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The priest-martyrs of Bangladesh's independence war

Catholic priests died helping freedom fighters in their struggle against Pakistan in 1971

The priest-martyrs of Bangladesh's independence war

Catholics attend a funeral Mass for the reburial of prominent Xaverian missionary priest Father Marino Rigon at St. Paul’s Church in Bagerhat district on Oct. 21, 2018, one year after his death in Italy. Three Catholic priests died during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence, while five priests were awarded special honors for their contributions to the birth of Bangladesh. (ucanews photo)

On March 25, 1971, Pakistan’s military launched Operation Searchlight, a genocidal crackdown on Bengalis in East Pakistan, to quell an almost out of control Bengali independence movement.

It was the culmination of a conspiracy hatched by Pakistan’s political and military leadership to refuse a transfer of power to the Awami League party, the Bengali rights champion, which won an absolute majority with 160 out of 300 seats in Pakistan’s first general election.

As the crackdown started, Awami League leaders, with support from neighboring India, formed the first Bangladesh government in exile, starting a war of independence with Bengali guerrilla fighters at the forefront.

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