Mary Anne Radmacher wrote, “One movement toward light becomes a clear signpost on a long road.” Likewise the Mass Upsurge Day of 24th January 1969 was a landmark event in Bangladesh’s history. It was a clear signpost on a long road to our independence. It was a sustained, truly mass struggle, confronting ferocious backlash by our people perpetrated on us by the savage Pakistani rulers and we overcame multiple challenges while developing our considerable strengths to fight those beastly animals back and defeat them. This glorious movement witnessed an explosion of popular-democratic struggles championed by people of all walks of life in our country whose activities became central in the campaign against all oppressions and the quest for the creation of a democratic state.
It was a democratic political movement. The uprising consisted of a series of mass demonstrations and sporadic conflicts between Pakistani government’s armed forces and the demonstrators of our people. Although the unrest began in 1966 with the Six-point movement of Awami League, it got momentum at the beginning of 1969 and culminated in the resignation of Field Marshal Ayub Khan, the first military ruler of Pakistan. The uprising also led to the withdrawal of Agartala Conspiracy Case and acquittal of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his co-accused from the case. Bangabandhu came out from Pakistani jail as a majuscule hero and head honcho of Bangladesh; and a house-hold name for all people in his country.The movement soon engulfed the whole of the-then East Pakistan’s politicians, students, peasants, artisans, workers - all joined the movement almost en-bloc. Due to continuous exaction of demands marked by sound judgment of the labouring class of the industrial belts and low- and medium-income groups soon turned the movement into a struggle for economic emancipation. The racial repression and the deprivation of the Bengalis within the frame-work 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 movement was the greatest mass awakening ever since the creation of Pakistan. The student agitation of 1968 turned into a mass upsurge when Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani asked his followers to besiege Governors House, formulated and declared his other programmes.
The Maulana declared a total shut-down of work on 6th December 1968 following the clash between the people and the police. On the call of the main opposition parties namely two factions of NAP (Bhasani and Muzaffar), Awami League and other political parties, a Hartal (shutdown) was observed throughout the-then East Pakistan on 8th December 1968. Repression Resistance Day was very successfully observed throughout the former Province on 10 December 1968 at the call of Awami League’s pro-six point demand. On the 14th December 1968, the gherao programme (a protest in which a building or person is surrounded by people until demands were met) was declared by the NAP (Bhasani). Accordingly, the programme was launched with the gherao of the bungalow of the DC of Pabna on the 29th December 1968. Mass Uprising Day is observed in Bangladesh every year on 24th January to mark the climax of the movement of the people of the-then East Pakistan for autonomy in 1969 that eventually led to the Independence War and emergence of Bangladesh in 1971. It is competently said that the Mass Upsurge Day teaches Bengalis about the values of democracy and to protest against oppression.
It was as if a wind was blowing. It was heading end-to-end the country, and could not be suppressed forever. This proves that the mobilisation of the people is a formidable source of democracy. This Revolution of 51 years ago provides important lessons for peoples across the world in their quest to dismantle oppression and build just societies today, tomorrow and the days ahead. It can be termed as pleading for a moral excellence of cause or propounding an idea of determination of one's own fate or course of action without compulsion. It taught us that the political separation of our nation from an alien national body; and the formation of independent nation state, Bangladesh.
In this reflection on the 51st anniversary of the Mass Upsurge Day, we will seek to grasp the responses to the revolution, the surge of anti-Pakistani which led the defeat of their fascism. This is an episodic event in human history. It was a period of tremendous outpouring of revolutionary energies in music, art, theatre, journalism, poetry and political organising. The uprising marked a new stage in human history with the independence of Bangladesh in 1971. The tremendous achievements of those insurrections beckon us to understand what was possible and what is possible to create today.
We should create records, equally relevant today in wiping out poverty, backwardness, corruption, terrorism and illiteracy, in establishing equality among peoples of all religions and between men and women. It is an inspiration of what was and what can be, and that is why, we say that the era it established of the transition from alien rule to the establishment of a sovereign and independent state which is as relevant today.
The 1969 Mass Upsurge Day may have more to teach us. The increased tempo of struggle then in our country was a commitment to end all forms of exploitation of humans by sub-humans in our part of land. It clearly shows that a new nation was in the making. The winning of the objectives of this national democratic revolution will, in turn, lay the basis for a steady advance in the direction of deepening our national unity on all fronts — economic, political and cultural and towards a formation of a new country - Bangladesh.Far beyond the horizon, we gazed at sunlit skies glowing from gigantic hills, valleys, thick blue clouds hang peacefully over our heads, painting hopes and aspirations as we journeyed relentlessly to capture our dreams. We have been marching for years clinging desperately to our dreams, with nothing in our hands; our faith and determination propel us along. But the days seemed longer, nights became shorter and our hopes grew stronger and life gets tougher. We journeyed through thorns and thistles; we stumbled upon closed doors, brick walls, giant rocks and numerous road blocks. Left only with rags on our backs, we were determined to reclaim our dreams. The struggle seemed endless as we journeyed night and day on a path that binds us for years. Hunger paralysed us, fear dehydrated us, we endured sleepless nights, but we held on to our conviction, embraced one another and consoled ourselves.
We climbed the hills day and night, but everything seemed far out of sight. All we could see was clear blue clouds smiling above us and multitude of stars blinking in the skies. We passed foxes digging shallow holes in foaming ditches; we saw them tearing and chewing rabbits and rodents, and chasing timid squirrels off the edges. Tormenting sound echoed beyond thick bushy forest, intimidating us on our hopeful journey. Suddenly a ferocious fox leaped out of the bushes, and stared at us, grinding its gigantic teeth. But a tiger sneaked from the tree top and cornered the terrifying fox into its vulnerable hole wounding its feet and pulling at its filthy mouth.
The lame fox lay on the ground grasping for breath, and the forest animals drag it slowly into a hole. We clenched tightly to each other and hurried quickly towards the movements to complete the final leg of the journey. Amidst these strange happening, we progressed faster holding our precious dreams carefully in our hands. We could hear the drum beats resonating from a distance, sealing our hopes and filling our hearts with aspirations. We could feel the bubbling rhythm from afar, and as we got closer the sounds got louder, the cheering grew stronger and we felt happier. We climbed and climbed, we slipped and we glided, we stood firm and plant our feet securely into the ground. We removed obstacles, overturned road blocks, sailed through red lights, and skipped through barricade and persevered until we finally made it to the top. Millions with similar dreams had made it too, and we joined them singing and dancing, the sun shined once again with a daring glow and our long-awaited dream finally came true in 1971. We could breathe fresh air, thus feeling the rhythm in life again.
The heroic upsurge of the 24th January 1969 of our people against the tyrannous Pakistani regime continued for almost 3 years. We witnessed mass demonstrations, strikes, boycotts, etc. and the whole Pakistan based National Election where Awami League led by its charismatic leader Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman emerged out as the majority party leader of Pakistan, but the ruffian Pakistani military rulers betrayed with us and refused to hand-over power to Bangabandhu and then waged a full-scale war with us. Their nefarious actions were directed to violent repression which led to the brutal murder of our 3 million people. The 1971 war shows the determination of Bangladesh’s people to be masters in their own land, an independent People’s Republic.
Long live the Mass Upsurge Day and its message - that is intended, expressed or signified. To finish-off today, we wish to say in the words of Alfred Adler, “Trust only movement. Life happens at the level of events, not of words. Trust movement,” because the people are the only ones capable of transforming society.
The writer is an independent political observer who writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and international affairs