During the 1971 war of independence of Bangladesh, Islamist collaborators of Pakistani occupation forces, particularly Muslim religious leaders publicly declared that the Bengali girls and women were war booty and thus they openly supported the rape of Bengali girls and women by the Pakistani Army and its collaborators. The activists and leaders of Islamic parties are also accused to be involved in the rapes and abduction of women.
It may be mentioned here that, during the 1971 Bangladesh war for independence, members of the Pakistani military and their local collaborators raped almost half a million Bengali girls and women in a systematic pattern of genocidal rape. Most of the rape victims of the Pakistani Army and its cohorts were Hindu girls and women. Some of these rape victims died in captivity or committed suicide while others fled to India.
The Pakistani elites believed that Hindus were behind the revolt and that as soon as there was a solution to the “Hindu problem” the conflict would resolve. For Pakistanis, the violence against Hindus was a strategic policy. Muslim Pakistani men believed the sacrifice of Hindu women was needed to fix the national malaise. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Imams and Mullahs supported the rapes by the Pakistani Army and issued fatwas declaring the women war booty.
A fatwa from West Pakistan during the war asserted that women taken from Bengali Hindus could be considered war booty. Those rapes apparently caused thousands of pregnancies, births of war children, abortions, infanticide, suicide, and ostracism of the victims.
Jessica Lee Rehman calls rape in 1971 an instance of religious terrorism. She said “The Pakistan Army is an Islamic institution; its soldiers are warriors of God and …they rape in God’s name. Therefore, the raping of girls and women, the forced bodily transgressions, and the mutilations are considered to be a triumph for good”. Bengalis were dehumanized and Bengali women were perceived as prostitutes inviting sex. They were thought to have Hindu features which deleted any thought for their ‘Muslim’ status that might prevent a perpetrator’s savage activities. Faisal, a Pakistani officer who had been in East Pakistan portrays Bengali culture in terms of the differences between East and West Pakistani ladies, pushing the open discrimination against Bengali women: “The women bathe openly so that men walking by can see them, and they wear saris that with one pull fall off their body, like Indians. They are very attached to music, like Hindus, and they have their daughters dance for guests, they take pride in this dancing and music, like prostitutes. My daughter does not dance, neither does my wife. This music and dancing aren’t Islamic. Our ladies are not prostitute like Bengalis”.
The perpetrators conducted nighttime raids, assaulting women in their villages, often in front of their families, as part of the terror campaign. Victims aged 8 to 75 were also kidnapped and held in special camps where they were repeatedly assaulted. Many of those held in the camps were murdered or committed suicide, with some taking their own lives by using their hair to hang themselves; the soldiers responded to these suicides by cutting the women’s hair off. Time magazine reported on 563 girls who had been kidnapped and held by the military; all of them were between three and five months pregnant when the military began to release them. Some women were forcibly used as prostitutes. While the Pakistani government estimated the number of rapes in the hundreds, other estimates half a million.
The Pakistani government had tried to censor reports coming out of the region, but media reports on the atrocities did reach the public worldwide, and gave rise to widespread international public support for the liberation movement.
In what has been described by Jenneke Arens as a deliberate attempt to destroy an ethnic group, many of those assaulted were raped, murdered and then bayoneted in the genitalia. Adam Jones, a political scientist, has said that one of the reasons for the mass rapes was to undermine Bengali society through the “dishonoring” of Bengali women and that some women were raped until they died or were killed following repeated attacks. The International Commission of Jurists concluded that the atrocities carried out by the Pakistan armed forces “were part of a deliberate policy by a disciplined force”. The writer Mulk Raj Anand said of the Pakistani army actions, “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”. Amita Malik, reporting from Bangladesh following the Pakistan armed forces surrender, wrote that one West Pakistani soldier said: “We are going. But we are leaving our seed behind”.
Those “seeds” of Pakistani occupation forces are now those within Jamaat-e-Islami, anti-secularist forces and Islamists, who are continuously conspiring to turn Bangladesh into another Afghanistan or may be worse.
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