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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 1922

Bangladeshi Hindus from evacuees to stateless citizens (1971-2016) - Part Two

By Rabindranath Trivedi

Senator Edward Kennedy in his report gives following details about the refugees from Bangladesh in 1971. As of October 25, 1971, 9.54 million refugees from East Pakistan had crossed over to India. The average influx as of October 1971 was 10,645 refugees a day (3). Hence the total refugee population at the start of Bangladesh war on December 3, 1971 was about 10 million .

Kennedy said in the statement: The tragedy of East Bengal is not only a tragedy for Pakistan. It is not only a tragedy for India. It is a tragedy for the entire world community, and it is the responsibility of that community to act together to ease the crisis."Simply humanity demands that America and the United Nations must accept the truth that this heavy burden should be borne by the entire international community, and not by India alone."

India and its 1971 Refugee “Problem”

It was the declared mission of the Pakistan army that the Hindus as a class were to be eliminated. They would flee to the neighboring West Bengal, which would then drive out their Muslims in a mass exodus, which would make the eastern province, clean of the abomination. It appeared that Yahya Khan hoped to kill two birds with one stone by generating refugees.

By getting rid of the Awami Leaguers and Hindus whom Yahya termed ' secessionists' and who voted massively for Sheikh Mujib, he was aiming to consolidate Pakistan as an Islamic State. At the same time Yahya was hoping to ruin the social and economic fabric of the eastern part of India, which was badly shape, by inflicting staggering numbers of refugees on it.

On the contrary wave of sympathy swept across the India as the resolution passed by both the Houses of the Indian Parliament moved by Prime Minister Shrimati Indira Gandhi ,on 31st March 1971,said : As these refugees were in India for a limited period and would have to return to Bangladesh as soon as possible, accommodation of a temporary nature was being provided to them. Relief expenditures were regulated having due regard to meeting the refugees’ essential requirements in the context of limited means and resources, and the temporary character of their stay in India.

The Pakistan Government on May 24 rejected as "totally unacceptable" the Indian Government's Note of May 14, alleging ‘deliberate expulsion’ of people from East Pakistan and demanding from Pakistan "to facilitate the return of these refugees to their homes" and "desist immediately from continuing the terrorizing activities,'…The figure of refugees as mentioned in the Note is highly exaggerated and bears no relationship with the realities of the situation. Again, it is the Government of India which largely has to accept the blame for whatever refugees there might be in India. These people became the victims of the conditions created by India's armed infiltration into East Pakistan as well as the false and distorted Indian propaganda and highly exaggerated accounts of incidents put out by the AIR and the Indian Press the credibility of which now stands thoroughly exposed. The Government of Pakistan demands that in future the Government of India should refer to East Pakistan by its accepted official name only.

The Government of Pakistan has set up twenty Refugee Reception Centres in East Pakistan to help rehabilitate Pakistanis returning to the country. It may be recalled that on May 21 President Yahya Khan appealed to all bonafide Pakistani citizens to return to their homes.

Members of the minority community should have no hesitation in returning to their homes in East Pakistan. They will be given full protection and every facility as they are equal citizens of Pakistan and there is no question of any discriminatory treatment" said President Yahya Khan in a statement broadcast nation wide on the Pakistan Radio on June 18.

The New York Times on Sept.21 mentioned: “... According to the refugees, the Army leaves much of the ‘dirty work’ to the civilian collaborators-the Razakars-it has armed and to the supporters of right-wing religious political parties such as the Moslem League and Jamaat-i-Islami.” It would a revealing story that the average daily trend of influx of refugees from East Pakistan to India was directly proportional to the degree of massacre, arson, rape, and atrocities of the occupation Pakistan army.

Mr. Samar Sen, the Indian Envoy to the United Nations on 26 October said : It is also noteworthy that Pakistan’s figure of 200,000 refugees having returned to their homes has remained unchanged over the last three months…., Here again is another instance of counting people who, no one knows, how they came; but then people, who first described all the refugees as “criminals”, who define all free voters as ” anti-state ” elements, who call all freedom-fighters as ” miscreants ” or ” Indian infiltrators “, cannot be expected to be too scrupulous about facts.”

Prince Sadruddin Agha Khan’s Statement in the third committee of the U. N. General Assembly echoes the same Discussions on the report submitted by the U.N.H.C.R in the third committee of the U.N. General Assembly. The world leaders urged Pakistan to reduce use of force and try to solve East Pakistan problem through peaceful political means and thus creating an environment for the refugees to come back. The problem of Bangladesh degenerated into the problems of refugees who had swarmed to India across the borders from Bangladesh in search of security and barest shelter. As a result, India came to be saddled with the gigantic financial and administrative burden of supporting and providing succor to one crore refugees in India, who had been forced to flee their country by a calculated policy of political and communal genocide followed by the military-fascist rulers of Pakistan.

Ist November, 1971, Mrs. Indira Gandhi told a press conference in London, "We in India are determined that we are not going to be saddled with another country's problem. There were 2,500,000 Moslems, the rest being Hindus, Christians or of other religions. We are absolutely determined that the vast majority must go back, All the refugees must go back .We are not going to tolerate them on our soil." In order to justify this stance and maybe to discourage violent anti-Muslim reactions in India, the Prime Minister seemed to ignore the fact that the overwhelming majority of refugees fleeing East Pakistan were Hindus: she described refugees as belonging “to every religious persuasion ? Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and Christian”, and coming from “every social class and age group”.

In sum, she depicted the refugee flow as solely politically induced, because of Islamabad’s policy “not against the minority community as such, but against the demand for regional autonomy raised by the members of the majority community” This characterisation seems to contradict the claim that Pakistan committed religious ‘genocide’, but reveals the dilemma for the Indian government, which was both anxious to point out Pakistani terror vs. Indian humanity, and eager not to assimilate these temporary “evacuees”, waiting for a political change in their country of origin, with refugees bound to seek a quasi permanent asylum in India because of their faith.

Between April and December 1971, an estimated ten million refugees fled what was then East Pakistan for India in pursuit of refuge. Their movement coincided with Pakistan’s dangerous drift towards militarism, its bloody descent into civil war, and the gradual dismemberment of the eastern and western wings of the state. These dramatic events gave rise to the largest single displacement of refugees in the second half of the twentieth century.

As these millions of refugees streamed into India, their presence, according to Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, posed a colossal burden on her country. The refugees’ presence strained the domestic capacities of the state by reducing the country’s grain surplus, eliminating the government’s budget allocations for development programs,7 and complicating the ruling Congress Party’s approach towards the rising Naxalite movement in the border areas.

Moreover, the refugees’ arrival played out against a dramatically changing international backdrop dominated by Cold War politicking, rising tensions between regional states, and a revival of the historic animosity between India and Pakistan. Yet despite these significant challenges, Indira Gandhi remained resolute (at least publicly) in protecting the refugees.Underlying this story is the fact that India has refused to sign the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (“1951 Convention”) as well as the 1967 Protocol.

Policy for returning Evacuees

“For feeding refugees, Government of India have fixed scales of rations for adults and children according to advice of its nutritional experts. Thus, every adult gets 300 grams of rice, 100 grams of wheat flour, 100 grams of pulses, 25 grams of edible oil and 25 grams of sugar per head per day; and every child between the age of 1 year and 8 years gets 150 grams of rice, 50 grams of wheat flour, 50 grams of pulses, 12 grams of edible oil and 15 grams of sugar per head per day. Apart from this, a small amount is also provided for each refugee in cash per head per day for the purpose of buying vegetables, spices, fuel, washing soap, etc. Similarly, for clothes, deserving people in camps are being given these-cotton or woolen.

After the initial surprise, the government of Indira Gandhi rapidly defined its objectives in confronting the Pakistani crisis and the refugee influx: the “first and most fundamental” of these related to the return of all refugees to East Bengal, including the Hindus; the second aim was to incite a “satisfactory political solution” in Dacca, meaning the transfer of power to the moderate Awami League in the broader framework of a Federative Pakistan, or of Bangladesh as an independent State. Both objectives were interrelated: when speaking about creating in East Pakistan a “situation that would allow for the return” of refugees, India had in mind sincere negotiations with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman so as to establish him as the head of the Executive.

From the March 31 to December 3, 1971when Yahya Khan precipitin an open war between India and Pakistan, Mrs. Gandhi’s conduct of her country’s policy on Bangladesh was a perfect example of controlled escalation. Right through the nine-month process, she showed a firm grip on India’s policy as it evolved under the heat and pressure of the tragic events in East Bengal. Mrs. Indira Gandhi spoke at Washington National Press club, on 5 Nov,’ I am asked what initiatives India will take. We have taken the biggest possible initiative in remaining so self-restrained and in keeping in check the anger within our country. We have endeavored strenuously to see that this does not become an Indo-Pakistan issue.” Any direct talks between the two coun¬tries would immediately be converted into such a dispute and make the solution more difficult During the period in every speech and statement she made ,the phraseology in which they were couched ,in every step she took in the political field at home or the diplomatic arena abroad, she displayed the sureness of touch of a master and a rare sense of timing.

The policy of “sending them back” was realized in a surprisingly successful manner. Funded by the Indian state and coordinated with international relief agencies and the administration of Bangladesh, over 6.8 million of the 10 million refugees returned within two months of the end of the conflict. Each family was given two weeks’ worth of rations that included rice, wheat-flour, lentils, charcoal, cooking oil, and a small cash allowance.

Rabindranath Trivedi, an Organiser Mujibnagar Govt & Freedom Fighter, a retired civil servant of Government of Bangladesh.

- Asian Tribune -

Edward Kennedy in the midst of refugees
Bangladeshi Hindus from evacuees to stateless citizens (1971-2016) - Part Two
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