Samanth Subramanian at The New Yorker:
Dhaka, conversations about the killings inevitably circle back to 1971, when Bangladesh broke away from Pakistan, whose strict Islamic pieties and Urdu culture encroached on Bengali liberalism. The Ekushey Book Fair occupies a sprawling park called Suhrawardy Udyan, where, in March, 1971, a politician named Mujibur Rahman urged an audience of two million to embrace civil disobedience and turn East Pakistan into an independent Bangladesh. The speech, an electric moment in Bangladesh’s history, is depicted in posters that still hang in many living rooms in Dhaka.
The ensuing “liberation war,” as Bangladeshis call it, is commemorated in a museum in the park, a half-buried, brutalist gallery whose raw-concrete shell staves off Dhaka’s soggy heat. Photographs of corpses, alone or in great piles, often charred, run along one wall. Some estimates suggest that Pakistan’s armed forces killed half a million people in the nine-month war, but most Bangladeshis—in particular, those from the Awami League, the political party that Rahman once led—say that the toll was closer to three million; they also call it a genocide. Early in December, 1971, the Indian Army intervened, hastening Pakistan’s defeat. Two weeks later, in Suhrawardy Udyan, the commander of Pakistan’s occupying forces surrendered, granting Bangladesh its independence. The war’s violence and the actions of Bengalis who collaborated with Pakistani forces remain the source of many of Bangladesh’s political questions. The word razakar, or “volunteer,” once used to describe members of pro-Pakistan militias, has entered colloquial Bengali as a scathing pejorative.