A People’s Remembrance of 1971

Dec 2012

National remembrances of 1971 have thus far failed to acknowledge the war’s extraordinary human losses. A renewal of our human values and the capacity to bear witness to the truth is critical for delivering justice to survivors of the war–and for effecting positive change in the subcontinent.

Every year on December 16, in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India memorialization of the 1971 war is reenacted in the public space.

In Pakistan, a silent mourning of the loss of East Pakistan commemorates public remembrance and newspapers retell the memories of the failed military might of the Pakistan Army in the horrific war. There is no variation in the theme.

In Bangladesh, songs of liberation reverberates the air and public meetings recalling the moment of triumph make everyone feel good temporarily, forgetting the national losses that Bangladesh has since suffered on multiple fronts.

India celebrates 1971 as a victory over Pakistan and proudly discusses in public sites the destruction of Pakistan that it had engineered and succeeded in accomplishing.

The customary and habitual theatre of faking remembrance in the national sites of the three countries undermines an extraordinary moment of loss that was suffered by the people of the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent.  Millions of people’s lives were forever altered by the war of 1971 and its outcomes are felt even today.

In India, the Bangladeshi has become the quintessential “outsider”, the hated Other, who is seen as contaminating the national space by stealthily encroaching on jobs and claiming voting rights.  The 2012 summer of violence in Assam and Maharashtra against the “illegal” Bangladeshi settlers bears witness to this national malaise of forgetting in India.  Pakistan has so quickly forgotten the people of Bangladesh that today Pakistani children do not even know that once Bangladesh and Pakistan shared a common national identity. The same is true for the new generation in Bangladesh. There is a loss, a loss of memory so deep that even our humanity in the subcontinent has become questionable.

Survivors cannot forget

Survivors of 1971 in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, however, cannot forget the memories of the loss of humanity, or insāniyat/manabikata that they recall.  For them the loss of their humanity in violence is the most unforgettable outcome of the war of 1971, and they struggle to reassemble a sense of their human selves in slow and careful reflections.  To reconvene their human identity and become wholesome again survivors, particularly perpetrators, men who committed incredible violence against vulnerable groups of women, children, and the old and infirm, emphasize the need to do tauba or repent for their crimes.

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2 Responses to A People’s Remembrance of 1971

  1. […] A People’s Remembrance of 1971 in Tanqeed Women, War and the Making of Bangladesh: Remembering 1971, published by Duke University Press […]

  2. Saravanan on Apr 2015 at 6:33 AM

    This is an article that highlights the malaise of nationalism not only in India but in it’s neighbours viz, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It compels us to have a re-look at our nationalist traditions which only leads to further friction among the nation-states in South Asia. Saikia’s brilliant analysis carves out the post-colonial jingoism that resulted in huge loss of lives. The scarred nations are yet to recover from the trauma of war waged against humanity.

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