Recently United States Congressman Steve Chabot along with co-sponsor Congressman Ro Khanna and Congresswoman Katie Porter introduced a bipartisan resolution 1430 “Recognising the Bangladesh Genocide of 1971” in Capitol Hill, Washington DC.
By aleem Samad
The resolution demands that the United States government should recognise the genocide committed by the Pakistan armed forces during the brutal birth of the country in 1971, which disproportionately targeted members of the Hindu community, secularists, and nationalist groups in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
Congressman Steve Chabot is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, and Co-Chair of the Bangladesh Caucus, introducing the resolution said, “There was a genocide. Millions of people were killed [in 1971] in what is now Bangladesh, and what was then East Pakistan.
About 80 per cent of those millions that were killed were Hindus. And it was, in my opinion, a genocide just like other genocides – like the Holocaust – happened. “
The historic resolution observes that the Pakistani ruling elite and officials harboured well-documented anti-Bangalee sentiment, considering Bangalees to be a lesser people group that had been corrupted by un-Islamic practices.
The infamous brutal crackdown “Operation Searchlight” involved widespread massacres of civilians. The operation targeted the Bangalee nationalists and especially the Hindus, who are dubbed with the demeaning word “Malaun” (cursed).
“The genocide against Bengalees and Hindus is one of the forgotten genocides of the 20th century and its lack of recognition remains an open wound for millions of people who were directly affected by the atrocities, remarked Senator Tabo”
Pakistan’s President, General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan, is recorded as saying to his top military brass “[k]ill 3 million of them and the rest will eat out of our hands”.
Unfortunately, the genocide against ethnic Bangalees and Hindus is one of the forgotten genocides of the 20th century and its lack of recognition remains an open wound for millions of people who were directly affected by the atrocities.
Earlier, the United States based non-governmental organisations Genocide Watch and the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention sought international recognition of the atrocities committed by the Armed Forces of Pakistan as ‘genocide’.
An estimated number killed in the atrocities was 3 million (an official figure of the Bangladesh government). Nearly several hundred thousand were victims of rape as a weapon of war.
The bloody war caused nearly 10 million war refugees and took shelter in camps along the borders of India for their safety and up to 50 per cent of the population was internally displaced.
On March 28, 1971, United States Consul General in Dhaka, Archer Blood, sent a telegram to Washington titled “Selective Genocide” in which he wrote “Moreover, with support of Pak[istan] military, non-Bengali Muslims are systematically attacking poor people’s quarters and murdering Bengalis and Hindus. Streets of Dacca are aflood with Hindus and others seeking to get out of Dacca…”
Senator Edward Kennedy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in a report to the Committee on November 1, 1971, states “Nothing is more clear, or more easily documented, than the systematic campaign of terror—and its genocidal consequences—launched by the Pakistan army on the night of March 25th. Field reports to the U.S. Government, countless eye-witness journalistic accounts, reports of international agencies such as the World Bank, and additional information available to the Subcommittee document the continuing reign of terror which grips East Bengal. Hardest hit have been members of the Hindu community who have been robbed of their lands and shops, systematically slaughtered, and, in some places, painted with yellow patches marked ‘H’. All of this has been officially sanctioned, ordered and implemented under martial law from Islamabad.”
In a study published in 1972 titled “The Events in East Pakistan”, the Secretariat of the International Commission of Jurists states “There is overwhelming evidence that Hindus were slaughtered, and their houses and villages destroyed simply because they were Hindus.”
During the nine months of the war, the Pakistani military forces persecuted, tortured, and murdered representatives of Bangla culture and identity, including poets, musicians, professors, journalists, physicians, scientists, writers, and filmmakers.
Often debates are alive on the definition of genocide, persecution, atrocities and massacre rage among scholars and historians. The attempt to eliminate Hindus and the rape of women constitute crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide.
There is no confusion after the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, signed on December 9, 1948, declares that genocide “means any of the following acts committed with the 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.” and “The following acts shall be punishable: (a) Genocide; (b) Conspiracy to commit genocide; (c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide; (d) Attempt to commit genocide; (e) Complicity in genocide.”
The resolution calls on the Pakistan authority, in the face of overwhelming evidence, to offer acknowledgement of its role in such genocide, offer formal apologies to the Government and people of Bangladesh, and prosecute, in accordance with international law, any perpetrators who are still living, the resolution said.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Congress for Bangladesh Minorities (HRCBM) held a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington DC which was attended by journalists, human rights defenders, academics, social entrepreneurs, members of the Bangladeshi diaspora and also exiled rights defenders of Sindh and Balochistan.
Priya Saha, Executive Director of HRCBM said, “The Pakistani military and its militia forces, namely the death squad Al-Badr carried out the targeted assassination of more than 1,100 Bangla-speaking intellectuals and other professionals, to create an intellectual vacuum in the country. In Bangladesh, 1,942 mass graves were discovered.”
Speakers at the press conference discussed and answered questions about the impact of this historic resolution on the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific and radical groups originating from Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Among the speakers were Dr Sachi Dastidar, distinguished professor emeritus at SUNY, recalled his family’s personal experience as victims of genocide.
Prof Dwijen Bhattacharjya of Columbia University and General Secretary of the Bangladeshi Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council in the United States believes that resolution 1430 will be departing from the 1971 United States policy on the genocide in Bangladesh.
Saleem Samad, General Sectary of the Forum for Freedom of Expression, Bangladesh said the Pakistan military committed genocide with an “intent to eliminate” a race, language, culture, heritage, traditional practices and of course religion
The ‘rape as a weapon of war’ was executed for several reasons. Firstly, to give birth to “war babies” to establish a so-called ‘superior’ race. Secondly, to change the identity of race and ethnicity. Thirdly to break the morale of a defiant nation.
Munawar “Sufi” Laghari, the Executive Director of Sindhi Foundation said the resolution to recognise the Bangladesh genocide would enable Pakistan’s ‘military establishment’ to halt ongoing ethnic persecution of Sindhi and Baloch, enforced disappearances and forced conversion of Hindus girls in the restive province of Sindh and Balochistan.
The press conference moderated by Adelle Nazrarian, Media Fellow at the Gold Institute for International Strategy (GIIS) and Communication and Legislative Director at HinduPACT urged the Bangladeshi diaspora in the United States, in particular, to work with their local representatives and requested that they support the resolution.
First published in The News Times, October 30, 2022
Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Twitter @saleemsamad