Bangladesh War of Independence

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Bangladesh Liberation War
Date March 26, 1971 – December 16, 1971
Place Indian Subcontinent
Result • Surrender of Pakistan
Birth of Bangladesh
Concurrent conflict Indo-Pakistan War of 1971
Major Combatants
Mukti Bahini from
Flag of Independent Bangladesh

from December 3
Flag of India


Flag of Pakistan

India: 2,000 -3,000 KIA
4,058 Wounded (Official)
Mukti Bahini: Unknown
Pakistan ~ 8,000 KIA
~10,000 Wounded
Genocide: 3 million (Bangladeshi estimate), 26,000 (Pakistan estimate), 1-1.5 million (others)
Prisoners of War: 93,000 (Pakistan troops)

The Bangladesh War of Independence or the Bangladesh Liberation War refers to an armed conflict between West Pakistan (now Pakistan) and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) that lasted for roughly nine months in 1971. The war resulted in Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan.

Pakistan's partition from India in 1947 had arisen from the 'two-nation' thesis that Muslims and Hindus in India were both 'nations' whose people could not live together. Pakistan was the first modern-state founded solely on the basis of religion, since although India had a Hindu majority its population, with Muslims, Sikhs, Jains and Christians was multi-religious and its constitution was secular. When East Bengal was included in the partition, many thought this mistaken because of the cultural differences between Bengal and the peoples of what became West Pakistan. When the West tried to impose Urdu as the official language in the East, a linguistic-cultural opposition movement began.

East and West Pakistan before 1971

Bangladesh would be founded on the basis of cultural and linguistic identity. Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and animists, united by a common language and a common culture, struggled for their freedom. Few families were unaffected by the war. Most lost relatives. Bengali have been conquered by others but have not had a history of aggression. They have traded, written poetry, sung songs and have developed a rich cultural tradition of which they are proud. However, denied equal rights with West Pakistan and the right to form a government even though the largest number of seats in Pakistan's Parliament were held by East Pakistani members, they bravely asserted their right to self-determination. The atrocities committed by Pakistani soldiers during this war are regarded by some as genocide.

Reasons for war

Years before the war

During the Partition of India, Pakistan, as a country, gained independence on August 14, 1947 following the end of British rule over South Asian countries. The division was made based on religion. Pakistan was created out of Muslim majority territories in the West and East, and India was created out of the vast Hindu majority regions in the center. The Western zone was popularly (and for a period of time, also officially) called West Pakistan and the Eastern zone (modern-day Bangladesh) was called East Bengal and later, East Pakistan. The capital of Pakistan was established in Karachi in West Pakistan and then moved to Islamabad in 1958.

Economic exploitation

West Pakistan (consisting of four provinces: Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and North-West Frontier Province) dominated the divided country and received more money than the more populous East.

Year Spending on West Pakistan (in crore Rupees) Spending on East Pakistan (in crore Rupees) Percentage Spent on East
1950/51-54/55 1129 524 46
1955/56-59/60 1655 524 32
1960/61-64/65 3355 1404 42
1965/66-69/70 5195 2141 41
Total 12834 4300 34
Source: Reports of the Advisory Panels for the Fourth Five Year Plan 1970-75, Vol. I, published by the planning commission of Pakistan

Between 1948 and 1960, East Pakistan's export earnings had been 70 percent while it only received 25 percent of import earning. In 1948 (shortly after independence from the UK), East Pakistan had 11 textile mills while West had 9. In 1971, the number of textile mills in the West had grown to 150 while that in the East had only gone up to 26. A transfer of 2.6 billion dollars (in 1971 exchange rates) worth resources was also done over time from East Pakistan to West Pakistan. Moreover it was felt that much of the income generated by the east was primarily diverted towards fighting wars in Kashmir.

Difference in religious standpoints

One of the key issue was the extent to which Islam was followed. West Pakistan with an overwhelming 97 percent Muslim population was less liberal (in religious terms) than East Pakistan which was at least 15 percent non-Muslim (mainly Hindus). Bengalis' are proud of their common literary and cultural heritage in which Muslim, Hindu and Christian writers are held in high esteem across the religious divide. The difference was made further clear after Bangladeshi independence, when Bangladesh was established as a secular country under the name "People's Republic of Bangladesh" rather than as the Islamic Republic of Bangladesh. This was in tribute to all those, Muslim and non-Muslim, who had taken part in the independence struggle.

Other factors including language

Close ties existed between East Pakistan and West Bengal, one of the Indian states bordering Bangladesh, as both were composed mostly of Bengalis. West Pakistan viewed East Pakistani links with India unfavorably as relations between India and Pakistan had been very poor since independence.

In 1948, Mohammad Ali Jinnah declared in Dhaka, capital of East Pakistan, that "Urdu, and only Urdu," a language that was only spoken in the West by Muhajirs and in the East by Biharis, would be the sole official language for all of Pakistan, while Bangla was spoken by the majority of people. East Pakistan revolted and several students and civilians lost their lives on February 21, 1952. The day is revered in Bangladesh and in West Bengal as the Language Martyrs' Day. Bitter feelings among East Pakistanis never ceased to grow, especially with repeated arrivals of military rulers. Later, in remembrance of the 1952 killings, UNESCO declared February 21 as International Mother Language Day.

Impact of the cyclone

The already tense situation was further aggravated by a tropical cyclone that struck East Pakistan in 1970. It was a particularly devastating year as the deadliest cyclone on record—the Bhola cyclone—struck Bangladesh claiming nearly half a million lives. The apathy of West Pakistan leadership and its failure in responding quickly was a further platform for the Awami League, that capitalized on this tragedy. The Pakistan Army failed to do relief work of any significance to alleviate the problem, which further antagonized the already estranged Bengali populace.

Political climax

The political prelude to the war included several factors. Due to the differences between the two states, a nascent separatist movement developed in East Pakistan. Any such movements were sharply limited, especially when martial law was in force between 1958 and 1962 (under General Ayub Khan) and between 1969 and 1972 (under General Yahya Khan). These military rulers were of West Pakistani origin and continued to favor West Pakistan in terms of economic advantages.

The situation reached a climax when in 1970 the Awami League, the largest East Pakistani political party, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, won a landslide victory in the national elections winning 167 of the 169 seats allotted for East Pakistan, and a majority of the 313 total seats in the National Assembly. This gave the Awami League the right to form a government. However, the leader of Pakistan People's Party, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, refused to allow Rahman to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Instead, he proposed a notion of two Prime Ministers. Bhutto also refused to accept Rahman's Six Points which would result in autonomy for East Pakistan. On March 3, 1971, the two leaders of the two wings along with the President General Yahya Khan met in Dhaka to decide the fate of the country. Talks failed. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman called for a nation-wide strike.

Military preparation in West Pakistan

General Tikka Khan was flown in to Dhaka to become Governor of East Bengal. East-Pakistani judges, including Justice Siddique, refused to swear him in.

MV Swat, a ship of the Pakistani Navy, carrying ammunition and soldiers, was harbored in Chittagong Port and the Bengali workers and sailors at the port refused to unload the ship. A unit of East Pakistan Rifles refused to obey commands to fire on Bengali demonstrators, beginning a mutiny of Bengali soldiers.

Between March 10 and 13, Pakistan International Airlines canceled all their international routes to urgently fly "Government Passengers" to Dhaka. These so-called "Government Passengers" were almost exclusively Pakistani soldiers in civil uniform.

Bangobondhu's speech of March 7

On March 7, 1971, Bangobondhu (friend of the Bengalis) (Sheikh Mujibur Rahman) gave a speech at the Racecourse Ground (now called the Suhrawardy Udyan). In this speech he mentioned a further four-point condition to consider the National Assembly Meeting on March 25:

  1. The immediate lifting of martial law.
  2. Immediate withdrawal of all military personnel to their barracks.
  3. An inquiry into the loss of life.
  4. Immediate transfer of power to the elected representative of the people before the assembly meeting March 25.

He urged "his people" to turn every house into a fort of resistance. He closed his speech saying, "The struggle this time is for our freedom. The struggle this time is for our independence."

Violence of March 25

On the night of March 25, Pakistan Army began a violent effort to suppress the Bengali opposition. In Bangladesh, and elsewhere, the Pakistani actions are referred to as genocide. Before carrying out these acts, all foreign journalists were systematically deported from Bangladesh. Bengali members of military services were disarmed. The operation was called Operation Searchlight by Pakistani Army and was carefully devised by several top-ranked army generals to "crush" Bengalis.

Although the violence focused on the provincial capital, Dhaka, the process of ethnic elimination was also carried out all around Bangladesh. Residential halls of University of Dhaka were particularly targeted. The only Hindu residential hall—the Jagannath Hall—was destroyed by the Pakistani armed forces, and an estimated 600 to 700 of its residents were murdered. The Pakistani army denies any cold blooded killings at the university, though the Hamood-ur-Rehman commission in Pakistan states that overwhelming force was used at the university. This fact and the massacre at Jagannath Hall and nearby student dormitories of Dhaka University are corroborated by a videotape secretly filmed by Prof. Nur Ullah of the East Pakistan Engineering University, whose residence was directly opposite to the student dormitories.

Hindu areas all over Bangladesh suffered particularly heavy blows. By midnight, Dhaka was literally burning, especially the Hindu dominated eastern part of the city. Time magazine reported on August 2, 1971, "The Hindus, who account for three-fourths of the refugees and a majority of the dead, have borne the brunt of the Muslim military hatred."

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was considered dangerous and, hence, arrested by Pakistan Army. Awami League was banned by General Yahya Khan. Some other Awami League leaders were arrested as well, while few escaped Dhaka to avoid arrest.

Declaration of independence

On March 26, the nation waged an armed struggle against the Pakistani occupation forces following the killings of the night of 25 March. The Pakistani forces arrested Sheikh Mujib, who, through a wireless message, had called upon the people to resist the occupation forces [source: The Daily Star, March 26 2005]. Mujib was arrested on the night of March 25-26, 1971 at about 1:30 A.M. (per Radio Pakistan’s news on March 29, 1971) which means effectively on March 26, 1971.

Map of Bangladesh

On March 26, 1971, M. A. Hannan, an Awami League leader from Chittagong, is said to have made the first announcement of the declaration of independence over radio,

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman signed an official declaration on March 25, 1971 that read:

Today Bangladesh is a sovereign and independent country. On Thursday night West Pakistani armed forces suddenly attacked the police barracks at Razarbagh and the EPR headquarters at Pilkhana in Dhaka. Many innocent and unarmed have been killed in Dhaka city and other places of Bangladesh. Violent clashes between EPR and Police on the one hand and the armed forces of Pakistan on the other, are going on. The Bengalis are fighting the enemy with great courage for an independent Bangladesh. May God aid us in our fight for freedom. Joy Bangla.[1]

A telegram reached some students in Chittagong. They realized the message could be broadcast from Agrabad Station of Radio Pakistan. The message was translated to Bangla by Dr Manjula Anwar. They failed to secure permission from higher authorities to broadcast the message. They crossed Kalurghat Bridge into an area controlled by East Bengal Regiment under Major Ziaur Rahman. Bengali soldiers guarded the station as engineers prepared for transmission. At 19:45 on March 26, 1971, Major Ziaur Rahman broadcast another announcement of the declaration of independence on behalf of Sheikh Mujibur which is as follows.

This is Shadhin Bangla Betar Kendro. I, Major Ziaur Rahman, at the direction of Bangobondhu Mujibur Rahman, hereby declare that the independent People's Republic of Bangladesh has been established. At his direction, I have taken command as the temporary Head of the Republic. In the name of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, I call upon all Bengalis to rise against the attack by the West Pakistani Army. We shall fight to the last to free our Motherland. By the grace of Allah, victory is ours. Joy Bangla.[1]

Kalurghat Radio Station's transmission capability was limited. The message was picked up by a Japanese ship in Bay of Bengal and then re-transmitted by Radio Australia and later the British Broadcasting Corporation.

March 26, 1971 is hence considered the official Independence Day and according to all Bangladeshi sources, the name Bangladesh was in effect henceforth. Certain sources, especially of Indian and Pakistani origin, continued to use the name "East Pakistan" until the following December 16.

The main war

As political events gathered momentum, the stage was set for a clash between the Pakistan Army and the insurgents. Though smaller Maoist style paramilitary bands started emerging, the Mukti Bahini (freedom fighters) emerged increasingly visible. Headed by Colonel Muhammad Ataul Gani Osmani, a retired Pakistan Army officer, this band was raised as Mujib's action arm and security force before assuming the character of a conventional guerrilla force. After the declaration of Independence, the Pakistan military sought to quell them, but increasing numbers of Bengali soldiers defected to the underground "Bangladesh army." These Bengali units slowly merged into the Mukti Bahini and bolstered their weaponry. They then jointly launched operations against the Pakistan Army killing many in the process. This setback prompted the Pakistan Army to induct Razakars, a paramilitary force, from the local populace to bolster their numbers. These people were essentially viewed as traitors and with suspicion by local Bengalis, as a vast majority of these recruits were Bihari Muslims who had settled during the time of partition. This helped Pakistan stem the tide somewhat as the monsoon approached in the months of June and July.

Undeterred by this setback, Mukti Bahini regrouped as they gained in strength and capability. Aided by the Indian government in West Bengal, they were equipped and trained to counter the Pakistan Army. As there was no action during the monsoon, it was seen by the Pakistan military brass as a weakening of the Bangladesh cause. However it was merely the lull before the storm. After sensing the enormity of the issue, the army was beefed up as the troop strength was increased to more than 80,000. This caused a rise in tensions across the border as India realized the gravity of the situation. The Indian military were preparing for the eventual onslaught with the aid of the separatists and waited for the end of the monsoon season to enable easy passage. The Indians aimed to bypass the villages and towns and instead concentrate on the cities and the highways which ultimately would lead to the capture of Dhaka.

Pakistan decided to nullify such an attack and on December 3 and launched a series of preemptive air strikes. The attack was modeled on the Operation Focus employed by Israel Air Force during the Six-Day War. However the plan failed to achieve the desired success and was seen as an open act of unprovoked aggression by the Indians. Indira Gandhi then ordered the immediate mobilization of troops and launched the full scale invasion. This marked the official start of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 with fighting commencing in West Pakistan. The Indian Army, far superior in numbers and equipment to that of Pakistan, executed a three-pronged pincer movement on Dhaka launched from the Indian states of West Bengal, Assam, and Tripura. In all these places the Mukti Bahini and the local Bengalis played a vital role in aiding the Indian Army. Many soldiers were ferried in the night by the locals across rivers and valuable information on the location and whereabouts of different military strongholds were gleaned. It was backed up by the Indian Air Force which achieved near air supremacy towards the end of the war as the entire East Pakistan airbase with all the flights were destroyed. The Indian Navy, also annihilated the eastern wing of the Pakistan Navy and blockaded the East Pakistan ports, thereby cutting off any escape routes for the stranded Pakistani warriors. The fledgling Bangladesh Navy (comprising officers and sailors who defected from Pakistan Navy) aided the Indians in the marine warfare, carrying out attacks, most notably Operation Jackpot.

Meanwhile, on the ground, nearly three brigades of Mukti Bahini along with the Indian forces fought in a conventional formation. This was supplemented by guerrilla style attacks on Pakistanis who were facing hostilities on land, air, water in both covert and overt ways. Undeterred, Pakistan tried to fight back and boost the sagging morale by incorporating the Special Services Group commandos in sabotage and rescue missions. This however could not stop the juggernaut of the invading columns whose speed and power were too much to contain for the Pakistan Army. On December 16, within just 12 days, the capital Dhaka fell to the Mitro Bahini—the allied forces. Lt. Gen. Niazi surrendered to the combined forces headed by its commander Lt. Gen. Jagjit Singh Aurora by signing the Instrument of Surrender at Ramna Racecourse, 16:31 Indian Standard Time. Bangladesh became liberated.

Formation of the First Republic


The United States supported Pakistan both politically and materially. U.S. President Richard Nixon denied getting involved in the situation, saying that it was an internal matter of Pakistan. But when Pakistan's defeat seemed certain, Nixon sent the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) to the Bay of Bengal and threatened India with a nuclear strike. Enterprise arrived on station on December 11 1971.

Several documents released from the Nixon Presidential Archives show the extent of the tilt that the Nixon Administration demonstrated in favor of Pakistan.[2] Among them, the infamous Blood telegram from the US embassy in Dacca, East Pakistan, stated the horrors of genocide taking place in East Pakistan.[3] Notwithstanding this, Nixon, backed by Henry Kissinger, wanted to protect the interests of Pakistan as they were apprehensive of India. In fact, even after the war ended USA wanted to blame India. This propaganda apparently failed in the face of world opinion.

The Soviet Union had sympathized with the Bangladeshis, and supported the Indian Army and Mukti Bahini during the war. It gave assurance to India that if a confrontation with United States evolved, the USSR would provide all necessary support to India. The Soviets also sent in a nuclear submarine to ward off the threat posed by USS Enterprise in the Indian Ocean.


After the USA had failed to act decisively in a manner that would not draw world condemnation to itself, it sought to rope the People's Republic of China into the conflict. The plan was to attack India on two sides with the help of China and thus stopping the attack on East Pakistan. Kissinger's meeting with the Chinese was with this intention. In fact, China was the only permanent member of the UN Security Council that was supportive of such an attack, and even provided economic and military assistance. But the support was limited to protecting West Pakistan in the face of a threat from India, and not aimed directly at the internal conflict. It was also suspicious that the U.S. did not want to dirty its hands. The Chinese government wanted a strongly worded UN Security Council resolution after which the PRC would help Pakistan. It however did not materialize due to the Soviet veto and China did not intervene in the war.

United Nations

Though the United Nations condemned the human rights violations, it failed to defuse the situation politically before the start of the war. The Security Council assembled on December 4 to discuss the volatile situation in the South Asia. USSR vetoed the resolution twice. After lengthy discussions on December 7, the General Assembly promptly adopted by a majority resolution calling for an "immediate cease-fire and withdrawal of troops." The United States on December 12 requested that the Security Council be reconvened. However by the time it was reconvened, and proposals were finalized, the war ended, making the measures merely academic.

The inaction of the United Nations in face of the East Pakistan crisis was widely criticized. The conflict also exposed the delay in decision making that failed to address the underlying issues in time.


The majority of the refugees from Bangladesh fled to the Indian state of West Bengal forcing then Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi to declare war on West Pakistan. The Pakistan Air Force also attacked many Indian air fields in hot pursuit of rebels. The Pakistani Army tried to force Indian troops away from East Pakistan by attacking in the western sectors. Many battles were fought on the western front which ensured Indian victories. Backed by the air force and the Navy, India and the Mukti Bahini finally defeated Pakistan. More than 93,000 Pakistani soldiers and their abettors surrendered to the joined forces and were taken prisoner of war by the Indian Army, the largest surrender since World War II.

End of the war

After Pakistan's surrender late in 1971, people in Bangladesh rejoiced at their liberation. This was followed by the need for international acceptance for Bangladesh, as only a few countries recognized the new nation. Bangladesh sought admission into the UN, Most members voting in its favor but China vetoed recognition, as Pakistan was its key ally. However the United States grudgingly recognized it. To ensure a smooth transition, in 1972 the Shimla Agreement was signed between India and Pakistan. The treaty was a watershed in the history of the South Asian region as it ensured that Bangladesh would be officially recognized by Pakistan and its principal allies in exchange for the return of the Pakistani POWs. As a gesture of goodwill, the nearly 200 soldiers who were wanted for war crimes by Bengalis were also pardoned by India. The accord also gave back more than 13,000 sq. km of land that Indian troops had won in West Pakistan during the war, holding on to a few strategic places; most notably Kargil (which would in turn again be the focal point for a war between the two nations in 1999). However, the agreement was acknowledged by many observers as a sign of India's maturity. Some in India felt that the treaty had been too lenient towards Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who had pleaded for more leeway as he felt that the fragile democracy in Pakistan would crumble if the accord was perceived as being too harsh in Pakistan.

Reaction in West Pakistan to the war

Reaction to the defeat and dismemberment of half the nation was a shocking loss to top military and layman alike. No one had expected that they would lose the formal war in under a fortnight and were also very angry at the meek surrender of the army in East Pakistan. The myth of the Pakistan Army's might was shattered and the leadership stood exposed. Yahya Khan's dictatorship collapsed and gave way to Bhutto who took the opportunity to rise to power. General A. A. K. Niazi, who surrendered along with 93,000 troops, was viewed with suspicion and hatred upon his return to Pakistan. He was shunned and branded a traitor. Pakistan also failed to gather international support and were found fighting a lone battle with only the USA providing any external help. This further embittered the Pakistanis who had faced the worst military defeat of an army in decades.

The debacle immediately prompted an inquiry headed by Justice Hamdoor Rahman. Called the Hamoodur Rahman Commission, it was initially suppressed by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as it put the military in poor light. When it was declassified, it showed many failings from the strategic to the tactical levels. It also condemned the atrocities and the crimes committed by the armed forces. It confirmed the rapes and the killings by the Pakistan Army and its supporters though the figures are far lower than the one quoted by Bangladesh. However, the army’s role in splintering Pakistan after its greatest military debacle was largely ignored by successive Pakistani governments.

Nomenclature justifications

Three names are frequently used to refer to the exact same warfare.

Pakistani Civil War

This name is mainly used by current day Pakistan Army and by certain unofficial Indian sources. The name describes either the period 26 March 1971 to 16 December 1971 or the period March 26, 1971 to December 03, 1971. The main issue arises from the validity of the declaration of independence on 26 March. This is entirely a matter of political technicality.

There is a certain logic used by proponents of this nomenclature. According to them no country accepted Bangladesh's independence declaration and hence the region contemplated continued to be East Pakistan. So, the war was a civil war in effect.

Indo-Pakistani War of 1971

This name is used by armies of all three countries to describe the period between December 03, 1971 and December 16, 1971. The Indian Army does not explicitly use the term to describe the war in their (India's) Eastern Front at any point. Instead, India only refers to the war on the Western Front as the Indo-Pakistani War. The Indian Parliament]] recognized the People's Republic of Bangladesh as an independent country on the December 6, 1971. There is no verifiable definite claim from the Pakistan Army or Government. Bangladesh clearly uses only the terminology Liberation War of Bangladesh for the war on Bangladeshi territory.

The proponents of this terminology also question validity of declaration of independence of Bangladesh since there was no foreign government that acknowledged the independence. So, according to them, the war was effectively between Indian Army and Pakistan Army.

Liberation War of Bangladesh

This terminology is officially used in Bangladesh by all sources and by Indian official sources. The proponents claim that having won 167 out of 169 seats of East Pakistan, Awami League had people's mandate to form a democratic government. This gave Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as the leader of the party the right to declare independence of the country. Since Major Ziaur Rahman claimed independence on behalf of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, a Bangladesh government was in existence as early as 26 March 1971. Hence Bangladesh was in existence. There was also a Bangladesh Army which effectively meant the war was not between India and Pakistan but between Pakistan and Bangladesh backed by India.

The terminology is politically preferred by both India and Bangladesh for a few reasons.

  • It gave India the right to enter the war in support of Bangladesh without breaching United Nations laws that prevent countries from interfering with other countries' internal affairs.
  • Members of East Pakistan Regiment were able to fight Pakistan Army without being treated as mutineers since they were fighting under command of a Bangladeshi Government.
  • It made it easier for Indian diplomatic efforts to gain support for the recognition of Bangladesh as a country.


The Bangladesh liberation war witnessed widespread atrocities committed mainly on the Bengali population of East Pakistan, at a level that Bangladeshis maintain is one of the worst genocides in history. The actual extent of the atrocities committed is not clearly known, and opinions vary, as the next section discusses. However, there is little doubt that numerous civilians were tortured and killed during the war. There are many mass graves in Bangladesh, and newer ones are always being discovered, such as a recent one in a mosque in Dhaka located in the non-Bengali region of the city. The first night of war on Bengalis, which is very well documented, saw indiscriminate killings of students of Dhaka University and other civilians.

How many people died?

The number of people that died in the liberation war of Bangladesh is not known in any reliable accuracy. There has been a great disparity in the casualty figures put forth by Pakistan on one hand (26,000) and India and Bangladesh on the other hand (3 million). International media has also had different views.[4] Due to the lack of records and the long time that has since passed, an accurate number is hard to get, though various arguments for and against certain numbers have been put forward. Most guesses fall somewhere between a few hundred thousand and two million.

Pakistan has maintained that only 26,000 people died in the war. Though most researchers do not support such a small number, many are inclined to believe that the real number was still a far cry from the 3 million put forward by Bangladesh and other sources. Some maintain that the real number of casualties was closer to 300,000 and was wrongly translated.[5]

On the other hand, though the figure of 3 million is unsubstantiated, many believe that the real number is still exceedingly high (more than 1 million) and the killing can clearly be termed a genocide. This view gets support from the aforementioned reports in international media, which were reported during the war before the 3 million figure was put forward. Supporters of this view would also point out to the enormous influx of refugees into India (8 million seems to be a widely accepted number), and reason that killings numbering as low as the Pakistanis would like to claim would not have caused such a large number of people to leave their homes. Some say that the Bangladesh claim might have had roots in a statement by Yahya Khan. According to Robert Payne in Massacre [1973], on February 22, 1971 Yahya Khan told a group of generals, "Kill three million of them, and the rest will eat out of our hands."

Atrocities on women and minorities

Numerous women were tortured, raped and killed during the war. Again, exact numbers are not known and are a subject of debate. Bangladeshi sources cite a staggering figure of 200,000 women raped. Some other sources, for example Susan Brownmiller, refer to an even higher number of 400,000. Pakistani sources claim the number is much lower, though having not completely denied rape incidents.

There has been evidence of not only rape (and usually subsequent murder) of women, but of sex slaves kept captive by the Pakistan army. During the last periods of war, when the Pakistani army was retreating, the Mukti Bahini and Indian forces reported freeing numerous such women. Apart from Brownmiller's, another work that has included direct experiences from the women raped is Ami Virangana Bolchhi ("I, the heroine, speak") by Nilima Ibrahim. The work includes in its name from the word Virangana (Heroine), given by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman after the war, to the raped and tortured women during the war. This was a conscious effort to alleviate any social stigma the women might face in the society. How successful this effort was is doubtful, though.

The minorities of Bangladesh, specially the Hindus, were the biggest targets of the Pakistan army. There was widespread killing of Hindu males, and rapes of women. In public places, men were often made to undress to prove that they have been circumcised and hence were Muslim. More than 60 percent of the Bengali refugees that had fled to India were Hindus, and many never returned. It is not exactly known what percentage of the people killed by the Pakistan army were Hindus, but it is safe to say it was disproportionately high. This widespread violence against Hindus was motivated by a policy to purge East Pakistan of what was seen as Indian influence. The West Pakistani rulers identified the Bengali culture with Hindu and Indian culture, and thought that the eradication of Hindus would remove such influences from the majority Muslims in East Pakistan.

Killing of intellectuals

The Pakistani ruling class had long formed a distaste for Bengali intelligista and students. They viewed them, correctly, as one of the main proponents of the rise of Bengali nationalism in East Pakistan. This group had been instrumental in the 1952 uprising called the Language movement, which ended in Pakistan accepting Bangla as one of its national languages. The famed six-point demand put forward by Mujib, which became the rallying point for Awami League in the years before the war, was derived from the earlier 11-point program penned by the students. In an attempt to undermine the rising Bengali identity, Pakistan had variously tried to have Bangla written in roman letters, ban singing the songs of Rabindranath Tagore, mostly in vain. The rulers, again correctly, also found a growing leftist sentiment in the intelligista and student bodies which they vowed to crush. Hence during the war, a planned effort was made to void Bangladesh of its most enlightened people. In addition to the killings committed at the beginning and all throughout the war, a meticulously planned execution was carried out on December 14, 1971. Professors, journalists, doctors, artists, writers of unknown numbers were rounded up in Dhaka, blindfolded, taken to Rajarbag in the middle section of the city, and executed en masse. This day is now honored in Bangladesh as Buddhijibi Hotta Dibosh ("Day of Martyred Intellectuals").

Recipients of Military Awards

Four categories of gallantry awards were created after the war in Bangladesh to honor those who had demonstrated outstanding bravery in the war. These were: Bir Sreshţho, Bir Uttom, Bir Bikrôm, and Bir Protik. Seven soldiers were awarded the ultimate award for gallantry, Bir Sreshţho. All seven had given their lives in the war. They were:

  • Amin, Ruhul
  • Jahangir, Mohiuddin (Captain)
  • Kamal, Mostafa (Sepoy)
  • Rahman, Hamidur (Sepoy)
  • Rahman, Matiur (Flight Lieutenant)
  • Rouf, Munshi Abdur (Naik)
  • Sheikh, Nur Mohammad (Lance Naik)

Current day influence of the War

Naturally, the liberation war on 1971 has been a source of inspiration for a wide body of artistic work in Bangladesh, as well as some work by international artists. Follows a incomplete list of some of the major works done on the war:

  • Films
    • Stop Genocide – documentary by Zahir Raihan, (1971)
    • Nine Months to Freedom: The Story of Bangladesh – documentary by S. Sukhdev (1972)
    • Shei Rater Kotha Bolte Eshechi ("Tale of the Darkest Night") – documentary by Kawsar Chowdhury, (2001).
    • Muktir Gaan, Muktir Katha and Narir Katha – three different Bangla documentaries by Tareque Masud and Catherine Masud
    • Border – a movie on the India Pakistan side of the war.
    • Aguner Parashmani – feature film by Humayun Ahmed
    • Shyamal Chhaya – feature film by Humayun Ahmed
    • Ekattorer Jishu – feature film by Nasiruddin Yusuf
  • Bangla literature and memoirs
    • Ami Virangana Balchhi – memoir by Nilima Ibrahim
    • Ekattorer Dinguli – memoir by Jahanara Imam
    • Ma – novel by Anisul Haque
    • Jochhna o Janani'r Galpo – novel by Humayun Ahmed
  • International arts and media
    • Concert for Bangladesh, New York, (1971)
    • September on Jessore Road – a long poem by Allen Ginsberg[6]
    • Joan Baez: Song of Bangladesh. (Song)[7]
    • George Harrison: Bangla Desh. (Song)
  • Sculptures and monuments
    • Smritishoudho – national "memory monument" in Savar, Dhaka
    • Aporajito Bangla – sculpture in Dhaka University
    • Shabash Bangladesh – sculpture in Rajshahi University
    • Shoparjito Shadhinota – sculpture in Dhaka University
  • Museums
    • Liberation war museum, Dhaka
    • Shahid Smriti Sangrohoshala (Martyr memorial museum), Rajshahi


  1. 1.0 1.1 History, The Declaration of Independence Virtual Bangladesh.
  2. Sajit Gandhi (ed.), The Tilt: The U.S. and the South Asian Crisis of 1971 National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 79 (December 16, 2002). Retrieved August 30, 2012.
  3. Telegram U.S. Department of State. Retrieved August 30, 2012.
  4. History: The Birth of Bangladesh, The Bangali Holocaust. Virtual Bangladesh.
  5. Bangladesh Islamist leader Ghulam Azam charged BBC News (May 13, 2012). Retrieved August 30, 2012.
  6. September on Jessore Road Allen Ginsberg (November 14-16, 1971). Retrieved August 30, 2012.
  7. Song of Bangladesh Chandos Music (ASCAP), 1972. Joan Baez website.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Ayoob, Mohammed and Subrahmanyam, K. The Liberation War. New Delhi: S. Chand, 1972.
  • Bhargava, G.S. Crush India-Gen. Yahya Khan; or, Pakistan's Death Wish. Delhi: Indian School Supply Depot, Publication Division, 1972. ASIN B005J0TO12
  • Bhattacharyya, S. K. Genocide in East Pakistan/Bangladesh: A Horror Story. Houston, TX: A. Ghosh, 1988. ISBN 0961161434
  • Brownmiller, Susan. Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1993. ISBN 0449908208
  • Choudhury, G.W. The Last Days of United Pakistan. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1993. ISBN 0195774671
  • Kanjilal, Kalidas. The Perishing Humanity. Calcutta: Sahitya Loke, 1976.
  • Malik, Amita. The Year of the Vulture. New Delhi: Orient Longman, 1972.
  • Mascarenhas, Anthony. The Rape of Bangla Desh. Delhi: Vikas Publications, 1971. ASIN B0006E1A0O
  • Matinuddin, Kamal. Tragedy of Errors: East Pakistan Crisis, 1968-1971. Lahore, Pakistan: Wajidalis, 1994. ISBN 9698031197
  • Payne, Robert. Massacre, The Tragedy of Bangladesh and the Phenomenon of Mass Slaughter Throughout History. NY: Macmillan, 1973. ISBN 978-0025952409
  • Quereshi, Hakeem Arshad. The 1971 Indo-Pak War : A Soldiers Narrative. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2002. ISBN 0195797787
  • Salik, Siddiq. Witness to Surrender. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1977. ISBN 978-0195777611
  • Sisson, Richard and Rose, Leo. War and Secession: Pakistan, India, and the Creation of Bangladesh. Berkeley : University of California Press, 1992. ISBN 0520062809
  • Totten, Samuel et al. eds. Century of Genocide: Eyewitness Accounts and Critical Views. New York: Garland Pub, 1997. ISBN 0815323530
  • Zaheer, Hasan. The Separation of East Pakistan: The Rise and Realization of Bengali Muslim Nationalism. Karachi; NY: Oxford University Press, 1994. ISBN 0195774922

External links

All links retrieved September 17, 2023.


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