UNESCO recognised the March 7 speech of Bangabundhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, which ended with the words ‘Joy Bangla’, as part of the world’s documentary heritage. With a recent revelation that Professor Dr Imtiaz Ahmed, the head of Dhaka University’s Centre for Genocide Studies, vouched in his book, ‘Historicizing 1971 Genocide: State Versus Person’, that as a direct spectator he heard Shekh Mujib (in his vocabulary) ending his speech with the words ‘Joy Pakistan’. The confusion created by Dr Imtiaz can only be expurgated if the writer of the book himself unequivocally admits that he resorted to a pack of lies to sow concoction in the speech. A fortiori, he must also tell all concerned, without further ado, that he is profoundly remorseful for the perfidious publication, following in the footsteps of AK Khandaker, who tabled identical specious claim in his book and then years later conceded, without ambiguity, that he was prevented from making corrections immediately.
With recourse to falsehood of diabolic proportion, Dr Imtiaz stated on page 40 of his book, “Nor could Pakistan blame Sheikh Mujibur Rahman for his historic 7 March speech, which is nothing less than a master stroke of a political genius for he declared that "The struggle this time is for emancipation! The struggle this time is for independence!" but at the same time ended his speech with the words: ‘Joy Bangla! Joy Pakistan!’” To vindicate his outrageous and spurious claim, Dr Imtiaz went on to write on the same page, “The author was present at the Race Course, now Suhrwardy Uddyan, on 7 March, 1971 and therefore heard the entire speech in person. It may be mentioned that some, including those present at the Race Course, dispute Mujib ending the speech with the words Joy Pakistan! This I believe could be for reasons of audibility. Those who were near the platform or a bit far from the microphones probably missed the very last words as people in tens of thousands began clamouring noisily when they realised that Mujib was ending his speech, particularly when he uttered ‘Joy Bangla!' Moreover, the Pakistan government, not even Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, ever charged Mujib of secession after the speech.” A couple of other obsequious people, who aired identically reproachable temerity, eventually swallowed a bitter pill by begging to be forgiven by the people.
Like Khaleda Zia, Dr Imtiaz had also been intriguant enough to ignite a perplexing question on the number of people killed by the Pakistani army and its collaborators during our Liberation War. In this respect, before citing the figures proffered by different people or bodies, Dr Imtiaz himself wrote on page 15, “A moot question became: did three million die or was it less? At the end, statistical reason prevailed over human narratives and the likely figure of human casualty came down to several viewpoints. The highest figure of 3 million casualties came from Bangladesh and Indian authorities.” Dr Imtiaz, by being swamped by profligate propensity, also wrote, on the number of people slew by the Pakistanis, “which prompted the defenders to revitalize the issue, again more with passion than having a thoughtful mind on the issue.” Dr Imtiaz was rather enticed to portray on page 40: “One report indicates that between the period of December 1970 and March 1971 some 15,000 to 50,000 Biharis were killed as a result of violence meted against them. If this is the case, and if there were serious human rights violation and unlawful killing, there is no reason why this should not be investigated and the Bengalee perpetrators brought to trial and punished for the offence.”
Dr Imtiaz also stated on page 11 of his book that Pakistani soldiers surrendered to the Indian forces, being oblivious of the truth that they surrendered to the joint forces comprising Indian and Bangladeshi fighters. He exposed his reprehensible and spiteful paranoia against the freedom fighters and India by writing, “It is not difficult to see that not only the Bangladesh forces were operating under the Indian military command, but also, with the Indian control of the final phase of the Liberation War, the nationalist struggle of Bangladesh was transformed into an exclusively Indo-Pakistani affair. The surrender document, signed on 16 December 1971 is a further proof of this: The PAKISTAN Eastern command agrees to surrender all Pakistan Forces in Bangladesh to Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora … ” . Dr Imtiaz quite rancorously and deliberately omitted those words in the surrender instrument, where it was explicitly stated that the Pakistani soldiers agreed to surrender to the joint forces. This perplexing and malicious insistence goes a long way to substantiate that Dr Imtiaz was certainly influenced by the Pakistanis, who prevailed upon the earlier to write that it was an Indian-Pakistan affair. Dr Imtiaz wrote, to our perilous dismal on page 39, “This is mainly because Banghladesh genocide is the only genocide in history that was perpetrated against a population for demanding democracy! In fact the genocide could not have been for ‘religion’ (as in the case of Armenian genocide) because the people of both the wings of Pakistan were predominantly Muslim. Again, it could not have been for ‘race’ or ‘ethnicity’ (as in the case of Jewish or Rwandan genocide) because intercultural interactions, including inter-marriages, were common between East and West Pakitanis. It could not have been for ‘language’ as well (as in the case of Aboriginal genocide in Australia of the Chinese genocide in Indonesia) because Bangla was already one of the nationalist languages of the state of Pakistan. If Dr Imtiaz’s impuissant assertion is taken as true, the massacre in Bangladesh cannot be bracketed within the definition of genocide as stipulated in the Genocide Convention, because to invoke the same, the onslaught has to be by one human group against another, who are separated by their national, ethnical, racial or religious personification. If Dr Imtiaz’s pestilent claim is accepted, then we shall not be blessed with universal recognition, for the genocide must be within the ambit of the Convention.
Dr Imtiaz’s insolence against Bangabandhu is reflected not only in his pestiferous failure to write the word ‘Bangabandhu’, but also in writing a lot of derogatory and rowdy things against the Father of the Nation. He wrote on page 11, “Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, following his return from Pakistan on 10 January 1972 and taking the reins of governmental power, could not help but quickly slide into the task of locating the issue of genocide on similar statist consideration … but then, why would Mujib, almost contrary to the public opinion prevailing in the country and not to mention the immense suffering of the people, opt for a statist discourse … Firstly, the 9-month incarceration of Sheikh Mujib and his absence from real life killing fields. This is an issue that has not been raised with the seriousness it deserves … Sheikh Mujib remained totally in dark through the 9-month period as to what was happening in Bangladesh.” On page 15, he wrote: “The statist discourse, however, was more prominent when it came to the trial of the Pakistan military. Although the government, including Mujib himself, declared that some three million Bengalees were killed at the hands of the Pakistani military, but when it came to putting the Pakistan military officers to trial, the number was reduced from 400 to 195 and then to 118. At the end Mujib settled for a pardon on the eve of the Simla agreement between India and Pakistan in 1974 and in exchange of which the stranded Bengalees returned home without harm or reprisal. Incidentally there was no public protest in Bangladesh against Mujib's pardoning of the war criminals. The statist consideration allowed the issue of genocide to fizzle out, at least momentarily.” On page 13, Dr Imtiaz wrote, “... as Dixit points out: Mujiboor Rahman on his own told Haksar that given the difficulties about collecting evidence he did not want to waste energy and time on holding war crime trials.” Adding his own view, Dr Imtiaz asked, “But why would collection of evidence be so difficult immediately after the liberation of Bangladesh? … Both the government settled for a statist discourse, which gradually saw the issue of genocide being shifted towards half hearted trials, numbers and collaborators.” Dr Imtiaz also blamed the Father of the Nation for deliberately delaying the war crimes trial to turn the same into a fiasco.
The vexed question is, whom did Dr Imtiaz intend to appease? The answer is instantly available from his own writing that he wrote the book when his female Pakistani friend, named Saba Khattak, a former director of a Pakistani institute, asked him to do so. According to a dossier published in a news portal “Kalbela”, Dr Imtiaz admitted that he was funded by Pakistani sources for publishing this book. Nobody can be chastised for assuming that the relevant functionaries in Pakistan succeeded in getting Dr Imtiaz to malign Bangabandhu, the freedom fighters, by coming up with bagsful of money, to establish their perennial claims that it was indeed an Indo-Pakistan affair, the number of martyrs were fewer than what Bangladesh authorities claim, that Bangabandhu stood for a united Pakistan.
[Justice AHM Shamsuddin Choudhury is a former judge of the Supreme Court’s Appellate Division. The opinions expressed here are his own.]