Death in Dacca

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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.