[First published May 10, 2005] I have given a lot of statistics about democide in this blog. But, who can digest my mention of a 1,000,000 murdered here or there. It is near impossible to empathize with the human catastrophy such statistics dimly reflect when we have difficulty getting a feel for numbers greater than six or seven. A murderer tortures and kills three people, and that gets into our gut – three loving, feeling, human beings killed in agony. We can imagine this happening to our family or circle of close friends. But mention 10,000, 100,000, or 1,000,000, and that is beyond imagination and feeling; they are only a numbers.
So, to do something more than just provide statistics, I’m going to present a docudrama about one democide you probably know nothing about. It will demonstrate how much of democide is unknown—not hidden, but put away like all unwanted memories, and in the particular case I will relate, for political reasons. I’m going to tell you what Pakistan’s military rulers did in 1971—not the present government, but a previous one. Its genocide is still unmentionable, since Pakistan is an ally of the United States and a part of its coalition in the war against terrorism.
Pakistan is India’s neighbor to the west. And squeezed into the lower southeasern side of India is Bangladesh. Until 1971, that country was part of Pakistan, and was called East Pakistan. Its major ethnic group was Bengali, and their religion, as in West Pakistan, was Islam, although a slightly different variant.
Leading up to 1971, East Pakistan had been working politically and nonviolently toward independence from West Pakistan, almost a thousand miles away. It was on the verge of success after Pakistan’s 1969 national election, when the Bengali Awami League gained an absolute majority in the national legislature.
However, the ruling generals of Pakistan were absolutely opposed to East Pakistan gaining independence, so in 1971 General Agha Mohammed Yahya Khan, the self‑appointed president of Pakistan and commander-in‑chief of the army and his top generals, prepared a careful and systematic military operation against East Pakistan. They planned to murder that country’s Bengali intellectual, cultural, and political elite. To reiterate what is hard to believe, at the highest level of this regime, the rulers planned, prepared, and executed the cold-blooded murder of the best and brightest Bengalis in East Pakistan, and murdered indiscriminately many of its Hindus, driving the rest into India. This despicable and cutthroat plan was outright genocide.
Now, imagine that you were a student there. Before going to bed one night, you may have been in the library studying, working on your term paper, or doing a lab assignment. You may have written home or been out in Dacca with some friends. You may have given your friend a secret kiss before parting, already looking forward to seeing each other the next day. You go to bed that night with a future for which you are studying hard, with a future of loved ones and children, with a future of hope and bright dreams. You have not the slightest hint that the next day will be any different than the last; you close your eyes without any thought that you will be lucky to see the dawn, or if you do, that you will not live through the day.
So students the world over have gone to bed, to be destroyed there by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, tornadoes, and fire. But these are nature’s doings. What would happen this night was done by fellow human beings. Intentionally.
In the middle of the night, with no warning, West Pakistani tanks began shelling the dormitories of the University of Dacca, where students like you were sleeping.
Visualize it: you are blasted awake by tank shells suddenly bursting through the dorm walls and windows to explode throughout the dorm amongst your beds, your study rooms. Red-hot shrapnel flies, randomly seeking out those who will die, lose a leg or arm, or have their belly slit open so wide, their guts tumble out. Then the trembling fear, wild panic, and screaming; the mute dead, the crying wounded, the smoke and fire, destruction and blood, everywhere. And the forever unknown courage and heroism as you and others help the wounded and try to escape the flames and explosions.
You try to run or crawl out of the dorm, and help others to escape. You’re shaking. Your heart is beating wildly. You can’t get your breath. But you finally climb over smoking debris and make it outside.
But outside, the West Pakistan troops are waiting, and you are rounded up at bayonet point to stand or sit in trembling shock. You don’t know what happened or what they will do to you. You can’t believe it. You think this must be a nightmare as you watch the dormitories burn down with your fellow students still screaming inside or jumping from windows. If you have only minor injuries or none at all, you may try to help the crying, moaning wounded on the ground around you.
Dawn slowly shows through the smoke, and soldiers begin pushing and prodding all of you through the haze toward a grassy area near a parking lot. The soldiers bayonet those who resist, or who are too wounded to move. You are stunned and trembling — you cannot believe what you just saw. Students are being murdered, some you know, and as they are repeatedly bayoneted their screams and pleas for mercy rip through your mind.
Self-preservation takes over and you allow yourself to be herded along with the other survivors toward the grassy area, where you see a pile of shovels, hoes, and digging sticks that a small truck nearby has dumped. You are jabbed and shoved toward the pile and then the soldiers form a tight ring around all of you. An officer shouts, ‘Dig a trench. Dig it deep. Or be tortured to death.’
Your knees are almost knocking together, your heart thudding in your ears, and tears drip from your face as, in utter, mind-devastating terror, you pick up a hoe and begin hacking at the ground where one soldier is pointing. Through your fear, through your shock, through the terror, you have only one impossible realization—this trench is for you. For your dead body. You are going to be killed.
You hack away; you pull the loose dirt out with the hoe; you hack again and again. You stop crying. You don’t hear the cannon in the distance or the shooting nearby. You hear but barely recognize the scream of the girl who was digging near you, but made a break for it. She is tripped by one of the soldiers, and then is stabbed in the leg—you refuse to look as she writhes on the ground and shrieks and screeches while being stabbed in the other leg, and then in one arm, then the other, and finally in the stomach. It’s a calculated lesson for you, which you dimly recognize, and you blank out the girl’s moans and cries for her mother.
Now you’re resolute and focused. You hurry up your digging. You want to get it over with. Your body has grown cold. You shiver. Your mind closes down as you hack and pull the dirt, and deepen the trench with the others. Your soft hands, used to books and pencils, are bleeding and sore; your body is getting heavy and fatigued. But you feel nothing.
You and the others have dug three feet down. You are on automatic. Four feet. Then five. Several of the girls and two of the boys have collapsed in heaps at the edge from the unaccustomed labor, or have fainted from fear.
Someone yells, “Stop. Enough. Get out of the trench and line up on the edge.” This is it, but your mind refuses to recognize it. Your body obeys and lines up with the others. You see soldiers standing about twenty feet away with automatic rifles, but it means nothing.
You stand. You think of nothing. There is no passing time. You don’t see that the fire in the dormitories has nearly burned out, or that the smoke is drifting away, leaving the beautiful morning to prize. You don’t see the robin’s egg-blue of the sky, the gentle white clouds; you do not register the sound of birds chattering. You don’t even think of your loved ones, of your lost future, of your lost hopes, of your dead dreams. Of all your wasted study and effort.
Then, Brrrttt! Brrrttt!
Your body twitches from the impact of bullets ripping across your chest, blowing your last breath out the holes in a red mist. Now your body is as dead as your mind; you fall backward into the trench to be covered with dirt.
And how was your death received? The actual messages between the soldiers that killed you and army headquarters were intercepted. We know what was said. Your soul might be happy to know that you contributed to a prized well done.
The message was this:
“What do you think would be the approximate number of casualties at the university—just give me an approximate number in your view. What will be the number killed or wounded or captured. Just give me the rough figures”.
“Wait. Approximately three hundred.”
“Well done. Three hundred killed? Anybody wounded or captured?”
“I believe in only one thing—three hundred killed.”
“Yes. I agree with you that is much easier. No, nothing asked. Nothing done, you do not have to explain anything. Once again well done. Once again I would like to give you shabash and to tell all the boys . . . for the wonderful job done in this area. I am very pleased.”
The Pakistan military ultimately went on to murder about 1,500,000 Bengalis and Hindus. Only India’s invasion stopped them. The Indian army rapidly defeated them, and midwifed the formal independence of East Pakistan, which promptly named itself Bangladesh.
Link of Note
”Statistics of Pakistan’s Democide: Estimates, Calculations, And Sources” Chapter 8 of Statistics of Democide By R.J. Rummel
After a well organized military buildup in East Pakistan the military launched its campaign. No more than 267 days later they had succeeded in killing perhaps 1,500,000 people, created 10,000,000 refugees who had fled to India, provoked a war with India, incited a counter-genocide of 150,000 non-Bengalis, and lost East Pakistan.
This is the equivalent of a Rwanda in duration and murdered. Yet, it is Rwanda’s genocide that has gotten the publicity.