B’desh war trial sparks rival calls for justice
Last Updated: Thursday, November 24, 2011, 00:31
Dhaka: Suspects accused of collaborating with Pakistani forces in Bangladesh's war of independence are now on trial, but claims of appalling crimes are also tarnishing the "heroes" of that bloody struggle.

Migrant families who moved to what was then East Pakistan after the subcontinent was partitioned in 1947 say they were targeted as outsiders during the 1971 fight to become the independent nation of Bangladesh.

Thrown out of their homes and often murdered during the country's bloody birth, they believe their suffering at the hands of native Bengalis has been forgotten as Bangladesh focuses instead on alleged collaborators with Pakistan.

The day after Bangladesh declared independence from Pakistan on December 16, 1971, Sairun Nesa survived a massacre in which 15 of her family -- including her husband, son and daughter -- were killed by "freedom fighters".

As one of tens of thousands of Urdu-speaking Muslims who had migrated to East Pakistan, Nesa said she and her family were rejected by those fighting to establish independent Bangladesh.

"We were stripped naked at gun-point. Bangladeshi fighters herded us onto the bank of a river. Then they slaughtered us one after another with machetes and knives," she said.

"With a knife one of them gouged out my right eye and stabbed me several times in the chest," she said, adding that she was left for dead in a pile of bodies in Goalonda, a small town west of Dhaka.

Bangladesh's government says up to three million people were killed and hundreds of thousands of women raped during the savage nine-month battle for independence.

This week a special court began its first trial with Delawar Hossain Sayedee, a senior official of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami party, charged with genocide against native Bengalis as he fought to prevent independence.

But the separate attacks carried out by Bengalis against Nesa and other "Biharis" -- the migrants who had left India for East Pakistan -- remain a hidden crime, experts say.

Even well-documented killings of Biharis have never been investigated, much less brought to trial.

"Everyone talks about the killings of Bengalis (by the Pakistani army) in 1971. But none dares to mention the pogroms that were carried out against Biharis," said Ezaz Ahmed Siddiqui, a prominent Bihari community leader.

"We estimate that hundreds of thousands of Biharis were killed. In (northwestern) Santahar town alone, several thousand were killed in a matter of days," Siddiqui said.


First Published: Thursday, November 24, 2011, 00:31

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