Inna lillahi wa inna ilahi rajiun

There are no official figures for the number of people that died during the nine-month long systematic killing of Bengalis which started in 25 March 1971 and finished, albeit officially, on 16 December 1971. No one really knows the correct figure about these as strict censorship prevailed over news from Pakistan.

Death estimates

Figures vary from 5,000–35,000 in Dhaka, and 200,000 - 3 million for Bangladesh as a whole.

Table : Estimate of number of Bengalis killed during 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War
Number of Bengalis killed Source
26,000Hamoodur Rahman Commission
34,000General Tikka Khan
50,000General Rao Farman Ali Khan
50,000 - 100,000Sarmila Bose (author of 'Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War')
58,000Uppsala/PRIO database (collaboration between Uppsala University, Sweden, and the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway)
100,000+Major K. M. Shafiullah
269,000Obermeyer et al (academics at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, at the University of Washington in Seattle in 2008)
300,000+CIA, Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury (Bengali Ambassador)
300,000 (by summer 1971)US Library of Congress
500,000Cholera Hospital in Dhaka (now ICDDRB) in 1976
1,000,000+Prof. Lawrence Ziring (an academic observer of South Asian politics)
1,200,000 - 1,800,000Dr. M. A. Hasan (Convenor of the War Crimes Facts Finding Committee)
1,500,000 (inc 150,000 countergenocide)Rudolph J. Rummel (author of 'Death by Government')
3,000,000Bangladesh Ministry of Liberation War, Muktijuddho Jadhughar, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman

Different figures were mentioned by different persons in authority but the latest statement supplied to us by the GHQ shows approximately 26,000 persons killed during the action by the Pakistan Army.

This figure is based on situation reports submitted from time to time by the Eastern Command to the General Headquarters. It is possible that even Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report these figures may contain an element of exaggeration as the lower formations may have magnified their own achievements in quelling the rebellion.

However, in the absence of any other reliable date, the Commission is of the view that the latest figure supplied by the GHQ should be accepted.

An important consideration which has influenced us in accepting this figure as reasonably correct is the fact that the reports were sent from East Pakistan to GHQ at a time when the Army Officers in East Pakistan could have had no notion whatsoever of any accountability in this behalf.

Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report

In late June of 2005 the Office of the Historian of the United States Department of State held a two-day conference on U.S. policy in South Asia between 1961 and 1972. Bangladeshi speakers at the conference stated that the official Bangladeshi figure of civilian deaths was close to 300,000, which was wrongly translated from Bengali into English as three million. Ambassador Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury acknowledged that Bangladesh alone cannot correct this mistake and suggested that Pakistan and Bangladesh should form a joint commission to investigate the 1971 disaster and prepare a report. A 2008 study in the British Medical Journal concluded that 269,000 civilians were killed by all sides in the war.

Asian Tribune

The Peace Research Institute in Norway along with Uppsala University in Sweden, have collected information on the numbers of deaths in all wars since 1900. Apparently, on the basis of eye-witness and media reports as well as other data, they have estimated that about 58,000 people died in 1971 in Bangladesh.

However, it has proven difficult to clarify the methodology upon which they came to this figure and relying on press reports is clearly a far from accurate method of ascertaining the number of deaths. It is not clear whether this low figure of 58,0000 has any better basis in truth than the high figure of 3 million.

More recent research conducted by academics at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, at the University of Washington in Seattle, and published in 2008 in the British Medical Journal, analysed World Health Organisation population surveys, looking at sibling deaths, to estimate the number of deaths in different wars in different countries. Their calculation suggest that the number of dead in 1971 was closer to 269,000 – five times the number of the Scandinavian researchers. Their figures range from 125,000 to 505,000...

David Bergman

It is to [Dr. M. A.] Hasan's credit that he has tried to undertake a detailed estimate of war dead. However, his figures [of 1.2 - 1.8 million] do remain pretty speculative.

David Bergman on Dr. M. A. Hasan's effort

My own feeling, remembering how charming Pakistani officers, like their Indian equivalents, can be, is that she may have been a bit too ready to accept the honourable, just-trying-to-do-our-duty image that those officers naturally prefer to convey, and that she may also be too convinced that the received wisdom needs to be entirely overturned. Yet when she underlines how stretched the Pakistani forces were, how unready they were for the role of suppression that was thrust on them, and how perplexed they were in the face of a Bengali hostility that seemed to them so disproportionate, what she writes rings very true.

Bose's case-by-case arithmetic leads her in the end to estimate that between 50,000 and 100,000 people died in 1971. One lakh, in other words, at most. One cannot say that she absolutely proves this, but her evidence points in that direction, and, in any case vastly away from the figure of 3 million still proclaimed in Bangladesh and India. The wider revision of the conflict's history she implies exonerates the Pakistani government of any plot to rule the east by force, suggests that the Bengali leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman let the genie of nationalism out of the bottle but could not control it, and insists that the conflict was a civil war within East Pakistan. The killings by Bengalis of non-Bengali minorities, of Bengalis who stuck with the idea of a united Pakistan, and even of some Hindu Bengalis - all of whose deaths were attributed at the time to the Pakistani army - needs to be reckoned in any fair balance.

Martin Woollacott's (of The Guardian, UK) review of Sarmilla Bose's controversial book 'Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War'

[Sarmilla] Bose takes some gaps in the popular narrative, and then pushes it to an extreme to argue that 1971 was a war between two equally violent sides, with the Pakistan army using only justified and temperate amounts of retaliatory force.

Her unusual hypothesis is that Pakistani army officers are the most objective source to establish their own innocence. She also privileges Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report - even though it was carried out under the post-1971 Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto regime, who had every stake in presenting the March negotiation breakdown (which he largely engineered) as the fault of the Bengalis.

Bose's Interviewee List (page 199-201) reveals selection bias. In Pakistan, she interviewed 30 Pakistani army officers, and 3 civilians. In addition 4 Pakistani army officers are listed as not agreeing to give interviews. Her pool of "expert knowledge" on the Pakistani army's actions failed to include anyone from Pakistan who has publicly said there was a genocide, and contested official and army denials, such as Nadir Ali and many others.

Naeem Mohaiemen on Sarmilla Bose

The scale of the carnage has never been authoritatively established but has been internationally recognised as one of the twentieth century’s genocides. There is a broad consensus in the literature that at least a million Bengalis lost their lives at this time. Some sources put the figure as high as three million people, and this is widely accepted by many in Bangladesh who lived through this traumatic period. The Pakistani administration reported at the time that the Bengali "insurgents" had killed 100,000 "non-Bengalis" and that only about 30,000 Bengalis had died.


The greatest casualty in war times is always the truth. And that is what seems to have happened with Bangladesh/East Pakistan liberation/civil war of 1971. It is conceivable that while Bangladesh authorities exaggerated the casualty figures of their Bangladeshi victims to draw sympathy to their cause, they discounted the casualty figures of those Urdu-speaking and pro-Pakistani residents. Similarly, the lower estimates provided by the HRC [Hamoodur Rahman Commission] Report seem aimed at arresting anti-Pakistan feelings and possibly exonerating the war crimes of their planners.

Dr. Habib Siddiqui,

Second greatest massacre of 20th century

Bangladesh government figures state that Pakistani forces aided by collaborators killed three million people, raped 200,000 women and displaced over 10 million people - making the monthly casualty suffered in the Bangladesh Liberation War far greater than that suffered during the First World War, and the second biggest during the twentieth century.

Twentieth century death tolls
WarEstimated deathsDuration (years)Average killing per month
1. Second World War (1939 - 1945) 66,000,000 6 916,666
2. Bangladesh (1971) 3,000,000 9 months 333,333
3. First World War (1914 - 1918) 15,000,000 4 312,500
4. Russian Civil War (1917 - 22) 9,000,000 5 150,000
5. People's Republic of China, Mao Zedong's regime (1949 - 1975) 40,000,000 26 128,205
6. Soviet Union, Stalin's regime (1924 - 53) 20,000,000 29 57,471
7. Cambodia, Khmer Rough 1975-1978 1,650,000 3 45,833
8. Congo Free State (1886 - 1908) 8,000,000 22 30,303
9. Nigeria (1966 - 1970) 1,000,000 4 20,833
10. Vietnam war (1965 - 1973) 1,700,000 8 17,708
11. Sudan (1983 - 2005) 1,900,000 22 7,196
12. Afghanistan (1979 - 2001) 1,800,000 22 6,818
13. Ethiopia (1962 - 1992) 2,000,000 30 5,555

Source: Necrometrics

Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land - it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one - it is as if he had saved mankind entirely. And our messengers had certainly come to them with clear proofs. Then indeed many of them, [even] after that, throughout the land, were transgressors.

Noble Qur'an - Surah 5:Al-Ma'idah, verse 32

Mother and weeping child

Silent screams

One of the main conditions of India's support was that Bangladesh organise the quick return of the refugees and restore their lands and belongings to them. The Bangladesh government was also intent on seeking war reparations (compensation) from Pakistan if possible. And so at week's end the streams of refugees who walked so long and so far to get to India began making the long journey back home to pick up the threads of their lives.

For some, there were happy reunions with relatives and friends, for others tears and the bitter sense of loss for those who will never return. But there were new homes to be raised, new shrines to be built, and a new nation to be formed.

The land was there too, lush and green.


Physical and mental scars for life

Bangladesh was born of a dream twice deferred. Twenty-four years prior to 1971, Bengalis voted to join the new nation of Pakistan, which had been carved out of British India as a Muslim homeland. Before long, religious unity disintegrated into racial and regional bigotry as the autocratic Muslims of West Pakistan systematically exploited their Bengali brethren in the East.

From a distant minaret, from a mosque unknown, from the far-reaching throat of the muezzin floats in the faint call to the faithful for the morning Fajr prayer, "Allah-u Akbar, Ash-hadu an la ilaha illallah...". Yes, people are still alive. Yes...


Dawn pierced through the misty shadows. The blood-red sphere of the sun emerged in the sky of an independent Bangladesh...Finally dawn emerges, the first dawn in independent Bangladesh. How many times in one lifetime do you seen a sunrise like this! It is washed in the blood of one million martyrs. That is perhaps why it appears redder than usual.

The time has come for us to return. The pain and suffering of the last 9 months have come to an end. Soon we will go home. Families, friends, dear ones - how are they? How have they fared? Who is alive? Who has died? Is it going to be a happy reunion. or a sad one? Who knows...

But no, we are not dead. Some are but, like many others, I am alive and victorious in this war of independence! If Golam Gaus were alive today, or Akkas, or Motiar [fallen comrades], what harm would it be to anyone? If there is a soul, then surely their souls must be happy today, satisfied. Until this day their souls have craved revenge, but today they are fulfilled.

Mahbub Alam, writer

The memories are still fresh of those who died of cholera on the muddy paths to India, or suffered unspeakable atrocities at the hands of the Pakistani military. And there are children, blind and brain-damaged, who will carry the scars of malnutrition for the rest of their lives.

In November 1971, a month before victory, there was a major outbreak of smallpox at the Salt Lake refugee camp near Kolkata where thousands of Bengali refugees were temporarily housed. These refugees were to have been vaccinated on arrival, but with thousands more crossing over into India every day, very few received the vaccination.

In the crowded and filthy conditions of the camps, smallpox spread very rapidly. Moreover, the initial outbreak was misdiagnosed so that no action was taken to contain it until the end of January 1972. By then, several million Bangladeshis had sought refuge in that area.


Upon their subsequent return to Bangladesh the infection spread initially from three districts in the southwest - Barisal, Faridpur, and Khulna - to 27 of the country's 57 subdivisions. The number of smallpox cases reported by Bangladesh during 1972 was 10,754 - though it is believed that the actual figures were ten times higher.

The liberation movement of Bangladesh was not only limited to nine months of freedom fight, but it was shaped through a process of long termed evolution.

It was a revolution to save culture, it was a struggle to speak in ones own language, it was a protest to have ones own right and finally it was a war to save humanity. In recent time, no people have paid so much in such a short time in terms of life and property. Almost 3 million have lost their lives, 10 million were routed out from their homes and rest 60 millions were subjected to untold miseries. The freedom fighters that were the successors of Dudu Miah and Titumir had to fight an unequal battle against the highly armed and equipped Pakistan army only with their bold courage and never diminishing determination. They dared to accept death as they cared for independence.

Among those sons of the soil, a few appeared in their death challenging bouts with unparalleled vigour and valour. Their heroic sacrifice erected an emblem of inspiration and profound determination to uphold the holy sovereignty and to keep the blood bathed sun of independence ever shining.

Thousands of people have sacrificed their invaluable lives, shaded own blood for the independence of Bangladesh.

Those who sacrificed their lives by fighting so gallantly for the cause of the nation could not see the first sun rise in the liberated Bangladesh. Many of the freedom fighters had died being directly involved in the fighting, perhaps, in thousands whose correct statistics have never been made.

Fact is that they all sacrificed their present for our better future and for the future of our generations to come.

Major General (Rtd.) Syed Muhammad Ibrahim, Bir Protik

It is a dream come true, but you must also remember that we went through a nightmare.

Bangladeshi diplomat in first diplomatic mission in New Delhi

Tumake Pawar Jonno Hai Shadinota poem by Shamshur Rahman

'Tumake Pawar Jonno Hai Shadinota' by Shamshur Rahman