell-46-years-ago/article17665464.ece

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