Return of Sarmila Bose

ABM Nasir
Published : 14 March 2011, 03:47 PM
Updated : 14 March 2011, 03:47 PM

Sarmila Bose, a denier of rape committed by Pakistani military and an apologist for Pakistani atrocities in East Pakistan in 1971, returns with (perhaps with more distortions) her new book ''Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War'' scheduled to be discussed at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington DC, on March 15, 2011. Around 2005-06, she was widely rebutted for her distorted views on the Liberation War in an article "Anatomy of Violence: Analysis of Civil War in East Pakistan in 1971" published in the Oct 8, 2005 issue of the Economic and Political Weekly. (i)

In the article, while Sarmila Bose rightly pointed out that "there has been little systematic study of the violent conflicts during the nine-month long civil war," she and others (see, e.g. Bose, 2005; and Mohaiemen, 2008) (ii), so-called 'self-righteous' truth seekers appear to be filling the vacuum in rewriting, revising, and, even, twisting the history of Liberation War on their own volition, based largely on selective references, reports published by Pakistan government in 1971, and the eye-witness accounts of the Pakistani military officials.

For example, both Bose and Mohaiemen termed the 1971 crisis in East Pakistan as 'civil war' although the 1971 crisis is most commonly referred to in Bangladesh as either Liberation War (or Mukti Juddho) or Independence War (Shadinota Juddho). The use of the term 'civil war' in reference to 1971 in East Pakistan is an attempt to "deflect the attention from its genocidal connotation" as argued by Mookherjee (2006) in a rebuttal to Sarmila Bose's article (iii). Indeed, instead of referring to such analyses as being "a systematic analysis of the context and nature of violence in the conflict of 1971," as Sarmila Bose claimed, one must reject such articles as systematic attempt to discount the severity of the brutal assault of Pakistani military on Bengali people.


In her article, she claimed that (a) "The civil war was not merely between the two wings of Pakistan, but also within the territory of East Pakistan, between Bengalis and non-Bengalis, and Bengalis themselves, who were bitterly divided between those who favoured independence for Bangladesh and those who supported the unity and integrity of Pakistan," (b) the atrocity in East Pakistan was provoked by the resistance of Bengali nationalists, (c) violence committed by both sides with Bengalis attacking Biharis at the beginning of the war, provoking Pakistani military and Bihari reprisals followed by Bengali retribution against Biharis toward the end of the war and afterwards, and (d) no evidence of rape of Bengali women by Pakistani Military could be found.

Her prevarication reflected in her: constant and deliberate attempt to depict Pakistani military officials as compassionate individuals, apparently, to deflect the severity of genocide committed by Pakistani military on the Bengali populace; heavy emphasis on Bengali atrocities on Biharis; deliberate and frequent use of the word 'male' to discount the violence against women; use of the phrase "collective punishment" to justify mass killings of Pakistani atrocities; frequently terming the 'freedom fighters' as 'Bengali nationalist rebels' to deflect attention from the broader historical, cultural, social, political, and economic context of West Pakistani discrimination behind the Liberation War; and, the use of specific example based on selective references, reports published by West Pakistani regime, and interviews of former Pakistani military commanders to deny the broader perspective of the West Pakistani military atrocities.

The review of only one study, by Beachler (2007), containing an objective analysis of the Liberation War, would expose her distorted views and undoubtedly prompt one to throw the 16-page contorted analysis of the Liberation War into the historical recycle bin. (iv)


Sarmila Bose's views of the Liberation War remind the author of the denials by a group of academia of the major genocides in world history including the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide. In "Why deniers deny?", Charny, a leading scholar on Genocide studies, wrote in 2001, that "… deniers are not necessarily rabid anti-some people, like anti-Semites and haters of Armenians, but may more simply be out for their personal gain, economic advantage, or even more simply career advantage — research grants imply a combination both of financial resources as well as opportunities to engage in research in desired settings." (v)1

In another article, Charny and Fromer (1990, 1998) presented five "conceptual characteristics of 'innocent denial'." Among the five, one referred to as 'Innocence-and-Self-Righteousness' appears to fit the profile of Sarmila Bose. According to this feature of denial, "The respondents claim that they only intend to ascertain the truth. Moreover, they do not believe that human beings could have been so evil as the descriptions of the genocide imply (as reflected in Sarmila Bose's defence for Pakistani military officials). Furthermore, even if many deaths took place a long time ago, it is important to put them aside now and forgive and forget (similarly, Sarmila Bose proposed, in the last sentence of her article, "efforts towards reconciliation, rather than the recrimination that has so far been its hallmark .").(vi)

Sarmila Bose derives her credibility from her being affiliated with multitudes of renowned organisations, being a Hindu of Indian origin, and being a Harvard graduate. However, her apparent objectivity, true intentions, and wisdom are exposed in her passionate defence for Pakistani cause reflected in a co-authored article published in 'Christian Science Monitor' on April 11, 2005(vii). In the article, not only did she defend the US sale of F-16 to Pakistan, but she also referred to Pakistan as a stable Muslim democracy and praised former military ruler General Musharraf as a moderniser.


Dr. ABM Nasir is an Associate Professor of Economics at the North Carolina Central University, USA.

(i) Bose, Sarmila (2005). "Anatomy of Violence: Analysis of Civil War in East Pakistan in 1971." EPW, October 8.

(ii)  Mohaiemen, Naeem (2008). "Accelerated Media and the 1971 Civil War in Bangladesh," EPW, January 26.

(iii)  Mookherjee, Nayanika  (2006). "Skewing the history of rape in 1971 A prescription for reconciliation?" EPW, Vol. 41 No 36: 3901-3903.

(iv)  Beachler, Donald (2007). "The politics of genocide scholarship: the case of Bangladesh," Patterns of Prejudice (2007). Beachler also indicated that "No book-length study of the genocide in Bangladesh has been published in the United States; essays about it have appeared in some collections on genocide not in others." Beachler also referred to only one article "Atrocities against humanity during the liberation war in Bangladesh" by Akmam, Wadratul (2002) appeared in the Journal of Genocide Research.

(v)  Charny, Israel W. (2001). "The Psychological Satisfaction of Denials of the Holocaust or Other Genocides by Non-Extremists or Bigots, and Even by Known Scholars," The IDEA Journal, July 17.

(vi)  Charny, Israel W. and Fromer, Daphna (1998). "Denying the Armenian Genocide: Patterns of thinking as defence-mechanisms," Patterns of Prejudice, 39-49.

(vii)  Milam, William B. and Sarmila Bose (2005). "The right stuff: F-16s to Pakistan is wise decision." Christian Science Monitor, April 11.

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Editor-in-Chief and Publisher