NATIONAL MOURNING DAY
‘People can never trust a government that issues press notes based on falsehoods'
On June 7, 1966, the people of what was then East Pakistan observed a general strike in support of the Awami League's Six-Point programme of autonomy announced a few months earlier by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Bangabandhu was in jail at that time. On June 8, 1966, Bangabandhu made the following entry in his diary, revealing his deep love for the people who had come out on the streets and his loathing of the cruel treatment of those who were arrested and brought to prison the day after. We are printing the entry from the Prison Diaries, published by Bangla Academy in 2018.
Waking up in the morning, I heard that in the course of the night police had managed to fill the jail up with prisoners. A lot of people lay sprawling in the jail office in the morning as well. By 8 o'clock in the morning, approximately 300 people had been brought to the jail. Among them were six to fifty years old people! Some were boys who were crying for their mothers. They could not even feed themselves properly! They had been kept standing before the case table. They were not given any food throughout the day. Many young people had been brought in with wounds; some had injuries on their feet; others had cuts on their forehead; some even had fractured arms. The jail authorities apparently didn't think that they needed any medical attention. After their arrests they had been held elsewhere; in the evening they were deposited in the jail. Throughout the day they kept bringing more and more people; among them were really little children who had not yet been weaned! Some were school students. A few of the prison wardens were behaving well with them but others were treating them roughly. I was forced to let the jail authorities know that they should stop abusing them for otherwise there would be trouble. The government had sentenced them after trying them summarily in mobile courts. Some were given three months terms and others two months in prison; some boys were handed out one month sentences. Even ordinary prisoners, some of whom had come to jail on charges of murder or robbery, were sorry at the arrest of such young people. The infants cried for their mothers throughout the night. They hadn't even learned to take their food properly. How could anyone expect proper treatment from such a Government?
"People can never trust a government that issues press notes based on falsehoods. All my life I have been hearing, “police resorted to firing out of self-defense.” Who can ever believe such stuff anymore? What will happen to the parents and children of those who have been killed?
I couldn't figure out how the jail authorities would provide accommodation for all these people. Young children are supposed to be interned separately. After they had been brought in, news came of random firing in which a lot of people had died in Tejgaon and Narayanganj. Tear gas shells had been fired all over Dhaka city. They had also resorted to lathi charge. What could one do except sit silently and express sympathy wordlessly? Although I am prone to being emotional, I also have the ability to control myself. However, no one except a prisoner can understand how receiving such news in prison can affect a person.
Persuaded by my fellow prisoners, I sat down for breakfast. But I could not eat at all. At lunchtime I found myself in a similar situation. I was feeling very upset since I was not getting the full picture. I became impatient for the newspapers to be delivered. They were taking too much time to arrive. At two o'clock the newspapers finally came. Exactly what I had apprehended turned out to be the case. The government had blocked any news of the hartal from being printed. There was no news of the strike; only a government press note had been issued. It was the same case with the Azad, Ittefaq, and the Observer. And this was supposed to be “freedom of the press”! Ittefaq was only four pages big this day and no news from the districts had been published in it. I didn't have the slightest doubt now that the hartal had been successfully observed in different districts.
Glancing at the newspapers. I broke into a sweat. How dreadful! The government press note acknowledged that ten people had been killed because of police firing. I am horrified to think how many more actually died since the Government itself has admitted to ten fatalities! The government press release does not even imply how many people have been injured. It is as if all the blame lies with the people! Wherever government representatives have been inciting people, the Awami League has been saying clearly, “we want to observer the Protest Day peacefully." It has been instructing its workers accordingly. There can be no sense in blaming the people now. Wherever policemen had not been present, no unpleasant incidents took place. In Chawk Bazar and other places the general strike had been observed peacefully.
Shooting took place just after the proclamation of Section 144 at 11 am. If it was announced beforehand then workers and the people would have known about it easily. When the Awami League announced its program in the newspapers, it was clearly stated there that a procession would be organised at 10:00 am, a meeting in the afternoon, and another procession subsequently. Section 144 had not been proclaimed then. It is easy to conclude that the mess has been engineered by some government agents and overenthusiastic staff members who had been egged on by some senior party leader or the other.
People can never trust a government that issues press notes based on falsehoods. All my life I have been hearing, “police resorted to firing out of self-defense.” Who can ever believe such stuff anymore? What will happen to the parents and children of those who have been killed? The children had been eagerly looking forward to the return of their fathers; the fathers to the time when their children would be home. They looked forward to the money that would be sent to them at the beginning of the month when they got their pay; now they would not return anymore and the money would never ever reach them again. I felt totally down. I could not console myself in any way. Why do people take the lives of others so selfishly?
But the sacrifice made by the dead ones would not be in vain. Since the people of this country have learned to sacrifice their lives to achieve their rights, victory will surely be theirs; it is only a matter of time before they emerge victorious. Workers had come out of their factories; peasants had stopped working; businessmen had shut down their shops; students had left their schools and colleges. Had protest of such magnitude taken place in Pakistan ever before? The Six Points Program comes from the heart of the people. It occurred to me in jail this time that the lackeys of imperialism and the extortionists from West Pakistan would not be able to exploit the impoverished people of East Bengal for long. In particular, I realised that the protest of June 7 had burst out spontaneously throughout rural Bengal; this suggested to me that no longer would their exploiters be able to suppress them through threats. For the sake of Pakistan, its rulers should frame a constitution based on the acceptance of the “Six Points.”
The blood that has been spilled from the bosoms of my brothers on the pitch-carpeted roads of Dhaka cannot go waste. The way students and the masses of this country had sacrificed their lives to make Bengali the state language had made it one of Pakistan's state languages; blood that is shed thus never can go waste! What can one do except express solidarity silently from the depth of our souls for those who sacrificed their lives smilingly or were injured, or arrested, or endured torture? To them and their children we must express our sympathy silently. Sitting in this prison I raised my hands and prayed to Allah for the peace of their souls. I promised myself that I would not let their deaths go in vain. We would carry on our struggle. We would await whatever fate had in store for us. People surely know how to value their sacrifice. The demands of the people of the land would have to be realised through such sacrifices.