Pakistan came into being on 14 August 1947. It had two parts; called East Pakistan or Bengal and West Pakistan apart by about 1,000 kilometers from each other. Like their geographical separateness both of these parts were much different from each other in cultural, political and social aspects. Bengal remained under-developed because of the social, cultural, political and economical grievances. From the very inception of Pakistan, west Pakistanis dominated political, social, cultural and economic field of life. Most of the earlier leaders were from West Pakistan: the founder and the first governor general of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah was from Karachi (A West Pakistan’s city). Similarly, Bengalis were under-represented in the Pakistan armed forces and bureaucracy, as these areas were dominated by the West Pakistanis. For instance, in the total of 3 lakhs of armed forces in 1970 only 40,000 army personnel were from the West Pakistan, while in the Civil services numbers of Bengalis were much less as compare to their proportion of population: in 1947 there was only one ICS (Indian Civil Services) officer from Bengal (Tajammul 1996: 22). From the socio-cultural perspective too Bengalis were kept deprived. Despite the fact that 55 percent of the population of East Pakistan at the time was speaking Bengali, Urdu was declared the national language of Pakistan which was hardly spoken by 5 percent of the total population (Choudhury 1972: 247). These grievances led to sense of deprivation in the people of East Pakistan and they started to make demands for a separate independent state. People started rebellion against the government and the authorities responded forcibly to the demands of separation of East Pakistan. In March 1971, the government carried out a military operation against the rebels known as the Operation Searchlight. This operation is considered to be the worst operation that any country had ever carried against its own people. During the course of this operation, more than three million people were killed, at least 200,000 women were raped and more than nine million refugees fled to India (Brownmiller 1977: 79). Bengalis succeeded in obtaining a separate home land and Bangladesh emerged a new state at world map with the surrender of Pakistan armed forces on 16 December 1971.
A lot books have been written on pre-secession grievances, and on violence during the Operation Searchlight in East Bengal. Charles Peter in his book Bangladesh: Biography of a Muslim Nation written in 1984 describes different pre-secession grievances of East Bengal which led to the secession of Bangladesh in 1971. Talking about economic disparities peter says “Although both the wings (East and West Pakistan) produced about the same quantities of food grains, coPublish Postmparative nutritional levels of the Bengalis were lower. . . .East Pakistan received only 25 percent of the economic portion of the aid and hardly any of military monies” (Peter 1984: 69). Similarly, he talks about the political under-representation of Bengalis, he gives useful figures about Bengalis presentation in Civil services and army: “by 1955 there were only 55 Bengalis among 741 civil services officers….Of all army officers only 5 percent came from East Pakistan” (Peter 1984: 70). Another book The East Pakistan tragedy written in 1972 by Rushbrook Williams, describes the blame game of both the parties (West Pakistani elites and East Bengali secessionists), Williams takes the stance that the secession of East Bengal was a result of the ill-treatment of Bengalis by the hands of west Pakistani elites. The pre-secession grievances and violence during the Operation Searchlight faced by the Bengalis left many questions to be answered. The violence which took placed since 1947 to 1971, drastically affected the lives of Bengalis. Knowing the affects of pre-secession grievances and of violence during Operation searchlight provides a better understanding of the shift in the lives of those people. Discussing separately the pre-secession grievances and different forms of violence during Operation searchlight would be much better to know the get the right sense of those events.
The pre-secession grievances of Bengalis can much appropriately be described as the structural violence against Bengalis. The term structure was coined by Johan Galtung in 1960s, according to Galtung “it describe social structure; economic, political, legal, religious, and cultural that stop individuals groups and societies form reaching their full potential” (Galtung 1969: 167-191). Usually, violence is considered to be a physical phenomenon, which is related to the body of individual, however; from the Galtung`s definition of structural violence it is obvious that violence can be inflicted through any means. Galting gives further explanation for structural violence: “it is avoidable impairment of fundamental human needs or…the impairment of human life, which lowers the actual degree to which someone is able to meet their needs below that which would otherwise be possible” (Galtung 1969: 167-191). Kathleen Weigert includes Institutional racism, disease-ridden environments, stigmatizing social norms, and barriers preventing underserved populations from getting adequate health care in the definition of structural violence (Weigert 1999: 03).The disasters which come with the structural violence are difficult to measure, because it’s much difficult to get the data about people who are affected by structural violence, in the same way it is difficult to know the exact number of people who died because of the structural violence. This peculiar characteristic of structural violence makes it much difficult to cope with such violence; also it is usually invisible because of its embedment in the society, and this helps the perpetrators of the structure violence to get away with it. Structural violence is related with the social injustice, when people in the society are treated unequally and are deprived of their due rights. Social injustice is caused by some key behaviors, which include repression of a group, racism (considering a race inferior), classism, ageism and sexism. Another issue with the structural violence is that usually its victims do not conceive it as violence and they legitimize it. Victims of the structural violence often consider themselves deserving of such violence because of the de-humanization of the victims by perpetrators. Nick Haslam provides the definition of de-humanization as “the denial to others of two distinct senses of humanness: characteristics that are uniquely human and those that constitute human nature. Denying uniquely human attributes to others represents them as animal-like, and denying human nature to others represents them as objects or automata” (Haslam 2006: 01).In the case of East Bengal the pre-secession grievances were carried out by West Pakistani elites considering the Bengalis worth of nothing and inferior to East Pakistanis. West Pakistanis would consider Bengalis un-educated and not worth of getting any official post in the government. The overwhelming representation of west Pakistanis in the bureaucracy, army and other civil services provided them a sense of superiority over Bengalis, which made them to ignore the rights of Bengalis. Pakistani elites would perceived Bengalis as animal like, as noted by Hasan “Ayub Khan considered the Bengalis as a lower class race, unfit to enjoy any kind of freedom… he would said that Pakistanis [West Pakistanis] had every right to rule over the defeated nation-Bengalese …. General Niazi said that it (Bengal) is a low lying land of low lying people “(Hasan 2001, 01). This attitude of west Pakistani elites sowed the seeds of hatred in the hearts of Bengalis. From the time of British rule, the British authorities had considered Bengalis to be a non-martial race (Choudhury 1972: 243). The myth of the non-martial race of Bengalis continued after the partition of India in 1947 and Bengalis were kept out of army by the West Pakistani elites. Instead of rectifying the disparities of Bengalis, the West Pakistani elites continued to exploit Bengalis. West Pakistani elites ignited the idea of de-humanization by implementing anti-Bengali policies, which led to the sense of deprivation in Bengalis. Economically Bengal was kept underdeveloped as noted by G.W Choudhury “ a much larger share of development expenditure as well as foreign aid and loans went to West [Pakistan], most of foreign exchange by exporting jute from Bengal was spent on the industrialization of West Pakistan” (Choudhury 1972: 246). Spending much more on the development of West of Pakistan means that the West Pakistani elites kept Bengal underdeveloped, which ultimately caused lack of facilities to Bengal. As most of budget would went to defence (dominated by West Pakistanis), very little would have left for spending on education, health and welfare of people. M. Niaz Asadullah in his paper Educational Disparity in Pakistan, 1947-71 provides data on number of schools in West and East Pakistan. According to this data, during 1948-1971 number of secondary schools in West Pakistan increased by 127% while, in the East Pakistan this increase was only 77%. Similarly, in 1971 the Student-teacher ratio in West Pakistan was 36% while this ratio was 61% in East Pakistan (Asadullah 2004: 04). It is obvious from this data that Bengal was kept much underdeveloped in the field of education, despite the fact that most of the population of Pakistan was living in Bengal. The lack of educational facilities in Bengal led to lower literacy rate and in one way the government kept the Bengalis deprived of education which is basic right of every individual. In order to keep an ethnic group or a community under their rule or to create a sense of inferiority in an ethnic group or a community governments use different tactics. They don’t give much attention to their basic needs and rights, and try to create a hegemony on people who can abide by the rules and regulations of the government. Giving much less educational facilities to Bengalis and keeping them uneducated, West Pakistani elites wanted to create their own dominancy. West Pakistani elites thought that being uneducated or less educated, the Bengalis would be unabled to demand for their rights and they would always be under the rule of west Pakistani elites. Government wanted to create uniformity all over Pakistan by making Urdu as the national language which was hardly spoken by 5% of the total population while, ignoring Bengali which was spoken by 20% of the population. Bengalis demanded for declaring Bengali as the national language along with Urdu but the authorities did not respond to the demands. On February 21, 1952 three students of Dhaka University were killed in a riot over issue of language (Choudhury 1972: 247). This shows that government was repressing freedom of speech by implementing biased laws, which were only representing West Pakistan and ignoring demands of the Bengalis. Implementing the laws by force governments usually ignore the demands of those ethnic groups or communities which they considered to be inferior or not worth of including in the decisions making. Similarly; in the field of health very less attention was given to East Bengal, which led to a greater mortality (especially infant mortality rate) rate in Bengal. As noted by Peter “Infant mortality, said to have been 237 per thousand in 1961, was at that time among the highest in the world” (Peter 1984: 21). The lack of health facilities for Bengalis was a result of biased health policy by the government. Despite the fact that Bengal was a tropical region and was more prone to different diseases, also despite the fact that most of the total population was living in Bengal, they got very less. The health problems became more sever during the war of 1971, when most of the doctors and other medical facilities were targeted during the war (peter 1984: 21). The government tried to keep the health facilities at minimal so that, people could not have access to the same health facilities enjoyed by the West Pakistan. This was a biased policy of the government against the Bengalis which shows the hatred of West Pakistani elites to Bengalis. The idea of structural violence is much more related with the ethnic character of the ruling elite, for instance; does the ruling class belong to minority or majority. Looking into the issue of Bengal, it becomes evident that despite the fact that Bengalis were in majority but still the West Pakistani minority elites had much influence to deprive Bengalis of their rights. The reason why minority of West Pakistanis elites succeeded in keeping Bengalis under their control has a strong connection with the type of government. During 24 years from 1947 to 1971, Pakistan had 12 years of military rule (from 1958 to 1970).
As mentioned earlier most of the army personnel were from West Pakistan, this resulted in biased policies of the military government, most of the policies were carried out in the favor of West Pakistan. In the military government there is either very less or no participation of certain ethnic groups or communities, thus; it is most likely the military government in which people are treated biased. Military government can easily repress any uprising and implement any policy or law which might be biased against certain ethnic group. So, this was structural violence which was carried out by the minority of West Pakistani elites to deprive the Bengalis of their basic needs and rights. Depriving people of education, health and, freedom of expression clearly shows that all the government policies were biased and were used to create a sense of inferiority in Bengalis.
Talking about the genocide which was carried out in the Operation Searchlight in 1971, killing about three million people. Article 2 of 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide provided the definition of genocide as “Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of an ethnic, national, or religious group and/or inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or, in part. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group and forcibly transferring of the group members to another group” (U.N.T.S. 1951: 277). Article 3 of this convention provides definition for the perpetrators of genocide and includes certain acts which would be punishable; it says
“These acts are punishable:
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide
(c) Direct and private incitement to commit genocide
(d) Attempt to commit genocide
Complicity in genocide” (U.N.T.S. 1951): 277). Under this definition any act which can help in committing genocide is punishable in the same way as genocide. Genocide can be carried out by any ethnic group or government against other ethnic group or community. There can be many reasons for carrying genocide against any ethnic group or community. Usually the perpetrators of genocide want ethnic cleansing of an ethnic group and for this reason they carry massacres of an ethnic group. The concept of ethnic cleansing can be defined as “a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas. To a large extent, it is carried out in the name of misguided nationalism, historic grievances and a powerful driving sense of revenge. This purpose appears to be the occupation of territory to the exclusion of the purged group or groups.” (United Nations Commission 1994: 27). Many tactics can be used for the purpose of ethnic cleansing, United Nations Commission on Bosnian genocide mentions many means which can be used for the elimination of an ethnic group, these include mass murder , torture, rape, sexual assault, sever physical injury to civilians, mistreatment of prisoners of war, use of civilians as human shields; destruction of personal, public and cultural property; looting, theft and robbery of personal property; forced expropriation of real property; forceful displacement of civilian population; and attacks on hospitals, medical personnel and locations marked with the Red Cross/Red Crescent emblem (United Nations commission 1994: 27) . In 1971, Pakistani armed forces and the Bengali Razakars (Volunteers) carried out a large scale of genocide in nine months of the Operation Searchlight. The estimated number of murders from March to December is 1 to 3 million Bengalis. Rudolph Rummel in his book Death by Government provides data of the killings for five districts of Bangladesh, according to this data “Pakistani army killed 100,000 Bengalis in Dacca, 150,000 in Khulna, 75,000 in Jessore, 95,000 in Comilla, and 100,000 in Chittagong. For eighteen districts the total is 1,247,000 killed” (Rummel 1994: 331). This data is just of those people who were reported to be killed. Rummel in his book further says that Pakistani army and Razakars killed about one out of every sixty-one people in overall Pakistan; one out of every twenty-five Bengalis, Hindus, and others in East Pakistan. If the rate of killing for all of Pakistan is annualized over the years, the Yahya Khan martial law regime was in power, then this one regime was more lethal than that of the Soviet Union, China under the communists, or Japan under the military (Rummel 1994:332).
The killings of the people were carried out in order to repress the uprisings of the people who were demanding for their rights. Government used its extensive force to repress any type of rebellion against the state. The killings were carried out brutally, and mostly young people were targeted who were considered as most likely to join the rebellion against the government. As noted by Rummel:
"The Pakistan army [sought] out those especially likely to join the resistance -- young boys…. Bodies of youths would be found in fields, floating down rivers, or near army camps. As can be imagined, this terrorized all young men and their families within reach of the army. Most between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five began to flee from one village to another and toward India. Many of those reluctant to leave their homes were forced to flee by mothers and sisters concerned for their safety" (Rummel 1994: 329).
Killing the young people shows that the government wanted to eliminate specially those people who could potentially stand against the government. These targeted killings of the Bengalis were carried out in order to oppress the rest of the population, which could not to dare to stand against the government. Eliminating the young population of an ethnic group or a community might cause the families to stop their male folk and specially; the young ones not to join the rebel groups. The genocide was not only carried out by the Pakistan army, but also Razakars (volunteers) took part in the mass killings. These Razakars were Bengalis who joined the Operation Searchlight of Pakistani army and were fighting against their own Bengalis people. This made the perpetration of genocide much complex as the local people were also the perpetrators and it became difficult for the Bengalis to distinguish between the perpetrators and their own people. The killings were carried out in very barbaric ways, as Hassan in his paper Intensity of Physical & Mental Pain describes different ways in which people were victimized. Some of the tortures mentioned by Hasan, which were carried out by the Pakistan army soldiers are as follows:
“They (Pakistani army) were used to
1- Line up people and brushfire
2. To kill in presence of relatives by butchering and cut into pieces.
3. To severe various limbs in front of the relatives of victims.
4. To gauze the eyes.
5. To hang naked, keep them reverse by hanging and then skin off from head to toe.
6. To smash heads with the help of blunt weapons.
7. To put the captives into sacks and beat them to death or put them in sacks tying tight and throw them into rivers.
8. To kill by throwing into rivers or flames and boiler.
9. Burn with lit up cigarettes.
10. To push hot rods and ice cubes into rectum.
11. Push needles into fingers.
12. Removing nails by force” (Hasan 2001: 475-479)
The above list summarizes the long list of tortures which were carried out during the 1971 War. Carrying such type of violence certainly creates the sense of great hatred in the victims of violence. The victimized people certainly want to take the revenge of their torture and that’s why they often form anti-government force which fights against the perpetrators. In the same way, the Bengalis made a guerilla force called Mukti Bahini which literally means Freedom Fighters. Mukti Bahini was a force of Bengalis which was meant to fight against the Pakistan army and Razakaars. This force contained about 5,000 men, and it has the back of the Awami league, a major political party of East Pakistan. Mukti Bahini had two main branches, one was the guerilla branch called Niyomito bahini (regular force); which consisted of paramilitary and police force, and second the branch known as Gonobahini (people`s force); which consisted of people from non-military background (Jamal 2008: 06). Mukti Bahini also carried out massacres; they were targeting those people who they suspected to be pro-Pakistani. A lot of people were killed by Mukti Bahini during their actions against the Pakistan army. Despite the fact that Mukti Bahini was fighting against the army, often it were the common people who suffered the most from their activities. Mukti bahini not only carried out large scale killings but also other forms of violence, which include looting, sexual assaults, beating, and kidnapping. Qutubddin Aziz in his book Blood and Tears gives accounts of those who suffered from the activities of Mukti Bahini. Some of the accounts mentioned by Aziz in his book are give below:
“My only daughter has been insane since she was forced by her
savage tormentors to watch the brutal murder of her husband”, said
Mukhtar Ahmed Khan, 43” (Aziz 1974: 32)
Similarly, Aziz gives some other accounts for the brutalities carried out by Mukhti Bahini which shows the violence affecting daily life of women.
“On December 17, 1971, the Mukti Bahini cut off the water supply to our homes. We used to get water from a nearby pond; it was polluted and had a bad odour. I was nine months pregnant. On December 23, 1971, I gave birth to a baby girl. No midwife was available and my husband helped me at child birth. Late at night, a gang of armed Bengalis raided our house, grabbed my husband and trucked him away. I begged them in the name of God to spare him as I could not even walk and my children were too small. The killers were heartless and I learnt that they murdered my husband. After five days, they returned and ordered me and my children to vacate the house as they claimed that it was now their property, said shamim akhtar, 28” (Aziz 1974: 35). Many other accounts of the victims are mentioned by Aziz in his book, which clearly shows that the lives of common people were trapped between the local perpetrators and the Pakistan army and Razakaars. This made the life of ordinary people miserable, as common people had no way to escape from such an extreme violence. However, the tricky part about the genocide is that often the perpetrators deny of their brutalities and they blame other groups for the violence. Same was the case in Bangladesh, where both the Pakistan army and the Mukti Bahini denied of any killings or violence, and blamed each other for the violence. Pakistani government declared Mukti Bahini as Indian force, and a conspiracy of the rebels and the Indian government (Jamal 2008: 10). However, after the secession of Bangladesh in 1971, the government of Pakistan constituted Hamoodur Rehman Commisson to investigate the Bangladesh atrocities of 1971. After three years of investigations and looking into the evidences, the commission completed its report in 1974. The report of this commission rejected the allegations of the East Pakistanis that army was responsible for killing three million Bengalis. This commission says “the latest statement supplied to us by the GHQ (General Head Quarters) shows approximately 26,000 persons killed during actions by the Pakistan army….. in the absence of any other reliable data, the Commission is of the view that the latest figure supplied by the GHQ should be accepted ” (Rehman 1974: 513). Although, the Commission rejected the allegations of mass killings by the army, but still it did accept that violence was carried out in 1971. The commission also blamed Mukti Bahini for atrocities, as it says “members of the Mukti Bahini sponsored by the Awami League continued to indulge in killings, rape and arson during their raids on peaceful villages in the East Pakistan….to punish those East Pakistanis who were not willing to go along with them” (Rehman 1974: 513). The findings of the report were appreciated by the Pakistani government, as it showed that the allegations were not true. However, many Bangladeshi and foreign scholars still blame Pakistan army for the genocide and mass rape.
It’s a common fact that the perpetrators of violence never accept the blames, they always deny of the atrocities, and blame others for their atrocities. However, it’s not important that who carried out the atrocities, rather to know why atrocities were carried out and why certain ethnic group or communities were inflicted to those atrocities.
Women are most vulnerable during wars, as they are often targeted, and specially; gender based violence is inflicted on them. The perpetrators carry different forms of violence against women, which include rap, sexual assault, and other kinds of physical or mental damage. Mass rape is more likely to take place in those conflicts in which partition of a territory is going to occur (Hayden 2000: 27). The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda defines sexual violence as: “a physical invasion of a sexual nature, committed on a person under circumstances which are coercive. Any act is to be considered sexual violence, which includes rape, as any act of a sexual nature which is committed on a person under circumstances which are coercive. Sexual violence is not limited to physical invasion of the human body and may include acts which do not involve penetration or even physical contact” (ICTR 1998). Rapes are much likely to occur during conflicts, as women are easy and soft targets for the perpetrators. Rape is an intelligent military tactic than murder, because it is difficult to prove, and unlikely corpse there is no evidence left. Moreover, often the women who have been raped do not admit because of the stigma related with it (Sharlach 2000: 90). All the mentioned reasons make it easy for the perpetrators to carry on with it, as they are less likely to be caught for it. Perpetrators use the tactic of rape, especially against those ethnic groups which stigmatize rape survivors rather than rapists. In those communities women are considered as the honor of the ethnic group, and when they are degraded, the whole ethnic group is said to be dishonored. It became very difficult for the rape victims to face the society, they feel the shame, and often societies too dishonored them and look down on them. This behavior of the society with the victims of rapes leads to different psychological problems in the victims, as mentioned by Lisa Sharlach:
“Rape leaves lasting, perhaps irreversible, psychological trauma upon a girl or a woman. Mass rape during ethnic conflict results in mass trauma and as such is a form of destruction of an ethnic group. The symptoms and the extent of post-rape trauma vary among individuals and among cultures” (Sharlach 2000: 91).
In the case of Bangladesh mass rape was carried out by the Pakistani army, and it is said that about 200,000 women were raped during 1971. Rape was used as a tactic, in Bangladesh where women are considered as the honor of their society, Pakistani army carried out mass rape in order to dishonor the Bengali women. Susan Brownmiller in her book Against Our Will describes the mass rape of the Bengali women. She gives many accounts of the rape victims, for instance she describes a story of a girl who was raped in front of his father:
“Two (soldiers) went into the room that had been built for the bridal…and the other stayed behind covering with the guns…. Bridegroom`s voice protesting. Then there was silence until the bride screamed….all the six had raped the belle of the village. The father found his daughter lying on the string cot unconscious and bleeding” (Brownmiller 1975: 81).
It is worth noting here that the Razakars and the Mukti Bahini also carried out mass rape of Bengali women as noted by Brownmiller, “Razakars were most enthusiastic rapists…Mukti Bahini themselves committed rape” (Brownmiller 1975: 81).
However; the notion that raped women are often stigmatized in their societies, this did not happen in Bangladesh, as after the independence of Bangladesh; government gave the raped victims the name of biranganas (war heroines). As mentioned by Sharlach:
“After independence, Sheikh Muhibur Rahman tried to lessen the stigma associated with rape. He valorized the rape survivors as biranganas, or war heroines, set up rehabilitation centers for them, and offered rewards to men who would marry the girls” (Sharlach 2000: 95).
In short; different tactics were used by Pakistani army to eliminate the Bengalis. However; it was not only the Pakistan army who carried these atrocities but Razakars and Mukti Bahini were also responsible for the atrocities of 1971. Along with this government was equally responsible, as it was because of the government that Bengalis were deprived of their rights, and they rose against the state. The pre-secession grievances, genocide, and the mass rape of 1971 clearly show the hatred of one ethnic group (West Pakistanis) to other ethnic group (east Pakistanis). This hatred led the army and other organizations like Mukti Bahini and Razakaars to carry out an extreme violence against the innocent people.
Written By: Masood Khan ( LUMS )