On October 4, an imaginative event will be hosted in the complex of the demolished Ramna Kalibari in Dhaka. The Hindus of Bangladesh will organise a Gono-shradhya ormass obsequies for their two-and-a-half million co-religionists who perished in the 1971 genocide. The day happens to be Mahalaya, concluding day of Pitrapaksh, when Hindus annually propitiate their dead forefathers through Pitri-Tarpan.
The Hindu genocide of 1971: An estimated three million people had died in the nine-month-long genocidal campaign in 1971 orchestrated by the Pakistani Army. As per the 1961 Census of Pakistan, there were still 23 per cent Hindus in its eastern exclave. But though the Hindus were a minority, there was reason to fear that they comprised a majority of the dead. The Government of Bangladesh never released any religion-wise statistics of the civilian victims. But considering the fact that 90 per cent of the 10 million refugees who had fled to India were Hindus, it is fair to believe that Hindus comprised the bulk of the victims also. The Hindus were admittedly the prime target of the trigger-happy Pakistani Army. Imagine 10 soldiers killing the 86-year old Jogesh Chandra Ghose, the founder of Sadhana Aushadhalaya, the famous chemical factory, by dragging him from his bed! His body lay there for two days.
In many cases entire families were wiped out or torn apart never to be reunited. It is not unfair to believe that the dead did not receive proper funeral or prescribed post-death rites. Often the survivors could not attain closure for years. Now, 42 years later, the Hindus of Bangladesh want to collectively fulfill an obligation the dead were entitled to. Hindus from all over Bangladesh and non-resident Bangladeshi Hindus will converge at Ramna Kalibari Temple complex early in the morning. Visitors will carry some elementary commodities like firewood and nectar with them for the rites.
The ICJ’s stance on genocide: Justice has eluded the victims of the 1971 genocide. Even during the genocide the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) had set up a committee of three eminent jurists to inquire into the events in East Pakistan. It had sought the cooperation of the India in this matter, as revealed by the then Deputy Minister of External Affairs Surendra Pal Singh in Rajya Sabha on November 19, 1971. On March 17, 1972 some Rajya Sabha members had wanted to know whether the Government of India had taken any step to secure a ‘Nuremberg type of trial’ for perpetrators of the genocide. The Government of India did nothing except conveniently passing the onus on the Bangladesh Government. Ironically, as I write these lines, ICJ has condemned the death sentence to Abdul Quader Chowdhury, a BNP MP, for his involvement in the genocide.
Bangladesh academician slams Jamaat over 1971 wartime atrocities
The present year has been particularly eventful for Bangladesh. It promises some justice to the victims of that gory war. There had been a series of protests and violent counter-protests by the liberals and Islamists centred on the disputed legacy of 1971. The Shahbagh protests erupted in February, demanding capital punishment for Abdul Qader Mollah (of Jamat-e-Islami), sentenced to life imprisonment by International Crimes Tribunal set by the Bangladesh Government in 2009. What propelled it was a latent anger in public mind against former collaborators of the Pakistan regime entrenching themselves into the politics of Bangladesh. Shahbagh protests were followed by mayhem unleashed by Islamists. But ultimately on August 1 the Supreme Court declared Jaamat-e-Islami, ace collaborators of the erstwhile Pakistani regime, as unfit to contest elections.
Under prevailing conditions, the allegations of Gonoshradhya ’71 being politically motivated are quite expected. But the Hindus have brushed aside such allegations as malicious. First, it is being organised on a pan-Hindu platform as only a religious event. There would not be any political speeches. The brutalities of 1971 genocide are too well-known in Bangladesh to merit repetition. Second, the mass obsequies will be followed by all-faith prayer meeting.
The demolished Ramna Kali Temple: The choice of the venue i.e. Ramna Kalibari is no less significant. This presumably thousand-year-old Kali temple, a prominent landmark in Dhaka, was destroyed by the Pakistani Army on March 27, 1971 by artillery shelling. The idea behind the demolition was not much different from that of the destruction of Somnath temple by Mahmud Ghaznavi in 1053 AD. Interestingly, the liberals of India never broach that issue unlike the demolition of Babri Masjid structure.
The temple could not be rebuilt even in independent Bangladesh. But Hindus have gradually reestablished their legal authority over the temple complex. Daily puja and annual Kali Puja are held with religious fervour. But as the Hindus of Bangladesh propitiate their dead, they also have an arduous struggle ahead in a highly polarised Bangladesh. The Gonoshradhya ’71 provides an hour of spiritual contemplation. But thanks to the death sentence awarded to Abdul Quader Chowdhury, miscreants might just try to vitiate the atmosphere.