An Unconditional apology from Pakistan
Published on February 13, 2007
History plays a crucial role in Bangladesh-Pakistan relations. Bangladesh had won its independence from Pakistan after waging the War of Liberation in 1971. Bengali who has suffered a lot during that period expects an unconditional apology from Pakistan for the action of its army.
Hindus & freedom fighters: General Niazi who had surrendered to Joint Indian and Bangladeshi forces on December 16, 1971, reportedly accepted in an interview in 1998 that approximately thirty thousand Hindus were killed and many more Bangladeshi freedom fighters in 1971. General Rao Forman Ali who is also considered as one of the architects of the military action on Bengali on March 25-26th, 1971 acknowledged that between 40,000 to 50,000 Bengali were killed. Though Pakistani people and leaders accept this now in a roundabout way they still give the impression that both sides were at fault. As army has always ruled Pakistan either directly or indirectly, an apology against the acts of army has been difficult to get.
Division of assets: Most important of them are division of assets of united Pakistan, and repatriation of stranded Pakistanis (so-called "Biharis") to Pakistan. Bengali rightfully clams that Pakistan should pay at least $4 billion as its share. Successive Pakistani governments have been reluctant to discuss the issue of division of assets. They think that with the passage of time this issue will die down. Bengali also wants Pakistan to release US$200 million which was received by Pakistan as donation from different countries for the 1970 cyclone victims of the then East Pakistan.
Bihari issue: According to a 1992 census, there are 2,38,400 stranded Pakistanis in 66 camps in 13 districts in Bangladesh. These Urdu speaking people who had migrated to Bangladesh from other parts of India. Bihari Muslims had sided with Pakistan in the 1971 war. Since then Bangladesh has offered them citizenship, but they refused, insisting on being expatriated to Pakistan. The other half of the Biharis lives outside of camps, were integrated into the local community, were eligible to receive passports, to vote, and to attend college, and were able to exercise most of the rights of citizens. balance in Pakistan. The issue of their repatriation has now become a humanitarian issue. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan was the only leader who agreed to take 325 "Biharis" in Pakistan in 1993. Other leaders of Pakistan have consistently ignored the issue because of fragile ethnic communities exist in the country.
Report of the Hamoodur Rahman Commission: Bengali wants the government of Pakistan to release the Report of the Hamoodur Rahman Commission on the 1971 tragedy. Along with them many people in Pakistan are also interested in knowing about the people who were responsible for the tragic events in 1971. The writ petition filed by a senior retired Pakistani civil servant Syed Alamdar Raza to the High Court some years ago for release of the report has not yet been disposed of.
The Hamoodur Commission Supplementary Report: In 1974, the Commission, after having established that numerous violations had been committed by the army and auxiliary forces, came to the following conclusions: “The direct responsibility of the alleged excesses and atrocities must, of course, rest on those officers and men who physically perpetuated them or knowingly and deliberately allowed them to be so perpetuated. These officers and men not only showed lack of discipline in disobeying the directives of the Eastern Command and Zonal Martial Law Administrator, but also indulged in criminal acts punishable under the Army Act as well as the ordinary law of the land … Irrespective, therefore, of the magnitude of the atrocities, we are of the considered opinion that it is necessary for the Government of Pakistan to take effective action to punish this [sic] who were responsible for the commission of these alleged excesses and atrocities.” Accordingly, the Committee recommended that: “[o]n the basis of the evidence coming before the Commission, we have been able to indicate only in general terms the direct and indirect responsibility of certain senior commanders and others, but the question of fixing individual responsibility and awarding punishment appropriate thereto need to be determined according to the prescribed procedures available under the Pakistan Army Act and other applicable laws of the land. We would, accordingly, reiterate the recommendation made by us in Paragraph 7 of Chapter III of Para V of the main report that the Government of Pakistan should set up a high-powered Court or Commission of Inquiry to investigate these allegations, and to hold trials of those who indulged in these atrocities, brought a bad name to the Pakistan Army and alienated the sympathies of the local population by their acts of wanton cruelty and immorality against our own people. The composition of the Court of Inquiry, if not its proceedings, should be publicly announced so as to satisfy national conscience and international opinion.”
Successive governments in Pakistan failed to heed the recommendations contained in the report, which is yet to be officially published. There has been no official investigation into the allegations with a view to holding transparent criminal trials, as appropriate. To this day, no trials of any of the alleged perpetrators are known to have taken place in Pakistan.
Pakistan has not officially accepted responsibility for any of the crimes reportedly committed by its forces. In Pakistan, responsibility for the 1971 atrocities is commonly attributed to both sides, or to India. The crimes committed during 1971 appear to have been largely ignored in Pakistan. They do not merit due attention in portraits of its history or in public discourse in general, and are ostensibly seen as a shameful defeat of the Pakistani army often attributed to Indian interference in Pakistani affairs. Those alleged to be responsible, i.e. the politicians and army officials at the time, have largely failed to acknowledge their crimes, apparently either accepting only shared responsibility, i.e. pointing the blame at Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and others, or claiming ignorance or lack of responsibility for the atrocities.
In thirty-six years later, Pakistan has not expressly apologised, even though the Hamoodur Commission, set up by the then Government, had concluded that members of the Pakistani army bore responsibility for various crimes. In a State visit to Bangladesh in July 2002, Pakistan’s President Gen. Pervez Musharraf wrote in a visitors’ book at the Savar War Memorial that “the excesses committed during the unfortunate period are regrettable.” This step drew mixed responses. While seen by some as a positive gesture in coming as close to an apology as possible, others viewed it as falling short of what they regard as overdue, namely an unconditional apology for war crimes. To date, there has only been one explicit public apology issued to the people of Bangladesh and it was made by a coalition of 51 civil rights organisations of Pakistan.
Pakistan is not known to have provided any form of compensation for the harm inflicted or for rehabilitation purposes, to the State of Bangladesh or to any of the victims.
War Crimes or not?
1. The Indictment: An American who was working in a rural area in the interior throughout the period from March to December, has written a powerful and passionate indictment of the Pakistan Army and auxiliary forces in these terms:
'For nine months all human rights were completely suspended in East Pakistan. Not only the Government and the Army, but every soldier with a gun had supreme authority over life and death and property, and could use that authority at will. ..
The military reign of terror in East Pakistan was directed almost exclusively against the unarmed civilian population. It was not a civil war of soldiers against a rebel army. It can be divided roughly into three phases. First, there was the general repression launched against all Bengalis, which began in March and continued with varying intensity for nine months. The second phase was the concentrated persecution of the Hindus, with the explicit intention of eliminating the eight to ten million Hindus left in the country, either by murdering them or driving them out. This second phase was accompanied by a secondary persecution of the Hindus by their Muslim neighbors with encouragement from the Army. The third phase was the Collective Punitive Reprisal Program which increased tremendously when the freedom fighters began hitting back.
The first phase began in earnest on March 26th. The Army simply loosed a reign of terror against all Bengalis on the theory that if they were sufficiently savage and brutal, they would break the spirit of the Bengali people, and not only stop the rebellion but ensure that it would never happen again. In the beginning this reign of terror took place in and around the cities. Prime targets of the army were anyone who were or could be leaders; Awami League politicians, professors, students, businessmen. But any Bengali was fair game for any soldier. Although later on this general program of repression of everyone was toned down, it never completely ceased. And throughout the entire nine months in which at least a million died and millions more fled the country, the Army remained immune from censure or punishment. Rather they were highly praised by the President for their activities. Justice was completely dead throughout the country.
In April the second phase, the concentrated persecution of the Hindus, began. By the beginning of May it was obvious to observers that it was the Government's avowed intention to kill or drive out of the country all of the eight to ten million Hindus in East Pakistan. Throughout the country, the Army was searching out Hindu villages and deliberately destroying them and murdering the people. They would attack a village suddenly and swiftly, killing any one they encountered, whether men, women or children. They would then loot and burn the village to make sure that the poor people had nothing to return to. Not even a pretence was made of being just. The only evidence needed against these people was the fact that they were Hindus. The Army would come into a new area, enquire where the Hindus lived, and proceed to wipe them out. Sometimes they would claim that the village was harbouring freedom fighters, but never did they make any investigation to see if the charges were true. Throughout the country, literally thousands of Hindu villages were destroyed in this way. These people lost their homes, their possessions, their life savings, their means of livelihood, and often their lives. Yet they were guilty of no crime, and were not even accused of a crime. They were simply marked for extermination.
After the Army had clearly indicated that they were out to exterminate the Hindu population, the lower element among the Bengali Muslims began to take part in the terrorism. Their motive was both hatred for the Hindus, and greed. For the expulsion of the Hindus would enable them to take over their lands and possessions. To satisfy their greed they stooped to drive out their neighbors and let women and children suffer and starve and die. Local Muslim leaders and Union Board Chairmen ordered the Hindus in their area to get out within 24 hours, or they would call in the Army against them. Knowing that it was not an idle threat, the Hindus had no choice but to flee. In many areas, more harm was done to Bengali Hindus by Bengali Muslims than by the West Pakistan Army.
What was behind this persecution of the Hindus? After a month of repression it was evident that the military reign of terror was not succeeding as planned. The Muslim army resented the fact that they had to kill their Muslim brothers when so many Hindus were available. And there was a danger that the rebellion would succeed since the savagery of the repression had angered the entire nation. So the Army changed its tactics to make the Bengali revolt look like an Indian instigated rebellion. They attacked the Hindus as Indian agents and called on all Muslims to unite against the common enemy. They succeeded in getting many Muslims to collaborate with them out of greed, but the general run of Muslims were not fooled by the move. They knew well who the real enemy was.
The third phase of the Army program, that of Collective Punitive Reprisals went into high gear when the freedom fighters began to return from training and started their work of sabotage and harassment of the military. This was the worst phase of all in its cruelty and injustice toward civilians. Whenever any act of sabotage occurred, the Army would immediately rush troops to the area. The freedom fighters would of course be long gone, so the Army would punish all the surrounding villages, burning and killing at will. No effort was made to look for the guilty. The Army pattern of slaughter in reprisal became so standardised that if a bridge or pylon was blown up during the night, the entire civilian population of the area would abandon their homes before daylight and flee into the interior. This prevented the Army from killing so many, but it did not stop them from looting and burning the homes. Day after day the sky was billowing with smoke as thousands of homes were put to the torch. ..
My own personal experience underlines the complete indifference of the Army to the question of innocence or guilt. When a train was blown up nearby, the local doctor at first refused to go to the help of the victims because if the Army should show up they would immediately kill everyone on the scene. I knew it was dangerous and that his fear was reasonable, so I agreed to accompany him. When we were still too far from the wreck to be identified the Army opened fire on us. The fact that there was no evidence of guilt was of no consequence. We saved our lives only by abandoning our boat and swimming to shore. In another boat in the area a man was killed and his five year old son was fatally wounded. The little fellow lingered for a month in our makeshift hospital, and finally died in pain and in fear. During his long month of misery, every time he heard a gunshot, he thought the Army was after him again and he would whimper to his grieving mother, ' Mummy, will they shoot me again? Mummy, please don't let them shoot me again '. These words from a five year old tell more about the situation in East Pakistan, than volumes of testimony could. This is what the Army created for the children of Bengal.
The final figures on all this horror, the full extent of the terrorism and of the denial of every human right will probably never be known. A million may have died, or two million or three. There may have been 10 million refugees or only five million. The exact number is really immaterial. It is definitely one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the human race; and it happened in the enlightened 20th Century. And it will happen somewhere again, if the Nations of the World take no steps to prevent it.'
2. Underscores the inhuman atrocities of the Pakistani troops and their associates, the razakar and al-Badr forces: An excerpt from an article written in the Azad, 15 January 1972.
'....The people of Narail can bear witness to the reign of terror, the inhuman atrocities, inflicted on them after (General) Yahya let loose his troops to do what they would. After March 25, many people fled Jessore in fear of their lives, and took refuge in Narail and its neighboring localities. Many of them were severely bashed by the soldiers of Yahya and lost their lives. Very few people ever returned. Bhayna is a flourishing village near Narail. Ali Akbar is a well-known figure there. On April 8, the Pakistani troops surrounded the village on the pretext that it was a sanctuary for freedom fighters. Just as fish are caught in a net so too were the people of this village all assembled, in an open field. Then everyone- men, women, and children--were all forced to line up. Young men between the ages of 25 and 30 were lined up separately. 45 people were shot to death on the spot. Three of Ali Akbar's brothers were killed there. Ali Akbar was able to save himself by lying on the ground. But no one else of that group was as fortunate. Nadanor was the Killing field. Every day 20 to 30 people were taken there with their hands tied behind their backs, and killed. The dead bodies would be flung into the river. Apart from this, a slaughter house was also readied for Bengalis. Manik, Omar, and Ashraf were sent to Jessore Cantonment for training and then brought to this slaughter house. Every day they would slaughter 9 to 12 persons here. The rate per person was Taka ten. On one particular day, 45 persons were slaughtered here. From April 15 to December 10, the butchery continued. It is gathered that 2,723 people lost their lives here. People were brought here and bashed, then their ears were cut off, and their eyes gouged out. Finally they were slaughtered... : The Chairman of the Peace Committee was Moulana Solaiman. With Dr. Abul Hussain and Abdul Rashid Mukhtar, he assisted in the genocide. Omar would proudly say, "During the day I am Omar, at night I am Shimar( legendary executioner famous for extreme cruelty). Don't you see my dagger? There are countless Kafirs (heretics) on it."
Pakistan’s views on the War Crimes:
1. Daily Times, A new voice for new Pakistan: Indian scholar sifts 1971 fact from fiction By Khalid Hasan (Sunday, December 18, 2005)
WASHINGTON: A vast proportion of information put out on Bangladesh in 1971 is “marred by unsubstantiated sensationalism,” while West Pakistan and the Pakistan Army in particular have remained defensive and in a state of denial about the killings, according to Sarmila Bose, a Washington-based Indian academic.
This and other findings are contained in the revised version of a paper she presented at a State Department conference on the 1971 South Asian crisis in June this year.
She writes, “No rape of women by the Pakistan Army (was) found in the specific case studies (that her research involved). In all of the incidents involving the Pakistan Army in the case studies, the armed forces were found not to have raped women. While this cannot be extrapolated beyond the few incidents in this study, it is significant, as in the popular narrative the allegation of rape is often clubbed together with allegation of killing. Rape allegations were made in prior verbal discussions in some cases and survivors of the incidents testified to the violence and killings, but also testified that no rape had taken place in these areas. While rape is known to occur in all situations of war, charges and counter-charges on rape form a particularly contentious issue in this conflict. The absence of this particular form of violence in these instances underlines the care that needs to be taken to distinguish between circumstances in which rape may have taken place form those in which it did not.”
According to Ms Bose, while the Bangladeshis are more voluble about the birth of their country, they have done less well at systematic historical record-keeping. She also found a cultivation of “an unhealthy ‘victim culture’ by some of the pro-liberationists” as people are instigated at the national level to “engage in a ghoulish competition with six million Jews in order to gain international attention”. These tendencies, she points out, hamper the systematic study of the conflict of 1971 and hinder a true understanding of a “cataclysmic restructuring in modern South Asian history”. She writes that the 1971 civil war was fought between those who believed they were fighting for a united Pakistan and those who believed their chance for justice and progress lay in an independent Bangladesh. “Both are legitimate political positions. All parties in the conflict embraced violence as a means to the end, all committed acts of brutality outside accepted norms of warfare, and all had their share of humanity. These attributes make the 1971 conflict suitable for efforts towards reconciliation, rather than recrimination that has so far been its hallmark,” she adds.
Ms Bose writes that it was not a simple “West vs East” conflict. Most political leaders in West Pakistan, barring Bhutto, were amenable to transfer of power to the Awami League. Biharis and some Bengalis were opposed to the breakup of Pakistan. Violence was not the means adopted by only one side. According to her, “Due to the successful emergence of Bangladesh it is sometimes overlooked that in 1971, the defense of the unity and integrity of Pakistan was a legitimate political position, indeed the ‘patriotic’ political position, as opposed to the secession proposed by pro-liberation Bengalis.” Pro-liberation Bengalis came to see Pakistan as a “foreign occupier” while the loyalists were considered “traitors”.
Ms Bose writes, “It is likely that, even after discounting exaggerations, the armed forces and loyalist Bengalis may be responsible for a greater proportion of casualties, due to greater fire power and a longer period of holding the ‘upper hand’, following military action on March 25. However, pro-liberation Bengalis also adopted violence as the means to their end and their leadership did not uphold or enforce a principled stand against violence towards unarmed people and political opponents, presumed or real. In many areas, pro-liberation Bengalis’ violence towards perceived opponents abated only upon arrival of the army and resurfaced as soon as the war ended. The culture of violence fomented by the conflict of 1971 forms the context of subsequent events in Bangladesh.”
Ms Bose says that East Pakistan in 1971 was “simultaneously a battleground for many different kinds of violent conflict – military rebellion, mob violence, guerrilla warfare, conventional battles, death squads, civil war within Pakistan and between Bengalis, and full-scale war between Pakistan and India”. The conflict lasted for a year, involving multiple combatant parties and different levels of conflict. To ascertain the truth, it would be necessary to undertake an “institutional effort of national proportions,” that Bangladesh has not made, she adds. Her research is based on case studies from various Bangladesh districts and accounts obtained from both perpetrators and victims. The case studies, she cautions, are “representative” of the conflict not “comprehensive”. She collected her data during visits to Pakistan and Bangladesh during 2003-05. It has been her effort to reconcile fact with fiction.
Ms Bose writes that the movement led by Shaikh Mujibur Rehman was “openly and proudly armed and militant”. The March 1 call for a general strike by Mujib following the postponement of the National Assembly session led to “widespread lawlessness” during that month, with the government of Pakistan effectively losing control of much of the province. There was a “parallel government” run on Mujib’s decrees. There was arson, looting and attacks by Bengali mobs on non-Bengali people and property, some with casualties, the worst cases occurring in Khulna and Chittagong. Most of these attacks were on civilians and commercial properties, but some were directly on the army which remained “curiously unresponsive under orders”. The army had difficulty buying food and fuel and was “being jeered and spat at” while the curfew was being violated. While the Awami League was unable or unwilling to control a population it had incited, the regime failed to respond appropriately to attacks on life and property.
However, with the launch of ‘Operation Searchlight’ on March 25, the “extraordinary restraint” shown by the army was reversed, Ms Bose writes. In the attack on Jagannath Hall at Dhaka University, the officer in charge, Brig. “Bobby” Jahanzeb Arbab, admitted “over-reaction and over-kill by the troops”. There was resistance but it was a “very unequal one”. Gen AAK Niazi, whom the author interviewed, condemned Gen Tikka Khan’s handling of the situation, comparing it with the Jullianwala Bagh massacre by the British in 1919. While some soldiers were gun-happy, others showed care and concern for the injured students. Several faculty members and male members residing in the same buildings were dragged out and shot. She found that there was no specific list of Dhaka University staff that the army wanted liquidated.
In one documented case, however, the soldiers had a name. The haphazard nature of the military action resulted in certain university professors being killed and political leaders either escaping to India or being taken alive. She rejects as “entirely false” Anthony Mascarenhas’s claim in the Sunday Times that 8,000 people were killed by the army in Shankaripatti. Only 14 were killed.
The military action was followed by a wave of mutiny by Bengali officers and men in the army and police forces, but the pattern of violence varied from place to place. In Mymensingh, many West Pakistani officers were killed, their women assaulted and those trying to escape lynched by the assembled population. Elsewhere, Bengali mobs slaughtered Biharis and West Pakistanis until the army arrived to secure the area. A large number of Bihari men, women and children were killed at the Crescent Jute Mills in Khulna on March 27-28. This vicious cycle of Bengali-Bihari ethnic violence continued even after Bangladesh’s establishment, she adds.
Ms Bose writes that when the army moved to re-establish the writ of the government, the initial resistance was sporadic and disorganised and overwhelmed by the army’s superior force. One Pakistani officer confessed adopting a policy of “prophylactic fire” on the advice of Gen Tikka Khan, though the general denied giving such advice. In this case, any villages that came in the way of this particular column were burnt down. Throughout April and into May, the army continued to bring rebel-held territories under control. There were killings in some areas, but not in others. In one village, where the moving troops had been fired upon, all the men were gathered and shot. Their bodies were set on fire. Another column secured a village without killing anyone. “The difference underlines the need for a deeper probe into the disregard for human life or due process that characterised mass killings,” the academic writes.
The Hindus were vulnerable during the civil war, even at the hand of their fellow Muslim villagers. In Chuknagar, a Khulna village, a large number of them were killed by an army patrol from Jessore. Women and children were not harmed. After the soldiers left, the locals indulged in rampant looting. As monsoon passed into autumn, young Bengali men trained in Indian camps returned on a programme of sabotage. Many were captured or killed; others survived. “In the absence of any political dialogue, the war dogged on at multiple levels,” Ms Bose writes. She narrates an incident on October 13 hear Kishoreganj in Mymensingh where an army unit rounded up adult men from neighbouring villages and, for reasons that remain unclear, lined them up in two queues and gunned them down with mounted light machine guns. Residents from a particular village were spared.
Ms Bose writes that in the final days of the war, several professionals, professors and doctors were picked up from their homes in Dhaka by Al Badr loyalists of the army and were then blindfolded and killed. Several of the bodies were found at a brick kiln. She states that “a direct link to the army is hard to establish” as the men were picked up by Bengali members of Al Badr. Some have held the late Maj Gen Rao Farman Ali responsible, a charge he denied. There were revenge killings after December 16, both of non-Bengalis and loyalist Bengalis, even a public lynching before the cameras. Some were bayoneted. Another mass killing of Biharis took place in Khulna in March 1972, when Mujib had already taken power.
2. Beyond the Archive of Silence: Narratives of Violence of the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh by Yasmin Saikia. From the History Workshop Journal, Issue 58.
A presentation given by Prof. Yasmin Saikia at a college in Lahore, recently. She was sharing some preliminary research had conducted by her on individual experiences of gendered violence and rape in the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh. Her methodology was to collect oral narratives, both of the victims and the perpetrators.
My aim is to probe into the moments of violence, the victimization of women, the actions and experiences of men, and the trauma produced as a consequence. Through this exploration of personal and collective memories, I hope to demonstrate the linked, though conflicting, experiences of suffering of people in the subcontinent and to construct a story of survivors of the Liberation War. This research is also an attempt to rethink communal and state violence in postcolonial South Asia and arrive at a clearer understanding of the legacies of the partitions of 1947 and 1971.
Contrast two accounts from her paper. This terrifying account was told by a rape victim:
I (Madhumita) was fifteen years old and a student of grade VIII in 1971. Ours was a rich Hindu merchant family and we lived in a composite Bengali village. On June 21, 1971, local Bengali and Bihari men of the Muslim League, supporters of Pakistan, came to our house. My family used to know them very well. They came to arrest my father and brothers because our family was involved in the liberation struggle and were supporters of the Mukti Bahini. But when the Biharis approached our house, all the adult men fled. My youngest brother, who was eleven years old, could not escape. I tried to help him, but was apprehended by the attackers. They locked me in a room; my brother was there too.
After they finished their business they set the house on fire and walked away. But I could not let my brother die. So I dragged myself and despite the pain I was suffering, I helped my brother to escape by breaking open the door. I was badly burned in the process. That night, I hid in our backyard pond. Next morning, when I emerged from the pond chunks of flesh started falling off my body. I had no clothes on, except burned shreds to cover some parts. When I looked around, I saw some men from our village returning from their morning prayers. On seeing me they made funny noises and gestures. I tried to tell them I was not a prostitute but so-and-so's daughter, and tried to solicit their help. But they walked away. Since that day I have been a living dead. My body is in pain. I have no status, job, or education. My brother now owns the family business and I live in his house. I gave up my dignity, my life, everything for my brother; but today I am no better than his servant. This is women's lot in Bangladesh.
Here is an account by Biman, a would-be rapist:
On April 3, 1971, the Pakistan army came to our town. The Biharis in our railway colony were emboldened. We saw them walking around the place without fear and it made us very angry. I and five other friends, who had joined the Mukti Bahini, decided to punish them. We went to one of our Bihari neighbours' house. I used to call him 'uncle' and his daughter was my sister's friend. She used to refer to me as 'brother'. But that day all human ties were broken.
We forcibly entered the house . . . grabbed the young girl and stripped her naked. She was struck with fear and shame. She ran out of the house and we ran after her. The crowd pursuing her grew in size. I had only one thought in my mind. 'I want to rape and destroy this girl. I want to destroy the Biharis, they are our enemies.' . . . Abdul Hussain (a person I did not like) saw us chasing the girl. He came out of his house, wrapped the girl with a shawl and took her inside. He told the crowd, 'If you want to take this girl, take her over my dead body.' We all stood there. No one had the courage to enter his house and drag her out. At that moment I realized I had become a criminal. The gun they had given me was a tool to kill. They had taught me how to kill. They made me cold like a snake. 'What have I become?', I thought. During the war, I committed many crimes . . . Nationalism is corrupting; I understand it only today.
Prof. Saikia's recollection of her encounter with Biman was thought-provoking:
When I heard this confession from a perpetrator of violence, I was dumbfounded. I had not expected to hear such a story. Even as I listened, confusing and contradictory thoughts and feelings clashed in my mind. I found myself asking: What am I supposed to do? Should I tell him, as I had the victims, that I empathize with his suffering? Do I tell him he is a criminal and deserves the agony of his memory? Should my role as a researcher be predictable, to commiserate with the victims and loathe the perpetrators, even one such as Biman, whose pain, though definitely different from his victim, is deep and troubling. I was confused. Although I could not come up with a resolution to my own troubled thoughts, I understood then, as much as I do now, that what I heard was a voice from the grave, a man damned by his own memories and actions, a lonely, sad figure who cannot talk about his experiences in the war because he is not allowed to reveal and expose the criminal actions behind nation-building and nationalism.
. . .
Perpetrators appear in many forms and under many guises – Pakistani, Bengali, Bihari. But there is a common element that binds them within a shared framework. Driven by the spirit of nationalism and nation-building, these men committed horrific crimes that haunt them even today. Pakistani soldiers and their Bihari supporters raped and killed to save a nation; Bengali men also raped and killed in the hope of making a new nation, which they did. Who is guilty? What was the power that transformed ordinary men into criminals? I am not saying we should absolve the rapists and killers, but I am asking who is to blame? I have come to realize from listening to the stories of survivors that we need to move beyond the individual and investigate larger institutions such as the state and the ideology of nationalism that drove the war and used it to aggrandize power. To understand the process and creation of the sovereign power of the state that made citizens into agents for raping, killing, brutalizing, we have to listen to both victims and perpetrators. We would be fools not to listen to what they are saying, because in their stories is the evidence of what happened in the Liberation War, a story that has been suppressed.