B’desh war trial sparks rival calls for justice

Migrant families say they were targeted as outsiders during 1971 war to become the independent nation of Bangladesh.

Updated: Nov 24, 2011, 00:31 AM IST

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.