1971 killing of Bengali intellectuals refers to the systematic execution of Bengali pro-liberation intellectuals during the Bangladesh liberation war of 1971 by the Pakistan Army and their local collaborators, most notably the extreme right wing Islamist militia groups Al-Badr. Intellectuals were killed during the entire duration (9 months) of the war. However, the largest number of executions took place on 25 March and 14 December 1971. 14 December is commemorated in Bangladesh as Martyred Intellectuals Day.
Black Night of 25 March
At the beginning of Operation Searchlight, on the night of 25 March 1971, a number of teachers of Dhaka University were killed.
Reason behind the killing
Since the establishment of the State of Pakistan, the rulers of West Pakistan discriminated against citizens of East Pakistan and denied them civil and political rights. The discrimination was visible in all disciplines and the attack on the language and culture was direct. As a result, the discontent and anger in the minds of Bengalis turned to political and cultural protests and these movements were led by intellectuals from all parts of the society. They encouraged and seeded the idea of nationalism in the heart of Bengalis through social and cultural activities. As a result of their cultural movement, the people of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) gradually became aware of their rights which turned the movement towards political protests.
14 December executions
Dead bodies of Bengali intellectuals found on 15th December, 1975
As the war neared its end, a final effort to wipe off as many intellectuals as possible took place, mostly planned between 12 and 14 December to eliminate the future leaders of the new nation. On 14 December 1971, over 200 of East Pakistan’s intellectuals including professors, journalists, doctors, artists, engineers, and writers were picked up from their homes in Dhaka by the Al-Badr militias and Pakistani Army. Notable novelist Shahidullah Kaiser and playwright Munier Choudhury were among the victims. They were taken blindfolded to torture cells in Mirpur, Mohammadpur, Nakhalpara, Rajarbagh and other locations in different sections of the city. Later they were executed en masse, most notably at Rayerbazar and Mirpur. In memory of the martyred intellectuals, December 14 is mourned in Bangladesh as Shaheed Buddhijibi Dibosh Day of the Martyred Intellectuals.
It is widely speculated that the killings of 14 December was orchestrated by Maj Gen Rao Farman Ali. After the liberation of Bangladesh a list of Bengali intellectuals (most of whom were executed on 14 Dec) was discovered in a page of his diary left behind at the Governor’s House. The existence of such a list was confirmed by Ali himself although he denied the motive of genocide. The same was also confirmed by Altaf Gauhar, a former Pakistani bureaucrat. He mentioned an incidence in which Altaf requested Ali to delete a friend’s name from the list and Ali did that in front of him.
Several notable intellectuals who were killed from the time period of 25 March to 16 December 1971 in different parts of the country include Dhaka University professors Dr. Govinda Chandra Dev (Philosophy), Dr. Munier Chowdhury (Bengali Literature), Dr. Mufazzal Haider Chaudhury (Bengali Literature), Dr. Anwar Pasha (Bengali Literature), Dr M Abul Khair (History), Dr. Jyotirmoy Guhathakurta (English Literature), Humayun Kabir (English Literature), Rashidul Hasan (English Literature), Ghyasuddin Ahmed, Sirajul Haque Khan, Faizul Mahi, Dr Santosh Chandra Bhattacharyya and Saidul Hassan (Physics), Rajshahi University professors Dr. Hobibur Rahman (Mathematics), Prof Sukhranjan Somaddar (Sanskrit), Prof Mir Abdul Quaiyum (Psychology) as well as Dr. Mohammed Fazle Rabbee (Cardiologist), Dr. AFM Alim Chowdhury (Ophthalmologist), Shahidullah Kaiser (Journalist), Nizamuddin Ahmed (Journalist), Selina Parvin (Journalist), Altaf Mahmud (Lyricist and musician), Dhirendranath Datta (Politician), and Ranadaprasad Saha (Philanthropist).
Verdict on the Killing
On Nov 3, 2013, a Special Court in Dhaka has sentenced two former leaders of the al-Badr killing squad to death for war crimes committed during Bangladesh’s war of liberation in 1971. Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin, a Muslim leader based in London, and Ashrafuz Zaman Khan, based in the US, were sentenced in absentia after the court found that they were involved in the abduction and murders of 18 intellectuals – nine Dhaka University teachers, six journalists and three physicians – in December 1971. Prosecutors said the killings were carried out between 10 and 15 December, when Pakistan was losing the war in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan), and were part of a campaign intended to strip the newborn nation of its intellectuals.
On 2 November 2014 International Crimes Tribunal, Bangladesh sentenced Mir Quasem Ali to death for war crimes which include the killings of intellectuals. It was proved in the tribunal that he was a key organizer of the Al-Badr, which planned and executed the killing of the intellectuals on 14 December 1971.