During 1971 war Pakistani military targeted Hindu minority community in the cause of religion of then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) with the help of Pro-Pakistani Islamic supporters like Rajakar, Al-badar, Al-sams. They were associates of Pakistani Jamat-e-Islami and their followers in East Pakistan. These Pro-Pakistani Islamic supporters acted as main source of informers to organize heinous act of brutality on minority community in an organized way. They had strong impact on the society of that time due to illegal support of East Pakistan military. No body of the society of that time could dare to talk with them against their choice. They lived with elite prestigious style with active followers to execute the order of East Pakistani military without considering legal laws. When the situation began worsen they accompanied East Pakistani military into villages for loots, rapes and burning houses of Hindu minority community.
During that time mass bloodshed murders, riots took place in different parts of Bangladesh. Somewhere Pakistani Military enclosed Hindu minority communities with Pro-Pakistani mobs and killed them with sharpen knife, dagger, bullets and burned out their homes after loots of their belongings. In most of the places nature of brutality was beyond imagination. Minorities were chopped into death. Their bodies were thrown in the rivers, canals and buried into Jungle, crop field. Genocide murdered in Rayerbazer, Shakharipatti (Dhaka), Gulakandail were some of the incidences that took place in the world history. These incidences shocked Hindus of Bangladesh. Their belief was broken into tears. They had found cruelty of East Pakistani Military and their associates with whom they have grown up, played together and shared their sorrow and joy.
As the time went, 1971 war brutalities were increased. Most of the time it was found that few greedy people of that time helped Pro-Pakistani activists viz Rajakar by informing about Minorities and their asset. Minorities’ life became stake with burnt houses. They had lost their shelter to stay at night and suffered from shortage of ration for meal and other daily essentials to lead life. At Dawn minority women used to start cooking whatever they had managed for the day. Most of the time their meal was confined to boiled rice with vegetables. During the period field agriculture was also at stake. So they used to manage leafy and other vegetables from jungle or road side that was not generally used for home cooked purpose. Having finished their meal at morning they used to complete packaging of their daily essentials in gunny bags. These essentials were kept in some secret places like in bushes, jungle or other Muslim neighbour’s those had sympathy for Hindu minorities. Male personnel used to keep movement news of Pakistani Military at day time through people to people contact. It was just like movement of migrated birds. At day time Pakistani military associated with pro-pakistani supporters like Rajakar had raided Hindu minority locality in order to murder, loots, burning houses. Hindu people always kept their eyes on the roads whether Pakistani Military is coming on the way or not. When Pakistani Military had advanced patrolling for their special operation, people of that locality also started running through main roads to pocket roads for the safe passage. This movement, screaming to safe passage helped other people also to get in their knowledge that Military is coming. So they prepared for movement to safe passage where it is not possible to reach by Pakistani military. Far from their home, they could see smoke, fire of their burning houses. Pakistani military did not left any places or substances undamaged that could help suffered people to rebuild their house in an easy way rather than black ashes. Most dangerous part of raids were executed by the Rajakars. They played active role in loots of goat, cattle, and daily essentials. In major cases they helped Pakistani military to take captive of minor girls, women. They were taken to the Pakistani Military camp where they were raped and used for slavery. Most of these women got pregnant and gave birth war babies.
At the beginning of Pakistani military raid at village level minority people used to come back at their burnt houses for night stay. But when Pakistani Military increased brutality on minority they had lost all their belonging and they rather decided to leave their houses for a safer place. For this, some Hindus took shelter in remote places where proper road connectivity was not there. These places were apparently safer from raid of East Pakistani Military.
This temporary accommodation was cruel irony to them as like “home away from home”. Somehow some people took shelter in their own made tent, low cost straw, mud houses. Many Muslim people those were against Pakistani Military of that time gave shelter to many Hindu families. They protect them in every situation as they could. Due to un-touchability it was found that generally Hindu family would not take any cooked food from Muslim families. So they used to cook by themselves on purchasing cooking items from market. It was risky for selling and buying daily commodities for Hindus at that time. Most of the time head member of the family used to send his small son or daughter associated with him to the market. Because Razakars were active in the market to caught Hindus for life sentence. Therefore, Hindus always had to hide in undisclosed places for life risk. This was the high risk period of Hindus during 1971 war.
Most of the Hindus of that time in Bangladesh were comparatively wealthy with their property and agriculture land comparing to the Muslim community. This may be one of the reasons of hatred paid to Hindu community in Bangladesh then. During the period many Hindu families were murdered not only by Razakars but also by their neighbours. These greedy people hunted their desired by murdering wealthy Hindu families viz. Zamindars and others. Hindu community was the most learned community of the country at that time. So, they understood the pulse of East Pakistani people over religion. They found Hindu communities life is not secured in East Pakistan. Many murders and massacres had been done on minority community openly by the evil monsters of the society to accrue property and land of them. They took this opportunity to justify the act on Pro-Pakistani activities like Razakars and others. For that East Pakistani Hindus were frightened at the utmost level. They find it difficult to lead their daily life in Bangladesh (now). Few evil people of the society those were not directly connected with Razakars also done the most havoc on Hindu community to loot their land and property. It was their only aim to seize wealth of Hindu people somehow. That was very difficult period of that time for Hindus. They were unable to showcase themselves at day time due to Pakistani Military and hiding at night due to danger from few greedy people of the society. During the period many Hindus lost their life in the hands of greedy Muslims. In many areas they plotted Hindu bloodshed to gain property and land. In few cases it was also found that many Hindu families saved their life by luck and in many cases well-being local Muslims saved Hindu families from the hand of evil creature of the society.
When Hindu people realized that they are not safe in East Pakistan from the hands of evil spirit of the society with whom they had born and brought up. They decided to leave their motherland for the sake of their own life risk. Before leaving their houses they requested nearby Muslim brothers with tears to look after their homes and lands till they return. It was so heartbreaking moment for them that they are about to leave their motherland where their ancestors were born.
That time safe passage of East Pakistan Hindus was only to migrate into India which was not easy at all. Due to 1971 war all means of transportation was abrupt. Many of the Hindu families did not know the route through which they can come into India. So they started united in a small team for the desired purpose. They formed small team consisted of 8-10 families more or less. Suggestions were taken from educated and knowledgeable person about safe passage to India. For the purpose they selected middle men (Dalal) who helped them to land into India from East Pakistan in return of lump sum amount. These Dalal had great demand in that time due to large number refugee migration into India. Most of these middle men did their job honestly. They took care of refugee families throughout the journey to India. In very few cases it was found that Dalal looted refugee’s money, belongings and handover them in the hand of looteras and in result they lost their last hope of ray.
Indeed it was very tough journey for the refugees. Because most of the refugee family had infant child, women and aged personnel associated with them. All the means of transport system was broken down. So they opted the journey by walking and boat. East Pakistan has been consisting with many rivers. Therefore it is called as river based country where it is possible to go through one parts of the country to other parts by boats. Those are experienced Dalal they had good idea when and how to travel safe journey. Almost all the time they prefer to do journey at dark night time. Because at day time it was not possible to hide refugees from the eyes of informers of East Pakistani military. After all night walking and boat journey, Dalal used to do the arrangement of rest house for refugee families where they took bath, cooking, ate food.
During the journey many families lost their infant child due to suffering from water contaminated diseases, unhygienic food etc. Old family members those were unable to take part in this journey were kept in the remotest area at their destiny. Refugees carried cash money with them as they could manage before starting the journey. They knew that it is risky to carry cash money in that time. So they tried their best to keep secret about the money they possessed along with them. In most of the cases it was found that women kept money in their waist rapped in cloths or into braid rapped in polythene or some other parts of the body. Sometimes they avoided taking bath in fear of that money hidden in their body could get damaged.
After a long journey through crossing thousands of miles and hundreds of rivers refuges were successful to enter into India. All the border areas of adjoining Bangladesh were kept open for these incoming refugees. Most of the refugees of that time entered into India through Tripura border. Bus stands, railway stations, schools and colleges were over crowded with the incoming refuges from Bangladesh. Having entered into Tripura, Assam and other parts of West Bengal they felt relived from the threat of life risk. Government of India made temporary arrangement for millions of incoming refuges in vacant schools, colleges etc. For food and ration arrangement was started at different places. But for a huge number of attendances these arrangements were not quite enough. Due to overcrowded refuges cholera, malaria and water borne contaminated diseases took sprayed out. So they started shifting to different parts of Tripura, Assam and West Bengal. Some of them took place in the house of their nearby relatives. 1971 war took nine months duration to come at end. It was a long period of time. Therefore refugees started making their accommodation on their own self. They build small houses in road side or some abundant places for staying.
Sometimes it was found that a whole community of East Pakistan established their residence altogether in India as their accommodation had earlier. This helped them to stay united and fight against all odds in new places. They started their livelihood occupation to run families. Few of them started small business in Haat (Weekly local market) to sell commodities like cloths, food grains etc. Few of them started their old profession as they had previously in East Pakistan. Those had no capital to start business they started other profession like agriculture labour, semi-skill labour and industry labour etc. After settlement is over, refugees father sent their son, daughters to school for their education. Hindus of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) had been very talented. Many people think that it is god gifted asset of their inheritance. Refugee Children did not have monetary support from their family. They did not have books and couldn’t effort the school fees. Poverty, stringency was there in every house. It was heard that even in some of the houses there was not dish to serve food. Some of the students appeared their board examination without food or having breakfast with rice cooked in previous night soaked in water on newspaper or banana leaf as means of dish! But it was found that maximum refugee students did good result in their career which helped them to establish themselves and their families to a better society.
When Europe is inundated by the refugees escaping violence and wars in Syria, Libya and other Middle East countries, the world could, perhaps, learn a lesson or two from India’s experience of handling a 10 million refugee crisis on its land 46 years ago.
To give it a context, India was a 24-year-old young republic and its economy was weak. (Its GDP was at $65.9 billion, or $116 billion at current rates, as against $2,066.90 billion in 2014.) It had to depend on the food aid from the US to feed its teeming millions. Therefore, hosting 10 million additional souls was no small task.
FL Pijnacker Hordijk, representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in India, was the first to raise an alarm over an impending humanitarian crisis in India on account of the military action in East Pakistan. On March 29, 1971, he sent a message to the UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.
As per the UNHCR ‘The State of the World Refugees-2000’ report, Hordijk told the world body that within a month, nearly one million refugees had entered India, fleeing the military repression in East Pakistan. “By the end of May, the average daily influx into India was over 100,000 and had reached a total of almost four million,” the report says. Indian official reports put the daily arrivals at about 10,000-50,000 refugees.
Pushpesh Pant, historian and author, says that in 1971 India’s economy was at the verge of collapse due to the burden of the refugees. “In particular, the state of West Bengal, which had received the largest chunk of refugees, was under tremendous pressure.”
The government had to issue a special postal stamp to raise funds for the refugees. Pant, who was teaching in the Delhi university then, remembers how people called conjunctivitis the Bangladeshi eye disease, as it was first spotted in a refugee camp. “However, despite this and other social tensions, there was huge sympathy and goodwill for the refugees across India,” he recalls.
On the political front, G Parthasarthy, the former diplomat who was posted in Moscow then, says India had taken a firm stand that at no cost it would take refugees permanently. “This was also partly done to put pressure on the world community so that they address the root cause of the problem – Pakistan,” he told Governance Now.
Bangladesh recognises that Indira Gandhi’s repeated remark that “the refugees would be sent back to their homes” had contributed immensely to the consolidation of Bangladesh nationalism and become a rallying point for the nascent nation that was to emerge soon.
The stories of torture, killings and rape by the Pakistan army narrated by the refugees were heartrending. However, a world polarised as it was between two big powers, the USA and the USSR, kept mum on India’s woes. Some countries took it as part of the unending Indo-Pak sibling rivalry and offered just lip service and some doles.
As soon as the first batch of refugees had arrived, the Indian leadership had sensed the lurking danger of the refugee buildup and begun preparing for a long haul including the possibility of a war with Pakistan.
In April 1971, Vijay Dhar was 30-year-old when his father DP Dhar, Indian ambassador in Moscow, was asked to quickly seal a treaty with the USSR that he had been discussing for too long. Vijay recalls how his uncle, foreign secretary Triloki Nath Kaul, had air-dashed to Moscow to finalise the India-Russia Friendship Treaty. “I had no idea that it will turn out to be the most important piece of treaty for us in the coming months,” he recalls.
Today analysts believe that this treaty had enabled Russia to mobilise its naval fleet in the Bay of Bengal as counter to the American 7th fleet, which could never come close to Indian shores. The Nixon regime wanted to bully India with its military might to give up the war with Pakistan. Russians, Dhar claims, were reluctant initially. “My father asked them point blank as why they were afraid of standing up to the Americans.”
The refugees kept pouring in while US president Richard Nixon and his secretary of state Henry Kissinger were only thinking of how to save Pakistan. This was despite the US ambassador in New Delhi sending them this message in June: “The number of refugees is now 5.4 million and that rate of flow is increasing. This should be evidence enough that no matter what noises (Pakistani) president Yahya may make about restoration of normalcy, he has not yet done anything to effectively impede reign of terror and brutality of the Pakistan army, the root cause of the refugee exodus.”
A desperate and angry Indira Gandhi had, in a letter, told Nixon about the “carnage in East Bengal” and the flood of refugees burdening India. New Delhi told Americans that it was even contemplating training some of the refugees for guerrilla warfare against the Pakistani army. On hearing this, Nixon threatened to cut off economic aid to India! The aid for refugees had started pouring in from all over the world. Though politically the US did not support India, it sent in a token aid for the refugees.
The UNHCR has listed this as the world’s biggest movement of refugees in the second half of the 20th century. The Indian government had fixed rations for refugee. Each adult was given 300 grams of rice, 100 grams of wheat flour, 100 grams of pulses, 25 grams of edible oil and 25 grams of sugar per day, and half of this quantity for children. They were also given cash for daily expenses.
Left alone to cope with the mess created by Pakistan, India charted its own course and began preparing for an eventuality. Against all calculations, In December 1971, India fought a war with Pakistan; dealt it a humiliating defeat and kept its word to the refugees that they will be sent back “with honour” to their home – now Bangladesh. Some 6.8 million returned within two months of the end of the war while the last batch of 3,869 refugees left on March 25, 1972.
Indian refugees’ crisis had ended on a happy note – the creation of a new nation on the world map, Bangladesh, and breaking of a myth that only religion binds people of a nation. But is the West only interested in using refugees as cheap labour or is ready to take bold initiatives and make sacrifices like India did to teach a lesson to those responsible for the plight of refugees?
( Collected )