|Volume 6 | Issue 03 | March 2012|
The Crime Never Considered a Crime
The war babies and war heroines of 1971 deserve an apology, states AZMM MOKSEDUL MILON.
Kohinoor, a talented Norwegian singer, dancer and an actress who visited Bangladesh in December 2011, was featured in many of our national dailies as a war child of 1971. Many of us wished her success in life and accepted her as our sister; one Kohinoor really made us all proud. But have we ever thought how we would feel if each of the more than 25,000 war babies of 1971 were a Kohinoor? Could you tell me, dear readers, what crime they committed that we did not consider them worthy of living in this country as our brothers and sisters? Did we not commit a grave crime, isolating their mothers from our civilised communities, killing them in their mothers' wombs or sending them away for adoption, and letting their mothers' rapists go scot-free?
During the war of independence, the innocent women of Bangladesh were the first to bear the burnt of Yahiya Khan's unique theory of Musalmanisation. The Bangalees, according to the theory, opposed the Islamic state of Pakistan only because they were impure and converted Muslims; and therefore, to save the future of Pakistan, it was necessary to produce a new generation of Bangalees having Pakistani blood in their veins. Many Bangalees, especially those who were so-called 'pure Muslims', expressed solidarity with Yahiya Khan and collaborated with the Pakistani soldiers to execute the plan. The result is that more than 200,000 Bangladeshi women were systematically raped to cultivate the Pakistani blood in the new generation Bangalees. When the war ended, those unfortunate women were again the first to be executed for the sin that they did not commit: their fellow citizens were not satisfied to disparagingly call them the 'violated,' 'dishonoured,' 'distressed,' or 'spoilt' women; they also disowned them and isolated them from their families and communities. Even the appeal of Bangabandhu, one call of whom once made thousands of Bangalees sacrifice their lives for independence, failed to move the hearts of newly freed people. Those violated women, however, had a number of remedial options left: many of them committed suicide, being unable to bear the insult; a section of them left the country to work as servants or even as prostitutes abroad on the ground that they would, at least, not have anyone to mock them in the foreign lands, eventually giving birth to human trafficking in the newly freed country; a great many went into hiding and aborted their foetuses with the help of their families, with many of them being killed in the hands of the unskilled mid-wives, prompting the government to set up 'seba sadans' to give them clinical support; a few of them, especially those who were from the well-to-do families, were married off to the men hungry for unexpected amount of dowry; and the rest, especially those whose pregnancy reached beyond the abortion stage, had to wait and face what was to come. Thus, when the whole nation was celebrating their hard-earned victory, those dishonoured women found themselves out of the Pakistani frying pan only to be in the fire of the wrath of our old socio-cultural and religious norms. I still cannot understand how the sympathy, affection and brotherhood developed in the nine-month long war vanished so rapidly that we could not recognise those psychologically and physically devastated women as our mothers and sisters.
Kohinoor was perhaps born to one of those unfortunate mothers who had no option but to leave their children out in the street to save their honour. Thus, she was found in a street of Dhaka after the war of independence and was sent to Mother Teresa's Orphanage from where she was adopted and taken away to Europe by a caring and affectionate Norwegian family. No one, however, knows who her original parents were: maybe she was a legitimate child, wandering alone on the streets, losing both her parents in the war; or maybe she was fathered by a Pakistani soldier or a Razakar and was left on the street by her ill-fated mother. The newspapers, however, took the latter as the only possibility by calling her a 'war child.' Whatever the case may be, the most important point to be noted here is that being a war child has not made her less respectable in the eyes of the present generation of Bangladeshis. But unfortunately, back in 1972, immediately after our great war of independence came to an end, thousands of war children like Kohinoor were disparagingly called 'the unwanted children,' 'the enemy children,' 'the illegitimate children' or even 'the bastards' by many of our own people. Even the then-government of Bangladesh had to declare that the war children, who had the polluted Pakistani blood in their veins, would not be allowed to live in the newly independent state, the soil of which was smeared with the sacred blood of the martyrs. Thus, Kendrio Mohila Punorbashon Songstha was established in January 1972 not only to rehabilitate the violated women but also to purify the nation through abortion and adoption of the so-called 'enemy children,' with International Planned Parenthood, the International Abortion Research and Training Centre, and the Catholic Church giving technical and humanitarian support. The war babies who were in the wombs and did not develop beyond the abortion stage were aborted en masse at the so-called 'seba sadans' set up across the country; and the ones who developed beyond that stage were allowed to open their eyes in their devastated motherland only to be sent to the orphanages from where most of them were deported to the USA, the UK, Canada, Norway, Australia and other countries for adoption. Was it not a grave crime to kill thousands of innocent foetuses in their mothers' wombs and banish the same number of war children from their motherland for committing no crime?
I still cannot understand why we have not felt ashamed to celebrate our independence and victory days for 40 long years, with the innocent birangonas and the war children writhing in immeasurable pain and the rapist soldiers of Pakistan and their local collaborators enjoying heavenly bliss on the same earth. There is surely no doubt that Islam does not allow any Muslims to rape other fellow Muslims or even take up arms against them (Tirmidhi: 1464). It has also been narrated in the hadith of Jami al Tirmidhi that a woman was once raped; and when she and the man who raped her were brought before the Prophet, he ordered the muhajirs to stone the man to death; but to the woman, he said, "Go away. Indeed, Allah has forgiven you." (Book: 17; Chapter 22; Hadith 1459) During the reign of Hazrat Umar (RAA), a woman once came up with her infant child and claimed that Abu Shahama, the son of Hazrat Umar (RAA), was its father. When Abu Shahama admitted that he had violated the woman, he was duly punished; but the woman and the child were spared (M. A. Rauf: "Umar al Faruq" 1998). In all these cases, the raped woman or the child born as a result of rape or adultery was blameless; it was only the rapist and the adulterer who were punished.
In short, the war children of 1971 were undoubtedly innocent, as they had nothing to do to stop their raped mothers from conceiving them; and their mothers, who were surely not adulterers, were also equally innocent, as they were violated against their will; but surely, the soldiers of Pakistan and their collaborators were the only ones to blame, as they violated all rules of war, religion, society or humanity. Yet the rapist soldiers were allowed to go back to Pakistan on the empty promise that they would be tried there and were not tried at all, and their local collaborators, instead of being punished, were rewarded by the subsequent Bangladeshi governments after 1975; the violated mothers were rejected by their families and communities and still live a meaningless life, with the state honour of 'birangona' being unable to save them from the wrath of the society; and the war children were either killed in the wombs or kicked out of the newly born sacred state.
As the war criminals are being tried after 40 long years, I sadly think of those war children (and also of the unfortunate birangonas) who were not as fortunate as Kohinoor. Thousands of such children are now grown-up human beings living in unknown countries, having no identity, with many of them perhaps mentally and socially disturbed. We do not know them, as most of them do not want to publicise that they were war children; and more sadly, we do not have sufficient documents left, as the lists of the war children and the birangonas were destroyed by the subsequent Bangladeshi governments after independence. Have we ever thought, dear readers, how lonely and painful a life all the birangonas have been leading with no families, husbands and children? Could we not make their meaningless lives a little colourful if we allowed their unfortunate children to live with them? For 40 long years, we have all strived to bring the war criminals to book and make Pakistan apologise for what they did to us. But have we ever thought, even once, that we should also apologise to those war children and the birangonas for what we, their own fellow citizens, did to them?
AZMM Moksedul Milon is Lecturer in English, Presidency University, Dhaka. He may be contacted at email@example.com.
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