As the nation celebrates 52 years of victory in the 1971 War of Liberation, it is pleasing to note the renewed interest in scholarship around the war and the circumstances around it. The majority of these new works in academic circles is concentrated in the field of genocide studies, and the Bangladesh government has rightly made it a priority of its foreign policy since 2022, to gain international recognition for the genocide that was perpetrated here as the price of independence.

What does it mean though, to garner international recognition, and why does it matter? Although the international media, scholarly researchers, and some policymakers have highlighted the atrocities committed by the Pakistan military against the Bengalis in 1971, calling it "selective genocide," "the bloodbath in Bengal", "one of the bloodiest slaughters in modern times" and so on, the international community, particularly the United Nations, is yet to recognise the killing as 'genocide.' A formal recognition could take the form of a resolution in the General Assembly. Although that has never been tried till now, it is probably best to move towards such a resolution when one is certain that it will be passed, given the sensitivity of the issue. To that end, we must now do the work of preparing the grounds for such an eventuality.

In 2017, Bangladesh declared March 25, the infamous night on which the atrocities commenced with Operation Searchlight, as "Genocide Remembrance Day", to highlight the atrocities and commit Bangladesh to work relentlessly to put an end to genocide once and for all in this world. In this connection, several governmental and non-governmental institutions in Bangladesh have dedicated their time and activities to collecting evidence, carrying out research, and campaigning for the international recognition of the 1971 Bangladesh Genocide.

The 1971 genocide severely shook the entire population of then-East Pakistan. More than one-third of its 75 million people became displaced. Nearly 10 million took refuge in India, while according to a post-war survey undertaken by the United Nations, more than 16 million Bengalis were displaced from their homes and had to seek shelter outside their communities within Bangladesh. After the surrender of the Pakistan military on December 16, 1971, the refugees began to return to their respective homes in Bangladesh, and by January 1972, approximately six million refugees had already returned to the newly-liberated country, making it the largest repatriation operation in world history.

According to the government's official figures, in addition to three million deaths, between 200,000 to 400,000 women were raped, of whom about 170,000 women aborted their unborn children. Around 30,000 women committed suicide from torture and humiliation at the hands of the Pakistani military and their collaborators. Nearly 5,000 war babies were born, who were adopted mainly by non-Bangladeshis living outside the country. Some of the renewed interest in the events of 1971 in the then-East Pakistan comes from these individuals, now mostly grown men and women, who in the increasingly connected world we live in today, have embarked on journeys of self-discovery that have seen them return to their roots and even settle here. Bangladesh must welcome them with open arms, even as we strive to always honour the sacrifice of those who couldn't live to see the day we celebrate on Victory Day.

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