Blood flows in a painful birth for Bangladesh

From the archive: Blood flows in a painful birth for Bangladesh
April 4, 1971: Nicholas Tomalin witnesses a massacre as Pakistan is torn apart

From 1947-71, eastern Bengal was a province of Pakistan. In 1955 it became East Pakistan; in December 1971 it won independence as Bangladesh after Pakistan was defeated by India.

IT was around midday on Thursday – April Fool’s Day – at the Jessore headquarters of the East Pakistan Rifles, who are fighting on the rebels’ side in this civil war. In a confusion of hysteria, enthusiasm and sudden waves of terror, the population was mustering with shotguns, bamboo staves, long spears straight from a Kipling tiger hunt and elaborately patterned sabres.

Among each contingent arriving at headquarters were tall, usually bearded Punjabis. Their hands were tied and they were being pushed along by rifle butts. These men from West Pakistan were the hated usurers and bosses at the local jute mills who, in the words of a captain in the East Pakistan Rifles, were “bleeding us dry for years and years and now killing our wives and children”. They were all “spies”, said their captors, who had picked them up in their homes during the past few days. And as we watched, they were marched off into town.

A crowd of the enthusiastic local soldiers we had seen earlier dashed into hiding as we drove up. We thought the West Pakistan soldiers were attacking and scattered, only to discover, on a grass patch beside the road, men freshly stabbed and bludgeoned, lying in still-flowing pools of blood. Four of them were still just alive, rolling over and waving their legs and arms. None made any noise.

At this moment our guide became hysterical and tried to rush us back to the local Rifles HQ. He said it was not safe, the West Pakistanis were attacking. He tugged us away from the bodies. Suddenly we realised who these dead and dying men were. They were not Bengali; they were – we were convinced – the Punjabi prisoners we had seen under guard an hour before.

The victims could not have been killed by anyone but local Bengali irregulars, as these were the only people in central Jessore that day.

Even as the locals began to threaten us and we were forced to drive away, we saw another 40 Punjabi “spies” being marched towards that same grass plot with their hands above their heads.

Our introduction to Jessore, a city of some 50,000, was the sight of a dozen village huts on the outskirts burnt to the ground. We were escorted by Bengali soldiers to an old British police station to be shown the victims. They dragged out five bodies to be filmed. One old man with a beard, three girls and a baby.

A Punjabi patrol had passed through the area during the night, said our guides. They had blown up the electricity substation, burnt down the huts at the direction of Punjabi informers, raped the girls, then killed the entire group. Other bodies lay elsewhere.

Until about Thursday the West Pakistan garrison, which is about battalion size, was in some kind of control. But these troops started killing people for no discernible reason. The local hospital is filled with 35 wounded men, women and children, who claimed that Punjabi troops fired indiscriminately.

If Jessore is typical, East Pakistan is in for a terrible time in the next months and Karachi’s great gamble – to crush all opposition by one big attack – has failed.

Our stay in Jessore confirmed all the original feelings about this war. It was created by geography but was nonetheless a tribal conflict between the small, volatile Bengalis and the dour, firmly disciplined Punjabis. The Bengalis have, alas, none of the military virtues, and the Punjabis have, alas, all the military vices.

How can these extraordinary, delicate, childishly excitable Bengalis form themselves into any kind of coherent force to oust the regular West Pakistan army from its strongholds?

As we left Jessore in an armoured jeep, with rifles poking in all directions and guns banging off from time to time, I suddenly heard a voice coming from underneath a second world war British Army helmet five sizes too large for its wearer. The voice – in perfect Peter Sellers style – said: “Excuse me, sir, but may I say how much I have always appreciated your English Shakespeare? And your Shelley, sir, truly great poetical artist with words! Truly sublime. Sir, I am studying for accountancy . . .” Bang!

Tomalin was killed in October 1973 covering the Yom Kippur war. He was 41.

Source: Times Online

No comments:

Post a Comment


About Me

My photo
I Am A New Generation Freedom Fighter. Always Fight Against Razakar And Jamat Shibir. My Favorite Dialogue Is "Beware of Dog & Jamat Shibir".

Support Us

Use any of these buttons in your site. Simply copy the html code below and paste into your site.

© 2009-2014 Bangladesh 1971 | Powered by: Blogger