Genocide, Refugees, And Faiz: How Media Covered The 1971 Crisis — From The Pages Of The Illustrated Weekly

Aravindan Neelakandan

Jan 04, 2020, 12:29 PM | Updated Jan 05, 2020, 04:33 PM IST

A picture that appeared in a news report on the crisis. 
A picture that appeared in a news report on the crisis. 
  • The reporting of the 1971 refugee problem in the English press shows some very interesting fault-lines which have deepened today.
  • Ever since the Partition, there has always been the problem of refugees coming from Pakistan, both West and East. However, it was in 1971 that the refugee problem from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) became visibly huge.

    The reporting of the refugee problem in the Indian English press then shows some very interesting fault-lines which have today become further deepened. Here we take one instance: how now defunct Illustrated Weekly of India published articles and covered various aspects of the refugee crisis. This is by no means a complete or thorough study, but it shows some very disturbing trends in the Indian media.

    Prelude To A Genocide

    Whenever there have been riots, the Hindus of then East Pakistan had to face terrible consequences and they always made an exodus to India. In 1948, Nehru had signed the notorious pact with Pakistan Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan that condemned the Hindus of East Pakistan to the mercy of their persecutors.

    Nehru was categorical and clear in his stand. He did not want Hindu refugees from East Pakistan to come to India. Was it because he thought the refugees would mean economic disaster for newly free India?

    It seems not, because he was ready to even wage war to stop the migration, which would have meant a heavier price for India.

    In his letter to the then West Bengal Chief Minister, Nehru thundered that 'everything should be done to prevent Hindus in East Bengal from migrating to West Bengal.’ He added ominously, ‘To the last I would try to check migration even if there is war.'

    In short, despite the religion-based divide of India, Nehru deemed that Hindus in East Pakistan should not turn to India for their survival. Thus, Nehru created the preparatory ground that would facilitate a genocide within a decade of his demise.

    Nehruvian Reporting of Refugee Problem

    Nehru had actually set the theme for the official stand of the Indian government first and the intelligentsia subsequently. The first Prime Minister had deluded himself that the Hindus in East Bengal actually faced no real threats and that they were migrating because of 'largely imaginary fears and baseless rumours, not the consequence of palpable threats to Hindu life, limb and property.'

    By early 1971, many Hindus had entered India as refugees. The Illustrated Weekly of India ran a series of articles titled ‘Refugees from East Pakistan’ by Maitraye Devi, the daughter of famous philosopher Surendranath Dasgupta.

    She was then the founder and head of ‘Council for Promotion of Communal Harmony’.

    In typical Nehruvian fashion, Maitraye Devi squarely blamed the psychological inability of Hindus to accept the equal status of Hindus for their exodus:

    There is a general impression in India that the trek from East Bengal was caused by riots, that women were in constant danger of being molested, men killed and property looted, that it was impossible to live in Pakistan because of constant persecution by the majority community and that this situation has no parallel in India, where the minorities are getting the advantages of a secular state. …. Their (refugees’) conversation however revealed that the main cause of exodus was socio-economic. The Hindus who were economically and socially of higher status could not adjust themselves to the idea of Muslims suddenly behaving as equals. … The Namasudras, who never resented such behaviour from caste Hindus, would not stand it from Muslims, whom they thought far below them.

    This was published in the ‘Illustrated Weekly’ dated 25 April 1971. For the next two weeks, she went on visiting the refugees and alleging that they were fabricating sob stories.

    She even accused women of fabricating threats of rape and their own husbands made to sell them just to create sympathy in India. On the whole, she rubbished all the fears and experiences of the refugees as ‘communal and caste-based prejudices’ and economic reasons.

    ‘Blood Cables’ Reveal The Facts

    Almost a month before Maitraye Devi blamed Hindu refugees themselves for their exodus, an US diplomatic mission diplomat was sending secretly cables to the United States describing in a detailed manner how Hindus were targeted and killed in a manner worse than massacre.

    American diplomat in Bangladesh, Arthur Blood, was using a concealed wireless transmitter to document what he called a ‘selective genocide’ which mainly targeted the Hindus.

    While the army from West Pakistan did consider Bengali Muslims as ‘inferior’, their reasoning was that Bengali Islamic purity was being destroyed by the presence of Bengali Hindus.

    So they had started systematic elimination of Hindus.

    Gary Jonathan Bass of Princeton University, in his authoritative book on the subject The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide (2013), explains this dimension of the 1971 genocide that started in full earnestness in March though the persecutions had started much earlier:

    At first, in his hasty cable about ‘selective genocide,’ Blood had meant a genocidal campaign against the Bengalis overall, both the Muslim majority and the Hindu minority. ... But there was mounting evidence that among the Bengalis, the Hindu minority was doubly marked out for persecution. From the first few days of the crackdown, Blood had noticed this. Many of the West Pakistanis seemed to blame Bengali nationalism and secessionism on the Hindus, even though the Bengali Muslims had overwhelmingly supported the Awami League. ‘There was much feeling against Hindus,’ says Meg Blood. ‘It was one way they whipped up their soldiers to do such abominable things.” Butcher remembers that the Hindus were “seen as making them less pure as Pakistanis.’ 

    The Ambassador to Pakistan then was Joseph Farland, ‘a vehement supporter of Yahya’s government’. Both Kissinger and Nixon were biased against India and were supportive of Pakistan. Still, the US mission officials at Dacca were trying to do a Schindler for Hindus in East Bengal.

    “We were also harboring, all of us were harboring, Bengalis, mostly Hindu Bengalis, who were trying to flee mostly by taking refuge with our own servants. ... They were not political refugees. They were just poor, very low-class people, mostly Hindus, who were very much afraid that they would be killed solely because they were Hindu.”

    Blood cabled Washington about ‘wanton acts of violence by military continuing in Dacca’. He emphatically pointed out that it was 'Hindus who were undeniably special focus of army brutality' and 'there were large fires and the sound of shots in Hindu neighborhoods.'

    In all these, what shocks one in hindsight is the blaming of Hindu refugees by Maitraye Devi whose statements exemplify the ‘Nehruvian’ stand of the Indian establishment, even as a very clear genocide was driving the Hindus from the then East Pakistan.

    Here then, is a classic example of how the Nehruvian mindset could facilitate a genocide of Hindus and then blame the very victims of the genocide for trying to survive.

    Refugees Become Too Much For A Cover-Up

    By July 1971, the problem of Hindu refugees from Pakistan had to be acknowledged. The editor of The Illustrated Weekly was Kushwant Singh, the self-styled secularist and Indira Gandhi sycophant.

    On 25 July 1971, The Illustrated Weekly published a cover-story headlined ‘Not Wanted in Pakistan’.

    On 25 July 1971, The Illustrated Weekly published a cover-story headlined ‘Not Wanted in Pakistan’.
    On 25 July 1971, The Illustrated Weekly published a cover-story headlined ‘Not Wanted in Pakistan’.

    The lead story was written by Kushwant Singh, a typical Nehruvian and a dynasty sycophant who would go on to support Indira’s 1975 descent into fascism .

    Even he had to blame 'religious hatred' fanned by Pakistan which 'resulted in flow of refugees — Hindu, Buddhist and Christian — from Pakistan into India ever since partition'. Hindu refugees told their suffering to Singh and he recorded them.

    On 25 July 1971, The Illustrated Weekly published a cover-story headlined ‘Not Wanted in Pakistan’.
    On 25 July 1971, The Illustrated Weekly published a cover-story headlined ‘Not Wanted in Pakistan’.

    The government officials and 'outsiders' harassed Hindus 'by taking whatever they wanted from our houses' and the local Muslim villagers gave them money to leave the place. When the harassed Hindus complained to the officials, they told them that they were unwanted here and that they should leave for India.

    Sarvamangala Devi, whom Singh interviewed at Petrapole railway station platform where she was living in sub-human conditions, ended the interview with words, 'It seems there is no room for Hindus in India either'. And that interview was in 1957.

    An infographic informs the readers how Hindus have been systematically persecuted and driven out of both East and West Pakistan. In fact, this infographic punctured all the caste-pop sociology Nehruvian negation of the genocidal pogroms Hindus were undergoing in Pakistan.

    Infographic on reasons for Hindu exodus from Pakistan:<i> Illustrated Weekly of India</i>, July 25, 1971
    Infographic on reasons for Hindu exodus from Pakistan:<i> Illustrated Weekly of India</i>, July 25, 1971

    Singh rightly saw the 1971 fleeing of the Hindus for what it is — the genocidal continuation of the Hindu elimination policy of Pakistan:

    While the West Pakistan army first cracked down on the Awami League leadership and Bengali intellectuals, the Biharis’ chief target were Hindus — who had enthusiastically supported the Awami League. Thus began the recent exodus from Pakistan. Three factors make it different from earlier emigrations. It is bigger than all the previous emigrations put together; over six million crossed over in the two-and-a-half months between the end of March and mid-June this year; it is the greatest migration in the history of the world. It is obviously designed to rid East Pakistan of all its Hindus and perhaps Christians and Buddhists as well. And for the first time, it also includes a very substantial number of Bengali Muslims.

    One can see in the words of Singh the tension between the stark reality of facts and the obsessive compulsive Nehruvian al-Taqiya one has to indulge in: by acknowledging that genocide was ‘designed to get rid of all Hindus’ while positing the ‘very substantial number of Bengali Muslims’ in the refugees.

    This very diplomatic statement of the refugee problem is part of the domestic disinformation propaganda that the Nehruvian establishment was carrying out for its own political survival.

    Gary J.Bass explains this deception in detail:

    The Indian government, from Indira Gandhi on down, worked hard to hide an ugly reality from its own people: by an official reckoning, as many as 90 percent of the refugees were Hindus. This skew was the inevitable consequence of Pakistani targeting of Hindus in East Pakistan — what Archer Blood and his staffers had condemned as genocide. The population of East Pakistan was only 16 or 17 per cent Hindu, but this minority comprised the overwhelming bulk of the refugees. India secretly recorded that by the middle of June, there were some 5,330,000 Hindus, as against 443,000 Muslims and 150,000 from other groups. ... In a major speech, Gandhi misleadingly described refugees of “every religious persuasion — Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and Christian.”

    So out of the six million that Kushwant Singh wrote, about 5.3 million were Hindus and as against this, the ‘substantial number of Bengali Muslims’ numbered not even half a million. Yet, there was a difference even here, which Singh had acknowledged earlier in the ‘editor’s page’:

    The Prime Minister is right when she says we are going to go through hell. It’s going to be hell for us Indians and it’s going to be worse than hell for the millions of refugees now under the canvas or under the Indian sky.  … About the hell to come, Mrs Gandhi is right. But she is not right when she says the refugees will go back. … Let me explain. The vast majority of them are Hindus. And the vast majority of those Hindus are poor, the landless who have nothing to go back to or had small holdings (…to be under one acre) which they know have been appropriated by the Pakistanis and are beyond redemption. I am convinced that though initially it was the Pakistani army and its ‘Bihari’ collaborators who terrified the Hindus into quitting their homes, there are many to whom security, one square meal a day and a tent over their heads proved to be the final inducement. The Pakistanis did not give the Hindus of East Bengal a chance to develop loyalty to the homeland. Innumerable number of those I interviewed referred to India as amar desh — my country.  

    And What About The Indian Islamists?

    Here too, we see a clear Nehruvian al-Taqiya in action, which, as the events proceed, become untenable to maintain. In his ‘Editor’s Page’ column, Kushwant Singh bravely takes this up.

    Remember that the government wanted to totally reject atrocities as the cause of exodus. Yet the press was still reporting the atrocities and exodus. So Singh condemns Indian media, for they had not shown any ‘restraint’ in reporting, and brushes aside all atrocities as ‘events which by all accounts were based on hearsay.’

    Then, he wrote a typical excuse for Indian Islamist reluctance to condemn Bangladesh genocide:

    What was the point in chiding our Muslims for not being as concerned with the fate of Bengali Muslims as they were over the Al Aqsa incident? Al Aqsa is a religious shrine, second only to Kabba in importance. However premature and misdirected the agitation, the situation is not analogous. Indian Muslims did not exhibit any passionate concern over the fate of Indonesian Muslims...nor in the intercine war between Arab tribes in Yemen! From whatever I have been able to gather from the Indian Muslim press, they are sympathetic to Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s crusade like the rest of us.
    The Illustrated Weekly of India , 25-April-1971

    By June, Syed Ausaf Saied Vasfi, writing on behalf of ‘Muslim press’, would make it clear where the sympathy of Indian Islamists lay. The passage presented here from his essay is in isolation by itself is a genius in deception:

    On Bangla Desh, the Muslim Press has consciously refused to be swayed by incessant torrents of sentimentalism, while national press gave in to emotional temptations. It would be hypocritical to say that the break up of Pakistan would not affect Indian Muslims as a minority and India as a large part of the subcontinent. The Muslim argument is that encouragement to a secessionist movement in a foreign Muslim country would initially go not only against the local Muslim interests, but, in the broader perspective, against India’s national and international interest also. 
    The Illustrated Weekly of India, 27-June-1971

    He then went on to dehumanise the refugees and blamed their presence in India not only on ‘military action by West Pakistan forces’ but also mysteriously on Indian press which was sympathetic to them:

    Refugees have caused not only a law and order problem in West Bengal and Assam but a severe strain on the resources of Meghalaya, Bihar and Tripura. The main cause of the influx is no doubt the military action by the West Pakistan forces. But our Press and Radio cannot shirk their responsibilities in this regard. ... For this Rabat of greater magnitude, our national Press is no less responsible. No amount of whitewashing and window-dressing can absolve it of its guilt and responsibility for the present mess.

    The words of an Islamist journalist justifying 'the Muslim press’ in India then opposing liberation of Bangladesh may be shocking for the present readers — given the fact that there was a genocide going on in East Bengal even as this article was published.

    But what makes this an absolute horror is the fact that the writer was connected to Jammat-e-Islami Hind (JeI-H) which actually had no official relations to the original Jammat-e-Islami (JeI) now in Pakistan.

    But the ideological unity and division of labour of Jammat-e-Islami in a transnational dimension come out clearly here.

    JeI was actively collaborating with West Pakistan army in Bangladesh in the genocide of Hindus in East Bengal. It was against the liberation of Bangladesh. In India its counter-part was engaged in mobilising Indian Muslims against liberation of Bangladesh and in discouraging the coming of Hindu refugees so that they could be finished off physically.

    That some of the high-profile ‘sheros’ from Jammia Milai in the present anti-CAA movement have a Jammat-e-Islami Hind connection through its student wing Student Islamic Organisation of India (SIO) is then not an accident.

    And the pages of ‘Illustrated Weekly’ also expose another recently resurrected Pakistani demi-god in Indian leftist-Islamist circles.

    Deafening Silence of Faiz

    Rafiq Zakaria, obviously an admirer of Faiz and a regular contributor to The Illustrated Weekly of India, wondered in an article titled 'Why is Faiz Silent?'’

    Why is this sensitive poet who wrote ... that a poet had not only to ‘observe’ but ‘to struggle’ — for ‘struggle is his duty’ — not moved by one of the most epic struggles, the struggle in Bangladesh? ...Why has this poet, so committed to human liberation, not spoken out yet? ... It is, indeed, a mystery difficult to unravel. There is something wrong somewhere, for otherwise how can a poet ... remain a silent spectator to this ghastly genocide? Why does not he react to such brutalities perpetrated on a poor, helpless people — a people who were once his co-citizens? There must be something wrong, for a poet who has always asked us to speak out cannot remain mute.

    Even as late as 2017, his admirers try to explain away his silence by citing two poems which are too lame and which passively accept tyranny and a sign he once signed requesting the release of Mujib Rahman.

    But there was neither agony nor anger and definitely no ‘We shall see’ kind of thundering!

    But the most profound insight into the psyche of an Islamo-leftist comes from Faruq Aziz Khan.

    A Bangla freedom fighter, Khan had given a first hand account of the coldness with which Faiz treated the entire genocide:

    Pakistani conscience was dead. No one uttered a single word against the genocide of helpless Bengalis. Even such an eminent poet and humanist Faiz Ahmed Faiz who still has many admirers in Dhaka intellectual centre remained silent when I met him in a friend’s house where a cocktail party was arranged. I asked Mr. Faiz why was he so silent when Pakistan’s genocide was going on in the then East Pakistan. He replied as if nothing had happened.
    Faruq Aziz Khan, ‘Spring 1971: A Centre Stage Account of Bangladesh War of Liberation’, p.44

    A person who never wrote against Stalinism, a person who never wrote against Maoist aggression against Tibetans, a person who maintained quite cordial relationships with Akbar Khan the militarist who planned the tribal carnage of Kashmir — his so-called fight for democracy was actually taking a pro-Soviet stand against the pro-American stand taken by the Pakistan regime. This ‘revolutionary’ stand was nothing but one of the many strings-pulled puppetry run by cold war propaganda war.

    Naturally in India, he was projected as a great progressive by the Islamo-Marxist cabal, which with the help of Congress, had a stranglehold on state educational and cultural institutions.

    Given the historic Islamo-Marxist bonhomie because of their shared tyranophilia, the explicitly Islamist lines from Faiz poem ‘all the idols will be thrown away from the pure earth of God...' now raised by Indian Islamists to deny Indian citizenship to the very victims of the genocide over which Faiz remained silent, take a real ominous shape.

    Note the lines ‘thrown away from the pure earth of God’ — It may refer to Karbala and it also symbolises Pakistan — named as the land of pure. Did not designers of 1971 genocide consider the idols and idol-worshipers of Pakistan ‘impure’ to be destroyed and thrown out?

    ‘Wasn’t It Your Guru Gobind Singh ... ‘

    Then on 15 August, The Illustrated Weekly would publish an article by K. Subrahmanyam (father of the current Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar) titled ‘Must we go to war?’. Then aged 42, K. Subrahmanyam was director of the Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis. According to Garry J. Bass, this was actually truncated form of a report which he had submitted to the government secretly.

    It was 'a brilliant and brutal argument for war'. Incidentally, the one important factor in Indian politics which was pressurizing Indira Gandhi to go to war was Jan Sangh — the precursor of present day Bharatiya Janata Party.

    This article was a truncated form of a report that convinced Indian government to go to war.
    This article was a truncated form of a report that convinced Indian government to go to war.

    Now let us end this article with a conversation Kushwant Singh published in his ‘Editor’s Page’ earlier August of that year. A Bengali woman tells him:

    Wasn’t it your Guru Gobind Singh who said ‘when all other means have failed it is righteous to draw the sword’? 

    Yes. Ultimately not by Nehruvian and Marxist delusion and deception, but by the steely vision of Guru Gobind Singh that this nation is saved.

    Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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