New impartial evidence debunks 1971 rape allegations against Pakistan Army
A study of the 1971 conflict by an Indian academic, Prof Sarmila Bose, says the Pakistan army personnel did not rape Bengali women as has been widely alleged by Indian and Bangladeshi writers. While Prof Bose’s study focuses on certain specific cases, the finding is very interesting, based as it is on extensive interviews with eyewitnesses. The study also determines the pattern of conflict as three-layered: West Pakistan versus East Pakistan, East Pakistanis (pro-Independence) versus East Pakistanis (pro-Union) and the fateful war between India and Pakistan.
As Prof Bose has noted, no prior study of the conflict has been done. What we have are narratives that strengthen one point of view by rubbishing contending viewpoints. The Bangladeshi meta-narrative, for instance, focuses on the rape issue and uses that not only to demonise the Pakistan army but also exploit it as a symbol of why it was important to break away from (West) Pakistan. Indeed, the sheer number of Bangladeshi women raped is placed in the millions, a fact to which the Hamoodur Rehman Commission Report also referred and declared as absurd. Even so, over the years the charge of rape has stuck to the Pakistan army and weighed it down in moral terms. Prof Bose, a Bengali herself and belonging to the family of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, has done a remarkable job of investigating the charge and paving the way for independent scholars to probe the issue further.
Prof Bose, who unveiled her study at a US State Department conference convened to mark the release of declassified US government documents from that period, also spoke about the violence generated by all sides. “The civil war of 1971 was fought between those who believed they were fighting for a united Pakistan and those who believed their chance for justice and progress lay in an independent Bangladesh. Both were legitimate political positions. All parties in this conflict embraced violence as a means to the end, all committed acts of brutality outside accepted norms of warfare, and all had their share of humanity. These attributes make the 1971 conflict particularly suitable for efforts towards reconciliation, rather than recrimination,” says Prof Bose.
It goes to Prof Bose’s credit that while studying the conflict she retained her professionalism and integrity, two essential traits normally absent in studies done of that period by all sides. Under the circumstances, if she wants to explore the issue further the Pakistan army should not hesitate to give her access to raw material in its archives so that she can expand her work. Indeed, here’s the Pakistan army’s chance to wash this stigma off it once and for all. We are reasonably sure that elements within Bangladesh — and even India — will criticise Bose’s study because it goes against the grain of Bangladeshi nationalism. But this will not take away from its impartialness and significance.
- Sarmila Bose’s original paper (published in EPW..one of the previous version which caused the major firestorm in Bangladesh was taken down after the writer sent legal threat to the hosting company of this website without corresponding with us.)
News articles from Pakistan supporting her views: