From Star Insight Desk
Father Timm's Letters of 1971
Father Timm is currently working a book based on letters he wrote during the Liberation War of 1971, dated between June and September 1971. Star Insight is proud to present the letters verbatim. The thoughts behind them and their aftermath, as discussed by Father Timm, have been included as well. Father Timm expressed his opinions about the incidents and against the genocide in Bangladesh through his writing.
Father Timm, the cover story personality of this issue of Star Insight, is an educator, a zoologist, and an active participant on the works on social development (chiefly through Caritas Bangladesh). He is the Superior of the Order of Holy Cross in Dhaka. He is also one of the founders of Notre Dame College in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Emphasizing the difficult situations on civilians and extreme violations of human rights that he witnessed during the war, Father Timm mostly wrote to Dr. John Rohde a Harvard trained public health specialist and pediatrician who is still an international public health consultant working in various part of Asia. In the letter presented here, Father Timm brings to light the unbelievable range of discrimination shown to the Hindu community living in Bangladesh by the Pakistan army, such as how they were forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint. These letters served to build public consensus and opinion internationally (especially in USA) against the tyranny of Pakistan on Bangladesh. It is regretted that entire letters could not be printed due to space constraints.
In his letter of 21 June 1971 to Senator Fulbright, Father Timm wrote about the discrimination against Hindus in relief operations:
“I have just returned from Monpura Island where I have been working for seven months as Field Coordinator for the HELP organization, of which Dr. John Rohde was one of the founders. In view of the massive and outrageous lies of the highest Pakistani authorities, which are now beginning to deceive many visiting delegations, I feel forced to come out with some of the facts which have remained hidden until now and which will greatly affect the American attitude toward Pakistan.
I am the only foreigner living and working in the main cyclone affected areas of Monpura, Hatiya and Bhola, and the outside world has so far received no news of the way that relief and rehabilitation work have been affected by the Army occupation. Please bear in mind that these areas are the farthest removed from the Indian borders and had no disturbances either before or after the Pakistan elections. I will mention a few incidents of Army atrocities in these areas but the main burden of my letter is to point out that it is the official government policy in action to deliberately and systematically exclude the Hindu community from all relief and rehabilitation. They are simply not recognized as citizens of Pakistan. Most of the bans against their receiving aid are by verbal orders and threats of the Pakistani Army officers, but the banks received official notices a month ago to freeze all Hindu accounts. Any home savings were wiped out by the recall of Rs. 500 and Rs. 100 notes on June 8-10, with one day's notice in advance (I had to risk a 10-mile trip in an open boat in rough waters to reach a bank to turn in over Tk. 20,000 of HELP money, none of which has been returned yet). Relief food, cattle, house building grants and Agricultural Development Bank of Pakistan loans are all refused to Hindus, except in a few areas like Monpura were I have told Ward Members to distribute relief food to the Hindus and I will assume responsibility for it. At Hatiya, not even the Muslims get relief food (rice), since up to 19 June the government's relief rice was being sold in the government ration shops.
I will restrict my account of incidents to Hatiya, since two American AID people went on a fact-finding mission to Bhola a week ago and hopefully will send out information soon. On May 13-14 the Pakistan Army came to Hatiya and selectively looted and burned out four square miles of Hindu houses, killing 11. Muslim and Hindu young women were raped and two later died (one had been in labour). The two-storey house of the Awami League member of the National Assembly was razed to the ground and his safe was broken open and looted, while the home of the independent member (Amirul Islam, "Kalam Saheb," who later became Minister of Culture and Sports under President Ziaur Rahman) of the Provincial Assembly right next door was spared. On 8 June, the Army came to Hatiya with an LC (landing craft) of relief food, accompanied by a gunboat, and when the six officers went to the bank four miles away, the soldiers rounded up animals and beat people around the landing area.
As you can well imagine, disclosure of my name would mean my immediate expulsion from Pakistan for spreading information and for engaging in "Zionist activities". Also, one of my good friends would probably be implicated, a Bengali. I would authorize you to use my name only if it becomes absolutely necessary, but I feel that my continued presence on Monpura Island right now is a matter of life and death for several thousand Hindus. Please contact me only through the U.S. Consulate General, if necessary, or through Dr. Rohde.”
At the end of the letter, Father Timm identified himself as a Fulbright Professor at Government Medical College in 1953-54. He sent a copy of the above letter to Joseph Farland, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, who had been markedly unsympathetic to the Bengali interests and who had refused to believe reliable atrocity accounts which Father Wheeler and Bro. Robert Bellarmine had told him about at a social gathering in Dhaka. His covering letter was a plea to help prevent tragedy to innocent victims.
Father Timm sent a copy of the letter to the British Parliamentary Delegation which had visited East Pakistan a short time ago. The head of the delegation, Judith Hart, later a Minister of Development of the British Government, was so taken in by the "normality" situation in East Pakistan that on her return to West Pakistan she persuaded Yahya Khan to allow foreign journalists back into East Pakistan. This step marked the beginning of the end for the Pakistan Army in East Pakistan.
John and Candy Rohde informed Father Timm on 19 July that his letter to Senator Fulbright "was timely and important and did a lot to tighten his hand against the heavy onslaught of Defense and Aid Departments.” They had just exposed in the New York, which published it on their front page, secret arms sales to Pakistan in spite of an existing embargo. Shortly thereafter, the Gallagher Amendment was passed in the House of Representatives, and the Saxby-Church Amendment was introduced in the Senate. It was a great triumph of swift lobbying by a small and relatively poor but highly organized, intelligent and dynamic group. Father Timm felt proud to have played a small part behind the scenes.
According to Father Timm, “Communal guilt in 1971 should serve as a salutary lesson for the future in Bangladesh.” In the third week of August 1971, he made a quick trip to Bhola with two people from CARE and heard the encouraging news that the government had done away with discrimination against Hindus in agricultural loans as a result of his intervention. On the way back from Bhola his steamer out of Barisal was fired on. He heard bullets pinging on tin as everyone on board hurriedly dived out of their bunks onto the floor. Thankfully, no one was hurt. He recommended that bulletproof vests be kept on board. In a lengthy report to Dr. Rohde on September 2, after returning from a week's trip in Patuakhali with a Caritas Germany representative, Father Timm emphasized that in spite of a VOA (Voice of America) analysis of the situation in Bangladesh which he had heard the night before, the big cities were not "fast returning to normal." Eighty per cent were supposed to have turned out for reopening of schools, but the fact was that no schools were running in Dhaka District outside of the central Dhaka town. For the Intermediate Examination at Notre Dame College there was only 20% attendance, which was high for Dhaka. For the Matriculation Examination of Dhaka Board of Education only 13,000 out of 72,000 candidates sat for the exams. Most of those sat only because their fathers, government employees, had to fill out a questionnaire asking, among other outrageous items, how many children they had and which exams they were eligible for in 1971. The fathers got the message, but many of their children reported "sick" after a day or two of examinations.
One important observation Father Timm kept repeating in all his communications abroad was that foreign observers didn't seem to realize that although the big cities and government offices may seem to be restored to normality (and they didn't know what normal was before), every last Bengali hates the Pakistan Army. In the villages where people could still speak out, everyone yearned for a Bangladesh except Muslim Leaguers and Jamaat-e-Islami, who were relatively fewer and whose influence was rapidly waning as the Mukti Bahini moved in.
“The Mukti Bahini were already enjoying much success in the rural areas but were tightly controlled in the cities. Large numbers of Hindus who had fled joined the Mukti Bahini and came back to fight for the establishment of Bangladesh. Whenever the Mukti Bahini enters a village they seize the looters of Hindu homes and force them to restore everything. The razakers (armed collaborators with the Pakistan Army) are a special target of the freedom fighters. The razakers have been signed up by the Army for a Rs. 50 bonus and Rs. 3 per day, plus relief food, and they now find themselves being used as suicide squads by the Army. In any road patrol they are in the leading jeep which set off road mines and in any village action they have to go in first. They won't last long in the villages after the Pakistan Army leaves, since the Mukti Bahini will invariably clean them.
I wrote to you last about the Mukti cleaning out the dacoits at Narikelbari. On September 1, the Army came there 200 strong, shooting indiscriminately, and killed many including an old woman. The next morning they left, taking three Christian fishermen who were fishing nearby. One didn't move fast enough and they shot him, hitting his son in the head. Bishop Joachim (of Chittagong) and Father Demers were at the mission and they were blamed by the Pakistan Army for taking care of the wounded. I told Bishop Joachim he should have told the Army that even Hitler took care of wounded women and children.”
On 11 September 1971, Father Timm wrote to his Indiana Senators Birch Bayh and Vance Hartke of important recent developments:
“I am a Holy Cross priest from Michigan City, Indiana. I am writing to thank you for your co-sponsorship of the Saxbe-Church Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1971. There is still a great need today of following a "hands off" policy until a favourable climate is created for the return of the Bengali refugees from India. I have seen in the local papers that Mr. Rogers is asking for a lifting of the temporary ban on developmental aid to Pakistan. There are certain recent developments in East Pakistan which may trick the outside world into thinking that conditions have changed substantially in recent times and that American aid given now would no longer be in support of a fascist militarist regime. These developments are the lifting of press censorship and the proclamation of a general amnesty. However, just the day before lifting of press censorship, Martial Law Order No. 89 was promulgated, which forbids the publication or dissemination of anything which can in any way be interpreted as prejudicial to the welfare of Pakistan, i.e., of the military regime. The General Amnesty was proclaimed on September 5th and a photo was published in the papers the following day showing prisoners who had allegedly been released. However, no one has seen a single one of these prisoners. Pressmen have not been able to learn from government the name of a single person who had been given amnesty. Moreover, and this is far more serious, the slaughter of caste Hindus as "enemies of the people" continues unabated.
Yesterday I returned from a tour of Tangail and Mymensingh Districts in my capacity as Field Coordinator of Relief Programmes of the Catholic Relief Services. I saw entire Hindu villages which had been looted and burned out, large centuries-old Hindu temples wantonly destroyed, and heard gruesome tales of torture of those Hindus who had refused to become Muslims. A prominent Hindu of Modhupur (Amulya Babu) is on the blacklist for extermination, who previously had been given one of the highest awards of the Pakistan government (Tamgha-i-Kidmat) and thrice had been named Union Council Chairman of the Year for Tangail District. He was outstanding in loyalty and in development work and he was a supporter of the Muslim League rattier than of the outlawed Awami League. His only "crime" is that he is a Hindu. He is now in hiding and his family is living at the Jalchatra mission. This is only a small example but one which I can vouch for personally. I am not concerned with the political solution of the "Bengali problem" but I can tell you two things which the 3-day visitor and foreign journalists cannot easily find out: (1) every Bengali hates the Army, since everyone has been affected in some way by their atrocities; (2) every Bengali lives in mortal fear of the Army and what it might do to him and his family. There may be Bengalis who still stand for a united Pakistan but there are countless more that are all united in rejecting the military oppression, which continues unabated, as if the only possible solution to the problem is to crush by military might.
In mid-September the Pakistan government began proclaiming amnesty for those who had gone to India. A few days before, I had gone with Father Homrich to the jail at Muktagacha, Mymensingh District, to try to get the release of a tribal boy who was being held because he was alleged to have gone to India. Father Homrich had been to the jail five times previously and took four Muslim witnesses to prove that the boy had never left home. He was in a cell with five other men, but it was only big enough for one to lie down at a time. We did not get the boy's release, in spite of the amnesty.
On the same trip we visited Shibganj in Tangail District, where 120 Hindu houses had been destroyed about a month before. The Hindus were living elsewhere - with Muslims, Garos or other Hindus. One of them, a teacher who was a final year M.A. candidate, told us that the Muslim headmaster had warned him to flee because they were going to cut and salt his wounds if he didn't become a Muslim. We saw a Hindu doctor in Fulbaria bazar wearing a prayer cap and looking as if had lost his soul; he was a "convert". The local Muslims told us, though, that there is no conversion "by the sword' in the religion and Muslims had never done this in their history. They made a fine pharisaical distinction. The Hindus were threatened with torture and if they hadn't "converted" by the time the armed forces arrived, it was too late. They couldn't convert at the point of a gun. Thousands of Hindus came to Catholic missions begging to become Christians. The Catholic policy was to enroll them "in the community," and give them a cross to wear.”
In his weekly report of September 26, Father Timm noted that Rhonda Schwartz, who had been sent by Dr. Rohdes, was not able to get people to talk for TV, since they were clearly watched by the Army. They would have liked to interview one of the college Fathers if one came out of the country in the near future. Father Banas remarked that he thought he would ask permission of our General Superior to join the Freedom Fighters. “Sometimes I felt that way myself, but seeing the results of warfare and hatred up close was the surest path to non-violence,” remarks Father Timm.
On 20 September 1971, Father Timm wrote the following to Dr. Rohdes:
“Today I took the UN liaison officer to the Narinda Trade School to see the Hindu houses which the Army took away for installing Muslim squatters from along the railroad tracks. I have selected this area for the test case, since the people are still available, they are willing to come back, they have their land documents and it is a small area (15-20 houses), which we could repossess as a unit, hopefully. Tomorrow I will meet the UN Representative on this problem. I am not barging right ahead in the energetic direct-action manner you people have made famous because I have investigated all the little loopholes and want to have an airtight case before I get charged with false accusations, or perhaps send dozens of Hindus to their destruction.
If the UN cannot get involved I will approach the new Minister for Relief and Rehabilitation, since his ministry includes the people affected by the recent disturbances. Unfortunately, he is a former Awami Leaguer, who was just released from the Cantonment in time for his swearing in. He would be awfully embarrassed by my case as one of his first acts. I suppose I will eventually have to carry it to Dr. Malik (the Governor) and say: "Here is what you said; did you really mean it?" We will probably be told to have the Hindus bring a court case to recover their houses. One Hindu in Narinda got his house back this year after a 7-year court case; he was ousted in the anti-Hindu riots of 1964. I will keep you informed of progress.
On September 25, I heard a denunciation of Mahbub Alam on Radio Pakistan. They said that he is not a true 'Mussulman' and even called him by a Hindu name; they said he had given his daughter a Hindu name. Last week I heard of a teacher at Rajshahi University who was so incensed over what the Army was doing in the name of Islam that he changed his name to a Hindu name. The army came and asked for him by his Muslim name and he said that there was no one there by that name and gave his Hindu name. They took, beat him and knocked out all his teeth. There is going to be a real crisis of religion among the Muslims soon because of the growing Muslim fanaticism by the Pakistan Army. The new cabinet is mostly 'Allahwallahs' with long beards - three are 'moulanas' and two are from the Jamaat-e-Islami Party.”
(R) thedailystar.net 2009