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27 February 2016

By Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi

The Bangladeshi newspaper The Daily Observer recently carried an article by a senior journalist Shamsul Huda, in which he pointed to the agreement reached recently between Japan and South Korea. Under the agreement, the two countries settled the issue of ''comfort women'' who were forced to be sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during the Second World War.

In the article, Huda attempted to make a comparison between this and the issue of the Bengali women who were allegedly subjected to rape during the Civil War that led to the secession of East Pakistan and creation of the new state of Bangladesh in 1971. He argued that the crimes committed by the Pakistan army against Bangladeshi women were worse than that of the Japanese soldiers.

The article is also replete with the repetition of several exaggerated statements that have been raised again and again by some Bangladeshis over the passage of time. Moreover, he fabricated some new stories, such as sexual assault on Bangladeshi men. He says that there is evidence that Bangladeshi males were abused at army checkpoints when they were halted and frisked to ensure that they were circumcised to prove their identity as Muslims. Huda also noted that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation, came forward as a rescuer. According to him, Sheikh Mujibur showed fatherly affection and love to these war victims calling them his daughters when their own family members, near and dear ones, abandoned them citing their inability to reunite with them due to social barriers. Bangabandhu also made arrangements for their marriages and offered state facilities for men who agreed to the matchmaking.

First of all, I want to emphasize that there is no point of comparison between the atrocities committed during the Second World War and during the Civil War in East Pakistan. The comparison between the two involves a distortion of facts. I don't know why the writer wants rake up such issues, which were settled by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman himself, when he came to power as the first ruler of the new state of Bangladesh. At that time, his words were the law of the land and nobody dared to oppose him.

The Pakistan soldiers who suffered defeat at the hands of the Indian army were taken to India as prisoners of war. These prisoners of war included 195 soldiers, who were accused of war crimes by the government of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. However, all of these soldiers were released later on the basis of the Shimla Agreement that was signed between Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who took over as the prime minister of Pakistan after the creation of Bangladesh. It was said then that the agreement was made with the blessing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

This was followed by the signing of the New Delhi Agreement in 1974 at the end of a tripartite meeting between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh at the foreign ministers' level in New Delhi. The meeting called for reconciliation and reached an agreement to forget about the past and concentrate on building future cooperation among the three states in the subcontinent. There was a reference in the agreement to a request by the Pakistan prime minister to the Bangladesh people to forget and forgive whatever happened in 1971 and a call by the Bangladesh prime minister for a general amnesty with his famous saying ''Let the world know how Bengalis can forgive.''

There is no doubt that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman realized that it was time for the people of the subcontinent to forget about the past and focus on building a prosperous future. It was also clear to him that the militias of his Awami League party had also committed war crimes with regard to Biharis and it was not possible to prosecute those from one side only and hence he embarked on the path of amnesty with the principle of ''forget and forgive''. What prompted me to draw attention to these facts is to explain the true situation with regard to some mistakes in the column of Huda. I appreciate his concern with regard to unfortunate things that happened to some Bengali women during the civil war. However, the honesty and integrity of a writer requires that he show sympathy to all of those whose rights were deprived during that time. He should not have forgotten what happened to Biharis in general and Bihari women in particular at the hands of Mukti Bahini, the militia of the Awami League party, during the civil war and after the secession of East Pakistan.

These Biharis or stranded Pakistanis were subjected to killing, looting and rape and and they were driven out of their homes in the new state of Bangladesh. They are now languishing in squalid and crowded camps in various parts of the country where they are denied the basic amenities of life. When writing about the deprivation of rights of some Bengali women, the writer should not have ignored the fate of the Biharis and their women.

Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at algham@hotmail.com
 

  EsinIslam.Com

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