Shahbag Projonmo Square uprising demanding death penalty for War Criminals of 1971 in Bangladesh. (Photo: Mehdi Hasan Khan)
Bangladesh is passing through a defining period. The War Criminals of 1971 are one by one being consigned to the gallows for their crimes against humanity. The top leadership of the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, collaborators of Pakistani forces in their genocide against Bengalis of East Pakistan, especially Hindus, are being brought to book for their past attempts at stalling the birth of a free and democratic Bangladesh.
The Al Badr and Al Shams, razakar outfits formed with Pakistani patronage to fight those siding with ‘Hindu India’ in 1971 were once led by today’s top leadership of the Jamaat. Abdul Qader Mollah, the ‘Butcher of Mirpur’ executed last year for war crimes, the Jamaat patriarch Ghulam Azam, who died recently at the age of ninety-two (and thus escaped the gallows), and Motiur Rehman Nizami, whose death sentence has been upheld by the Bangladesh Supreme Court were all active leaders and founders of these razakar outfits with the mandate to liquidate all Bangladeshi intellectuals who spoke for liberation, all Hindus – seen as active agents of India and to cleanse East Pakistan of all unholy elements who worked to see it cede from Pakistan. Ghulam Azam and his cohorts argued that they were resisting Hindu engulfment of East Pakistan.
In his study of the 1971 Liberation War, ‘The Blood Telegram’, American author Gary Bass, notes for example, that in reality and as per ‘official reckoning’, as ‘many as 90 percent of the refugees [during the 1971 war] were Hindus.’ This was the inevitable consequences of the Pakistan army and its militia organisations such as the Al Badr and Al Shams, systematically targeting that community. In 1971, as Bass notes, the population of East Pakistan was only ‘16 or 17 percent Hindu’ and yet ‘this minority comprised the overwhelming bulk of refugees.’