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The two 16 Decembers

On this day in 1971, Indian armed forces, along with the Mukti Bahini, got the Pakistani forces led by General Abdullah Khan Niazi to surrender. It brought to an end the genocide conducted by Pakistani forces against their own people in erstwhile East Pakistan. India commemorates December 16 as Vijay Diwas.

President Yahya Khan’s orders were: “Kill three million of them (Bangladeshis) and the rest will eat out of our hands.” 10 million refugees had fled to India by November to escape the brutality of the Pakistani forces. Approximately three million people were killed and about three hundred thousand Bangladeshi women raped in a systematic manner.


Sparking a revolution: The Delhi gang rape case prompted unprecedented activism in changing mindset and laws. Now India has a new anti-rape law and more women are coming forward to register cases of gender violence

Major General Khadim Hussain Raja was the GOC 14 Division in East Pakistan during that period. In his posthumously published book A Stranger in My Own Country: East Pakistan 1969-1971, he writes that the Commander of East Pakistan, General AAK Niazi had suggested that the Bengali lineage of East Pakistanis would be finished forever. Niazi let loose his soldiers on the women of East Pakistan when he said, “Main iss haramzadi qaum ki nasal badal doon ga. Yeh mujhe kiya samajhtey hain.” The orders were clear: Leave a bastard child in each home.

On December 16th, the same brutal Lt Gen AAK Niazi, Joint Commander of Pakistan Armed Forces in East Pakistan signed the surrender document to the Indian forces. Lt General Jagjit Singh Aurora, who was the Joint Commander of the Bangladesh-India Allied Forces, accepted the surrender.

There are many heroes of the Bangladesh war and there is one heroine: Indira Gandhi. This woman of steel had been single-handedly trying to impress upon global leaders the gravity of the situation in East Pakistan, the genocide being conducted by Pakistani forces and the millions of refugees who were coming into India. She had to face international apathy and then the perfidy of Richard Nixon who sided completely with Pakistan. With faith in her military commanders, Indira Gandhi delivered a success to India that we can be proud of. She liberated a country, and delivered a body blow to an adversary.

Bangladesh Liberation War was one of the finest wars fought in modern times. Everyone played their part: General S H F J Maneckshaw, Lt Gen J F R Jacob, the Indian Air Force for its Operation Cactus Lily, the Navy for blockading Karachi, the intelligence organisations for their stellar behind the scenes work, and the diplomatic corps which tried to canvass international support under adverse conditions.

It all came together in a symphony to deliver a victory that we can and must be proud of. As a nation, we often hesitate in acknowledging the services rendered by our armed forces. It is as if we are so hung up on our non-violent freedom struggle that we have won four out of the five wars in our 66 years of independence is something we are shy of acknowledging. Switch on your TV sets or check the newspapers to scan how many recall the Vijay Diwas today.

However, if we do mark December 16 as a day of success in India’s history, it is also a day we hang our heads in shame. It is exactly one year today since a young paramedical student was brutally gang-raped in the Indian capital. She later died in a Singapore hospital, a victim to the grievous injuries inflicted on her.

It wasn’t the first time that a woman had been subjected to gang rape nor is it the last time that it will happen in India. But for some inexplicable reason this case prompted unprecedented activism in changing mindset and laws. India now has a new anti-rape law; more women are coming forward to register cases of gender violence. 1,330 cases of rape were reported to police in New Delhi this year till October, as against 706 cases in all of 2012. The social stigma associated with sexual crimes hasn’t gone, but it is reducing, at least in urban areas. That the media spoke in one voice in support of the Tehelka woman journalist who is fighting against a rich and powerful editor, shows that it will not be easy for men to get away with the unspoken dirty office practices that women had to bear silently for generations.

Life is a mixed bag of happiness, despair and hope. In a nation’s history come events most unexpected and epoch making that change the course of how we think and live as a people. December 16, 1971 and December 16, 2012 were two such days.

Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on Twitter @smitaprakash 

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