December 16, Victory Day is a red letter day in the history of Bangladesh. Our celebration commemorates the victory of the allied forces over the Pakistani forces in the Liberation War in 1971. We have been celebrating the Day since 1972. General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi, the Commanding Officer of the Pakistani Forces, surrendered with his forces (92000) to the joint forces of Bangladesh and India, which marked the ending of the 9 month-long Bangladesh Liberation War. Due to political exclusion, ethnic and linguistic discrimination, as well as economic deprivation by the politically dominant Western-wing, popular agitation and civil disobedience led to the War of Independence in 1971.
On the ideology of the two-nation theory, the Partition of Bengal in 1947 divided the British Indian province of Bengal and it was based on the Radcliffe Line between India and Pakistan. On 14 August 1947, Pakistan came into being, with Muhammad Ali Jinnah sworn in as its first Governor General in Karachi. The following day, 15 August 1947, India became independent with Jawaharlal Nehru assuming the office of Prime Minister, and the Viceroy, Louis Mountbatten, staying on as its first Governor General. M.K. Gandhi, however, remained in Bengal, preferring instead to work with the new refugees from East Pakistan.
A few months after the creation of Pakistan, in 1948 Governor General Mohammad Ali Jinnah came to Dhaka and declared 'Urdu' as the State Language of the newly formed state, although only four per cent of Pakistan's population spoke Urdu at that time. The refusal by successive governments to recognize Bengali as the second national language culminated in the Bengali Language Movement and strengthened support for the newly formed Awami League, which was founded in the East as an alternative to the ruling Muslim League, to fight for the cause of the people of East Pakistan.
Economical differences as found, Radcliffe's line split Bengal, which historically was always a single economic zone, single cultural and ethnic (Bengali-Hindu or Bengali-Muslim) zone, into two-halves. The two-halves were intricately connected with each other. The fertile East produced food and raw materials which the West consumed and the industrialized West produced manufactured goods which were consumed by the East. This mutually beneficial trade and exchange was severely disrupted by the partition. Rail, road and water communication routes were severed between the two.
In terms of ideological and cultural differences, it is found that the Bengali Muslims had recognized themselves with Pakistan's Islamic project in 1947 but they were again and again deprived and frustrated and by the 1970s the people of East Pakistan had given priority to their Bengali ethnicity. Many Bengali Muslims strongly objected to the Islamist paradigm imposed by the Pakistani state. Cultural and linguistic differences between the two wings outweighed the outward demonstration of the oppressive rulers in the name of religious unity. The Bengalis took great pride in their culture and language which was unacceptable to the West Pakistani elite, who believed that it possessed considerable Hindu cultural influences. From such belief, West Pakistanis wanted the Bengalis to adopt 'Urdu' as the State Language in an attempt to so called 'Islamisation' of the East. But the East protested against it vehemently. From then onward the events of the Language Movement brought about a sentiment in favour of secular politics among Bengalis discarding Pakistan's policy.
East Bengal had to begin from nothing. Dhaka at that time was only a district headquarter. Government offices had to be placed inside makeshift buildings. Dhaka also faced a severe human resource crisis. The majority of high-ranking officers in British Indian administration were Hindu and they migrated to West Bengal. Often these posts had to be filled up by West Pakistani officers. Desperately poor, East Bengal soon became politically dominated by West Pakistan. Urdu was imposed upon the whole country. Economic disparities and subjugation of Bengalis by the Punjabi elite eventually led to struggle for Independence
On 21 February 1952, a protest in Dhaka, the provincial capital of East Pakistan, was forcibly broken up, resulting in the deaths of several protesters named Salam, Barkat, Rafiq and Jobbar. Some unknown persons also laid down their lives. Then this tragic event took place on the streets of Dhaka. The seed of our nationhood was sown, which eventually sprouted and gave us the strength and fortitude to press for autonomy and freedom from exploitation of the Pakistani regime. The Pakistanis tried to deny our right to speak- to think and write in our mother tongue and so the most unjustly declaration came that Urdu would be the only official language of the state of Pakistan. The declaration was an obvious denial of the right of the Bengalis who formed the majority of the population of Pakistan.
When the brave sons of this land embraced martyrdom to counter the designs of the Pakistani rulers, the step was written in history as the courageous act of a people who fought to uphold the dignity of their national pride. As the years passed by, the desire of Bengalis, to free themselves from the shackles of exploitation gained momentum as the world witnessed the political movements of the Sixties ushering in the Six-Point Charter of the Awami League, the 11-Point demands of the students, the mass movement of 1969, and ultimately the great Liberation War of 1971 that gave birth to Bangladesh. Bangladesh is the country, the people of which had spilled their blood for the right to speak the mother language.
Legislative elections were held in East Bengal between 8 and 12 March 1954, the first since Pakistan became an independent country in 1947. The coalition consisted of the Awami Muslim League, the Krishak Praja Party, the Ganatantri Dal and Nizan-e-Islam. The coalition was led by three major Bengali populist leaders Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazul Haque, H.S. Swhrawardy and Maulana Bhashani. The opposition United Front led by the Awami League and Krishak Sramik Party won a landslide victory with 223 of the 309 seats. The Muslim League Chief Minister of East Pakistan Nurul Amin was defeated in his own constituency by Khaleque Nawaz Khan by over 7,000 votes, with all the Muslim League ministers losing their seats.
The Muslim League published its Manifesto on 13th December 1953, calling for Bengali to be made an official State Language, reform in Agriculturae and Education and improvements in healthcare, and began its campaign in January 1954. The Awami League published a 41-point manifesto focusing on autonomy, political reform and nationalisation. The Communists published a 22-point manifesto on 2nd December, calling for them to be the leading party in a United Front against the Muslim League, as well as promoting autonomy and the recognition of Bengali. Several opposition parties called for a creation of an opposition front, with agreement reached between the Awami League and the Krishak Sramik Party on 4 December.
In 1958, President Iskandar Mirza enacted Martial Law as part of a military coup by the Pakistan Army's Chief Ayub Khan. General Ayub Khan justified his actions after appearing on national Radio declaring : "the armed forces and the people demanded a clean break with the past...". Until 1962, the Martial Law continued while Field Marshal Ayub Khan purged a number of politicians and civil servants from the government and replaced them with military officers.
Dacca was declared as the second capital of Pakistan in 1962. It was designated as the legislative capital and Louis Kahn was tasked with designing a National Assembly Complex. Seven natural gas fields were tapped in the province. The Petroleum industry developed as the Eastern Refinery was established in the port city of Chittagong.
On June 7 in 1966, the people of East Pakistan enforced a total general strike in the province in support of the Awami League's Six Point program of Autonomy. The Six Points had been announced a few months earlier by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in Lahore. There he had gone to attend a Conference of Pakistan's opposition political figures. The strike was a clear instance of the Bengalis making their displeasure about their place in Pakistan known to the authorities. In time, it would be Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who would turn out to be the most vocal and therefore the most powerful enemy of the Ayub regime.
The Six Points (known as Megna Carta of Bangladesh) demanded by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman are noted as being:
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: Defense 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 centre 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.
The incident of Mass Upsurge in 1969 started with the student unrest of 1968 against the tyrannical rule of Ayub Khan. The movement soon engulfed the whole of the then East Pakistan where the people joined the movement and it soon turned into a struggle for economic emancipation. The racial repression and the deprivation of the Bangalis within the framework of Pakistan and, to the contrary, starting from the Language Movement the feeling of separate identity together with struggle for autonomy had direct influence on the mass upsurge of 1969. Indeed, this Mass Upsurge was the greatest mass awakening ever since the creation of Pakistan. By 1969 Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman raised the issue of full regional autonomy for East Pakistan.
The election of 1970 saw the Awami League led by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman winning a majority of seats in the National Assembly to form a government. But that was never to happen ! After getting a landslide victory in the elections, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman adopted an uncompromising attitude about his Six Points.
He declared: "I warmly thank the people for having given a historical verdict in favor of our Six Point programme. We pledge to implement this verdict. There can be no constitution except one which is based on Six-Point programme."
But the Pakistani military government blatantly rejected the result and openly threatened the legitimate elected people's legislature.
After a landslide victory in the General Election of 1970, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman met President Yahya Khan and said, "You must hold the session of the National Assembly on 15 January 1971." But he did not listen to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, instead he listened to Zulfikar Ali Butto. However Mr. Bhutto, a former Foreign Minister and the leader of the Pakistan Peoples' Party, refused to accept Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Instead, he proposed the idea of having two Prime Ministers, one for each wing. The proposal elicited outrage in the East wing, already chafing under the other constitutional innovation, the "One Unit Scheme".
Whenever all the proposals to form a government were denied by the West Pakistani rulers, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman stood in front of the people of East Pakistan with a heart overflowing with grief and delivered his speech on 7th March, which has been later recognized as the historical speech. His speech strengthened the flame of protest in the mind of the people and eventually helped to win the victory. His last speech is-"The struggle this time is a struggle for freedom- the struggle this time is a struggle for emancipation. Long live Bangladesh!"
The 1971 Liberation War was the result of struggle for rights and autonomy of the people of the then East Pakistan for over 23 years which finally established the People's Republic of Bangladesh. The war witnessed large-scale atrocities - genocide that claimed over 3 million lives, over 2 lac women were raped and massive destruction of properties - in only nine months. The war broke out at the midnight of March 25, 1971, when the Pakistani Army launched a crackdown called 'Operation Searchlight' against the Bengali civilians, students, intellectuals and armed personnel, who were demanding that the military junta accept the results of the first democratic elections in Pakistan in 1970 won by the Awami League. Awami League President Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had declared the Independence of Bangladesh on 26 March 1971, just before the operation was launched and got arrested.
The Pakistan Army was engaged in a systematic genocide and atrocities of Bangali civilians, particularly nationalists, intellectuals, youth and religious minorities. During the Liberation War broadcasting station 'Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra' played a crucial role in encouraging the guerrilla fighters and supporters. While the freedom fighters fought against the Pakistani occupation forces in the battle fields, the artistes of the Radio station were engaged in another kind of war by keeping the hope of freedom alive among millions.
On 17 April 1971, the Provisional Government of Bangladesh was formed in Mujibnagar. Bengali members of the Pakistani civil, military and diplomatic crops defected to the Bangladeshi Provisional Government. India joined the War on 3 December 1971, after Pakistan launched air strikes on North India.
The Liberation War of 1971 became a topic of great significance in cinema, literature, history lessons at school, the mass media, and the arts in Bangladesh. The ritual of the celebration gradually obtained a distinctive character with a number of similar elements: Military Parade by Bangladesh Armed Forces at the National Parade Ground, ceremonial meetings, speeches, lectures, receptions and fireworks. Victory Day in Bangladesh is a joyous celebration in which popular culture plays a great role. TV and Radio stations broadcast special programs and patriotic songs. The main streets are decorated with National Flags. Different political parties and socio-economic organizations undertake programs to mark the day in a befitting manner, including the paying of respects at Jatiyo Smriti Soudho, the National Memorial at Savar in Dhaka. We are a free nation. We feel proud of our freedom fighters and we remember them from the inner core of our heart through the celebration of Victory Day every year.
It has been 71 years from 1947 to 2018. We have crossed all major hurdles. We still stand tall and so we shall remember our history and culture as long as we remember our past. We expect bright future of Bangladesh materialising the cherished ideals for which our valiant freedom fighters sacrificed their lives.
(The writer is Principal (Acting), Mohanagar Ideal School and College,Mugdapara, Dhaka. -firstname.lastname@example.org)
Mohammad Mamun Mia