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 inltrators, 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 crossre. 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 ofcial 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 ofcial 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 dened as “Bengali” andthe perpetrators as the Pakistan army. This denition, 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 dened linguistically, thenon-Bengali East Pakistanis were excluded from this “identity”
and assumed to be opposed to the creation of Bangladesh.