Abstract: Naeem Mohaiemen

Naeem Mohaiemen, visual artist, writer, New York and Dhaka. Mohaiemen is also a Ph.D. student in Anthropology at Columbia University.

Title: A Missing General, Indian Jawans, and Submerged Narratives of Bangladesh's 1971 Liberation War

Abstract: There is an iconic photograph displayed in many Bangladeshi homes. It is of the surrender ceremony of December 16th, 1971. Signing for the Pakistan army, humiliatingly defeated after a two week Indian offensive, is Lieutenant General A.A.K. Niazi. For the Indian side, the signatory is Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Arora. The missing man is usually not remarked on, due to a quiet embarrassment on the part of Bangladeshi historians. This surrender ceremony was to be the basis for the legal creation of the state of Bangladesh, yet the chief of the Bengali rebel army, General Ataul Gani Osmani, was nowhere in sight. One popular explanation was that Osmani was on his way from the war zone, but could not make it on time. Recently, while looking at the army jeep used by Osmani during the war, carefully preserved at the Bangladesh Military Museum, I could not imagine that this hardy vehicle would have let down its master at this moment of destiny. A tryst with history where the main protagonist is absent. In this paper I discuss a few popular narratives that developed after 1971 precisely to address the anxiety generated in the Bangladeshi body politic about the central Indian role in the war. The erasing of Osmani from the surrender ceremony was reciprocated either by an erasure of the Indian role, or, through allegorical stories such as "Indian jawans carried off machinery" that intended to prove that the Indian enterprise was motivated exclusively by realpolitik and material gain.