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Pakistani Atrocities in 1971: The Bengali Hindu Genocide

With the introduction of the H. Res. 1430-117th Congress (2021-2022) in the USA recognizing the Bangladesh Genocide of 1971 a debate, for good or bad, in favor or against, started swirling around it. When many see it appropriate with its language and a long overdue, many others see its language as “divisive” and even some individuals and organizations are coming forward to depict it as “anti-Islamic” or “Islamophobic”. Some even brought up the name(s) of the organizations who might have helped bringing the Resolution.

As a survivor of the Genocide in 1971, my goal is to put things straight with the right narrative of the events of 1971. For reasons, known and unknown, the atrocities on Bengalis, particularly on Hindus, remained mostly unknown, uncared for. As a student of Grade 1 at that time in 1971 I had to flee Bangladesh (then then East Pakistan) along with my parents, grandma, aunt and siblings to India, where we stayed in a refugee camp for months before returning to Bangladesh as destitute to start a life literally anew. Any academic endeavor is expected to be neutral, devoid of any fear or favor of any sort and in an undistorted manner without injecting the views motivated by sheer politics or otherwise.

Before going to analyze the Resolution itself let us understand the definition of Genocide as it is coded in Article II of the Genocide Convention of 1948 and later adopted under the Article 6 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in 1998.

“Genocide” means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Interesting to see that killings of any political group(s) by the perpetrators, in other words, killing due to political belief had not been included due to a compromise that had to be made by Raphael Lemkin, the father of the term “Genocide” at the time of accepting its definition by the State parties of the UN.

So, at this point some words in the definition of Genocide need special attention. The first word is “intent”. The “intent” of whom? The “perpetrators”. It is the intent of the perpetrators who perpetrated and committed the crime. In other words, how the perpetrators (read here the Pakistani State, Government, its army and collaborators in the then East Pakistan) viewed their victims. Did the Pakistani army, its political leaders and the government as a whole targeted all Bengalis equally irrespective of religious belief(s), or did they discriminate their victims on religious lines? Did Pakistani and their collaborators (all of whom happened to be Muslims) treated their victims differently on the basis of their religious belief(s), or not? We’ll discuss this further later. Before going more into that lights may be shed on the “intent” factor of the crime.

“By definition, intent is more than a simple will to kill or to perform other acts of violence- it is the will to do violence to certain human beings because they are perceived or real members of a specific group, ultimately with the goal to destroy the group.” And even before going to analyze the intent of the Pakistani State, Government, army and their collaborators we need to know the “motive” behind the “intent”. A crime, particularly the highest crime of genocide, does not happen on a spur of the moment. It is a process- long planned and position held by the very powerful authority of a particular state. It may not be committed by a single individual. It is the intent, plan, motive of any particular State and/or specific group at the helm of that State that help and orchestrate the commission of the heinous crime of genocide.

So, the question is: what could be the motive of the Pakistani State, or in other words goal of the then West Pakistani State, Government and its army? All the research (for the sake of brevity that is not being discussed in this article) and investigations point to the fact that the then West Pakistani Government and its army (the de facto government) they were not at all willing to cede power to the leaders and party (read Awami League) based in the then East Pakistan.

Their (the West Pakistanis) motive was to perpetuate their grip on power and subjugate the East Pakistanis permanently. That’s the reason why they never handed power to Awami League (AL) and Sheikh Mujib even though AL won the election in 1970.

And AL won the election because of the larger number of population living in the then East Pakistan than in West Pakistan. So a downsizing of the Bengalis would serve that purpose. By the way, the State of Pakistan had been pursuing the policy of purging the State of Hindus from very beginning of its coming into existence in 1947. The 1971 is just the continuation and culminating point. Hence, killing, raping and forcing the Hindus to leave the country would have killed two birds with one stone-getting rid of “enemy” Hindus and permanent subjugation of Bengalis. So, no wonder the Bengali Hindus, NOT the Bengalis in general, were targeted specifically for being Hindus only.

To understand it better let us have a look at the demographic statistics of Pakistan- particularly East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Hindus comprised (taking Pakistani viewpoints that tried to show the number lower anyway) about 15% compared to one meagre about 2% in West Pakistan. But if you take out the Hindus and compare the number of Muslims living in West Pakistan vis a vis East Pakistan, the number would tilt in favor of West Pakistan. According to one statistics West Pakistan had at least 600,000 more Muslims than East Pakistan during the election period of 1970.

When West Pakistanis did not elect any AL member in Parliament, the East Pakistanis did elect at least one non-AL member from Pakistan Democratic Party (PDP). And, as per one account the Islamic parties that favored West Pakistan-based parities garnered about 25-30% votes. The whole discussion is not taking into consideration that Hindus in East Pakistan being more educated at that time compared to their Muslim neighbors and, for that reason, more inclined to cast their votes than others. Hindus are/were believed to be supporters of AL, and that without any doubt made the difference in AL’s winning of overwhelming majority in both State and Provincial levels due to all-out support of Hindus.

The West Pakistanis knew that, and they had been calculating that since inception of Pakistani State. The result of the election of 1970 just accelerated the process. Had West Pakistanis been able to hold on to power without election for longer the scenarios might have been different as the State of Pakistan had been enacting anti-Hindu laws, stifling and forcing the Hindus out of Pakistan (both in East and West Pakistan) with their socio-political-economic-administrative-judicial power. The process of ethnic cleansing of Hindus had been in slower pace. Though that policy is still being continued in Bangladesh even today commencing from the days of Sheikh Mujib, that’s not the scope of this article.

The foregoing discussion might answer another question, why the West Pakistani government and army did not follow the same suit against Hindus living in West Pakistan. Answer is, their sheer number, barely 2% at that time and now even lower. The number of Hindus in West Pakistan was not significant enough to influence the election anyway. So there were no urgency of taking drastic genocidal action against them (West Pakistani Hindus).

Now that we know that the motive of the West Pakistanis and their collaborators was to permanently hold on to power, they were inclined to remove the obstacle immediately-killing Bengali Hindus to the point of annihilation, forcing them out of the country and converting them as many as possible. At the same time, they (the West Pakistanis) had to deal with the Bengali uprising-both politically and militarily.

All the information, facts and statistics unequivocally, unambiguously and clearly establish the fact that all Bengali Muslims were not against Pakistan, neither not all Muslims cast their vote in favor of Awami League like Bengali Hindus in the then East Pakistan. The number of Muslims in East Pakistan already were fewer than in West Pakistan. As per Mr. Houssain Kettani the number of Muslims living in West Pakistan in 1970 when the election was held was 59,693,800 compared to that of in East Pakistan was 59,078,348, meaning West Pakistan had 615,452 more Muslim population than in East Pakistan.

Many Bengali Muslims were also killed, tortured, raped as well by Pakistani army and their collaborators. Who were those Bengali Muslims? Research done so far and in our experience barring some (being at the wrong time, wrong place, mistaken identity, personal vendetta etc.) most Muslims got killed, raped or tortured were active members/leaders of Awami League, freedom fighters, their supporters and perceived supporters, intellectuals who supported (and/or perceived by Pakistani army and their collaborators) who sided with AL and freedom fighters. All Bengali Muslims who were killed, tortured or raped were victims neither for being Bengali, nor for being Muslim but because of their political belief and their siding with Awami League and freedom fighters. They are victims of politicide, which is unfortunately, not covered by the definition of genocide.

The goal of this write-up not to downplay the atrocities committed on Bengali Muslims by Pakistanis and their collaborators, nor does it try to compare who suffered more and who did not. All Bengalis-both Hindus, Muslims and others suffered at the hands of the perpetrators, but our goal has been to discern the intent factor of the perpetrators. By sheer wish we cannot change the fact. The motive of Pakistani army, government was to subjugate Bengalis (who they believed not Muslim enough). To further their motive of subjugation of Bengalis for ever the soft targets were the Hindus, for being Hindu and nothing else.

The question could be how the Pakistani army and government came to this conclusion that annihilating the Hindus would serve their purpose. The numbers speak. If the election result of 1970 can be dissected and analyzed it might be even clearer. AL secured total 12,937,162 votes in both East and West Pakistan. This number includes 22,937 votes that AL received in West Pakistan being able to field only four candidates. But the PPP did/could not field any candidate in East Pakistan. AL received total 12,914,225 votes only in East Pakistan and this forms 75% of total votes counted/cast in 1970 election. Since we do not have exact number of constituencies that were decided by minority votes we’ll proceed with a more conservative general approach. Even if we hold Hindus being 15% and cast their votes in equal percentage (ignoring the fact that Hindus being minority and more educated in general would be more zealous to visit the polling centers than their Muslim neighbors) the total votes that AL received from Hindus in East Pakistan are 1,937,134 proportionately to their number. Out of total votes of 17,218,967 the number of votes received by pro-Pakistani parties was 4,304,742 (25% of total votes of East Pakistan).

The government claimed a high level of public participation and a voter turnout of almost 63%. The total number of registered voters in the country was 56,941,500 of which 31,211,220 were from East Pakistan and 25,730,280 were from West Pakistan.

Total vote AL received sans West Pakistan’s 22,937, was 12,914,225 votes. This number is 75% of total votes cast in East Pakistan does include at least 15% of Hindus, that turns out 20% of all votes AL received. This presupposes that Hindus had been living in all areas in equal proportion. But, in reality it is/was not true, not possible. In some districts the percentage of Hindus was more than 30 or even 40%, meaning in those districts Hindu votes made the difference or would have made the difference in coming elections, if held. In this way, Hindu votes played pivotal role in electing at least 30 -40 seats in favor of AL. Had AL received even 30 seats fewer in the national election, the whole picture would have changed altogether. No one else knew it better than the West Pakistani rulers as well as AL leadership. All the pro-Pakistani parties together would have been in a position of forming the government in 300-seat parliament as it would require only 151 seats to assume the power. The math is/was clear.

The crime of genocide being committed by the perpetrators, and it is the perpetrators’ INTENT and motive, not of the VICTIMS or others that is to be considered. How the perpetrators saw it or perceived of it? The victims can feel it and others can fathom it intellectually, but they cannot impose their views on the perpetrators. It was the Pakistani government, its army and collaborators who saw the fact the way they did. Nobody, no intellectual can change that and making it “balanced”. If the language of the Resolution 1430 sounds divisive, it was Pakistan, its army and collaborators who “divided” it that way with differential treatment to Bengali Hindus.

Some argues that the Nuremberg Trial did not identify the victims as Jews, so why we should name it Hindu Genocide. First of all, we should have the courage and integrity to describe things the way it is. If someone hates you for being Muslim or Black and your hater is a Christian/Hindu we must say the victims are victims of hate crime for being Muslim or Black, but that does not necessarily mean that all Christians/Hindus hate Muslims or Black. The hater is happened to be a Christian or Hindu whatever maybe the case. The hater’s religious identity is not the point here, but victims’ is. For the critics of Hindu Genocide, please check with history; Nuremberg trial was held before the Genocide Convention and the definition of Genocide came into being and later, in force.

Now, I would like to shed some light on the language of the Resolution itself. We appreciate the courage and willingness of the Congressmen of both sides of the isle to introduce it in the House. That’s been a long overdue. But it seems it was done in a haste. The people or organization who might be behind this Resolution should have spent some more time understanding the nature of the crime, perpetrators, and collaborators. Unfortunately, the language of the Resolution does not unambiguously and unequivocally condemn the atrocities committed by Pakistan and its collaborators as Bengali Hindu Genocide, as it was the fact, and it is the fact.

Neither this article nor the Resolution may be blamed for driving wedge between the two religious communities-Hindus and Muslims. It’s to be realized that the Pakistanis exactly did that to divide us on religious lines to subjugate the Bengalis as a whole. They were neither friends of Bengali Muslims at all. And most Bengali Muslims could understand that at that time, and they fought together to defeat their common enemy. Since it was the fact, it remains so today as well. Any efforts to change it is nothing but the distortion of history.

This article was first published in the Daily Asian Age in a two part series on 6th May & 7th May 2023.

Ashok K. Karmaker
Ashok K. Karmaker
Ashok K. Karmaker is a practicing attorney in New York and a human rights activist and Chairman, Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, USA.
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