1971 war crimes: In Kolkata, Islamists rally for genocide

Islamists have every right to stage democratic protests in support of perpetrators of the 1971 war crimes—and killers of Indian troops. The depressing fact is none of the major parties in Bengal have seen fit to stage counter-protests.

Praveen Swami March 30, 2013 18:21:15 IST
1971 war crimes: In Kolkata, Islamists rally for genocide

Noorul Islam’s home was the first to burn, torched by the soldiers who had arrived at the hamlets on the eastern side of Parerhat Bandar, searching for pro-independence activists and guerrillas. The Pakistani soldiers didn’t find what they were looking for, though. Manik Posari and his servant Ibrahim Sheikh were led away, and tortured. Later, Sheikh was shot dead at point-blank range, and his body thrown into the river.  Posari, who escaped the Pakistan army camp that night, knew the man who picked him out as  pro-independence activist: he was the local grocer.

For forty years after 8 May, 1971, Posari watched Delawar Hossain Sayeedi grow—grow from an impoverished seller of oil and spices in the Parerhat bazaar, to the multi-millionaire head of the Jama’at-e-Islami party in Bangladesh—a journey helped by the gold he looted from the Parerhat’s citizens.

Posari might yet live to watch his torturer receive punishment—but not if a coalition of Islamic organisations in Kolkata has its way. Today, its members gathered at the Shaheed Minar to protest against the death sentence handed down to Sayeedi by the war crimes tribunal. The All-Bengal Muslim Youth Federation, the Sunnat-ul-Jama’at, the Madrasa Student Union and the Welfare Party of India, among others, say Sayeedi is being persecuted for his political beliefs.  The movement against Sayeedi’s conviction also has the backing of the Indian wing of the Jama’at-e-Islami. Syed Jalaluddin Umari, the head of the Jama’at-e-Islami Hind has called his Bangladeshi sister-party, “the nation’s most caring and concerned”. He recently even denied any war crimes had taken place—a breath-taking lie.

1971 war crimes In Kolkata Islamists rally for genocide

The protest rally being held in Kolkata. PTI

Sayeedi’s Razakar militia, witnesses told Bangladesh’s ongoing 1971 war-crimes tribunal, kidnapped Gourango Saha’s sisters, Mohomaya, Anno and Komol, and handed them over to Pakistan army troops who raped them over three days.  They burned down the Hindu-owned homes in the village of  Umedpur, looting homes—and shooting dead at least one local resident, Bisabali, after torturing him. They carried out the large-scale ethnic cleansing of Hindus from areas along the India-Bangladesh border. From the brilliant critique of 1971 denialism by the scholar Naeem Mohaiemen, among others, we know such savagery was routine in 1971.

Let us be clear: Umari and his allies have every right to stage peaceful protests in support of the perpetrators of these obscenities—in a robust democracy, this is exactly as it should be. The depressing fact, however, is that not one of the major political parties in West Bengal have seen fit to stage counter-protests against the reactionaries defending the Jama’at.

This is, not surprisingly, about politics.  Muslim reactionaries, along with pro-Maoist forces, played an important role in mobilising support for the Singur agitation which brought chief minister Mamata Banerjee to power. Left parties want their Muslim support back—hence their collective silence on the streets of Kolkata.

Fine—but let’s have the truth.

For one, the men the Kolkata protestors are defending fought and killed Indian soldiers.  The official military history of the Bangladesh war of 1971—regrettably unpublished, though available online—states that the organisation was raised from Jama’at cadre to “support the West Pakistani troops”. Fifty thousand personnel, mainly from the Islami Chhatra Shibir, the Jama’at’s youth wing, joined the Razakars, as well as sister-organisations like al-Badr and al-Shams.  The groups were trained and armed by the Pakistan army, at centres at in Dhaka and Khulna. Newspaper reports from the time record Sayeedi as being among them.

The Razakars faced Indian troops in battle throughout the war of 1971.  The 13 Rajputana Rifles, the war history records, suffered casualties in a 13 December, 1971, operation to capture a ration dump at Dayalpur, killing 13 Razakars and eight soldiers in retaliation.  It also faced fighting with the Razakars at Jagannathpur Ghat the next day.

Mahadeo Curao, a soldier with the 2 Paracommando regiment, snared in the tail of a C-119—and ended hanging on it for 20 minutes.  He eventually managed to drop using a safety parachute, evaded fire from Pakistani soldiers on his way down, and walked 10 miles with his 2-inch mortar and sten-gun before he could make contact with the Mukti Bahini.  He then participated, the war history says, “in three raids against the Razakars”.

Secondly, the Kolkata protestors are defending some of the most savage mass-murderers in recent history.

“The members of al-Badr and al-Shams, themselves being Bengalis, could easily mix with the locals without arousing suspicions”, the Indian war history states states.  “Then, the Pakistan troops would encircle certain areas and kill all those on the hit list.  Sometimes, they would arrest suspected persons and bring them to torture chambers in the cantonments for extracting information from them.  After torturing some of them to death, they would then throw their dead bodies into mass graves.  Hundreds of doctors, engineers, educationists, thinkers and highly-skilled professionals were killed”.

In a 21 March, 1971 cable, the United States’ consul in Dhaka, Archer Blood, recorded his “mute and horrified witnesses to a reign of terror by the Pak[istani] Military”.  He wrote how “with the support of the Pak[istani] Military, non-Bengali Muslims are systematically attacking poor people's quarters and murdering Bengalis and Hindus”. “Among those marked for extinction in addition to the Awami League hierarchy”, he wrote, “are student leaders and university faculty”.

Later, in what has become one of the most famous telegrams of diplomatic history, Blood denounced his own government: “Our government has failed to denounce the suppression of democracy. Our government has failed to denounce atrocities. Our government has evidenced what many will consider moral bankruptcy”.

West Bengal’s politicians have failed to show a tenth of the courage Blood did in 1971.

Their silence in the face of today’s demonstration is pure undiluted moral bankruptcy.  It is true there has been criticism of the Bangladesh war crimes trials’ fairness—though it should also be noted the tribunal has defended itself credibly.  It is true, as commentators like Mohaiemen have noted, that the crimes weren’t all on one side.  In no war in human history has one side been blameless. But only someone with a non-functional moral compass would argue the fact that the United Kingdom and Soviet Union killed German civilians in World War II made them equivalent to the Nazi regime.  The truth about Bangladesh is simple: one side engaged in genocide; the other resisted it. There is no moral middle ground.

Islamist protesters in Kolkata know which side they’re on.   Though the Indian Jama’at-e-Islami ostensibly has no links with the Bangladesh Jama’at-e-Islami, both owe allegiance to Abul Ala Maududi—the Hyderabad-born founding patriarch of modern political Islam.  Islam, Maududi argued, wasn’t a “hotchpotch of rituals”.  Instead, it was a “revolutionary ideology which seeks to alter the social order of the entire world and rebuild it in conformity with its own tenets and ideals”. He promised that “if the Muslim Party commands enough resources, it will eliminate un-Islamic governments and establish the power of Islamic government in their place.”

These were the words. 1971 was the practice. The Pakistan army and the Razakars were its tools.

“I remained in the [insane asylum] for six months in 1973”, wrote the Pakistani dissident soldier Nadir Ali, in his famous memoirs. “What drove me mad? Well, I felt the collective guilt of the Army action”.

This basic human decency is something no-one in Kolkata seems to feel—not the Islamists and not those we’ve elected to represent us.

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