The Other Truth

March is a month of jubilation for the Bengalis and the Indians while it brings sadness
to Pakistan. However, there is still a body of facts that lies undiscovered so far.

By Nikhat Sattar | March 2020

The Romans used the 15th of March to mark the division of the month into two. Shakespeare used it as the date for an ominous announcement of Julius Caesar’s death. For many of us in Bangladesh, Pakistan and India, this date changes into 26th March when the fight for East Pakistan began formally, ending in the defeat of the Pakistani army almost nine months later, on December 16. This means celebrations for many in the erstwhile eastern arm of Pakistan; nonchalance or sorrow in Pakistan, depending on the level of awareness, and a sense of self-righteous victory in India. Together, these dates encapsulate a terrible story of breakup and fratricide that came before and after.

Despite the active role of Bengalis in the creation of Pakistan, they and their language had never been granted recognition equal to that of Urdu or Punjabi. Resentment had simmered ever since the language riots in Dacca in 1952. In the 60s, alleged sedition conspiracies by Mujib ur Rahman, the refusal of Bhutto and Yayha Khan to pass on the reins of the country to the former after his election win and the seething anger over negligence of the affectees of the devastating cyclone in 1970 led to increased agitation and turmoil in East Pakistan. On March 25, 1971, the Pakistan armed forces took over control, a wrong decision at all times for political problems. The next day, an independent Bangladesh was announced on the radio by Zia ur Rahman (and not Sheikh Mujib, as claimed by the BD government).

The discourse on the creation of Bangladesh has been heavily dominated by narratives of killings, torture and rape by the Pakistan army. Many Westerners have written articles and books and Bangladesh has made claims of three million killed and 200,000 rapes. Photographs of those tortured and dead were published in the Indian and Western press as evidence of the army’s brutality. No one realised that most were not dressed in the traditional Bengali attire. The stories of the dead and raped Bengalis simply don’t meet the demands of simple arithmetic. As Zia Khan writes, this meant that “in 250 days a little over two divisions of the Pakistan Army, while confronting twenty divisions of the Indian Army and rebels from within its own formations, killed 12,000 Bengali civilians and raped about 1,000 women every day!” Incidents of rape did occur. The question is of the scale of the crime, who the perpetrators were and of the total silence of non-Bengali women who were raped. No one has ever mentioned the missing latter whose loved ones kept trying to find them after 1971. Perhaps the reason is that the former were alive to tell their stories: the latter were all killed.

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The writer is a development professional, researcher, translator and columnist with an interest in religion and socio-political issues. She has translated various writings including Dr. Khalid Masud’s seminal biography of the Prophet Mohammed (SWS). She can be reached at

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