Foothill Remembers A Forgotten Tragedy


Riya Arora, Contributor

Bangladesh: a country bordered by India and Myanmar and the Bay of Bengal in the south witnessed a genocide in 1971 that barely registers on the national consciousness. Foothill student Kareeda Kabir took the initiative of bringing light to the Bangladesh Genocide and shared her knowledge with students and faculty alike who listened to her speech.

Kabir spoke about the India-Pakistan partition in 1947, that resulted in West Pakistan that we know today as Pakistan, and East Pakistan that is popularly known as Bangladesh. She expressed how people wanted to have an identity for themselves by having their language, Bangla, be recognized as the national language which was opposed by Mohd. Ali Jinnah, the Prime Minister and founder of the Pakistan government. He openly stated that Bangla will never be recognized as the official language and that Urdu will be respected as the national language for the state. This opposition by a national leader was criticized and sparked a movement amongst people who saw their identities fading.

In 1952, Khwaja Nazimuddin, the next Prime Minister of Pakistan, following the footsteps of Jinnah, made a public announcement that Bangla would never be recognized as the national language which resulted in a Hartal (a Hindi word for strike or protest) joined by students, professors and academics from the University of Dhaka and the public. On February 21st, the people were greeted with sticks and bricks from the police and when the crowd tried to retaliate, the police took to firing, killing 3 students and leaving hundreds injured. Kabir explained how this day is recognized as International Language Day by the United Nations because Bangladesh is the only country who has shed blood to have a language of their own.  

Elections were held in 1970 and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman won by a clean sweep in the first democratic elections. Even with a majority, the Pakistani government didn’t allow the state of Bangladesh to have powers of their own and denied them forming any government. In her talk, Kabir showed a clip of the Bangladesh Prime Minister speaking to the public and how he gained the trust of the people and united them by weaving words in the most patriotic way. February 22nd, 1971 General Yahya Khan said, “Kill three million of them, and the rest will eat out of our hands.” The Bangladeshis were killed for having a voice of their own, to be able to have their own rights and language. On 26th march, 1971, the military crackdown began and Bangladesh was torn apart.

Kabir described the two main motives of the Pakistani army that were to capture the University of Dhaka and arrest and kill the public and academics because they were the most active group protesting the Pakistan government, and to kill the journalists who tried covering the story so that none of the atrocities could reach the world outside. She talked about the plight of the women who were raped up to 80 times a day and explained how a lot of the population took refuge in India or committed suicide to escape the barbarity they were facing. She argued that the biggest reason for Pakistan to have never acknowledged Bangladesh as a religiously correct nation was because it comprised of Hindu-Bengalis who would never settle with Urdu as their official language, hurting the Pakistani sentiments. She presented some key issues on why this genocide was never talked about. For example, the population graphs that are available all indicate a growth in the population of Bangladesh from 1971-1980 and this was all done on purpose to deny the happening of a genocide. Kareeda also mentioned that Bangladesh has never received a formal apology from Pakistan and it is a shame that we never knew of such a genocide that brutally tore a nation apart that was only trying to stand for itself.

For a community of which some 10% come from abroad, events that happen abroad often impact students directly. Sadly, few in America today remember the genocide, yet remembering events in far-off places in far-off times helps us to recognize the global interdependence our campus represents.