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Genocide in East Bengal Regimental Centre, Noakhali

  • Security
  • 11 Months ago
  • 4 min read
Genocide,  Liberation War,  1971

© NatStrat

Quazi Sajjad Ali Zahir
Quazi Sajjad Ali Zahir - Bangladeshi Freedom Fighter, Researcher and Author

The East Bengal Regimental Centre (EBRC) is situated in Chittagong (now Chattogram) Cantonment. It was raised in 1950 in Kurmitola, Dhaka, along with its record office. In December 1953, the EBRC was relocated to Chittagong. This centre is composed of Pakistani and Bengali officers and soldiers.

The situation in the EBRC was tense like in other cantonments of Bangladesh since 7 March 1971 after the clarion call of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in Race Course ground to resist the occupation forces if they attack the Bengalis. The EBRC was commanded by a Bengali, Brigadier M.R. Majumder, who was heli-lifted to Dhaka (then Dacca) by Major General Khadim Hussain Raja, General Officer Commanding, 14 Division of the Pakistan Army. He was replaced by a Punjabi, Brigadier M.H. Ansari. The Chief Instructor of the EBRC was a Bengali, Lieutenant (Lt.) Colonel (Col.) M.R. Chowdhury.

2,500 Bengali recruits were training at the EBRC at that time. On the night of 25 March, they were fast asleep, oblivious of what lay ahead. At around 11:00 p.m., Quartermaster Captain Enamul Haq, noticed large contingents of soldiers in trucks coming out of the barracks of 20 Baluch Regiment. The convoy passed by his office and stopped in front of the EBRC recruit barracks. As he came out of his office, he saw soldiers dismount the trucks in a hurry. In no time, the soldiers of 20 Baluch Regiment attacked the sentries who were guarding the EBRC Quarter Guard. The sound of rifle fire, mortar, LMG and tanks tore through the night. The chaos continued for hours. The EBRC guards were few in number and could not resist the attack on the ammunition depot for long. The soldiers of 20 Baluch Regiment killed all the guards and took over the armoury.

Simultaneously, another group of soldiers from 20 Baluch Regiment attacked the sleeping recruits, soldiers and family members in their quarters. Most of them were killed brutally. Lt. Col. M.R. Chowdhury was sleeping on the first floor of the Officer’s Mess. He had sent his family to his village home on March 13. The soldiers from 20 Baluch Regiment surrounded and shot and killed him with bayonets. His body along with the dead bodies of seven other soldiers were dragged and quickly buried under a tree next to the 20 Baluch Regiment soldiers’ line.

Lt. Col. Chowdhury’s constant companion was his Alsatian Jimmy. The dog howled for three days next to his master’s grave and eventually was silenced when he was shot and killed by the Pakistani soldiers. Mercy did not have a place even for a faithful dog in those few days of hell.

The leader of these killings was Lt. Col. A.H. Fatmi, the 20 Baluch Regiment’s commander. He was entrusted with the responsibility of killing the sleeping recruits and did so in the most gruesome ways possible. They were beaten and shot to death, burnt alive and blown up by grenades. When the soldiers ran short of bullets, they used bayonets as they went on their killing spree crying out at the same time, “It’s taking too long to kill all the Bangalis (Bangali khatm nehi hota)!”

The scene at the EBRC was terrifying. Some recruits in this melee ran and took shelter in the hills to the western side, adjacent to the EBRC barracks. The fortunate few who witnessed the killing spree lived to tell the stories of that night of horror.

A few recruits in their interviews told me that even the dead bodies of the recruits were torn open with bayonets after the brutal killing. The attacks in the EBRC intensified in the late hours of the night. The Pakistan Army fired rounds from mortars and tanks as a precautionary measure to ensure that none of the Bengali soldiers would survive. Mortar attacks were also carried out on recruits who took shelter in the hills. Those who came down the hills to surrender were surrounded, taken inside the EBRC School, shot and killed with bayonets.There has been no body count of the dead.

However, it is estimated that more than 1,000 soldiers and recruits of the EBRC were killed between the night of 25 March and noon of 26 March. This was one of the most savage genocides of 1971.

As the day rolled on, the bodies of the recruits were being dumped into trucks. By then, the Pakistani soldiers had also spread kerosene oil and petrol over the hills and set them on fire. As it was the dry season, the Pakistan Army believed the fire would spread, and any recruit hiding there would eventually surrender or be burnt alive. Added to this, they continued to fire the three-inch mortar and tank shells in the direction of the hills.

A few surviving recruits climbed higher up the hills in search of safety. An unforgettable scene played out at the foot of the hills. One Bengali soldier who hid in the drain adjacent to the EBRC football grounds, suddenly emerged with a sten gun in his hands. He rushed towards the 20 Baluch Regiment soldiers who were relaxing in the football field and kept firing at them. The Pakistani soldiers were taken aback by the courageous act of a single Bengali soldier. Six Pakistani soldiers were killed and about 12 or 13 of them were injured. This brave Bengali soldier continued to shoot at the enemy till he had no more ammunition. By then he was injured and surrounded from all sides and brutally killed. To this day, we do not know who this young soldier was. He was one among the few who could take arms from the ammunition depot the previous night.

The EBRC massacre is one of the worst committed by the Pakistan Army (20 Baluch Regiment) in 1971. In Operation Searchlight, the troops were tasked with disarming the EBRC troops. But the Pakistanis did not and instead, just killed as many as they could. It was a bloodbath of young and unarmed soldiers who were too young to die at only seventeen or eighteen.

(Exclusive to NatStrat)  



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