Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

Death in Dacca

with 77 comments




Under the name ‘Mukti Bahini’ (Liberation Army), they were the important fighters for the Bangladesh Liberation movement in 1971. An effective guerrilla force, it was a symbolic rallying point for the Bengalis, albeit the independence of Bangladesh was secured primarily with the help of the Indian soldiers aiding the liberation movement. (India’s motive was to prevent 1 million refugees emigrating from East Bengal).

On 16 December 1971, the Pakistani army surrendered. It was the end of 9-month long war, but signalled the beginning of the Great Bengali Revenge. It began with the killing of Monaem Khan, a loyalist, anti-Bengali and ex-governor of East Pakistan in the capital Dacca. What happened next on December 18th was carefully recorded above. Three photos show Mukti Bahiti extracting revenge on the people who sided with Pakistan during the independence movement. After torturing them for hours, they bayoneted and executed these four men, who were suspected of collaborating with Pakistani militiamen who had been accused of murder, rape and looting. The last picture shows a relative of one of these four men being stomped to death by Mukti Bahini.

The controversy surrounding the photos were that many photographers deemed that the massacre would never have occurred if they (the photographers) were not there. It was as if they were invited to a ‘photo-opportunity’, many recalled. Many photographers, including Magnum’s Marc Riboud, UPI’s Peter Skingley, ITN’s Richard Linley, and Panos’ Penny Tweedie, left. They asked all others to join them, but others like the Observer’s Tony McGrath and the Daily Express’s William Lovelace deemed they have a duty to remain and tell the story. Two of those who stayed behind, Horst Faas and Michael Laurent of AP decided to pool their photos and shared the 1972 Pulitzer. Faas maintained that Skingley & co. left not because of some moral highground but because the rally was dragging on without anything much happening and it was getting dark.

The bayonetting photo became the iconic image of the East Bengal War along with Rashid Talukder’s photo of a mutilated head. In Delhi, the photos were received with shock: Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered the Indian soldiers aiding the Bengal liberation to stop incidents like this.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 8, 2009 at 2:53 am

77 Responses

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  1. […] images which are to become all too tragically familiar in subsequent decades as famines happened in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Uganda, and the […]

    Biafra « Iconic Photos

    December 3, 2010 at 5:08 am

  2. Only difference is that killings by muktis are photographed while massacre of innocent unarmed bengalis intellectuals on 14 dec were not recorded.Rapes of begali girls and women by punjabi army were not photographed.Mutilations of begali women by buyonets and sticks by al-badra and al-sham were not photographed by anybody.what a one sided report


    January 15, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    • very much true gotya. What about the atrocities done on millions Bengalis?


      January 18, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    • you must read Dead Reckoning written by the grand daughter of great Bengali freedom fighter Netaji Subhash Chandar Boss. It is an eye opening book. Dear friend brutality was done by both sides. its about time that we should come out of the state of denial and accept the reality.

      Jabeen Fatima

      March 21, 2014 at 9:16 pm

      • Why on earth did u name that book?
        I am sure at one thing: You are good at digging the worst. That book is a horrible collection of all the lies Pakistanis want to let the world know about 1972.


        March 22, 2014 at 3:28 am

  3. Your article was helpful but, more details would be nice.

    Mozella Neuschwander

    June 30, 2011 at 9:22 am

  4. it is called pure revenge.
    the people getting killed here, were the worst of bangladeshis.
    they killed,raped,looted their own countrymen, mercilessly.
    they were called ‘razakar’.
    so, what better could they expect ?


    October 26, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    • If they were so bad why were they not given a free and fair trail. afterwords Banglabondo was killed in similar fashion. because the extra judicial killing was promoted by him.

      Jabeen Fatima

      March 21, 2014 at 9:19 pm

  5. no proof means no offence in the court. Also all the killings and rapes were started by muki in th eyear prior to 23rd mrch 70 action .They were the the one who got the thing started in the first place so they get the most blame.Shoud have thought of there lives and honour before playing with other peoples life and honour

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    October 31, 2011 at 5:47 pm

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  7. […] Hoy ha muerto uno de los grandes fotógrafos de guerra. No soy nada mitómano, y si puedo, lo soy menos cada vez, pero Horst Faas es de los que sin duda se puede llevar el término de ‘grande’. Se llevó dos premios Pulitzer, primero en 1965 solitario, por su cobertura de la guerra del Vietnam (no por una única fotografía) y luego, en 1972, por un reportaje realizado con Michel Laurent sobre las torturas de la guerrilla independentista de Bangladesh. […]

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  70. […] change things? Photographers covering conflicts or illegal activities face this dilemma. During a massacre in Dacca, Bangladesh, many photographers mused whether it would not have happened if they were not there, […]

  71. […] change things? Photographers covering conflicts or illegal activities face this dilemma. During a massacre in Dacca, Bangladesh, many photographers mused whether it would not have happened if they were not there, […]

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