Why do you think Dhaka University was targeted on March 25?
If you look at history, you will see that behind the formation of Bangladesh, the thing that acted as one of the primary catalysts was genocide. Without the genocide of March 25, the declaration of independence on March 26 would not have come. Without that, the Liberation War would not have taken place and of course without that we would not have realised our Bangladesh.
Bangladesh was born as a result of its prolonged fight for democracy. In 1970, West Pakistan announced the country would hold its first general elections since the country gained independence. In that election, 138 seats would go to West Pakistan representatives and 162 to the more populous East Pakistan (which had about 20 million more inhabitants). While West Pakistan’s votes were split between different parties, an overwhelming majority of votes in East Pakistan went to the Awami League led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Shocked by the results and what they meant for the stability of the country, President Yahya Khan delayed calling the first meeting of the assembly and instituted martial law on March 1. A day later, the students of Dhaka University came onto the streets, chanting slogans of independence. On that day, there was meant to be a cricket match at Dhaka stadium between Melbourne Cricket Club and the Pakistan team, but it was cancelled.
On that very day, students in Dhaka University raised the flag of the independent Bangladesh. They later handed the flag to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at Dhanmondi 32. That flag became the rallying call for independence and the symbol of the new nation during the nine-month liberation struggle.
You have to understand the significance of the matter. Dhaka University is the only university in the world where the students raised the flag of the country and handed it over to the national leaders. No other university in the world has played such a role for a nation’s independence.
That’s why on the night of 25 March 1971, Dhaka University became a predictable target of the Pakistan military. On that day, the victims, apart from faculty members and students, included caretakers, gardeners, security guards, sweepers, canteen owners and even peons. Put differently, not only scholars and students but also unarmed and relatively marginalised people were brutally murdered.
For that reason, Dhaka University can be considered as the epicentre of the genocide that was conducted on the night of March 25.
The birth of Bangladesh, as indicated earlier, cannot be contemplated without taking into consideration the role and sacrifices of Dhaka University
Why establish this Centre for Genocide Studies inside Dhaka University?
Since Dhaka University was the epicentre of this genocide, it is befitting for the university that such a centre is established here inside the university campus. This is the only such centre in any Asian universities, if I am not wrong.
The Centre established here is a non-profitable, nonpolitical research-based academic institution of professionals, researchers, planners, policy makers and academics. The centre has several purposes, but the main purpose is obviously to conduct research on the genocide that took place in Bangladesh in 1971.
Unfortunately, the genocide that took place in Bangladesh is yet to garner international recognition. The United Nation will not give it recognition without having enough evidence backed by significant works of research. The Armenian genocide got its due recognition after many years and after many such efforts.
We have to realise that getting UN recognition for genocide is not an easy task. Turkey strongly opposed the recognition of Armenian genocide and they tried to prove that nothing happened there, but since enough research-based evidence was put together, the UN was compelled to recognise it.
So we want to have similar scholarly works of international standard on the Bangladeshi genocide so that the UN cannot refuse the proposal of giving it due recognition. Pakistan will try to oppose it. Superpowers like the US and China, who are strong allies of Pakistan, might try to practice their influence in the UN in Pakistan’s favour.
Especially since the US directly aided Pakistan during 1971 and that Henry Kissinger, the US Secretary of State at the time, is still alive. Leaked Wikileaks papers have showed that Kissinger was well-aware of the genocide that was happening at the time but despite that, US did not hesitate to aid Pakistan by sending its 7th fleet.
Will other research be conducted at the Centre?
This is a proper academic centre that offers post graduate diploma courses and fellowships. Courses of all kinds, semester-wise or year-long, including those designed for professionals, will be offered by the Centre for Genocide Studies.
Obviously, research on the Bangladeshi genocide is one of the main purposes of this centre but another main objective is to conduct research on genocide itself, so that the evils of genocide can be understood and showcased properly and future genocides can be averted.
There are other activities of the centre, too. One is to conduct a 'genocide tour' for the public. The birth of Bangladesh, as indicated earlier, cannot be contemplated without taking into consideration the role and sacrifices of Dhaka University. As a result, the campus has become a destination for people who want to know more, both local and foreign.
Such exposure of Dhaka University needs to be made more informative, authentic and efficient, and the Centre for Genocide Studies with student-volunteers as tour guides can certainly play a role.
Prof Dr Imtiaz Ahmed is the founder director of the Centre for Genocide Studies at Dhaka University