Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Collaborators' Trials 1972

From 'Bangladesh: A Legacy of Blood' by Anthony Mascarenhas, talking about the Collaborators' Order of 1972 - a number of  eerie similarities (but also differences) with the present trials:

... The main thrust of the Order was directed against Bengali politicians who had
cooperated with the Pakistan authorities (such as the former Governor of East Pakistan,
Dr A. M. Malik, and his law minister Jasimuddin Ahmad) and the pro-Pakistan armed gangs
such as the Razakars and the notourious Al Badar. The latter had been involved in acts of
murder, rape, arson and looting and as such the guilty ones deserved to be brought to
justice. But it was invidious to single out the collaborating politicians for punishment
when the entire civilian administration of East Pakistan had not only been immunized
from retribution but had also been installed as the new administration of Bangladesh. When
all is said and done these government functionaries and policement were in a natural
position to collaborate - and collaborate many of them did. Yet the Collaborators' Order,
with minor exceptions, was not directed against them.

At the same time the Awami Leaguers found the Order a convenient instrument to pay off old scores against political opponents and to silence the opposition. At the end of November 1972, the Chief Whip of the Awami League, Shah Moazzam Hussain, complained that those who were trying to oppose the party in the forthcoming general elections were the same collaborators who had sided with the Pakistan army junta. Even some '16th Division' officers seized the opportunity to hit back at unfortunate individuals who had crossed them at some time or other. All they had to do to ensure an opponent's ruin was to denounce him as a collaborator. The government did the rest. He was clamped in jail. His property was seized - all before the charge was investigated. Understandably some tried to defend themselves against this misdirected zeal. And since guns were readily available the violence spread. Soon the jails began to fill. On 3 October, 1972, the Home Minister publicly stated that 41,800 people had been arrested under the Collaborators' Order.

The first collaborators trials were held in Jessore. M. R. Akhtar ('Mukul') relates an interesting incident in his book 'Mujibur Rakta Lal'. The main in the dock, who had been accused of being a Razakar, stood silent when the magistrate repeatedly asked him, 'Are you guilty or not guilty?' In exasperation some lawyers in the court shouted at him, 'Why don't you plead?' The man finally answered: 'Sir, I'm thinking what to say.'

Magistrate: 'What are you thinking?'

Accused: (pointing to magistrate) 'I'm thining that the person who occupies that chair is the one who recruited me as a Razakar. Now he has become a magistrate. It's a cruel twist of fate that I am in the dock and he is conducting my trial.'

Another interesting comment comes from Robert MacLennan the British MP who was an observer at the trials. 'In the dock the defendants are scarcely more pitiable than the succession of confused prosecution witnesses driven  (by the the 88-year-old defence counsel) to admit that they, too, served the Pakistan government but are now ready to swear blind that their loyalty was to the government of Bangladesh in exile.'

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