Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh and Human Rights
Right now state of Human Rights in bangladesh:
Few books about Bangladesh:
BEHIND THE MYTHOFTHREE MILLION
By Dr. M. Abdul Mu’min Chowdhury
|Myth-busting the Bangladesh war of 1971
An author discusses her new book about the historical narratives of the 1971 civil war that broke up East Pakistan.
Hamood-ur-Rahman Commission Report
Blood and Tears by Qutubuddin Aziz
Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War
This ground-breaking book chronicles the 1971 war in South Asia by reconstituting the memories of those on opposing sides of the conflict. 1971 was marked by a bitter civil war within Pakistan and war between India and Pakistan, backed respectively by the Soviet Union and the United States. It was fought over the territory of East Pakistan, which seceded to become Bangladesh. Through a detailed investigation of events on the ground, Sarmila Bose contextualises and humanises the war while analysing what the events reveal about the nature of the conflict itself. The story of 1971 has so far been dominated by the narrative of the victorious side. All parties to the war are still largely imprisoned by wartime partisan mythologies. Bose reconstructs events via interviews conducted in Bangladesh and Pakistan, published and unpublished reminiscences in Bengali and English of participants on all sides, official documents, foreign media reports and other sources. Her book challenges assumptions about the nature of the conflict, and exposes the ways in which the 1971 war is still playing out in the region.
Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War
‘A truth about the Bangladesh war is that remarkably few scholars and historians have given it thorough, independent scrutiny. Bose’s research has taken her from the archives to interviews with elderly peasants in Bangladesh and retired army officers in Pakistan. Her findings are significant.’
– Ian Jack, The Guardian
‘History emerges only slowly from the passion-filled context of contemporary events. Sarmila Bose’s book sets Bangladesh’s liberation struggle at the start of this long passage.’
– Professor David Washbrook, Trinity College, Cambridge
‘Finally we have a book that investigates the conflicts of 1971 using facts and testimonies from all sides.
Some may find this search for the truth controversial, but the official histories, full of absurd exaggerations and one-sided claims, are the ones that truly demean the sacrifices of 1971… The painful task of recognizing historical evidence has surely begun.’
– Mushtaq H. Khan, Professor of Economics, SOAS
‘Powerful and poignant … this is history as told by participants at the grass roots and it dispels many myths that have been fed by faulty memories of the so-called elites in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Dead Reckoning should help the people of both countries accept the facts of that tragic and bloody separation of 1971 and take responsibility for the war that stained the verdant Bengali countryside red.’
– Shuja Nawaz, author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within —
This ground-breaking book chronicles and analyzes the 1971 war in South Asia by reconstituting the memories of those on opposing sides of the conflict. 1971 was marked by a bitter civil war within Pakistan and war between India and Pakistan, backed respectively by the Soviet Union and the United States. It was fought over the territory of East Pakistan, which seceded to become Bangladesh. Through a detailed investigation of events on the ground, Sarmila Bose contextualises and humanizes the war while analysing what the events revealed about the nature of the conflict itself. The story of 1971 has so far been dominated by the narrative of the victorious side.
All parties to the war are still largely imprisoned by wartime partisan mythologies. Bose reconstructs events using extensive interviews conducted in Bangladesh and Pakistan, published and unpublished reminiscences in Bengali and English of participants on all sides, official documents, foreign media reports and other sources. The chronicling of events through a multiplicity of memories reveals what had been previously unknown or poorly recorded. Moreover, ‘contesting’ memories reveal a reality diverging from the dominant narrative in crucial ways. It challenges assumptions about the nature of the conflict, and exposes the ways in which the 1971 conflict is still playing out in the region. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Most of Bangladesh war history has been written in a patriotic narrative which completely ignores the excesses committed by other sides. This war was fought between four sides, on one side were the Indian Army and the Bengali militants (terrorists) and on the other side were Pakistan Army and the nationalists comprising of Bengalis, Biharis and the west Pakistanis. Like any war, excesses were done on both sides. This book gives an impartial view on the excesses. The only thing missing in this book are the details of terrorism excercised by Indian army as a war tactic in their covert operations. As a witness to this war, I find this book fair and recommend it to all who want to get a balanced view of this historic event.
March 19, 2006
The truth about the Jessore massacre
The massacre may have been genocide, but it wasn’t committed by the Pakistan army. The dead men were non-Bengali residents of Jessore, butchered in broad daylight by Bengali nationalists, reports Sarmila Bose
|BITTER TRUTH: Civilians massacred in Jessore in 1971 ? but by whom?
|RECOGNITION DENIED: Father and son killed in Dhaka in 1971
The bodies lie strewn on the ground. All are adult men, in civilian clothes. A uniformed man with a rifle slung on his back is seen on the right. A smattering of onlookers stand around, a few appear to be working, perhaps to remove the bodies. The caption of the photo is just as grim as its content: ‘April 2, 1971: Genocide by the Pakistan Occupation Force at Jessore.’ It is in a book printed by Bangladeshis trying to commemorate the victims of their liberation war.
It is a familiar scene. There are many grisly photographs of dead bodies from 1971, published in books, newspapers and websites. Reading another book on the 1971 war, there was that photograph again ? taken from a slightly different angle, but the bodies and the scene of the massacre were the same. But wait a minute! The caption here reads: ‘The bodies of businessmen murdered by rebels in Jessore city.’
The alternative caption is in The East Pakistan Tragedy, by L.F. Rushbrook Williams, written in 1971 before the independence of Bangladesh. Rushbrook Williams is strongly in favour of the Pakistan government and highly critical of the Awami League. However, he was a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, had served in academia and government in India, and with the BBC and The Times. There was no reason to think he would willfully mislabel a photo of a massacre.
And so, in a bitter war where so many bodies had remained unclaimed, here is a set of murdered men whose bodies are claimed by both sides of the conflict! Who were these men? And who killed them? It turns out that the massacre in Jessore may have been genocide, but it wasn’t committed by the Pakistan army. The dead men were non-Bengali residents of Jessore, butchered in broad daylight by Bengali nationalists.
It is but one incident, but illustrative of the emerging reality that the conflict in 1971 in East Pakistan was a lot messier than most have been led to believe. Pakistan’s military regime did try to crush the Bengali rebellion by force, and many Bengalis did die for the cause of Bangladesh’s independence. Yet, not every allegation hurled against the Pakistan army was true, while many crimes committed in the name of Bengali nationalism remain concealed. Once one took a second look, some of the Jessore bodies are dressed in salwar kameez? an indication that they were either West Pakistanis or ‘Biharis’, the non-Bengali East Pakistanis who had migrated from northern India.
As accounts from the involved parties Pakistan, Bangladesh and India tend to be highly partisan, it was best to search for foreign eye witnesses, if any. My search took me to newspaper archives from 35 years ago. The New York Times carried the photo on April 3, 1971, captioned: ‘East Pakistani civilians, said to have been slain by government soldiers, lie in Jessore square before burial.’ The Washington Post carried it too, right under its masthead: ‘The bodies of civilians who East Pakistani sources said were massacred by the Pakistani army lie in the streets of Jessore.’ “East Pakistani sources said”, and without further investigation, these august newspapers printed the photo.
In fact, if the Americans had read The Times of London of April 2 and Sunday Times of April 4 or talked to their British colleagues, they would have had a better idea of what was happening in Jessore. In a front-page lead article on April 2 entitled ‘Mass Slaughter of Punjabis in East Bengal,’ The Times war correspondent Nicholas Tomalin wrote an eye-witness account of how he and a team from the BBC programme Panorama saw Bengali troops and civilians march 11 Punjabi civilians to the market place in Jessore where they were then massacred. “Before we were forced to leave by threatening supporters of Shaikh Mujib,” wrote Tomalin, “we saw another 40 Punjabi “spies” being taken towards the killing ground?”
Tomalin followed up on April 4 in Sunday Times with a detailed description of the “mid-day murder” of Punjabis by Bengalis, along with two photos ? one of the Punjabi civilians with their hands bound at the Jessore headquarters of the East Pakistan Rifles (a Bengal formation which had mutinied and was fighting on the side of the rebels), and another of their dead bodies lying in the square. He wrote how the Bengali perpetrators tried to deceive them and threatened them, forcing them to leave. As other accounts also testify, the Bengali “irregulars” were the only ones in central Jessore that day, as the Pakistan government forces had retired to their cantonment.
Though the military action had started in Dhaka on March 25 night, most of East Pakistan was still out of the government’s control. Like many other places, “local followers of Sheikh Mujib were in control” in Jessore at that time. Many foreign media reported the killings and counter-killings unleashed by the bloody civil war, in which the army tried to crush the Bengali rebels and Bengali nationalists murdered non-Bengali civilians.
Tomalin records the local Bengalis’ claim that the government soldiers had been shooting earlier and he was shown other bodies of people allegedly killed by army firing. But the massacre of the Punjabi civilians by Bengalis was an event he witnessed himself. Tomalin was killed while covering the Yom Kippur war of 1973, but his eye-witness accounts solve the mystery of the bodies of Jessore.
There were, of course, genuine Bengali civilian victims of the Pakistan army during 1971. Chandhan Sur and his infant son were killed on March 26 along with a dozen other men in Shankharipara, a Hindu area in Dhaka. The surviving members of the Sur family and other residents of Shankharipara recounted to me the dreadful events of that day. Amar, the elder son of the dead man, gave me a photo of his father and brother’s bodies, which he said he had come upon at a Calcutta studio while a refugee in India. The photo shows a man’s body lying on his back, clad in a lungi, with the infant near his feet.
Amar Sur’s anguish about the death of his father and brother (he lost a sister in another shooting incident) at the hands of the Pakistan army is matched by his bitterness about their plight in independent Bangladesh. They may be the children of a ‘shaheed,’ but their home was declared ‘vested property’ by the Bangladesh government, he said, in spite of documents showing that it belonged to his father. Even the Awami League ? support for whom had cost this Hindu locality so many lives in 1971 ? did nothing to redress this when they formed the government.
In the book 1971: documents on crimes against humanity committed by Pakistan army and their agents in Bangladesh during 1971, published by the Liberation War Museum, Dhaka, I came across the same photo of the Sur father and son’s dead bodies. It is printed twice, one a close-up of the child only, with the caption: ‘Innocent women were raped and then killed along with their children by the barbarous Pakistan Army’. Foreigners might just have mistaken the ‘lungi’ worn by Sur for a ‘saree’, but surely Bangladeshis can tell a man in a ‘lungi’ when they see one! And why present the same ‘body’ twice?
The contradictory claims on the photos of the dead of 1971 reveal in part the difficulty of recording a messy war, but also illustrate vividly what happens when political motives corrupt the cause of justice and humanity. The political need to spin a neat story of Pakistani attackers and Bengali victims made the Bengali perpetrators of the massacre of Punjabi civilians in Jessore conceal their crime and blame the army. The New York Times and The Washington Post “bought” that story too. The media’s reputation is salvaged in this case by the even-handed eye-witness reports of Tomalin in The Times and Sunday Times.
As for the hapless Chandhan Sur and his infant son, the political temptation to smear the enemy to the maximum by accusing him of raping and killing women led to Bangladeshi nationalists denying their own martyrs their rightful recognition. In both cases, the true victims ?Punjabis and Bengalis, Hindus and Muslims ? were cast aside, their suffering hijacked, by political motivations of others that victimised them a second time around.
India lied about 1971: Sarmila Bose
Truth is finally coming out–this time from an unexpected quarter. Truth is being enunciated by Sarmila Bose a citizen of Bharat.
20,000 Pakistani Soldiers Could Not Have Raped 400,000 Women – Sharmila Bose
Netaji Shuvash Chandra Bose
Ms. Sarmila Bose is the niece of the famous Bharati leader Netaji Shuvash Chandra Bose. Mrs. Bose is married to Alan Rosling, a British man. He is the Executive Director of Tata, one of India. Sharmila Bose is also the sister of the Indian scholar Sugata Bose who with his partner, the Pakistani scholar, Ayesha Jalal teaches at Tufts University in Boston. Both are well-known academics in the US circuit.
Ms. Sharmila Bose in her paper entitled “Losing the Victims: Problems of Using Women as Weapons in Recounting the Bangladesh War” paints a picture of the Pakistani military as a disciplined force that spared women and children. She writes:
During my field research on several incidents in East Pakistan during 1971, Bangladeshi participants and eyewitnesses described battles, raids, massacres and executions, but told me that women were not harmed by the army in these events except by chance such as in crossfire. The pattern that emerged from these incidents was that the Pakistan army targeted adult males while sparing women and children.
She also quotes the passage from the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report that I cited above to support her assertion that so many rapes could not have occurred. 20,000-34,000 could not have raped 200,000 to 400,000 women in the space of nine months.
She states in the introduction:
That rape occurred in East Pakistan in 1971 has never been in any doubt. The question is what was the true extent of rape, who were the victims and who the perpetrators and was there any systematic policy of rape by any party, as opposed to opportunistic sexual crimes in times of war.
To try to bolster her argument that the Pakistani forces in Bangladesh could not have raped so many women, she claims:
The number of West Pakistani armed forces personnel in East Pakistan was about 20,000 at the beginning of the conflict, rising to 34,000 by December. Another 11,000 men — civil police and non-combat personnel — also held arms. For an army of 34,000 to rape on this scale in eight or nine months (while fighting insurgency, guerrilla war and an invasion by India), each would-be perpetrator would have had to commit rape at an incredible rate.
There are numerous reports out there now which negates the well established beliefs. The declassified US reports, Indian military officers account, Pakistan military officers account, General Niazi’s memoirs, Sharmila Bose, Hamoodurahman commission report. Pakistan Military officers fought hard. Many foreign correspondents speak well of their bravery. It is the bravery of a Muslim soldier that Indian Military got tough fight. These Pakistani soldiers fought so hard that they had almost regained the control of East Pakistan from the dirty hands of Mukt-Bahini. When India saw this, it started the military action which resulted in the fall of Dhaka.
Then Mujib showed his true colors after the formation of Bangladesh with his BAKSAL party. How he became authoritative and usurped democracy is not a secret anymore. He was going to make Bangladesh part of India that he was killed timely by the Pakistani military officers (yes those Bengalis who never gave up allegiance to Pakistan. I stand in honor for them).
2) Read “RAW in Bangladesh by ZainulAbidin (an ex-Mukti Bahini member) on 1971 war.
3) Read Blood and tears by a Pakistani writer about 1971 war.
4) Check the website of Federation of American Scientist on 1971 war
5) Read “East Pakistan Tragedy” by L.F. Rushbrook Williams.
Sarmila Bose: Myth-busting the Bangladesh war of 1971 (rejecting the Indian narrative)
May 10, 2011
An author discusses her new book about the historical narratives of the 1971 civil war that broke up East Pakistan.
Guerilla fighters of the Mukti Bahini prepare to bayonet men who collaborated with the Pakistani army during East Pakistan’s fight to become the independent state of Bangladesh [GALLO/GETTY]
Last month, Al Jazeera published an article titled Book, film greeted with fury among Bengalis. Here, Sarmila Bose, author of Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War, responds to the criticism levelled at her work.
In all the excitement about the “Arab spring” it is instructive to remember the 1971 war in South Asia. Then too there was a military regime in Pakistan, easily identified as the “baddies” – and a popular uprising in its rebellious Eastern province, where Bengali nationalists were reported to be peacefully seeking freedom, democracy and human rights. When the regime used military force to crush the rebellion in East Pakistan, India intervened like a knight to the rescue, resulting in the defeat of the bad guys, victory for the good guys and the independence of Bangladesh… Or so the story went for forty years. I grew up with it in Calcutta. It was widely repeated in the international press.
Several years ago I decided to chronicle a number of incidents of the 1971 war in-depth. I observed that many Bangladeshis were aggrieved that the world seemed to have forgotten the terrible trauma of the birth of their nation. Given the scale of the suffering, that lack of memory certainly appeared to be unfair, but there did not seem to be many detailed studies of the war – without which the world could not be expected to remember, or understand, what had happened in 1971.
My aim was to record as much as possible of what seemed to be a much-commented-on but poorly documented conflict – and to humanise it, so that the war could be depicted in terms of the people who were caught up in it, and not just faceless statistics. I hoped that the detailed documentation of what happened at the human level on the ground would help to shed some light on the conflict as a whole.
The principal tool of my study was memories. I read all available memoirs and reminiscences, in both English and Bengali. But I also embarked on extensive fieldwork, finding and talking to people who were present at many particular incidents, whether as participants, victims or eye-witnesses. Crucially, I wanted to hear the stories from multiple sources, including people on different sides of the war, so as to get as balanced and well-rounded a reconstruction as possible.
As soon as I started to do systematic research on the 1971 war, I found that there was a problem with the story which I had grown up believing: from the evidence that emanated from the memories of all sides at the ground level, significant parts of the “dominant narrative” seem not to have been true. Many “facts” had been exaggerated, fabricated, distorted or concealed. Many people in responsible positions had repeated unsupported assertions without a thought; some people seemed to know that the nationalist mythologies were false and yet had done nothing to inform the public. I had thought I would be chronicling the details of the story of 1971 with which I had been brought up, but I found instead that there was a different story to be told.
Product of research
My book Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War, the product of several years of fieldwork based research, has just been published (Hurst and Co. and Columbia University Press). It focuses on the bitter fratricidal war within the province of East Pakistan over a period of a little more than a year, rather than the open “hot” war between India and Pakistan towards the end. It brings together, for the first time, the memories of dozens of people from each side of the conflict who were present in East Pakistan during the war. It lets the available evidence tell the stories. It has been described as a work that “will set anew the terms of debate” about this war.
Even before anyone has had the chance to read it, Dead Reckoning has been attracting comment, some of it of a nature that according to an observer would make the very reception of my book a subject of “taboo studies”. “Myth-busting” works that undermine nationalist mythology, especially those that have gone unchallenged for several decades, are clearly not to be undertaken by the faint-hearted. The book has received gratifying praise from scholars and journalists who read the advance copies, but the word “courageous” cropped up with ominous frequency in many of the reviews.
Some scholars praised my work in private; others told me to prepare for the flak that was bound to follow. One “myth-busting” scholar was glad my book was out at last, as I would now sweep up at the unpopularity stakes and she would get some respite after enduring several years of abuse. Scholars and investigative journalists have an important role in “busting” politically partisan narratives. And yet, far too often we all fall for the seductive appeal of a simplistic “good versus evil” story, or fail to challenge victors’ histories.
So far the story of valiant rebels fighting oppressive dictators in the so-called “Arab spring” has had one significant blemish – the vicious sexual attack and attempted murder of CBS foreign correspondent Lara Logan by dozens of men celebrating the downfall of Hosni Mubarak in Tahrir Square in Cairo. It initially vanished from the headlines and has still not led to the kind of questioning of the representation of such conflicts that it should have generated. “Tahrir Square” became shorthand for freedom and democracy-loving people rising up against oppressive dictators.
People in other countries started to say they wanted their own “Tahrir Square”. Logan has given a brave and graphic account of what happened to her at the hands of those supposedly celebrating the fall of a dictator and the coming of freedom, democracy and human rights. Her life was saved by burqa-clad Egyptian women and she was rescued by soldiers. Her account endows “Tahrir Square” with an entirely different meaning.
It should caution us against assuming that all those opposing an oppressive regime are champions of non-violence, democracy or human rights. It should alert us to the complexities of political power struggles and civil war, and stop getting carried away by what we imagine is happening, or would like to happen, rather than what the evidence supports.
Such was the impact of the 1971 war on South Asians that the year has transformed into a shorthand for its particular symbolism: 1971, or ekattor, the number 71 in Bengali, has come to stand for a simple equation of a popular nationalist uprising presumed to embody liberal democratic values battling brutal repression by a military dictatorship. But was it really as simple as that? Over time, the victorious Bangladeshi nationalist side’s narrative of Pakistani villainy and Bengali victimhood became entrenched through unquestioned repetition.
The losing side of Pakistani nationalists had its own myth-making, comprising vast Indian plots. Pakistan had been carved out of the British Empire in India as a homeland for South Asia’s Muslims. It was a problematic idea from the start – a large proportion of Muslims chose to remain in secular and pluralistic India, for instance, and its two parts, West Pakistan and East Pakistan, were separated by a thousand miles of a hostile India. In 1971 the idea of Islam as the basis of nationhood came apart in South Asia along with the country of Pakistan, after a mere 23 years of existence. What went wrong? And what do the memories of those who were there reveal about the reality of that war?
The publication of Dead Reckoning has spoiled the day for those who had been peddling their respective nationalist mythologies undisturbed for so long. Careers have been built – in politics, media, academia and development – on a particular telling of the 1971 war. All the warring parties of 1971 remain relentlessly partisan in recounting the conflict. As the dominant narrative, which has gained currency around the world, is that of the victorious Bangladeshi nationalists and their Indian allies, they stand to lose the most in any unbiased appraisal. Unsurprisingly therefore, the protests from this section are the shrillest.
The reaction to the publication of Dead Reckoning by those who feel threatened by it has followed a predictable path. First, there has been an attempt to damn the book before it was even available. Apart from random rants on the internet – which provides opportunity for anyone to rail against anything – reports have been written by people who haven’t read the book, citing other people who also haven’t read the book. The reason for this may be summed up as the well-founded fear of “knowledge is power”.
When people read the book they will be far better informed as to what really happened in 1971. Hence the desperate attempt by those who have been spinning their particular yarns for so long to try to smear the book before anyone gets the chance to read it. A few people also seem to be trying to laud the book before reading it, an equally meaningless exercise. These commentaries are easy to dismiss: clearly, those who haven’t read the book have nothing of value to say about it.
Second, detractors of the book claim that it exonerates the military from atrocities committed in East Pakistan in 1971. In reality the book details over several chapters many cases of atrocities committed by the regime’s forces, so anyone who says it excuses the military’s brutalities is clearly lying. The question is – why are they lying about something that will easily be found out as soon as people start reading the book? The answer to this question is more complex than it might seem. Of course the detractors hope that by making such claims they will stop people from reading the book.
Part of the answer lies also in that the book corrects some of the absurd exaggerations about the army’s actions with which Bangladeshi nationalists had happily embellished their stories of “villainous” Pakistanis for all these years. But an important reason for falsely claiming that the book exonerates the military is to distract attention from the fact that it also chronicles the brutalities by their own side, committed in the name of Bengali nationalism. The nature and scale of atrocities committed by the “nationalist” side had been edited out of the dominant narrative. Its discovery spoils the “villains versus innocents” spin of Bangladeshi nationalist mythology.
A key question about the “controversy” over Dead Reckoning is why this book is stirring such passions when other works do not. One reason for this is that there are precious few studies of the 1971 war based on dispassionate research. This is the first book-length study that reconstructs the violence of the war at the ground-level, utilising multiple memories from all sides of the conflict.
Two eminent US historians, Richard Sisson and Leo Rose, published the only research-based study of the war at the diplomatic and policy level twenty years ago. Their excellent book, War and Secession: Pakistan, India and the Creation of Bangladesh (University of California Press, 1990), challenged the dominant narrative, but their work does not seem to be known among the general public as much as within academia.
However, a crucial reason for the special impact of Dead Reckoning has to do with who the author is. I am a Bengali, from a nationalist family in India. As Indians and Bengalis our sympathies had been firmly with the liberation struggle in Bangladesh in 1971. The dominant narrative of the 1971 war is the story as told by “my side”, as it were. My reporting of what I actually found through my research, rather than unquestioningly repeating the partisan narrative or continuing the conspiracy of silence over uncomfortable truths, is thus taken as a “betrayal” by those who have profited for so long from mythologising the history of 1971.
It is important to note that not all South Asians subscribe to the myth-making. One eminent Indian journalist thought that my “courage, disregard for orthodoxy and meticulous research” in writing Dead Reckoning made me “the enfant terrible of Indian historians”. A senior Bangladeshi scholar has found it “fitting that someone with Sarmila’s links with Bengali nationalism should demonstrate that political values cannot be furthered by distorting history.”
South Asians are prone to conjuring up all manner of conspiracy theories when faced with unpleasant realities, but those looking for one for Dead Reckoning are at a loss, as the only explanation for what it contains is that it reconstructs what really happened on the basis of available evidence. The process of dismantling entrenched nationalist mythologies can be painful for those who have much vested in them, but the passions stirred by the publication of Dead Reckoning has sparked the debate that the 1971 war badly needed – and set on the right course the discussion of this bitter and brutal fratricidal war that split the only homeland created for Muslims in the modern world.
Sarmila Bose is Senior Research Fellow in the Politics of South Asia at the University of Oxford. She was a journalist in India for many years. She earned her degrees at Bryn Mawr College (History) and Harvard University (MPA and PhD in Political Economy and Government.)
Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War is published by C. Hurst and Co. and Columbia University Press.
Sarmila Bose launches her `Dead Reckoning: Memories of 1971 Bangladesh War’
Anwar Hossain Manju
Mar 16, 2011
Highly reputed and respected scholar Sharmila Bose, educated at Harvard University and currectly Senior Research Fellow at Oxford University, was honorably hosted as the main speaker by the prestigious Wodroow Wilson International Center for Scholars located just about a couple of blocks away from the White House in Washington DC. The seminar was organized to introduce her new book `Dead Reckoning: Memories of 1971 Bangladesh War’.
She is a senior research fellow at the Department of Politics and International Relations at Oxford University. Her principal interest lies in the politics and policies of South Asia, and her current work addresses the practice of democracy in India and conflict and governance in the tribal areas of India and Pakistan. Bose was the inaugural director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in Oxford’s Department of Politics and International Relations from 2006 to 2008. Previously she taught and held research positions at Harvard, George Washington University, University of Warwick and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Dr Bose had also served as a journalist with posts as assistant editor and senior political writer with the Ananda Bazar Patrika Group of newspapers in India.
According to A. Dirk Moses of the European University Institute, distinguished scholar Sharmila Bose’s book `Dead Reckoning’ is at once a correction of the record and a tribute to the virtues of humanistic scholarships written with courage and sharing honesty, it will set anew the terms of debate about this dark chapter in the region’s history.
Stephen Cohen, the author of `The Idea of Pakistan’, who was also present at the program says on record ~Combining rigorous scholarships and a passionate interest in setting the record straight, `Dead Reckoning’ is the finest study yet of the social, cultural and political meaning of the 1971 East Pakistan/Bangladesh war. Bose writes in the service of the truth. We are in her debt.”
Among the distinguished participants in the discussion were Ambassador William B Milam (in Dhaka), Senior Policy Scholar at Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC, Stephen Cohen, a renowned scholar at Brookings Institute, Dr Mohammaed Quashem, Professor at Howard University in Washington DC, Dr Khandaker Mansur, Senior Officer at the Census Bureau of US Federal Government
New Jersy resident Dr Nurunnabi raised his unsubstantiated viewpoint of killing of 3 million people and raping 2,00,000 women by Pakistani soldiers during the 1971 war. These numbers were rejected by Sharmila Bose as wild imagination.
The program was attended by many well known Awami League activists, who patiently listened to her presentation without causing any disruption.
Representatives from Bangla service of Voice of America, Bangladesh Embassy and correspondents of Bangla newspapers were present. Arnold Zeitlin, who moderated the program was AP Bureau Chief in Pakistan in 1971, is currently Managing Director of Editorial Research and Reporting Associates, a Varginia based media consulting firm. He is also a visiting professor at Guangdong University in China. He was the director of Asian Center of the Freedom Forum in Hong Kong.
New impartial evidence debunks 1971 rape allegations against Pakistan Army
EDITORIAL: July 02, 2005
New impartial evidence debunks 1971 rape allegations against Pakistan Army
A study of the 1971 conflict by an Indian academic, Prof Sarmila Bose, says the Pakistan army personnel did not rape Bengali women as has been widely alleged by Indian and Bangladeshi writers. While Prof Bose’s study focuses on certain specific cases, the finding is very interesting, based as it is on extensive interviews with eyewitnesses. The study also determines the pattern of conflict as three-layered: West Pakistan versus East Pakistan, East Pakistanis (pro-Independence) versus East Pakistanis (pro-Union) and the fateful war between India and Pakistan.
As Prof Bose has noted, no prior study of the conflict has been done. What we have are narratives that strengthen one point of view by rubbishing contending viewpoints. The Bangladeshi meta-narrative, for instance, focuses on the rape issue and uses that not only to demonise the Pakistan army but also exploit it as a symbol of why it was important to break away from (West) Pakistan. Indeed, the sheer number of Bangladeshi women raped is placed in the millions, a fact to which the Hamoodur Rehman Commission Report also referred and declared as absurd. Even so, over the years the charge of rape has stuck to the Pakistan army and weighed it down in moral terms. Prof Bose, a Bengali herself and belonging to the family of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, has done a remarkable job of investigating the charge and paving the way for independent scholars to probe the issue further.
Prof Bose, who unveiled her study at a US State Department conference convened to mark the release of declassified US government documents from that period, also spoke about the violence generated by all sides. “The civil war of 1971 was fought between those who believed they were fighting for a united Pakistan and those who believed their chance for justice and progress lay in an independent Bangladesh. Both were legitimate political positions. All parties in this conflict embraced violence as a means to the end, all committed acts of brutality outside accepted norms of warfare, and all had their share of humanity. These attributes make the 1971 conflict particularly suitable for efforts towards reconciliation, rather than recrimination,” says Prof Bose.
It goes to Prof Bose’s credit that while studying the conflict she retained her professionalism and integrity, two essential traits normally absent in studies done of that period by all sides. Under the circumstances, if she wants to explore the issue further the Pakistan army should not hesitate to give her access to raw material in its archives so that she can expand her work. Indeed, here’s the Pakistan army’s chance to wash this stigma off it once and for all. We are reasonably sure that elements within Bangladesh — and even India — will criticise Bose’s study because it goes against the grain of Bangladeshi nationalism. But this will not take away from its impartialness and significance.
Bose is controversial for her writing on the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, suggesting that the casualties and rape allegations in the Bangladesh Liberation War were greatly exaggerated for political purposes. Her views have been criticized strongly in Bangladesh and India.
- ^ U.S Department of State South Asia in Crisis: United States Policy, 1961-1972 June 28-29, 2005, Loy Henderson Auditorium, Tentative Program
- ^ Anatomy of Violence: Analysis of Civil War in East Pakistan in 1971 by Sarmila Bose in the Economic and Political Weekly, October 8, 2005
- ^ In this website, we tried to collate information concerning this paper including Sarmila Bose’s original paper, relevant Bangla articles and rebuttals of Bose’s paper on the Drishtipat web site. Drishtipatis a non-profit, non-political expatriate Bangladeshi organization
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