At midnight on 25 March 1971, the Army turned its firepower on the headquarters of the police and East Pakistan Rifles (EPR), ensuring that it brought the peace of the grave to Dhaka.
The total number of armed personnel in East Pakistan before 25 March 1971 was about 70,000, composed of approximately 6,000 regulars in the six battalions of East Bengal Regiment (EBR) located in the eastern wing, about 12-15,000 members of the EPR and about 45-50,000 homeguard officers such as the Ansars. In addition to these military and para-military forces, there were about 45,000 police in the country.
The EPR was essentially a border patrol force similar to forces maintained in West Pakistan - the well-known Frontier Scouts on the Afghan border, the Rangers on the Indian border. Their task was to guard the border between India and East Pakistan in times of peace, ensuring its integrity, and to keep a check on the movement of civilians across it.
The East Pakistan Rifles were made up of about 16 wings (of paramilitary force) and on 25 March 1971 consisted of 13,454 men of both West Pakistani and Bengali origin. Both the EPR and the East Bengal Regiment were manned by locals (i.e. Bengalis) and commanded mainly by outsiders (i.e. West Pakistani officers). In Dhaka, the EPR personnel were housed in the President's House, Governor's House and in Mirpur area (north-west of Dhaka).
By early March 1971, before the start of Operation Searchlight, the EPR garrison was reinforced by rapid and secret induction of two divisions from the western wing - though not with its full artillery compliment.
Since 1 March 1971, there was not a single Pakistani army official who could be seen roaming the streets of Dhaka. They 'slipped into the background' and were confined to the cantonment where they sought protection from the growing public anger. In particular, they avoided the Rajarbagh police area fearing retribution from loyal Bengali police officers.
Though not all armed, their [i.e. East Pakistan's police force] great strength lay in the fact that as in the rest of the country their political motivation had, unlike in the armed forces, been built up during the crises of February and March - and they rose in revolt when the Pakistani killings started. It was the police who suffered most in the initial extermination drive which started on 25 March 1971. In Dhaka and certain other urban centres, the Pakistanis, who had gauged the high degree of nationalistic feeling in the police force during the heady days following Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's election success, attacked many police posts and murdered their occupants en masse.
Now, suddenly at midnight of 25 March 1971, the Pakistan Army of 22 Baluch Regiment moved to Pilkhana and, without any warning, attacked the personnel of East Pakistan Rifles numbering about 5,000 jawans. This came as a big shock for the jawans who up until then remained neutral on the political upheaval that was engulfing the eastern wing.
Though Sheikh Mujibur Rahman commanded great respect and affection among the Bengali officers, however, as disciplined soldiers, they did not get directly involved in the freedom struggle up to this point.
The fact remains that Bangladeshis were hardly prepared to face the military onslaught on night 25th March 1971. It was a handful of Bengali members of the Armed Forces, EPR (East Pakistan Rifles) and Police who took up arms to initiate the war of liberation and provide space for politicians to render political support. Major General KM Shafiullah substantiated the fact when he spoke at the TV talk show. Major General KM Shafiullah, categorically stated that they remained loyal to Pakistan Army till the army he was part of launched murderous attacks on unarmed Bengalis. It was sheer patriotism of Bengalis that motivated them, not necessarily under any particular ideology.
It was a people's struggle. And struggle continues to achieve excellence as a forward-looking nation in the world community.
Now, hugely outnumbered and poorly equipped compared to their attackers, the Bengali officers were forced to put up a resistance. Fierce fighting took place for couple of hours between the jawans and the heavily armed Pakistani soldiers. Elsewhere, Bengali policemen fought their best with their outdated 303 rifles and lathis (batons or sticks) against the superior mortars, tanks and automatic weapons of their attackers. Minutes earlier, having obtained warning of impending Pakistani attacks, scores of policemen - some in T-shirt, some in khakis, some in lungi and half shirts - were on the street urging everyone to seek shelter and return to safety. They were desperate to send people home, reminding them of the high risk of getting killed.
We assure you that until the last bullet is exhausted, we are going to fight back.
Pakistani tracer bullets lit up the sky from west side of the Rajarbagh Police Station, and firing of mortar shell silenced momentarily the bing bing of the Bengali bullets. Another Pakistani army column attacked from Shantinagar, on the other side.
Around 2.30 am the Rajarbagh went up in flames. Except for the main building office, the police barrack had bamboo woven walls, tin roof and pucca floors. As such, within minutes the fire was burning fast and the heat became unbearable. The fire lasted for couple of hours by which time the police barracks were in ashes. Pilkhana too was tainted with blood. Not many are believed to have escaped. Police stations throughout the city were also targets for attacks. Hundreds of police and police recruits were killed.
Mission accomplished, the Pakistanis were no longer firing from their big guns, nor were there any more shelling from canons or tanks.
At dawn, announcement in Urdu could be heard from city streets, asking everyone to stay at home as curfew was imposed. Shoot at sight was read out.
The gallant effort of the Bengali officers was eventually crumpled. About 800 officers of EPR at Pilkhana, the Rajarbagh Police Line and Ansar Headquarters at Khilgaon were detained. Many of them were brutally killed.
In simultaneous moves, troops also entered Pilkhana, the Moghul stables for elephants, where the mainly Bengali-manned East Pakistan Rifles (EPR) paramilitary force was headquartered. According to foreign observers, among the riflemen present at the time '700 were killed, 200 overpowered, and 100 escaped'. Pakistani troops also attacked the police headquarters and lines at Rajarbagh, and Reserve (armed) Police barracks in central Dhaka. An estimated 1,800 policemen were killed. Pakistani army units mounted similar assaults on EPR and police barracks elsewhere across the province. Attacks on Bengali soldiers of the army's East Bengal Regiment (EBR), six of whose battalions were stationed in penny-packets across the country, followed.
A police inspector was reported as saying on the morning of 27 March, 'I am looking for my constables. I have 240 in my district and so far I have only found 30 of them, all dead'. Even the guard at the President's House, who until then had apparently been thought sufficiently loyal to protect President Yahya Khan, were wiped out to a man.
Those few hundred who were lucky enough to escape the Pakistani onslaught retreated to local residential homes. People such as Professor Rafiqul Islam and student Aly Zaker of Dhaka University provided shelter to those helpless men, whilst others such as cultural activist and Amar-Bhai'er-Ekushey-February singer Altaf Mahmood provided officers with old clothes so they could flee in disguise. Altaf Mahmood was later killed in September 1971 as continuation of the systematic "elitocide" that the Pakistani Army and its collaborators started with the massacre of Dhaka University's professors on 25 March 1971.
At about 3.30 am, there was another knock on the door. Chill went down their spine. It must be Pakistani army, they thought. Onus was on two younger guys. They came down the stairs.
"Apnara ke?" (who is there?) they asked, trembling.
"Amra police, bhai" (we are the police, brother) was the answer.
Opening the door, they saw two men in the half darkness, both wearing lungi and a rifle in hand.
"We ran out of bullets. Many of our comrades died. If we continue to stay there, we will die too". Their voice was thick with sadness.
They came with request to hide the rifles somewhere as they could not move with those. Someday they would come back, collect the rifles and liberate the country.
"If you can, spread it around that the police have not let you (countrymen) down." And they left.
The surprising nature and scale of Pakistani massacres on men until recently seen as loyal members of the state's armed bureaucracies ensured the 'mutiny' of the East Bengal Regiment (EBR) under Major Ziaur Rahman. However, the initial Bengali resistance was patchy and imbalanced with the few survivors fleeing to disappear among an angry but fearful populace. Most of them joined the nucleus of the national resistance which were forged by the remnants of the EBR's 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 8th and 10th (National Service) battalions. The escaped and defecting officers of the East Bengal Regiment and East Pakistan Rifles formed a force called the Mukti Fauj (Freedom Army) which later evolved to the Mukti Bahini. The movement for an independent Bangladesh engulfed the entire territory of East Pakistan after the army crackdown, kick-starting the Bangladesh Liberation War on 26 March 1971.
Following the rebellion of the Bengali officers, the Government of Pakistan had totally dismantled the Ansar organization, and renamed the East Pakistan Rifles as 'East Pakistan Civil Armed Force'. Thereafter the build-up continued until in October 1971 four infantry divisions (totalling some 42 battalions) in Bangladesh as well as 20,000 or more West Punjab Rangers, had been inducted to replace the EPR.
After the independence of Bangladesh, on 3 March 1972 'East Pakistan Rifles' was renamed as 'Bangladesh Rifles' (BDR). Eight years later, on 3 March 1980, the Government granted 'National Flag' for the force in recognition of its activities. In 2008, the force was awarded the prestigious Swadhinata Purushkar (Independence Day Award) for its outstanding contribution to the Bangladesh Liberation War. It was the same year that Professor Govinda Chandra Dev who was killed during Operation Searchlight was also awarded the Swadhinata Purushkar.
On 23 January 2010, Bangladesh Rifles was renamed to 'Border Guard Bangladesh' (BGB) with its base still in Pilkhana, Dhaka.
Apart from faculty members and students the Pakistani army's victim included caretakers, gardeners, security guards, sweepers, canteen owners and even peons. Their killing spree also extended to unarmed and marginalised people. On the streets, the soldiers shot anyone in their sights - pedestrians, sleeping rickshaw pullers and others were killed without mercy.
Towards the morning of 26 March 1971 some of the army men broke into the employees' lodgings within the dormitory compound, where about 50 Hindu families lived, all of whom were third or fourth class officials of the university. But only 5 or 6 of them were taken away. Monbhoran Roy, who was then an employee of the National Institute of Public Administration at Dhaka University, was one of them who were asked to dig a big grave in one corner of the field. First they were told that they would be released after the works were done. But as the graves were dug and all the corpses were thrown in, they were also aligned with the remaining students and brushfired them all. Such is the apathy towards these poor people, that even though it has been established that Monbhoran Roy was one of the martyred officials of this dorm, his name was not even inscribed in the list of the monument built in their memories.
Another victim of this abandonment is Madhusudan Dey, owner of the famous Madhu's canteen which even today is regarded as the political hub of progressive students. Madhusudan lived in the DU staff quarters, which was close to the teachers' quarter. On the morning of 26 March, around 7 am, Madhusudan had a shower and was offering worship to a Hindu goddess when some army men entered his flat and took him out while some others began to vandalise things, especially the Hindu religious materials. Then they shot his newly-wed brother Ranjit Kumar Dey, followed quickly by his sister-in-law Rina Rani Dey who was in the kitchen with Madhusudan's wife Jogmaya Dey, who was also killed. The army sprayed the victim's bodies with so many bullets that chunks of flesh were sagging out from their bodies. The dead bodies were dragged to the graves and buried with others.
Some of them took my father out, and others broke into the rooms to vandalise things, especially the Hindu religious materials, and photos of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Seeing them shatter everything, my sister-in-law screamed in fear. When they began to accost her, my brother came to her rescue, and he was shot dead right there. Then they shot my sister-in-law. Now came my father's turn. When they were poised to shoot, my mother appeared there abruptly and covered him. But nothing could deter them from shooting. As a result, they sprayed my mother's body with so many bullets that flesh from many parts of her body was sagging out. One or two bullets crossed my mother's body into my father's. Although bullet-hit, he was still alive. Then they dragged my father out in the corner of the Jagannath Hall field where the corpses were piled up.
Once the dead bodies were disposed of, they moved towards the old Dhaka which in those days was a lot different than today's Muslim-dominated locality. All the Hindu-dominated neighbourhoods were assaulted with as much ferocity and hundreds of them were murdered.
Mr Akbar Ali, who is currently a teacher, was an 11-year-old living at Eskaton Gardens on 25th March 1971. They lived on the ground floor, and as soon as they heard firing at around 11.30 towards what is today the ETV building, he remembers his family hiding under the beds. The firings continued all night until five in the morning. Though he was young, he will never forget the trauma caused by the massacre. The days that followed were confusing, and they fled to Puran Dhaka later but the morbid sight of the corpses he saw on the road are still etched in his mind.
The deadly crackdown was later extended even to the remotest village. General Tikka Khan went around massacring Bengalis, all in the smug belief that state-induced terror would be a sure-fire way of convincing the people of East Bengal that they could not rebel and expect to succeed. What eventually happened was that General Tikka's presence only heightened the degree of Bengali rebellion. The Bengali soldiers serving in the then Pakistan Armed Forces and para militia forces declared instantly their solidarity with the people's liberation war.
There are some psychological aspects of persecutors. They decided to kill unarmed people because it is the unarmed people who usually take part in a movement. So these unarmed people should be killed in such a way that Bengalis would never dream of struggle again and never even try that. Their aim was to terrorise the masses.
In addition to the seven prime targets, during the first eight hours of 26 March 1971, the Pakistan soldiers also attacked industrial areas, railway stations, ferry terminals, roadside slums, and main food bazaars. Sleeping butchers, wrapped in their blankets and lying in the bazaar stalls, were riddled without warning as they slept.
Many families were roasted alive.
The Hindu concentrated areas of Puran (Old) Dhaka were particularly targeted. Convinced that the 'kafirs deserved to die', the Pakistani army started killing the people, burnt their houses, looted their valuables and raped their women.
Pakistan Army launched a genocide campaign on the inhabitants of old Dhaka particularly in Shankhari Bazar, Tanti Bazar, Luxmi (also spelt Lakshmi) Bazar, Narinda, and Moishandi - all Hindu dominated area. These places were home to traders for several hundred years - 'Tanti', for example, means weaver and 'Shakhari' means craftsmen - and contain rich heritage in terms of craft, architecture and ambience. Even now, age-old traditions and a sense of community among the residents of Puran Dhaka have remained particularly strong as the rest of the city continues to modernise.
From midday to midnight, the old city section of Dhaka felt the fury and the flame of the Pakistan army. The leading contingents of soldiers poured machine gun fire into the houses; the second contingents doused the houses with gasoline and ignited them. From noon until 2:00pm, 700 men, women, and children bled or burned to death in Old Dhaka. The carnage continued in section after section of the old city until midnight.
When the army reached the Hindu area of the old town, the merciless massacre increased in intensity. Then, with glee, the soldiers attacked the offices of the pro-Mujib daily newspaper Ittefaq. Four tanks poured their fire into the building, producing a raging inferno which not only destroyed the building, but also the 400 people who had taken shelter inside it. While the people of Dhaka absorbed these horrors, throughout the province units of Pakistani soldiers machine gunned in their barracks sleeping Bengali soldiers of the East Bengal Regiment. The massacre included Bengali officers, their wives and children.
Historically, it was a few market centres like Luxmi Bazar, Shankhari Bazar, Tanti Bazar, and a few localities of other craftsmen and businessmen, like Patuatuli and Kumartuli, Bania Nagar and Go-al Nagar which formed Dhaka.
During the Pakistani attack, countless number of Hindus were killed in these places and in clusters of residential houses built around the Ramna Kali Mandir and Ma Anandmoyee Ashram standing in a corner of the sprawling Race Course ground (now called Suhrawardy Uddyan).
Missionaries who asked why Hindus were being killed were repeatedly told by way of justification 'Hindus are enemies of the state'. Many witnesses testify that the army seemed obsessed with the idea that the movement for autonomy in East Pakistan was inspired by the Hindus, who represented less than 20% of the population. Victims of West Pakistani propaganda, they were erroneously but firmly convinced that the Bengali people in general and the Awami League in particular were dominated by this Hindu element and that they in turn were the agents of India, bent on destroying the Islamic State of Pakistan. It is likely that most Hindus voted for the Awami League in the 1970 elections, but the belief that the Awami League was inspired and run by Hindus was quite false. Its leaders and inspirers were all Muslim, and very few Hindu names appeared among their membership.
Shankhari Bazar is one of the oldest mohallas (a traditional neighbourhood) in Puran Dhaka, dating back more than 400 years. Located near the intersection of Islampur Road and Nawabpur Road the two main arteries of the old city and only a block away from the Buriganga River, Shankhari Bazar stretches along a narrow lane (Shankharipara), lined with thin slices of richly decorated brick buildings, built during the late Mughal or Colonial period.
As many as 20 temples dot this narrow street. Over the ages Shankhari Bazar has been elevated to the level of the most popular centre for religious festivities. As one of the most densely populated areas in the world Shankhari Bazar also has the largest concentration of the Hindus in Dhaka. At present there are about 10,000 people living in Shankhari Bazar and that within an area of 4.6 acres of land makes it one of the highest density areas of the world. Along with adjacent mohallas of Tanti Bazaar, Go-al Nagar, Jhulan Bari, Pannitola, it's also like a sanctuary to the Hindu community.
It is traditionally home to the Hindu 'shankha' (conchshell) business. The shop-fronts face the land and the residents live in the compact, terraced housing on both sides of the road. Images of Hindu gods hang high on the walls of many shopowners and almost life-sized clay image of the gods are visible in little room at the back. Surrounding the photos are the 'shankha' bangles (or bracelets) with magnificent carvings worn traditionally by married Bengali Hindu women. They believe that the shankhas keep their mind and body cool, protect them from diseases, and act as a symbol of her purity. Shankha is also an expression of love and devotion to her husband as by wearing it the woman seeks wellbeing of her husband and protection from bad omen. Use of broken shankha is considered ominous. Hindu married women also apply the 'Sindur' (vermilon) on their forehead.
It has been stereotyped as the ultimate example of congestion, blight, and dilapidated buildings. What has essentially been missed is the unique and exotic cultural heritage, which Shakhari Bazar as a custodian has nurtured and nourished for centuries.
Shakhari Bazar, with its unique urban fabric, intricate artistry and craftsmanship, the ambience of a vibrant culture and traditions has an awe inspiring presence.
During those dark days of 25 - 27 March 1971, the residents of Shankharipara were ordered to leave their houses. Hindus were separated from Muslims, and the Muslims were ordered to return to their houses. The Hindus were then machine gunned to death. Every family had lost at least one member. Their houses were vandalised and many of them were set on fire. The devastation caused to the community and to its rich heritage were irreplaceable and the Shankharis, like the rest of Bangladesh, had to start the struggle of life afresh.
Chandhan Sur and his infant son, Buddhadev Sur, were killed on 26 March along with a dozen other men in Shankharipara... There was no question of a funeral. Everyone ran away. Amar Sur [the elder son of Chandhan] and his family took shelter in a place a short distance away across the river. But some time later, the army arrived there as well. Again people ran for their lives. Amar carried the same sister, who could not walk. His mother carried the second youngest brother. They got separated in the chaos. One sister was shot and fell down. They all kept running, leaving anyone who was hit. A bullet hit on the head the sister he was carrying. She died. He met his mother after many days and told her his sister had been shot dead. His mother told him she had given his brother to an unknown person while fleeing, and lost him.
His mother kept saying that his sister who had been shot and fallen down must be alive, so Amar went back in search of her. He found that someone had taken her to a hospital. The bullet was still lodged inside her, the doctor wanted money to perform the operation. He went with the doctor to his bank, took out the money, paid the doctor, and went back to the rest of the family. A Muslim acquaintance advised him to change the first letter of his name from A to U - 'Umar', a Muslim name.
The family then attempted escape to India by boat. The 'dalal' (broker) wanted Rs. 100 per head. They paid, and went on the boad. But after a while the military came along the river in gunboats and everyone fled again. Amad did make it to India eventually. Barrackpore and Bowbazar in Calcutta [now Kolkata] have a large 'shankhan' community. Amar sold ribbons as a hawker on the streets of Calcutta; he found it demeaning.
After Bangladesh's independence they found that the injured sister had been operated on and the doctor had taken her to a relative's place. The story of the missing brother came out in the papers. A Muslim gentleman contacted them and asked them come and see if the child he had been given during the war was his brother. He was. It turned out that the person in whose arms his mother had thrust the baby while running was a poor man with many children. He had given the child to a richer person who was childless. This gentleman had been raising the child as his own. He now gave the child back to his real family, but asked to still raise him. They made an arrangement by which the child divided his time between the two families. This brother later went to India. According to Amar, he said he could not bear to stay in Bangladesh any more.
Amar Sur is ver bitter. He says independent Bangladesh did not help them even though they are 'shahider santan' (children of a martyr).
After the deadly attack, Shankharibazar became a deserted locality. Many people, including artisans, migrated to India and continued to migrate even after Bangladesh gained independence. Shankharibazar Road was renamed to 'Tikka Khan Road' - after General Tikka Khan, the man behind Operation Searchlight - and Bihari Muslims moved into the area.
Following the Indo-Pak War of 1965, the government of Pakistan promulgated the infamous 'Enemy Property Act'. This essentially meant the confiscation of the Hindu properties by the government on the pretext of the unavailability of the real landowners of those properties. In many cases sons were denied the ownership of properties because the father had migrated and had died in India or chose not to come back at all. This Act practically ignores the Hindu Inheritance Law. Hindu law actually allows inheritance right to second-string relatives.
Unfortunately with the end of the independence war the much sought for revoking of the Act never came. The Enemy Property Act was simply given a new naming "the vested property act" retaining all its previous legal attributes and implications. Within three months after independence a new list of properties were produced. New names were added to the erstwhile Enemy Property list. We have once again shown the might of the majority. Over the last 35 years many more ordinances and acts have resulted in a total appropriation of the ownership of these properties.
During the same period the situation had only worsened for the Shakharees of Shakhari Bazar. Today 80-90% houses in Shakhari Bazar are listed as vested property. Living in the same houses, which were built by their forefathers the Shakharees continue to live a life in a state of perennial dislocation. They don't have the legal rights to their parental homes any more. We have constitutionally barred them from enjoying those basic rights.
The Hindu community of Bangladesh accounted for an astronomically disproportionate share of the dead and paid a huge price for Swadhinata (Independence).
In addition to the Shankharipara massacre, other documented incidents in which Hindus were massacred in large numbers include the Jathibhanga massacre (on 23 April 1971 in Dinajpur District) and the Chuknagar massacre (on 20 May 1971 in Khulna District). Thus, side by side with genocide, ethnic cleansing also formed an integral part of the mass killing project that the Pakistan army launched during 1971. This was true not only of Dhaka but also extended to every district and perhaps every village of Bangladesh. As terrified Bengalis fled to the countryside, the Pakistani army followed. Pakistan began to fly in additional troops into Bangladesh to continue the genocidal campaign. Though Hindus were the main target for extermination, Bengali Muslims did not escape Pakistani killing machine as they were considered 'tainted' by their Bengali/Hindu culture. Muslim intellectuals were also killed in large numbers and Bangladeshis as a whole would suffer immensely day after day, month after month.
The genocide that was perpetrated on the unarmed people was flashed in the world press.
Although that was the end of Operation Searchlight, that was also the beginning of a new phase of communal violence. Soon the Bangali collaborators took over and continued to threaten, torture, oust and kill the Hindu minorities with the sole purpose of occupying their land properties.
Field reports to the US government, countless eye-witness journalistic accounts, reports of international agencies such as World Bank and additional information available to the subcommittee document the reign of terror which grips East Bengal (East Pakistan). 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.
On 26 March 1971, around 5 am, the Pakistani Army blew up the Shaheed Minar as part of their Operation Searchlight mission. They placed over the rubble of the Shaheed Minar a signboard with the word 'Mosque' written on it. The powerful monument symbolised the eastern province's struggle to establish Bangla as a state language when, once again, west Pakistani elite took to violence to crush the movement. This was the second version of the Shaheed Minar and was officially inaugurated on 21 February 1963 on the eleventh anniversary of Ekushey February. Now, the Pakistani soldiers rushed to the monument and blew it up in minutes.
However, in 1972, after Bangladesh had attained its independence, new initiatives were taken to construct the Shaheed Minar once again.
One will also recall the sheer speed, powered by patriotism, with which the people of Bangladesh rebuilt the Shaheed Minar immediately after Bangladesh stood liberated in December 1971. It is in such sublimity that we have consistently held the Shaheed Minar.
The Ramna Kali Mandir suffered a similar fate to the Shaheed Minar.
The Mandir, also known as Ramna Kalibari (House of the Hindu Goddess Kali), was one of the most famous Hindu temples of the Indian subcontinent. It was situated on the south side of the Ramna Park (now Suhrawardy Uddyan), opposite the Bangla Academy. The ancient temple (believed to be over a thousand years old) was a symbol of Hinduism in Bangladesh. It was one of Dhaka city's most prominent landmarks. The Mandir's 120-feet high tower (called "shikhar", and not to be confused with minaret of a masjid) extended over the second floor of the main Temple and was visible for miles around at a time when Dhaka had yet to embrace the high-rise culture. The tower can be clearly seen in the picture of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's famous 'Ebarer Shongram' address of 7 March 1971, at the centre of the trees in the distant foreground facing Sheikh Mujib. This was probably the last time it was photographed by mass media.
Next to the temple, on the northern side, was the Ma Anandamoyee Ashram (meaning "Joy Permeated Mother's hermitage"), another place of worship with a residential complex and sanitation facility. The Ashram was relatively new - built in 1929 - and along with the Ramna Kali Mandir was two of the holy places for Hindus in Bangladesh. The entire temple-ashram complex spanned almost 2.25 acres (9,100m sq). Even during the most violent Hindu-Muslim riots of partition, the settlement around the complex was able to avoid participation in communal strife.
However, on 27 March 1971, the Pakistani army machine-gunned and burnt the complex and bulldozed it. The attack began just after midnight, at 2 am and lasted couple of hours. Over 100 people, including the Swamijis, worshipers, devotees, and the common people living in that area, were 'cremated' instantly.
The whole Ramna area was well lit by the searchlights of Pakistani forces. Firing of the cannons started in the mean time. Upon entering the Ramna Kali Temple, the Pakistani forces started throwing some kind of explosives. However, some people said that they were firing cannons. As a result, the deity and the back portion of the Temple wall were completely blown away. Subsequently, the Temple and the Ashram were destroyed. Many people were sleeping and some were awake with anxiety when the executioners of Pakistani invading forces entered into the Temple and the Ashram. Members of some of the families were still taking dinner. They started running around in fear for their lives when the Pakistani army attacked. Every body started shouting the slogan "Pakistan Jindabad" in panic, the women broke the bangles made of conch shell and worn on forearms, and wiped out the vermilion dot. Some went into hiding at different corners of the Temple and the Ashram. Pakistani soldiers searched them out at the point of bayonet and made them to stand in line in front of the Temple. Men were made to stand in one line and the women with children stood in another line.
In front of all the people, the Pakistani soldiers forced Paramananda Giri, the temple priest, to recite 'Kalema' and immediately afterwards killed him by piercing the bayonet into his stomach and shooting. Subsequently, many people were forced to recite 'Kalema' and then killed in the same way. Pakistani soldiers would explode in devilish laughter and say that this was the consequence for voting on 'boat' marked ballot. The remaining men folks were gunned down in hail of bullets. It is learned from the testimonies of the witnesses that 80-100 people were killed at this time. The women were beaten by guns when they started screaming after seeing this horrible carnage. Many of them turned senseless. Pakistanis heaped the dead bodies together and set them on fire with gasoline. Those who were wounded also perished in the fire. Witnesses mentioned that some women and children were burned to death in the fire. Pakistani soldiers forced them to shout "Jai Bangla" when they were shot in the mouth and killed.
When such murders and rampages were going on, the Ramna Kali temple and Ma Anandamoyee Ashram were burning profusely.
There were about 50 cows in the cowshed of the Temple and the Ashram. They were burned to death. The Ramna area was turned into hell by the raging fire, firing of the guns, smell of the burning flesh, and screaming for life.
Three days later, a heap of bodies 3 ft high, remained where they fell when they were machine-gunned. David Gordon, then the head of the World Bank in Pakistan, was one of the foreigners who had viewed this ghastly sight on 29 March 1971 after the Pakistani army had left it on display.
There was something of a joker in Yahya Khan. Perhaps because of the World Bank officials’ disapproval of the destruction of the Ramna Kali Temple, the military President of Pakistan or his trusted Governor, General Tikka Khan, sanctioned Rs.20,000 for rebuilding, the temple which had been not only razed to the ground but after the rolling of bulldozers over it not a single brick remained there.
The exact figure for the number of Bengalis killed during Operation Searchlight is not known.
Some report that 7,000 were killed in Dhaka within a single night. British journalist Simon Dring and French photojournalist Michel Laurent who were present in Dhaka during those fateful days also estimated that Pakistan Army killed 7,000 in Dhaka and 15,000 more in other areas such as Comilla, Jessore, Chittagong, etc.
Other estimate include 10,000, 30,000 or even more than 50,000 men, women and children were killed in Dhaka, Chittagong, Jessore, Mymensingh, Kushtia and other cities within the first three days of the genocide beginning from 25 March 1971. The eventual civilian death toll of the war might have been as high as 3 million.
Regarding the Dhaka University massacre, the Bengalis estimate that more than 100 students were slaughtered in Iqball Hall and 150 students and teachers were killed in Jagannath Hall - these include 9 professors. In addition, 26 other employees were killed. Many of these dead bodies were removed by the soldiers. However, two days after the massacre 30 bodies were still found lying in the university. The secret videotape filmed by Prof. Nurul Ullah, whose residence was directly opposite the student dormitories, is widely used to corroborate the brutality of the Pakistani massacre.
I don't have the words to express the bestiality and barbarity that was perpetrated on the Dhaka University area, especially Iqbal Hall, Jagannath Hall, and adjoining residential areas, for a period of 36 hours from the night of the 25th till the 26th night. What transpired around Iqbal Hall, I saw with my own eyes. Raging infernos everywhere; the slum was burning, the cars parked around the residences were burning. The heaped bodies of the dead from the slum were also set on fire near the Nilkhet rail gate petrol pump. The sound of shells bursting and guns firing, the smoke and fire, the smell of gun-powder and the stench of the burning corpses all transformed the area into a fiery hell. Every so often our building was being peppered with bullets. In the midst of this, we, our families, the students and bearers from the Halls, the slum-dwellers, had given up all hope for life, and were waiting for the hour of death.
At Rokeya Hall, between 45-50 people were killed. The Provost of Rokeya Hall, Akhtar Imam, named 7 staff members of the hall (gatemen, bearers, gardeners, and a liftman) as having been killed along with wives, children, friends and relatives of such staff were killed in their quarters.
One rape is one too many. One child killed, one starving refugee is one too many. One is where our awareness starts. And when we let one become a callous, uncounted death, we create an atmosphere where Genocide can explode and obliterate a people. And in these festering atmospheres, ethnic cleansing, targeted mass killings thrive.
Susan Brownmiller, author of "Against Our Will, Men, Women and Rape" (1975), who was in Bangladesh in 1972
There are huge anomalies between the Pakistani estimates. According to Brigadier (Lt. Col.) Taj who commanded the 32 Punjab regiment and was by his own description in overall charge of the units in operation on Dhaka on the 25 March night, only 12 people were killed at Iqbal Hall, including two ladies of 'dubious purpose', and 32 at Jagannath Hall - making a total figure of 44 dead from the two main halls. However, Brigadier Basharat who commanded 18 Punjab and was tasked with securing Dhaka University declared 300 were killed. Perhaps this latter value (of 300) accounts for the 'outsiders' who had come to the university to take military training, or was merely a 'bloated' figure of their 'accomplishment'. Such tactic of exaggerating or altering a death toll is common practise amongst both attackers and victims alike in order to build world sympathy.
The Muktijuddho Jadughar (Liberation War Museum), Dhaka has a tape recording of some of the radio communications among Pakistani officers during the military action in Dhaka on the night of 25-26 March 1971. The tape recording is credited to M. M. Hussain of the Atomic Energy Centre, Dhaka, who is said to have made the recording at B-174 Khilgaon Chowdhury Para, Dhaka, from around 1.30 am to 9 am on 26 March 1971. A Pakistani commanding officer is heard telling his Brigade Commander in the control room that 300 people were killed in the university.
Brigade Commander at Control: '...What do you think would be the approximate number of casualties of the University? Just give me an approximate number, in your view. What will be the number killed, or wounded, or captured? Just give me a rough figure. Over.'
Commanding Officer from 88 unit: '...approximately 300. Over.'
Control: 'Well done. 300 killed? Anybody wounded, captured? Over.'
Officer: 'I believe only in one thing: it's 300 killed. Over.'
Control: '88, yes, I agree with you, that's much easier, you know, nothing asked, nothing done, you don't have to explain anything. Well, once again, well done...'
However, there's a memorial at Dhaka University which list the number of people killed as half that amount. At 'Shirishtola' in Dhaka University there is a memorial to all those belonging to the university who lost their lives during 1971. The total, including all faculty, students and staff killed during the whole year is 149. Some of the faculty and students named were killed at other times in other places, so the number of those who were killed during Operation Searchlight would be lower than 149.
The failure to carry out a scientific exhumation at such a specific site, in the capital city, of such a well-publicized incident has damaged Bangladesh's claims of massacre and mass burials at the University. It is possible that a dig would reveal fewer bodies than the numbers claimed by the Bangladeshis. It is also possible that the identification might reveal that some of the dead were not students of the university. That would dent parts of the nationalist mythology, but be truer to history.
Bose , questions why mass grave outside Jagganath Hall has never been exhumed
Foreign observers, such as British journalist Simon Dring and American Counsel General Archer Blood who were present in Dhaka during the massacre, and legendary American spymaster David Henry Blee, who was in charge of CIA's Soviet Division in 1971, have confirmed that a 'large number' of people were massacred during those two days. This add weight to the argument that the death toll was much higher than estimated.
In the Senior Review Group meeting at the Western White House in San Clemente, California, on 31 March 1971, Henry Kissinger enquires, "Did they kill Professor Razak? He was one of my students". David Blee of the CIA replies, "I think so. They killed a lot of people at the university". Henry Kissinger then remarks "They [presumably Muslim rulers of India] didn't dominate 400 million Indians all those years by being gentle".
After the war, the Pakistani army denied any cold blooded killings at the university, however, the Hamood-ur-Rehman Commission, which was set up by the Pakistani government themselves to investigate the war findings, concluded that overwhelming force was used at the university.
Top Pakistani military officials also expressed shock at the brutality of the Bengali killings led by General Tikka.
General Niazi, who became the head of Pakistan's Eastern Commant, compared the action taken in Dhaka on 25-26 March 1971 to the Jallianwalabagh massacre of civilians by the British at Amritsar in the Punjab in 1919. His criticism was not that military action did not need to be taken, but that it should have been conducted differently. His view was that General Tikka deviated from the given mission of disarming Bengali personnel and arresting 'secessionist' leaders, and caused needless bloodshed among civilians. For example, instead of wholesale attack, the "rebels' so-called strong points" might have been smoked out by surrounding them and cutting off electricity, water and supplies. General Niazi reckoned they would have surrendered in a couple of days.
Pakistan's Lieutenant General A. A. K. Niazi, who arrived in April as commander of the Eastern Command, condemned Operation Searchlight "as a violation of the mission and equivalent to the Jallianwalabagh massacre in the Punjab by the British in 1919". Apparently Niazi also complained that the operation had provoked "widespread mutiny among Bengali officers and men" and made "virtually the entire population hostile". Yet the massacres continued. When asked the reason for the extent of the killing, General Tikka Khan reportedly replied "I am not concerned with the people. I am concerned with the land".
According to Pakistani lieutenant general Kamal Matinuddin, the commanding officer of the attack on Dhaka, Brigadier Jehanzeb Arbab, later admitted "over-reaction and over-kill by the troops under his command".
The lead unit was followed by soldiers carrying cans of gasoline. Those who tried to escape were shot. Those who stayed were burnt alive. About 700 men, women and children died there that day between noon and 2 pm, I was told.
In the Hindu area of the old town, the soldiers reportedly made the people come out of their houses and shot them in groups. The area, too, was eventually razed.
The troops stayed on in force in the old city until about 11pm on the night of Friday, 26 March, around with local Bengali informers. The soldiers would fire a flare and the informer would point out the houses of [staunch] Awami League supporters. The house would then be destroyed - either with direct fire from tanks or recoilless rifles or with a can of gasoline, witness said.
Anthony Mascarenhas, a prominent Pakistani journalist who went on a government-sponsored tour of journalists to East Pakistan in April 1971 and later fled to England and wrote his 'Genocide' expose in the Sunday Times, had estimated that 8,000 men, women and children were killed in Shankharipatti alone when the Pakistani army, 'having blocked both ends of the winding street, hunted them down house by house'. However, one critic believes this to be an exaggerated figure since Mascarenhas had not cited any source and received the information second hand. They believe that the number of victims was only 16, and the Pakistani soldiers entered only one house and shot a few residents whilst other residents remained inside their homes and survived the onslaught.
But two contemporary testimonies by American citizens who visited the area immediately after the attacks suggest a much larger scale of destruction. Both reported shelling and the use of heavy armament thus the figure of 16 killed is seen as a feeble attempt to underplay the enormity of the incident.
The army's campaign against the cities and towns not only led to massive civilian casualties but also drove possibly 30 million people out of the cities into the countryside.
Operation Searchlight was only the beginning. Within a week, half the population of Dhaka had fled, and at least 30,000 people had been killed. Chittagong, too, had lost half its population. All over East Pakistan people were taking flight, and it was estimated that in April some 30 million people were wandering helplessly across East Pakistan to escape the grasp of the military.
Relishing their role as 'masters of East Pakistan', the trigger-happy military was let loose to crush what they perceived as a political rebellion and Hindu-backed attempt to divide Pakistan.
"These bugger men, " said one Punjabi lieutenant, "could not kill us if they tried".
"Things are much better now," said another officer. "Nobody can speak out or come out. If they do we will kill them - they have spoken enough - they are traitors, and we are not. We are fighting in the name of God and an united Pakistan".
In the name of God and an united Pakistan, genocide had just begun.
The Bengali political leaders had not prepared the people for this onslaught - at least, not such menace. The struggle now erupted between the Bengali liberation forces and the armed might of the West Pakistani capital.
Operation Searchlight was brutal, but ineffective. Killing students and intellectuals did not lead to quick and clear victory sought by the Pakistani generals. Instead of taming the free-spirited Bengalis it only made them stronger and gave them yet another reason to fight for a independent nation.
But the will of the Bengali people was not broken on the night of 25 March 1971. On the contrary, while Dhaka burned, so did the illusion of a united Pakistan.
General Tikka Khan earned the nickname 'Butcher of Bengal' due to the widespread atrocities he committed.
On the night between 25/26 March 1971 General Tikka struck. Peaceful night was turned into a time of wailing, crying and burning. General Tikka let loose everything at his disposal as if raiding an enemy, not dealing with his own misguided and misled people.
The military action was a display of stark cruelty more merciless than the massacres at Bukhara and Baghdad by Chengiz Khan and Halaku Khan... General Tikka resorted to the killing of civilians and a scorched earth policy.
His orders to his troops were: 'I want the land not the people...'
General A.A.K. Niazi commenting on the brutality with which General Tikka operated in Bangladesh
Green land of East Pakistan will be painted red.
Major General Rao Farman Ali wrote in his table diary
The shobuj (green) land of Bangladesh was certainly painted red - by Bengali blood.
Curfew were announced at 9am by the Pakistani Army via Dhaka Betar Kendro - which was renamed to 'Radio Pakistan Dhaka' soon after the army took over in the early hours.
At 10am, a series of stiff martial law orders were announced to the people of East Pakistan.
Within 72 hours of the military action, the Pakistani Government announced that the situation had been brought under control and life was "fast returning to normal". Reality, however, was different.
The operation destroyed the last chance of an amicable political resolution of power transfer between the east (Awami League) and the west (PPP) and also killed any lingering hope for an united Pakistan. The Pakistani brutality also changed Bengali nationalism from an 'elite phenomenon to a mass one'. What was up until then confined to political and intellectual circles was now brought to the streets of Bangladesh.
On the morning of 26 March, as the chief of Pakistan's inter-services intelligence, Brigadier A.R. Siddiqi was to recall, Tikka Khan, Hamid Khan, Mitha Khan and the civilian Roedad Khan happily breakfasted in the Dhaka cantonment. Roedad told Siddiqi: "Yaar, iman taaza ho giya (Pal, faith has been revived)". It was an understatement. Outside the breakfast room, Pakistan was in its death throes. But it yet would groan on, until the death of three million Bengalis came to pass.
The [Pakistani] officers chatted in the officers' mess with a visible air of relaxation. Peeling an orange, Captain Chaudhury said, 'The Bengalis have been sorted out well and proper - at least for a generation'. Major Malik added, 'Yes, they only know the language of force. Their history says so'.
Siddiq Salik, author of 'Witness to Surrender', recounts conversation between senior army personnel after Operation Searchlight massacre
Due to strict media and press censorship applied by Government of Pakistan, news of this action (i.e. Operation Searchlight) was blacked out in the rest of the world for some time.
Strict censorship kept West Pakistanis largely in the dark about the actions carried out in the name of national unity.
'Those of us who were serving in East Pakistan', Hasan Zaheer records, 'on our visits to the West found its Press and people totally out of touch with the ground realities in the East Wing and apparently they could not have cared less. No one questioned the aims and objectives of the army action'.
As in other instances of state terrorism in South Asia, the violence was totally counterproductive. The Bengali population's desire for self-determination was reinforced rather than diminished.
It is the most incredible, calculated thing since the days of the Nazis in Poland.
The first major expose of what had happened in the early hours of 26th March was done by Simon Dring, a 27-year-old reporter of the 'Daily Telegraph' newspaper from London. He had flown into Dhaka on 6 March 1971 to cover the growing political tension.
For us we were young journalists those days and we still didn't really have a very strong perception of what was happening here. But when I arrived I had the priviledge of 7th March standing in Race Course Maidan on the podium where Sheikh Mujib was giving that famous 18-and-a-half-minute speech and, even though I didn't speak Bengali, I understood it. 'The struggle now is the struggle for our emancipation, the struggle now is a struggle for our independence. Joi Bangla.' When I heard that, I understood it even though I didn't understand Bengali.
By early evening of 25th March Simon and the other 200 international reporters knew that things were getting serious. When the eventual Pakistani military attacks came few hours later, all the journalist watched with horror from the windows and rooftop of Intercontinental Hotel. They also suspected that it's highly unlikely that the Pakistani administration would allow them to document the massacre once the curfew was lifted.
On the afternoon of 26 March 1971 the Head of the press department of the army, also a member of the Pakistan Intelligence Agency, Major Siddiq Salek, came to the hotel and informed all journalist that since "a civil war" has started it was very dangerous to go on the street and for their "own safety" they would be safely evacuated to West Pakistan.
However, Simon Dring was still keen to stay and probed Major Salek about the possibility of staying.
I remember going upto him [Major Siddique Salek] and saying to him, "Excuse me Major, do we have to leave?"
[Major Salek] "Oh no - you don't have to leave, [but] it's for your own good. Your own safety."
"If I chose to stay is that all right?"
"Yes, if you choose to stay it's upto you but you might find that we prepare a special party for you so it might be better that you left."
So I said "OK, thank you".
After receiving an indirect no from the Major, Simon went upto his room, packed his bag and pretended to go. In order to elude the Pakistani search parties who were entrusted with the task of expelling foreign correspondents, Simon escaped at the hotel's rooftop
All the Bengali staff in the hotel were very helpful and very excited that I had taken this step, and they said there was one other person here too - he's a photographer from AP [Associated Press news agency], Michel Laurent. So we got together and we decided we better hide overnight somewhere in the hotel and the Bengali staff helped hide us and protect us. We decided the next morning that we had to go out and document what had happened.
Both Simon and Michel hid at the lobby, kitchen and on top of the roof of Intercontinential Hotel for 32 hours. When the curfew was lifted on 27 March 1971, they dared to go out of the hotel and document the situation in Dhaka. Dressed in kurta-pyjamas, they were able to extensively tour Dhaka and managed to capture the harrowing details of the brutality that took place at Dhaka University’s Iqbal Hall, Rajarbagh Police Line and parts of old Dhaka. However, they were spotted by a Pakistani army patrol at Iqbal Hall of the University. Fortunately for them, they weren't captured but the officers were now aware that there were Western journalists still roaming around. Consequently they came to Intercontinental Hotel to search for Simon and Michel and other journalist. But once again the Bengali staff hid them and they escaped capture. However, as the situation worsened both men flew out of the country and were able to present to the outside world their first-hand account of the fighting that had broken out in the stricken state. Simon flew out of Dhaka on the weekend after 26th March and filed a special report from Bangkok on the extent of the sudden mass crackdown.
Simon's vivid report was published in The Daily Telegraphy on 30 March 1971 under the heading "Tanks Crush Revolt in Pakistan: 7,000 Slaughtered, Homes Burned". It was the first news of the genocide and the first-ever international report on the atrocities as seen by a witness. Simon Dring also became the first to point out that more than 7,000 Bengalis had been slaughtered in Dhaka over 48 hours. It was also clear from his article that the army had struck without warning, under the cover of darkness - and that these factors were responsible for enormous casualties. In the report Simon also refers to all the foreign journalists being "confined at gunpoint in the Intercontinental Hotel" and of being deported to Karachi.
In the name of 'God and a united Pakistan', Dhaka is today a crushed and frightened city. After 24 hours of ruthless, cold-blooded shelling by the Pakistan Army, as many as 7,000 people are dead, large areas have been levelled and East Pakistan's fight for independence has been brutally put to an end.
It is really tough to ascertain the number of innocent people who have died, but adding the number of deaths in Chittagong, Comilla, Jessore and Dhaka it may stand at 15,000. What is assessable is the ruthlessness of the military crackdown as students have been killed in their beds, butcher at their small shop, women and children burnt alive at homes; the Hindus have been killed after being tacked together, and houses, markets and shops set afire.
...the first target as the tanks rolled into Dhaka on the night of Thursday, March 25, seems to have been the students. An estimated three battalions of troops were used in the attack on Dhaka - one of armoured, one of artillery and one of infantry. They started leaving their barracks shortly before 10 p.m. By 11, firing had broken out and the people who had started to erect makeshift barricades - overturned cars, three stumps, furniture, and concrete piping - became early casualties.
As the university came under attack, other columns of troops moved in on the Rajarbagh headquarters of the East Pakistan police, on the other side of the city. Tanks opened fire first, witnesses said; then the troops moved in and levelled the men's sleeping quarters, firing incendiary rounds into the buildings. People living opposite did not know how many died there, but of the 1,100 police based there not many are believed to have escaped.
Simon Dring returned back to Bangladesh after it gained victory on December 1971. He was in Dhaka when Sheikh Mujib returned from his exile in Pakistan on 10 January 1972. Sheikh Mujib recognised him as they had met 2-3 times during March 1971. In fact, Simon was on the back of the truck which took Sheikh Mujib from Dhaka airport to Paltan Maidan. The next day was Simon's 28th birthday. To his excitement, Sheikh Mujib had sent him a surprise birthday cake to the Intercontinental Hotel where he was staying.
In 2012, after four decades, Simon was invited to Dhaka by the Government of Bangladesh and awarded a State Honour along with many other 'Friends of Bangladesh' for his valiant effort during 1971. Though Simon was honoured to have received such a prestigious award, he urged the Government to recognise the Late Michel Laurent as he was not accorded the honour. Michel was killed on 27 April - some say 28th April - 1975 in Vietnam whilst trying to rescue fellow news reporter Christian Hoche when they were both ambushed by North Vietnamese troops. It was the last day of the war. Michel was only 28 years old. His body was not recovered for three months, and was finally exhumed from the roadside grave between Bien Hoa and Xuan Loc and repatriated. He was buried at Montparnasse cemetery in Paris, France.
Meanwhile, following the Friends of Bangladesh award ceremony a special luncheon was held in Ruposhi Bangla Hotel - the then name for the former Intercontinental Hotel.
That night on 25th March  when the Pakistani army moved in and began systematically to kill, to maim, to savage this city, it made us [journalists] angry because we realised that the Bengali people really did want their independence. I'd like to say thank you for honouring me, but I'd also like to say, I think we should honour the Bengali people who founded within themselves to rise up against all the odds and win their independence with much bloodshed and tremendous effort and spirit.
In a small way, I remember the people in this hotel on 27th March when the curfew was lifted who weeped for Bangladesh. Thank you - I'm proud to be a part of your history.
In 2013 a 40-minute documentary was directed by Parvez Chowdhury which followed Simon Dring as he revisited those killing spots in Dhaka and recounted the horrific memories of that time. During the documentary Simon was accompanied by former freedom fighter Akku Chowdhury, now a trusted member of Muktijuddho Jadhughar (Liberation War Musuem) in Dhaka. The documentary was aired on Desh TV on the 42nd anniversary of Bangladesh on 26 March 2013.
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