India supported helpless Bengalis by opening the world’s largest refugee camp

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Published on December 15, 2021
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Millions of Bengalis started fleeing the country towards neighbouring India to save their lives when the Pakistani junta started mass killings and rapes on the night of March 25, 1971. In such backdrops, India opened its border to give shelter for more than one crore Bengali refugees, 15% of the total population, in its nine states during the nine months of the Liberation War. There is no other example of such arrangement where people of West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, Bihar, Meghalaya, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh provided shelter and treatment to the refugees.

The number of registered refugees was 98, 99,305 as of December 15, 1971. There were many other unregistered Bengalis too who took shelter there. Indian government open 826 shelters to stand by the helpless Bengalis who were being persecuted by the Pakistanis. Hospitals were set up around the border to ensure speedy treatment of war-wounded freedom fighters.

In addition, Indian people from all walks of life came forward with various services including food, clothing and medical equipment for the Bengali refugees. The Indian government even raised the price of stamps to raise funds for the refugees.

In August, US Senator Edward Kennedy visited the refugee camps and battlefields. He termed the massacre carried out by the Pakistani junta as one of the most horrific 'human tragedies' of all time.

In September, the cholera pandemic broke out throughout flood-prone areas of India and Bangladesh. The Indian government then treated about one lakh refugees in various hospitals in several states.

However, the indomitable courage and sacrifices of the freedom fighters accelerated the path of victory of Bangladesh on December 16, 1971, within nine months of the war. Following the independence, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh, first took the initiative to repatriate more than one crore Bengali refugees from India within just three months. Then, Bangabandhu also arranged for the repair and construction of their damaged houses on a priority basis.

Meanwhile, after fighting for the freedom fighters, Indian troops also returned to their country within three months after the war as urged by Bangabandhu. There is no other instance in world history where the allied forces have left the conquered territory in such a quick time.

However, India continued its cooperation for rebuilding the worn-torn Bangladesh thanks to the sincerity of Indira Gandhi. India provided the newly born Bangladesh, hit by war and floods, around four lakh tonnes of food grains at the beginning of 1972. They also gave 74% of total food aid in the first six months of the independence. Indira Gandhi’s government provided a total of USD 310 million to Bangladesh, which was the second-largest donor at that time. In addition, the neighbouring country ensured maximum support to keep running Bangladesh's import and export trades and international communication active by providing civilian aircraft and ships.