Crimson dawn of freedom
A few minutes past midnight on March 26, 1971, Bangabandhu declared Bangladesh's independence. The message of freedom came even as Dhaka burned. Units of the Pakistan army had already fanned out in various directions, putting everything --- people, buildings, homes, monuments --- to the gun and the torch. A column of soldiers was on its way to arrest the Bangalee leader.
Bangabandhu's message was brief, passed on to MA Hannan, a prominent Awami League leader in Chittagong, by wireless:
This may be my last message. From today Bangladesh is independent. I call upon the people of Bangladesh, wherever they might be and with whatever you have, to resist the army of occupation to the last. Your fight must go on until the last soldier of the Pakistan occupation army is expelled from Bangladesh. Final victory is ours.
Moments after the message was sent off, Bangabandhu's residence in Dhanmondi came under attack by the Pakistan army. The firing around the residence was so intense and deafening that at one point Bangabandhu emerged to tell the soldiers to put an end to it. Within minutes, the Father of the Nation was put on a jeep, taken to the under-construction National Assembly building in Sher-e-Banglanagar and made to wait there until the military could decide what to do with him. An officer got in touch with General Tikka Khan, to give him the cryptic message: “Big bird in cage. Little birds have flown.” He then asked Tikka if Mujib should be brought before him. The Pakistani military commander's contemptuous response was, “I don't want to see his face.” Bangabandhu was then taken to Adamjee Cantonment College, where he would be lodged for a few days before being flown to West Pakistan.
Early on the morning of March 26, as the army went on massacring Bangalees in Dhaka and elsewhere, senior Pakistani military officers led by Tikka Khan gathered for breakfast in Dhaka cantonment. There was a palpable sense of glee in them, as Brigadier A.R. Siddiqui, chief of Pakistan's military information, was to report decades later. Tikka Khan asked Siddiqui to taste the oranges there. “They are good. They are from West Pakistan”, said the general.
In the evening, President Yahya Khan addressed the nation over radio and television. He accused Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of having indulged in treason, condemned what he called the violence let loose in East Pakistan in the days preceding the crackdown and clamped a ban on the Awami League. Once the president's speech was over, Roedad Khan, information secretary of the Pakistan government, stepped into a room in Dhaka cantonment where Tikka Khan and other senior officers had just watched Yahya Khan speak. Roedad Khan, grinning from ear to ear, told his fellow West Pakistanis, “Yaar, imaan taaza ho gya (friends, faith has been revived)'.
The next day, late in the evening of March 27, a Bengali army officer, Major Ziaur Rahman, announced on behalf of 'our great national leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman' the independence of Bangladesh over Free Bengal radio at Kalurghat, Chittagong. He appealed for international support to the cause of Bengali freedom. 'To dub us as secessionists is a contradiction in terms which should befool none,” said Zia.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan army was going deeper into its programme of genocide throughout occupied Bangladesh. Early reports of the killings began to filter out to the western media from their correspondents, who had been expelled from Dhaka on the night of March 25 and were then in Bangkok and Calcutta.