Wajihunnissa, 35, whose husband was employed in the Central Excise Department and was posted at Chandraghona, gave this account of the March 1971 slaughter of non-Bengalis in her township:
“In the second week of March 1971, Awami League gangs visited the non-Bengalis in our locality and assured them that no harm would touch them if they surrendered their weapons. My husband, Maqsood Alam, who was an excellent marksman, complied with their instructions and gave up his gun.....
“In the third week of March, roving bands of armed Awami Leaguers terrorised the non-Bengalis and extorted money from them. They had blocked all the escape routes.
“On March 26, an armed group of Awami Leaguers called at our house and ordered my husband to go with them to his office, I knew that it was a ruse and that they were after the blood of my husband....
“On March 27, another killer gang raided my house. They told me and the three brothers of my husband that the Deputy Commissioner of Rangamati had instructed that we should be taken to his office to protect us. As we prepared to go, the killers asked me at gunpoint to stay back. They roped my brothers-in-law together and put them in a truck......
“In the afternoon, a huge mob of Bengali rebels raided our locality and looted the houses of non-Bengalis. Our menfolk had been kidnapped. A killer gang ransacked my house and looted everything, except the ceiling fans and wardrobes. They drove the non-Bengali women and children, like cattle, to a large compound where we were ordered to stay. For fifteen days we were starved, and we prayed to God for help. On April 13, our captors learnt that the Pakistani troops were marching towards Chandraghona. The rebels ordered us to fall in line and we knew that they would open fire on us. Some of us tried to break loose and there was a melee. All of a sudden a shell fell and burst a few yards away from the compound where we were herded by our captors. We saw in the far distance a company of Pakistani soldiers, waving the Green and Crescent flag, racing towards us. Our cowardly captors took fright and scampered like mice running away from a cat. The Pakistani troops gave us water and food. They freed 200 non-Bengali women and children who were held captive in another camp in Chandraghona. We learnt that all the non-Bengali men who had been kidnapped by the rebels from Chandraghona were slaughtered and dumped into the Karnaphuli river......
“The federal Army accommodated us in a Relief Camp in Chittagong. After the Indian Army and the Mukti Bahini captured Chittagong in the third week of March 1971, they unleashed death and destruction on the non-Bengalis. My little daughter caught a chill in the wintery cold; no hospital was willing to treat the child of a Bihari. She died in my arms. I was moved to a Red Cross Camp after some days. In February 1974, was repatriated to Karachi.”
Witnesses from Chittagong said that in April 1971, the Bengali rebels looted the Karnaphuli Paper and Rayon Mills and slaughtered the non-Bengali staff and their families. Not many escaped the massacre. Hundreds of teenage girls, kidnapped after their fathers or husbands had been murdered, were ravished by their Bengali captors in houses used for mass slaughter and sex assault. It is estimated that more than 5,000 non-Bengalis perished in the massacre in Chandraghona in March-April 1971. This is far in excess of the initial figure of 3,000 dead given out by the Government in its August 1971 White Paper on the East Pakistan crisis. Rebel soldiers of the East Bengal Regiment and the East Pakistan Rifles looted all the cash from the Karnaphuli Paper and Rayon Mills and spared the lives of some senior staff members after they paid them huge sums of money as ransom.
Rangamati is a picturesque town situated in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Forty-five miles from Chittagong, it lies on the bank of the Karnaphuli River. In March-April 1971, the Awami League’s rebellion engulfed it in the flames of conflict and the non-Bengalis were exterminated by the hundreds. In April 1971, all the non-Bengalis living in Rangamati were rounded up by armed gangs of rebels and slaughtered before the federal Army arrived. The Circuit House in Rangamati, which attracted tourists from far and wide, was used as the operational base by the rebels from where they directed the campaign to liquidate the non-Bengalis in Chandaraghona and Rangamati.
Abid Hussain, 34, who was employed in the Karnaphuli Paper and Rayon Mills, lived in a small house in Rangamati because he could not get a staff quarter in the Mill premises. Repatriated to Karachi with his wife in February 1974, he testified:
“The first major incident in the Karnaphuli Paper and Rayon Mills occurred on March 18 when Awami League militants incited the Bengali millhands to kill the non-Bengali staff and their families and occupy the Mill. Realising what lay in store for us, I rushed to my house and, along with my wife; we took shelter in the house of a God-fearing and trustworthy Bengali friend.....”
“Roving bands of Awami Leaguers had terrorised the non-Bengalis in Rangamati all through March 1971 and kidnapped many of the non-Bengali men for slaughter. But in April 1971, the Bengali rebels rounded up all the non-Bengalis, herded them in school buildings and gunned them to death before the federal Army came”, he said.
“I had shifted to a friend’s house in Chittagong after the federal Army had beaten the rebels. When I visited Rangamati again, there was hardly any non-Bengali left”, he added.
Some escapees from the Awami League’s terror in Rangamati sought refuge in the shacks of Chakma tribesmen in April 1971 and they trekked back to Rangamati after the Pakistan Army had established control over it.
Witnesses said that the rebel gangs used to dump at night truck-loads of corpses into the Karnaphuli river. Many of these dead bodies floated into the Bay of Bengal and the crew and passengers on board foreign ships reported sighting many bloated human corpses in the sea.