Role of Indian Air Force in 1971 War

The Liberation of Bangladesh is the most memorable war in the brief history of Bangladesh. The contribution of Indian Govt and the citizens of India is an important part of that history. Without mentioning the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) role in that war, the history of Bangladesh’s liberation is incomplete.

The Bangladesh Liberation War (1971) included many other battles in which hundreds of people lost their lives. The battle of Boyra, Operation Trident and Python and the battle of Longewala were a few IAF driven battles those helped a lot to achieve success.

The Pakistani Air Force first launched a pre-emptive strike on December 3, 1971– “Operation Chengiz Khan” on eleven airfields in north western India including Agra. The Taj Mahal was camouflaged in twigs and leaves as its marble glowed like a beacon in moonlight.

The then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi took help from the Indian Air Force and helped Bangobondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (aka Mujib) to achieve his ultimate goal. The IAF had initially deployed 10 squadrons in the East; four squadrons for air defence and six squadrons in strike role capacity.

From December 4 onwards airfield attacks were launched by Hunters and Sukhoi-7s with MiG-21s providing escorts. On 4th a total of 109 sorties were flown for counter-air. Indian intelligence reports and information passed on by the Mukti Bahini on Pakistan army movements. The Indians moved all aircraft at strategic bases to reinforced bunkers placing dummy aircraft in their stead. Indian Air Force responded with retaliatory air strikes on the same night. IAF conducted many missions like Troop Support, Air Combat, and Air Raids etc.

According to Major General JFR Jacob who was there during the 1971 war, “Due to fast moving battles and our by-passing tactics, we used air support mainly for interdiction, isolation of battlefield, and prevention of movement along the river bank of Dhaka. Close air support for ground targets was almost negligible. However, the interdiction effort was very credible…We were able to get maximum results by switching sorties from one sector to another.”

Six Point Program – An Appeal, A Demand, A Move

From time of Indian independence, till 1971, East Pakistan faced terrible oppression by the Dominion of West Pakistan. This was at three levels – Linguistic, Financial and Political. But a time of reckoning came, when a power rose to champion the cause of East Pakistan’s liberation – a power known as Awami League. It did not matter to leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the pioneers of Awami League how their victory and right for an independent government was being denied. Their strength and power also stirred and spearheaded the student community and integrated them for a major resistance against the regime of West Pakistan.

At the core of the Awami League was an agenda, The Six Point Movement also known as the Six Point Program which were mainly six demands put forward by coalition of Bengali nationalist parties in 1966 – to end the West Pakistani exploitations at various levels.

These are the Six Point Programs: (Courtesy –

  1. The Constitution should provide for a Federation of Pakistan in its true sense based on the Lahore Resolution, and the parliamentary form of government with supremacy of a Legislature directly elected on the basis of universal adult franchise.
  2. The federal government should deal with only two subjects: Defence and Foreign Affairs, and all other residual subjects should be vested in the federating states.
  3. Two separate, but freely convertible currencies for two wings should be introduced; or if this is not feasible, there should be one currency for the whole country, but effective constitutional provisions should be introduced to stop the flight of capital from East to West Pakistan. Furthermore, a separate Banking Reserve should be established and separate fiscal and monetary policy be adopted for East Pakistan.
  4. The power of taxation and revenue collection should be vested in the federating units and the federal center would have no such power. The federation would be entitled to a share in the state taxes to meet its expenditures.
  5. There should be two separate accounts for the foreign exchange earnings of the two wings; the foreign exchange requirements of the federal government should be met by the two wings equally or in a ratio to be fixed; indigenous products should move free of duty between the two wings, and the constitution should empower the units to establish trade links with foreign countries.
  6. East Pakistan should have a separate military or paramilitary force, and Navy headquarters should be in East Pakistan.

West Pakistani officials believed that Hindus in East Pakistan and specially the Bengalis were not marital enough to fight unlike the Urdu speaking Punjabi Muslims and Pashtuns. Moreover the carnage that followed during the year of genocide was also backed up by the notions of racial superiority.

“…Sheikh Mujibur Rahman planned to announce the Six Points at a conference of opposition political parties in Lahore in early February 1966. He was not permitted to do so by the other participants, including the chief of the Awami League at the time, Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan. They found the plan too incendiary to be articulated.”

An added factor and a precursor to the Six Point Program was the Language Movement where Bengalis and specially the Bengali student community demanded the right to use their mother tongue “Bangla” and many became martyrs for that cause. Nowhere else in the world did anyone died for the cause of language. World Language Day is celebrated in the memory of these martyrs.

The roots of the 1971 war go deep into factors like the Six Point Program and the Language Movement as well.

West Pakistan controlled four provinces: Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, and the North-West Frontier. The fifth was East Pakistan and it received very little benefits of the Pakistani economy.

1971 India’s Finest Hour also shows how this denial of benefits culminated in the lack of help during the Bhola Cyclone.

After everything that East Pakistan went through, “The Six Point Program” was perhaps the most politically ideal and civic way for the Awami League to present their demands but then again West Pakistan invited their ultimate defeat through all the wrong moves. Had they accepted the program or at least not initiated the carnage that followed in 1971, Indian intervention would not have been required, the war wouldn’t have started.

Birangona: Knocking on heaven’s door


“You are one of countless
Whose story was never told
And never will
As all records were burnt.”

 Birangona, Sadaf Saaz Siddiqui.



Dreadful, horrendous and devastating memories of the ‘70s are still alive with Moryam. Sitting in her Sirajganj cottage in Bangladesh, curls into herself Moryam does not want to recollect those days. With bleary eyes, she expressed her pain to Lisa Gazi, an actor from London who came in search of voices for her project “Birangona: Women of War”.

The nine-month-long struggle for Independence in Bangladesh had many repercussions. The Bengalis of then East Pakistan faced vigorous repressions by the majority, from denying the Bengali language national status to ruling them out from civil and military services.

Throughout history, war has been gendered, and its implications and consequences for women and men differ in terms of the nature of various injuries often leading to deaths.

1971 was no exception.  The war broke out on March 25 when West Pakistan began a military crackdown on then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Historians termed it “Operation Searchlight” but people of Bangladesh described it a villainous act by Pakistan.

Scores of people died. Many displaced due to famine and political unrest. In this world of “to be or not to be” people had witnessed genocide.

Women, regarded as carriers of culture whose bodies are symbols of the nation to be defended by men, are especially vulnerable in situations of battle, where their very identities as women come under threat. During the nine-month-long conflict the Pakistani army adopted a strategy of rape. On one hand there were an estimated 300,000 to three million people who were killed, on the other, 200,000–400,000 Bangladeshi women and girls were raped by the Pakistani army. Women and girls from the ages of seven to seventy-five were raped, gang-raped, and either killed or taken away by the military to become sex slaves to officers and soldiers for the duration of the war.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (aka Mujib), Father of Bangladesh gave them a title, “Birangona” or war heroines to the women who were raped during the war by the Pakistani army; in an effort to respectfully reintegrate them back into society. Birangona is Bengali for “the brave ones.”

A woman emerges out of hiding for the first time, carrying a rifle and accompanied by her children. The family were hiding from Pakistani troops during the Bangladesh War of Independence.

Soon after the war many rehabilitation centres were established to provide the women with medical aid, including treatment of diseases and abortion of unwanted pregnancies. The marry-off campaign was launched to encourage Bangladeshi men to come forward and marry the rape victims. The government started offering the women training in income-generating activities and other social support were given.

Bangladeshi men who married the rape victims though appreciated and were given economic support from the government, still the overall gesture failed.

Although these measures and the Birangona label overall, were presumably intended to honor the dishonored women and help them regain acceptance in a conservative, Muslim-majority society where a woman’s worth lay in her virtue and chastity, many rape-survivors declined to accept the title for fear of being stigmatized in the society. Still today, when people hear the horrific stories of Birangonas, it leaves indelible marks in their lives.

“Birangona” a powerful production by Komola Collective, London. Photo: Ridwan Adid Rupon
Many of the women were even rejected by their own families, including their parents in the case of unmarried women, and husbands and in-laws in the case of married women. The portrayal these women in most of the newspapers were as victims rather than heroines. The women were most often referred to as “oppressed,” “disgraced,” and “dishonored.”

The Bengali word most often used, lanchhita, connotes numerous states, from disgraced, harassed, insulted, and persecuted to stained, tarnished, spotted, and soiled. In no way do these words contribute to the image of a “heroine”; they refer rather to people who have been shamed. Other words— biddhosto, meaning ruined or destroyed; bibhranto, meaning confused or bewildered; and phrases such as “women who have lost their all”— also portray a shattered image of someone who is supposed to be a heroine.

The whole idea of women having “lost their all” as a result of having been raped reinforces an already prevalent social norm— that a woman’s “all” lies in her virginity when she is unmarried, in her chastity when she is married, and in her sexual exclusivity in general. Had the media, without undermining the brutality of rape, placed less significance on sexual chastity and exclusivity in their presentation of the Birangona, the social ramifications after the event might have been reduced.

The media did not even take a critical role by questioning the government programmes or even providing any sort of feedback on them. They simply reiterated them.

Had the newspapers instead run in-depth interviews and stories, the birangona could have expressed their views on, for example, rehabilitation measures that would benefit them, the treatment of war babies, and the bringing of perpetrators to account. And most of all, this would have been an effective way for the women to have their voices heard.

Pritika Datta, Content Editor, iLEAD Publication, Kolkata.

Pritha Banerjee, Research Uptake Assistant, MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai. (Guest Author)

A Necessary Intervention

The campaign to liberate the people of East Pakistan from the West Pakistani yoke was a memorable one.  The 1971 war operation freed the people of Bangladesh from three types of oppression: Linguistic, Political and Economic.

The genocide initiated by West Pakistan was a culmination point of that oppression which led to a rebellion of a massive scale. The student movements and the popular demands favored the victory of Awami League. The desperate moves by the Pakistani government to delay a political negotiation and the subsequent killings of Bengalis and people in favour of an independent identity led to the migration of a large scale into India.

India at the time was at the 24th year of its independence and any sort of economic pressure would only hinder the growth of the country. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi always proposed the fact that India is a peace loving nation but when it comes to issues of national security, India will have to take all necessary measures.

In December 1971 the countdown to Bangladesh liberation began with a 13 day war between India and Pakistan.India had no option but to intervene in Bangladesh’s liberation with all its might and coordinated assault from Land, Air and Sea. Momentous battles like Battle of Basantar, Battle of Gazipur, Battle of Hilli, Battle of Boyra, Battle of Longewala broke out at both the Eastern and Western theatres of the Indian borders with Pakistan.

Pakistan with all its strategies did not emancipate the fall of Dhaka and the subsequent surrender of the Pakistani forces. On December 16, 93,000 fully armed Pakistani soldiers from their most dreaded divisions surrendered to Indian forces in full public view of the world.

The recognition of Bangladesh as an independent country was a long awaited dream for both Bangladeshis and Indians.

– Samrat Dey, Editor and Faculty – Media Studies, iLEAD