A People’s Remembrance of 1971

Dec 2012

Pages: 1 2

Repentance, of course, requires truth telling and an ability to take responsibility of the trespasses committed against others.  The regained humanistic perspective of survivors’ calls to our attention the Islamic principle of rights of people or huqquq al-ibād that were transgressed during the war. Perpetrators reflections on the loss of huqquq al-ibād during the war initiate the process of acknowledging war crimes for restoring people’s rights. Huquq al-ibād, according to Qur’anic injunction, is a right endowed to all human beings, Muslims and non-Muslims, and is inherent in us by virtue of our human identity. It cannot be compromised. In the war of 1971, the rights of the human were superseded and annulled as man became indifferent to his human status, and operated as a violent arm of an impersonal state. Today, perpetrators must make the effort to restore huqquq al-ibād by seeking victims’ forgiveness.  Victims can exercise their right of huqquq al-ibād by refusing to forgive their perpetrators. But encouraging victims to forgive allows for peace and harmony and moves us away from an excessive focus on violence that is negative for human wellbeing. Repenting the loss of huqquq al-ibād by doing tauba can lead to redemptive justice that is critical in the subcontinent today if we are to move forward as a human community together, aware of the events and lessons of the past but overcoming hate and difference that divide and destroy us.

States must take responsibility

Beyond the individuals participating in the process of restorative justice, the nation-state of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, too, must take responsibility. Violence in 1971 was organized and executed by the armies of Pakistan and India, as well as the Bengali Mukti Bahini (Liberation Army) and Bihari militias of Al Badr and Al Shams, and they must be held accountable. Only then can we hope to be free from the violent past, and become a decolonized people of South Asia. In Pakistan, an effort was made by the Women’s Action Forum to apologize to the women of Bangladesh for the crimes committed by the Pakistan army. This gesture although commendable, cannot be used as a substitute. It is the perpetrators responsibility to apologize and seek victims’ forgiveness personally. In the subcontinent, as a whole, there has been no public acknowledgement of the crimes committed by armed men against noncombatants in 1971.  Unless there is a willingness on the part of the states to engage with the outcome of armed violence, reconciliation and forgiveness by the people may be aspirational and never realized.

A question of much interest to scholars of comparative human rights is the relationship of huqquq al-ibād with human rights as understood in the secular west.  In the subcontinent where the relationship between people and religion is deeply intertwined, values and ethics derived from religion can provide the space for a positive interaction between people and institutions, past and present, and play an important role in human development in the region.

I am emphasizing that we return our focus to this human centered concern because I believe that by nature human beings seek peace and happiness, and the lived environment should enable man to enjoy his/her human status endowed by the Divine to all of us. The attentive focus on the dignity of human beings is critical for enabling the capacity of rational involvement for human development.  Only then can we truly claim to be decolonized and citizens of free nations that can rise above hate to a new place of becoming human in South Asia.

Yasmin Saikia is the first holder of the Hardt-Nickachos Chair in Peace Studies and is a Professor of History at Arizona State University in the United States.

Pages: 1 2

Tags: , ,

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *