Byline: Ikram Sehgal and Dr Bettina Robotka
16 t h December revives the g r u e s o m e memories of an important event in sub continental history. For some of us memories are personal but most of us know about the fallout of the events of 1971 from history books. The civil war that broke out in March 1971 lasted for almost nine months and broke our country into two, taking the lives of tens and may be of hundreds of thousand people, Bengali and otherwise. The number of the victims killed has never been finally and satisfactorily established, no doubt some gruesome atrocities have been committed. Today we dedicated this article to those who lost their lives in East Pakistan.
The violence in 1971 has had lasting impact not only on the political landscape of our country but on the psyche of our society as well as on that of the Bangladeshis. No real rehabilitation has taken place between Pakistan and Bangladesh and that is why Pakistan finds itself accused by both Bangladesh and India of having been solely responsible for all the death and destruction in the war alone. So far Pakistani academia and politicians have not done much to contradict this accusation effectively. The central accusation that Bangladesh and India launched right after the end of the war which they are upholding until today is of accusing the Pakistani Army of systematic genocide by killing three million Bengalis.
The war did take a heavy toll on the East Pakistani population, however the way these events have been depicted in the nationalist history writing of Bangladesh as well as in Indian history writing is utterly exaggerated and disproportionate and needs further investigation. Rather for political reasons than for the search of truth the Bangladeshi and the Indian governments have been repeating this unbelievable canard about the number of civilian victims of the war.
Why do numbers matter so much when even a single civilian killed or woman raped in a war is inexcusable. However the numbers do matter, because they make the difference between seeing the war as a tragedy and seeing it as a terrible crime, indeed as a genocide. Let us start with examining the allegation that the Pakistan Army has been committing genocide in East Pakistan by killing about 3 million Bengalis during the war. Extensive killings did take place in 1971 in East Pakistan and not all the bodies have yet been recovered, the number of the killed could not have been even close to three million.