Sarmila Bose’s “Research” Exposed

[Hat tip to Robin Khundkar]

Recently I wrote about Sarmila Bose’s apologia for the Pakistan army that was published last September in Economic and Political Weekly. In this week’s issue of EPW, two critical comments were published that take to task Ms. Bose’s "research". The first comment is from Mr. Akhtaruzzaman Mandal, a freedom fighter whose first-person account of finding Bengali rape victims being held by Pakistani soldiers was disputed by Ms. Bose. The second comment is from Dr. Nayanika Mookherjee, lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Lancaster University. Ms. Bose had cited one of Dr. Mookherjee’s articles to try to cast doubt on the rapes committed by the Pakistan army in their campaign of genocide in 1971.

Mr. Mandal exposes Ms. Bose’s "research" with the authority of one who has lived history. Below are some excerpts from Mr. Mandal’s comment:

Since Bose knew nothing about this humble freedom fighter and the pride we all bear, she could casually describe me as a muktijoddha accompanying the Indian army. Such description also served her purpose, as she tried to portray me as someone who had no prior knowledge about the land and people of Bhurungamari/Nageshwari, about their suffering and destitution. As guerrilla fighters we were active in the region all through monitoring the day to day developments. We were like the fish in the water, as the saying goes. That is why in my book, not known to Bose, I have also written about few other specific cases of how women had to suffer. But that is another story, quite a long one, let me concentrate here on the accusation made by Bose.  

While doing her "research", Bose never tried to contact me. On the other hand her search for truth took her to Pakistan and she interviewed Lt Col Saleem Zia of 8 Punjab who was stationed in that area and cross-checked my information with this partisan source of hers. Quoting my account Bose writes, "According to Mandal, Bhurungamari seemed like a ghost town. He claims 60 East Pakistan Civil Armed Force (EPCAF) members and 30-40 Pakistani soldiers were captured – they had run out of ammunition. He also claims that 40-50 Pakistani soldiers were killed in this battle." Then quoting her Pakistani source she writes, "Brigadier Zia found 30 injured men, who were evacuated, and 36 able-bodied ones. The rest were dead or dispersed and four or five, by his estimate, were captured." The anomaly in the description provided by members from two contending side is not new in any battle account. It is the researcher’s job to dig for the truth. But according to our researcher here Akhtaruzzaman Mandal "claims" whereas brigadier Zia "found" and that shows where she is standing as a dispassionate independent scholar. Even in her account about the number of deaths she has not said anything about the EPCAF, who were raw recruits from the villages of West Pakistan and were put into forward position to work as a shield to the Pakistan army.

Now let us take the case of captain Ataullah Khan, the human devil. Bose has been successful in collecting laudable quotes about Ataullah and in her attempt to whitewash the devil’s deeds made a jugglery of the location of Bhurungamari and Nageswari depicting them as two sites completely separated from each other. She writes, "According to this fellow (Pakistani) officer, Captain Ataullah had not been in Bhurungamari before and he was based at Nageswari. He had barely got there when he faced the Indian attack." Her research or lack of research has led her to greatly differentiate between Nageswari and Bhurungamari and if only she was interested to know more she could have found out that the distance between the two place is only 15 km and at that time, even with a ferry crossing, it took only 30 minutes for a commanding officer to cover the distance by his jeep. The Pakistani captain being based at Nageswari was a frequent visitor to the forward position at Bhurungamari and he was no stranger there.

Bose never asked any woman, any common man of Nageswari and Bhurungamari, about Ataullah Khan but quoted her Pakistani source at length and writes, "This fellow officer of 25 Punjab described (not claimed: AM) Captain Ataullah as a six-foot plus Pathan officer known for being ‘humane’. He further stated that he saw people in Nageswari weep upon hearing the Ataullah’s death. According to him, when the Pakistanis were POW’s in India after the war, a senior Indian officer had expressed his respect, soldier-to-soldier, to the officers of 25 Punjab and mentioned by name Ataullah, who had become a ‘shaheed’ (martyr)." In the footnote Bose mentions that, "this inclusion of evidence from the Indian side in the future would be of great value in assessing this and many other aspect of 1971 war". I am happy that she noted the importance of the Indian source which she never tried to use and would request her to look for members of 6 Mountain Division with whom we fought side by side. After 36 long years I cannot remember all of them or their full names, but how can I forget Major General Thappa, Brigadier Josie, Major Chatowal Singh, Captain Shambu, Captain Mitra, Captain Bannerje, Major Bala Reddy, as well as fellow fighters from the 78 Battalion of the BSF and others. Instead of interviewing only the perpetrators of genocide, rape and crimes against humanity she should also try to get evidences from the Indian side.  

As Bose has gathered most of her information from highly dubious one-sided Pakistani sources following atrocious and unbelievable lines, "The picture painted of captain Ataullah by his fellow officer, who knew him, completely contradicts the one given by Mandal, who appears to have only seen his dead body. Clearly, if captain Ataullah had been based in Nageswari and only gone up to Bhurungamari the day the Indian attack started, he could not have been responsible for whatever might have been going on in Bhurungamari. Mandal offers no corroborating evidence for his character assassination of an officer who had died defending his country, and therefore, cannot speak in his own defence."

As a freedom fighter operating in the area we came to know about many of the atrocious acts of Ataullah and this human-devil was not unknown to us. Our informers also brought many news and on that auspicious day we knew very well about the bunker he took shelter in and that is why the Indian army could pinpoint their artillery attack. I have seen his dead body at the bunker and could immediately know that this was the man who brought so much suffering to our people, to the poor civilians and villagers of the area. Ataullah Khan was no soldier defending his country, he was part of a killing machine, doing heinous acts against an unarmed civil population which no professional soldier can ever think of. Such acts can in no way be equated with defending one’s country. In that case all the Nazi war criminals will get acquitted as they were "defending" their own country.  

[Read the entire article here]

Dr. Mookherjee, in her comment, discusses Ms. Bose’s flawed methodology and bias. Below are some excerpts:

To any student of social science methodology and memory studies, the article reveals how the pursuit of "facts" alone disallows any analytical, sociological, historical and interpretative perspective. That it was published in EPW is a surprise indeed.

It is not clear from the article the extent of the research in Bangladesh, how many survivors the author met, particularly women, what was her position towards these women, i e, her reflexive position. It is clear that she talked to Pakistani military authorities and accepts everything they say to be true but considers all Bangladeshi accounts as predominantly fabricated.

The article accepts every account of Pakistani military authorities as truth while that of Bangladeshis as false and "shrill cries". Particularly if the accounts are of "illiterate" Bangladeshis they can only be false – so the space for any "subalterns" is clearly absent, while those within the military paraphernalia provide legitimate authoritative accounts according to the author. Particularly the role of Bangladeshi women either as witnesses or as raped: like the sweeper Rabeya Khatoon or the sculptor Firdousy Priyobhashini is always of suspect to Bose. Also while mentioning the Hamdoodur Rehman commission of the Pakistani government the author does not mention the instances of rapes and the role of General Niazi as cited in the document.

The article cites the case of Ferdousy Priyobhashini who as a single woman had to look after her widowed mother and young siblings and continued to work during the war and becomes the focus of sexual violence by various Pakistani officers as well as Bengali collaborators.

The article interrogates Priyobhashini’s account questioning why she stayed back during the war and whether her rape was as a result of coercion or a voluntary sexual act by stating that she "willingly fraternised". By that argument is the article suggesting that Priyobhashini brought the rape upon her since she stayed back? This is extremely problematic and parallels the biases within various rape laws which seem to suggest that women must have brought the rape upon them in different instances.  

By this argument the sociologically nuanced analysis of how single women and their sexuality are always suspect, is never addressed and instead Priyobhashini’s experience is highlighted by the derisive comment that she "makes much of her threats". The complexity of war time violence and the various threatening compulsive situations is well articulated in the work of Cynthia Enloe, Veena Das, Urvashi Butalia, Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin. Primo Levi’s work on the holocaust also shows the complex negotiations made by survivors.

The article also states the account of Champa from one of my articles [Mookherjee 2003] and tries to infer that no rapes happened during the Bangladesh war. My article was exploring how the trauma of rape is understood in independent Bangladesh and in the process I explore how scholars of memory make sense of the process of forgetting. The nuanced arguments I make about Champa is hinged on long-term fieldwork, cross-checking of hospital files and documents and finding the social workers who found her and brought her to the hospital. These are the "evidences" of Champa’s war-time violent encounter of rape. I have also worked with and written about other women who encountered rape during the Bangladesh war. This was done by means of over a year’s fieldwork as well as cross-checking interviews, and examining archival, official documents, etc.

[Read the entire article here]


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23 Responses to Sarmila Bose’s “Research” Exposed

  1. corn choudhery says:

    “Now let us take the case of captain Ataullah Khan, the human devil.”

    “The human devil”?

    Are we really supposed to take this guy seriously? l-)

  2. Mash says:

    corn choudhery, AKA AKM Mohiuddin’s lawyer from Gallagher Sandoval (ip address, you have been so thoroghly discredited that no one takes you seriously. You go from blog to blog making racist bigoted statements about Bengalis. No one takes you seriously.

    Don’t continue to embarrass yourself and your law firm.

  3. inna says:

    stumbled upon this blog. where is bangladesh, and why does anyone care?

  4. Mash says:

    inna/corn choudhery/instant karma/bongo bongo, doesn’t it embarrass you to keep coming back to this blog over and over again, under multiple identities, with the same tired line. Like I said in comment #2 you embarrass yourself and your law firm.

  5. Sid says:

    Thanks for flagging this up Mash.
    I think this paper is going to be one of many similar accounts that refutes Sarmila Bose’s pitiful attempts to realign and revise the atrocities of the 1971 War East Pakistan.

    One of the things I’ve come to understand is that Bose is neither an academic nor a journalist. She likes to be in the safe position of being able to throw up speculative and subjective op-ed material while at the same time benefit from a long list of “teaching positions” in various highly-esteemed universities to give her work the semblance of academic rigour.

    She also has no qualms about putting forward ridicuolous and scandalous hypotheses and then, from feedback and criticism that the material generates, goes back and corrects it according to what she feels she’ll manage to safely get away with. She’s done this a number of times, the worst case of whicih was to suggest in her first EPW paper from 2005, that no rapes took place from an extrapolation of her data, which contained no account of rape. Following the howls of ridicule she received for that, she then published her second paper in EPW with the proviso that “It is impossible for a war to take place without rape”. She has no ethical qualms about changing her postulations based on reaction she gets. This is not surprising since many doubts have been raised about whether her “academic” work has been put through the rigorous process of a peer review.

    I saw her in London give a talk at the LSE and her position is simple. She wants to publish a book that revises the history of the genocide in 1971. She wanst to put forward the Pakistani military version of the events. She wants to be a big fish in a small pond since notoriety sells books. She’s a bogus academic and an unethical journalist. I suspect she’ll slip on the shoddiness of her own work, because ultimately her research is one-sided and riddled with holes.

  6. Robin Uppal says:

    Hi Guys,

    My dad was in 78 battalion BSF and died in 1971 on the banks of river Phoolkumari Coochbihar. I am trying to locate some survivors from the time in question to fill in some of the blanks in my knowledge regarding the times in question?

  7. mystz says:

    Now Bangladeshi & Indian kids all over the internet are clamoring and in their nervousness are jumping up n down to refute Bose. For years, the Bangladeshi & Indian sides have pumped out ridiculous amount of propaganda material to malign W.Pakistani forces at the time. This is not to say that atrocities were not committed but the extent of exaggeration & biased approach only cries out to these fellows to stop their false pogroms before worrying about Bose. Fact is, history is most often written by the victor & taking advantage of W.Pakistan’s defeat, Indians & Bangladeshis left no stone unturned to tarnish their opponent’s image even if it meant hatching lies after lies. Today, India has fenced its border with Bangladesh, accuses Bangladesh of sponsoring terror against India, etc – so much for ‘joint-liberation’ of yesteryear. Time to Bangladesh to make ammends with Pakistan & strengthen herself.

  8. AC says:

    “Indians & Bangladeshis left no stone unturned to tarnish their opponent’s image even if it meant hatching lies after lies.”

    Corpses floating down rivers and mass graves don’t lie.

    “Time to Bangladesh to make ammends with Pakistan & strengthen herself.”

    Excuse me, but who needs to make ammends with whom? If anything it’s time for Pakistan, a nation on the verge of becoming a failed state, to strengethen HERSELF. If that means officially apologizing to the people of Bangladesh in order to bring about warmer bilateral relations, then so be it.

    • Mash says:

      AC, folks like mystz are still trying hard to get over their defeat in 1971. It must suck for them that even after killing up to 3 million people, they still lost the war in humiliating fashion after collapsing to the Indian army in about 2 weeks.

      They have nothing left now but to deny the genocide, because the truth of what they did against defenseless civilians and how they collapsed when faced with an army that could shoot back shows what cowards they were.

      I have always believed it takes a special kind of coward to contemplate mass murder against civilians. All their bluster disappears when they are facing the business end of the very weapons they use to slaughter innocents.

  9. Atif C. says:

    I’m all for both greater pan-Muslim and regional geo-political unity (especially in such troubling times), but it’s genocide deniers like myst who hijack any attempts to establish an environment of understanding and goodwill.

  10. Rej says:

    Interesting comments. I’m doing my dissertation on the GENOCIDE OF BANGLADESH 1971. It is a forgotten genocide and the war criminals must be brought to justice. Keep raising awareness. Commendable comments Mash. For people who try to refute the genocide, go to the war liberation museum in Dhaka and please read THE GENOCIDE OF EAST BENGAL. A great collection of articles from around the world of the time, all proving this calculated tragedy. UN Commission to India. Can be found at LSE university in the UK. Momentum is just starting, vital for a cathartic release for the development of the nation of Bangladesh and democracy the world over. Democracy was quelled by a dictator Yahya Khan. Over 3 million slaughtered and 7.5 million displaced by the reign of terror. I urge people to go and do research. There will only be peace and a real chance for democracy, when there is JUSTICE. The war criminals must be CONDEMNED, THE GENOCIDE ACKNOWLEDGED WORLD OVER. Each one of us is extremely vital in this process. Please continue to raise awareness, increase knowledge and political activism. Good luck to you all.

  11. Ahson Malik says:

    Hi its Ahson from Karachi, 1st i want to say what had happened in 1971 was a disaster and it was people of former east Pakistan who suffered the most, they had the right to rule which was denied by the political establishment of that time but it was a political issue and military intervention was the biggest mistake that cause the that particular catastrophic outcome, both sides were at war considering their stand rightful to be impose, what happen then is usually termed as disaster, both side were at war and they did what they thought was right, resulted in a horrible story, its now part of our past, Bangladesh is now a sovereign country and what we Pakistanis want is to see it as prosper state with good bilateral relations with us, false and base less allegations subject to hysteria oriented fiction won’t help the cause, Killings of innocent Bengali people did happened, we condemned it, what we also condemn is the wast massacre of Urdu speaking peoples during the era,3 million is a number which can’t be proved mathematically or logically, consider the demographic of the time the people against the army episode started and compare it with post “liberation” period, if some one is trying to mix it up with famous holocaust he is badly mistaken, one can write all the stories and publish it where ever he wants but when it comes to prove, to hard evidence its really hard.
    1 million rapes were being claimed to be committed by western Pakistani army personals, how many ladies come up after that in front of number of boards established by awami league government, how many “un-claimed” children were born as a result of that, its a remote group of nationalist fanatics in the bangladesh who want to harvest the crop of hatred they bloomed all these years, and want another generation to live in the hatred,this is their living.

    Now the bashing of MS Bose, she’s indian or indian oriented i didn’t knew every thing about her,what she said or wrote was her work of pure desire,so bring her view to logical and rational discussion rather then bashing,
    impression i get of the mater is,that their are more Indians here who are trying to support the concept of so called genocide, which is due to its fake nature never considered as some ting realistic on international level considering the amount of media attention Nazi’s genocide of Jews gets, Bangladeshis should remind themselves that after the “Tyrants”, that will be us, left the beautiful land of Bengalis what was the threat that forced people of Bangladesh to have a half million army, the old Indian security mentality still consider Bangladesh as the trophy, i want to say something to Indians that you can cheer on the bodies of fallen soldiers and can laugh on the wounded souls and feel proud on death and tears of my people but you couldn’t get the job done, fact remains the same Pakistan still exists, and will always, we the Pakistanis live in the heart of those who love us, and in the minds of those who hate.

    Pakistan Zindabad, Bangladesh Paindabad.

  12. Rehan says:

    The genocide number is definitely inflated by a factor of 50 or 100. Even the Bangladesh government after Independance was not able to gather evidence to take the matter to any international court.

    The trials of nazi’s were relatively fresh in history by 1971. The requirements to carry out such trials were clear. Yet it could not be done. It is not that late, take the matter to an international court present the facts and settle it. People guilty of such henious crimes should be taken out of graves and hung on trees.

  13. Bill says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful and intigueing post. I will definitely hold these facts in thoughts to feed my thoughts.

  14. Sam says:

    You should visit the liberal blog Pak Tea House. They are discussing Sarmila Bose and the courageous conduct of Pakistan army. Indians and Pakistanis are commenting. Sadly there is no Bangladeshi perspective.

  15. Pingback: Time of 1971 « ppc1971

  16. abid Bahar says:

    People’s Freedom Struggle vs the AL Confusion Continues
    Abid Bahar
    Freedom Fighting Continues is a line repeated by Mawlana Bhasani, one of the great leaders of Bangladesh. True, the life of an independent nation is as if like the continued survival of the fittest among other nations. To keep a nation sovereign, freedom struggle continues.

    1971 war vs the cold war
    Often some people blinded by emotion think it is a one time issue, not in dynamic terms.From this perspective we call the 1971 struggle as the war against Pakistan.Now we truly have a cold war going on with India which is closing rivers one after another, using its puppets in Bangladesh it is building its infrastructure within Bangladesh by Bangladesh’s 1 billion borrowed money, fencing the border with its Brahmin Wall and killing our people while we facilitate them transit.

    Pakistani razakars vs Indian razakars
    During the 1971 war we had Pakistan as the agressor and there were the razakars. Now that we have war going on with India, the collaborators like Hasina, Razzak, Faroque, Moinul, Suranjit becomes the prominant Indian razakars. That the devoted AL leaders/ members tend to excuse India for killing and raping our women. The death tool from the new aggression is now a thousand and continues to go up. These Indian razakars speak loudly only when it comes to the Pakistani atrocities. True, some AL freedom fighters lack this true spirit of the freedom fighter, Helal Uddin wrote that both Pakistani and now Indian aggressors are condemnable. It seems to me a result of a generation gap. He further wrote: “Your generation saw Pakistan as oppressor and you spoke loud about it as that was the right thing to do. Our generation is seeing India as the oppressor, and we are speaking about it. I do not have any hurt feeling towards the Indian people but the Indian authority who is humiliating us periodically.”

    Muji’s Confusion Continues
    The confusion is also due to a difference between made in Awami League history of Bangladesh vs. made in scholars’ history of Bangladesh. The further remifications are in those areas:
    (a) AL claim of death in 1971 has been 3 million and the others including historians local and foreign claim is that it is from three hundred thousand to maximun one million.This discripency is a result of the lack of any survey done on it. In some cases according to the Bihari claims that some Bihari dead bodies were shown as Bengali genocide dead bodies.
    It is unfortunate that like many confusions Sheikh Mujibur Rahman created (a) for not declaring the independence (b) staying the entire liberation war time in Pakistan, and (c)after his return put Bangladesh in the world map as the bottomless basket case (d) perhaps he was not good at mathematics or intellectually not so bright to say one million as three million, but AL found him as the father of the nation and the best Bengali in thousand years.

    People’s History vs. the AL history
    In all these the source of contradictions is not methodological, nor of memory but it has been due to the fascist tendency in the Awami League’s hero-worshipping, based on propaganda in order to make its own history about Mujib and Bangladesh; in the end Bangladesh has the AL’s Bangladesh history of how they owned it but it does not have its own people’s history about the freedom struggle of 1971.

  17. deepak says:

    Sharmila Bose needs to be sued and put behind bars. No doubt this cow is one of those self hating Indians out to make a fast buck thru sensationalism. The last thing we need today is a Genocide denier. The Pakistan army had expressed orders to kill all Hindus – and in their prejudiced zeal considered all Bengalis Hindus, hence no conscience obstacles in carrying out one of the worst Genocides of unarmed people. Today, Pakistan is dead and completely out of control. Ms Bose had earlier called Musharraf a modernizer – wherefrom she gets such messed up conclusions only she herself knows. Hope such liars rot in hell, if they dont meet their doom on earth.

  18. Subir Bhaumik says:

    Sarmila Bose is a third rate chronicler who has messed up details basic to her argument. She says there were only 30000 Pakistani troops deployed in east Pakistan at the peak of the civil war . And she says such a small body of troops could not have raped 400,000 women .If she checks the surrender records, it will be clear to her that 93,000 Pakistani soldiers surrendered to the Indians after General Niazi signed the surrender paper with Lt General J S Aurora by his side. There were more than 100,000 Pakistani troops deployed in east Pakistan and it says much about Sarmila Bose’s “research” that she could not get the basic facts right. Or is it that she had a brief to prove something — Subir Bhaumik, BBC Correspondent and author of “Insurgent Crossfire”.

  19. Ka says:

    I was trying to read Dr Mookerjee’s article, but it takes me to Mandal’s paper instead.

    Please would you reattach? I’d really appreciate it.

    Thank you.

  20. Pingback: Sarmila Bose’s Genocide & Rape Denial

  21. sonia says:

    I really liked Sid’s response.As well as Mr Mandal’s well articulated rejoinder. I did not realise that Ms Bose had resorted to such blatant academic flaws. I wonder how EPW and Columbia publish her?
    History is not a fixed narrative. If India and Bangladesh are at loggerheads over water sharing, its a new war of negotiation, altogether.1971 was a different episode not to be confused with the present bilateral issues or the present AL govt.
    In 1971 a strong Indian army marched in to Bangladesh to confront the Pakistani forcs along with the Bangladeshi guerillas.True, it was in India’s interest to see Pakistan split, but as a Bengali and Bangladeshi I feel it was in our interest too, to seperate from a people bent on colonizing us, sharing no common language or culture, bound by a thread of religion , and that too denied by the Pakistani elite, i.e. “Bengalis are not good enough Muslims etc.” Every Pakistani who posseses a conscience ( and some seem to do)should read the ‘Six point demands’ and the roots of seperation in a post 1947 neo colonialial context.Matters will be crystal clear.Though announced from Shiekh Mujibur Rahman’s political platform, it was forged by noted economists such as Prof Rehman Sobhan. Anyhow, the Indian army marched in to Bangldesh, signed the treaty wherby Niazi surrendered, and left. Taking behind some fancy watches and tape record players and similar rtinkets (India was strictly non open market then). A powerful army leaving just like that! rare in history- no women complained of rape, no vllager of pillage. I have heard Sheikh Mujib when asked by Indira Gandhi what he wanted as a gift, said’Remove your forces from our land.”
    Well , why blame SB, or the Pakistani blog that denies genocide. when many Bangladeshis are still unappreciative to put it mildly, to acknowledge what Mujib and the then AL and other pro Bangla parties such as CPB(Muzaffar) not China, and the general people did. When they are quite happy to deny that genocide ever took place. Perhaps these are the kind of folks who are happy to be part of a colonized race, in which case they would have been better off as second class citizens in an undivided’Pakistan’. Or do they think Peakistanis who often thought the Bengalis, dark, inferior, fish eating and irreligious, would have elevated these people to some pedestal.(where they have not agreed to even take back the Bihari population in our midst who had opted for Pakistan in 1971 and believed they were pakistanis!).There will be no good relations unless Pakistan comes to terms with the horror their army unleahed in 1971 whatever ‘edegree and number’ may have been. It necessary for their spiritual salvation, not ours.

  22. Nigam says:

    First main reason of such researchs is to get famous best way is through through mud, if i deny holocost with wondereful prose i become famous while . Also after such tragedies in our part of world life goes on so she dont get any proof since why some lot of lady give a written testimony to her ,she had family , life Fact is pak does genocide there may be diffrence in numbers but number is huge I give best wishes to our Bangladeshi Brothers that please ignore such mad person

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