Mustafa Chowdhury, a retired Canadian citizen of Bangladeshi origin, spent years in conducting a study which started with a piece that he contributed to Banglapedia on war babies born due to violation of thousands of Bengali women by West Pakistan army in the War of Liberation in 1971. Having written many articles on the war-babies in various Bengali newspapers in Canada and Bangladesh, the present work is an attempt to integrate his writings into a full-blown book on the adoption and its final outcome of the first contingent of 15 war-babies in Canada, forty years later. In an exclusive interview with The Daily Observer he unfolds many unspoken issues about his newly published book "Ekattorer Juddhashishu: Obidito itihas" (The War Babies of Seventy One: Unknown History). This is the concluding part of the interview
The Daily Observer : Did you make any attempts to get in touch with the Pakistan authorities in order to locate some of the soldiers who raped Bengali women in 1971, leaving many of them pregnant?
Mustafa Chowdhury : No, I did not as I believe it is impossible to trace any such perpetrators who would never come out to confess. There was no record of such crime although it was well known that there were camps in which many Bengali women were kept and gang raped. Hamidoor Rahman Commission's Report alluded to the act of sexual violence and sexual slavery on the part of the Pakistani military personnel but refrained to dig into the matter as it was beyond the mandate of the Commission. Many West Pakistani writers have also alluded to the fact of sexual lunacy on the part of the military personnel but there is no documentation to this effect. It is only natural that no records of sexual violence would ever be kept. International organizations that were involved in the war-torn Bangladesh in its early stage bear witness to the fact of mass rape and its fall out. I therefore did not pursue to seek for information from Pakistan.
TDO: Finally, how emotional was this whole experience of research for you? To what extent has it helped you reinvent or reconsider your ideas of human conflict?
MC: The entire journey from conception to fruition had been an emotional roller-coaster for me as I had to deal with one of the greatest tragedies of the previous century. It was an experience of a lifetime to meet the adoptive families and the adoptees, establish relationship with them and then hear from them their own perspective on adoption, especially interracial adoption and its outcome. It was a learning curve for me to hear and from them how they define themselves having been raised by white Canadians who had biological children and yet they wanted to raise certain war babies just to give them a chance to live. This became a noble case when one considers the fact that the people of Bangladesh saw these babies as throw away babies only to be discarded. Yet these middleclass ordinary Canadians become extraordinary when one finds out what trouble they had to go through just bring some of these babies to Canadian homes. It was made possible through the initiative of the Government of the day.
Same way in Bangladesh it was heartrending for me to speak with some of the social workers who had worked with the rape victims back in 1972; as well, to speak with many 'ayas' and 'dais' that took care of these babies who were born in various orphanages across Bangladesh.
Though, to this day, I remain haunted by the complexity of the subject that often drove me to my wit's end, I decided to venture by sourcing original historical records. I had hoped to go further than just scratching the surface in recording the stories of the war-babies who came to Canada - that their story of adoption and its outcome does not get lost in the mists of time. My hope, with all my heart, is that the publication of this will give the subject of war-babies a new dimension in the historiography of the War of Liberation. Deep down in my heart, I also believe that, if such events related to sexual violence and its aftermath are not recorded adequately, then opposite of the truth is likely to become the accepted version of the events surrounding the birth of the "war-babies" of Bangladesh. Regrettably, the Bangladeshi establishment has remained silent on the question of the social acceptance of the war-babies by the society as a whole.
If the book has any merit, it is the story of the outcome of adoption in Canada that I have learned from the narratives of the adopters and the adoptees themselves - their versions of 'what' is it like to 'adopt' and 'be adopted'.
The book concludes with the statement that, if one considers adoption as a means of providing a permanent relationship of parent and child between the adopting parents and the person adopted, the adoption of the war-babies stands out as an outstanding story that illustrates complete adjustment of the Bangladeshi war-babies brought to Canadian homes.