"Death to Hindu kafirs!"
Poor workers targeted
Apart from faculty members and students the Pakistani army's victim included caretakers, gardeners, security guards, sweepers, canteen owners and even peons. Their killing spree also extended to unarmed and marginalised people. On the streets, the soldiers shot anyone in their sights - pedestrians, sleeping rickshaw pullers and others were killed without mercy.
Towards the morning of 26 March 1971 some of the army men broke into the employees' lodgings within the dormitory compound, where about 50 Hindu families lived, all of whom were third or fourth class officials of the university. But only 5 or 6 of them were taken away. Monbhoran Roy, who was then an employee of the National Institute of Public Administration at Dhaka University, was one of them who were asked to dig a big grave in one corner of the field. First they were told that they would be released after the works were done. But as the graves were dug and all the corpses were thrown in, they were also aligned with the remaining students and brushfired them all. Such is the apathy towards these poor people, that even though it has been established that Monbhoran Roy was one of the martyred officials of this dorm, his name was not even inscribed in the list of the monument built in their memories.
Another victim of this abandonment is Madhusudan Dey, owner of the famous Madhu's canteen which even today is regarded as the political hub of progressive students. Madhusudan lived in the DU staff quarters, which was close to the teachers' quarter. On the morning of 26 March, around 7 am, Madhusudan had a shower and was offering worship to a Hindu goddess when some army men entered his flat and took him out while some others began to vandalise things, especially the Hindu religious materials. Then they shot his newly-wed brother Ranjit Kumar Dey, followed quickly by his sister-in-law Rina Rani Dey who was in the kitchen with Madhusudan's wife Jogmaya Dey, who was also killed. The army sprayed the victim's bodies with so many bullets that chunks of flesh were sagging out from their bodies. The dead bodies were dragged to the graves and buried with others.
Some of them took my father out, and others broke into the rooms to vandalise things, especially the Hindu religious materials, and photos of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Seeing them shatter everything, my sister-in-law screamed in fear. When they began to accost her, my brother came to her rescue, and he was shot dead right there. Then they shot my sister-in-law. Now came my father's turn. When they were poised to shoot, my mother appeared there abruptly and covered him. But nothing could deter them from shooting. As a result, they sprayed my mother's body with so many bullets that flesh from many parts of her body was sagging out. One or two bullets crossed my mother's body into my father's. Although bullet-hit, he was still alive. Then they dragged my father out in the corner of the Jagannath Hall field where the corpses were piled up.
A crestfallen Arun Kumar Dey, younger son of Madhusudan Dey, who was only 11 years old at the time of his father's murder ,
Once the dead bodies were disposed of, they moved towards the old Dhaka which in those days was a lot different than today's Muslim-dominated locality. All the Hindu-dominated neighbourhoods were assaulted with as much ferocity and hundreds of them were murdered.
Mr Akbar Ali, who is currently a teacher, was an 11-year-old living at Eskaton Gardens on 25th March 1971. They lived on the ground floor, and as soon as they heard firing at around 11.30 towards what is today the ETV building, he remembers his family hiding under the beds. The firings continued all night until five in the morning. Though he was young, he will never forget the trauma caused by the massacre. The days that followed were confusing, and they fled to Puran Dhaka later but the morbid sight of the corpses he saw on the road are still etched in his mind.
The deadly crackdown was later extended even to the remotest village. General Tikka Khan went around massacring Bengalis, all in the smug belief that state-induced terror would be a sure-fire way of convincing the people of East Bengal that they could not rebel and expect to succeed. What eventually happened was that General Tikka's presence only heightened the degree of Bengali rebellion. The Bengali soldiers serving in the then Pakistan Armed Forces and para militia forces declared instantly their solidarity with the people's liberation war.
There are some psychological aspects of persecutors. They decided to kill unarmed people because it is the unarmed people who usually take part in a movement. So these unarmed people should be killed in such a way that Bengalis would never dream of struggle again and never even try that. Their aim was to terrorise the masses.
Dr Husain on why civilians were killed,
Puran Dhaka blazed
In addition to the seven prime targets, during the first eight hours of 26 March 1971, the Pakistan soldiers also attacked industrial areas, railway stations, ferry terminals, roadside slums, and main food bazaars. Sleeping butchers, wrapped in their blankets and lying in the bazaar stalls, were riddled without warning as they slept.
Many families were roasted alive.
The Hindu concentrated areas of Puran (Old) Dhaka were particularly targeted. Convinced that the 'kafirs deserved to die', the Pakistani army started killing the people, burnt their houses, looted their valuables and raped their women.
Pakistan Army launched a genocide campaign on the inhabitants of old Dhaka particularly in Shankhari Bazar, Tanti Bazar, Luxmi (also spelt Lakshmi) Bazar, Narinda, and Moishandi - all Hindu dominated area. These places were home to traders for several hundred years - 'Tanti', for example, means weaver and 'Shakhari' means craftsmen - and contain rich heritage in terms of craft, architecture and ambience. Even now, age-old traditions and a sense of community among the residents of Puran Dhaka have remained particularly strong as the rest of the city continues to modernise.
From midday to midnight, the old city section of Dhaka felt the fury and the flame of the Pakistan army. The leading contingents of soldiers poured machine gun fire into the houses; the second contingents doused the houses with gasoline and ignited them. From noon until 2:00pm, 700 men, women, and children bled or burned to death in Old Dhaka. The carnage continued in section after section of the old city until midnight.
When the army reached the Hindu area of the old town, the merciless massacre increased in intensity. Then, with glee, the soldiers attacked the offices of the pro-Mujib daily newspaper Ittefaq. Four tanks poured their fire into the building, producing a raging inferno which not only destroyed the building, but also the 400 people who had taken shelter inside it. While the people of Dhaka absorbed these horrors, throughout the province units of Pakistani soldiers machine gunned in their barracks sleeping Bengali soldiers of the East Bengal Regiment. The massacre included Bengali officers, their wives and children.
Historically, it was a few market centres like Luxmi Bazar, Shankhari Bazar, Tanti Bazar, and a few localities of other craftsmen and businessmen, like Patuatuli and Kumartuli, Bania Nagar and Go-al Nagar which formed Dhaka.
During the Pakistani attack, countless number of Hindus were killed in these places and in clusters of residential houses built around the Ramna Kali Mandir and Ma Anandmoyee Ashram standing in a corner of the sprawling Race Course ground (now called Suhrawardy Uddyan).
Missionaries who asked why Hindus were being killed were repeatedly told by way of justification 'Hindus are enemies of the state'. Many witnesses testify that the army seemed obsessed with the idea that the movement for autonomy in East Pakistan was inspired by the Hindus, who represented less than 20% of the population. Victims of West Pakistani propaganda, they were erroneously but firmly convinced that the Bengali people in general and the Awami League in particular were dominated by this Hindu element and that they in turn were the agents of India, bent on destroying the Islamic State of Pakistan. It is likely that most Hindus voted for the Awami League in the 1970 elections, but the belief that the Awami League was inspired and run by Hindus was quite false. Its leaders and inspirers were all Muslim, and very few Hindu names appeared among their membership.
After the first onslaught, the burning and killing continued for some days, directed more specifically against the homes of active Awami League leaders and against Hindus.
Ethnic cleansing in Shankharipara
Shankhari Bazar is one of the oldest mohallas (a traditional neighbourhood) in Puran Dhaka, dating back more than 400 years. Located near the intersection of Islampur Road and Nawabpur Road the two main arteries of the old city and only a block away from the Buriganga River, Shankhari Bazar stretches along a narrow lane (Shankharipara), lined with thin slices of richly decorated brick buildings, built during the late Mughal or Colonial period.
As many as 20 temples dot this narrow street. Over the ages Shankhari Bazar has been elevated to the level of the most popular centre for religious festivities. As one of the most densely populated areas in the world Shankhari Bazar also has the largest concentration of the Hindus in Dhaka. At present there are about 10,000 people living in Shankhari Bazar and that within an area of 4.6 acres of land makes it one of the highest density areas of the world. Along with adjacent mohallas of Tanti Bazaar, Go-al Nagar, Jhulan Bari, Pannitola, it's also like a sanctuary to the Hindu community.
It is traditionally home to the Hindu 'shankha' (conchshell) business. The shop-fronts face the land and the residents live in the compact, terraced housing on both sides of the road. Images of Hindu gods hang high on the walls of many shopowners and almost life-sized clay image of the gods are visible in little room at the back. Surrounding the photos are the 'shankha' bangles (or bracelets) with magnificent carvings worn traditionally by married Bengali Hindu women. They believe that the shankhas keep their mind and body cool, protect them from diseases, and act as a symbol of her purity. Shankha is also an expression of love and devotion to her husband as by wearing it the woman seeks wellbeing of her husband and protection from bad omen. Use of broken shankha is considered ominous. Hindu married women also apply the 'Sindur' (vermilon) on their forehead.
It has been stereotyped as the ultimate example of congestion, blight, and dilapidated buildings. What has essentially been missed is the unique and exotic cultural heritage, which Shakhari Bazar as a custodian has nurtured and nourished for centuries.
Shakhari Bazar, with its unique urban fabric, intricate artistry and craftsmanship, the ambience of a vibrant culture and traditions has an awe inspiring presence.
During those dark days of 25 - 27 March 1971, the residents of Shankharipara were ordered to leave their houses. Hindus were separated from Muslims, and the Muslims were ordered to return to their houses. The Hindus were then machine gunned to death. Every family had lost at least one member. Their houses were vandalised and many of them were set on fire. The devastation caused to the community and to its rich heritage were irreplaceable and the Shankharis, like the rest of Bangladesh, had to start the struggle of life afresh.
Chandhan Sur and his infant son, Buddhadev Sur, were killed on 26 March along with a dozen other men in Shankharipara... There was no question of a funeral. Everyone ran away. Amar Sur [the elder son of Chandhan] and his family took shelter in a place a short distance away across the river. But some time later, the army arrived there as well. Again people ran for their lives. Amar carried the same sister, who could not walk. His mother carried the second youngest brother. They got separated in the chaos. One sister was shot and fell down. They all kept running, leaving anyone who was hit. A bullet hit on the head the sister he was carrying. She died. He met his mother after many days and told her his sister had been shot dead. His mother told him she had given his brother to an unknown person while fleeing, and lost him.
His mother kept saying that his sister who had been shot and fallen down must be alive, so Amar went back in search of her. He found that someone had taken her to a hospital. The bullet was still lodged inside her, the doctor wanted money to perform the operation. He went with the doctor to his bank, took out the money, paid the doctor, and went back to the rest of the family. A Muslim acquaintance advised him to change the first letter of his name from A to U - 'Umar', a Muslim name.
The family then attempted escape to India by boat. The 'dalal' (broker) wanted Rs. 100 per head. They paid, and went on the boad. But after a while the military came along the river in gunboats and everyone fled again. Amad did make it to India eventually. Barrackpore and Bowbazar in Calcutta [now Kolkata] have a large 'shankhan' community. Amar sold ribbons as a hawker on the streets of Calcutta; he found it demeaning.
After Bangladesh's independence they found that the injured sister had been operated on and the doctor had taken her to a relative's place. The story of the missing brother came out in the papers. A Muslim gentleman contacted them and asked them come and see if the child he had been given during the war was his brother. He was. It turned out that the person in whose arms his mother had thrust the baby while running was a poor man with many children. He had given the child to a richer person who was childless. This gentleman had been raising the child as his own. He now gave the child back to his real family, but asked to still raise him. They made an arrangement by which the child divided his time between the two families. This brother later went to India. According to Amar, he said he could not bear to stay in Bangladesh any more.
Amar Sur is ver bitter. He says independent Bangladesh did not help them even though they are 'shahider santan' (children of a martyr).
Hearbreaking story of a Bengali Hindu family ,
After the deadly attack, Shankharibazar became a deserted locality. Many people, including artisans, migrated to India and continued to migrate even after Bangladesh gained independence. Shankharibazar Road was renamed to 'Tikka Khan Road' - after General Tikka Khan, the man behind Operation Searchlight - and Bihari Muslims moved into the area.
'Enemy Property Act'
Following the Indo-Pak War of 1965, the government of Pakistan promulgated the infamous 'Enemy Property Act'. This essentially meant the confiscation of the Hindu properties by the government on the pretext of the unavailability of the real landowners of those properties. In many cases sons were denied the ownership of properties because the father had migrated and had died in India or chose not to come back at all. This Act practically ignores the Hindu Inheritance Law. Hindu law actually allows inheritance right to second-string relatives.
Unfortunately with the end of the independence war the much sought for revoking of the Act never came. The Enemy Property Act was simply given a new naming "the vested property act" retaining all its previous legal attributes and implications. Within three months after independence a new list of properties were produced. New names were added to the erstwhile Enemy Property list. We have once again shown the might of the majority. Over the last 35 years many more ordinances and acts have resulted in a total appropriation of the ownership of these properties.
During the same period the situation had only worsened for the Shakharees of Shakhari Bazar. Today 80-90% houses in Shakhari Bazar are listed as vested property. Living in the same houses, which were built by their forefathers the Shakharees continue to live a life in a state of perennial dislocation. They don't have the legal rights to their parental homes any more. We have constitutionally barred them from enjoying those basic rights.
The Hindu community of Bangladesh accounted for an astronomically disproportionate share of the dead and paid a huge price for Swadhinata (Independence).
In addition to the Shankharipara massacre, other documented incidents in which Hindus were massacred in large numbers include the Jathibhanga massacre (on 23 April 1971 in Dinajpur District) and the Chuknagar massacre (on 20 May 1971 in Khulna District). Thus, side by side with genocide, ethnic cleansing also formed an integral part of the mass killing project that the Pakistan army launched during 1971. This was true not only of Dhaka but also extended to every district and perhaps every village of Bangladesh. As terrified Bengalis fled to the countryside, the Pakistani army followed. Pakistan began to fly in additional troops into Bangladesh to continue the genocidal campaign. Though Hindus were the main target for extermination, Bengali Muslims did not escape Pakistani killing machine as they were considered 'tainted' by their Bengali/Hindu culture. Muslim intellectuals were also killed in large numbers and Bangladeshis as a whole would suffer immensely day after day, month after month.
The genocide that was perpetrated on the unarmed people was flashed in the world press.
Although that was the end of Operation Searchlight, that was also the beginning of a new phase of communal violence. Soon the Bangali collaborators took over and continued to threaten, torture, oust and kill the Hindu minorities with the sole purpose of occupying their land properties.
Field reports to the US government, countless eye-witness journalistic accounts, reports of international agencies such as World Bank and additional information available to the subcommittee document the reign of terror which grips East Bengal (East Pakistan). Hardest hit have been members of the Hindu community who have been robbed of their lands and shops, systematically slaughtered, and in some places, painted with yellow patches marked 'H'. All of this has been officially sanctioned, ordered and implemented under martial law from Islamabad.
In a report submitted to U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee (November 1, 1971) Senator Edward Kennedy further confirms this persecution of Hindus,
Shaheed Minar, long the symbol of Bengali nationalism, reduced to rubble along with Ramna Kali Mandir complex
On 26 March 1971, around 5 am, the Pakistani Army blew up the Shaheed Minar as part of their Operation Searchlight mission. They placed over the rubble of the Shaheed Minar a signboard with the word 'Mosque' written on it. The powerful monument symbolised the eastern province's struggle to establish Bangla as a state language when, once again, west Pakistani elite took to violence to crush the movement. This was the second version of the Shaheed Minar and was officially inaugurated on 21 February 1963 on the eleventh anniversary of Ekushey February. Now, the Pakistani soldiers rushed to the monument and blew it up in minutes.
However, in 1972, after Bangladesh had attained its independence, new initiatives were taken to construct the Shaheed Minar once again.
One will also recall the sheer speed, powered by patriotism, with which the people of Bangladesh rebuilt the Shaheed Minar immediately after Bangladesh stood liberated in December 1971. It is in such sublimity that we have consistently held the Shaheed Minar.
The Ramna Kali Mandir suffered a similar fate to the Shaheed Minar.
The Mandir, also known as Ramna Kalibari (House of the Hindu Goddess Kali), was one of the most famous Hindu temples of the Indian subcontinent. It was situated on the south side of the Ramna Park (now Suhrawardy Uddyan), opposite the Bangla Academy. The ancient temple (believed to be over a thousand years old) was a symbol of Hinduism in Bangladesh. It was one of Dhaka city's most prominent landmarks. The Mandir's 120-feet high tower (called "shikhar", and not to be confused with minaret of a masjid) extended over the second floor of the main Temple and was visible for miles around at a time when Dhaka had yet to embrace the high-rise culture. The tower can be clearly seen in the picture of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's famous 'Ebarer Shongram' address of 7 March 1971, at the centre of the trees in the distant foreground facing Sheikh Mujib. This was probably the last time it was photographed by mass media.
Next to the temple, on the northern side, was the Ma Anandamoyee Ashram (meaning "Joy Permeated Mother's hermitage"), another place of worship with a residential complex and sanitation facility. The Ashram was relatively new - built in 1929 - and along with the Ramna Kali Mandir was two of the holy places for Hindus in Bangladesh. The entire temple-ashram complex spanned almost 2.25 acres (9,100m sq). Even during the most violent Hindu-Muslim riots of partition, the settlement around the complex was able to avoid participation in communal strife.
However, on 27 March 1971, the Pakistani army machine-gunned and burnt the complex and bulldozed it. The attack began just after midnight, at 2 am and lasted couple of hours. Over 100 people, including the Swamijis, worshipers, devotees, and the common people living in that area, were 'cremated' instantly.
The whole Ramna area was well lit by the searchlights of Pakistani forces. Firing of the cannons started in the mean time. Upon entering the Ramna Kali Temple, the Pakistani forces started throwing some kind of explosives. However, some people said that they were firing cannons. As a result, the deity and the back portion of the Temple wall were completely blown away. Subsequently, the Temple and the Ashram were destroyed. Many people were sleeping and some were awake with anxiety when the executioners of Pakistani invading forces entered into the Temple and the Ashram. Members of some of the families were still taking dinner. They started running around in fear for their lives when the Pakistani army attacked. Every body started shouting the slogan "Pakistan Jindabad" in panic, the women broke the bangles made of conch shell and worn on forearms, and wiped out the vermilion dot. Some went into hiding at different corners of the Temple and the Ashram. Pakistani soldiers searched them out at the point of bayonet and made them to stand in line in front of the Temple. Men were made to stand in one line and the women with children stood in another line.
In front of all the people, the Pakistani soldiers forced Paramananda Giri, the temple priest, to recite 'Kalema' and immediately afterwards killed him by piercing the bayonet into his stomach and shooting. Subsequently, many people were forced to recite 'Kalema' and then killed in the same way. Pakistani soldiers would explode in devilish laughter and say that this was the consequence for voting on 'boat' marked ballot. The remaining men folks were gunned down in hail of bullets. It is learned from the testimonies of the witnesses that 80-100 people were killed at this time. The women were beaten by guns when they started screaming after seeing this horrible carnage. Many of them turned senseless. Pakistanis heaped the dead bodies together and set them on fire with gasoline. Those who were wounded also perished in the fire. Witnesses mentioned that some women and children were burned to death in the fire. Pakistani soldiers forced them to shout "Jai Bangla" when they were shot in the mouth and killed.
When such murders and rampages were going on, the Ramna Kali temple and Ma Anandamoyee Ashram were burning profusely.
There were about 50 cows in the cowshed of the Temple and the Ashram. They were burned to death. The Ramna area was turned into hell by the raging fire, firing of the guns, smell of the burning flesh, and screaming for life.
Three days later, a heap of bodies 3 ft high, remained where they fell when they were machine-gunned. David Gordon, then the head of the World Bank in Pakistan, was one of the foreigners who had viewed this ghastly sight on 29 March 1971 after the Pakistani army had left it on display.
There was something of a joker in Yahya Khan. Perhaps because of the World Bank officials’ disapproval of the destruction of the Ramna Kali Temple, the military President of Pakistan or his trusted Governor, General Tikka Khan, sanctioned Rs.20,000 for rebuilding, the temple which had been not only razed to the ground but after the rolling of bulldozers over it not a single brick remained there.