Prime Minister (Mrs) Indira Gandhi, made a statement in the Lok Sabha on 24 May 1971 on the situation in Bangla Desh; the following is the text of the statement.

In the seven weeks since Parliament recessed, the attention of the entire country has been focused on the continuing tragedy in Bangla Desh. Honourable Members will recall the atmosphere of hope in which we met in March. We all felt that our country was poised for rapid economic advance and a more determined attack on the age-old poverty of our people. Even as we were settling down to these new tasks, we have been engulfed by a new and gigantic problem, not of our making.

On the 15th and 16th May I visited Assam, Tripura and West Bengal, to share the suffering of the refugees, to convey to them the sympathy and support of this House and of the people of India and to see for myself the arrangements which are being made for their care. I am sorry it was not possible to visit other camps this time. Every available building, including schools and training institutions, has been requisitioned. Thousands of tents have been pitched and temporary shelters are being constructed as quickly as possible in the 335 camps which have been established so far. In spite of our best efforts, we have not been able to provide shelter to all those who have come across, and many are still in the open. The district authorities are under severe strain. Before they can cope with those who are already here, 60,000 more are coming across every day.

So massive a migration, in so short a time, is unprecedented in recorded history. About three and a half million people have come into India from Bangla Desh during the last eight weeks. They belong to every religious persuasion – Hindu, Muslim,  Buddhist and Christian. They come  from every social class and age group. They are not refugees in the sense we have understood this since Partition. They are victims of war who have sought refuge from the military terror across our frontier.

Many refugees are wounded and need urgent medical attention. I saw some of them in the hospitals I visited in Tripura and West Bengal. Medical facilities in all our border State have been stretched to breaking point. Equipment for 1,100 new hospital beds has been rushed to these States, including a 400-bed mobile hospital, generously donated by the Government of Rajasthan. Special teams of surgeons, physicians, nurses and public health experts have been deputed to the major camps. Special water supply schemes are being executed on the highest priority, and preventive health measures are being undertaken on a large scale.

In our sensitive border states, which are facing the brunt, the attention of the local administration has been diverted from normal and development work to problems of camp administration, civil supplies and security. But our people have put the hardships of the refugees above their own, and have stood firm against the attempts of Pakistani agent-provocateurs to cause communal strife. I am sure this fine spirit will be maintained.

On present estimates, the cost to the Central Exchequer on relief alone may exceed Rs. 180 crores for a period of six months. All this, as Honourable Members will appreciate, has imposed an unexpected burden on us.

I was heartened by the fortitude with which these people of Bangla Desh have borne tribulation, and by the hope which they have for their future. It is mischievous to suggest that India has had anything to do with what happened in Bangla Desh. This is an insult to the aspirations and spontaneous sacrifices of the people of Bangla Desh, and a calculated attempt by the rulers of Pakistan to make India a scapegoat for their own misdeeds. It is also a crude attempt to deceive the world community. The world press has been through Pakistan’s deception. The majority of these so-called Indian infiltrators are women, children and the aged.

The House has considered many national and international issues of vital importance to our country. But none of them has touched us so deeply as the events in Bangla Desh. When faced with a situation of such gravity, it is specially important to weigh every word in acquainting this House, and our entire people, with the issues involved and the responsibilities which now devolve on us all.

These twenty-three years and more, we have never tried to interfere with the internal affairs of Pakistan, even though they have not exercised similar restraint. And even now we do not seek to interfere in any way. But what has actually happened? What was claimed to be an internal problem of Pakistan, has also become an internal problem for India. We are, therefore, entitled to ask Pakistan to desist immediately from all actions which it is taking in the name of domestic jurisdiction, and which vitally affect the peace and well-being of millions of our own citizens. Pakistan cannot be allowed to seek a solution of its political or other problems at the expense of India and on Indian soil.

Has Pakistan the right to compel at bayonet-point not hundreds, not thousands, not hundreds of thousands, but millions of its citizens to flee their homes? For us it is an intolerable situation. The fact that we are compelled to give refuge and succour to these unfortunate millions cannot be used as an excuse to push more and more people across our border.

We are proud of our tradition of tolerance. We have always felt contrite and ashamed of our moments of intolerance. Our nation, our people are dedicated to peace and are not given to talking in terms of war or threat of war. But I should like to caution our people that we may be called upon to bear still heavier burdens.

The problems which confront us are not confined to Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and West Bengal. They are national problems. Indeed the basic problem is an international one.

We have sought to awaken the conscience of the world through our representatives abroad and the representatives of foreign Governments in India. We have appealed to the United Nations, and, at long last, the true dimensions of the problem seem to be making themselves felt in some of the sensitive chanceries of the world. However, I must share with the House our disappointment at the unconscionably long time which the world is taking to react to this stark tragedy.

Not only India but every country has to consider its interests. I think I am expressing the sentiments of this august House and of our people when I raise by voice against the wanton destruction of peace, good neighbourliness and the elementary principles of humanity by the insensate  actions of the military rulers of Pakistan. They are threatening the peace and stability of the vast segment of humanity represented by India.

We welcome Secretary-General, U Thant’s public appeal. We are glad that a number of States have either responded or are in the process of doing so. But time is the essence of the matter. Also the question of giving relief to these millions of people is only part of the problem. Relief cannot be perpetual, or permanent; and we do not wish it to be so. Conditions must be created to stop any further influx of refugees and to ensure their early return under credible guarantees for their future safety and well being. I say with all sense of responsibility that, unless this happens, there can be no lasting stability or peace on this subcontinent. We have pleaded with other powers to recognize this. If the world does not take heed, we shall be constrained to take all measures as may be necessary to ensure our own security and the preservation and development of the structure of our social [sic} economic life.

We are convinced that there can be no military solution to the problem of East Bengal. A political solution must be brought about by those who have the power to do so. World opinion is a great force. It can influence even the most powerful. The Great Powers have a special responsibility. If they exercise their power rightly and expeditiously then only can we look forward to durable peace one our subcontinent. But if they fail – and I sincerely hope that they will not – then this suppression of human rights, the uprooting of people, and the continued homelessness of vast numbers of human beings will threaten peace.

This situation cannot be tackled in a partisan spirit or in terms of party politics. The issues involved concern every citizen. I hope this Parliament, our country and our people will be ready to accept the necessary hardships so that we can discharge our responsibilities to our own people as well as to the millions who have fled from a reign of terror to take temporary refuge here.

All this imposes on us heavy obligations and the need for stern national discipline. We shall have to make many sacrifices. Our factories and farms must produce more. Our railways and our entire transport and communication system must work uninterruptedly. This is no time for any interplay of regional or sectional interests. Everything must be subordinated to sustain our economic, social and political fabric and to reinforce national solidarity. I appeal to every citizen, every man, woman and child to be imbued with the spirit of service and sacrifice of which, I know, this nation is capable.

24 May, 1971