1971 Bangladesh atrocities

genocide of Bengalis carried out by the Pakistani military during the Bangladesh Liberation War

The 1971 Bangladesh atrocities refer to the murder of many people in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) by the Pakistan National Army (PNA) during the Bangladesh Liberation War that began on March 26, 1971 with Operation Searchlight.[1]



In 1947, the United Kingdom split British India into two countries: India and Pakistan. The idea was that Hindus would live in India and Muslims would live in Pakistan. But it was not so simple. Because Hindus and Muslims lived in so many different places, East Pakistan and West Pakistan were about 1000 miles apart, with all of India in between them. Also, not all Muslims are the same. The East Pakistanis and West Pakistanis did not speak the same language and did not always like each other.[2]

There were fewer West Pakistanis than East Pakistanis, but West Pakistanis controlled most of the government.[2] After the Bhola Cyclone damaged East Pakistan, West Pakistan did not send enough help.[3] Because of these things, East Pakistanis started to want to be a separate country from West Pakistan.

East Pakistan would later become Bangladesh. The people who lived there called themselves Bengalis.[2] Some of the Bengalis were not Muslims but Hindus.[3]

In 1970, Pakistan held its first general election. Before this, the military had limited voters' rights. The West Pakistanis voted for many different political parties, but most of the East Pakistanis voted for the same political party, called the Awami League. This meant the East Pakistani candidates would have a majority in Pakistan's assembly. This East Pakistani political party was led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.[2]

General, a West Pakistani and leader, did not want the East Pakistani candidates to run the country, so he declared martial law, meaning the army was in charge of the country. The East Pakistanis were angry. They did protests and riots in 1970 and 1971.[2] Many West Pakistanis, Biharis and other non-Bengalis were targeted and hurt or killed. Their properties were also destroyed.[4][5] The government in West Pakistan started Operation Searchlight to stop the rioters.[3]

Khan and Mujibur met with each other to talk to try to solve the problems and stop the riots. It looked like they had made an agreement. But on March 25, 1971, Mujibur was arrested. Then, thousands of West Pakistani soldiers, 60,000 to 80,000 of them, began killing East Pakistanis.[2] Bangladesh declared itself an independent country the next day.[3]

West Pakistani soldiers killed Hindus, Bengali Muslims, smart people, students and politicians in order to kill them all. They went to schools and killed everybody there.[6] The soldiers killed college professors at Dhaka University and other intellectual leaders because they thought they were the ones encouraging other East Pakistanis to want to be a separate country. They especially killed Hindu leaders. Then they killed young Hindu men because they thought young Hindu men would want to fight against them.[3] A TIME magazine article said "The Hindus are three-fourths of the refugees and most of the dead, have most disliked by the Muslim soldiers."[7]

More than 200,000 women were raped.[2] Some of the women were raped in front of husbands or male relatives. Other women were captured to be slaves for the West Bengali soldiers.[3]

Two Muslims called Al-Shams and Al-Badr were told by the Pakistanis to kill Bengali Hindus and traitory Bengali Muslims also.[8] There are many graves with a lot of people in Bangladesh, and new graves with a lot of people are always being discovered.[9]

A bad set of killings took place during Operation Searchlight, a series of killings which began on March 25, 1971 and ended on December 16, 1971 and led to death of 3 million Bengalis in East Pakistan (present day Bangladesh), and other things like rape and looting. Originally, the Pakistanis wanted to take over the big cities in Bangladesh and control everybody in one month. They did not expect that the Bengalis would fight back, which they did. Pakistanis got very angry and started to kill all the Bengalis.

Eventually, the Bengali freedom fighters under the Mukti Bahini would seek help from India to win against the Pakistanis. India sent its army in and fought the Pakistanis with the Bengalis until Pakistan was totally defeated and went away from Bangladesh on December 16, 1971.

Number of people killed


People disagree about how many people died.[10][11] According to the Heritage Foundation's Asian Studies Center, it could have been as few as 500,000 or as many as 3 million. It was during the Cold War and so different groups said more or fewer people had died depending on their own political ideas and goals.[12] The Soviets, who supported Bangladesh, said that it was 3 million. The CIA said it was 200,000. Pakistan was then an ally of the United States, and the West Pakistani soldiers used weapons given by the Americans.[2] India, which was also pro-Soviet, and Bangladesh state that nearly 3 million had been killed.[13]

In 1997, R. J. Rummel wrote the book Statistics of Democide: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1900. In Chapter 8, Statistics Of Pakistan's Democide - Estimates, Calculations, And Sources, he noted:

In East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) [General Agha Mohammed Yahya Khan and his top generals] also planned to murder its Bengali intellectual, cultural, and political elite. They also planned to indiscriminately murder hundreds of thousands of its Hindus and drive the rest into India. And they planned to destroy its economic base to insure that it would be subordinate to West Pakistan for at least a generation to come. This despicable and cut throat plan was outright genocide.[14]

Rummel called it an act of killing specific groups of people: "Consolidating both ranges, I give a final estimate of Pakistan's democide to be 300,000 to 3,000,000, or a prudent 1,500,000."



Not everyone agrees that the atrocities were a genocide, as nationalist Bangladeshis call it. Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan say that is "Bengali Lies."[15][16] Bangladeshi authorities and some independent organizations say that one to three million people were killed. Another 10 million ran away from the country to be safe in the Indian province of West Bengal.



No people involved in the genocide were put on trial until 2011.[17] Bangladesh's International Crimes Tribunals convicted 26 people for genocide and crimes against humanity. Some were executed, but international organizations stated that the accused had not been tried fairly.[12]


  1. Spencer 2012, p. 63.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Lorraine Boissoneault (December 16, 2016). "The Genocide the U.S. Can't Remember, But Bangladesh Can't Forget". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved February 10, 2021.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 "Bangladesh: The Forgotten Genocide". University of Alabama Institute for Human Rights Blog. April 21, 2017. Retrieved February 10, 2021.
  4. Gerlach, Christian. "Crowd Violence in East Pakistan/Bangladesh 1971/72." (2019): 15-39.
  5. Bose, Sugata. "The Roots of ‘Communal’Violence in Rural Bengal: A Study of the Kishoreganj Riots, 1930." Modern Asian Studies 16.3 (1982): 463-491.
  6. Sajit Gandhi The Tilt: The U.S. and the South Asian Crisis of 1971 National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 79 December 16, 2002 Archived 2009-06-12 at the Wayback Machine
  7. Pakistan: The Ravaging of Golden Bengal Archived 2007-03-11 at the Wayback Machine,Time Magazine
  8. Asadullah Khan The loss continues to haunt us in The [[Daily Star (Bangladesh)|]] December 14, 2005
  9. DPA report Mass grave found in Bangladesh in The Chandigarh Tribune August 8, 1999
  10. Matthew White's Death Tolls for the Major Wars and Atrocities of the Twentieth Century
  11. "Virtual Bangladesh : History : The Bangali Genocide, 1971". Archived from the original on 2011-07-23. Retrieved 2007-02-25.
  12. 12.0 12.1 David Bergman (April 5, 2016). "The Politics of Bangladesh's Genocide Debate". New York Times. Retrieved February 10, 2021.
  13. "3 MILLION Slaughtered Sheik MUJIB Charges 'Greatest Massacre'" The Portsmouth Herald, Monday, January 17, 1972, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
  14. Rummel, Rudolph J., "Statistics of Democide: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1900", ISBN 978-3-8258-4010-5, Chapter 8, table 8.1
  15. Editorial The Jamaat Talks Backin The Bangladesh Observer December 30, 2005 Archived 2010-12-23 at the Wayback Machine
  16. Dr. N. Rabbee Remembering a Martyr Star weekend Magazine, The Daily Star December 16, 2005 Archived 2009-01-07 at the Wayback Machine
  17. Mark Dummett (December 16, 2011). "Bangladesh war: The article that changed history". BBC. Retrieved February 10, 2021.

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