Update : 2017-03-24 00:00:00
special feature
The Premeditated Genocide In Dacca (Dhaka)
Operation Searchlight
Rajib Kanti Roy

The Premeditated Genocide In Dacca (Dhaka)

West Pakistani rulers never trusted Bangalee leaderships. When 1954’s election created an opportunity for the Joint Front-led Bangalee people, West Pakistani power seekers spoiled that capitalizing on a Bangalee-Bihari clash in Adamjee Jute Mill. Bangalees gained another victory through Awami League’s convincing win in 1970’s national election, but the West Pakistani conspirators refused to hand over power to the Bangalee representatives. Instead they decided to teach a lesson to the ‘disobedient’ Bangalees through an army crackdown. The heinous attack on the innocent Bangalees on the fateful night of March 25 was not a sudden incident, rather it was completely pre-planned. Military autocrat Ayub Khan stated in his diary on September 7, 1967, that, “I advised Khaza Shahabuddin not to lose hope. If it happens so, we have to fight against the separatists of East Pakistan. If necessary, there will be rivers of blood.” Afterwards Field Martial Ayub Khan took control of the government. He also had similar plan like his predecessor. English historian Robert Payne wrote in his famous book Massacre, “On February 22, 1971 the generals in West Pakistan took a decision to crush the Awami League and its supporters. It was recognised from the first that a campaign of genocide would be necessary to eradicate the threat: ‘Kill three million of them,’ said President Yahya Khan at the February conference, ‘and the rest will eat out of our hands’.” So, the intention of Pakistan Army was clear and the March 25 night happenings were the outcome of their policy about Bangalees. According to Witness to surrender, a book written by Brig. Gen. Siddique Salik, the then public relations officer of Lt. Gen. Tikka Khan, the plan was initiated in the early March of 1971 by Maj. Gen. Khadim Hussain Raza and Maj. Gen. Rao Farman Ali. Two senior Pakistani officers in East Pakistan, who were unwilling to support any military attack on the civilians, Lt. Gen. Shahabzada Yakub Khan, GOC East Pakistan, and Vice-Admiral Syed Mohammad Ahsan, the governor of East Pakistan, were relieved of their duties. In place of them, Lt. Gen. Tikka Khan was made both the Governor and GOC of East Pakistan. Gen. Raza was permitted to continue the plan via telephone by Gen. Hamid, COS Pakistan Army. On the morning of March 18, Gen. Raza and Maj. Gen. Rao Farman Ali wrote the details of the plan on an office pad at the GOC’s office in Dacca cantonment. Gen. Farman drew the operational areas, while Gen. Khadim distributed the forces and particular tasks for the individual brigades and units. They wanted to arrest main Awami League leaders during the meeting with the President Gen. Yahya Khan, but Yahya cancelled the plan. The initial plan was shared with Lt. Gen. Tikka Khan on March 20. After scrutinising everything, the amended plan was approved and the operational plan was distributed to the area commanders on March 24 night and March 25 morning. Senior West Pakistani officers visited the major cantonments via helicopter and briefed the commanders about the operation. Gen. Mittha, chief of the Special Services Group, was given the responsibility to arrest Bangabandhu. Gen. Farman commanded the forces in Dacca, while the rest of the province was commanded by Gen. Khadim. Lt. Gen. Tikka Khan and his staffs were present in the 31 field command center to supervise the whole genocide.   It was a time when a discussion between Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, president Yahya Khan and Pakistan People’s Party leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was going on from March 15, 1971. Following the premeditated arrangement, Yahya and Bhutto left Dacca without resolving the crisis. Then Pakistan Army carried out a random attack on the unarmed innocent mass people through “Operation Searchlight” on March 25. Pakistan Army understood that the Bangalee officers and other military and paramilitary units would revolt at the onset of operations. To minimise the risk, they tried to unarm all Bangalee armed units of Pakistan Army, Police and East Pakistan Riffles (EPR). Dividing the troops, powerful units were sent to Rajarbagh Police Lines and EPR headquarter in Pilkhana to storm the Bangalee members of these forces. As both police and EPR members knew about the probable Pakistan Army attack, many of them left their work stations. Police made a response with their ordinary arms, but couldn’t continue as they were attacked with heavy weapons. Minimum 150 police members were killed and another 100 were captured at 5 am in the afternoon. The dead bodies of the police members were removed by 8-10 trucks next morning. EPR members were unarmed previously by the members of Baloch Regiment. As a result they couldn’t resist and were killed in large numbers. Survivors were taken to the physical education college at Mohammadpur for torturing them brutally. Pakistan Army was seriously angry with the students of University of Dacca, as it was the centre of every political movement of the Pakistan period. Especially Iqbal Hall (present Shaheed Serjeant Jahurul Haque Hall) was their prime target. All the frontline student leaders stayed there. With tank, rifle placed on jeep, mortar shell, rocket launcher, heavy and light machine gun, Pakistan Army cordoned the hall and then conducted massacre. As the student leaders knew about probable attack most of them left earlier, but the ordinary students, their guests and hall employees became the victims of atrocities. British journalist Simon Dring, who managed to stay secretly in Hotel Intercontinental, visited the Iqbal Hall next day and found 30 dead bodies. The most barbaric attack was operated in Jagannath Hall. As it was the hall where Hindu students lived, Pakistan Army thought they would join in the war of resistance. They tried to kill all the residents there. Pakistan Army searched every room, brought the innocent students, visitors and employees out of the room and made rows beside the Shaheed Minar to kill all of them. They dug a large size grave inside the hall compound, buried all and run bulldozer over it. Identities of 66 persons (killed in Jagannath Hall) were found later, but the rest could not be identified. Pakistan Army also attacked Fazlul Haq Hall and assassinated 7 students. They killed 12 students in Salimullah Muslim Hall and 10 in Mohsin Hall. They didn’t even spare Rokeya Hall and executed 6 students there. Pakistan Army also murdered EPR members in front of British Council in Fuller Road and on the top of a building located near Nilkhet residential area. On the morning of March 26, they attacked Gurudwara Nanak Shahi and Shiv temple. They slaughtered 27 people on March 27 in Ramna Kali Temple. These are official numbers, but the actual numbers are far more than this. Dhaka University found the names of 195 people, but the message shared in the wireless set of Pakistan Army confirmed that at least 300 people were killed in the university campus. There is no such example in the world history where a trained and heavily armed army conducted genocide inside a university campus in such a heinous way.   While going to Rajarbagh, Pilkhana and university campus from Dacca Cantonment, Pakistan Army attacked several slums in Farmgate and Tejgaon area, as they observed that these people actively participated in all the political movements. Pakistan Army first set fire on the slums and when people came out of fear, they shot them like animals. Besides attacking these places, some units of soldiers went to old town. Focusing on the Awami League supporters and Hindu-inhabitant areas, they attacked and murdered people indiscriminately in Shakharibazar, Tantibazar and Laxmibazar. Those who tried to escape were shot dead. Those who stayed were burnt alive. In the Hindu-dominated areas of the old town, the soldiers forced the people to come out of their houses and then shot them in groups. The areas were eventually razed. While returning to the cantonment, they burned the Ittefaq office as well. Pakistan Army killed about 15,000 people in Dacca on that dark night of March 25. They wanted to curb the Bangalee nationalistic movement by taking control of the major cities in the early days and then eliminating all the opposition, within one month. But ultimately they spread troops all around the country and directed heinous killings of 3 million people. The mass genocide in Bangladesh is considered as the most atrocious butchery in the post second world war era. It is compared with the annihilation of the Soviet POWs, the holocaust against the Jews, and the genocide in Rwanda in the 20th century. Ahead of the 47th Independence Day, we pay respect to all the martyrs, political leaders, activists, freedom fighters and mass people who contributed to liberate this country.