Genocide ’71- A Memory Map
[ EPF 2019 FINALIST ]
Though still unrecognised internationally as genocide, many researchers have studied and different studies have mentioned different numbers of people killed in 1971 by the Pakistani Military with their collaborators. The government of Bangladesh puts the number at 3 million. 200,000 to 400,000 women were raped. It’s the price Bangladesh had to pay for its independence. The massacre and the subsequent war that ended with the birth of an independent Bangladesh, started with ‘Operation Search Light’ on 25th March, continued for 9 months. An estimated 7000 people died only on the first night. 10 million people fled and took refuge in India. Hindus, students, Awami League sympathisers, intellectuals and influential leaders were targeted and killed. Countless people were inhumanly tortured to extract information about freedom fighters. Hindu settlements were destroyed. The Pakistani Army and their supporters systematically abducted, killed and dumped bodies in different killing sites.
Bengali victims were hog-tied and thrown into the Rupsha river from the Custom Ghat jetty by Pakistani soldiers and Bihari collaborators stationed at the nearby Khulna Circuit House, as reported by survivor and eyewitness Shakti Pada Sen.
The Khulna Railway Station was the only way to go to North Bengal for thousands of people from Khulna, Faridpur and Barisal. Pakistani soldiers lay waiting for passengers, robbed them of valuables, cut their stomachs open and dumped them into the river from the attached steamer jetty. On 5th April 1971, Bihari collaborators killed railway station guard Bari and 5 others. Workers of the railway station and the steamer jetty were killed as well and skeletons were later found at an abandoned storage behind the railway station. Women were raped at the storage house, which was used as a torture cell as well.
Resident Bengalis of Khulna Rail Colony were killed by Pakistani soldiers and non-Bengali collaborators and their bodies buried here and there. The Railway Colony served as a killing field and mass grave. Khulna Station Road was a popular place for people to buy kerosene from – during an air-raid in December, passerby and kerosene buyers took shelter in the railway colony. Soon after, Pakistanis captured and killed them, dumping their bodies. One melted body was later identified to be that of detective Abul Kashem of Khulna Police Station.
The Hayne Railway School, adjacent to the Khulna Railway Station, was used as a torture cell and a killing field, with classrooms in the old building used in the torturing and killing of Bengali victims passing through the railway station. The pond inside the school premises were used to dispose of the bodies.
Charer Haat has a jetty on the Bhairab river that was an important part of commerce and transport for the area. After 26th March, there was a drastic drop in the number of people traversing the waters around Charer Haat – till 8th May, when a launch carrying hundreds of passengers set off for Khulna from Narail. On board was Muslim League General Secretary Advocate Md Ayub Hossa and his family. When the launch neared the Charer Haat jetty, two gunboats took up position under Pakistani naval commander Gulzar’s command, and forced the passengers to disembark and line up. Under the pretense of checking for arms, the people on the jetty were robbed of their valuables – Ayub Hossain tried to convince the soldiers to not fire on innocent civilians, but the Pakistani soldiers shot and killed every single person. A further five launches were stopped in a similar fashion, and nearly 600 people were killed. Eyewitness Masud somehow managed to escape and inform his relative Jalal Akbar, who was in the Navy at the time – Jalal took locals and dug a mass grave for the people killed at the Charer Haat jetty. The Charer Haat story was published on The Daily Bangla on 17th February 1972.
Forest Ghat was a jetty next to Rupsha river. People usually never moved around the area at night, only a few people used it during the day – during the liberation war use of this jetty was stopped out of fear of the Pakistanis and their local collaborators. As a result this jetty was always under control of the Pakistanis. Everyday, around 20 people were beheaded, gutted and thrown into the river. Near the jetty was a ration store maintained by the local police – around 30 policemen and their office help were stationed here. Kamrul Haque Chowdhury, then an employee of the office, said that the Pakistanis would frequently force the people stationed there to collaborate in killing their victims – they would grasp the arms of the victims tightly while the Pakistani soldiers bayonetted them, kicking them into the river after they were done. Abdur Rob and Shahadat, employees of the police ration store, recounted details of the killings when they returned to office – during the day, at least 6-7 people were killed, the numbers going up many-fold during the night. The horrific killings rendered the wooden jetty slick and slippery because of the blood of victims – eyewitnesses report countless sandals and shoes scattered about the jetty, with countless bodies floating in the river like weeds. The blood-curdling sound of the people being killed and the dying screams of the Pakistanis’ victims were heard by Judge Khondoker Nessarul Haque, resident of a nearby bungalow. Upon requesting the commanding officer to not kill people near the courthouse, Judge Nessarul Haqye was threatened and his request denied – he fell seriously sick and died of a heart attack on 30th May. The next day, his employee Syed Kaiser Ali died in a similar fashion – peon Abdur Rouf died of a heart attack as well a few days after that.
Maqsudur Rahman is an eyewitness and a survivor of Forest Ghat mass killing.
Adjacent to the courthouse near Forrest Ghat was Khulna Circuit House, commonly referred to as “Helipad”. In 1971, this served as an interrogation cell for the Pakistani military – people were brought from all over the place and held at Khulna Circuit House to be tortured, raped and killed. In the name of interrogation, the Pakistanis dealt out inhumane torture, with a pre-determined verdict as justice – death. Victims sentenced to death would be carried out to Forrest Ghat, where they would be killed. The Pakistani soldiers used to tie up and hang people from the helipad as well. Abdus Salam Sardar, then employee of Rupali Bank, had this to say – “You just needed to look towards the helipad to see the signs of torture. One day I saw a child of no more than 12 or 13, hung upside-down from the helipad, being beaten. His body was covered with blood and he was either dead or unconscious. Countless people were tortured in similar fashion, with new torture techniques implemented frequently.”
These killing sites, mass graves and torture cells are scattered all over the country. Unfortunately, very few obvious visual evidence of this horrors have been documented, as foreign journalists were forced to leave the country and most of the prominent local journalists were killed or were forced to go in hiding. After independence, only some of the major mass graves were protected and declared as part of national heritage and other places have changed drastically. This project reveals those horrific stories by exploring these mass graves, killing fields and torture cells through visuals, captured of their present condition with the goal of finding traces of the past in a conceptual manner and mapping the genocide. Portraits and testimonies of eyewitness and survivors, archival letters, documents, articles, family and other artefacts or objects connected directly or indirectly to the genocide is also included as authentic evidence.
Munshi Siddiqur Rahman was an influential person with political affiliations with the Awami League party, and as such, his family home – widely known to locals as “Munshibari” – was a place of interest in the Goalkhali region. Located east of the Jessore-Khulna highway and next to the railway, Munshibari was one of the most important incidents of mass killings in Khulna. Munshi Siddiqur led the Bengalis in the region through the communal violence that broke out during March 27 – the Biharis in the region, led by Motiullah, wanted to punish Siddiqur for his role in organising the Bengalis in the region. Motiullah thus devised a plan – since Siddiqur was the only politically involved Bengali who did not flee after Khulna fell in the hands of the Pakistanis, Motiullah approached him on the morning of 6th April with a proposal of keeping the peace in the locality. Accompanying Motiullah was Mohammad Ali, Farid Miah, Musgunni Ghulam. In the meeting, both parties agreed to keep the peace and Siddiqur was put in charge of distributing and storing wheat as relief for the affected people of the area. Siddiqur then met with locals loyal to him on the 7th of April in order to devise a distribution plan. Around 3 PM, alerted by the sound of approaching soldiers, Siddiqur took some people and escaped out of the back of the house. Under command of Major Babar, the Pakistani soldiers surrounded the house with their vehicles – sitting in those vehicles were Motiullah, Ezaz, Tofayel and Harun. Upon entering the house and being unable to find Siddiqur, the Pakistanis started killing the people they found inside – they bayonetted Christian caretaker Shontu in a balcony and bound everyone else. The 12 people who were found inside were marched to the pond beside the house and killed by firing. The Munshibari family graveyard lists all the casualties of 7th April.
Letter signed by Sheikh Mujib sent to Ataur Rahman, father of Munshibari victim Habibur Rahman, acknowledging the contributions of the victim towards the liberation of Bangladesh and his loss of life. The only document acknowledging the Munshibari killing, the letter, issued on 6th April 1972, also contains proof of financial compensation provided to the victim’s family, amounting to 2000 Taka.
The Khulna Newsprint Mill was established by the Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation in 1959 on 53 acres of land in Khalishpur and was the first newsprint mill in what is now Bangladesh. The mill served as a killing field for the Pakistani military junta. 28th March onwards, most of the workers and their families living in the mill colony left the area, but were urged to come back and continue working through radio broadcasts that assured workers that the mill was safe and secure. The radio broadcasts were part of a trap set by the Pakistanis to try to lure as many people to the mill as possible – soldiers lying in wait picked off the returning workers one by one and killed them, some of the bodies were dumped in an identified mass grave at the mill colony and in the nearby Bhairab river. Soldiers from the adjacent Titumir Naval Base were involved in the killing – the isolated mill later served as an extended base of operations for the Pakistanis. Eyewitness account by Abdul Malek Sardar.
Established on 55 acres of land in Khalishpur, Khulna, in 1954, the Platinum Jubilee Jute Mill was the scene of a horrific ritual perpetrated by the Pakistani military and their local collaborators in 1971. Similar to the trap set by the Pakistanis at Khulna Newsprint Mill, workers were lured back to the area by radio broadcasts asking people to return to their posts – once caught, the Bengali workers were forced to sit in front of the boiler as they were tied and bagged by their captors. With the fire of the boiler burning in front of their eyes their last sight, the workers were shoved into the same pit they themselves had once fed with coal – feet first, with the rest of their bodies following suit. The Pakistani soldiers made sure the deaths of those 56 workers, some named Harun, Hemayet and Aziz among others, were slow and painful – their screams reverberating around the factory. The gruesome story of what happened at the Platinum Jubilee mill was published in The Daily Bangla newspaper on 17th February, 1972.
The Pakistani military turned the Crescent Jute Mills into a killing field like they did with other factories in Khulna. People brought in trucks to the jute storage facility in trucks were led, blindfolded and hands tied, to the jute cutting machines inside. They were beheaded at these machines, some impaled on spikes used to tear jute apart. The body of the Central Excise Inspector was cut into pieces and hung visibly. The Customs Officers Quarters were turned into torture cells, the drains beside the building used to take the blood away to the Bhairab river, in which most of the bodies were dumped. Later on, after the war, skeletons were discovered in the mill area. Ferdousi Priyobashini witnessed the massacre of Bengalis at the hands of the Pakistanis and their collaborators, and compared the beheading of workers with the jute cutting machines to death by guillotine.
The Peoples Jute Mill was a killing field operated by the Pakistani military where factory workers were lured back in a similar fashion to other instances. They were tied, bagged in jute, and tortured to death. Abdul Khalek Hawlader bore witness to the atrocities at the Peoples Jute Mill.
The photograph is of a recent grave in the local graveyard, in a place that is suspected to be the old mass grave. 300 Biharis lived in Deara village and was a prominent spot for anti-Bengali collaborators. A Rajakar camp was established here in August 1971 with Shawkat as the commander. Around the end of August, the Rajakars and the Biharis, commanded by Shawkat, perpetrated vicious attacks against the people of the village. Houses were looted, people killed and the village was set on fire. After the killings, the surviving locals buried the bodies scattered around the place in a mass grave.
Chuknagar is located west of Dumuria upazila – adjacent to Khulna, Shatkhira and Jessore, with highways from all three regions meeting at Chuknagar. Chuknagar bazaar was a common transit point for people going to India – the adjacent Bhadra and Ghangrail rivers, now dried up, were commonly used waterways as well. Between 19th May night and 20th May morning, around a hundred thousand religious minorities gathered at Chuknagar as a result of vicious attacks by the Pakistanis on 19th May at the nearby Botiyaghata locale. On 20th May two trucks arrived down the highway from Shatkhira and the mass killings at Chuknagar started around 10-11 AM.
Chuknagar is located west of Dumuria upazila – adjacent to Khulna, Shatkhira and Jessore, with highways from all three regions meeting at Chuknagar. Chuknagar bazaar was a common transit point for people going to India – the adjacent Bhadra and Ghangrail rivers, now dried up, were commonly used waterways as well. Between 19th May night and 20th May morning, around a hundred thousand religious minorities gathered at Chuknagar as a result of vicious attacks by the Pakistanis on 19th May at the nearby Botiyaghata locale. On 20th May two trucks arrived down the highway from Shatkhira and the mass killings at Chuknagar started around 10-11 AM. One of the two trucks entered the village beyond the bazaar, and the first shot was fired upon farmer Chikon Morol, who was working the field. Chikon’s nephew, Md Noor Ali Morol witnessed the incident from their home adjacent to the field.
Sundari was a three month old infant found by Ershad Ali Morol between the dead bodies in the Chuknagar killing field, crying and trying to suckle on her dead mother’s breast. She is the only person to have survived in the Pakistani’s line of fire, later adopted and raised by a local Hindu couple.
People killed at the bazaar and inside Chuknagar village were dumped in the now dried up Bhadra river, along with the people killed on the shores of the Bhadra.
Turjoy Chowdhury is an independent Documentary Photojournalist and Multimedia Artist from Dhaka, Bangladesh. He works internationally mostly on humanitarian issues and crisis. He did his graduation in Architecture. His work has been exhibited globally and published in National Geographic, The Guardian, The Sunday Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, BBC, CNN, MSN, Al Jazeera, WNN, Feature Shoot, Life Force Magazine, Zone Zero, Foto8, Feature Shoot, Ethic Magazine, Aksgar magazine, Foto Evidience, Fotovisura, ND Magazine, Private Magazine, Dodho Magazine, CFYE Magazine, Fotoritim Magazine, F- stop Magazine, The Alternative, etc. He also got several awards and honors : UNICEF photo of the Year 2018 (2nd Prize), Joop Swart Masterclass nomination 2018; IPA (Invisible Photographer Asia) award finalist, 2018; NPPA (National Press Photographers Association) Award 2018; LensCulture Emerging Talent Award 2017; Picture of the Year International 2016; Mro Foundation Grant Finalist 2016; Photography Grant Finalist 2016; Ian Parry Scholarship 2016; Lucie Foundation Scholarship 2015; Eye Time photo competition winner 2015; Future Voices Jury Award 2014; Jessica Lum Award 2014; Photocrati Fund Finalist 2014; Photophilanthropy Activist award 2014; Carnegie Council’s International Student Photo Contest 2013.
The Emerging Photographer Fund is supported by generous donors to the Magnum Foundation