23 March, 1971 is an important day in history of Bangladesh because on this day Bangalees slapped Pakistani Rulers hard. On March 23, the so-called Pakistan Day, the Pakistani flag was not hoisted anywhere in the country except the Governor House, President House and Cantonment. Everywhere else there was the green and red flag of Bangladesh alongside a black flag as a sign of protest of the killing and mourning.
The borders of modern Bangladesh were established with the separation of Bengal and India in August 1947, when the region became East Pakistan as a part of the newly formed State of Pakistan following the end of British rule in the region. Proclamation of Bangladesh’s Independence in March 1971 led to the nine-month Liberation War that culminated with East Pakistan emerging as the People's Republic of Bangladesh. Every sphere of Bangladesh’s life transformed as a result.
A final effort to prevent the breakup of Pakistan, which was divided among the primarily Urdu-speaking West Pakistan and the majority Bengali-speaking East Pakistan, was made in the East Pakistani capital at Dhaka, where the new parliament had been scheduled to meet.
The advisors of Yahiya and Mujib met. Mujib warns against bid to impose decision: “Whatever conspiracy you indulge in you will not succeed in suppressing the demands of the people. We would not bow our heads to any force. We will free the people of Bangladesh.” Tajuddin Ahmed, General Secretary of the-then East Pakistan Awami League, urged the people to be vigilant and to be ready to make any sacrifice to defeat the conspiracies of anti-people forces.
The Chhatra Sangram Parishad observed 23 March as Protirodh Dibash (Defence Day) and NAP (Bhasani) as Swadheen Purba Bangla Dibash. The flag of independent Bangladesh was hoisted throughout the whole of the-then East Pakistan. The members of the Joy Bangla Bahini saluted the new flag in Dhanmondi in presence of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
NAP (Bhasani), Jatiya League, student organisations and majority political parties of the-then East Pakistan participated in the movement for establishment of an independent state. The President cancelled his scheduled speech on the occasion of National Day because of political instability. As a part of Yahya-Mujib parley, a discussion meeting was held between the discussants of Awami League and advisors of the President Gen Yahya Khan.
The Awami League representatives for the discussion included Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmad, Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad and Kamal Hosain, while the advisors of the President included AR Cornelius, SGM Peerzada and Colonel Hasan. On this day, the representatives of Awami League submitted the draft of the proposed constitution. The draft Constitution based on 6-point programme recommended that defence, external trade, foreign affairs, currency, citizenship, central loan, standard of weight and measurement, central asset, inter-provincial and international communication would be under the jurisdiction of the central government, and the matter beyond this inventory would be under the jurisdiction of the province. They had discussion meeting again in the evening on the economic aspects of the draft constitution.
Consequently, after the launching of a genocide by the Pakistani military in East Bengal on the night of 25 March 1971, and subsequent declaration of Bangladesh’s independence by Bangabandhu along with commencement of the Liberation War the next day, the offices and printing presses of three leading dailies of Dhaka were destroyed by the mortar attacks of the Pakistani Army within a space of one week. These were ‘Dainik Ittefaq’, ‘Sangbad’, and ‘The People’. The offices of ‘Dainik Pakistan’, ‘Dainik Purbodesh’, ‘Morning News’, and ‘Pakistan Observer’ were also attacked and a portion of Dhaka Press Club was destroyed. Periodicals like the weeklies ‘Swaraj’ and ‘Banglar Bani’— which were quite vocal in the resistance movement — had to be closed down.
The breakup of Pakistan and the emergence of Bangladesh can be understood only in a wider international context of the period: decolonization, the Cold War, and incipient globalization. In a narrative populated by the likes of Nixon, Kissinger, Zhou Enlai, Indira Gandhi, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Tariq Ali, George Harrison, Ravi Shankar, and Bob Dylan, March 23, 1971 vividly portrays the stellar international cast that shaped the origins and outcome of the Bangladesh.
Looking back on the remains of the day, many of Bangladesh’s leading thinkers concur that the tidings of 1952 as well as the people involved in the affairs played a critical role in shaping and foreshadowing Bangladesh’s subsequent path to independence. There were many language activists who were in the vanguard of the formative phase of the Language Movement, and among those, however, Shaheed (martyred) Dhirendranath Dutta’s role was seminal by any measure.
Awami League launched a non-violent non-cooperation movement. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman rejected Yahya Khan’s proposal for a conference of political leaders. He called a nationwide strike and launched a non-violent non-cooperation movement. The upsurge by then had spread to the other parts of the country. Everywhere the people responded to the great leader Bangabandhu’s appeal and the movement became more orderly and effective.
Bangabandhu also ordered “Continuous Strikes” – a daily shutdown from 7am to 2pm. and accordingly, everything in the country ceased functioning during those hours.
There was serious trouble in Chittagong that night when the authorities tried to unload the MV Swat which had arrived with troops and a cargo of ammunition. Dock workers spread this news. Soon thousands of people were locked in battle with West Pakistan soldiers and sailors. The trouble gained a new dimension when a unit of the East Pakistan Rifles refused to fire on Bangalee demonstrators. This action gave a sharper edge to Bangalee resentment.
It was in that situation that Lt. Gen. Tikka Khan flew into Dhaka. Tikka Khan was an old hand at quelling disturbances. He had already acquired the reputation of “Butcher of Baluchistan.”
After the daily strikes ended in Dhaka at 2pm meetings were held at the stadium and other places. On one occasion 341 prisoners who had broken out of Dhaka jail joined the stadium meeting on 23 March, 1971.
As the intensity of the movement was increasing so did the demand for independence. On the other side, Yahya Khan living in the paradise of fools saw the remedy only in terms of applying greater force – a military solution for a political problem. 23 March, 1971 is a truly significant and extraordinarily rare event. You can also have a look at the year 1971, at March 23 across the years or at March 1971 calendar.
The writer is an independent political analyst who writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and international affairs