<i>Forty winters ago . . .</i>
Forty winters ago, as the earth prepared for yet another day to give way to a new night of starry luminescence, the People's Republic of Bangladesh took birth over the ashes of what had effectively been, till midnight of March 25 of the year, the eastern province of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. It was December 16, 1971.
In slightly over 24 years since the partition of India on the false premise of communalism, the Bangalees of East Bengal / East Pakistan were proud witnesses to a restoration of their secular heritage in terms of both culture and politics. Slogans of Joi Bangla rent the air as the nearly hundred thousand strong Pakistan military capitulated before the combined assault of the Mukti Bahini (freedom fighters) and the Indian army. It was pure joy to be alive. It was, in a great way, a restoration of our faith in history when Niazi and his men bit the dust.
That is the essence of the epic tale we live through every time December comes round. The month is a substantive reminder of the intensity that came to define our armed struggle for liberty which had been set off nine months earlier. By December 1, 1971, the War of Liberation had taken a concrete shape owing to the increasing activities of the Mukti Bahini, especially in the border regions.
Additionally, in the urban centres and particularly in Dhaka, guerrilla movements became increasingly more pronounced. A sign of that were the growing instances of explosions in areas where the military regime was thought to have a presence, be it in terms of infrastructure or troop concentrations. The rural regions had by the first day of December turned into a veritable death trap for Pakistan's soldiers. The feeling had begun to rise that the occupation forces were fast finding themselves in a constantly shrinking area of operation.
But, of course, these ground realities were ignored by the regime, at least in public. It went into desperate saber-rattling against India and into harshly abusive mode against the Mukti Bahini which for it was but a ragtag band of "miscreants". In late November, a group of pro-Pakistan Bangalee politicians had travelled to Rawalpindi, the ostensible purpose being seeking ways for a "transfer of power" to the elected representatives of the people.
The irony was not missed: the elected representatives who had won a majority at the general elections just a year earlier and who had been deprived of power were at the time marching steadily toward creating the new state of Bangladesh. The pro-Pakistan politicians were to be trapped in Pakistan, for soon December 16 would upset everyone's calculations.
As December began, the Yahya Khan regime prepared to hand down a sentence of death on the imprisoned Bangalee leader Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman following a sham military trial in camera. Bangabandhu had been detained since March and in his name his lieutenants had been waging the war for freedom. By December 1, the Bangalee freedom fighters could tell themselves that it was possible for them to breach and storm the citadel of the enemy.
In Dhaka, the so-called civilian administration of Dr Abdul Mutallib Malek, dominated by Pakistan army officers, began to demonstrate signs of nervousness as the full weight of the situation swiftly began to dawn on it. Malek and his cabinet would resign some days later in the intense bombing launched by the Indian air force on Governor's House (today's Bangabhaban).
Four decades ago, the Bangalee nation spotted the unmistakable points of light dotting the heaven of freedom. December 1971 was to be unlike any other season, for it would symbolise a glory that was to be etched for all time in the collective Bangalee consciousness. It is that time of year when the softness of dawn complements the tenderness of twilight, to remind us of the dreams that powered us to liberty through a long, tortuous valley of death.
In December, we recall in solemn manner the three million of our compatriots whose lives were snuffed out by an enemy intent on a demonstration of barbarism in its efforts to quell civilised living. In December, we remember with deep reverence the political leadership which inspired us into shaping visions of national grandeur.
In December, it is time to rend the skies with the cadences of Joi Bangla once more.