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Sarmila bose - losing the Victims

Sarmila bose - losing the Victims

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Published by BTghazwa
Every war is accompanied by sexual violence against women. That rape occurred in East Pakistan in 1971 has never been in any doubt. The question is what was the true extent of rape, who were the victims and who the perpetrators and was there any systematic policy of rape by any party, as opposed to opportunistic sexual crimes in times of war. This paper brings into focus the real victims of sexual violence by pointing out the paucity of reliable material, critically analysing widely cited testimonies of rape and suggesting the next steps to address the issue meaningfully.
Every war is accompanied by sexual violence against women. That rape occurred in East Pakistan in 1971 has never been in any doubt. The question is what was the true extent of rape, who were the victims and who the perpetrators and was there any systematic policy of rape by any party, as opposed to opportunistic sexual crimes in times of war. This paper brings into focus the real victims of sexual violence by pointing out the paucity of reliable material, critically analysing widely cited testimonies of rape and suggesting the next steps to address the issue meaningfully.

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Published by: BTghazwa on Apr 27, 2013
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Economic and Political Weekly September 22, 2007
Losing the Victims: Problemsof Using Women as Weapons inRecounting the Bangladesh War 
 Every war is accompanied by sexual violence against women. That rape occurred in East Pakistan in 1971 has never been in any doubt. The question is what was thetrue extent of rape, who were the victims and who the perpetrators and was there any systematic policy of rape by any party, as opposed to opportunistic sexual crimes in timesof war. This paper brings into focus the real victims of sexual violence by pointing out the paucity of reliable material, critically analysing widely cited testimonies of rapeand suggesting the next steps to address the issue meaningfully.
recommending next steps to address this issue meaningfully.
In the rst section I outline the problems of locating sexual
violence in the context of the 1971 war. The second section
discusses in detail ve representations of incidents of sexual
violence in 1971 which are cited widely as evidence of thePakistan army’s (mis)conduct during the war.
The rst two are testimonies of women who are alleged
victims of rape, of whom one claims also to be eyewitness toalleged large-scale sexual violence. The third is an article by
a male ‘muktijoddha’ (Bangladeshi freedom ghter) giving an
eyewitness account of evidence of sexual violence discovered ina village of East Pakistan after its capture by the Indian armyand Bangladeshi muktijoddhas. The last two are the writingsof two women who interviewed alleged rape victims.
IProblems of Locating Sexual Violencein the 1971 War
The Problem of Numbers
The population of East Pakistan in 1971 was about 75 mil-lion. The number of West Pakistani armed forces personnelin East Pakistan was about 20,000 at the beginning of the
rising to 34,000 by December. Another 11,000 men – civil police and non-combat personnel also held arms.
 Most commentators on sexual violence in East Pakistan donot appear to realise how small a force was attempting to putdown a rebellion in a province with a population larger thanall the other provinces in West Pakistan put together.The hostilities, including the open civil war in East Pakistanfollowed by full-scale war between India and Pakistan, lastedfrom March 26 to December 15 – a period of about 265 days,or about 38 weeks or nearly nine months.
The gures for alleged rape victims in the “dominant narrative”of the 1971 conict – the version of the victorious Bangladeshi
nationalists and their Indian allies, repeated uncritically by manywestern commentators – range from 2,00,000 to 4,00,000.
typical assertion: “In the nine months of liberation war in 1971
the Pakistani invader army and their local collaborators killed
n virtually all popular narratives of the 1971 war whichled to the break-up of Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh,the Pakistan army is alleged to have raped hundreds of thousands of Bengali women in East Pakistan (East Bengal)while trying to crush the Bengali nationalist rebellion there.Figures of alleged rape victims ranging from 2,00,000 to4,00,000 are mentioned in the Bangladeshi literature on 1971,in Indian commentaries, and repeated in western commentaryon war and sexual violence. Growing up in Calcutta in WestBengal, India, I heard stories about the Pakistan army rapingand killing Bengali women during the 1971 war.This paper seeks to bring to scholarly and public scrutinythe deeply problematic representations of sexual violence innarratives of the 1971 war which I discovered in the course of 
my broader research on the 1971 conict.
That rape occurredin East Pakistan in 1971 has never been in any doubt. Everywar is accompanied by sexual violence against women. In thecase of Bangladesh, the Pakistan army itself has not denied thatinstances of rape took place. The question is, what was the trueextent of rape, who were its victims and who the perpetrators,
and was there any systematic “policy” of rape by any party as
opposed to opportunistic sexual crimes in times of war.The issue of sexual violence in the 1971 war is long on political rhetoric but short on reliable material, with only a
handful of accounts available as “evidence” of sexual violence
during 1971, repeated in other commentary. Unsubstantiated
and implausible claims of “hundreds of thousands” of victims
have distracted attention for three decades from possibly sev-eral thousand true rape victims of that war. The exaggerationsand distortions of the issue of rape purveyed by many claim-ing to speak for the Bangladeshi liberation movement insultthe true victims by trivialising their suffering, implying that
it would not be noteworthy without the ination of numbers
and addition of gory perversions. Many of these shrill voices
seem motivated more by a desire to smear the “enemy” andshore up an ideology of “victimhood” than any concern for 
the real victims.
This paper brings the focus back to the real victims of sexual violence by pointing out the paucity of reliable mate-
rial, critically analysing widely cited “testimonies” of rape, and
Economic and Political Weekly September 22, 2007
three million Bengalis. More than 2,50,000 helpless women
 became victims of their animal-like torture (meaning ‘rape’)”.
The Liberation War Museum of Dhaka proclaims: “Between
March 25 and December 16, estimated 3 million Bengalees werekilled, 2,00,000 women raped and 10 million were displaced.
This was the worst genocide after second world war”.
citing any source, Samantha Power wrote, “.... Pakistani troops
killed between 1 and 2 million Bengalis and raped some 2,00,000
girls and women,” and Susan Brownmiller claimed “2,00,000,3,00,000 or possibly 4,00,000 women” were raped.
For an army of 34,000 to rape on this scale in eight or 
nine months (while ghting insurgency, guerrilla war and an
invasion by India), each would-be perpetrator would have hadto commit rape at an incredible rate.
It is hardly surprisingtherefore, that the Hamoodur Rehman Commission, set up bythe civilian government of Pakistan after the war and headed by a Bengali judge, was dismissive of the Bangladeshi claims:
“According to the Bangladesh authorities, the Pakistan army
was responsible for killing three million Bengalis and raping2,00,000 East Pakistani women. It does not need any elabo-
rate argument to see that these gures are obviously highly
exaggerated. So much damage could not have been caused by the entire strength of the Pakistan army then stationedin East Pakistan, even if it had nothing else to do. In fact,however, the army in East Pakistan was constantly engaged
in ghting the Mukti Bahini, the Indian inltrators, and later 
the Indian army. It had also the task of running the civiladministration, maintaining communications, and feeding 70million people of East Pakistan. It is, therefore, clear that
the gures mentioned by the Dacca authorities are altogether fantastic and fanciful.”On the rape allegations, the commission added, “The falsity of 
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s repeated allegation that the Pakistanitroops had raped 2,00,000 Bengali girls in 1971 was borne outwhen the abortion team he had commissioned from Britain inearly 1972 found that its workload involved the termination
of only a hundred or more pregnancies”.
Absence of Rape in Case Studies
During my eld research on several incidents in East Paki
-stan during 1971, Bangladeshi participants and eyewitnessesdescribed battles, raids, massacres and executions, but told methat women were not harmed by the army in these events except
 by chance such as in crossre. The pattern that emerged from
these incidents was that the Pakistan army targeted adult maleswhile sparing women and children. This does not mean thatrapes had not occurred elsewhere. However, given the scale of 
rape alleged in the narratives on 1971, I was surprised to nd
none in any of the incidents in my case studies.
It is possible that those who spoke to me in Bangladesh wereunwilling to admit to the occurrence of rape due to the stigma
attached to victims of rape, which “dishonours” the victim’s
family and community as well. However, if we accept their word on the killing of adult men by the Pakistan army in theseinstances, we cannot simply reject their testimony that womenand children were not harmed by the security forces.
 No accounting basis behind gures of rape victims commonly
In researching the literature on the 1971 war, I found
that the gures of 2,00,000 to 4,00,000 victims that are cited
in Bangladesh and repeated worldwide have no accounting basis behind them. One expects the number of victims to be an approxi-mation, but even estimates are based on some kind of evidenceon the ground, on the basis of which the extrapolation is arrivedat. There is none in the case of Bangladesh in 1971.
 No ofcial report available from rehabilitation efforts after the
A reliable way of accounting for rape victims could havecome about through inquiry, compensation and rehabilitation of victims after the war, when Bangladesh became an independent
country. The Bangladeshi nationalist leader and rst prime min
-ister, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, made a conscientious beginningin this regard, calling war-time rape victims ‘birangonas’ (braveheroines), who should be accepted with honour in society. Rah-man was conscious of the stigma that attaches to the victim,rather than the perpetrators, in cases of rape in conservative
societies like Bangladesh, and his attempt to attach a “heroic”
connotation to rape victims was a laudable one. Unfortunately,Rahman’s attempt failed, and rape victims faced stigma andabandonment by their families and society.However, in the early days of independence, rehabilitationcentres for rape victims were set up. Help was on offer fromaround the world. Neelima Ibrahim’s book, which I discuss below, is based on the stories of a few women at one suchrehabilitation centre in Dhaka. I expected these rehabilitationcentres to have recorded data on the victims who came to them.Even if only a fraction of the total number of victims came tothese centres, on the basis of their evidence, an estimate could be made of the total number and provide reliable informationon who the victims were, who the perpetrators were, and thedates, places and circumstances of sexual violence.But no report based on the records of the rehabilitation centresseems to be available. If it exists, it has not been made public by the government of Bangladesh. None of the commentatorswho are voluble on the issue of sexual violence during 1971
mentions any ofcial report from the rehabilitation centres.
It is unclear how many centres were opened, how long theyoperated and how many rape victims they treated. A crucialmeans of documenting sexual violence during 1971, therefore,appears to have been lost. The lack of published documentationfrom the rehabilitation centres has also laid Bangladesh open tothe charge that they have something to hide – that the rhetoricof rape on a mass scale is not supported by the experience of the rehabilitation centres.
Alleged Rape by Bengalis during 1971
In the Bangladeshi claims of rape during 1971, repeated by
western commentary, all the victims are dened as “Bengali” andthe perpetrators as the Pakistan army. This denition, however,
is without basis. The rebellion in then East Pakistan (populatedmostly by Bengalis) resulted in war between those who wantedto secede to form the independent country of Bangladesh andthose who wished to preserve a united Pakistan. There wereBengalis on both sides of this political divide. Many Bengalimembers of the armed forces or police defected to the rebelcause, but others remained loyal to Pakistan. East Pakistan wasalso home to non-Bengali Muslims, collectively referred to as
“Biharis”, who had migrated from northern India to settle there
when Pakistan was created as a Muslim homeland in 1947.
As Bangladeshi nationalism was dened linguistically, thenon-Bengali East Pakistanis were excluded from this “identity”
and assumed to be opposed to the creation of Bangladesh.
Economic and Political Weekly September 22, 2007
The denition of rape in 1971 solely as a crime committed
 by Pakistan army personnel upon Bengali women completelyignores the many allegations of rape committed by Bengalisthemselves, against both non-Bengalis and other Bengalis. During1971 there were many instances of large-scale killing of non-Bengalis – both West Pakistanis and Biharis – by Bengalis, alongwith allegations of sexual violence and mutilations. These werereported in the western media at the time. To give one notable
example, a Pakistani journalist, Anthony Mascarenhas, who ed to
Britain and wrote a famous expose on the military action in EastPakistan in the
Sunday Times,
strongly condemned the militaryaction against the Bengali rebellion, but also wrote:
First it was the massacre of the non-Bengalis in a savage outburstof Bengali hatred. Now it was massacre deliberately carried out by the West Pakistan army….The West Pakistani soldiers are not the only ones who have beenkilling in East Bengal, of course. On the night of March 25… theBengali troops and paramilitary units stationed in East Pakistanmutinied and attacked non-Bengalis with atrocious savagery.Thousands of families of unfortunate Muslims, many of themrefugees from Bihar who chose Pakistan at the time of the par-tition riots in 1947, were mercilessly wiped out. Women wereraped, or had their breasts torn out with specially-fashionedknives. Children did not escape the horror; the lucky ones werekilled with their parents…
The government of Pakistan’s White Paper on East Paki-stan in August 1971 listed numerous incidents of atrocitiesincluding alleged rape and massacre of non-Bengalis by Bengalisall over East Pakistan [GoP 1971]. My research in Bangladesh
and Pakistan conrmed incidents of killings and brutalities by
Bengalis against non-Bengali men, women and children inJessore, Khulna, Mymensingh and Chittagong.While many of the alleged rapes by Bengalis appear to haveoccurred during mob attacks on non-Bengali communities, someare alleged to have been committed by rebel Bengali military
ofcers. Major general A O Mitha, a senior Pakistani general
 present in East Pakistan in March-April 1971, wrote that dur-
ing a visit to the military hospital at Chittagong, “As I waswalking down the ward, a Bengali ofcer who was wounded
and under guard called out to me. I stopped and went to him,and he said that all he wanted to tell me was that he and hismen had stripped women from West Pakistan, and after rapingthem, had made them dance in the nude; having done this, he
was quite happy to die. I made no reply and walked on…”[Mitha 2003, p 341]. During my research three Pakistani ofcers
independently mentioned exactly the same story at the Dhaka
military hospital about the wounded rebel Bengali ofcer andidentied him by name. He survived and holds high publicofce in independent Bangladesh.
 Neelima Ibrahim’s book is a devastating indictment of thePakistan army on the issue of sexual violence. As will be shown below, however, what is not reported in popular narratives is itsdocumentation of rape committed by Bengalis against Bengalis.
Typically, the Bangladeshi “liberation literature” does not mentionatrocities, including rape, committed by “nationalist” Bengalis
against non-Bengalis or Bengali political opponents.
Pakistan Army’s Conrmation of Rape Incidents
The Pakistani commander of the Eastern Command, generalA A K Niazi, wrote that he found the troops in a state of indiscipline, with reports of them looting, killing peoplewithout reason and committing rape, when he arrived in East
Pakistan in April 1971. On April 15 in a condential memo tocommanders on troop discipline, he wrote: “Of late there have
 been reports of rape and even West Pakistanis are not beingspared; on April 12 two West Pakistani women were raped,
and an attempt was made on two others”.In his condential directive to senior ofcers, general Niaziissued a stern warning: “It is not uncommon in history, when
a battle has been lost because troops were over indulgent inloot and rape. I, therefore, direct that the troops must be gothold of and the incidence of indiscipline, misbehaviour andindecency must be stamped out ruthlessly. Those, including
ofcers, found guilty of such acts must be given deterrent
and exemplary punishment. I will not have soldiers turn into
vagabonds and robbers.” Niazi continued, “I would like every
soldier in this Theatre to be an embodiment and an example
of discipline”, reminding ofcers of their “code of honour”and that as “gentlemen and ofcers” they should abide by it
[Niazi 2002, pp 282-83].
During my research, some Pakistan army ofcers who hadthen been junior ofcers serving in East Pakistan, told me of 
occasional opportunistic cases of rape or attempted rape byarmy personnel, such as when on patrolling duty. Usually,the accused soldier was put through the army’s disciplinary
 process and jailed if found guilty. In some cases ofcers onthe eld meted out exemplary punishments themselves – such
as thrashing the offender in front of other troops and locals.
 Officers reporting the occasional cases were indignant atthe accusations of large-scale rape, which they said werefalse.
IIAssessment of Widely Cited Sources
(1) Testimony of Rabeya Khatun:
Khatun is said to have beena sweeper at the Rajarbag police lines in Dhaka in 1971. She
is illiterate, as her signature is a ‘tip-sohi’ or nger imprint.
Khatun, therefore, is not in a position to verify what is writ-ten in her name.According to Khatun’s statement she was a sweeper in
Rajarbag police lines during the entire period of conict. She
states that she was raped on March 26 after the Bengali policewere overcome by West Pakistan forces. However, she appearsto have been left alone to carry on her cleaning duties the restof the year.Khatun claims to be an eyewitness to truckloads of Bengaliwomen brought to Rajarbag police lines, held captive andraped throughout the year. No numbers or dates are mentioned.It is hard to summarise the graphic Bengali descriptions, but
according to Khatun “Punjabi soldiers” brought women from“schools, colleges, university areas and posh localities” of the
capital, most carrying books and wearing jewellery. She states
that the “Punjabis”, “licking their lips”, stripped the women
and raped them en masse in public. The scenario describedincludes virtually all forms of bestiality, using melodramaticlanguage – complete with the perpetrators breaking into villainous‘ottohashi’ (loud laughter) from time to time.According to Khatun the Punjabi soldiers then lined three
oors of the main building with naked women, and rows of 
women were kept hanging naked, tied by their hair on wires and

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