ON THIS day, forty years back, just two days before the Pakistani occupation forces laid down their weapons, which marked the end of more than two decades of neo-colonial rule by the Islamabad-based ruling elite and the beginning of the journey by the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, their local cohorts, calling themselves Al-Badr, Al-Shams, etc but essentially offshoots of Jamaat-e-Islami, which was against an independent Bangladesh, perpetrated one of the most heinous crimes in human history. These pro-Pakistani militias picked up, and executed, one after another some of the greatest Bengali minds of the time. The objective of the killers was apparently to retard the fledgling nation intellectually; they had seemingly realised that these were the people who would provide the intellectual and ideological guidance to the reconstruction of the war-ravaged country and the building of the nation state. Suffice it to say, four decades later, the country and the nation have not yet overcome their loss.
Not surprisingly, most of these martyred intellectuals generally belonged to the left and progressive school of political thought, and were the driving intellectual force behind the popular struggle in the then East Bengal for political empowerment, economic emancipation, cultural freedom and social equity and equality. They correctly read the people’s aspiration — cultural, economic, political and social — and adeptly led the nationalist movement through the 1960s up to the military phase of the liberation struggle. In the void created by their killing, national politics in independent Bangladesh seemingly lost its ideological mooring, leading to an intractably divided body politic. In the resultant crude struggle for state power and concomitant equation, even the trial of war crimes and war criminals was crowded out, as it, too, apparently became part of partisan equation. Little wonder, it took almost four decades since independence for the trial of crimes against peace and crimes against humanity during the war of liberation by the Pakistani occupation forces and their local cohorts to begin.
While the war crimes trial has finally begun, it has to remain limited to prosecution of the local cohorts of the Pakistani military junta, since the post-independence Bangladesh government, of the Awami League, chose to let the officers and soldiers of the Pakistan army who had carried out war crimes in 1971. Moreover, ever since the trial process began, there has been a steady stream of irresponsible remarks from both sides of the partisan divide. While remarks by some BNP leaders apparently sought to undermine the war crimes trial, enthusiastic overkill by some ministers of the Awami League-led government raised questions about it in the people’s mind, at home and abroad. It is imperative that the perpetrators of war crimes should be punished. It is also imperative that the trial should remain above and beyond any controversy, and meet the international standards.
Along with the war crimes trial, there need also be prosecution of the masterminds and perpetrators of the targeted killing of intellectuals at the fag end of the war of independence. However, thus far, neither of the two major political parties has been forthcoming in this regard. Their indifference is, perhaps, not too difficult to understand. After all, most of the martyred intellectuals were left-leaning, whose ideology runs counter with these parties. Thus, it is incumbent on the left-leaning and progressive sections of society to mobilise public opinion and create pressure on the ruling quarters for trial of the killing of our intellectuals in 1971.