Monday, 5 June, 2023

Sweet Independence Earned at the Cost of Blood and Sacrifice

Pradip Kumar Dutta

Bangladesh observes its 53rd Independence Day today. Since that glorious day in 1971 the blood red-dark green flag is a proud possession of ours. The red disc symbolizes the rising sun and the sacred blood shed by martyrs to achieve the independence of the country. The green colour denotes the fertile land, rich in high agricultural output. When the flag was designed prior to our War of Independence, it contained a map of the country inside a disc in yellow colour. When we fought our Liberation War to get ourselves freed from the clutches of Pakistani oppressors, we fought with that flag in our hands. Later, after our victory in the Great War of Liberation, the lawmakers thought it wise to drop the map from the flag as it is difficult to reproduce a map accurately on each and every flag that were to be produced. To earn our freedom and to become proud possessor of this red-green flag we had to fight a blood drenched war and sacrifice tremendously.

Pakistan was created under a Two Nation Theory when the British crown was forced to leave their colony in the Indian subcontinent. The divide and rule policy of the colonial British regime and the power mongering of local politicians gave birth to India as a secular country dominated by majority Hindus and a defective Pakistan for the Muslims of the subcontinent consisting of two Muslim majority regions a thousand miles apart. The only binding factor between the East and West Pakistan could be the religion, as most of the population of both parts of Pakistan had Islam as their common religion. But in modern days, religion cannot be the only factor to form a country. Many other factors are there. History, economy, ethnicity, social fabric, language, culture and lifestyle may be termed as factors that are to be considered while forming a country. We, the two parts of Pakistan had nothing in common but the Religion. East Pakistan, which we have transformed into Bangladesh was smaller in area with more fertile land and accounted for 56% of Pakistan's population. West Pakistan, having lesser population had disproportionately bigger share in civil and military service of Pakistan. Ruling politicians including the country's founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah were mostly West Pakistani domiciles or migrated Muslim aristocrats to West Pakistan from different parts of India, notably UP, Bombay Presidency, Hyderabad and Gujrat. From the very beginning, the West Pakistanis started dominating their Eastern counterparts in all spheres of life. Bengalis of East Pakistan who fought for Pakistan as a separate country for Muslims were disillusioned immediately after formation of Pakistan when Urdu was declared as the only state language of Pakistan after its inception, though Bengalis making 56%  of the country's population neither spoke nor understood that language. Obviously the Bengalis protested against the move and were met with savage force of law enforcers. In 1952, the language movement reached its pinnacle and at the cost of several language martyrs we could establish Bengali as one of the state languages of Pakistan.

Though the major portion of the foreign currency of Pakistan was generated by exporting jute and tea from East Pakistan, the developmental projects and industrialisation was given much more preference in the western part. So, the western part of the country prospered at the cost of East Pakistan. Politics, armed service and business were dominated by the West Pakistanis. The top 21 business families of Pakistan were non-Bengalis. Less than 10% of civil and military personnel were from East Pakistan. The number of high ranking government officers of Bengali origin could be counted by fingers. The West Pakistanis treated East Pakistani Bengalis as their subjects in the neo-colonial form of exploitation. They considered themselves as a martial race and at superior intellectual level than their eastern partners.

Whenever the East Pakistanis demanded parity and their due share in economy, livelihood, government jobs or elsewhere, they were branded as secessionists influenced by India. Democracy was never given a chance as the western Pakistanis knew that they cannot win any fair election as the number game will go against them. Moreover, the euphoria of Two Nation Theory (a separate country for Muslims, so that they get better facilities than British period) also faded immediately after the formation of Pakistan. Pakistan was virtually ruled by the military in collusion with west Pakistani politicians most of whom were of feudal origin. Of course they had some bootlickers in East Pakistan as well who wanted to get a share of the leftover cake.

Nationalist movements grew with time. In the initial years of existence of Pakistan, leaders like H S Suhrawardy, A K Fazlul Haque, and Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani led the Bengali population in demanding their rights. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was their disciple and fought hand in hand with them since the very beginning. With the passage of time, Sheikh Mujib took over the leadership and became the voice of all Bengali population. His six point demand which was a manifesto of freedom of Bengalis from Pakistani exploitation and was supposed to give them their due rights was treated as anti-state activity by Pakistan government. Our leader was put behind the bars but that could not dampen the spirit of the movement. Gradually it gained momentum and the Bengali mass upsurge of 1969 led by students and fuelled by Awami League and progressive political parties tore down the oppressive military ruler Ayub Khan.

While leaving power Ayub did the final damage. He violated the norms of politics and handed over the political powers to Yahya Khan, a brut general of fascist nature. To quell the uprising in Dhaka, Yahya declared a democratic election in the country that will elect a constituent assembly for drafting a democratic constitution for Pakistan. At the back of his mind, he had other ideas. The elections were declared for end of 1970. By then, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman has become Bangabandhu, an unparalleled leader of the Bengalis. He was freed from jail as an outcome of the 1969 mass uprising led by Bangali students who put forward their famous 11point demand. By 1970 when the election campaign began, all Bengalis stood steadfast behind Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. By then 6point demands of AL and 11 point demand of students have converged and a general Bengali person saw his future life bright under the leadership of Bangabandhu. Overwhelming majority of Bengali population of East Pakistan gathered under Awami League’s banner which made him a public hero.

The vibe of the political mood could be clearly understood. Any sensible person could predict loud and clear that Awami League under the leadership of Sheikh Mujib is going to be a clear winner. There was a devastating cyclone and tidal bore just about a month before the elections. It claimed more than half a million lives besides causing considerable material damage. Slow and inadequate relief and rehabilitation efforts by the Pak government proved their apathy to the Bengalis. This too had a bearing on the election results. Awami League won 167 seats out of 169 in East Pakistan assembly. Only Nurul Amin, a pro Pakistani PDP leader from Mymensingh and Chakma King Tridib Roy won a seat apiece in Pak national assembly from East Pakistan.

A clear winner in the general election having a clear mandate, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman claimed the leadership of the house to form a government. Yahya Khan was fooled by his intelligence sources. They could not think of such a huge win of the AL. Yahya was at a loss to decide what to do. He started dilly dallying. Meanwhile, Pak civil and military bureaucracy and political circle played the Bhutto card. The leader of People's Party Z A Bhutto, being the winner of majority seats in West Pakistan, started putting forward illogical propositions to jeopardise the smooth transfer of power to the democratically elected Awami League. In the meantime, massive troops and military equipment build up was carried on by transferring military personnel and arms/ammunitions from the west to the east. To buy time for this military preparation, Yahya staged an act of prolonged dialogue with Bangabandhu, as if to overcome the impasse.

As we all know, on 7 March 1971 at a mammoth political gathering at the Dhaka Race Course, Bangabandhu had already delivered an epic of a political speech outlining the future course of action for Bengalis which was nothing short of the proclamation of independence. The speech was aptly crafted by the would be father of the nation so that international community cannot blame him for a secessionist movement. He was waiting for the initiative from the other side.

Finally that is what has happened. Maj Gen Khadim Hossain Raja, who was in charge of Dhaka Army garrison was put in charge of Operation Searchlight that was planned to silence the Bengalis by sheer military force. In his book "A stranger in my own country" he has given a lot of details of the military regime's intentions.

1971 genocide started with this infamous Operation Searchlight. Tanks and armoured vehicles rolled out of Dhaka Cantonment to smash the Rajarbagh Police Lines, Peelkhana East Pakistan Rifles HQ, several student dormitories of Dhaka University and a few Hindu localities of Dhaka. The pogrom had started. It was the beginning of a planned Bengali genocide which continued for the next nine months till our victory in the Liberation War on 16 December 1971. The genocide has caused approximately  3 million deaths; between 2 to 4 hundred thousand women and girls losing their chastity;10 million people losing their home and business turning refugees seeking food, shelter and safety in nearby Indian territories; similar numbers or more internally displaced people were looking for safety. This genocide has remained unattended and uncared for by Pakistan and international community. In 2017 Bangladesh Parliament has unanimously adopted a bill declaring 25 March as Bangladesh Genocide Remembrance Day. Bangladesh has also decided to pursue the case of international recognition of the Genocide.

After the Pakistani armed action started on 25 March late evening, Bangabandhu declared the independence of Bangladesh in the early hours of 26 March. Since then, we were no more East Pakistanis.  We turned into an independent nation Bangladesh under Pakistani occupation force. Bengali police, present and ex army personnel, paramilitary forces, students, peasants, workers went for training and fighting the Pakistanis. Our great War of Liberation ensued. We started fighting a well trained army of so called martial race almost bare handed. Gradually we started getting training and arms from various sources including India, Socialist countries led by USSR, Bangladeshi diaspora in different countries and progressive political parties of western countries and all freedom lovers and justice seeking people of the world. Finally, our victory was achieved. 93,000 Pakistani military personnel and their accomplices surrendered in public to the joint forces of Bangladesh and India.

Every year the Independence Day comes with new challenges and hopes.

This year, the challenge is the deep economic crisis, inflation and economic depression which the world is facing due to the Russia-Ukraine war. We, as global citizens, are not away from this crisis. We have to fight it out with all our might.

Our hope lies in the prudent leadership of our honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who has led us out of the international crisis faced by the world due to Covid-19. We are doing fairly well so far, in facing the economic crisis.

Let us all join hands to increase productive activities in all fields and together we will overcome the present situation and prosper.


The writer is a columnist