By Salil Tripathi
Does the controversial book about Bangladesh?s war of liberation uncover new truths, or simply reverse old biases?
It is an article of faith in Bangladesh that three million people died in its war of independence in 1971. At that time, the population of the former East Pakistan (which became Bangladesh) was about 70 million people, which means nearly 4% of the population died in the war. The killings took place between 25 March, when Pakistani forces launched?Operation Searchlight, and mid-December, when Dhaka fell to the invading Indian Army and the Mukti Bahini forces (who was aiding whom depends on which narrative you read? India?s or Bangladesh?s). As per Bangladesh?s understanding of its history, the nation was a victim of genocide. Killing three million people over 267 days amounts to nearly 11,000 deaths a day. That would make it one of the most lethal conflicts of all time.
One of the most brutal conflicts in recent years has been in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the International Rescue Committee reported that 5.4 million people died between 1998 and 2008. A more thorough Canadian analysis now concludes that the actual figure is about half. At 5.4 million deaths, the daily death toll would be around 1,500; at 2.7 million, around 750. Was the 1971 war up to 15 times more lethal than the Congolese conflict?
A history of violence: A scene from the bloody conflicts of the 1971 Bangladesh war. Photo: Getty Images
It is an uncomfortable question. Many Bangladeshis feel that raising such a doubt undermines their suffering and belittles their identity. But a thorough, unbiased study, going as far as facts can take the analysis, would be an important contribution to our understanding of the subcontinent?s recent history.
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