By Qammer Abbass Anka
“The media’s job is to serve as society’s referee, throwing down truth flags when uninformed bigots are shouting their opinions into the wind.”
(Allison Kilkenny Jamie Kilstein)
Tragic episode of 1971 war would always remain great mortification for all Pakistanis. Whatever were the underlying reasons for dismemberment of East Pakistan, none can justify the incidence. The incidences following the fall of Dacca would definitely keep haunting Pakistan like a winter nightmare for times to come. The tragedy on one hand is a great dishonor for us and on the other is a perpetual source of international condemnation for Pakistan because neither Pakistan nor International analysts could sift facts from fiction. Major share of this responsibly lies on us for which we all remained oblivious. Scarce efforts undertaken in this regard were too lukewarm to unveil the truth. The absence of journalistic and literary efforts on the subject has given a free hand to anti-Pakistani elements to fabricate false stories of atrocities implicating Pakistan and the Armed Forces of then United Pakistan. Since fall of Dacca, media of Bangladesh, West and India have been continuously behind the guns targeting Pakistan. The toxic propaganda campaigns of these media have totally eradicated the facts as well as the quest for searching the facts resulting in ever widening trust deficit between Pakistan and Bangladesh. The strong unfounded allegations against Pakistan by Sheikh Mujeeb and his successors have been a perpetual source of sowing seeds of hatred between the two countries. India, the actual perpetrator of the debacle, always remained on the forefront to add fuel to the simmering fire of acrimony to further worsen the situation and accrue her vested interests. Today, reenactment of false stories of genocide and rape by Pakistani Army has become an important part of Bangladeshi culture and national heritage.
Not Bangladesh but Awami League, lead by Haseena Wajid, daughter of Sheikh Mujeeb, allege Pakistan Army of committing genocide of the tune of 3 million and rape of 200,000 women. This rhetoric customarily becomes stronger close to 16 December each year. The incorrect and wickedly adopted figure of three million deaths and 200,000 rapes in 1971 has been given so much of stress and true perception by Bangladeshi authorities and anti-Pakistani politicians that this lie has become part of historical facts. How these figures came into existence is the question which has been agonizing historians. Nonetheless, facts cannot be distorted for long and truth always surfaces out. History will remain indebted to all those writers, authors and the journalists who endeavored to dig out facts without caring for the consequences. Dhaka Based British journalist David Bergman in his article titled, ‘Sayedee Indictment-1971 Deaths’ dated 11 November 2011 highlights the origin of inaccurately cited Genocide figure of 3 million in 1971 war. According to him, Daily Newspaper, Perbudesh published an editorial stating that enemy occupation has resulted into deaths of 3 million innocent people. Subsequently, the Soviet Newspaper, Pravda adopted this figure in its news report while quoting aforementioned editorial. Later, the entire Bangladeshi media started proliferating the wrong genocide figures. It is how these wrong and false death/rape statistics became part of history.
The figures became more public after return of Sheikh Mujeeb on 10 January, 1972 from Pakistan, when he stated, “Three million people have been killed. I believe there is no parallel in the history of the World of such colossal loss of life for the struggle of freedom” His oratory and earned public sympathies were sufficient to add credibility to inaccurate historical data of immense importance. Normally, erroneous historical perspectives are very difficult to change, especially, when the history writers have themselves concocted the facts.
The First Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh Syed A. Karim himself raised doubts on credibility of the cited death figures. According to him, the number of 3 million Bangladeshis killed in the course of liberation war mentioned by Mujib to a foreign journalist David Frost in 1972 was a gross overstatement. David Bergman hints at another story that Sheikh Mujib uttered words of 3 million whereas he meant 3 Lacs. In January 1972, as per then media reports, the Bangladeshi Government appointed a Committee under the chairmanship of Deputy Inspector General of Police to probe into the number of war deaths. The report was never published purposefully as the committee did not find death figures anywhere near the figure of 3 million.
The writer further quotes another book titled, ‘War and Secession: Pakistan India and creation of Bangladesh’ by Sisson and Rose, “It is still impossible to get anything like reliable estimates as to how many of these were Bihari Muslims and supporters of Pakistan killed by Bengali Muslims, and how many were killed by Pakistani, Indian or Mukti Bahini fire and bombing during the hostilities. One thing is clear- the atrocities did not just go one way”.
A Norway based Peace Research Institute in collaboration with Uppsala University of Sweden have collected information on number of deaths of each war since 1900. Their estimates as per the eye witnesses, media reports and other data estimated that about 58, 000 people died in 1971 in Bangladesh. This figure is not even 2 percent of alleged death figures. Another research conducted by Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, the University of Washington in Seattle, published in 2008 in British Medical journal, suggests that the number of dead in 1971 was closer to 269,000.
David Bergman quotes excerpts from Sarmila Bose who further quotes Sisson and Rose. It states, “India set the number of victims of Pakistani atrocities at three million and this is still the figure usually cited. Two Indian officials were interviewed who held responsible positions on 1971 issue. When questioned about the actual number of deaths in Bangladesh in 1971 attributable to the civil war, one replied, ‘about 300,000’. When he received a disapproving glance from his colleague, he changed this to 500,000.” The facts verified from first hand sources can not be far from reality.
David Bergman questioned the accuracy of erroneous figure of 3 million in another article titled, ‘Trials in Bangladesh and 1971 Victims’ published in Indian newspaper ‘The Hindu’ on 24 April, 2014. He writes:- “Is the Bangladesh Government’s official figure of 3 million a fair estimate of the number of people killed by the Pakistani military and its collaborating forces in the country’s 1971 independence war? Though over 40 years have passed since the end of the conflict, in Bangladesh, this question continues to be sensitive one. In part the sensitivity is because Bangladeshis have grown up with this number, it is taught in schools and has become embedded in country’s poetry and culture. So, for many people, even questioning the accuracy of the number seems to cut across deeply held beliefs. The three million figure also forms a part of the orthodox nationalistic discourse about 1971 War which continues to be crucial to the political positioning of the Awami League government vis-à-vis the Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Even raising uncertainties about the three million figure is considered by many Awami Leaguers as reflecting an “anti-liberation” war and “oppositional” mindset. Therefore, those in Bangladesh who might seek to question the accuracy of three million dead tend to keep their heads down, fearing political backlash and personal attacks”.
To be Continued…