The Awami League’s terror machine had swung into action in Dinajpur from the first week of March 1971. Bengali mass militancy, whipped up by the Awami League’s demagogues, manifested itself in protest rallies, street violence and terrorisation of non-Bengalis. The Awami League’s storm troopers paralysed the local administration and set up their own regime of force and intimidation.
The crescendo of violence gained momentum in the second week of the month when the Awami League militants, beefed up by the rebels from the East Pakistan Rifles and encouraged by their initial success in grabbing civil authority, unleashed death and destruction on the hapless non-Bengalis.
All through the second fortnight of March and the first week of April 1971, the genocidal liquidation of the non-Bengali population was conducted with demonic fury. Estimates of the death toll of non-Bengalis in Dinajpur town in a month of the Awami League’s hellish rule range from 15,000 to 30,000, while in the district of Dinajpur the non-Bengali death toll was about 100,000. Eye-witnesses claim that one of the main reasons for this disparity in figures is the fact that the bodies of thousands of non-Bengalis, slain by their captors in an open-air human abattoir on the bank of the Kanchan river, were dumped in its waters. Hundreds of corpses were incinerated in the houses of non-Bengalis which were put to the torch after their inmates had been decapitated.
On March 22, the Awami Leaguers, brandishing sten guns and rifles, led a violent procession through the heart of the town, inciting the Bengali populace to eliminate the non-Bengalis. On March 25, a killer mob burnt a passenger bus, which was owned by a non-Bengali, on the outskirts of Dinajpur. Its driver and seven non-Bengali passengers were done to death. The Bengali rebels, on the same day, burnt a postal service van on the Dinajpur-Saidpur Road, shot its conductor and wounded its driver. They also ambushed a Pakistan Army jeep and wounded the five soldiers who were riding in it. The treatment meted out to thousands of women and children was fiendish and debased. More than 400 non-Bengali young women were kidnapped to India by the retreating rebels.
In the last week of March 1971, the pogrom against the non-Bengalis reached its peak. Violence mushroomed into the sacking and setting afire of all the stores, businesses and houses owned by non-Bengalis. Yelling, frenzied and roaming crowds — at times 10,000 strong— held marches and rallies all over the town, swearing death and destruction of the non-Bengalis and the federal government. Even at night, the town shook all through the week with bursts of gunfire by the rebel soldiers and other armed Bengalis, the crashing of shop windows and doors, the crackling of flames which spiralled from non-Bengali houses set ablaze and the thunder of slogan shouting and looting mobs. The Awami League demagogues, with their fiery tongues, breathed hatred for the non-Bengalis and sanctified the looting and burning of non-Bengali shops and homes as acts of duty in the line of Bengali patriotism. The river-side slaughter-houses worked with fiendish thoroughness. Bengali officers from the rebel elements of the East Pakistan Rifles and the East Bengal Regiment supervised the hordes of thugs and hoodlums who worked as executioners and vampires in these human abattoirs for the liquidation of the non-Bengalis.
The abridgement of the non-Bengali population in Dinajpur by the Awami League militants in a month of their accursed rule was so colossal that when the Pakistan Army re-established its control in the town, stray non-Bengali survivors consisted mostly of old women and children. Heads of many victims were hung on tree-tops by the rebels to “teach a lesson to the non-Bengalis.”
Twenty-four-year-old Noor Jahan, whose husband, Abdur Rashid, was killed in the carnage of non-Bengalis in Dinajpur, underwent spasms of trepidation and sobbed frequently as she related the story of her woes:
“We lived in the Zulum Colony near the Tomb of Saint Sherghazi in Dinajpur town. Since the middle of March, we were hearing alarming rumours that the Bengali rebels would kill the non-Bengalis and that the houses of non-Bengalis were being marked by the Awami League volunteers.........
“In the night of March 25, 1971, at about 9 o’clock, a huge mob of armed Bengalis went on the rampage in our locality and slaughtered men, women and children by the hundreds. They killed my husband and my brother in a murderous attack on our house. To the best of my memory, they did not spare a single non-Bengali male adult in our locality. They wiped out even male children. They lined up the wailing non-Bengali women and marched them at gunpoint to the village of Baraul, 8 miles from Dinajpur, near the Indian border. I was in this crowd of unfortunate, condemned women. The shame and torture which our satanic captors inflicted on us was so horrifying that I would hate to describe it......
“The most gruesome massacre in Dinajpnr was of the 250-plus Pathans—men, women and children—in our locality. The Awami League hatchetmen and the rebels of the East Pakistan Rifles tied up every Pathan with ropes; chopped off bits of flesh from the body of the victim and threw dust on him. As the victim writhed in pain, the sadist killers would laugh over his plight and lop off another bit of his body. The groans and cries of these sturdy Pathans and their appeals to their captors for inflicting a swift death on them, instead of torturing them, still echo in my cars........
“Our Bengali captors dumped us in a cluster of huts in the village of Baraul. At night, they fell upon us like vultures. Some women who resisted their violaters were shot “to teach a lesson to the others.” Their bodies were mutilated; their breasts were slashed off and “Joi Bangla” was carved with knives on their lifeless foreheads. On April 10, a unit of the Pakistan Army captured the village and rescued us........”
Noor Jahan was shifted to Dacca in mid-1971 and accommodated in a Relief Camp there. In January 1974, she was repatriated to Karachi.
Twenty-year-old Sakina Bibi, whose husband, Abdus Shakoor, was done to death by the Bengali rebels in a raid on her house in Neelmati in Dinajpur on March 22, 1971, gave this grisly account of her plight:
“The non-Bengalis in our locality lived in hutments. A killer mob of Bengali rebels attacked our locality at night; they burnt the shacks and looted every article of value in our homes. In less than half an hour, they gunned to death all the non-Bengali male adults in our locality. They wounded my husband with a scythe and then shot him........”
“After killing all the non-Bengali men, they lined up about four hundred sorrowing non-Bengali women and, at gunpoint, stripped off their Saris. I wanted to throttle myself when one of our tormentors, brandishing a scythe in my face, tore off my clothes. With guns ready to shoot, they forced us to parade in the nude. A few women, who tried to escape, were mowed down by the gunmen. In this march of the naked women, I spotted the wife of my brother. She said the killers had done him to death; they had also killed her little son. We walked five miles to Narkuldanga. By the time we reached this place, not more than 150 captive women were left. A few were shot; many were taken away by the other rebels on the way as their share of the loot. One of them was my sister-in-law; she was young and pretty. I never saw her again..........
“Our Bengali captors detained us in six huts. For the first three days, we had not a morsel of food. We lived on water and wild fruits picked from the trees. All through the period of our captivity, the hapless captive women were subjected to multiple rapes. Six teenage girls who tried to escape were shot. On April 10, when the Pakistani troops routed the rebels, the retreating Bengalis tried to slaughter all of us but we were rescued in the nick of time…......”
Sakina lived for two years in Dacca before being repatriated to Karachi in January 1974.
Abdul Majid, 26, who lived in Paharpur in Dinajpur and who escaped the March 1971 massacre of non-Bengalis by dint of good luck, had this recollection of the sorrowful events in his home town:
“On March 3, the Awami League militants went on the warpath in Dinajpur. They disrupted the Rail track and wrecked the train services. They looted the Railway godowns and burnt some trains. They belaboured those non-Bengalis who had refused to boycott work at the Railway station.........
“In the first week of March, riotous mobs of Bengalis looted non-Bengali shops. They also wrecked the Iqbal High School where many non-Bengali boys studied. Some teachers, who tried to dissuade the Bengali miscreants from destroying the furniture of the school, were manhandled........
“In the third week of the month, a huge mob of armed Awami Leaguers and their supporters, many with sten guns and rifles, attacked the Balwadanga colony. I believe that more than 2,000 non-Bengalis perished in the slaughter in this locality. Some of the non-Bengalis sought refuge in the Iqbal High School. The next day, the Bengali rebels ransacked the school and killed all those sheltered in it......
“The Bengali rebels started mass slaughter of non-Bengalis all over Dinajpur from March 22 and it continued without a let-up until April 10 when the federal army retrieved the town. Thousands of non-Bengalis were taken by the rebels to open-air slaughter-houses along the bank of the Kanchan river and done to death. Their dead bodies were flung into the river. Leaders of the Awami League, such as Abdul Bari, a member of the East Pakistan Assembly, Dr. Khalilur Rahman, Riyazul Islam, an advocate, and a Major Usman were in the forefront of those Bengali militants who planned, instigated and organized the killing of the non-Bengalis in Dinajpur. Hundreds of non-Bengali women were marched in the nude by their Bengali captors through the town and driven to nearby villages where their tormentors ravished them in huts which were hurriedly turned into billets for sexual assault.......”
After the Pakistan Army re-established its authority over Dinajpur, Majid emerged from hiding and helped the federal troops in burying the non-Bengali dead. He said:
“I led the federal troops to the Iqbal High School where I knew that the non-Bengalis had been slaughtered. Nearly 2,500 rotting dead bodies, with bullet marks and knife wounds, were retrieved and given a mass burial. The wombs of some pregnant women had been slit open by their tormentors. The heads of some decapitated bodies were missing. I spotted many dead children whose limbs had been splintered. I saw the slaughter-houses operated by the Bengali rebels on the banks of the Kanchan River; it seemed river of blood had flowed there. I saw the fiendish implements with which the slaughterers tortured their victims before the actual kill........”
Abdul Majid was repatriated to Karachi from Dacca in November 1973.
Qamrunnissa Begum, 40, whose husband owned the Bengal Rice Mills in Dinajpur, gave this account of his murder in the March 1971 massacre of non-Bengalis:
“In 1947, we had migrated from Calcutta to East Pakistan. We lived for some years in Dacca and then we shifted to Rangpur. Subsequently, we settled in Dinajpur where my husband bought a rice mill. He had about a hundred employees and the Mill yielded substantial profits. He had a Bengali ‘sleeping’ partner who had made no investment in the mill. When our mill yielded large profits, this person tried to commit frauds on the mill and my husband terminated his services after paying him a fat sum of money as compensation.......
“On March 25, when killer gangs were on the loose in Dinajpur and the non-Bengalis were being butchered by the thousands, this former Bengali partner led an armed band of cutthroats and attacked our mill. He and his gang shot dead my husband and looted all the rice and every other article of value in the Mill. After the death of my husband, the killers looted our houses. We took shelter in the home of an old Bengali friend of our family.......”
Qamrunnissa, her two sons and a daughter lived in poverty in Dacca for a year. In 1974, they were repatriated to Karachi from Chittagong.
Twenty five-year-old Abdul Qadir, who was employed in the Dinajpur Rice Mill, had this nightmarish recollection of the slaughter of 69 non-Bengali employees of the Mill and of his miraculous escape from a steaming boiler in March 1971:
“The Dinajpur Rice Mill was one of the largest rice mills in the northern part of East Pakistan. It had 700 employees, mostly Bengalis. Its owner was Haji Karim, a God-fearing non-Bengali, who was kind and gentle and looked after the well-being of his employees. Although in the sixties, he was active and personally supervised the working of his Rice Mill. He had a Government contract for the milling of rice procured by it......
“On March 25, a killer mob led by armed Awami League storm-troopers and rebels of the East Pakistan Rifles raided our mill, looted all the cash and the rice stock and slaughtered the non-Bengali employees and their families. The attackers overpowered the non-Bengalis, tied them with ropes looted from the Mill store and flung their screaming victims into the steaming boiler. I saw with my own eyes the owner of the Mill Haji Karim, being tossed into this blazing cauldron of death. Even some non-Bengali women, employed in the Mill were done to death in this fiendish manner.
“The cord with which my hands were tied was weak and I slipped out of the Hall where the non-Bengalis were herded before being despatched to death. I hid myself in a store room where rice was stocked; I prayed all through the night. I emerged from hiding after the Pakistan Army regained control over Dinajpur. The killer gang liquidated the family of Haji Karim and looted his house. Except my aged mother, all my other relatives perished in the carnage........
“Many in the killer gang were local Hindu militants. I have no doubt that the infiltrators from West Bengal played a part in the massacre of non-Bengalis in Dinajpur. What amazed me was the fact that this avalanche of fire and death engulfed the non-Bengalis with calamitous suddenness. Before March 1971, we had never dreamed of such mass killing and our relations with the Bengalis were cordial........”
Sameeda Khatoon, 26, whose father, husband and elder brother were slaughtered in the massacre of non-Bengalis in March 1971 in Dinajpur, said:
“We lived in the Gharipara locality of Dinajpur. My husband, Mohammed Nazeer, was a bus driver. My father owned a shop in the heart of the town. On March 23, a riotous Bengali mob created a disturbance in our locality and looted the houses of some non-Bengalis. But on March 26, the rebels became more daring, and in the night they launched a campaign to liquidate all the non-Bengalis in our locality. They looted my father’s shop and brutally killed him and my husband who was with him at that time. They attacked our house and the house of my elder brother, which was close to ours. I saw from the doorstep of my house that a killer mob dragged my brother and his two adult sons from their house and butchered them with scythes and knives on the roadside. My brother’s wife fell on the feet of the killers and begged them to spare the lives of her husband and her two sons but they struck her with a stick and she collapsed. I was horror-stricken when I saw these brutes murdering my brother and his two sons. I started crying aloud. The killer mob looted my house and told me that the rebels would come back after a few days to slaughter me and my daughter.
“We were told that April 10 was the deadline set by the Bengali rebels for the murder of the surviving women and children in our locality. We cried and prayed to Allah for succour. We heard the echo of gunfire and thought that the killer mob was coming in our direction. But our prayers were answered when a unit of the Pakistan Army entered Dinajpur and re-established its authority. We were saved from the butchers knives. The army moved us to Dacca where we lived in a Relief Camp for widowed women and orphaned children. After the Indian Army seized East Pakistan on December 17, 1971, we underwent more suffering and many women were kidnapped by the Mukti Bahini. In March 1974, I was repatriated to Karachi along with my little daughter.........”
“I have not been able to comprehend the real reasons for the xenophobia against the non-Bengalis which gripped a segment of the Bengali populace in Dinajpur in March 1971”, said 28-year-old Abdul Khaleque whose family had lived in that region long before the Partition of the sub-continent in 1947.
Khaleque’s Urdu-speaking grandfather had settled in Dinajpur in the 1920’s. His mother was a Bengali and he and the other members of his family spoke excellent Bengali. Yet, in the massacre of the non-Bengalis in March 1971 most of them were done to death. Khaleque, who lived in his ancestral house on Mission Road in Dinajpur, luckily escaped the killing by going into hiding in the house of a Bengali friend in another part of the town. In February 1974, Khaleque was repatriated to Pakistan. He said:
“There were many other families, such as ours, which had settled in Dinajpur long before Partition. They were bilingual i.e. they spoke Bengali as well as Urdu. They had endeavoured for merger with the local Bengali population by inter-marrying. Every member of my family was a born Bengali and spoke Bengali with the accent prevalent in Dinajpur. Yet in the madness of March 1971, all of us were considered Biharis although none of us had seen the face of Bihar after Partition. It had never occurred to me in my wildest fancy that any Bengali in Dinajpur would ever think of slaughtering any member of my family for being a non-Bengali. But after March 21, a fiendish insanity gripped a large portion of the Bengali population. Instigated by the Awami Leaguers, they exterminated nearly 90 per cent of the non-Bengali population in the towns of Dinajpur district.
“In some villages near Dinajpur, where small groups of non-Bengalis lived, the slaughter was so brutally complete that not a single non-Bengali survived. I became a nervous wreck after I saw the heaps of rotting dead bodies of non-Bengalis in the streets and houses in Dinajpur when I emerged from hiding and the federal troops had re-established their control. I heard about the infernal slaughter-houses which the killer gangs had set up on the banks of the Kanchan River. There the non-Bengalis were slain by the hundreds and their bodies were thrown in the river. I believe that at least 30,000 non-Bengalis were done to death in Dinajpur town in March and April 1971.........
“An example of the trickery and fraud used by the Bengali rebels to liquidate the non-Bengalis was the invitation from the Deputy Commissioner to 25 leading non-Bengali businessmen of Dinajpur to attend a meeting of the local Peace Committee in the Iqbal High School building. When they arrived at the school building for the meeting, each one of them was murdered by the Bengali rebels........”
We were awaiting our execution in a slaughter-house on the bank of the river in Dinajpur when the Pakistan Army rescued us”, said 55-year-old Hamida Khatoon. She had worked for years as a nurse in the Sadar Hospital in Dinajpur. Repatriated from Dacca to Karachi in February 1974, Hamida gave the following account of the unfortunate events of March 1971 in her home town:
“We had lived for the past many years in Dinajpur and it had never occurred to us that life would become a nightmare for the non-Bengalis as it did in March 1971 during the Awami League’s rebellion........
“On March 23, a group of Awami Leaguers ordered all the non-Bengali menfolk in our locality to attend a meeting of the Peace Committee of the area. While the non-Bengali men were gone for the meeting, armed gangs of Bengali rebels attacked their houses in the locality and looted every article of value with the thoroughness of seasoned thieves. At midnight, a non-Bengali neighbour, who had gone to the meeting, came running to us and informed us that all those who had gone to attend the so-called meeting had been butchered in the school compound by the rebels. The next day, the rebels rounded up all the non-Bengali women and children in our locality and took us to a camp on the bank of the river where we saw the horrifying massacre of the non-Bengali men. Their bodies were being flung into the river. We were told that in a couple of days we would also be done to death. There were very few young women left in our group; the killers had kidnapped the young ones for rape. I can never forget that hell-like, open-air slaughter-house run by the murderers on the river bank. On April 10, when we had resigned ourselves to fate and death because of the physical and mental torture we had undergone, a posse of the federal troops rescued us from the jaws of death..........
“We were shifted to a camp in Saidpur. In the last week of December 1971, the Mukti Bahini killers were after my blood because I had told the Pakistan Army about the gruesome killings done by the rebels in March 1971. I was jailed for 18 months in Saidpur and tortured for weeks. In the first week of February 1974, I was released from prison, and shortly afterwards I was repatriated to Pakistan...........”
Forty-year-old Ladli Masroor, whose husband, Mobeen Alam, was employed in the Watch and Ward Department at Dinajpur Railway Station, gave this narrative of the grisly events of March 1971:
“On March 25, at about 9 p.m., a killer gang of Bengali rebels raided our locality in Dinajpur. They smashed the locked door of our house and overpowered my husband. They tied him with ropes, clobbered him with an iron rod and looted my house. As my children shrieked in terror, I begged the killers to spare my husband. The attackers laughed and took possession of every article of value in my house. “This transistor radio is mine”, said one of the raiders after grabbing it from the wardrobe. Another killer took my husband’s watch. Two of them frisked me for money and jewellery and stole all my ornaments. Behaving like thugs and cut-throats, they even took away my Saris. After they had accomplished their errand of burglary, they dragged my husband to the street and belaboured him so hard that he bled. I again begged his captors to free him but they struck me with an iron rod and I fell down. They lined him up with some other non-Bengalis of our locality and marched their captives in the direction of the river. This was the last I saw of my husband. “Have faith in God and look after the kids”, he shouted as the killers marched him away to what I later learnt was the slaughter-house for liquidating the non-Bengalis........
“On April 10, a large mob of armed and yelling Bengalis stormed our locality. They gathered all the non-Bengali women and children and marched them at gunpoint to the bank of the river where the butchering of the non-Bengalis was being done. I cowered in mortal terror when I saw this open-air slaughterhouse and the faces of my innocent children. The women cried and screamed in terror; some of them had spotted their men relatives being murdered by the Bengali executioners. Dead bodies and blood littered the bank and the water of the river. All of a sudden, the Bengali killers started running in complete disarray. A posse of six Pakistan Army soldiers rushed towards us like angels on a rescue mission. We were saved from death. The federal army took us to a Relief Camp in Saidpur. In February 1974, we were repatriated to Pakistan.”
“The gory scene of the river-side slaughter-house haunts me. I saw the wooden frames on which the non-Bengalis were beheaded with scythes and large knives; I saw the boiling cauldrons in which the Bengali executioners dipped their captives to extract information about their money”. This is how 30-year-old Khatun Nisa, whose husband was employed in the police force in Dinajpur, described the implements of torture that were innovated by the Bengali rebels at the river-side, open-air human abattoir in Dinajpur. Khatun and her children and hundreds of other hapless non-Bengali women and children (whose husbands and fathers had been slaughtered in March 1971) were awaiting their turn to be butchered when the Pakistan Army rescued them from the Bengali hangmen. Khatoon and her three children were repatriated to Pakistan in February 1974. Khatun said:
“Since March 2, 1971, the Awami League militants and their supporters in Dinajpur were on the warpath against the non-Bengalis. Some shops and houses belonging to non-Bengalis were looted. But from March 17, they started murdering the non-Bengali men and molesting their women. We became so panicky owing to the militancy of the Awami Leaguers that in the night of March 21, when it was rumoured that our locality would be raided, my husband, Abdul Ghaffar, my three children and I slipped out of our house by a back door and went into hiding in a large cluster of shady trees about a furlong from our dwelling. We found that a score of non-Bengali men, women and children were already ensconced in this hideout. After an hour, we heard the noise of gunfire from our locality, the yells of the Awami League attackers and the cries of the victims for mercy and help. We also saw tongues of fire leaping from the houses which had been set ablaze. The killers were tipped off about our escape and there was a burst of firing in our direction.
“Some of us were injured but we kept quiet. We crawled towards the graveyard where the graves could afford us protection from the volleys of bullets fired on us. Early in the morning, we moved into a deserted school building and stayed in it unobtrusively for three days. Most of us lived on water, brought at night from a nearby pond, and wild fruits and roots. In the afternoon of March 29, an armed band of Bengali rebel raided our hideout and rounded up all the non-Bengali men, including my husband. Some who resisted were ruthlessly beaten and tied up with ropes. The women begged the rebels to spare the lives of their menfolk but the killer gang was heartless. “We will spare you; you will make good maidservants in our homes”, the rebels said to us. Under a blazing sun and with lifted guns, the killer gang marched their non-Bengali captives to what we later on learnt was the execution ground on the bank of a river two miles away. The next morning the killer gang returned and ordered us to accompany them post haste.
“A shiver of fear ran down our spines when we neared the bank of the river and saw the human slaughter-house which the rebels had established for killing the helpless non-Bengalis. It was hell on earth. A wooden frame on which the victims were decapitated, hanging nooses attached to trees, metallic urns with boiling water for dipping victims to extract information and an assortment of gleaming daggers, knives, scythes and spears gave this patch of verdant land by the placid waters of the river a macabre setting of torture, fire and death. There was blood all over the place. Heaps of dead bodies, awaiting a watery grave, generated a nauseating stench. After a dozen men had been butchered before our glazed eyes, a Bengali soldier shouted an order: “Take these women and children to the far end of the bank; there is too much of stink and bloody muck here”. The ogres, who were engaged in the butchery, responded with “Yes, Major” and motioned us, with their knives, to run down the bank of the river. We had hardly any strength left in us and we dragged ourselves with difficulty towards the water. We had become so resigned to fate and we were so terribly weak that we had lost the zest for life and we begged our killers to finish us off quickly. Escape was impossible; there were at least 500 hatchet-men on the spot; many were armed with guns. Suddenly, pandemonium broke loose and our tormentors started running for their lives. On the far end of a ridge, silhouetted against the twilight sky, were a dozen Pakistani soldiers who were racing towards us like angels sent for our deliverance. Their yells of “Allah is Great” rent the skies, and in a matter of minutes our beastly captors melted away in a nearby forest. The Pakistani troops took us to a Relief Camp; those who were injured were hospitalised and the dead were given a solemn burial. From the third week of December, 1971, after India’s occupation of East Pakistan, the Mukti Bahini and its supporters unleashed an avalanche of suffering on us. Now that we have come to Pakistan, we feel we have been given a fresh lease of life.”
Fifty-year-old Hasina Begum lived with her husband, Kabir Ahmed Khan, an affluent businessman, on the outskirts of Dinajpur town. She lost her husband in the March 1971 massacre but she saved the lives of two teenage daughters of their best friend, a lawyer. Her two sons had gone into hiding in a nearby forest. After the federal army re-established its authority over Dinajpur, Hasina encouraged her sons to join the Pakistan Army. In December 1971, they were taken prisoner in an encounter with the enemy on the border. In December 1973, Hasina was repatriated to Karachi from Dacca. “I am confident that Allah will bring my sons to Pakistan sooner than I expect”, she said hopefully. Hasina testified:
“Since the first week of March 1971, the Awami League militants had started terrorising the non-Bengalis. In the middle of the month, their animus for the non-Bengalis assumed a new dimension of cold-blooded violence, kidnapping and murder. We started experiencing the sharp edge of terror when a few non-Bengali men of our locality were shanghaied by killer gangs of Bengali rebels around March 17. I sent my two teenage sons to live in hiding with a trusted Bengali family in a nearby village. A lawyer friend of my husband, his two daughters and his brother came to stay with us. Their house was located in the main part of the town where violence against the non-Bengalis had mushroomed. We heard a rumour that on March 24 the Bengali rebels would attack the non-Bengalis in our locality. I was worried because of the reports that the Bengali rebels were kidnapping and molesting non-Bengali young women also. With the consent of my husband and his lawyer friend, I spread a mat on the floor of a dry, derelict water tank in the compound of my house, made the two girls lie on it and covered them with a heap of banana leaves. I instructed them to lie still until they heard a code word from me. The camouflage was so perfect that even their father could not believe that the girls lay concealed under the pile of leaves.......
“As we had expected, in the night of March 24, a yelling mob of armed Bengali rebels raided our locality. They broke into our house and overpowered my husband, our lawyer friend and his younger brother. I tried to go with my husband, but the raiders struck me with a stick and I writhed in pain. They rounded up some other non-Bengalis and drove them at gunpoint towards the river which, I learnt subsequently, was used as the butchery ground. I was nursing my swollen ankle when there was again an ominous knock on the front door. When I delayed opening it the raiders fired on it. I opened the door and four of them trooped in with menacing looks. “Where are the lawyer’s daughters?” barked one of them. I told the brutes that the girls were not in my house. They ransacked the entire house; looted all our valuables and even took away the tableware in our home. But, God be thanked, they did not eye the leaf-covered tank where the girls lay concealed. I locked the door tightly; I barricaded it with an almiral and two big tables to prevent swift intrusion from outside.
“At night, I crawled to the water tank and gave water and rice to the girls. They bore the suffering patiently and lay still under the camouflage for a whole week. On April 10, soldiers of the Pakistan Army, shouting “Allah is Great” came to my house and rescued us. The girls looked like ghosts as they emerged from hiding. Just then my two sons also joined us. The Pakistani soldiers helped us in our frantic search all over the town for my husband and the father and the uncle of the two girls. But there was no trace of them. Obviously they were done to death in the slaughter-house on the bank of the river by the Bengali rebels. We gave the Pakistani troops the details of the hoodlums who had looted our house; all these criminals had fled from Dinajpur and gone to India........”
Zaibunnissa, 30, who lost her husband, Abdul Aziz, her son and her only brother in the March 1971 massacre of non-Bengalis in Dinajpur, has this recollection of that tragedy:
“On March 23, the Awami League militants, who were in power in the town, imposed a curfew in our locality and ordered all the non-Bengali men to attend a meeting of the so-called Peace Committee. A killer squad came to our house and forced my husband and my son to accompany the gang. We suspected that the Peace Committee was a ruse which the killers used for kidnapping non-Bengalis but the killer gang was well-armed and we were helpless. I never saw my husband and my son again.........
“On March 26, the killers again raided my house in search of my brother. They caught him while he was trying to escape into the woods. Before my dazed eyes, one of the killers shot him in the chest at point blank range. As he fell down, he asked for water. I ran to him with a glass of water; the killers hurled the glass from my hand and plugged a second bullet into the skull of my brother. He was dead and a torrent of blood gushed out from his lifeless body. Two old non-Bengali women, who lived in our neighbourhood, helped me in digging a grave in which I buried my brother........
“On March 30, the killer gang again came to my house, ransacked it and asked me at gunpoint where I had hidden my ornaments. When I told them that I had none left, they forced me to go with a group of non-Bengali women and children to the bank of the river. One of the hapless women tucked a copy of the Holy Quran in her arm; a gunman snatched it from her and threw it on the ground. We reached the execution ground and saw hundreds of other non-Bengalis lined up for murder. The killings were conducted till late at night; it was like a scene from hell. It seemed that the river ran red with the blood of the innocents. The Bengali rebels had beheaded many of their victims; we saw their severed heads looking up from blood-soaked sods of earth. Hundreds of dead bodies lay on the bank of the river, awaiting disposal in the water. The next day, when all was set for the execution of our group, a posse of soldiers of the Pakistan Army suddenly appeared on the skyline and our executors scattered in fear. God had heard our prayers; we were saved. The Pakistani soldiers lodged us in a Relief Camp and we were looked after very well. But after December 16, 1971, when the Mukti Bahini ruled Dinajpur, we were again the victims of terror. Hundreds of widowed women, like me, walked to Saidpur where we were told that the Red Cross would set up a Relief Camp and protect us from the killer gangs. For two and a quarter years, we lived in abject poverty and many of the hapless women died. In January 1974, I was repatriated to Pakistan.”
Eye-witnesses of the killings in Dinajpur town reported that non-Bengalis were almost wiped out in the neighbouring towns of Bochaganj, Pirganj, Chorkoy, Ranisankail, Fulbaria, Kaharol, Birganj, Ponchagarh and Chirirbandar between the second week of March and the third week of April 1971. As the federal Army re-established its control over these towns, the Bengali militant, who conducted “Operation Loot, Burn and Kill” against the non-Bengalis, escaped to the sanctuary of the neighbouring Indian State of West Bengal. There is considerable evidence to support the view that the rebels from the East Pakistan Rifles, who spear-headed the pogrom against the non-Bengalis, received instructions and help from India. The Times of London, in its issue of April, 6, 1971, quoted a young British technician who had crossed the Indo-Pakistan frontier at Hilli:
“He said that hundreds of non-Bengali Muslims must have died in the north-western town of Dinajpur alone. After the soldiers left, the mobs set upon the non-Bengali Muslims from Bihar. I don’t know how many died but I could hear the screams throughout the night. In other parts of the region, he said. Biharis had been rounded up and were being held as hostages…..”
Some eye-witnesses said that a few God-fearing Bengali Muslims, who sheltered non-Bengalis and were detected, were jailed by the rebels in March 1971. After India’s seizure of East Pakistan in the third week of December 1971, thousands of Bengalis, who remained loyal to Pakistan, were clapped into prison and many were tortured by the Mukti Bahini and the police force it organized.
Hundreds of non-Bengalis were murdered by the Mukti Bahini and their supporters in Dinajpur between the second fortnight of December 1971 and the first half of 1972. The Correspondent of the largely-circulating West German Magazine, Stern of Hamburg, Herr Braumann, flew from Dacca to Dinajpur on February 29, 1972, and saw 80 to 100 corpses of Biharis scattered in a shallow pit. Although the Bengali deputy commissioner of Dinajpur claimed that they were the bodies of the Bengalis who had been killed by the Pakistan Army, Braumann doubted the claim because the corpses were almost fresh. In his despatch published in the Stern magazine on March 12, 1972, Braumann reported:
“....it did not seem possible—in view of the very slight decomposition—that the corpses in the mass grave were of Bengalis; they could only be of Biharis”.
Braumann described in his despatch how the Mukti Bahini commander of Dinajpur, Mohammed Khurshid, procured a dozen Biharis from the Bihari ghetto in Saidpur for being slaughtered to mark “the building of a monument in Dinajpur for a Mukti Bahini hero who was shot by the Pakistanis”.