Sarmila Bose's latest book, Dead Reckoning - Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War, is possibly the most nuanced and non-partisan attempt to gauge the extent and magnitude of atrocities committed during the war.
Till now, most works on the subject have been by Bangladeshi authors, who have mostly given in to their emotions than reason.
Bose spent years travelling throughout the length and breadth of Bangladesh, went to numerous villages, spoke to thousands of people to draw an evidence-based conclusion which is credible.
Sarmila Bose\'s latest book is possibly the most nuanced attempt to gauge the magnitude of atrocities committed during the war.
Bose's work demolishes the narrative every Bangladeshi or Indian (specially if you are a Bengali) have been hearing for ages now: That the Pakistan Army (Khan Sena in Bangladeshi parlance) systemically massacred millions of Bangladeshi people.
Bose shows that the total number of human fatalities in the war was to the tune of 1,00,000. This includes Indian and Pakistani war dead, fallen Bangladeshi guerrilla fighters and civilians.
Before training guns on Bose, it is important to know that she is a Bengali woman who traces her ancestral roots to Bangladesh and comes from a family whose nationalist credentials are beyond dispute. She happens to be the granddaughter of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
Bose's book is not an attempt to exonerate the Pakistani armed forces. It's unfortunate that a section of Bangladeshi and Indian people have regarded her work as a betrayal of a kind.
In Bose's own words, "Three chapters of my book are completely devoted to atrocities committed by the Pakistani forces. But the figures often quoted have been completely blown out of proportion. It is embarrassing enough for the Pakistani forces even if you just quote the right figures. You don't have to add zeros to achieve that."
However, Bose's work sheds new light on the chaos of the war. It shows that sections of Bangladeshi guerrilla fighters and civilians gave in to mob psyche and were responsible for killings of West Pakistani citizens and Bihari Muslims who had migrated to East Pakistan after Partition. In a way, the book portrays the xenophobic nature of the Bangladesh Liberation War, a xenophobia based on the exclusion of linguistic groups other than Bengalis.
Curiously, the book does not mention anything about the hundred of thousands of rapes, another part of the horror story even I have grown up with. Bose told me during our brief interaction in New Delhi, "To be honest, the documents and evidences I found in this connection were extremely weak. Villagers were not very forthcoming and most respondents would say no. So I decided to reserve my opinion on this matter. I think such incidents must have take place but it would not be prudent to make a sweeping statement."
Bose's work can act as a pointer to the larger connection between rights abuses and deployment of armed forces all over the world. It's a problem all governments in the world are faced with. Images of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay have embarrassed the US. Actions of some Indian armed forces personnel in Kashmir and Manipur have shamed New Delhi. Similarly, actions by Pakistani armed forces personnel in Bangladesh will forever hang heavy on Islamabad's conscience.
The book does not absolve the Pak Army of the abuses it has perpetrated. It also shows that the Bangladeshi guerrilla fighters were not always at their righteous best. Calling a spade a spade is unpalatable at times. That is what Bose's work has done.
Title: Dead Reckoning Memories of the 1971Bangladesh War; Author: Sarmila Bose; Publisher: Hachette India, Genre: History; Pages: 239; Price: Rs 495; Rating: 5/5