My tutor, Monira, and I were reading a story yesterday about Bangladesh’s Liberation War with Pakistan in 1971. The book I was reading from was a third grade children’s reader, so the story about the war was sanitized, so much so that I felt disturbed that such a recent war should be made light of. It is so easy to make a war sound heroic and noble.

I asked my tutor if she knew that historians think that for women, Bangladesh’s Liberation War was the worst war ever, worse than the Rape of Nanking and the Bosnian Conflict. Hard to believe, isn’t it, because all of us have heard so little about this war. She said that she has heard a little bit about the atrocities, but that people don’t talk about it much. I said that the people who saw the war were now getting elderly, and soon the stories would be forgotten. History needs to be remembered so that it won’t repeat itself! Then she began telling me the stories that she has heard. They are not the kind of stories that one tells easily. She told of a lady her mother called grandmother. This lady had suffered under a crowd of 8 soldiers taking advantage of her. She often said that the freedom fighter soldiers got recompensated by the government and given a hero’s prize. But what of the women who paid the price of war just as bitterly?

Monira’s mother was in tenth grade when the war started. Her uncle could speak Urdu, the Pakistani language, so he pretended to be on the Pakistani’s side in order that his family would be protected. For a while, even though Morina’s mother’s village was right near to a military camp, they were safe. They listened at night to other girls in the village being dragged away to the camp, screaming. They found the corpses afterwards. Soon the Pakistanis found out that the uncle was being a traitor. They killed him, and the family had to flee. The newly widowed aunt was getting elderly and had trouble walking. When the army started approaching, she told her two young boys to hide in some holes dug into the dirt. She said that her life was not worth much, and she didn’t care about what the army would do to her. So her two sons jumped in the hole and they quickly covered the top of the hole with wood and dirt and branches. When the army had passed, they uncovered the hole to find both boys dead, from snakebite. Now the aunt had lost both her sons and husband, even though she herself survived the war.

Monira’s family fled through the jungle, crossing rivers and living off of a few bites of food per day. Being in the jungle was hard with the snakes and mosquitoes and with the uncertainty of not knowing who was friend or foe. After the war, Morina’s mother and her family returned to their village. In the house that they had rented, they found a skeleton, in the kneeling position of prayer. It was the landlord. The Pakistanis had tied him up and shot him in that position. Monira’s mother got upset at seeing all the corpses and refused to look. But one of the older family members admonished her, “Look! Remember!” Then you can tell your children all that happened.”

So now I know the story too. 3 million Bengalis were killed in that war. And it is estimated that 200,000-400,000 women were raped during that 9 month period. War is never pretty, and unless we face the gory details, we will forget that fact.

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