Dead Reckoning

Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War

April 2011 9781849040495 240pp
Temporarily out of stock


This ground-breaking book chronicles the 1971 war in South Asia by reconstituting the memories of those on opposing sides of the conflict.

1971 was marked by a bitter civil war within Pakistan and war between India and Pakistan, backed respectively by the Soviet Union and the United States. It was fought over the territory of East Pakistan, which seceded to become Bangladesh. Through a detailed investigation of events on the ground, Sarmila Bose contextualises and humanises the war while analysing what the events reveal about the nature of the conflict itself.

The story of 1971 has so far been dominated by the narrative of the victorious side. All parties to the war are still largely imprisoned by wartime partisan mythologies. Bose reconstructs events via interviews conducted in Bangladesh and Pakistan, published and unpublished reminiscences in Bengali and English of participants on all sides, official documents, foreign media reports and other sources.

Her book challenges assumptions about the nature of the conflict, and exposes the ways in which the 1971 war is still playing out in the region.


‘A truth about the Bangladesh war is that remarkably few scholars and historians have given it thorough, independent scrutiny. Bose’s research has taken her from the archives to interviews with elderly peasants in Bangladesh and retired army officers in Pakistan. Her findings are significant.’ — Ian Jack, The Guardian

‘The “Events of 1971”, as the International Commission of Jurists called its report on the subject, have been an enduring source of agonized contestation in South Asia for forty years. Subject to endless mythmaking and exaggerations in Pakistan, Bangladesh and their diasporas, all too rarely have these events been considered with the non-partisan care they deserve. Sarmila Bose’s stunning Dead Reckoning is the first book-length study that meticulously reconstructs the violence based on actual evidence. By showing how the terror of rape and massacre cut across many more cleavages of East Pakistani society than Pakistani and Bengali nationalists like to admit, her book is at once a correction of the record and a tribute to the virtues of humanistic scholarship. Written with courage and searing honesty, it will set anew the terms of debate about this dark chapter in the region’s history.’ — A. Dirk Moses, Professor at the European University Institute, Florence and Associate Professor, University of Sydney

‘Combining rigorous scholarship and a passionate interest in setting the record straight, Dead Reckoning is the finest study yet of the social, cultural and political  meaning of the 1971 East Pakistan/Bangladesh war, one  of the major events of the twentieth century. Dr. Bose writes in the service of the truth, we are in her debt.’ — Stephen Cohen, author of The Idea of Pakistan

‘I have felt the need for a dispassionate account of the Bangladesh war ever since witnessing that triumph of faith over fact, the Mujibnagar independence ceremony. No one can take on that challenge better than Sarmila Bose, whose courage, disregard for orthodoxy and meticulous research make her the enfant terrible of Indian historians.’ — Sunanda K. Datta-Ray, columnist and author of Waiting for America: India and the United States in the New Millennium

‘History emerges only slowly from the passion-filled context of contemporary events. Sarmila Bose’s book sets Bangladesh’s struggle for liberation at the start of this long passage.’ — David Washbrook, Trinity College, Cambridge

‘Finally we have a book that investigates the conflicts of 1971 using facts and testimonies from all sides. Some may find this search for the truth controversial, but the official histories, full of absurd exaggerations and one-sided claims, are the ones that truly demean the sacrifices of 1971… The painful task of recognizing historical evidence has surely begun.’ — Mushtaq H. Khan, Professor of Economics, SOAS

‘Sarmila Bose’s powerful and poignant retelling of the birth of Bangladesh exposes the wounds of civil war and international conflict in a way that has not been done before. This is history as told by participants at the grass roots and it dispels many myths that have been fed by faulty memories of the so-called elites in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Her book should help the people of both countries accept the facts of that tragic and bloody separation of 1971 and to take responsibility for the war that stained the verdant Bengali countryside red.’ — Shuja Nawaz, Director, South Asia Center, The Atlantic Council in Washington DC and author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within

‘Bose has written a book that should provoke both fresh research and fresh thinking about a fateful turning point in the history of the subcontinent.’ — Martin Woollacott, Guardian

‘A significant intervention into the historiography of the Bangladesh War of 1971.’ — Amber Abbas, H-Memory

Dead Reckoning is a useful resource for students of the region … the reasoning is open and clear [and the] descriptive analysis makes for grim and startling reading.’ — Politics, Religion & Ideology


Sarmila Bose is Senior Research Fellow in the Politics of South Asia at the University of Oxford. She was a political journalist in India and combines academic and media work. She was educated at Bryn Mawr College and Harvard University.

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