I took these photographs in 1971 as millions of refugees were pouring into India. The Bangladesh war of independence had just come to an end. Some 90,000 Pakistani soldiers under the command of Gen Niazi had surrendered. May I say this now, I was just five years old as a photographer in 1971, and without much experience. The sense of tragedy, the suffering of millions captured in these images, I had no clue then how it’d turn out. I was intensely involved, of course, but mostly I was trying to document the event as a faithful witness. The fallout of the war was beyond anyone’s imagination but at the time, while capturing it on camera, there was no time to think that the scale of suffering was unparalleled in the history of human tragedies.
A few of these photographs were published then but the rest were packed and sealed in a box. While shifting office (4-5 times in the last four decades), the negatives were misplaced and never saw the light of day. Suddenly, late last year my assistant pulled out a box, complete with nicely sealed and preserved negatives. I was extremely excited. The scanning of some of the important images took us a week. I didn’t know it then but it is, I believe, a photo history of a nation about to be born.
I remember the time vividly. There had been news trickling in that the stream of refugees coming in from East Pakistan had turned it into a flood. Day by day, it was taking the shape of a huge exodus. I arrived in Calcutta by a morning flight and drove straight to Jessore Road leading to the border of what is now Bangladesh. It was August and the monsoon was at its peak, a deep grey sky, raining all the time. The border was overflowing from all sides, refugees with their meagre belongings pouring in. There were a few on bullock carts, most were on foot soaked in the rain. There was a kind of muted, shared silence in the suffering—nobody was talking. Perhaps they were too tired, perhaps they knew their stories were the same, that there was nothing the others did not know or wanted to hear.
The village next to the border on the Indian side, Bangaon, was too small to accommodate the thousands pouring in. People had come with nothing—they needed food, clothing, some place out of the relentless rain to rest their tired bodies. Some of the early, lucky ones found refuge in the sewage pipes on the roadside. It was especially trying for the old people and children, the miles longer, the camps still in disarray. A few days later after I returned home I remember sitting with my then three-year-old son, looking at some of the images. A pained expression must have crossed my face and my son asked me “why”. I didn’t have an answer then, I still don’t have an answer now.
These people do look great, and as much as I would like to have a book like this, it is a very significant book. I have other great books published by Niyogi Books. I have the one on Mr. Sunil Gavaskar, which is not mine, but I gave it to my father. I have books editied by Prof. Mushirul Hassan, one on the great university Jamia Milia Islamia, and the other on the Jama Masjid. I have another book, on the lives of Indian Royalty, written in a time, perhaps in the 1880's(?) by a French lady. It is very, very interesting, but I haven't read it.
We, Hindus, are probably the most coward people ever existed on this planet. All we can think about is "how to survive?". Like some of the bacteria/virus, we are the most resilient community, the flip side of it being the "chalta hai" attitude. We did not learn from 1000 years of tyranny and religious persecution and will probably not learn from another 100,000 years of injustice. Millions of us died during this war and 100s of millions died during the "glorious" rule of Mughals but we still don't learn.
YOU ONLY DESERVE THE RIGHT THAT YOU ARE WILLING TO FIGHT FOR.
But zealots of Wahbism have not stopped after 1971 .Story is same there after be Pakistan, Afghanistan,African -Arab Lands ,South Asia .Now it is the in name of Jihad.
Heart breaking photographs.
Reality : Not a single Pakistani military man or politician , held responsible for the cold blooded murder of a million plus people. They killed with impunity and walked away as if washing their hand after a meal. India, is complicit in not exacting justice on behalf of the millions killed and along with Bengali muslims , most of the killed were Bengali Hindus who were singled out and massacred.
Result : No lesson learnt.
The people responsible for these atrocities were never punished. They went back to Pakistan where they have almost completed the liquidation of the Hindus and Sikhs there. Starting in the 90's, they ethnically cleansed Kashmir too of Hindus and Sikhs.
Take a good look at these pictures. Unless Hindus, Sikhs and others get their act together, this is what is in store for us in 50 or 60 years.
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