On March 20, the Bangladesh parliament unanimously adopted a resolution to observe March 25 as the Gonohotya Dibos (Day of Genocide). Bengalis continue repeating their myth that Pakistan Army conducted a genocide of 3 million Bengalis, including intellectuals, from March 25 to 16 December 1971. Numerous international analysts have burst this myth while this scribe, in his latest book Tormented Truth—1971 & Beyond has also successfully disproved this false narrative succinctly. I have also highlighted that Yuri Bezmanov, ex KGB agent posted in Delhi, who later defected to the USA, in an interview admitted that the Bengali intellectuals were killed by KGB and RAW operatives, since they had been used by them to create chaos and insurgency but had to be silenced as they knew too much.
The fact is that the massacre of Biharis was conducted with impunity in East Pakistan in early March 1971, which forced the hands of the government to launch an operation to regain control of East Pakistan from the insurgents. In the melee, some Bengalis also got killed but there was neither a genocide, nor was the number as high as the non-Bengalis slaughtered by Bengalis.
Bihari is a generic term, which implies the migrants from the Indian state of Bihar, who headed for then East Pakistan, after the partition of India in 1947. Later all Urdu speaking people, even the Punjabis, Pathans, Sindhi and Baloch from West Pakistan, who were posted to East Pakistan or settled in the Eastern Wing, were labeled as Biharis by Bengalis.
The mass exodus of Muslims from the province of Bihar, which was adjacent to Bengal as well as quite a few from UP and other Indian states, where Muslims were minorities, had to flee to escape the wrath of the militant Hindu marauders, who attacked Muslim communities in repercussion to the partition announcement, looting, killing and raping their women.
Muslims migrating to East Pakistan, were initially welcomed by the Bengalis. According to the 1951 census, 671,000 Bihari refugees were in East Bengal; by 1961, the refugee population had reached 850,000. Broad estimates suggest that about 1.5 million Muslims migrated from West Bengal and Bihar to East Bengal in the two decades after partition.
The migrants were mostly educated and hardworking; they were easily absorbed in the fields of education, medicine, railways, police, armed forces and other important cadres. By dint of hard work, they rose to higher positions, replacing the Hindus that had moved to India. Despite welcoming them initially, Bengalis resented the prosperity and success of the Biharis.
The first fissures between the two communities appeared as early as 1948 because of the language movement, when the Federal Government of Pakistan declared Urdu as the sole national language, sparking extensive protests among the Bengali-speaking majority of East Bengal. The Biharis, whose mother tongue was Urdu, did not join in the language movement but the Bengalis, who were already conscious of the relatively higher placement of the Biharis, took note of the Biharis’ abstinence from supporting their Bengali brethren in the protest rallies. On the one hand, the Federal Government’s error in judgment regarding the imposition of Urdu created problems for the Biharis while sparks of ethnic strife were ignited in the minds of the Bengalis, who were perceiving Biharis as aliens, who had usurped their scarce resources and jobs. Another factor which widened the chasm between the two communities was West Pakistanis belittling Bengalis as an inferior, unsophisticated and uncouth race.
Following Suhrawardy’s death in 1963, Mujib became the head of the Awami League, which became one of the largest political parties in Pakistan. In 1966, Mujib proclaimed a 6-point plan titled Our Charter of Survival at a national conference of opposition political parties at Lahore, in which he demanded self-government and considerable political, economic, and defence autonomy for East Pakistan in a Pakistani federation with a weak central government.
In the General Elections of 7 December 1970, Sheikh Mujib managed to galvanize the masses in East Pakistan. Awami League won a massive majority in the National Assembly. He should have been called to form the government. The majority of the Biharis, believing in Pakistan’s unity, cast their vote in favour of the Muslim League and were marked for their dissension with Awami League.
The military dictator Yahya Khan, being swayed by politicians in West Pakistan, delayed the convening of the assembly. Frustrated of waiting, and reportedly egged on by India, on 7 March 1971 Mujib called for independence and asked the people to launch a major campaign of civil disobedience and organized armed resistance at a mass gathering of people held at the Racecourse Ground in Dhaka. Heeding to Mujib’s call, Mukti Bahini, which was reportedly trained by India, launched attacks on Army units in the interior and Bihari communities in Dhaka, Chittagong, Sylhet, Rajshahi, Jessore, Khulna and numerous other cities.
Bengali officers and men of East Pakistan Rifles and other military units rebelled and slayed their West Pakistani compatriots along with their families. Biharis were an easy target since they were unarmed and lived in specific communities. The magnitude of anti-Bihari attacks by Bengalis throughout the war is contested. Bengali sources admit the death of a few thousand to 30,000 or 40,000 non-Bengalis. According to a white paper released by the Pakistani government, the Awami League killed 64,000 Biharis and West Pakistanis.
R. J. Rummel, a historian with the University of Hawaii, gives a range of 50,000 to 500,000 Biharis killed and concludes at a prudent figure of 150,000 murdered by Bengalis overall. International estimates vary from 20,000 to 200,000. In June 1971, Bihari representatives put forward a figure of 500,000 Biharis killed by Bengalis.
In retaliation, the army launched “Operation Searchlight” on 25 March 1971 to curb the political and civil unrest, protect the communities under attack, and take back the territory occupied by the insurgents. On 26 March, the Independence of Bangladesh was declared. Biharis supported the Pakistan Armed Forces during this period, joining armed paramilitary groups such as Al-Shams, Razakars and Al-Badr, more to protect themselves and to uphold the rule of law.
The war of secession continued till India attacked East Pakistan in November 1971 and overwhelmed by the massive Indian forces, Pakistan Army surrendered in East Pakistan on 16 December 1971. While the Pakistani Armed Forces and West Pakistani bureaucrats posted to East Pakistan were taken as prisoners of war, jubilant Mukti Bahini attacked and killed Biharis at will. The remnants were herded into camps. Some Biharis managed to escape to West Pakistan via Nepal and Myanmar but most ended up in the relief camps. The Bengalis looked upon them as the enemy while West Pakistan refused to accept them as citizens of Pakistan despite their having risked their lives for Pakistan. Sarmila Bose, in her book Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War, accused Bangladeshi liberation accounts of ignoring atrocities against Urdu-speaking people in East Pakistan.
The plight of the Biharis has fallen on deaf ears. General Ziaul Haq, the military dictator had contemptuously called Biharis as Bhikaris (Beggars). Organizations such as Refugees International have urged both governments to “grant citizenship to the hundreds of thousands of people who remain without effective nationality”. Of the 170,000 repatriated to Pakistan, the picture is grim. The land allocated to Biharis in Pakistan in one colony in Mian Channu is now a slum.
It is recommended that 25thMarch be declared as Genocide of Biharis Day, lest their massacre and current pathetic situation is forgotten and buried in the lies spread by Awami League in Bangladesh and callousness of Pakistan.
(The writer is a retired Group Captain who writes on current affairs)
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022