‘We don’t know defeat’
The wait finally ended. Bangabandhu was reunited with his people who loved him with their life and whom he loved and sacrificed his whole life for. As he alighted from his plane and stepped on to the soil of an independent Bangladesh, an electrifying chemistry of happiness, euphoria and relief came into play. The Bangladesh he left as a prisoner was one that was ripped asunder by the genocidal Pakistani army. It was a country whose people had been indiscriminately killed, women raped, children slaughtered, rivers strewn with bodies of freedom fighters and whose 10 million citizens were driven away from home and forced to take shelter in neighbouring India.
But now as the leader returned, people all but forgot their sufferings and wanted to live the moment of happiness and celebrate the reappearance of the man whose leadership was crucial to the nation’s victory.
10th January 1972 was to witness a most majestic and gigantic expression of devotion of a people for its leader. Dhaka, a much smaller city then, became an ocean of people covering almost the entire city generating its own wave that literally carried the vehicle bringing Bangabandhu from the airport to the Race Course ground (now Suhrawardy Udyan). As he spoke in a tearful but still thundering voice, the people present really felt the presence of their beloved leader and relived the moments of 7th March when he exhorted us all to launch our fight for independence. He now stood at that very place to salute his people who made his promise of freedom come true and who also brought him home from the clutches of his enemies.
Through The Daily Star’s special observance of “Mujib Borsho” with a 4-page supplement in the cover and two pages inside, we try to recreate those magical moments 48 years ago and share it with the present generation so that they can truly appreciate the role of this man we call Bangabandhu. -- Editor
At first, I remember the students, the labourers, the peasants, the intellectuals, the soldiers, the police, the people, the Hindus and the Muslims of my Bangladesh who were killed. I, wishing for their souls and paying tribute to them, would like to say a few words to you.
Now, my Bangladesh is independent, my life’s desire has been fulfilled, and the people of my Bengal have been liberated. My Bengal will remain free. I will not be able to deliver a speech today. The sons of Bengal, the mothers of Bengal, the peasants of Bengal, the labourers of Bengal, the intellectuals of Bengal have struggled. I was imprisoned, and ready to head to the gallows. But I knew, they could never suppress my Bangalees; the people of my Bengal would be liberated. I pay tribute to those of my brothers who made the supreme sacrifice, and suffered martyrdom. I salute them, and ask forgiveness for their souls.
I have now been informed of the percentages. Nearly 30 lakh people have been killed in Bengal. Such a number of people, such a number of common citizens did not die or were martyred in the Second World War and also the First World War, as were in my Bangladesh of seven crore people.
I did not know I would return to you. I had only said one thing: I have no objection if you kill me, but please return my dead body to my Bangalees; this is my only request to you.
I thank the Prime Minister of India, Mrs Indira Gandhi. I thank the people of India. I thank the armed forces of India. I thank the people of Russia. I thank the governments and people of Britain, Germany, France and those who have supported us.
I thank the people of America. I thank the oppressed of the world who have supported this liberation struggle.
One crore people of Bangladesh left their homesteads to take refuge in India. The people of India, and Mrs Indira Gandhi, gave them food and shelter. I cannot but thank them. I thank others who have helped us as well.
However, we should keep in mind that Bangladesh is an independent and sovereign state. Bangladesh shall remain independent. No one can suppress Bangladesh. There is nothing to be gained by conspiring against Bangladesh. Before I left, I had said, “Oh, Bangalees! Your struggle this time is a struggle for independence, your struggle this time is a struggle for emancipation. You’ve done it.” I said, “Build fortresses in every house.” You carried out your struggle by building fortresses in every house.
I congratulate my colleagues. Many of my brothers, many activists, many mothers and sisters have left this world, and I will not be able to see them. Today, I saw the people of Bangladesh, saw the land of Bangladesh, saw the sky of Bangladesh, felt the weather of Bangladesh; I greet Bengal with salaam. My Sonar Bangla, I love you so much. That is perhaps the reason why I have been called back here.
I appeal to all the states in the world…I have no roads, I have no ports, my people have no food, my people are homeless, and helpless…my people have fallen into destitution. Help my people; I want help from you for the sake of humanity. I want help from all the states in the world. Please recognise my Bangladesh. Send relief from the United Nations, you must send it. We won’t admit defeat. We don’t know defeat. Kabiguru Rabindranath said, “Shaath koti Bangalee’r he banga Jononi rekhecho bangalee korey manush koro ni.”
Kabiguru’s words have been disproved. My Bangalees have made history, since no such numbers of people have made self-sacrifices, no such numbers of people have laid down their lives ever before. That is why I say, you cannot not suppress us.
From today my request, my command, my order, as a brother—not as a leader, nor as the president or the prime minister, I am your brother, you are my brothers. Our independence will be futile, if the people of my Bengal are not fully fed. Our independence will not be fulfilled, if the mothers and sisters of this country do not get clothes for the protection of their modesty. Our independence will not be fulfilled, if the people of this country, the youth, do not find employment.
I congratulate you…the freedom fighters, the student community, and activists. You became guerrillas, and you shed blood. Your blood will not and did not go in vain.
From now on, let there be no theft and robbery in Bengal. Let there be no plundering in Bengal. The people in Bengal from other countries, the people of West Pakistan who do not speak Bangla – I am telling you to become Bangalees. My brothers, I am telling you, do not raise your hands against them. We are humans, and we love humans.
But those who have collaborated, those who have barged into the houses of my people and killed them, will be brought to justice and punished. Leave this in the hands of the independent government of Bangladesh. No one will be pardoned. However, I want them to be tried and punished in our independent country, as independent citizens in our independent court. I want to show the world that peaceful Bangalees know how to shed blood but also how to keep peace. I have come back to you all. I did not know I was sentenced to death by hanging. A grave was dug for me beside my cell. I prepared myself. I had said, I’m a Bangalee, I’m a man, I’m a Muslim; I can only die once but not twice. I had said, if death awaits me, I will approach death with a smile on my face. I will not dishonour my Bangalee nation in my death. I will not beg for pardon. While I pass, I will scream: Joy Bangla, Free Bangla, Bangalee is my nation, Bangla is my language, the land of Bangla is my place.
My brothers, you know that we have a lot of work to do. I want all my people to begin working on repairing broken roads. I want you all to go back to the fields and cultivate paddy.
I want to say, not a single employee should take bribes. Remember, it was not an opportune moment then, but now, I will not forgive those who take bribes.
My brothers! While I was taken away under arrest, Tajuddin, Nazrul and others came to me. I told them: Let me die with seven crore Bangalees. I gave them my blessings. Tajuddin and others were crying. I said: You go away. Struggle on. I have faith in you. I want to die at this house. This will be the place of Bangladesh. I want to breathe my last in this house. In no way can I bow my head to them.
Brothers of mine, they interrogated Dr Kamal there for three months, to make him testify against Mujib. Some Bangalees have given their testimonies against me, and we all know and recognise them. They will be brought to trial.
I am not in the position to deliver a speech now. You must understand, “Nomo nomo nomo, shundori momo jononi bongobhumi, Gongar tir snigdho shomir jibon jurale tumi.”
Today, when I landed in Dhaka, I couldn’t hold back my tears, because never did I think I would be back to the land, the people, the nation and the country, Bangladesh, that I love so much. Today, I have returned to Bangladesh. I have come back to my mothers, my sisters, my brothers. My Bengal is now independent, and my people of Bengal are independent now.
I wish the brothers of West Pakistan to stay happy. We bear no grudges. We will try our best to show respect to you. Things that your military men have done… raped my sisters and mothers and killed three lakhs people of mine. Go and stay happy. We are no longer with you. It’s over. You remain free. We, too, will remain independent.
As a citizen of an independent country, I can be friends with you, otherwise, there can be no friendship. However, adequate action will be taken against those who have wronged.
I apologise to you. I will make a speech another time after a few days, when I feel a bit better.
You see I’m not that Mujibur Rahman any longer. When I look at my Bengal, I see places have been flattened, villages after villages have been burned down. There is hardly any family left in which one of the members haven’t been killed. The act of killing these innocent people by the military forces is such a display of cowardice! They claim: “We are the Muslim military in Pakistan.” They should be hated. They should have known that Bangladesh is the second largest Muslim country in the world, after Indonesia. The Muslims are larger in number – in second position. And India is in the third position. And West Pakistan comes fourth. We are Muslims…do Muslims rape mothers and sisters? We are Muslims. In my state, in this Bangladesh, there will be a socialist system. There will be democracy in this Bangladesh. Bangladesh will be a secular state.
I want to inform those who are eager to know. On my way home, I had a discussion with Mrs Indira Gandhi in Delhi. I can tell you, since I know her very well. I hold her in high regard. She is the daughter of Pundit Nehru. She is the daughter of Motilal Nehru’s son. They were involved in politics, and they made sacrifices. They became prime ministers of India. The Indian army will leave the soil of Bangladesh the day I ask them to. Mrs Indira Gandhi is withdrawing the army little by little.
However, on behalf of seven crore Bangalees, I thank Mrs Indira Gandhi, her government and the people of India, for the help she extended to us. I thank them from the bottom of my heart.
There is hardly any head of state to whom she did not request personally for Sheikh Mujib’s release. She personally told all the states in the world, “Ask Yahya Khan to release Sheikh Mujib, and to find a political solution.”
A crore people have moved to another country, leaving behind their motherland. There are many countries with populations of ten lakhs, fifteen lakhs, twenty lakhs, thirty lakhs, forty lakhs, fifty lakhs. Sixty percent of states have populations below one crore, whereas one crore of people of my Bengal took refuge in India, leaving behind the lure of their motherland. Many of them died there of illness, and many suffered the agony of starvation. Many houses were burned down by that gang of beasts.
Forgive me, my brothers, forgive me. I now have no desire for vengeance on anyone. Don’t say anything to anybody. I will punish those who did wrong. Don’t take the law into your own hands. The youth of the liberation forces, take my salaam. The student community, take my salaam. The working community, take my salaam. The peasantry, take my salaam. The luckless Hindus and Muslims, take my salaam.
And those workers who were shot by machine guns and those who fled for fear of life by leaving behind their mothers and sisters, their young wives captured and thrown into Pakistani camp at Kurmitola, I salute you all and offer my best regards.
Together we will build a new and prosperous Bengal. The people of Bengal will rejoice, live life in joy and breathe freely in the open air. The people of Bengal will have two square meals a day. All my endeavours are aimed at achieving this goal. In fact, establishing the country on a firm financial footing is the motto of my life. I wish I could die with the solace that the woes of my people are over. I seek your wishes and blessings to this end…
With these words, I would like to take my leave. I express my sincerest thanks to my colleagues who stood by me at the hour of need, who obeyed the orders l gave. They proved through their deeds that they had spared no suffering to translate into action the orders of their Mujib bhai: fight to the last, liberate the country, sacrifice your lives and emancipate the people. Don’t worry about me. Let me go. I doubt whether I would be able to come back here. But Allah is the Helper of the helpless. I have been able to come back to you, with His blessings.
My dear colleagues, I congratulate you wholeheartedly on your snatching victory. I know well the severe pain inflicted upon you. You know, I was detained in prison. For nine months, I was kept out of touch from any newspaper. It is true that, at the moment of my departure, Mr. Bhutto said, “Sheikh Shaheb, please make an effort to maintain a semblance of unity between the two wings.” I told him I had not made up my mind about it yet. I was even unsure of my whereabouts then. I said I would speak my mind after my return home. Now, I can say with certainty that the knot has been undone forever. It is time to part our ways.
And if you enter a secret deal with any superpower and attempt to sabotage our independence, then mark my words, Sheikh Mujib will be in the commander’s position this time. He would rather die than let our independence slip.
My dear brothers, four lakhs of our Bangalees are languishing in West Pakistan. I would put in a request, of course with your approval, my dear colleagues, to the international bodies like the United Nations or International Court of Justice to institute an enquiry as to the brutal atrocities committed and the colossal massacre perpetrated by the Pakistani army. The truth must be revealed to the international community. I would urge the United Nations to grant Bangladesh membership immediately and institute an enquiry.
Dear brothers, if you attempt any foul play, the consequences will be dire. I know the cycle of conspiracy has not ended. Bangalees, beware of conspiracies being hatched against us. Once I had issued a clarion call to my people: turn each of your houses into a fortress, and fight with whatever you have. Did I not? I had said that our struggle this time is a struggle for freedom and emancipation. I had said this while standing on this ground on March 7. Today, I urge you all to be fair, maintain unity, and do not listen to the words of the mischief-makers.
Since we are independent, we will remain independent, if Allah wills. The struggle shall continue as long as a single living soul exists in this Bangladesh.
I cannot continue my speech any longer now. I wish to speak to you again after my health is slightly better. Please do forgive me. Keep me in your prayers. Please join your hands up with me in supplication to Allah for His mercy.”
Rashid Askari is a writer, columnist, fictionist, media personality and the current vice-chancellor of Islamic University, Kushtia, Bangladesh.