Recently a debate has cropped up over the finer points of the question what the spirit of liberation war really means. But I hope that no one would contest some very basic points. The most fundamental point would be 'liberation' or the right of any nation or people to self-determination as recognized by international law.
After the March 25 midnight, that is, in the early hours of March 26, Bangladesh practically declared independence. After two weeks, the provisional government was constituted. This very fact bears out that Bangladesh was not prepared – at least not completely – for proclamation of independence. This government known as Mujibnagar Government issued 'the Proclamation of Independence' on 10th day of April, 1971. Accepting this Proclamation of Independence as a document of evidence would resolve the debate over a few issues. The proclamation of 10th April was issued by and under the authority of Constituent Assembly of Bangladesh composed of representatives elected in the free elections held in Bangladesh from 7th December, 1970 to 17th January, 1971. The representatives were elected to the Pakistan National Assembly and East Pakistan Provincial Assembly.
The Proclamation of 10th April 1971 also offers an explanation of the reasons for which Bangladesh declared independence. According to this explanation, the representatives of Bangladesh did not proclaim independence spontaneously or unilaterally. They were compelled to proclaim independence, because 'instead of fulfilling their promise and while still conferring with the representatives of the people of Bangladesh, Pakistan authorities declared an unjust and treacherous war.'
In the very Proclamation of 10th April it was stated that 'Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the undisputed leader of 75 million of people of Bangladesh, in due fulfilment of the legitimate right of self-determination of the people of Bangladesh, duly made a declaration of independence at Dacca on March 26, 1971, and urged the people of Bangladesh to defend the honour and integrity of Bangladesh.' Unfortunately in the times that followed a few kicked off a controversy on the question of Proclamation of Independence. Has anyone so far challenged the authenticity of the Proclamation of 10th April? If not, the question follows: which particular points of the Proclamation are they challenging?
The question would arise: why was independence proclaimed in the night of 26th March? The Proclamation of 10th April provides an explanation of that as well. The Proclamation lays out the explanation in five points.
Firstly, 'free elections were held in Bangladesh from 7th December, 1970 to 17th January, 1971, to elect representatives for the purpose of framing a Constitution [for Pakistan],'
Secondly, 'at these elections the people of Bangladesh elected 167 out of 169 representatives belonging to the Awami League,'
Thirdly, 'General Yahya Khan [the President of Pakistan] summoned the elected representatives of the people to meet on the 3rd March, 1971, for the purpose of framing a Constitution,'
Fourthly, 'the Assembly so summoned was arbitrarily and illegally postponed for an indefinite period [by the Pakistani Authorities],'
And finally, 'instead of fulfilling their promise and while still conferring with the representatives of the people of Bangladesh, [the] Pakistan authorities declared an unjust and treacherous war.'
What has been said so far – that is, 'an unjust and treacherous war' prosecuted by Pakistan – was the necessary and sufficient reason behind Bangladesh's proclamation of independence. Pakistani authorities did not stop at mere declaration of war. From the midnight of 25th March, they began 'continuously committing numerous acts of genocide and unprecedented tortures, amongst others on the civilian and unarmed people of Bangladesh.'
It was owing to Pakistan's imposition of the unjust war and committing acts of genocide and other forms of repression that Bangladesh declared independence and the representatives of the people of Bangladesh issued the Proclamation of Independence. Through this proclamation, they laid down the lawful basis of a just war. In looking back, it therefore can be said that in response to the war, genocide, and repression waged by Pakistani authorities, the people of Bangladesh began the war of liberation to establish their effective control over the territories of Bangladesh. In this war, the critical asset of the people was their 'heroism, bravery and revolutionary fervour'.
What has been said so far, i.e. just war in the face of unjust war – is only half of the truth. The question would arise: what would be the vision of the state that would be established through the just war? The Proclamation of 10th April offers an answer also to this question. The Proclamation stated that the reason that held universal sway in establishing People's Republic of Bangladesh was 'to ensure for the people of Bangladesh equality, human dignity and social justice'.
The people of Bangladesh engaged in armed struggle to establish effective control over the territories of Bangladesh. The unconditional surrender of Pakistani authorities on 16th December, 1971 made that control definitive. The liberation war of Bangladesh achieved victory.
The spirit that inspired all classes of people of Bangladesh from 26th March to 16th December, 1971 – which finds its expression in the Proclamation of 10th April – is precisely the spirit of liberation war.
After gaining the legitimate right of national self-determination, i.e. independence, we still have to draw up the balance sheet to see what we have achieved. Why was martial law clamped over the country within four years of independence? We must ask this question. Why those who were the elected representatives of the people's assembly or National Parliament for the four years could not exercise their 'heroism, bravery and revolutionary fervour' to establish their control in resisting martial law? This is another question to ask.
Since then, 15 years passed under military rule in one form or another. Since 1990 – excluding two years – legitimate system of government has been reinstated. But has there been any salving of the people's misery and suffering? Have 'equality, human dignity and social justice' been established? If not, who is responsible for the lapse? The spirit of the liberation war lies not in evading these questions, but in asking them.
Pakistan became 'independent' on the 14th August, 1947. A little over ten years inside independence, i.e. on 27th October, 1958, military rule was thrust upon the country for the first time. In late 1964, Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah, keeping the chain of events in mind, wrote: 'What fruit have we plucked with our independence? We profess our gratitude to the United States and other allied nations with whose financial and other support we have made a certain degree of progress. That we have not been able to achieve complete success is chiefly due to the fact that those who were at the helm of government prior to the declaration of martial law on 27th October, 1958 were servants of the English. Even after independence, they could not quite rise above the servile mentality.' Muhammad Shahidullah also added another sentence to this: 'Then again those who were the elected representatives of the National or Provincial Assembly were – save a few exceptions – firm believers in the principles of nepotism and pocketism, which as understood in Bengali means, patronage of one's own kin and filling of one's own pockets.'
Dr Shahidullah identified corruption as the main driving factor that made military rule necessary in Pakistan. But he was also aware that mere change of ruler does not bring about change in the nation's lot. Military rule in Pakistan did not change the lot of the people of that country. The reason behind this – according to Dr Shahidullah – was the ignorance of the people of Pakistan. It would not be amiss to quote further from his powerful words: 'For a blind man, day or night make no difference. For an ignoramus, liberty and bondage are all the same. What can we expect when only four to five percent of the population literate in truth? An ignoramus too counts no more than a minor. Kinsfolk of a minor face no trouble in deceiving him/her to fill their pockets at his/her expense. Same thing happened in this country.'
It has been 43 years since Bangladesh has achieved independence. Bangladesh has also seen her share of progress. But what has been the change to the fortune of people – who are the society's base and to whom the supreme power of Bangladesh belongs? In these 43 years – setting other questions aside, let us at least ask this question – what percentage of the people has been truly educated?
We assert on a regular basis that three million people lost their lives in the liberation war of Bangladesh. Yet, in the ensuing 43 years we have not been able to prepare a complete list of the martyrs. How then would we ensure 'equality, human dignity and social justice'? Ahmed Sofa, the great writer, raised this question in an article published on 12th December, 2000. As of today, I have not received an adequate response to this question yet. The question thus merits some elaboration.
Ahmed Sofa was born in the Patiya upazila of the Chittagong (south) district. The name of his village is Gachhbaria. It has fallen under the newly constituted Chandanaish upazila. During the liberation war, he left the country and going via Agartala, took refuge in Calcutta. At the end of the war, he came back first to Dhaka, then to his village. What followed has been described in his article: 'Since 1972, whenever I have visited my village, I tried to make the village people agree to one matter. I repeatedly solicited the local people – including the [Union Parishad] members, Chairmen, and Matabbars – on the issue: I tried to make them understand that around 100 people of our village lost their lives at the hand of the Pakistani Army, Razakars, and Al-Badrs. The Chittagong-Cox's Bazar road [also known as Arakan road] passes across the heart of our village. I put forth the proposal that a billboard should be planted permanently at the side of the road carrying the names of the 100 people killed in the liberation war.'
'I proposed,' so went on Ahmed Sofa, 'that another line should be written on the billboard. It was like this: Wayfarer, unbeknownst to you, the village which you happen to be passing by had one of its children lay down his/her life for the liberation of the land! I have been harping on this proposition ever since 1972. Initially people would try to give me an audience with due attention. But after three or four years when I would still bring it up, people would think that I was unnecessarily trying to embarrass them. I think, if I present the proposal once again today, people would reckon me to have gone totally mad.'
What, therefore, does 'spirit of liberation war' signify? Why, it was not only about Ahmed Sofa's own village – the same situation prevails all over the country. He wrote: 'In course of my work I have had to visit a good deal around 8 to 10 districts of North Bengal, central Bengal, and South Bengal. Wherever I went, I did ask people whether anything took place there during the liberation war. In many villages the inhabitants told me that, 'Punjabis did not set their foot in our village at all.' People in other villages said the Punjabis did come, burnt down houses, and killed many people. I would ask, do you happen to know the name and identity of those who were killed? The villagers would respond enthusiastically, 'why shouldn't we? Son of so-and-so, brother of so-and-so, grandson of so-and-so, etc., etc.'
Yet, why could not anyone prepare a comprehensive list of the martyrs of the liberation war? Thus deplored Ahmed Sofa: 'I would then say: why do you not write down the names of the people killed in the liberation war at the wayside? When anybody would pass through your village, s/he would read it and this would (then) give rise to a sense of respect in the visitor's mind for your village. The villagers would just look at me with their mouths agape, as if unable to make sense of what I was suggesting.'
At this point our great writer is showing what has happened to the 'spirit of liberation war'. Ahmed Sofa wrote: 'In the different places of Bangladesh that I visited, nowhere could I find the names of the martyrs of the liberation war to have been written down with care and respect. It would not really take too much of an effort to undertake such an enterprise. It would take only a little patriotism and a little respect for the people killed in the liberation war.' Has it been too late to mend? Could we not set the matter right today? If we cannot, then we must admit that no such thing as the 'spirit of the liberation war' survives today.
The writer is a Professor at University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh.
Translated byTahmidal Zami. He is a researcher.
1. Professor Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah, 'Swadhinata,' Dainik Paygam [Bengali daily], Biplab Sankhya [Revolution Day issue], 20 October 1964, 9 Kartik 1371 BS.
3. 'The Proclamation of Independence,' Mujibnagar, Bangladesh, dated 10th day of April, 1971, Seventh Schedule [Article 150 (2)], Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, reprint, October 2011.