In the dreadful operation dubbed as “Operation Searchlight,” the Pakistani occupation forces mercilessly killed the Bangalee members of EPR (East Pakistan Rifles, now BGB) and police, and students and teachers as well as thousands of sleeping common people.
It killed anywhere between 25,000 people to a 100,000 that night in Dhaka alone, according to independent sources, diplomats and foreign journalist, who were in Dhaka.
It was a complete military operation – one of the very few military operations in post-World War II history which ultimately had been planned against civilians, just to kill a smart percentage of them and to scare the survivors.
The atrocities triggered the struggle for independence.
The military had resorted to genocide in Dhaka, the provincial capital of the then East Pakistan, in the guise of a mock dialogue to implement their blueprint to negate the Awami League’s election mandate of 1970.
The morning of March 25 was tense, as reports of the breakdown of talks and total collapse of the administration led to the death of more than a thousand people in Syedpur, Rangpur, Khalishpur and Chittagong the day before.
Besides this, there was no news of then president Yahya Khan or their aides. There was rumour that they had left the city under heavy armed escorts.
Around 8pm, the tanks rolled out of the Dhaka cantonment. Some went towards the Dhaka University, some to the EPR headquarters in Pilkhana and others towards Rajarbagh Police Lines – the “Operation Searchlight” had begun.
The first target in Dhaka University was the Iqbal Hall (now Sergeant Zahurul Huq Hall) where most of the Bangalee nationalist activities took place. To clear their way, the Pakistani Army set fire to the slums, which straddled the old railway line that ran west of Dhaka University. The army opened up with automatic fire. Thousands of poor men, women and children died within a few minutes. The army used magnesium flares to clear the darkness of night and used tracer bullets to terrify the unarmed population.
From Plassey point they crawled towards the dormitory expecting tough resistance. But there were still a few, mostly unaware of the circumstances. Of the political activists, Chisty Shah Hilalur Rahman, assistant secretary of East Pakistan Students’ League, remained behind. He was working as a sub-editor of the Daily Azad. He was shot point-blank somewhere behind the dormitory’s auditorium after being bayoneted inside the cafeteria. Another victim was Zafar Alam, a student of the university. Most of those who died were on-duty security men.
The Pakistani Army had also killed a number of teachers on that night, inside their houses. Dr Moniruzzaman, head of statistics department, was killed along with his entire family. So was Dr Jyotirmoy Guha Thakurda, reader of English, and Govinda Chandra Dev, head of philosophy department.
In Rajarbagh, the policemen were short-shifted. They stood little chance against the heavy weaponry. But in Pilkhana, the EPR resisted and the resistance had continued for a few more hours before the EPR men retreated across the river to safe area.
In the wake of military crackdown, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared independence of Bangladesh through EPR wireless at 00:30 hours on March 26 from his historic Road 32 residence at Dhanmondi. He called upon the people to build a united resistance against the Pakistani occupation forces. Later, the Pakistani military junta arrested Bangabandhu on that night. He was taken to the then West Pakistan where he had to spend long nine months in a dark condemned cell of a jail. [BSS – state news agency]