Bangabandhu’s 7th March speech has gained international recognition as the UNESCO in its recent declaration enlisted the historic speech as part of the world’s documentary heritage. It has also been included in the ‘Memory of the World International Register’, a list of the world’s important documentary heritage maintained by it.
Earlier the book, ‘We Shall Fight on the Beaches: The Speeches That Inspired History’ by Jacob F Field, a collection of “extracts from the most rousing and inspirational wartime speeches of the last 2,500 years—Cicero to Churchill, Lincoln to Mao”, also included Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s historic March 7, 1971 speech that effectively declared Bangladesh’s independence as one of the most rousing and inspirational wartime speeches in the last 2,500 years. International recognition or acclamation, no doubt, is desirable. But in the case of the historic 7th March speech of Bangabandhu it is not essential. As the speech surpassed time and ushered in unprecedented new phenomenon and dimensions in the lives, hitherto unknown, of the people of Bangladesh. The nineteen minutes speech was unique in many respects. It was an extempore speech and touched upon every aspects of the struggle for economic and political emancipation of the people of Bangladesh as part of the erstwhile Pakistan. It went on to provide guidance and instruction to carry on the struggle in a peaceful manner. It also included conditions for talks and finally provided clear instruction to the people for all out fight, at whatever costs may be, for the achievement of the final victory from the clutches of the Pakistanis. It even mentioned what the people need to do even in the absence of their great leader.
The speech had electrifying effects. It transformed then 75 million people, with the exception of a few, into a national peoples’ army ready to fight till their last blood for the independence of their motherland. In reality, it proved to be so when the call for action came in the early hours of 26th March, 1971 after the Pakistanis let loose a reign of terror that included indiscriminate killing, murder, rape and arson in the name of heinous ‘Operation Search Light’. The atrocities continued to be committed against the unarmed people till the final victory on the 16th December 1971. In the struggle for freedom 3 million people laid down their lives and tens of thousands of women lost their honour. The victory was achieved at a great cost and misery of the millions of the people. But one thing that guided and remained as beacon of light and hope to the struggling freedom loving people was the speech of their great leader ‘Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’. It rejuvenated them in times of despair and uncertainty. The leader was not in their midst during those trying times but his instructions were there which they found in the 7th March speech.
However, the true significance of Bangabandhu’s 7th March speech cannot be said to be limited only to a clarion call for emancipation of the 75 million people of Bangladesh. It transcended to every aspect of the lives of the people after the independence of the country. It brought about a revolutionary change in the psyche of the nation. They transformed into a brave and invincible nation. Against all odds, they embarked on rebuilding the country under the leadership of their leader who returned to his new born country on January 10 from captivity in Pakistan. In those extremely difficult times, the people put their relentless efforts in the rehabilitation of 10 million people who took refuge in India during liberation war and reconstruction of the war ravaged infrastructure. The people from freedom fighters turned into nation builders. In the shortest possible time, the refugees were rehabilitated and most of the communication networks were restored. Here it may be noted that many local grown organisations later became popular as NGOs played a significant role in the refugee rehabilitation process. These organisations in most of the cases were established to provide assistance to the freedom fighters and the liberation war.
The other notable area that needs to be mentioned is the development of local or indigenous entrepreneurship. Before independence, entrepreneurship among the Bangladesh national was negligible or in other words people shied or lacked courage to embark upon to become entrepreneurs due to risks associated it. But the new born country offered wide opportunities for the development of entrepreneurship and the people who conquered fear through extreme sacrifice in the liberation war took up the challenges of uncertainties and risks and ventured to become entrepreneurs. Their successes are now evident in all spheres of the economic life of the country. Through their relentless and sustained efforts Bangladesh from a ‘basket case’ has become a success story in economic pursuit. This has helped the country in reducing dependence for foreign aid for development purposes. Moreover, it has also been able to reduce poverty drastically. Now, Bangladesh is sighted as an example of success especially in reducing extreme poverty substantially. During these years, Bangladesh has also transformed from a food deficit to food self sufficient country. In the recent past, Bangladesh has also graduated to the group of low middle income countries.
Before independence, peoples’ mobility was very limited for lack of opportunities and for the fear of uncertainties in unknown places or foreign countries. The change in the psyche of the people helped them to overcome the fears and hesitations in going to different countries to pursue their livelihoods, education and other vocations. According to one estimate, now, more that 8 million Bangladeshis could be found in various countries of the world across the continents. Remittances send by them has become one of the important, much needed, sources of foreign exchange for Bangladesh. The Bangladesh armed forces and the police are also contributing in maintaining peace and stability in a number of countries.
Now, perhaps, Bangladesh is the largest armed personnel contributor to the peace keeping initiatives of the United Nations (UN). Our peace keepers have earned a very good name for them as well as for the country by their commitment and dedicated services in the area of peace keeping in conflict prone countries around the world.
Over the years, Bangladesh has provided shelter to the forcefully displaced Rohingyas of the Rakhine province of Myanmar. In the recent exodus, their number has exceeded 600000 and it is reported that many more are still crossing the border. Bangladesh in spite of great economic burden and internal security threat has risen to the humanitarian call and provided shelter to the Rohingyas. This move has catapulted Bangladesh to the world stage as a country with humane face against all odds.
These are some of the achievements of the country after its emergence as an independent country through a bloody war of liberation in 1971. All these happened primarily because of the change in the psyche of the people and that change can be attributed to one single important factor the 7th March, 1971 speech of Bangabandhu. It transformed a subdued nation for hundreds of years into a nation of brave people who can conquer even death for a rightful cause. Now as the 8th largest country in the world in terms of population the sky is limit for the brave and resilient people of Bangladesh. Salute to the father of the Nation for transforming us as brave and ever challenge seeking people and country.
The writer is Professor and Chairman, Department of Public Administration, University of Dhaka, and a Member of National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh