Rape during the Bangladesh Liberation War

Genocidal Rape

During the 1971 Bangladesh war for independence, members of the Pakistani military and Razakar raped between 200,000 and 400,000 Bangladeshi women and girls in a systematic campaign of genocidal rape. Most of the rape victims of the Pakistani Army and its allies were Hindu women. Imams and Muslim religious leaders declared the women "war booty" and supported the rapes. The activists and leaders of Islamic parties are also accused to be involved in the rapes and abduction of women.

Quotes edit

  • Soldiers were incited to mass-rape the women in order to mutate the Hindu Bengali gene. This is what was said by Punjabi officers to Punjabi soldiers. This is what they did. In March 1971, West Pakistan invaded East Pakistan. Rapes and massacres took place. In one night alone, occupying soldiers, accompanied by Jamaat-e-Islami collaborators, invaded the student hostels at the university. Hundreds of students disappeared. Left-wing intellectuals were traced and shot. Sheikh Mujib was arrested and brought to a West Pakistani prison. His party went underground and prepared to resist. Pakistan's greatest poet, Faiz Ahined Faiz, wrote of 'eyes washed with blood'.
    • Tariq Ali - The Clash of Fundamentalisms, Crusades, Jihads and Modernity (2002)
  • Soldiers were told that Bengalis were relatively recent converts to Islam and hence not “proper Muslims”—their genes needed improving. This was the justification for the campaign of mass rape.
    • Tariq Ali The Duel_ Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power (2008)
  • The locals said there was widespread rape. This was confirmed by Sydney Schanberg of the New York Times, who, interviewing refugees in India, found that almost all of them were Hindus, who said that they were still specifically hounded by the Pakistan army. Schanberg remembers, “There were stories about rape by the Pakistani army, and those were true. Story after story. It was quite clear this had really happened.”
    • Bass, G. J. (2014). The Blood telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a forgotten genocide. ch 16
  • The stories were so extreme I didn't know what to think. The lecture we'd been given about the dangers of rape during freshman orientation week at Radcliffe had initially seemed as unbelievable. I had never even heard of rape until I came to America and the very possibility of it kept me from going out alone at night for the next four years. After the lecture, the possibility of rape at Harvard was real to me. The rape of East Bengal was not. I found security in the official jingoistic line in our part of the world that the reports in the Western press were 'exaggerated' and a 'Zionist plot' against an Islamic state.
  • ...Some army officer raided Rokeya Hall on 7 October 1971. Accompanied by five soldiers, Major Aslam had first visited the hostel on 3 October and asked the superintendent to supply some girls who could sing and dance at a function to be held in Tejgaon Cantonment. The superintendent told him that most of the girls had left the hostel after the disturbances and only 40 students were residing but as a superintendent of a girls' hostel she should not allow them to go to the cantonment for this purpose. Dissatisfied, Major Aslam went away. Soon after the superintendent informed a higher army officer in the cantonment, over the telephone, of the Major' s mission. However, on 7 October at about 8 pm. Major Aslam and his men raided the hostel. The soldiers broke open the doors, dragged the girls out and stripped them before raping and torturing them in front of the helpless superintendent. The entire thing was done so openly without any provocation, that even the Karachi-based newspaper, Dawn, had to publish the story, violating censorship by the military authorities. In seven days after liberation about 300 girls were recovered from different places around Dacca where they had been taken away and kept confined by the Pakistani army men. On 26 December altogether 55 emaciated and half-dead girls on the verge of mental derangement were recovered by the Red Cross with the help of the Mukti Bahini and the allied forces from various hideouts of the Pakistani army in Narayanganj, Dacca Cantonment and other small towns on the periphery of Dacca city.
    • Excerpts from Genocide in Bangladesh by Kalyan Chaudhury, pp 157–158: Kalyan Chaudhury (1972). Genocide in Bangladesh. Bombay: Orient Longman. pp. 157–158.
  • When asked if the usual figures of the number of women raped by the Pakistani Army, 200-400,000, are accurate, Dr. Davis states that they are underestimated:
    ...Probably the numbers are very conservative compared with what they did. The descriptions of how they captured towns were very interesting. They’d keep the infantry back and put artillery ahead and they would shell the hospitals and schools. And that caused absolute chaos in the town. And then the infantry would go in and begin to segregate the women. Apart from little children, all those were sexually matured would be segregated..And then the women would be put in the compound under guard and made available to the troops...Some of the stories they told were appalling. Being raped again and again and again. A lot of them died in those [rape] camps. There was an air of disbelief about the whole thing. Nobody could credit that it really happened! But the evidence clearly showed that it did happen.
  • Like the Japanese during World War II and the Red Army in its victorious march through Eastern Europe in 1945, the West Pakistanis were singularly devoted to raping any women in sight. Many were repeatedly raped in their homes or on the streets and then killed. Many were taken to military installations where they were kept and raped repeatedly, in some cases until they died. According to one report, for example, 700 naked women were liberated from the army cantonment at Moinamati. Of those women that survived the war, perhaps 200,000 or more may have been raped, at least according to a postwar figure that gained wide currency.
    • R.J. Rummel, DEATH BY GOVERNMENT, by R.J. Rummel New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1994
  • When mass rapes occurred in the course of aggressive war in Bangladesh and later in Bosnia, Mother Teresa in the first case and the Pope in the second made strenuous appeals to the victims not to abort the seed of the invader and the violator.
    • Hitchens, C. (2012). The missionary position: Mother Theresa in theory and practice.
  • [Aubrey Menen, sent on a reporting assignment to Bangladesh, reconstructed the modus operandi of one hit-and-run rape:] ...And so on, until all the six had raped the belle of the village. Then all six left, hurriedly. The father found his daughter lying on the string cot unconscious and bleeding. Her husband was crouched on the floor, kneeling over his vomit.
    • Aubrey Menen, the Indian Catholic novelist, reconstructed the modus operandi of one hit-and-run rape. As quoted in Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape

Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape (1975) edit

Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape
  • A stream of victims and eyewitnesses tell how truckloads of Pakistani soldiers and their hireling razakars swooped down on villages in the night, rounding up women by force. Some were raped on the spot. Others were carried off to military compounds. Some women were still there when Indian troops battled their way into Pakistani strongholds. Weeping survivors of villages razed because they were suspected of siding with the Mukti Bahini freedom fighters told of how wives were raped before the eyes of their bound husbands, who were then put to death.
  • The Reverend Kentaro Buma reported that more than 200,000 Bengali women had been raped by Pakistani soldiers during the nine-month conflict, a figure that had been supplied to him by Bangladesh authorities in Dacca. Thousands of the raped women had become pregnant, he said. And by tradition, no Moslem husband would take back a wife who had been touched by another man, even if she had been subdued by force.
  • Galvanized for the first time in history over the issue of rape in war, international aid for Bengali victims was coordinated by alert officials in the London office of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
  • Bengal was a state of 75 million people, officially East Pakistan, when the Bangladesh government declared its independence in March of 1971 with the support of India. Troops from West Pakistan were flown to the East to put down the rebellion. During the nine-month terror, terminated by the two-week armed intervention of India, a possible three million persons lost their lives, ten million fled across the border to India, and 200,000, 300,000 or possibly 400,000 women (three sets of statistics have been variously quoted) were raped. Eighty percent of the raped women were Moslems, reflecting the population of Bangladesh, but Hindu and Christian women were not exempt. As Moslems, most Bengali women were used to living in purdah, strict, veiled isolation that includes separate, secluded shelter arrangements apart from men, even in their own homes.
  • Hit-and-run rape of large numbers of Bengali women was brutally simple in terms of logistics as the Pakistani regulars swept through and occupied the tiny, populous land, an area little larger than the state of New York. (Bangladesh is the most overcrowded country in the world.) The Mukti Bahini “freedom fighters” were hardly an effective counterforce. According to victims, Moslem Biharis who collaborated with the Pakistani Army—the hireling razakars—were most enthusiastic rapists. In the general breakdown of law and order, Mukti Bahini themselves committed rape, a situation reminiscent of World War II when Greek and Italian peasant women became victims of whatever soldiers happened to pass through their village.
  • Rape in Bangladesh had hardly been restricted to beauty. Girls of eight and grandmothers of seventy-five had been sexually assaulted during the nine-month repression. Pakistani soldiers had not only violated Bengali women on the spot; they abducted tens of hundreds and held them by force in their military barracks for nightly use. The women were kept naked to prevent their escape.
  • Khadiga, thirteen years old, was interviewed by a photojournalist in Dacca. She was walking to school with four other girls when they were kidnapped by a gang of Pakistani soldiers. All five were put in a military brothel in Mohammedpur and held captive for six months until the end of the war. Khadiga was regularly abused by two men a day; others, she said, had to service seven to ten men daily. (Some accounts have mentioned as many as eighty assaults in a single night, a bodily abuse that is beyond my ability to fully comprehend, even as I write these words.) At first, Khadiga said, the soldiers tied a gag around her mouth to keep her from screaming. As the months wore on and the captives’ spirit was broken, the soldiers devised a simple quid pro quo. They withheld the daily ration of food until the girls had submitted, to the full quota.
  • The most serious crisis was pregnancy. Accurate statistics on the number of raped women who found themselves with child were difficult to determine but 25,000 is the generally accepted figure. Less speculative was the attitude of the raped, pregnant women. Few cared to bear their babies. Those close to birth expressed little interest in the fate of the child.
  • A Catholic convent in Calcutta, Mother Theresa’s, opened its doors in Dacca to women who were willing to offer their babies for overseas adoption, but despite the publicity accorded to Mother Theresa, few rape victims actually came to her shelter. Those who learned of the option chose to have an abortion.... Planned Parenthood, in cooperation with the newly created Bangladesh Central Organization for Women’s Rehabilitation, set up clinics in Dacca and seventeen outlying areas to cope with the unwanted pregnancies.
  • Mulk Raj Anand, an Indian novelist, was convinced of conspiracy. The rapes were so systematic and pervasive that they had to be conscious Army policy, “planned by the West Pakistanis in a deliberate effort to create a new race” or to dilute Bengali nationalism, Anand passionately told reporters.
  • The story of Bangladesh was unique in one respect. For the first time in history the rape of women in war, and the complex aftermath of mass assault, received serious international attention. The desperate need of Sheik Mujibur Rahman’s government for international sympathy and financial aid was part of the reason; a new feminist consciousness that encompassed rape as a political issue and a growing, practical acceptance of abortion as a solution to unwanted pregnancy were contributing factors of critical importance. And so an obscure war in an obscure corner of the globe, to Western eyes, provided the setting for an examination of the “unspeakable” crime. For once, the particular terror of unarmed women facing armed men had full hearing.

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Wartime sexual violence