From Insight Desk
39 Years Onward
Independence is a curious word. It is one of the most fundamental ideals of humanity, a sacred birthright, any challenge to which can expect to be answered with an overwhelming repost. Indeed, if one was to tally the amount of violence that has been wreaked in its name throughout human history, one could not be blamed for being somewhat apprehensive of it. Yet what does independence mean for an individual? What does it entitle one to?
Sitting in the relative comforts of post-liberation Bangladesh, having not had to bear the weight of decades of subjugation by distant masters, such questions can be somewhat difficult to answer. Of course, the sacrifices made by so many over those fateful years make the enormity of its significance very easy to appreciate; yet over the last 39 years, its consequences and implications have been harder to pinpoint at times.
Today the spirit of independence is celebrated on days of remembrance by military parades and eloquent speeches, the martyrs eulogized, promises remade and visions retold. Certain aspects of it are unfortunately politicized, but the spirit of it, on these days of remembrance, I am sure, remains the same. On these days, just as it was 39 years ago, an entire nation comes together, united in purpose and spirit, commemorating a time when they all knew what it meant to be independent, what it meant to be united, what it felt like to have a purpose greater than oneself.
Yet one cannot help the feeling these occasions are only as frequent as these days of remembrance, as if it is more these days rather than sprit of these days that were are being commemorated. Having achieved independence, it has perhaps become on of those things we take for granted. Perhaps its one of those things, like oxygen, you only notice when there is a distinct lack of it.
The Road to Independence: The Fateful Month of March
The national elections of 1970 saw the election of Bengali political majority for the first time in the history of the two decade old Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The West Pakistani political elite were not overly enthused about the shift of power from the west to the east, but the Bengalis had been given a chance to dream, and they were not willing to let go. Despite much political maneuvering, both behind close doors and out on the streets, the situation had hit an impasse through 1970 and into 1971.
In early 1971, there were some indications from all parties involved that there might be a possible resolution in sight. On the night 25th March, many newspapers thought Dhaka had just finished the drafts of their editorials, hopeful that the stalemate might be coming to an end, and the democratically elected Awami League will be taking their rightful place in the parliament. But the powers that be had other ideas. Here we present the events of March 1971, the events that led up the Declaration of Independence and the birth of Bangladesh.
Dhaka stadium is hosting a cricket match, packed with spectators. The first parliamentary session is to be held within two days, with the overwhelmingly elected Awami League government, headed by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in power. President Yahya declares the cancellation of the session on radio. The enraged masses of the stadium and the city start overflowing onto the streets. The cricket match is abandoned.
Dhaka Radio declares daily curfew from 8pm to 7am in Dhaka city. Furious Dhaka erupts at night, and many are left dead and wounded after the military opens fire.
Curfew is declared in Sylhet, Rongpur, Chittagong and Khulna in the face of widespread public turmoil. In the afternoon unarmed masses march in support of Bangabandhu's peaceful non-cooperation movement. Bangabandhu calls for dawn to dusk strike up till the 6th of March.
Bangabandhu declares the four preconditions for Awami Legue participating in the National Parliamentary assembly at a gathering over one million people at the Racecourse field: 1. The withdrawal of martial law. 2. The return of all military forces to the barracks. 3. Power must be handed over to the elected representatives of the people. 4. Justice for the perpetrators of public massacres. It is during this gather Bangabandhu delivers the famous lines “Abarer shongram amader muktir shongram, abarer shongram amader shadhonotar shongram” (Today we fight for our freedom, today we fight for our independence).
Among other things, Bangabandhu calls for the hoisting of black flags at all premises for a week, the formation of Revolutionary Comities throughout all cities and villages of the nation, to keep Bangladesh's communications media up and running, stopping transfer of money to West Pakistan.
Moulana Bhashani advises General Yahya at a gathering on the Polton field to accept Bangladesh's independence.
Air Marshal Azgar says at a gathering in Lahore “If for our shortsightedness Bangladesh breaks away, West Pakistan would not be able to last for even five years.
General population rejects the military's calls to return to work.
Sheikh Mujib promulgates 35 laws to keep the civilian administration of Bangladesh active. On the same day General Yahya arrive in Dhaka along with a number of generals for talks with Sheikh Mujib.
The start of Mujib-Yahya talks. Black flags are hoisted in protest of public massacres.
Second round of talks between Mujib-Yahya
Talks between Mujib and Yahya lasts for 90 minutes. During the talks, many are killed by military fire at Joidebpur. Violence between the populace and the military erupts in many parts of the nation. Bangabandhu says “What is the meaning of these talks and meetings? I cannot betray the blood of the martyrs”.
Another round of talks between Yahya and Sheikh Mujib last over two and quarter of an hour.
Another round of talks between. Arrival of Bhutto in Dhaka under strict military security.
After the conclusion of the round of talks, Yahya again postpones the opening ceremony of the national assembly scheduled for the 23rd of March
Sheikh Mujib declares a holiday. Flags are hoisted all over Bangaldesh. Yahya expresses satisfaction at the round of talks with Mujib, and hopes for further dialogue.
The advisors of Sheikh Mujib and General Yahya sit at a meeting and news broadcasts report that the President shall declare political settlement and handover of power through the national radio on 25th March.
Dhaka's newspapers report the death of around 150 people at various locations within Bangladesh under military fire. Bangabandhu calls for nationwide strike in protest of these vicious murders. Violence erupts all over the city of Dhaka, sporadic clashes between the military and the populace at many places of the city are formed, and barricades are set up at multiple sites. President Yahya leaves Dhaka by 6pm. Three battalions of infantry, armour and artillery takes up grid wise position and ready themselves for the onslaught.
25th March, 9 PM
In the dark of the night, Pakistani soldiers spread out in their jeeps and their trucks from the cantonment area. With all foreign journalists stationed at Hotel Intercontinental, the hotel is surrounded at 11pm and soldiers are ordered to shoot any journalist attempting to leave the premises. However, the deep slumber of Mr. Bhutto under the ever watchful eyes of his bodyguards remains uninterrupted.
26th March Midnight
At midnight, the American-made tanks roll into Dhaka University with their cannons at the ready, supported by lorry-loads of infantry. Indiscriminate firing commences. More than 100 students of Iqbal Hall and the 150 students and teachers of Jagannath Hall are slaughtered. Even Rokeya Hall was not safe from the grasp of the hyenas. Many of the female students lose their lives. Nine professors, including Dr. Gobinda Chandra Deb, Dr. Jotirmoy Guhothakurta, Professor Anodhoipayon Bhattyajrga, Dr. Moniruzzaman, are murdered by the Pakistani soldiers. Many others are slaughtered, for the crime of being in the general area.
The attack moves on the Rajarbagh police line. The Bangali police put up a valiant resistance, but are no match for the heavy armaments of the Pakistani army. Many of the police die in the ensuing battle. But the Pakistani soldiers are not satisfied. With the help of gasoline and rockets, they raze the police line to the ground.
At 1:30am a tank and a decorated car accompany a lorry-full of soldiers, who are moving towards Dhanmondi 32, shooting their guns off into the night sky, intent on arresting Bangabandhu. When they arrive at his gates, he simply walks out and says "I am ready, there was no need for all the shooting".
Around 5am, Pakistani soldiers blow up central martyr memorial. The headquarters of East Pakistan Rifles receive similar treatment. Pilkhana is tainted with blood. On the third floor of The People newspapers offices, located near Hotel Intercontinental, behind Sakura, brave pro-independence Bangalis raise the slogan “Bir Bangali astro dhoro Bangladesh shadhin koro, Bangalira ak hao” (Brave Banglis take up arms, free Bangladesh, unite). Pakistani soldiers use their bullets and artillery on these brave souls and all are lost. This dark night witnessed the massacre of hundreds of thousands sleeping souls.
26th March 1971
The yolk of the national administration now lies with the military. The invading army controlled Radio Pakistan, for its Dhaka center, declares the banning of political activities at the start of its Bangla news broadcast. In this moment of crisis, Shadhin Bangla Betar Kendro (Independent Bangla Radio Station), start broadcasting from Chittagong for the first time. In a short programme lasting five minutes Chittagong Awami League's chairman M. A. Hannan reads out the declaration of independence, forever etching the 26th of March into the national identity of Bangladesh.
27th March 1971
The entire nation is stunned, dazed and confused. In the midst of the chaos comes the strong, commanding voice of Major Zia who reads the declaration of independence. This declaration not only gives a sense of direction to the patriotic members of the armed forces, but gives hope and courage to the entire nation.
Dhaka city is put under curfew throughout the night. Economic, commercial and administrative functions of the city are still active, but only nominally. There is a palpable sense of unease throughout the city. The population of the city of Dhaka has already decreased by one third. The war has started.
(R) thedailystar.net 2009