Routine. That is theBanality of Evil. Doing something so often it becomes so normal, so mundane,such a part of the everyday system that one doesn’t think much of it. Thingsthat would seem “evil” to one society can simply be everyday life to another.It’s akin to children believing that some chores are evil, things that shouldnever be done, while adults find them to be a normal part of life. An exampleof the Banality of Evil is the Bengali genocide. The Bengali genocide was anextremely terrible event in history, similar in many ways to the atrocitiescommitted in World War Two.
World War Two was a dark blemish inhistory, but it should never be forgotten. Holocaust survivor and author ElieWiesel reminds us of that in his award-winning book, “Night”. For those peoplewho have never read “Night”, it is a true story about Elie Wiesel himself, whenhe was 15 years old. He and the rest of his family were Jewish and had beentaken to concentration camps. Elie had survived the holocaust, but his familywasn’t nearly as fortunate. His own father had died calling his name. Hismother and sisters had been separated from him before he even really knew whatwas happening.
Elie had survived the rigorous life in multiple concentrationcamps and had lived to tell the tale so we can remember what happened, so itnever happens again. Wiesel’s book, “Night” fulfills the concept of theBanality of Evil well. Many of the Germans had become desensitized to theviolence, what they were doing.
They did it enough, and it became so normal, itwas akin to a simply normal day at work, in a way. Wiesel himself even fulfillsthe concept. After spending enough time in the camps, after spending enoughtime witnessing these atrocities, it became, in a way, normal. It became normalto see someone get killed for being too slow. It became normal to see someoneget beaten by an officer just because he was having a bad day. It became normalto see people fight for rations. It became normal to see people dying and seesmoke coming out of the long chimney of the crematorium.
These events, eventsthat most people couldn’t even imagine, fulfill the concept of the banality ofevil. Be it Elie Wiesel or the German officers, they were desensitized to thesenormally terrible and unthinkable acts. Genocide. Massacre. Decimation. Thoseare the closest words to describe the horrendous events that happened in thegenocide at Bangladesh.
However, to get an inkling of what happened during thatgenocide, one must go back. Far, far back, to the so distant year of 1970. Itall started with Pakistan. Pakistan had been divided into two groups, separatedby India, West Pakistan and East Pakistan. East Pakistan, now present-dayBangladesh, had been believed to be ethnically and culturally inferior by thePakistani elites, despite East Pakistan producing over 59 percent of thecountry’s exports, and despite it being the smaller of the two Pakistans.
WestPakistan had even attempted to make Pakistan’s national language Urdu, eventhough less than ten percent of the East Pakistan population had an adequateunderstanding of the language. When a cyclone named Bhola devastated EastPakistan, killing around 300,000 people, West Pakistan had been had been slowand even dismissive to give a response. Needless to say, West Pakistan had beenless than generous to their Eastern counterparts. In 1970, the West haddeclared that Pakistan would have its very first general election ever sincethey had gained their independence.
The Pakistani leader, GeneralAgha Mohammad Yahya Khan, had carefully placed limits for the freedoms of thevoter and had stated that it was not the outcome of the election that wasimportant, but the integrity of Pakistan. West Pakistan’s voteswere divided between multiple parties, while East Pakistan’s were mainlyconcentrated on one sole person, SheikhMujibur Rahman. Mujibur had campaigned for Bengali autonomy and,unsurprisingly, won the election. West Pakistan had been appalled by the resultof the election and what it meant for the country. Yahya Khan, the Pakistanileader from earlier, had delayed the first assembly meeting and institutedmartial law. Riots broke out everywhere in the East, Mujibur had even declaredthe beginning of a civil disobedience movement on the seventh of March in 1971.Mujibur and Yahya Khan had debated about some of the issues and were said to havecome to an agreement, but on March 25 of 1971, Mujibur was arrested, and around60,000 to 80,000 West Pakistani began the beginning of the Bengali genocide;Operation Searchlight. The West Pakistani soldiers picked out and killed thePakistanis in the East who were rebellious, and the men who were most likely toinfluence resistance.
That night alone resulted in 5,000 to 100,000 deaths.They had attempted to get rid of the nationalist movement by instilling fearinto the hearts of the East Pakistanis. Of course, it didn’t work. East Pakistansimply declared the next day, March 26, 1971, to be its independence day.
Pakistan was displeased, to say the least. Over several months, Pakistan’s armytargeted men, academics, and professionals. There were even sweeps, where youngmen were taken from their homes usually never seen again. According to cas.uab.edu,some of the bodies could be found in fields, around army camps or floating inrivers. However, it wasn’t only the men who were affected. Women were beingkidnapped and raped by Pakistani soldiers.
Hit and run rapes were common. Itentailed the male members of a family being forced to watch as a Pakistanisoldier raped the female members of the family. The males were eventuallykilled, and the females taken to rape camps. Yes, you read that correctly, rapecamps.
Similar to how Jews were sent to concentration camps, the women weretied to each other and loaded onto trucks, nearly unconscious and beaten. Whenthey arrived at the camps they were separated by age. The infertile women werekilled immediately, the others were set aside for later. Yahya Khan, mentionedearlier as the Pakistani leader, declared that the Bengali’s were to be turnedinto the “true Muslims”. He intended to make a pure Pakistan. No one is certainhow many women were raped, but they say it was from 200,000 to 400,000. Somewomen were raped up to 80 times in one night. There was a bride who was rapedin front of her husband, who was forced to watch as six soldiers had their waywith his wife.
The bride’s father found his newly married daughter bleeding andunconscious. His son in law was kneeling on the floor crouched over his ownvomit. The genocide ended December 16, 1971. The number of people who died isuncertain, however, it has been estimated to 500,000 to more than 3 million.
The Bengali Genocide fulfills the concept of the Banality of Evil because thePakistani soldiers found their actions to be an everyday thing. It was normalto eliminate some Bengali men. It was even fun to defile some Bengali women. Theyfulfilled the concept because it was an everyday thing for them.
ElieWiesel’s book, “Night” and the Bengali genocide have many things in common.Elie was shipped off to a camp in a vehicle, not even treated as a person, butas cargo. The Bengali women were treated the same way, but tied together andstacked like sacks of grain. They both also included mass murder or attemptedelimination of a certain group of people. Yahya Khan and Hitler both tried toget rid of a certain group of people to make a supreme race, their own idealrace. These fulfill the concept of the Banality of Evil because they didn’tseem to think twice about it, they made it a normal part of their lives, anormal thing to do.
They took something that would have been seen, and stillis, as an atrocity in other countries and made it the semi-norm for themselvesand their soldiers. Thereare many dark spots in history. Dark corners that no one really wants torevisit. However, to prevent them from happening a second time, we mustremember.
We must remember the suffering that others had gone through. Rememberthe pain, the agony, so that it hopefully never happens again. And we must hopethat humans won’t be so stupid as to do these things again, even though theyprobably will.
In the preface to “Night”, Elie Wiesel stated, “To forget wouldbe not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin tokilling them a second time.” Elie Wiesel may be dead, but his memory lives onin his works. And we all hope to remember, to save others the pain andsuffering that he and others have gone through.Works CitedRoychowdhury,Adrija. “Birth Of Bangladesh: When Raped Women And War Babies Paid ThePrice Of A New Nation.” The Indian Express, 2017, http://indianexpress.
com/article/research/birth-of-bangladesh-when-raped-women-and-war-babies-paid-the-price-of-a-new-nation-victory-day-4430420/.Townsend,Marlee. “Bangladesh: The Forgotten Genocide – UAB Institute For HumanRights Blog.” UAB Institute For Human Rights Blog, 2017, https://cas.uab.edu/humanrights/2017/04/21/bangladesh-forgotten-genocide/.
Hensher,Philip. “The War Bangladesh Can Never Forget.” TheIndependent, 2017,http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/the-war-bangladesh-can-never-forget-8501636.html.Zakaria,Anam, and Anam Zakaria.
“By Marking Genocide Day, Bangladesh Seeks ToRemember What Pakistan Wants To Forget.” Scroll.In, 2017,https://scroll.in/article/832420/by-marking-genocide-day-bangladesh-seeks-to-remember-what-pakistan-wants-to-forget.
Boissoneault,Lorraine. “The Genocide The U.S. Can’t Remember, But Bangladesh Can’tForget.” Smithsonian, 2017,https://www.
smithsonianmag.com/history/genocide-us-cant-remember-bangladesh-cant-forget-180961490/.Tormen,David Meléndez, and Sanjeev Sanyal. “El Genocidio Olvidado – Revista DePrensa.” Almendron.Com, 2017,https://www.almendron.
com/tribuna/el-genocidio-olvidado/.Wiesel, E., Mauriac, F.
and Rodway, S. (n.d.).