On March 26, 1971 a military crackdown known as Operation Searchlight was launched in East Pakistan against Bengalis and Hindus. Politicians, students, teachers, and activists in Dhaka were targeted. Part of the plan was to disrupt telephone, radio, TV, and other communication services across domestic and international lines. The conflict lasted about 9 months and about 3 million were killed, although some researchers estimate it much lower. Hundreds of thousands of women were raped and millions were displaced.
Years later rape victims from Operation Searchlight share their stories. One woman who was raped said if she had a weapon she could have killed her attacker. She feels that her dignity was destroyed after being raped and people saying unkind things. One lady said she was a comfort woman and was raped daily for one month, and when they got independence it didn't matter since she still had to deal with the fact that she was raped. Some women that were raped committed suicide, had abortions, or gave birth to unwanted babies. With the psychological trauma some feel as if they are dead and for others even with being able to adjust it still affects their lives.
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Many of the rape victims from the Bangladesh genocide were stigmatized in their communities. Thousands of women were kidnapped and sent to rape camps where they were raped daily for months, sometimes from 2 to 80 men in one night. At the camps food rations were withheld as a way to hold power over the women and girls. Some were burned on their faces and bodies with cigarettes. Many of them also died from torture and other women had to dig graves and bury them. Their families did not want to accept them after coming back from rape camps or their children if they got pregnant. Several of the women in mass graves were found to be mutilated with their breasts cut off.
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The atrocities in 1971 still affect Pakistan and Bangladesh decades later. During the war Bangladesh claimed independence from Pakistan to seek liberation. The history books in Pakistan leave out what happened in Dhaka and history has been forgotten. Abdul Quader Mollah, known as the "The Butcher of Mirpur" was executed in December 2013 for his involvement with the Pakistan army that led to thousands of deaths and rape. Ayesha Siddiqa, an author and commentator, says that not many know the true narrative of what happened in 1971 and many see Mollah as a hero and not a villain.
The conflict from 1971 in East Pakistan that is now known as Bangladesh displaced over 10 million people. Many fled and sought refuge close by in West Bengal, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Assam. Thousands of the victims that endured brutal atrocities were children. The displacement of Rohingya refugees that have poured into Bangladesh recently has brought back difficult memories for survivors of the war in 1971. One war veteran recalls Pakistani soldiers flying small babies into the air and impaling them with rifle bayonets. Many children were abused, killed, and several died from malnutrition or other disease, but there has been no accurate documentation. Almost 50 years later, researching and getting concrete statistics is close to unattainable. One researcher said the main goal for the country at the time was to rebuild and work on ensuring human rights, so keeping track of records was difficult. As history repeats itself it shows there is still so much more work to do and that we have to learn from the mistakes of the past in every angle possible in order to prevent the atrocities from happening again.