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Massacre of the Bengali intellectuals in 1971

  • Published at 09:08 pm December 14th, 2019
Martyred Intellectuals Day 2019
Illustration: Jahid Jamil

An essay on what happened on December 14 in 1971

On the night of March 25 in 1971, the Pakistan Armed Forces unleashed their “Operation Searchlight' on the Dhaka University campus, EPR headquarters in Pilkhana and Rajarbag police headquarters simultaneously with full force. At that time I was a resident of the university quarters at Nilkhet, adjacent to Iqbal Hall (now Zahurul Haq Hall) and witnessed the brutality of the Pakistan Army. At the outset, the Pakistan Army used heavy machine gun, mortar, rocket launcher and artillery fire on the residential quarters and halls of the Dhaka University, particularly in Iqbal and Jagannat Hall areas.

In the early hours of March 26, heavily armed Pakistani troops entered the residential halls and quarters situated in and around Iqbal and Jagannat halls. Pakistani soldiers massacred the teachers, students and employees in their own quarters throughout the day and night of 26th March and set the rooms of the residential hall on fire. On March 26, they dragged the corpses to the ground of Iqbal and Jagannat Hall and buried them in mass graves. They forced the students and employees to carry the bodies of the killed students and teachers, dig mass-graves and throw them into the graves. Later on, they shot and kicked them into the mass-grave. The barbarity perpetrated by the Pakistan Army on March 25 and 26, 1971 on the Dhaka University campus has no parallel in the history of our time.

Between March 25 and 27 the Pakistani soldiers brutally killed the following Dhaka University teachers inside their own houses: Dr G C Dev of Philosophy, Prof Muniruzzaman of Statistics, Dr Jotirmoy Guha Thakurta of English, Dr Fazlur Rahman Khan of Soil Science, Prof Sharafat Ali of Mathematics, Prof Abdul Muktadir of Geology, Prof AR Khadim of Physics, Prof Anudaipayan Battacharja of Applied physics and Mr Mohammad Sadeque, a teacher of the University Laboratory School. Among them, Prof Muniruzzaman, Dr Fazlur Rahman and Dr G C Dev were killed along with their family members. A large number of students and employees of the Iqbal, Jagannat and Rokeya halls, and Dhaka University teachers’ club were also killed. Among them were Madhu Da (owner of Madhu's canteen) and his family members. Inhabitants of the nearby slums along the old railway track were gunned down mercilessly by Pakistan troops. The dead bodies from the slums were heaped in front of the Nilkhet petrol pump and burnt to ashes. About a thousand unarmed EPR recruits in Pilkhana were slaughtered mercilessly. Only in Rajarbag Police Line the invading Pak Army faced stiff resistance. A large number of resisting police personnel were butchered.

The entire Ramna and adjacent areas turned into a burning inferno on March 25 and 26, 1971. Besides Dhaka University campus, EPR and police headquarters, the invading Pakistan Army systematically destroyed all the slums, bazaars, fire brigade and police stations, newspaper offices, political parties' headquarters, residences of political leaders and the Shaheed Minar in Dhaka city. The army also launched a genocide campaign on the inhabitants of old Dhaka, particularly in Shakhari Bazar, Tanti Bazar, Luxmi Bazar, Narinda and Moishandi. Kamalapur railway station and Sadarghat launch terminal also came under attack. Thus Dhaka witnessed the greatest exodus of the city dwellers in its history from March 27 and by the end of the month, Dhaka became an empty and ghost city.

During the nine months of siege, Dhaka city became a battlefield between the occupying Pakistan Army and the valiant guerrilla forces of the Bangladesh Muktibahini (Bangladesh freedom fighters). The guerrillas launched assaults on Hotel Intercontinental and the DIT Bhaban, and also in the Farmgate area and different electric sub-stations. On the other hand, the Bihari areas, particularly Mirpur and Mohammadpur, became a slaughter house for the Bengalis. Thousands of Bengali young men and professionals were rounded up and thrown into torture camps in Dhaka cantonment. Hundreds of Bengali girls were abducted and kept in Pakistani camps for sexual abuse with the help of local collaborators.

During 1971, Pakistan Martial Law authority raised several collaborating forces namely Peace Committee, Rajakar Bahini, Al-Shams and Al-Badar Bahini. Among the collaborators, the most ferocious was the secret Al-Badar whose duty was to trace the Bengali intellectuals, teachers, writers, scientists, doctors and journalists, and pick them up from their hiding places, and finally torture and kill them in a hideous process.

Thousands of Bengali intellectuals had lost their lives in 1971. Among the Pak Army and Al Badar victims, the most prominent were poet Meherunnessa, jouranlist Shahid Saber, singer Altaf Mahmud, journalist Sirajuddin Hossain, journalist and writer Shahiddulla Kaiser; journalists Syed Nazmul Haq, Nizamuddin Ahmed, ANM Golam Mustafa and Selina Parveen; scientists Abul Kalam Azad, Siddique Ahmad and Amin Uddin; physicians Dr Fazle Rubbi and Dr Alim Choudhury. Among the Dhaka University teachers, the Al-Badar killers abducted Prof Munier Choudhury, Prof Mofazzal Haider Choudury, Prof Anwar Pasha, Prof Rashidul Hasan, Prof Santosh Bhattacharja, Prof Abul Khair and Prof Giashuddin Ahmed; and Dr Mortuja (physician), Dr Faizul Mahi and Dr Sirajul Haq Khan.

These intellectuals were taken to the Al Badar torture camp situated in Mohammadpur Physical Training College. They first inflicted physical pains and then took them to the Rayer Bazar slaughter house and Mirpur graveyard. In these two places the great minds of Bengal were brutally killed on December 14, just before the defeated Pakistan Army surrendered to the joint command of Bangladesh and Indian army. 

Thus the Pakistan Army and their local collaborators concluded their ethnic cleansing of the Bengali people in 1971. Though the Pakistan armed forces conceded defeat and surrendered, the Bangladeshi collaborators never surrendered. They are still active even after 47 years of independence.

The writer is a National Professor. Also a professor emeritus at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh, he is a pre-eminent Nazrul scholar in Bangladesh.