The Pakistan Army was ordered to launch operation on Bengali people at midnight of 25 March 1971 with a view to curbing the Bengali nationalist movement. The military action – codenamed Operation Searchlight (also referred to as 'Operation Blitzkerieg' in many literature) – intended to take controls of the major cities on 26 March 1971 and then eliminate all opposition, political or military, within one month.
Plan for Operation Searchlight were sketched out a week earlier by Major General Rao Farman Ali, General Khadim Raja and others to eliminate all defying forces in East Pakistan. Sensing that negotiations were failing, the East Pakistanis also began preparing with whatever weapons they had. Retired air force recruits declared that they were ready to fight guerrilla warfare like Vietnam. Mahila Parishad (Women's Union) started giving special training to women and members of Gonobahini (People's Army) trained by Chatra (Student) Union paraded the streets of Dhaka with dummy rifles, creating an excitement among the mass people. This further heightened the Bangali spirit.
It is now a well-known fact that the negotiations in Dhaka with Mujib were a smoke screen for gaining time for Yahya Khan to airlift supplies and military personnel to Dhaka for subsequent military operations
Abdus Sattar Ghazali, author
The initial Pakistan operation seemed to be to secure Dhaka, to break the Awami League hold on the local administration, to ensure the use of Chittagong naval base as the major port of entry for shipping from West Pakistan, to safeguard the functional airfields, to facilitate an aerial buildup in troublesome regions, to guard cantonments and arsenals, to clear the road, rail and inland waterway systems, to ensure the security of main towns, and in the process to disarm the East Bengal Regiment, the East Pakistan Rifles and police.
The planned and designated centers of offensive operations under that plan were Dhaka, Khulna, Chittagong, Comilla, Jessore, Rajshahi, Rangpur, Saidpur and Sylhet areas where West Pakistani army units were concentrated. Pakistani Army units and paramilitary elements in other areas of East Pakistan were to maintain control of their respective areas and await reinforcements during the initial phase of the operation. Once Dhaka had been secured, the 9th and 16th divisions from Pakistan were to be airlifted into East Pakistan as reinforcements.
At a meeting of the military top brass, Yahya Khan declared: "Kill 3 million of them and the rest will eat out of our hands."
Accordingly, on the night of 25 March, the Pakistani Army launched Operation Searchlight to "crush" Bengali resistance in which Bengali members of military services were disarmed and killed, students and the intelligentsia systematically liquidated and able-bodied Bengali males just picked up and gunned down.
A critical factor in explaining the civil war in Pakistan is the dominant role played by the military in Pakistani politics throughout its history. Pakistan has been under military rule for approximately half of the time it has been independent. As was the case with many postcolonial countries, Pakistan inherited weak civilian political institutions from British colonialism. The military, dominated by the Punjabis and to a lesser extent by the Pashtuns, has styled itself as the only real guarantor of Pakistani national unity. The military has stepped in to take control in response to many crises in Pakistani history, but even when the military has not been in direct control, it has exerted enormous influence on the polity. Consequently, the Pakistani military has seen itself as being charged not only with the external security but also with internal security.
Karl R. DeRouen & Uk Heo, editors of "Civil Wars of the World: Major Conflicts Since World War II, Volume 1" (2007)
According to the plan for Operation Searchlight two headquarters were established. Major General Rao Farman Ali with 57 Brigade, led by Brigadier (later Lieutenant General) Jehanzeb Arbab, was responsible for operation in Dhaka city and its suburbs while Major General Khadim Raja was given the responsibility of the rest of the country. Lieutenant General Tikka Khan assumed the overall charge of the operation.
The 57 Brigade included 18 Punjab and 32 Punjab regiments, 22nd Baluch regiment, 31 Field artillery regiment and the Bengal unit 2nd East Bengal Regiment (2 EBR) stationed in Joydevpur. The task for 22 Baluch was to disarm the East Pakistan Rifles (EPR) and seize wireless at their Pilkhana headquarter. 32 Punjab was to take over the Rajarbag police lines, some key police stations and the President's House. 31 Field artillery regiment, commanded by Lt. Col. Zahed Hassan, was to secure the Mohammadpur and Mirpur area. Meanwhile, 18 Punjab, under the command of Lt. Col. Basharat Sultan, was responsible for securing Dhaka University, the television station and Shankharipatti (a Hindu area in old Dhaka), and also for providing tank protection and guarding the Intercontinental Hotel. As 'Operation Searchlight' got under way, Lt. Muhammad Ali Shah of 18 Punjab had the task of providing close protection to the tanks with a platoon of troops. The Brigade Headquarter was set up in the area of Dhaka referred to as the 'second capital', Sher-e-Bangla Nagar. General Tikka Khan was in the Eastern Command headquarters at Kurmitola (north of Dhaka, next to the airport).
Major Jafar Khan had arrived in the first week of March to take over from Bengali Major Khaled Mosharraf as Brigade Major of 57 Brigade. Major Khaled Mosharraf was transferred to 4th East Bengal Regiment in Comilla.
Just before the army action the Bengali Commanding Officer of 2 EBR, Lt. Col. Masudul Hasan Khan was relieved of his post on 22 March 1971 and replaced by another Bengali officer, Lt. Col. Raquib, who had been Commanding Officer of 32 Punjab at Dhaka, much to the consternation of all ranks. On the night military action started, Lt. Col. (later Brigadier) Muhammad Taj, who was originally from 18 Punjab, was commanding 32 Punjab, but was also in overall charge of all three units.
Pakistanis refrained from mass transfer of Bengali officers, as that might have compromised security of the plan. Bengali officers were urged to take leave (although all leave had been cancelled since February 1971), while West Pakistani officers were told to stay put. Families of West Pakistani officers and soldiers were evacuated from East Pakistan, and when possible families of some West Pakistani civilians were brought into the cities.
The students and the nationalist political activists put up resistance at Farmgate, Dhaka, one kilometre from the army cantonment. Huge road blocks were created by placing big tree trunks across the road. The hulks of old cars and unserviceable steam roller, were also used. Several hundred people chanted the slogan Joi Bangla which lasted for about 15 minutes. But soon guns silenced them.
Wireless-fitted jeeps and trucks loaded with combat troops armed with automatic weapons and mortars - some in M-24 Chafee tanks - groaned on the streets of Dhaka City. Pakistan's army's 14th Infantry Division, then headquartered in Dhaka, moved into the city before scheduled time and started the genocide at midnight of 25 March. They focused on areas seen as hot-beds of the Awami League's autonomist activism - Dhaka University campus, halls of residence, including one used by female students, and a district of narrow alleyways in the old part of the city largely inhabited by the Hindu community.
From the night of 25 March 1971, when the Pakistani army launched its surprise offensive in East Pakistan in an attempt to crush the Bengali autonomy movement, normal standards of logic and reason stopped applying. The mindless brutality of the West Pakistani troops demonstrated the military regime’s irrational determination to hold on to East Pakistan at whatever cost and by whatever tactics are necessary. In turn this brutality has fired and fed an increasingly effective and popularly supported guerrilla counteroffensive that keeps East Pakistan in chaos. Every army reprisal against the civilian population produces new Bengali freedom-fighters. The Bengalis – now sullen, bitter, hating – seem ready for a long fight for full independence. Talks of anything less, such as the old goal of East Pakistani autonomy within Pakistan, is considered heresy.
Sydney H. Schanberg wrote in the article "Pakistan Divided" (1971)
26 March 1971 was a Friday. Friday is a holy day for Muslims as amongst other thing it's on a Friday that the first Prophet, Adam (Peace Be Upon Him), was created, the day he was sent down to the earth and the day that he died. Friday is also a day when our supplications to Allah are answered as long as it isn’t something forbidden. This is also the day where the onset of the last hour will begin. Allah has made this day the master of all other days to the extent that it is greater to Allah than the days of Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha.
On this holy day on 26 March 1971 the Pakistani military forces killed everybody in sight on the footpath and destroyed everything on their way. Silence of the night was violated with the sounds of Mortar shells, firing Rifles and heavy tanks. The tanks roared through the streets of Dhaka blasting indiscriminately at the people and official and residential buildings. They gunned down clusters of settlements and set fire on them. Scores of artillery bursts were pounded, while the tanks rumbled into the city roaring the main streets. Throughout that long night three battalions of soldiers - one infantry, one artillery, one armoured - killed defenseless Dhaka Bengalis with bayonets, rifles, machine guns, mortars, artillery pieces, rockets, flame throwers, and tanks.
The Pakistan Government launched a vicious campaign of systematic massacres intending to cripple the 'secessionist uprising'. The Pakistani army was unleashed to carry out what Archer Kent Blood, the American Consul General then situated in Dhaka, termed as selective genocide''. With military precision the Pakistani army tackled their target.
But it was at Dhaka University where the soldiers' ferocity came into full, macabre display.
Yayha was no longer interested in taking shelter of either logic or morality and had reverted to the law of the jungle in his bid to crush the people of Bangladesh.
Students have been at the heart of the struggle for the Bengali nation since the creation of Pakistan in August 1947.
It was the students who opposed 'Quaid-i-Azam' Muhammad Ali Jinnah's unilateral declaration in March 1948 that "Urdu and Urdu alone shall be the state language of Pakistan". It was the students who sacrificed their life during the police brutality of Ekushey February. And since the Basha Andolan gradually evolved into a broader socio-political and economic movement for the emancipation of the Bengalis, the students, in the eyes of the Pakistani junta were seen opposed to the very notion of a communal Pakistan.
Students in Bangladesh were forward looking progressive bunch of young men and women who supported Bengali Nationalism not because they were narrow nationalistic but Bengali Nationalism to them meant a freedom from the shackles of an artificially imposed sense of nationalism based on religious divisions which was contrary to the history of South Asia where Hindus and Muslims have lived in peace and harmony over several centuries.
Anis Ahmed, writer
During the entire period of non-violent, non-cooperation movement between 1 March and 25 March 1971, the students protested vehemently against the Pakistani conspiracy of undoing the first ever held national election on the basis of adult franchise in the country. They actively supported the 'hartal' declared by Sheikh Mujib and created the Jatiyo Potaka (National Flag of Bangladesh). Students were also the first to declare an independent Bangladesh.
For the West Pakistani junta, the students of East Pakistan were no longer viewed as the bright hope of the nation but represented potential threat to the very existence of Pakistan. They were considered as the harbinger of the Shadinota Andolan (Independence Movement) of 1971 and hence these young men and women were the principle target of the first murder and atrocities in 1971.
The first target for the Pakistani killing squad was the 'Oxford of the East', the University of Dhaka - arguably, the most prestigious university in East Pakistan containing the brightest minds. Many of its students were active supporters of the Awami League who set up training camps to respond to any potential military invasion by the West Pakistani military in light of the postponement of the national assembly on 1 March 1971. Under the supervision of DUCSU (Dhaka University Central Students' Union), senior students began to provide combat training to members of Chhatro (Students') League and left leaning Students' Union using both real and dummy rifles stored in room number 1052.
Men's training was provided on the Dhaka University gymnasium field whilst the women trained at Rokeya Hall. Along with physical training, the student leaders also explained to the trainees why they we're going to war. Within days, the first batch of group had completed their training. This group, along with two others, including a girl's student group, took part in a parade on the roads. Photographs of the marching girls carrying rifles appeared in the foreign media during this period and are proudly presented in the Mukhtijuddho Jadughar (Liberation War Museum) in Dhaka.
In the beginning, the trainings at Iqbal hall would start at 2 am and continue till 4 am in the night to maintain secrecy. The women used to take training at Rokeya Hall. There was another training camp at Jagannath Hall.
I decided to leave the reading table to take to the streets. We started preparation for the war before 26 March. We arranged training with dummy rifles and parade both for males and females. We even practised live firing on the bank of Sitalakhya River in Rupganj.
Mujahidul Islam Selim, president of the Communist Party of Bangladesh
The attack on the campus started at about one o'clock in the morning. The first targets as the tanks rolled into Dhaka were the student halls. The first attack was directed at Iqbal Hall (now called 'Jahurul Haque Hall'), which was the centre of the then East Pakistan Chhatro (Student) League, the student wing of the Awami League. The Pakistani army barged into the student rooms - using rocket launchers in some instances to break open the room - and indiscriminately fired bullets on the hapless students. Two hundred (200) students were killed as shells slammed into the building and their rooms were sprayed with machine-gun fire. The army's fire is said to have come from "all types of arms, mortars, tanks, cannon, machine gun fire and tracer bullets".
Led by the American supplied M-24 World War II tanks, one column of troops sped to Dacca University shortly after midnight. Troops took over the British Council Library (situated within the campus) and used it as a fire base from which to shell nearby dormitories areas. Caught completely by surprise some 200 students were killed in Iqbal Hall, headquarters of militant anti-government student union, I was told. Two days later, bodies were still smouldering in burnt-out rooms others were scattered outside, more floated in a nearby lake.
Simon Dring, British Journalist of the Daily Telegraph, on 30 March 1971
All night long, the sounds of rocket and machine gun fire and the sight of tracer fire kept the citizens of Dhaka awake in a state of fear. The noise was deafening and continued through the night until 7 am. The brave students at Iqbal Hall did put up a resistance - but only a little. There were some small arms fire but this lasted no longer than 35-40 minutes. In other version, Shamsuddin, the security guard of Iqbal Hall is alleged to be the the only person to fire several bullets on the advancing Pakistani troops.
I have always heard people say so, but I don't know if it is true because my brothers found his corpse on 27 March 1971. Other guards or officials were either killed or too frightened to recollect things correctly.
The only place from which any resistance was offered was Iqbal Hall...The light nature of the resistance is borne out by the fact that the control centre was heard by several witnesses to enquire over the army radio of the officer leading the attack how many guns had been found in Iqbal Hall. The officer replied 'Only 50 rifles'. He was then ordered to add the number of all rifles and small arms taken in house-to-house searches throughout the city as the recorded number of small arms found at Iqbal Hall.
Global Webpost website
After Iqbal Hall, the Pakistani army attack moved to Salimullah Hall and later at Jagannath Hall. Their venom was particularly reserved for Jagannath Hall, which was exclusively meant for non-Muslim students especially the Hindus and other minorities. These accommodations were invaded, shelled at a point blank range and those students who could not escape were ruthlessly killed. The Pakistan Army went around shooting anyone on sight. Hundreds of students were killed. Any students remaining alive were shot or bayoneted to death.
In Jagannath Hall there was general and indiscriminate shooting and killing for a start. This took place in at least one bathroom. The walls were pock-marked by bullet holes. Pieces of human anatomy had stuck to the wall and were still there. Sometimes a part of a nose was sticking here and elsewhere there were fingers and what must have been pieces of flesh and skin. There were plenty of signs from where the dead bodies had been pulled out of the bathroom. Apparently the students had initially taken refuge in the place.
But the main conclusion one has drawn from the killings that took place was that most of them took place in individual rooms. Despite the washing, there were plenty of loose sheets of paper, diaries, pieces of exam papers, pages of books. One saw a few letters written in Bengali and a few in English. They appeared to be some from sweethearts and some from parents.
But the horrible conclusion that one had to draw was that no one was killed at random. Most of the shooting that took place must have been inside the room. Apparently, the boys were terrorized to an extreme degree and were totally docile. It appears that each student was killed by a separate soldier and probably at one precise time, perhaps on a command.
There was a distinct pattern. A window-pane was broken in exactly one place in all the rooms through which the rifles must have been thrust into the room. It must have been that each had been asked earlier to sit on the bed with his face facing the wall. There was a distinctive arch of bullet marks on the wall at a place above the bed where the head should have been. Another piece of evidence was a dark spot on the floor in virtually the same place in all the rooms where the blood must have collected and congealed. True, it had been washed, but the blood was still visible and in the round shape of a pool.
It does seem that they were shot together at one and the same time, otherwise some would have got out or tried to run or something, and the bullet marks would be at different places in the room. In all the rooms that one saw, the pattern was the same: a certain windowpane was broken, an arch of bullet holes on the wall behind the bed and the blood mark on the floor. These told their own grisly story.
The Daily Star (Bangladesh)
One visitor to the Jagannath Hall forty-three (43) days after the attack gave a vivid description of the human stains that still remains.
The vertical part of the staircases within the halls carried tell-tale spots and discolourings, showing that the dead bodies had been dragged down with blood still oozing out of them. There were even a few bits of human bodies - hair, fingers, ears, noses, etc - sticking to the vertical spaces, while the horizontal steps had been cleared, though they all had dark spots of blood still visible. For such human devastation to be still there a month-and-a-half after the place had been washed clean speaks volume of the ferocity and magnitude of the heinous attack by armed Pakistani army on the young Bengali students.
Many of the students were already in bed, others were working late, still others were discussing the political situation, which had grown increasingly tense during the last few days. But on that dark and sultry night, the last thing to occur to them was that they were in danger.
The shelling lasted five minutes, killing about thirty students...Then the soldiers, shouting loudly, broke into the dormitories, shooting at random, and ordering the students to come out with their hands above their heads. Those who did not come out fast enough were shot or bayoneted. Once outside the building, the students were lined up against the walls and mown down with machine guns fired from the tanks, and from armored cars that had come up so that the Punjabi officers could observe the scene.
Students who remained alive were bayoneted to death. Within a quarter of an hour 109 students were dead. The bodies of the Muslim students were dragged up to the roof of Iqbal hall, where they were left to the vultures. The bodies of the Hindu students were heaped together like faggots and later in the night, six students, who had been spared, were ordered to dig a grave for them. After they had dug the grave they were shot.
Robert Payne, author of "Massacre" (1973)
Several hundred young men, the cream of Bengali youth, died that night from Pakistani bullets, shells, and raging flames. Later, when an art student was found sprawled across his easel, it became apparent that dozens never knew what hit them. At the Hindu students' dormitory, the students who survived the attack were forced to dig graves for the slaughtered fellow students. Then they, too, were shot and stuffed into the graves dug with their own hands.
Viggo Olsen, author of "Daktar: Diplomat in Bangladesh" (1973)
During the early days of Operation Searchlight Pakistani army killed students instantaneously by shooting or by launching rockets in the dorms. But when the dorms were emptied and the surviving students fled this Operation Searchlight intensified and was extended even to remote villages. Students were rarely shot at sight, on the other hand they were caught, interrogated if they had links with the Freedom Fighters or Mukti Bahini and even if they had not any link or it was not proven, the innocent students were tortured and slowly killed.
Anis Ahmed, writer
As day broke, students were hunted down and forced to dig a mass grave on the open ground outside the Jagannath and Salimullah Halls. They were ordered to carry their fellow student's corpses scattered here and there, and to heap them in a corner of the field. The students were aided by captured Hindu officials such as Monbhoran Roy, an employee of the National Institute of Public Administration at Dhaka University, who were taken from the employees' lodgings within the Jagannath Hall compound. More bodies were collected in trucks from Iqbal Hall and elsewhere on the campus and dumped into the grave.
Finally, the Pakistan Army ordered the remaining students to line up beside the stacks of corpses and shot them point blank to complete their mission.
There were about 50 families living here, but they just arrested 5 or 6 men, my husband being one of them. At first the army had said that they would get him to work and release him afterwards. But when all the corpses were carried and graves were dug, they also aligned him with the students and brushfired him.
Loosely covered with earth, bulldozers were then used to level the grave. Some witnesses speak of the sight of arms and legs sticking up out of the grave.
Silence descended upon the whole compound after the brushfire had ceased. But soon the silence was broken with sporadic cries of 'save me' or 'give me some water'. As the army had left the compound by then, a few dared to go near the stacks of corpses only to find that many had already been buried while many were just left to die away in a pool of blood. Monbhoran Roy was among the latter group. Although he outlasted others, he also died in a few hours.
Estimates of the number of students killed vary but seem to have totaled some hundreds. The number would have been higher but for the fact that the University had been closed since 7 March 1971 (after Sheikh Mujib's famous 'Ebarer Shongram' speech) and many students had gone to their homes.
Very few students survived to give an eyewitness account of the carnage. One such student was Kali Ranjansheel, a veteran activist of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, who had survived the clampdown on Jagannath Hall that night. He along with few other fortunate ones were spared because of the darkness. Ranjansheel was one of those tasked with carrying the corpses. Too overworked to stand on his feet, he fell on the ground beside the dead body of Prof. D. C. Dev right before the bullets could hit him.
I was a student at the Dhaka University. I used to live in room number 235 (South Block) in Jagannath Hall. On the night of 25 March, I woke up from sleep by the terrifying sound of gunfire. Sometimes the sound of gunfire would be suppressed by the sound of bomb explosions and shell-fire. I was so terrified that I could not even think of what I should do! After a while I thought about going to Shusil, assistant general secretary of the student's union. I crawled up the stairs very slowly to the third floor. I found out that some students had already taken refuge in Shusil's room, but he was not there. The students told me to go to the roof of the building where many other students had taken shelter but I decided (rather selfishly) to stay by myself. I crawled to the toilettes at the northern end of the third floor and took refuge in there. I could see the east, the south and the west from the window. I could see that the soldiers were searching for students with flashlights from room to room, were taking them near the Shahid Minar [Martyr's Memorial] and then shooting them. Only the sound of gunfire and pleas of mercy filled the air. Sometimes the Pakistanis used mortars and were shelling the building. The tin sheds in front of Assembly and some of the rooms in the North Block were set one fire...
After some time, about 40 - 50 Pakistani soldiers came to the South Block and broke down the door of the dining room. The lights were turned on and they were firing at the students who took shelter in that room... When the soldiers came out they had Priyanath [the caretaker of the student dormitory] at gunpoint, and forced him to show the way through all the floors of the dormitory. During this time I was not able to see them as I left the toilette by climbing up the open window and took shelter on the sunshed of the third floor. But I could hear the cracking sounds of bullets, the students pleading for mercy and the sound of the soldiers rummaging and throwing things about in search of valuables. The soldiers did not see me on the sunshed...
After they left, I again took refuge in the washroom. I peeked through the window and saw that the other student's dormitory, Salimullah Hall, was on fire. The northern and the eastern parts of the city were on fire too as the north and east horizon had turned red. The whole night, the Pakistani soldiers continued their massacre and destruction... Finally I heard the call for the morning prayer [i.e. Fajr adhan]...
The curfew was announced at dawn and I thought that this merciless killing would stop. But it continued. The soldiers started killing those who had escaped their notice during the night before...
It was morning and I heard the voices of some students. I came out of the toilette, and saw that the students were carrying a body downstairs while soldiers with machine guns were accompanying them. It was the dead body of Priyanath. I was ordered to help the students and I compiled. We carried bodies from the dormitory rooms and piled them up in the field outside. There were a few of us there - students, gardeners, two sons of the gateskeeper and the rest were janitors. The janitors requested the Pakistanis to let them go since they were not Bengalis. After a while the army separated the janitors from us...
All the time the soldiers were cursing and swearing at us. The soldiers said, "We will see how you get free Bangladesh! Why don't you shout 'Joy Bangla' [Victory to Bengal]!" The soldiers also kicked us around. After we had finished carrying the bodies, we were divided into groups. They then took my group to one of the university quarters and searched almost every room on the fourth floor and looted the valuables. Downstairs we saw dead bodies piled up, obviously victims from the night before. They also brought down the flag of Bangladesh...
After we came back, we were again ordered to carry the dead bodies to the Shahid Minar. The soldiers had already piled up the bodies of their victims and we added other bodies to the piles. If we felt tired and slowed down, the soldiers threatened to kill us...
As my companions and I were carrying the body of Sunil (our dormitory guard), we heard screams in female voices. We found that the women from the nearby slums wre screaming as the soldiers were shooting at the janitors (the husbands of the women). I realised that our turn would come too as the Pakistanis started lining up those students who were before us, and were firing at them. My companion and I barely carried the dead body of Sunil toward a pile where I saw the dead body of Dr. Dev [Professor of Philosophy]. I cannot explain why I did what I did next. Maybe from pure fatigue or maybe from a desperate hope to survive!
I lay down beside the dead body of Dr. Dev while still holding onto the corpse of Sunil. I kept waiting for the soldiers to shoot me. I even thought that I had died. After a long time, I heard women and children crying. I opened my eyes and saw that the army had left and the dead bodies were still lying around and women were crying. Some of the people were still alive but wounded. All I wanted to do was to get away from the field and survive.
I crawled towards the slums. First I went to the house of the electrician. I asked for water but when I asked for shelter his wife started crying aloud and I then left and took refuge in a toilette. Suddenly I heard the voice of Idu who used to sell old books. He said, "Don't be afraid. I heard you are alive. I shall escort you to safety". I went to old Dhaka city. Then I crossed the river. The boatman did not take any money. From there, I first went to Shimulia, then, Nawabganj and finally I reached my village in Barisal in the middle of April.
Kali Ranjansheel in "Jagannath Hall-ei Chilam" (I was at Jagannath Hall), published in "1971: Bhayabaha Abhignata" (Terrible Experiences)(1989)
Though Kali Ranjansheel cheated death, he died pre-maturely possibly due to disturbing memories of that horrifying night which will have taken their toll on him.
The gruesome killing of the student at Jagannath Hall was captured in an amateur video by an Electrical Engineering professor of East Pakistan University of Engineering and Technology (now Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, or BUET for short). Professor Nurul Ullah witnessed the horrific event from the safe confines of his quarter in the university area which overlooked the open field of Jagannath Hall. From the back window of his flat, he recorded the shooting of the Bengali students by the Pakistani soldiers using a video tape recorder.
The film, lasting about 20 minutes, first shows small distant figures, faces unidentifiable, emerging from the hall carrying the corpses of what's likely to be the students and professors massacred in Jagannath Hall. These figures, dressed in lighter clothes, are civilians and behind them, seen strutting arrogantly even at that distance, are darker clad figures of the Pakistan Army. The bodies are laid down in neat, orderly rows by those forced to carry them at gunpoint. Then the same procession troops back to the Hall. All this time, with no other sound, one hears innocent birdsong and a lazy cow is seen grazing on the university lawns. The same civilians come out again and the pile of bodies grows.
But after the third trip, the action changes. After the corpses are laid on the ground, the people carrying them are lined up. Fearing the morbid outcome, one civilian falls on his knees and clings to the legs of the nearest soldier, pleading for mercy. But there's no mercy. Instead the soldiers point their guns, pull the trigger and one by one the lined up figures fall to the ground. Some piled on top of the very corpses they had to carry out at gunpoint, their own colleagues and friends. Then the soldiers went amongst the bodies shooting close up to make sure their victims were definitely dead.
On March 25, 1971, the day of the Pakistani crack-down, although I knew nothing about it at the time, my wife and I had just had breakfast and I was looking out of my back windows in the professors' block of flats in which I and my colleagues from the Engineering University live with our families. Our back windows overlook a street across which are the grounds of Jagannath Hall, one of the most famous halls of Dacca University. I saw an unusual sight, soldiers driving past my flat and going along the street which overlooks it, towards the entrance to the University. As curfew was on, they made announcements on loudspeakers from a jeep that people coming out on the streets would be shot. After a few minutes, I saw some people carrying out what were obviously dead bodies from Jagannath Hall. I immediately took out my loaded video tape recorder and decided to shoot a film through the glass of the window. It was not an ideal way to do it, but I was not sure what it was all about, and what with the curfew and all the tension, we were all being very cautious. As I started shooting the film, the people carrying out the dead bodies laid them down on the grass under the supervision of Pakistani soldiers who are distinguishable in the film, because of their dark clothes, the weapons they are carrying and the way they are strutting about contrasted with the civilians in lighter clothes who are equally obviously drooping with fright. As soon as firing started, I carefully opened the bedroom window wide enough for me to slip my small microphone just outside the window so that I could record the sound as well. But it was not very satisfactorily done, as it was very risky. My wife now tells me that she warned me at the time: 'Are you mad, do you want to get shot too? One flash from your camera and they will kill us too.' But I don't remember her telling me, I must have been very absorbed in my shooting, and she says I took no notice of what she said.
It so happened that a few days earlier, from the same window I had shot some footage of student demonstrators on their way to the university. I little thought it would end this way.
Anyway, this macabre procession of students carrying out bodies and laying them down on the ground was repeated until we realized with horror that the same students were themselves being lined up to be shot. After recording this dreadful sight on my video tape-recorder, I shut it off thinking it was all over only to realize that a fresh batch of university people were again carrying out bodies from inside. By the time I got my video tape-recorder going again, I had missed this new grisly procession but you will notice in the film that the pile of bodies is higher.
I now want to show my film all over the world, because although their faces are not identifiable from that distance in what is my amateur film, one can certainly see the difference between the soldiers and their victims, one can see the shooting and hear it, one can see on film what my wife and I actually saw with our own eyes. And that is documentary evidence of the brutality of the Pak army and their massacre of the intellectuals.
This powerful and highly sensitive video is the only video documentary evidence of the murders in progress at the Dhaka University, and remains a heroic effort on behalf of Professor Nur Ullah to capture the Pakistani brutality during those dark days.
Professor Nurul Ullah's world scoop indicated that he was a remarkable individual who through his presence of mind, the instinctive reaction of a man of science, had succeeded in shooting a film with invaluable documentary evidence regardless of the risk to his life.
Global Webpost website
Neither gender nor age was a factor in deterring the perpetrators of war crime from committing atrocities and murder. Female students were not spared either and also subjugated and tortured by the Pakistani Army.
On 30 March 1971, the American Consul General in Dhaka, Archer Blood, sent a telegram to the State Department recounting how the girl hostel of Rokeya Hall at Dhaka University - named after Begum Rokeya, the pioneer of women rights movement in Bangladesh - was "set ablaze and girls machine-gunned as they fled the building". The attack seemed to be aimed at eliminating the female student leadership since many girl student leaders resided in that Hall. It is estimated about 45 - 50 people were killed inside the Rokeya Hall.
Six naked female bodies at Rokeya Hall, Dacca U. Feet tied together. Bits of rope hanging from ceiling fans. Apparently raped, shot and hung by their heels from fans.
I was scared when the Pakistani army knocked on our door. I just managed to hide under a bed. The army men entered the room breaking the door, and shot my parents dead. I was lucky enough that they did not look under the bed.
Screams of terrified people were heard from distant areas. Tracer shells reflected in dark sky of the night. Number of death was innumerable.
The Daily Star (Bangladesh)
After massacring the students, the army set the university halls and other buildings on fire, including the libraries. The Library of the British Council building on the campus was attacked in the mistaken belief that it was the University Library. An eight man Bengali police guard at the British Council premises were shot to death in a small room where they were hiding. A group of about 30 civilians from a nearby slum quarter who had sought refuge on top of one of the blocks of university teachers' flats were similarly wiped out.
From his suite at Hotel Intercontinental (today's Sheraton), Zulfikar Ali Bhutto watched the flames engulf Dhaka.
The Daily Star (Bangladesh)
Some people had almost miraculous escapes. Professor Anisur Rahman has given a moving account of how he was saved by having placed a lock on the outside of his door, which led his assailants to think he was away. He and his wife and children crawled about on their hands and knees for some 48 hours in order not to be seen from the ground. In the meantime they heard his colleagues, Professor Guhathakurda and Professor Muniruzzaman dragged out of their flats and shot. It was said afterwards that Professor Muniruzzaman, who spoke Urdu, was shot by accident, and his family was given compensation by the Government.
Global Webpost website
At 8:00pm, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) leader Sirajul Alam Khan came to the hall and requested us to leave the hall quickly as the Pakistani army might attack. He also directed us to make barricades on the roads. The students and staff began leaving the hall. At 10:00, I left the hall and went home after completing my duties. My home was just on the bank of the western part of the hall's pond.
At midnight, the Pakistani Army began their attack on the hall. Tanks and jeeps entered the hall from the south-east gate and later more army came through the main gate. The hall came under a barrage of heavy mortar and machine-gun attack from near the pond in front and the police barracks behind it. Immediately, students and bearers from the hall and the Bengali policemen from the Nilkhet barracks tried to escape and seek refuge in the adjoining teachers and staff quarters. The army set the Nilkhet slum on fire and in cold-blood machine-gunned the fleeing slum dwellers. Many managed to escape from the slum and also took shelter in the staff quarters. The army also set fire to the Palashi slum. The machine gun attack on the hall set student rooms ablaze. The hall, two slums, and a staff quarter building were burning. The army shot a flare lighting up the sky, and I saw about 1,000 soldiers had taken position.
The sound of shells bursting and guns firing, the smoke and fire, the smell of gun-powder, and the stench of the burning corpses, all transformed the area into a fiery hell. The incessant firing from mortars, tanks, and machine-guns continued through the night. Huge gaping holes appeared in the hall and the adjoining residences of the bearers as a result of the shelling. On the morning of the 26th, the Pakistani killers began to go through the hall rooms and began their orgy of murder and looting.
The army searched all through the hall and killed at least seven students. The unfortunate students were ATM Zafor Alam, Jahangir Munir, Abul Kalam, Abu Taher Pathan, Saleh Ahmed, and Mohammad Ashraf Ali Khan. Shamshuddin, a night guard of the hall who was locked at the hall provost office, was burnt alive when the army threw petrol bombs inside the office.
Chisty Sah Helalur Rahman, the Dhaka University correspondent for the Daily Azad was shot in the early morning at the wall of the house tutors quarter, near the water pump. Abdul Jalil, food manager of the hall, was killed beside my house at the western part of the hall's pond. The water pump workers of the hall were also killed.
Having finished their slaughter at Iqbal Hall, the Pakistani army turned their attention to the residential buildings. They murdered DU teacher Professor Fazlur Rahman and two of his relatives on March 26. We came to the hall on March 27 after withdrawal of curfew. I saw nine dead bodies beside the road at the hall playground and seven bodies on the ground near the quarter of the house tutors. I have never seen brutality like that of the Pakistani army on 25 March 1971.
Fazlul Haque, a guard at Iqbal Hall describes Pak Army's brutality on the night of 25 March 1971
We were informed at about 8:00 that the Pakistani army might storm the hall. Hearing the news, almost all the staff and students left the hall, though many returned after a few hours. I could not go because I was on duty in the TV room.
When my duty ended at 10:00, I left the hall for safety with two colleges, Shamsu and Sattar. In the middle of the hall playground, we stopped and saw a number of jeeps and tanks carrying the Pakistani army were coming towards the hall through the road behind the Muslim Hall (Salimullah Hall) near the British Council.
Being intrigued, I stopped for a few seconds in the middle of the playground to observe. I came to the south-west part of the playground where there was a tamarind tree. Karim, a Bihari used to sleep under the tree. I took shelter in between two houses of hall staffs and caught sight of the Pakistani army coming towards the tree. The army roused Karim and talked to him.
Taking Karim with them, the army then moved to the south-eastern part of the pond and took shelter there. I heard a gunshot from the staff quarter. At midnight the hall came under a barrage of heavy mortar and machine-gun fire. The Army set the Palashi slum on fire. The heaped bodies of the dead from the slum were also set on fire near the Nilkhet rail gate petrol pump.
Some surviving students were taken to the Iqbal Hall kitchen where petrol was poured over them and they were burnt alive. The university correspondent of the Daily Azad was shot near the water pump in the early morning. So was bearer Shamshu. The water pump workers of the hall as well as the bearers were all brutally murdered by the Pakistanis.
I took shelter besides the houses of the staff. The Pakistani army continued firing till morning. They entered the hall at dawn. We then moved to the Home Economics College and took shelter on the second floor of a decayed building. I could hear the cracking sounds of bullets, the students and staffs' pleas for mercy, and the sound of the soldiers ransacking every room in the hall.
We could also hear the army dragging two or three persons, perhaps students, out from the hall. The army also dragged out another two or three persons behind the hall's canteen. After some time, we observed the army was out of sight, and began to return ,but approaching the hall we saw the army still there. We ran back to the Home Economics College. I was injured seriously in my head. Some of the people thought I had been shot. They took me away and gave me primary medical treatment.
After few hours we returned to the hall. Sattar, one of the hall staffs, in an emotion-choked voice, requested me to go with him to the provost office. He said that his father might be there. I went with Sattar and we found his father dead inside the office. We also found several dead bodies at the playground and two bodies at the roof of the Mosque and one student's body in his room.
Abdus Sobhan, TV room caretaker of Iqbal Hall describes the carnage
My husband Sunil Chandra Das was a darwan (guard) at Jagannath Hall of Dhaka University. Before going off for duty at 8.p.m.on the night of 25 March, he told me, "You go to sleep with the kids". I had a son and a daughter. The girl was two and half years old. The boy was 18 months. At around midnight the firing started. My husband returned home an hour later and said, "Let's escape and hide". I was numb.
The firing was still on. So we decided to go to the Assembly Hall. Ten minutes after we reached there, we found the army entering the hall and starting to search with torches. What could we do? Where could we hide? Their father and others would worship Saraswati Devi. The idol was inside the hall. Many went and hid behind that idol. But the Punjabis hunted them down with torches in the darkness. My girl was in his arms. He called out to me and said, "Hold the child". Then they took him away dragging him by his hands.
My daughter was left on the floor. I asked, "Where are you talking my husband?" They said, "We are not taking your husband anywhere. We will bring him back". They started to move towards the door. I tried to get close to them, but they kicked me down. My daughter also started to cry along with my son. Those who were with us in the Hall picked me up from the floor.
The Punjabis then said, "Nothing will happen to you. Come with us". They were talking in Hindi. I didn't speak Hindi. Others with us there spoke that tongue. They took me near the gates of the assembly hall and asked me to sit down on a stool they brought. I said, "Bring me my husband". They said, "No, your husband can't be brought back. We have taken your husband away". Others later said, they had taken him near the big tree and shot him there.
Our houses were torched, we had nowhere to go. We all went to the playing ground and sat there the whole night as everything was in flames all around us. When morning came, we saw that people were being taken away to drag the corpses that lay on the field. People were already pulling them across the ground.
But I couldn't find my husband. I sat on the field with my two children. I saw that they had pulled all the dead bodies and laid them on the ground in rows.
"You all sit down, wear Sadarghat saris and shout 'Joy Bangla'," - this was what the army men said. But nobody shouted the slogan. Then from a hole in the wall they started to fire. When the firing started, we all lay down on the ground. I think I lost my senses. I have no memory of what happened after that. But we stayed there till the afternoon. Later those who were still alive left the Jagannath Hall and walked towards the Medical College leaving the dead behind. Leaving my husband behind.
Bokul Rani Das, a resident of Jagannath Hall whose husband was killed on the night of 25 March 1971
We had lived in Mohammadpur all our life. We were refugees from India and obtained an allotment in 1962. Our area had a few Bengali families and the line was known as Police line because some of the residents were linked to the police. We were very non-political because in 1946 our family had suffered in the Calcutta riots. I had lost my brother then. We didn't mix much with the Biharis. But the Biharis were very agitated since the non-cooperation movement of March 1971 began. They were sometimes worried, sometimes angry. I think most people thought that Bhutto would not allow Mujib to take power and nobody knew what would happen after that. But once non-cooperation began many became scared. Suddenly many realised that the Biharis lived in a place surrounded by Bengalis and they didn't like each other.
Actually, some meetings were held to maintain peace amongst all but as it always happens, there were elements that were angry and the mood became more and more sour. We didn't know what was happening. The local Islamic astrologers made several dire predictions about the future. It made us more anxious.
On 25th night I came home early because my garage wasn't busy and my mechanics had gone home, one to old Dhaka and another to Syedpur. They wanted to bring back their families. When the firing started we all thought that a riot had broken out. I think some people were saying "Allahu Akbar" very loudly. We hid in the room behind the main one. We didn't know who was attacking whom. But we slowly understood that it was the army. Only the army had so many guns.
I was very scared about being left by myself. I had a cousin who lived in New Colony and they had a car so I thought we could escape with them. When morning came I asked my wife to put her gold jewels in the bag and start moving towards Asad Avenue. It was not very far. My daughter was away with my wife's sister in Moghbazar.
"Stop", I heard a voice and stood still. It was just dawn and the light was not yet full. We saw the tires and tubes lying on the street and the debris of resistance. We thought we were going to be attacked.
Two men came towards us. They were Biharis and I knew them. But in that light they looked like ferocious strangers. I was scared. They came very close to us. I was wondering what would I do if they tried to take my wife away. The man called Kaleem said, " See what Joy Bangla has done. Who will protect you now? My relatives phoned me. They have killed many people, many students. The army has taken charge and now there will be no peace." He was more morose than angry but his companion Selim began to abuse Sheikh Mujib and blaming him for everything. My wife started to weep. We could hear people coming from behind. I said nothing and taking God's name started to move forward. When they began to shout "Pakistan Zindabad", we ran for our lives.
We entered Zakir Hussain Road and hid behind a trash bin. A while later we started to walk fast towards New Colony.
Suddenly we saw another family, a Bengali family walking towards us. There faces were terrorised. "A group of boys were stopping people and searching them. We saw that and ran". The family - mother, wife, children began to run towards some unknown direction. Suddenly we saw our cousin hurrying on the road. He was like a man without any blood. I have never seen a blank face like that. He said, "It's not safe here. Nobody knows what has happened, what will happen". He sat down on the road and began to cry.
Late Alfaz Hossain Shahu, resident of Nazrul Islam Road, Mohammedpur
After the night of March 25 there was a curfew. We didn't know what was going on. We had never thought that the army would attack us like that. We were under so much shock that we could hardly speak. There was no hunger only thirst and fear. Telephones were out of order, I was very worried about our relatives in different parts of Dhaka. On March 27, curfew was lifted and some people began to move. From the 26th morning we saw the poor slum dwellers moving out with whatever they had. But we were too scared to make a move. Suddenly my brother-in-law came panting and sweating. He had come from Elephant Road. He had seen dead bodies of the murgiwallahs at New market and had heard of the attack on the University Halls. He had come to warn us.
"Run away, run away", he kept shouting. We made him sit down. His family had already left, he said, for his ancestral home in Keraniganj. My wife started to cry and then the children joined. I too was terrified as he described a city that was fleeing from itself. I really don't know how we did it but we decided to leave. It can't have taken us more than fifteen minutes before we had the handbags and some cash with us. It was so strange that we made sure that flag of Bangladesh was hidden under the mattress. We didn't have the heart to burn it.
As we took to the streets, we didn't know where we were going but we knew that we were leaving the city. We started to walk holding our children's hand and God's word on our lips. It was such a strange sight. So many people were walking along with us. Suddenly an army truck appeared on the road and we began to run. We were running from death, running from what had become Pakistan. A man we met as we rested near Malibagh said everyone was going to Sadarghat.
"The army can't cross the river. Bengali army has taken position there; it's safe there". It seemed to make sense to us all. We started to walk towards the river. We knew we had to reach the place before curfew was imposed again.
Jan Baksh Mollah, Bangla Motor
Not content with killing the creme of the Dhaka University like insects, the Pakistani Army then moved onto their next target - the academics.
Behind Iqbal Hall were University quarters 23, 24 and 25 - a teacher's residential area near the Shaheed Minar (Martyr's Memorial). In total 24 teachers stayed in those buildings with their families.
The Pakistani army raided the blocks of flats with the intention of killing those university teachers who they believed had masterminded a clandestine preparation for war, including training among the students.
Working from a list of people to be liquated, the army attacked the staff quarters and killed 10 university teachers. The hunt for the targeted ones began in the flats of Building 23, situated at Nilkhet area. Here, Doctor Fazlur Rahman Khan of the Botany/Geology Department was murdered along with his nephew Kanchan (also known as Ali Ahsan Khan), who was preparing for his Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) Examination at Dhaka College, and one other relative. The previous day Dr. Khan had visited his brother-in-law Dr. Shamim-uz-Zaman Basunia, later Professor of Civil Engineering at the Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology (BUET), in the evening at his residence on Elephant Road, whilst Kanchan visited his parents at Azimpur. Both of them were advised not to return to their apartment inside the university campus as it was the centre of the ongoing political movement and a potential target of an army assault. However, fearing that the other would be all alone in the house, both uncle and nephew were adamant and returned home to keep each other company, 'as if destiny brought them together, to meet the same tragic end'.
Dr. Khan’s wife, Farida Khan (Shirin) escaped the killing as she was away in England studying for a Ph.D. in physics. Dr. Khan too was preparing to go to England to join his wife and do post-doctoral research before his tragic end.
There was a curfew in Dhaka on the following day [26 March 1971]. It was relaxed for a few hours on 27 March. Kanchan’s two elder brothers went to the apartment of Dr. Fazlur Rahman Khan to enquire about their welfare and were shocked to discover the bullet-ridden and blood-soaked bodies lying on the floor. They had no time to mourn over the dead bodies. They had only a couple of hours to arrange for the funeral during the hours the curfew was lifted. They brought the bodies to their home with the help of a close family friend. Nobody was available to wash the bodies or dig the graves. The two brothers, their father and the family friend washed the bodies, dug the graves, offered the janaza and buried the bodies at Azimpur graveyard, only few yards away from their house.
...Dr. Khan was soft spoken, polite and very religious. He taught his students with sincerity and dedication. As a teacher, he was very popular among his students and his colleagues. Kanchan was also a polite and likeable boy. Besides his studies, he was mindful to help his parents in household work. The untimely deaths of Dr. Khan and Kanchan were a cruel blow to their families and friends. Dr. Khan’s wife, Farida Khan who had gone to England in January 1970, was so shocked at the news of her husband’s death that she was unable to pursue her higher studies in physics. She completed a degree in education and worked as a school teacher in England. She barely spent a year with her husband together but yet remained a widow all her life in his fond memory.
Also residing in Building 23 was Professor Anwar Pasha, Bengali Literateur, and Professor Rashidul Hassan, Senior Lecturer at English Department. They lived with their families on the fourth floor apartments. Both of them survived the Pakistani attack by hiding under their bed.
After failing to see anyone in the torch light, the Pakistani soldiers were heard saying: "Bangali Kutta Bhag Gia" - The Bengali dogs have flown.
Even though professors Pasha and Hassan miraculously survived from the Pakistani onslaught that night, they were killed later on the eve of Victory, on 14 December 1971, allegedly by Al Badr militia who killed many other Bengali intellectuals near Mirpur.
Another resident of the building, Dhaka University Assistant Librarian Mridha also miraculously survived. However, there were around 30 women, men and children from the slum who took refuge on the roof who did not live to see another day. Each of them were brutally murdered by the barbaric Pakistanis, and for nigh over a month their corpses fed the vultures and crows. After several months their skeletons were brought down from the roof. The same day the skeletons of 50 Rokeya Hall staff and their families were removed.
Building 24 was just across from Jagannath Hall and near the Shahed Minar. It was a three-storey building and had a stairwell in the middle with a flat on either side. Professor ANM Muniruzzaman, Head of Department of Statistics, lived in one of the top floor flat along with his family. Professor Anisur Rahman (Economics) and Prof. Abdur Razzak (International Relations) lived on the first floor, whilst on the ground floor were Dr. Jyotirmoy Guha Thakurta, the Provost (a senior admin or head) of Jagannath Hall and member of Department of English, and his family and the family of the late Prof. Hai (teacher of Bengali).
Around 3 o'clock in the morning the Pakistani army entered their residences and shot Prof. Munirazzaman, his son Akramuzzaman, his brother Advocate Shamsuzzaman, and his nephew Syed Nasirul Wahab. They died instantly. Professor Muniruzzaman's younger son Abu Musa M. Masuduzzaman, only 13 years-old at the time, witnessed the cold-blooded execution of his family. He saw his dad have an alteraction with the Pakistani army about kneeling down before being shot point-blank on the forehead, and saw how his brother had initially survived with two bullets in his lower abdomen.
It was shortly after midnight that we heard knocks on the door. After opening the door, a lot of army personnel entered our flat and asked for my father. When my father appeared, they asked him his name and profession as if they were cross-checking information. They also interrogated the other males: my uncle, elder brother and cousin. Then they took them down on the ground floor. One of the officers took me as well.
Having killed Prof. Muniruzzaman, the army headed for the nearby building of Jagannath Hall Provost residence (also known as 'Buro Shibbari') just outside the Jagannath Hall compound to the east where Prof. Govinda Chandra Dev lived. Prof. Dev was a renowned professor of Philosophy at Dhaka University and the Ex-Provost of Jagannath Hall. He was also the chairman of the Pakistan Philosophical Congress.
The army shot him in the head first and then bayonetted him. They dragged his body outside, and in plain view drove a truck over him. His corpse was then taken to the Jagannath Hall field and buried in a mass grave. Prof. Dev was a life-long bachelor so he adopted a Hindu son Jyoti Prakash Datta and a Muslim daughter, Rokeya Begum. Rokeya's husband was also killed in the attack.
Unsuspecting, G. C. Dev opened his door to the men who were on a mission to kill him - and everyone else like him. When the murderers in the form of the soldiers of the Pakistan army marched up to his residence on the Dhaka University campus in the early hours of March 26, 1971, they dispensed with civility as they tried kicking down his door. And they called out his name. The academic, ever the epitome of politeness and etiquette, opened it and told them he was the man they were looking for. Those soldiers did not waste time. The philistines that they were, and with the murder that was in their hearts, they shoved him on to his sofa and went about bayoneting and shooting him. The barbarians were at work. They dumped his body into the mass grave on the Jagannath Hall grounds, where the bones of his students and colleagues have meshed with his.
It was ironic that the suave man called G. C. Dev was finally done in by men to whom civilised behaviour did not matter at all. In the view of the state of Pakistan, in that moment of grave peril to Bangalis, the reputed philosopher was no more than a Hindu, a lesser being, a member of a religious community that could not have any place in the Islamic country that Pakistan had become and would mutate into something worse over the succeeding months. It did not matter to the army that Dev was an individual of national and global repute, that his pronouncements on philosophy had drawn the attention of people everywhere. What did matter was that, in the convoluted thinking that informed the state of Pakistan, Dev was a Hindu and therefore an enemy. It was a season when all Bangalis, because they refused to be conformists and refused to take things lying down, were a hostile force up in revolt against the communal state established through mayhem and murder in August 1947. In March 1971, therefore, it was a whole lot more than a Hindu in G. C. Dev that died. It was an illustrious Bangali whose life ended on a sudden note.
After killing Prof. Dev and his son-in-law, the troop returned shortly to track Dr. Jyotirmoy Guha Thakurta down. After catching him, they did not line him up in front of his flat where other corpses were laid down. Instead he was dragged outside and shot in the neck and ears. His wife Basanti Guha Thakurta found him lying on his back on the grassy patch near the gate and dragged him back inside the flat with the help of Muniruzzaman's family.
The Guhathakurtas - Jyotirmoy, Basanti and their teenage daughter Meghna - hid under the bed when the attack started on the student halls. When the firing seemed to subside, Basanti Guhathakurta peeped out of the window and saw a convoy of military vehicles including a jeep come and stop at the barricade on the crossroads. An officer pulled off the chains on their gate and the troops swarmed in on all floors of the building and started to kick on each of the two doors of every flat on each floor.
The officer broke the window pane in Meghna's room, cut the net with his bayonet and moved aside the curtain. Mrs Guhathakurta [hereafter called Basanti for ease of reading] thought he spotted their feet sticking out from under the bed. In a trice he had gone round to her garden on the side of the building. Basanti gave her husband his 'panjabi' (tunic) and said, 'Get ready, they've come to arrest you'. The officer had meantime got through the kitchen door at the back, pushed aside the maid and got into the verandah. Basanti faced him. The officer asked, 'Professor sahab hai?' (Is the Professor here?). Basanti said 'Hai' (He's here). The officer said, 'Unko le jayega' (We will take him). 'Kahan le jayega, bhai' (Where will you take him, brother?) asked Basanti, holding on to his arm as he walked along the verandah, looking at the ground and not at her. 'Le jayega' (Will take him), he said.
Going along behind him, Basanti said, 'You have got in, so why are they still breaking down the front doors?'
The officer called out, 'Hum idhar par hai, Yaqub! Darwaza mat bhango' (I am in here Yaqub, don't break down the door). The kicking stopped at once.
Going towards the bedroom the officer asked, 'Aur koi jawan aadmi hai?' (Are there any other young people?). Basanti said, 'Hamara ek hi ladki hai' (We have only one daughter). 'Theek hai, theek hai', said the officer, 'ladki ko koi dar nahi hai' (It's all right, no need to fear for the daughter). In the bedroom Prof. Guhathakurta was still standing holding his 'panjabi'. The officer gripped his left arm. Basanti put the 'panjabi' on him and said, 'He has come to arrest you'. The officer asked ' Aap professor sahib hai?' (You are the Professor?). Prof. Guhathakurta answered, 'Yes'. 'Aapko le jayega' (We will take you). 'Why?' demanded Prof. Guhathakurta, but he was dragged off through the garden.
Basanti ran back with his sandals, but could not see them any more. Meanwhile, a tremendous commotion started in the stairwell, where Basanti found Mrs Maniruzzaman crying on the stairs while soldiers dragged down Prof. Maniruzzaman, his son, nephew and another gentleman. They had only moved in on 5 March [i.e. 3 weeks ago]. Basanti advised the Maniruzzamans to go with the soldiers, as otherwise they might shoot, and said that her own husband had also just been taken to the cantonment. Two shots were heard outside, and Meghna put her hands to her ears.
The officer returned and tried to break into the dining room - Basanti opened the lock for him. He checked all the bathrooms. While in Meghna's bathroom he asked, 'Mujibur Rahman kahan rahta hai?' (Where does Mujibur Rahman live?). A confused Meghna said, 'We don't know him' (referring to the political leader), whereupon the officer shouted at her and left through the garden.
There was a volley of shots in the stairwell, and Prof. Maniruzzaman and the other three were found groaning in pools of blood while the troops ran out. Somebody was asking for water. The barricade had been cleared and 11 vehicles drove away. Basanti still thought her husband was in one of those vehicles. It was only after Mrs Maniruzzaman shouted out that Prof. Guhathakurta was lying outside that she discovered what had actually happened.
Dr. Guha Thakurta was paralysed, but conscious and speaking. He was carried inside the flat and eventually taken to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital in the morning of 27 March since there was a curfew on 26 March. He lived for four days before dying of his wounds on 30 March 1971. His wife and daughter had to leave his body behind in the hospital and seek refuge, and never found out what exactly happened to it. It is believed that the doctors of Dhaka Medical College Hospital recognised Dr. Guha Thakurta and buried him under a tree near Dhaka Medical College morgue. Prior to dying, Dr. Guha Thakurta told his wife and daughter that the Pakistani officer made him stand facing the hall and asked his name and his religion. As soon as he answered, the officer held a gun at his neck and shot him.
On 26 March 1971, later that morning another Pakistani troop came by Building 24. They found Prof. Munirazzaman's son Akramuzzaman (who was shot earlier) still breathing and gasping for some water - so they shot him.
We also tried to take my elder brother back into our flat, but he had refused to go since he was too injured to move an inch. Plus everyone was already frightened about the safety of the girls [mother, sisters and other women] staying indoors.
A helpless Masuduzzaman on being forced to abandon his brother
Applied Physics' professor Anudaipayan Bhattacharja was also killed at that dormitory. The Pakistani army entered his room and bayonetted him to death. His body was put out near the big tree close to the Jagannath Hall auditorium for some time, and then buried in the mass grave in the field.
Miraculously, both Prof. Abdur Razzak and Prof. Anisur Rahman, who were living on the first floor between Prof. Muniruzzaman's and Dr. Guha Thakurta's flat, survived unhurt that night. Another fellow professor who had a lucky escape that night was Rafiqul Islam, a prominent member of the Bangla literature department.
The Pakistani hyenas also entered the building we were in, no. 24. On the third flight two mothers from the slum had taken shelter. Their babies were with them. Both of them had been shot in the legs. On seeing the blood allover the entering Pakistani soldiers thought that some of their colleagues had already been through our buildings and so did not enter it. That is why we survived. We did our best to help those mothers and the day we left Nilkhet we had them admitted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
Along with the teacher's residential area in Iqbal and Jagannath Hall, the Pakistani soldiers also attacked the Fuller Road faculty residences on the same 25 March night. Their first target was Building 11. There they entered the residence of a junior teacher of the University Laboratory School, Mohammad Sadeque, bayonetted him and then shot him in cold-blood. His dead body remained in that building for nine months until it was discovered on 27 December - 11 days after Victory was formally achieved - and buried behind the flat.
At Number 12 Fuller Road, the army dragged out Professor Syed Ali Naki of the Social Sciences Department, and a gentlemen by the name of Syed Syedul Islam. For some inexplicable reason they were not killed, but Professor Abdul Muktadir of the Geology Department who was a resident of the same building, was brutally murdered. They dragged his body to the Rayerbazar mass grave, where many other intellectuals were later massacred, and eventually found two days later. He was buried properly at Paltan by his relatives.
It was dawn. Dr. Muktadir was getting ready to offer his Fazr prayers when there was a knock on his door. As soon as he opened the door, he was grabbed by the army men who shot at him. Soon afterwards, the killers took away the body of the professor along with the bodies of his other colleagues to the Rayerbazar mass grave. His relatives later managed to recover Dr. Muktadir's body and buried it near the mosque near his father-in law's house at 78/A Purana Paltan in the capital.
My father was killed in front of my mother's eyes when she was three months pregnant. My grandfather had become blind and my grandmother got mentally ill after the incident.
The army had also attacked Salimullah Hall and Dhaka Hall (now renamed to Shahidullah Hall). They beat up the house tutor of Salimullah Student Hall, Professor K. M. Munim (English Literature), and murdered Professors Ataur Rahman Khan Khadim of the Physics department and Sharafat Ali of the Mathematics department at Dhaka Hall. Sharafat Ali was living in one of the rooms meant for junior and bachelor teachers in a two storied building adjacent to the dining hall of the students’ dormitory. He was brutally killed by a group of soldiers forcibly entering his room. His dead body together with that of his colleague Ataur Rahman Khan Khadim was left unattended for several days before the army men carried it away.
Professor Khadim was my teacher. Because of his quiet and self-reflecting nature we affectionately called him, "our absent-minded Professor". Never could we have imagined that anyone would want to hurt such a soft-spoken and dedicated teacher.
Nurana Nabi, a Mukti Juddha and author of "Bullets of '71: A Freedom Fighter's Story"
Londoni © 2014