By Anthony Mascarenhas
December 14, 2013
On June 13, 1971, The Sunday Times of London ran a 16 column (2-page) story, titled GENOCIDE, on the atrocities that were being carried out in Bangladesh, then East Pakistan. The world was stunned by this revelatory piece by a Pakistani journalist — Anthony Mascarenhas — invited by its military to see the operations conducted by them. Overcome by revulsion of what he saw, he published the following report after moving first his family, and then himself, to UK. The writer was Assistant Editor, Morning News, Karachi.
Given the ongoing War Crimes trial and the death penalty meted out to one of the perpetrators, and to mark the Intellectual Martyrs Day, we reprint The Sunday Times report to remind our readers of the genocide that was perpetrated on the people of Bangladesh. This report completely shattered the Pakistani propaganda effort and helped to turn world public opinion in favour of our Liberation War. This is Part One of a Three Part series. -Editor
Abdul Bari had run out of luck
Like thousands of other people in East Bengal, he had made the mistake the fatal mistake-of running within sight of a Pakistani army patrol. He was 24 years old, a slight man surrounded by soldiers. He was trembling, because he was about to be shot.
“Normally we would have killed him as he ran,” I was informed chattily by Major Rathore, the G-2 Ops. of the 9th Division, as we stood on the outskirts of a tiny village near Mudafarganj, about 20 miles south of Comilla. “But we are checking him out for your sake. You are new here and I see you have a squeamish stomach.”
“Why kill him?” I asked with mounting concern. “Because he might be a Hindu or he might be a rebel, perhaps a student or an Awami Leaguer. They know we are sorting them out and they betray themselves by running.”
“But why are you killing them? And why pick on the Hindus?” I persisted. “Must I remind you,” Rathore said severely, “how they have tried to destroy Pakistan? Now under the cover of the fighting we have an excellent opportunity of finishing them off.”
First glimpse of blood stains
“Of course,” he added hastily, “we are only killing the Hindu men. We are soldiers, not cowards like the rebels. They kill our women and children.”
I was getting my first glimpse of the stain of blood which has spread over the otherwise verdant land of East Bengal. First it was the massacre of the non-Bengalis in a savage outburst of Bengali hatred. Now it was massacre, deliberately carried out by the West Pakistan army.
The pogrom’s victims are not only the Hindus of East Bengal — who constitute about 10% of the 75 million population — but also many thousands of Bengali Muslims. These include university and college students, teachers, Awami League and Left-Wing political cadres and every one the army can catch of the 176,000 Bengali military men and police who mutinied on March 26 in a spectacular, though untimely and ill-starred bid, to create an independent Republic of Bangla Desh.
What I saw and heard with unbelieving eyes and ears during my 10 days in East Bengal in late April made it terribly clear that the killings are not the isolated acts of military commanders in the field.
The West Pakistani soldiers are not the only ones who have been killing in East Bengal, of course. On the night of March 25 — and this I was allowed to report by the Pakistani censor — the Bengali troops and paramilitary units stationed in East Pakistan mutinied and attacked non-Bengalis with atrocious savagery.
Thousands of families of unfortunate Muslims, many of them refugees from Bihar who chose Pakistan at the time of the partition riots in 1947, were mercilessly wiped out. Women were raped, or had their breasts torn out with specially fashioned knives. Children did not escape the horror: the lucky ones were killed with their parents; but many thousands of others must go through what life remains for them with eyes gouged out and limbs roughly amputated. More than 20,000 bodies of non-Bengalis have been found in the main towns, such as Chittagong, Khulna and Jessore. The real toll, I was told everywhere in East Bengal, may have been as high as 100,000; for thousands of non-Bengalis have vanished without a trace.
The government of Pakistan has let the world know about that first horror. What it has suppressed is the second and worse horror which followed when its own army took over the killing. West Pakistani officials privately calculate that altogether both sides have killed 250,000 people — not counting those who have died of famine and disease.
Reacting to the almost successful breakaway of the province, which has more than half the country’s population, General Yahya Khan’s military government is pushing through its own “final solution” of the East Bengal problem.
“We are determined to cleanse East Pakistan once and for all of the threat of secession, even if it means killing of two million people and ruling the province as a colony for 30 years,” I was repeatedly told by senior military and civil officers in Dacca and Comilla.
The West Pakistan army in East Bengal is doing exactly that with a terrifying thoroughness.
We had been racing against the setting sun after a visit to Chandpur (the West Pakistan army prudently stays indoors at night in East Bengal) when one of the Jawans (privates) crouched in the back of the Toyota Land Cruiser called out sharply: “There’s a man running, Sahib.”
Major Rathore brought the vehicle to an abrupt halt, simultaneously reaching for the Chinese made light machine-gun propped against the door. Less than 200 yards away a man could be seen loping through the knee-high paddy.
“For God’s sake don’t shoot,” I cried. “He’s unarmed. He’s only a villager.” Rathore gave me a dirty look and fired a warning burst.
As the man sank to a crouch in the lush carpet of green, two Jawans were already on their way to drag him in.
The thud of a rifle butt across the shoulders preceded the questioning.
“Who are you?”
“Mercy, Sahib! My name is Abdul Bari. I’m a tailor from the New Market in Dacca.”
“Don’t lie to me. You’re a Hindu. Why were you running?”
“It’s almost curfew time, Sahib, and I was going to my village.”
“Tell me the truth. Why were you running?”
Before the man could answer he was quickly frisked for weapons by a Jawan while another quickly snatched away his Lungi. The skinny body that was bared revealed the distinctive traces of circumcision, which is obligatory for Muslims.
Genocide 1971The Truckloads Of Human Targets
At least it could be plainly seen that Bari was not a Hindu.
The interrogation proceeded.
“Tell me, why were you running?” By this time Bari, wild eyed and trembling violently, could not answer. He buckled at the knees. “He looks like a fauji, sir,” volunteered one jawan as Bari was hauled to his feet, (Fauji is the Urdu word for soldier: the army uses it for the Bengali rebels it is hounding.) “Could be,” I heard Rathore mutter grimly.
Abdul Bari was clouted several times with the butt end of a rifle, then ominously pushed against a wall. Mercifully his screams brought a young head peeping from the shadows of a nearby hut. Bari shouted something in Bengali. The head vanished.
Moments later a bearded old man came haltingly from the hut. Rathore pounced on him.
“Do you know this man?”
“Yes, Sahib. He is Abdul Bari.”
“Is he a Fauji?”
“No Sahib, he is a tailor from Dacca.”
“Tell me the truth.”
“Khuda Quasam (God’s oath), Sahib, he is a tailor.”
There was a sudden silence. Rathore looked abashed as I told him: “For God’s sake let him go. What more proof do you want of his innocence?”
But the Jawans were apparently unconvinced and kept milling around Bari. It was only after I had once more interceded on his behalf that Rathore ordered Bari to be released. By that time he was a crumpled, speechless heap of terror. But his life had been saved.
Others Have Not Been As Fortunate
For six days as I travelled with the officers of the 9th Division headquarters at Comilla I witnessed at close quarters the extent of the killing. I saw Hindus, hunted from village to village and door to door, shot off-hand after a cursory “short-arm inspection” showed they were uncircumcised.
I have heard the screams of men bludgeoned to death in the compound of the Circuit House (civil administrative headquarters) in Comilla. I have seen truck loads of other human targets and those who had the humanity to try to help them hauled off under the cover of darkness and curfew. I have witnessed the brutality of “kill and burn missions” as the army units, after clearing out the rebels, pursued the pogrom in the towns and the villages.
I have seen whole villages devastated by “punitive action.” And in the officers’ mess at night I have listened incredulously as otherwise brave and honourable men proudly chewed over the day’s kill.
“How many did you get?” The answers are seared in my memory.
All this is being done, as any West Pakistani officer will tell you, for the “preservation of the unity, the integrity and the ideology of Pakistan.” It is, of course, too late for that. The very military action that is designed to hold together the two wings of the country, separated by a thousand miles of India, has confirmed the ideological and emotional break.
East Bengal can only be kept in Pakistan by the heavy hand of the army. And the army is dominated by the Punjabis, who traditionally despise and dislike the Bengalis.
The break is so complete today that few Bengalis will willingly be seen in the company of a West Pakistani. I had a distressing experience of this kind during my visit to Dacca when I went to visit an old friend. “I’m sorry,” he told me as he turned away, “things have changed. The Pakistan that you and I knew has ceased to exist. Let us put it behind us.”
Hours later a Punjabi army officer, talking about the massacre of the non Bengalis before the army moved in, told me: “They have treated us more brutally than the Sikhs did in the partition riots in 1947. How can we ever forgive or forget this?”
Annihilation of Hindus
The bone-crushing military operation has two distinctive features. One is what the authorities like to call the “cleansing process;” a euphemism for massacre. The other is the “rehabilitation effort.”
This is a way of describing the moves to turn East Bengal into a docile colony of West Pakistan. These commonly used expressions and the repeated official references to “miscreants” and “infiltrators” are part of the charade which is being enacted for the benefit of the world. Strip away the propaganda, and the reality is colonisation — and killing.
The justification for the annihilation of the Hindus was paraphrased by Lt. Gen. Tikka Khan, the Military Governor of East Pakistan, in a radio broadcast I heard on April 18. He said: “The Muslims of East Pakistan, who had played a leading part in the creation of Pakistan, are determined to keep it alive. However, the voice of the vast majority had been suppressed through coercion, threats to life and property by a vocal, violent and aggressive minority, which forced the Awami League to adopt the destructive course.”
Others, speaking privately, were more blunt in seeking justification.
“The Hindus had completely undermined the Muslim masses with their money,” Col. Naim, of 9th Division headquarters, told me in the officers’ mess at Comilla. They bled the province white. Money, food and produce flowed across the borders to India. In some cases they made up more than half the teaching staff in the colleges and schools, and sent their own children to be educated in Calcutta. It had reached the point where Bengali culture was in fact Hindu culture, and East Pakistan was virtually under the control of the Marwari businessmen in Calcutta. We have to sort them out to restore the land to the people, and the people to their Faith.”
Or take Major Bashir. He came up from the ranks. He is SSO of the 9th Division at Comilla and he boasts of a personal body count of 28. He had his own reasons for what has happened.
“This is a war between the pure and the impure,” he informed me over a cup of green tea. “The people here may have Muslim names and call themselves Muslims. But they are Hindus at heart. You won’t believe that the Maulvi (Mulla) of the Cantonment mosque here issued a fatwa (edict) during Friday prayers that the people would attain Jannat (paradise) if they killed West Pakistanis. We sorted the bastard out and we are now sorting out the others. Those who are left will be real Muslims. We will even teach them Urdu.”
Everywhere I found officers and men fashioning imaginative garments of justification from the fabric of their own prejudices. Scapegoats had to be found to legitimise, even for their own consciences, the dreadful “solution” to what in essence was a political problem: the Bengalis won the election and wanted to rule.
The Punjabis, whose ambitions and interests have dominated government policies since the founding of Pakistan in 1947, would brook no erosion of their power. The army backed them up.
Officials privately justify what has been done as retaliation for the massacre of the non-Bengalis before the army moved in. But events suggest that the pogrom was not the result of a spontaneous or undisciplined reaction. It was planned.
Genocide 71General Tikka Khan takes over
It seems clear that the “sorting-out” began to be planned about the time that Lt-Gen. Tikka Khan took over the governorship of East Bengal, from the gentle, self-effacing Admiral Ahsan, and the military command there, from the scholarly Lt-Gen. Sahibzada Khan.
That was at the beginning of March, when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s civil disobedience movement was gathering momentum after the postponement of the assembly meeting from which the Bengalis hoped for so much. President Yahya Khan, it is said, acquiesced in the tide of resentment caused in the top echelons of the military establishment by the increasing humiliation of the West Pakistani troops stationed in East Bengal.
The Punjabi Eastern Command at Dacca continues to dominate the policies of the Central Government. [It is perhaps worth pointing out that the Khans are not related: Khan is a common surname in Pakistan.]
When the army units fanned out in Dacca on the evening of March 25, in pre-emptive strikes against the mutiny planned for the small hours of the next morning, many of them carried lists of people to be liquidated.
These included the Hindus and large numbers of Muslims; students, Awami Leaguers, professors, journalists and those who had been prominent in Sheikh Mujib’s movement. The charge, now publicly made, that the army was subjected to mortar attack from the Jaganath Hall, where the Hindu university students lived, hardly justifies the obliteration of two Hindu colonies, built around the temples on Ramna race course, and a third in Shakrepati, in the heart of the old city.
Nor does it explain why the sizeable Hindu populations of Dacca and the neighbouring industrial town of Narayanganj should have vanished so completely during the round-the-clock curfew on March 26 and 27. There is similarly no trace of scores of Muslims who were rounded up during the curfew hours. These people were eliminated in a planned operation: and improvised response to Hindu aggression would have had ~as,l~ different results.
Touring Dacca on April 15 1 found the heads of four students lying rotting on the roof of the Iqbal Hall hostel. The caretaker said they had been killed on the night of March 25. I also found heavy traces of blood on the two staircases and in four of the rooms. Behind Iqbal Hall a large residential building seemed to have been singled out for special attention by the army.
The walls were pitted with bullet holes and a foul smell still lingered on the staircase, although it had been heavily powdered with DDT. Neighbours said the bodies of 23 women and children had been carted away only hours before. They had been decomposing on the roof since March 25. It was only after much questioning that I was able to ascertain that the victims belonged to the nearby Hindu shanties. They had sought shelter in the building as the army closed in.
THIS IS GENOCIDE conducted with amazing casualness. Sitting in the office of Major Agha, Martial Law Administrator of Comilla city, on the morning of’ April 19, I saw the off-hand manner in which sentences were meted out. A Bihari sub-inspector of police had walked in with a list of prisoners being held’ in the police lock-up. Agha looked it over. Then, with a flick of his pencil, he casually ticked off four names on the list.
“Bring these four to me this evening for disposal,” he said. He looked at the list again. The pencil flicked once more. “… and bring this thief along with, them.”
Death Sentence over Cold Drink
The death sentence had been pronounced over a glass of coconut milk. I was informed that two of the prisoners were Hindus, the third a “student,” and the fourth an Awami League organiser. The “thief,” it transpired, was a lad named Sebastian who had been caught moving the household effects of a Hindu friend to his own house.
Later that evening I saw these men, their hands and legs tied loosely with, a single rope, being led down the road to the Circuit House compound. A little after curfew, which was at 6 o’clock, a flock of squawking Mynah birds were disturbed in their play by the thwacking sound of wooden clubs meeting bone and flesh.
Captain Azmat of the Baluch Regiment had two claims to fame according to the mess banter. One was his job as ADC to Maj.-Gen. Shaukat Raza. Commanding officer of the 9th Division. The other was thrust on him by his colleagues’ ragging.
Azmat, it transpired, was the only officer in the group who had not made a” kill” Major Bashir needled him mercilessly.
” Come on Azmat,” Bashir told him one night, “we are going to make a man of you. Tomorrow we will see how you can make them run. It’s so easy.”
To underscore the point Bashir went into one of his long spiels. Apart from his duties as SSO, Bashir was also “education officer”’ at Headquarters. He was the only Punjabi officer I found who could speak Bengali fluently. By general agreement Bashir was also a self-taught bore who gloried in the sound of his own voice.
A dhari walla (bearded man) we were told, had come to see Bashir that morning to inquire about his brother, a prominent Awami League organiser of Commilla who had been netted by the army some days earlier. Dhor Gaya, Bashir said he told him:” He has run away. The old man could’nt comprehend how his brother could have escaped on a broken leg. Neither could 1. So Major Bashir, with a broad wink, enlightened me. The record would show Dhor Gaya :”shot while escaping.”
I never did find out whether Captain Azmat got his kill.
The rebel Bengali forces who had dug in at Feni, seventy miles north of Chittagong on the highway to Comilla, had tied down the 9th Division by destroying all the bridges and culverts in the area. General Raza was getting hell from the Eastern Command at Dacca which was anxious to have the south-eastern border sealed against escaping rebels. It was also desperately urgent to open this only land route to the north to much-needed supplies that had been piling up in the port at Chittagong.
So General Raza was understandably waspish. He flew over the area almost daily. He also spent hours haranguing the brigade that, was bogged down at Feni. Captain Azmat, as usual, was the General’s shadow. I did not see him again. But if experience is any pointer, Azmat probably had to sweat out his” kill” and the ragging-for another three weeks.
It was only on May 8 that the 9th Division was able to clear Feni and the surrounding area. By then the Bengali rebels, forced out by relentless bombing and artillery barrages, had escaped with their weapons across the neighbouring border into India.
The escape of such large numbers of armed, hard-core regulars among the Bengali rebels was a matter of grave concern to Lt.-Col. Aslam Baig, G-1 at 9th Division headquarters.
“The Indians,” he explained, will “obviously not allow them to settle there. It would be too dangerous. So they will be allowed in on sufferance as long as they keep making sorties across the border. Unless we can kill them off, we are going ,to have serious trouble for a long time.”
Lt: Col. Baig was a popular artillery officer who had done a stint in China after the India-Pakistan war when units of the Pakistan Army were converting to Chinese equipment. He was said to be a proud family man. He also loved Cowers. He told me with unconcealed pride that during a previous posting at Comilla he had brought from China the giant scarlet water lilies that adorn the pond opposite the headquarters. Major Bashir adored him. Extolling one officer’s decisiveness Bashir told me that once they had caught a rebel officer there was a big fuss about what should be done with him.
“While the others were telephoning all over for instructions,” he said, “he solved the problem. Dhor gaya. Only the man’s foot was left sticking out of the ditch.”
It is hard to imagine so much brutality in the midst of so much beauty Comilla was blooming when I went there towards the end of April. The rich green ,carpet of rice paddies spreading to the horizon on both sides of the road was broken here and there by bright splashes of red. That was the Gol Mohor, aptly dubbed the ” Flame ,of the Forest, ” coming to full bloom. Mango and coconut trees in the villages dotting the countryside were heavy with fruit. Even the terrier-sized goats skipping across the road gave evidence of the abundance of nature in Bengal. “The only, way you can tell the male from the female, ” they told me, ” is that all the she-goats are pregnant. ”
Fire And Murder Their Vengeance
In one of the most crowded areas of the entire world, Comilla district has a population density of 1,900 to the square mile-only man was nowhere to be seen.
” Where are the Bengalis?” I had asked my escorts in the strangely empty streets of Dacca a few days earlier.” They have gone to the villages, – was the stock reply.
Now, in the countryside, there were still no Bengalis. Comilla town like Dacca was heavily shuttered. And in ten miles on the road to Laksham. past silent villages, the peasants I saw could have been counted on the fingers of both hands.
There were, of course, soldiers-hundreds of unsmiling men in khaki, each with an automatic rifle. According to orders, the rifles never left their hands. The roads are constantly patrolled by tough, trigger-happy men. Wherever the army is, you won’t find Bengalis.
Martial law orders, constantly repeated on the radio and in the Press, proclaim the death penalty for anyone caught in the act of sabotage. If a road is obstructed or a bridge damaged or destroyed, all houses within 10 yards of the spot are liable to be demolished and their inhabitants rounded up.
The practice is even more terrible than anything the words could suggest. “Punitive action ” is something that the Bengalis have come to dread.
We saw what this meant when we were approaching Hajiganj, which straddles the road to Chandpur, on the morning of April 17. A few miles before Hajiganj, a 15-foot bridge had been damaged the previous night by rebels who were still active in the area. According to Major Rathore (G-2 Ops.) an army unit had immediately been sent out to take punitive action. Long spirals of smoke could be seen on all sides up to a distance of a quarter of a mile from the damaged bridge. And as we carefully drove over a bed of wooden boards, with which it had been hastily repaired, we could see houses in the village on the right beginning to catch fire.
At the back of the village some Jawans were spreading the flames with dried coconut fronds. They make excellent kindling and are normally used for cooking.
We could also see a body sprawled between the coconut trees at the entrance to the village. On other side of the road another village in the rice paddies showed evidence of the fire that had gutted more than a dozen bamboo and mat huts. Hundreds of villagers had escaped before the army came. Others, like the man among the coconut trees, were slow to get away.
As we drove on, Major Rathore said, “They brought it on themselves.” I said it was surely too terrible a vengeance on innocent people for the acts of a handful of rebels. He did not answer.
A few hours later when we were again passing through Hajiganj on the way back from Chandpur, I had my first exposure to the savagery of a “kill and burn mission”.
We were still caught up in the aftermath of a tropical storm which had hit the area that afternoon. A heavy overcast made ghostly shadows on the mosque towering above the town.
Light drizzle was beginning to wet the uniforms of Captain Azhar and the four Jawans riding in the exposed escort jeep behind us.
We turned a corner and found a convoy of trucks parked outside the mosque. I counted seven, all filled with Jawans in battle dress. At the head of the column was& a jeep. Across the road two men, supervised by a third, were trying to batter down the door of one of more than a hundred shuttered shops lining the road. The studded teak wood door was beginning to give under the combined assault of two axes as Major Rathore brought the Toyota to a halt.
“What the hell are you doing?”
The tallest of the trio, who was supervising the break-in, turned and peered at us. “Mota,” (Fatty) he shouted, “what the hell do you think we are doing?”
Recognising the voice, Rathore drew a water-melon smile. It was, he informed me, his old friend ” Ifty”-Major Iftikhar of the 12th Frontier Force Rifles.
Rathore:” I thought someone was looting. ”
Iftikhar:” Looting ? No. We are on kill and burn.” Waving his Land to take in the shops, he said he was going to destroy the ‘
Rathore:” How many did you get?”
Iftikhar smiled bashfully.
Rathore:” Come on. How many did you get ?”
Iftikhar:” Only twelve. And by God we were lucky to get them. We would have lost those, too, if I hadn’t sent my men from the back.”