December is a Bangladeshi’s favourite month of the year. It’s hard to think of another period of four full weeks and a bit, that is able to serve up quite the same concoction of natural or environmental bliss, the unique seasonal variance of cuisine (the peethas or rice-cakes fashioned in countless ways) and last but not least, the sheer history in which it comes draped. Reaching a peak smack in the middle, December 16th, that is Victory Day, our unambiguous and immortal testament to the worth of our nation.
Even before we go that far, the parade of triumph gets underway quite early on in the month, as around the country people celebrate the liberation of each region. Jashore, rather famously, was the first to free itself of Pakistani occupation of course, a full 10 days before the rest of the country following the full surrender of the Pakistani army. Kushtia followed a couple of days later, then also Tangail. Like concentric circles bearing down on the centre of the innermost layer, the Mukti Bahini made up of muktijoddhas provided cover for their partners in the Indian Army as they approached Dhaka. They were moving in like clouds gathering in one corner of the sky, an almighty downpour in the offing. In the end, the circumstances of Pakistan’s surrender on the morning of the historic date speak to the shellshocked state of a force that recognised it was there for the taking, surrounded on every side. It would be another day or two till word started getting around of the last outrage of the Pakistani forces, that was executed in conjunction with a pair of local collaborators, the razakars.
The targeted killing of the intellectuals was the most patently genocidal act of the Pakistan army in '71. Unlike the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and the deliberate, disproportionate targeting of the Hindu population, it could have served no other purpose (say such as lascivious pleasure or racist/communal tendencies in case of the other two), absolutely none, other than imposing a permanent handicap on the emerging nation. On the way out too, which makes it all the more diabolical and even somewhat unique in the history of the 20th century at least. The killing of Armenian-Turkish intellectuals by the Ottomans occurred at the start of the Armenian Genocide (there were a spate of intellectual killings at the onset of Searchlight too of course), while Hitler's Intelligenzaktion in Poland was aimed at establishing Nazi superiority within Polish society.
On the other hand, there was nothing that Pakistan stood to gain from the killings of 14-15 December, with the streets of Dhaka already under the control of the Indian army. As an act of vile and macabre negativity, it can have few parallels in recorded history. As we bask in the glories of December, we must also never forget the supreme sacrifice that had to be borne by our most precious sons and daughters.