Manash Ghosh’s reportage of the struggle in the then East Pakistan leading to the eventual creation of Bangladesh is an invaluable compendium of the events of dozen-odd cataclysmic months in 1970-71. Just look at the numbers: over 10 million refugees crossed the border into India, close to 4,500 Indian soldiers died and 3,000 Pakistani soldiers surrendered, and more than twenty lakh Bengalis were killed during the bloody war by Pakistani forces and their local supporters knew infamously razakars.
Ghosh was very lucky. As a junior reporter on The Statesman, to get a chance to view events first-hand as an embedded journalist was the opportunity of a lifetime. He reported on ‘Operation Searchlight’, the Pakistani Army’s destructive onslaught on its people as the freedom struggle gained strength. The book reflects the callous and complete lack of empathy of the West Pakistanis to the aspirations and sentiments of the Bengalis in the eastern part of the country.
It began soon after partition when Jinnah firmly declared that Urdu would be the official language of the new country with Bengalis—who were close to half the population — having no say or voice in the matter. Each such element was woven by Mujib into the Muktijudho fabric till it led to 1971. The valor and the quality of work of Major General Shahbeg Singh and Major General Sujan Singh Oban, who were instrumental in turning a ragtag brigade of emotional Bengali youths into the ferocious Mukti Bahini, forms one whole chapter in the book.
For the present generation, the 1971 war and the influx of refugees into India, the Mukti Bahini, Mujib, and the provocations of Yahya Khan and Tikka Khan are but sepia-toned images. In that sense, Manash Ghosh’s book is a ‘fly on the wall’ recollection of every nuance and twist and turn of that tragic event. For those interested in history and the events of that period, it is a must-read.
If Ghosh puts pen to paper, Raghu Rai is in a different league. His pictures need no words. They are poignant, humane and capture the essence of a human tragedy in stark black and white images. In the tragedy of Bangladesh, the angst and the depth of the pain are etched in every frame.
(Courtesy The Geopolitics)