Why is it important to study genocide in the context of South Asia?
I believe that genocide is such an issue that it cannot simply be ignored after it has occurred. A society can be brought to the ground from the intense implosion resulting from genocide. The framework of a social conscience that forms the ethical entity of a society is thus moved. After a genocide, a sense of cruelty can be witnessed in a society which reaches the very roots of that people. And this comes out at different times.
Let me give you an example. A friend of mine told me the story of a married couple in Cambodia who were fighting with each other about a new lover in the husband's life. The husband used to sell fruits in the market. Several wars have taken place in Cambodia, so one could easily buy old grenades and bombs. The wife, out of spite, bought a grenade from some place. When her husband was at the shop, selling his fruits, she threw the grenade at his stall. The husband died, obviously, but those who were around him died too. It was a marketplace and thus crowded with people.
This mentality comes from the history of genocide in Cambodia. The framework of Cambodian life changed because of genocides. The same thing happened in the case of South Asia as well. That's why justice is important, and that's why punishment is also important. But that is not the end of everything. The children, grandchildren of the perpetrators are still alive. They will create their own mythology. We say that they are guilty; they say that they are not guilty. They claim to be patriots as well.
The process of genocide doesn't end with genocide—it continues. Once Dr AQ Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb, was interviewed by Indian journalist Kuldip Nayar. Nayar asked AQ Khan, “Dr Khan, you created the bomb but your father and brothers live in Bhopal, which is in Madhya Pradesh in India. When you throw the bomb in Delhi or Mumbai, the radiation will spread to Bhopal as well.” AQ Khan said, “In 1947, I entered Pakistan after crossing the deserts of Rajasthan, starving and thirsty for a drop of water. I haven't forgotten that incident yet. The experience haunts me till date. If the security of Pakistan is threatened, I will drop the bomb on India even if it means destroying my own family.”
This kind of mentality, this way of thinking is prevalent in a post-genocide society. It's our misfortune that such genocides took place, and several small genocides still occur every now and then. One can recall the Brahmaputra Mail train bombing of 1996 or the riots in Gujarat in 2002 as genocides on a smaller scale.
Do you see any change in the modus operandi of genocide in recent times?
During the Partition, most of the people who raped women accepted their crime and even married their victims later. When they were being repatriated, these women did not want to leave their new families behind.
But, now we have become very individualistic. As urbanisation has increased, there has been a growing sense of anonymity. The internal checks have collapsed. Our sense of ethics has diminished. During the Gujarat riots, the rape victims were burnt to death.
In the context of the subcontinent, there always seems to be a relation between religion and genocide. What do you think?
There is a religious dogma, true, but it's not like there's always a religious purpose to them. Because in their hearts everyone knows that this has no relation to religion. Punjabi Muslims would generally say that Bengali Muslims are not actual Muslims because they are similar to Hindus. But the traditions of Punjabi Muslims were much more in line with Hinduism than those of Bengali Muslims.
How can one mobilise people when every kind of people—be it Bengalis, Punjabis, villagers, Shiites, Sunnis or Hindus—makes a population? This is the case in the entire South Asia. Politicians think that people can be mobilised if they are religion-centric. This was not the case earlier on. When religion is brought into politics, the issue of religious divides would appear as well.
War criminals are being tried in Bangladesh but there are attempts to show these trials in a negative light, especially in the western media.
The American government is promoting negative propaganda against the trial because they fear that their skeletons might be dug out in this process. If fair justice of war crimes is to be done, then Henry Kissinger should be forced to stand trial. Let them release every document and correspondence. Then we'll know whether they're speaking the truth or lies. We'll know, we'll decide.
Why are these trials important?
So that these genocides don't take place in the future. Otherwise, these will continue; there will not be any end to this. After the trials are over and justice delivered, everyone can say that justice has been served. The families of those condemned to the death sentence might be angry. But nothing can be done about it. In Bangladesh, you are not doing any summary trial or trial through “kangaroo” courts. There is a scope to appeal after the sentence is delivered. There should not be any doubt about the trial process in Bangladesh. People are seeing that; they are not idiots, they can see for themselves and decide. Capital punishment is executed even in America. Let the people who oppose capital punishment here express their objections in America.
This is a reprint of an interview originally published by The Daily Star on March 26, 2015.