Armed with sophisticated guns, they went on a rampage in the village and gunned down whoever came their way. They checked every Hindu house, separated men and women and dragged out some men wearing sarees. The men were lined up in front of a temple as screams rent the air. Shots were fired. And then, there was complete hush.
It was a Friday when on May 21, 1971, Rajjab Ali Fakir’s Razakar Bahini, allies of Pakistan Army, of Bagerhat, carried out a brutal massacre of over 600 people, mostly Hindus, in Dakra village of Perikhali Union of Rampal Upazila.
Kalibari of Dakra village was then a religious meeting place of the Hindus in that region. Badal Chandra Chakraborty was the chief pujari of the Kalibari. As a saint and religious guru, he was highly respected and everyone addressed him as Guru Noakarta.
After May 11, 1971, people of the Hindu community started leaving the surrounding villages, but some devotees of Noakarta decided that on May 22, they would join their Guru and leave for India by boat through the Sundarbans.
As discussed, a few days before the massacre, numerous Hindu families from neighbouring villages came and settled in hundreds of boats on the banks of Mangla River, Madartala River and Kumarkhali Canal around Kalibari.
Sayera, Khanpur, Banshbaria of Bagerhat Sadar Upazila; Morelganj upazila’s Aecharani, Rampal upazila’s Betkata, Bhojpatia and Mahishghata villages had a sizeable number of people in the group. After spending the whole day in the village, they used to sleep in the boat that was stationed on the river bank at night. Thus, by May 21, Dakra had become like a large refugee camp. Those visiting the place exceeded 2,000.
All the people, who united under the leadership of Iman Ali Sheikh, Jonab Ali Sheikh Delwar Hussain and others, assured the Hindu community that they could stay safe there. They also got assurance in this regard from Afsar Uddin, a member of the Peace Committee of Banshtali village located on the other side of Mongla River.
But the fact that the people of the Hindu community were living together at the same place was a huge catch for the perpetrators. Besides, the political opposition parties started thinking about retaliation for the 1970s elections. They sent the news to Rajjab Ali, the Razakar commander of Bagerhat. An eyewitness saw a medical college student, Liaqat Ali Ghaznavi from Dakra village, on a boat to Bagerhat with a letter written to Rajjab Ali the day before the massacre.
On May 21, Rajjab Ali, with his forces, arrived in Dakra in two large boats. Each boat had 15-20 armed Razakars. The first boat went south-west of Kaliganj Bazar on the north bank of Mongla River and arrived at Duckra Bazar. The second boat crossed the Mongla River and took position at the base of the Kumarkhali canal. The boats first moored on the banks of the rivers and canals were searched. Then, the Razakars of the first boat barged into Dakra village from the west and the Razakars of the second boat entered the village from the east.
Dakra village was bursting with refugees who wanted to go to India. The Razakars started firing at whoever they found in front of them. As soon as gunshots were heard, most of the people came to Guru Noakarta. Finally, the Razakars came from both sides and halted at Kalibari. Men and women are separated. A few Razakars checked every Hindu house to see if there were more men and found a few of them wearing sarees. Like sacrificial animals, they were dragged out. After lining up all the men in front yard of the temple, shots were fired. Hundreds of people were gunned down within seconds.
After this, the old Akiz Uddin, along with his close associate Majid Kassai, kept turning over the bodies, and slaughtered them if they found someone injured and still alive. The attackers then set Hindu houses on fire. Some young women were picked up in Rajjab Ali’s boat.
Although no women were killed in Kalibari, they shot and killed several women near the boat and on the road. An eyewitness said, “After Razakar’s forces left, he saw the body of a woman along with many others on the wayside. A baby was trying to feed from her dead mother’s breast. Blood was splattered everywhere.”
Dayanand Mandal Dutta of Dakra village hid in his house as soon as he heard the gunshots. Suddenly, a bullet hit him in the thigh and he was badly injured. He spent 6-7 days in the house of Iman Ali Sheikh and was treated by Abdul Mannan of Bhojpatia village.
After the massacre, those who were alive in the Dakra village took shelter in the neighbouring Muslim quarters and some left for India without a moment’s delay.
Sheikh Nazrul Islam, the then chairman of Perikhali Union, claimed that at least 646 people were killed that day. The next day, under the initiative of Dr Delwar Hossain, some young people arranged to bury the bodies of the victims in Kalibari square.
The youths buried about 200 bodies in the sink hole and many were cremated. Besides, many bodies got washed away in Mangla River, Madartali River and Kumarkhali canal.
The Bhadhyabhoomi area, including the Noakartar temple, was submerged by the river several years ago.
Gilatala school teacher Paritosh Kumar Banerjee, who witnessed the incident, believed that the toll was between 600 and 700. On the massacre day, he and his family were crowding a boat on the banks of Madartali River near Dakra Bazar, when Rajjab Ali’s forces landed there. He somehow escaped and took refuge in the house of a Muslim youth, who was known as a dacoit in the nearby village of Gadhaghata.
About the next day’s events, Banerjee wrote: “Early next morning, I went to the village of Dakra, eager to see the bodies of my dear ones. Gunmen did not allow us to enter the village. Threatened to kill me. I went back to a Hindu village two miles from Dakra. The village was empty. No one but two old men were there. I stayed at the house of a former Muslim student (who people thought was a dacoit). I heard from the women, who came out of the Dakra, that the girls were not killed. Males above the age of 12-13 were the targets of the killers.
The student risked his life and brought the women and children members of several families who were hiding in Dakra. No wonder, there were no tears in their eyes. No one cried when they saw me. Instead, there was seething anger. I realised that the horror had numbed their feelings. They have soul but no mind, they have nerves but no feelings.”
Reporter: Sahidul Hasan Khokon
Edited by: Darpan Singh
Interactive Producer: Raka Mukherjee
Interactive Developer: Vishal Rathour