Editor’s note: The following was written by Ranjit Singh one year ago, and I’m happy to re-publish it at his request on the anniversary of one of history’s repeated and grim reminders of the importance of the right of the people to keep and bear arms to the security of a free state. As we watch the Ukrainian people defend their own nation against a tyrannical and totalitarian regime insistent on crushing their freedom and autonomy, Ranjit’s post is even more timely this year than it was 12 months ago.
Fifty years ago to this day, March 25th 1971, the world witnessed the beginning of one of the worst atrocities of modern times: the 1971 Bangladesh Genocide. On that day, the Pakistani Army in what was then known as East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) launched “Operation Searchlight,” a military operation aimed at curtailing nationalism and calls for self-determination by the Bengali people inhabiting East Pakistan.
For those unfamiliar with the history of South Asia, the roots of this conflict can be traced to the partition of India in 1947. As the British left, India became independent as two separate entities: secular, democratic India, and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The newly created country of Pakistan straddled India as East Pakistan by the Bay of Bengal, and West Pakistan by the Arabian Sea, separated by 1,300 miles. Tensions among the Eastern Bengalis and the West Pakistanis built up over time and came to a head in 1971.
What followed was truly horrendous. Over a nine-month period, the Pakistani Army and their associate Islamist militias of the Jamaat-e-Islami, killed between 2 to 3 million people. They targeted intellectuals for extermination to nip Bengali nationalism, not sparing even pro-independence poets. Between 200,000 to 400,000 women were subjected to genocidal rape after Jamaat-e-Islami’s Mullahs declared Bengali Hindu women “gonimoter maal” (public property). In a foreboding of what the world saw in the past decade with ISIS’ Yazidi sex slaves in Iraq, the Pakistani Army kept Hindu women as sex slaves in their camps.
The Pakistani army’s genocidal violence caused almost 10 million Bengali refugees to leave their ancestral land and flee to India with nothing but the clothes on their backs, including some of my own extended family.
President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were informed of what was happening on the ground by U. S. Ambassador Archer Blood in what’s now called the Blood Telegram. Nixon and Kissinger chose to ignore those reports.
This sordid chapter in world history is unfortunately mostly unknown or forgotten. Its seriousness and severity should serve as a reminder and a warning to all Americans. As we’re witnessing in Myanmar/Burma right now, governments can and do turn against their people, unleashing barbarism on a scale too large to comprehend. Democracy is fragile and peace can’t be taken for granted.
The millions of victims of the 1971 Bangladesh Genocide were subjected to those atrocities because the Pakistani Army and their Islamist militias were able to act without any resistance from the victims. President Reagan once said, “History teaches that wars begin when governments believe the price of aggression is cheap.” Such was the case in Bangladesh. The Pakistani Army knew they could commit wholesale slaughter and rape and the victims wouldn’t be able to do anything. The madness stopped only when force was met with superior force.
America’s Founders knew the very real possibility of tyranny and subjugation of the American people by a government run amok. They understood the significance of an armed citizenry as a countervailing force to the State. They enshrined in the Bill of Rights the natural, preexisting right of the people to keep and bear arms, to thwart the sort of tyranny and genocide the world saw in Bangladesh in 1971.
That constitutionally protected right has been under attack at various points in American history. It has been selectively applied to disarm undesirables and racial minorities. As I write this, reeling from the events of the past week, those attacks are beginning anew.
On this solemn anniversary of a tragic genocide, I really hope that the American people never forget why that right is protected, and guard with jealous attention that precious liberty afforded to the citizens of no nation on this planet but America.
Ranjit Singh is a co-author of “Each One, Teach One: Preserving and protecting the Second Amendment in the 21st century and beyond.” You can follow him on Twitter @AuthorSingh.)
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