It was late afternoon of 25th March. Professor Govinda Chandra Dev, along with a junior colleague of his from the philosophy department, was crossing the road near TSC of the University of Dhaka to go to Ramna Race Course for his regular stroll. An uneasy calm was prevailing since forenoon. We three friends were gossiping on the footpath. He voluntarily advised me not to stay out too late at night as 'these days are not good.' I complied with his advice and returned home by 7.30 pm. But within less than 15 hours, our most respected teacher and humanist philosopher Dr. Dev -- a pure apolitical person -- was brutally bayoneted and then shot dead at Jagannath Hall residence by the Pakistani army.
On the night of March 25-26, the Pakistani army opened fire with tanks, artillery and automatic weapons on the innocent and unarmed civilians in Dhaka city. Thousands of defenseless people including teachers and students of the University of Dhaka were killed that fateful night. Densely populated slums were burned to ashes. It was genocide -- one that paled in comparison even with the records of Franco's Spain and Salazar's Portugal.
On March 1, the civil authority was virtually transferred to Sheikh Mujib. People were not ready to accept anything other than the independence of Bangladesh. What started as a movement for autonomy within the framework of a united Pakistan was transformed by the genocide of Bengali civilians into a movement that resulted in the independence of Bangladesh.
Bhashani was in constant touch with Mujib. During the non-cooperation movement, while addressing a meeting at Chittagong, the Maulana 'charged that Bhutto and others of his mentality were responsible for turning East Bengal into a graveyard by exploitation, oppression and suppression.'
Immediately after the military crackdown, Maulana Bhashani left Santosh and reached Assam in the second week of April. He was lodged in a flat at Park Street, Kolkata. His next room was allotted for the family of Prime Minister Tajuddin. He met Maulana to discuss the latest development of the War of Liberation.
In a long statement on April 22, Bhashani said: 'East Bengal is a part of Asia. The people of this country look toward the Asian nations, particularly to the Afro-Asian nations. The people of East Bengal, in this moment of crisis, pose a burning question to humanity -- will their great and just struggle allowed to be crushed forever? I make a fervent appeal to all peace-loving and democratic-minded people and governments of the world to extend an early recognition of the newly-formed government of People's Republic of Bangladesh.'
He further said: 'I appeal to all the people of East Bengal, I appeal to the peasants, workers, blacksmiths, pottery workers, boatmen, weavers, persons engaged in cottage industry, students, traders, intelligentsia and service holders and others to forge an unity like steel. Opportunists of East Bengal who have been exposed are trying to mislead you in the name of religion and integrity by carrying false propaganda. They are agents of the military junta, industrialists, feudalists, and despotic bureaucrats of West Pakistan. These Mir Zafars of East Bengal have stabbed the freedom movement in the back during the last 23 years by being the agents of the West Pakistanis. Don't listen to these traitors. Their vested interests will have their purpose served if they are able to split your unity and steely determination. You will then be slaves of the West Pakistan military rulers, capitalists, bureaucrats and feudalists forever and ever. At the present moment, unity, mental strength and burning patriotism are our most vital weapons. Our victory is certain. God hates oppressors and traitors. We will definitely get the blessings of Allah in our great struggle and we will establish a free, sovereign happy and prosperous Bangladesh in East Bengal.' [Ananda Bazar Patrika, April 23]
In another statement on May 16, Bhashani challenged the leaders of all states, especially Yahya Khan: 'If anyone has any doubt about the demand emanating from the heart of the people of Bangladesh, he/she can arrange a plebiscite under the supervision of the United Nations. You will see that more than 99 percent will support an independent and sovereign Bangladesh.'
Talking to newsmen on May 31, the Maulana said: 'Complete freedom for Bangladesh is the only solution of saving the people from "inhuman exploitation of the Bengalees by West Pakistan." He deplored the attitude of those who talked of a "political settlement" of the Bangladesh problem and said that, the people of Bangladesh, having been subjected to the world's worst savage repression and exploitation for the past 23 years, were now waging a total war. There was, therefore, no chance of any political settlement now. Either total destruction or total victory was in store for them but the supreme sacrifices of 7.5 million people would not go in vain, he added.
Maulana Bhashani appealed to the world leaders in passionate language. The pro-Peking leader, in a telegram to Chairman Mao Tse-tung and Premier Chou En-lai, said:
'Ideology of socialism is to fight against oppression. I appeal to you to save seven and a half crores of oppressed people of Bangladesh from the atrocities committed on them by the military junta of dictator General Yahya Khan. Yahya's military government, by the help of modern war weapons supplied by your government, are mercilessly and brutally slaying the innocent, unarmed, helpless peasants, labourers, students, intelligentsia, women and children of Bangladesh. If you, the Government, do not protest these brutal atrocities committed on the oppressed masses of Bangladesh by the military junta with the help of vested interests of West Pakistan, the world may think that you are not the friend of the oppressed.'
In a telegram to Brezhnev, Soviet Communist Party leader, President Podgorny and Chairman Kosygin, Bhashani said: 'On behalf of the 75 million people of Bangladesh may I convey to you our appreciation of the statement issued by the Presidium of Supreme Soviet through President Podgorny on the situation in Bangladesh? I should, however, like to point out that more positive action is urgently required to stop the barbarous massacre of hundreds of thousands of unarmed, helpless masses of Bangladesh by the brutal military dictatorship of General Yahya Khan. These massacres are being perpetrated by the West Pakistani army with modern weapons of war supplied by USA and China. Your country and your people, under the enlightened and wise leadership of Lenin, have stood for the rights of the oppressed peoples to self- determination, and have given moral, political and material support to national liberation movements in various parts of the world. I would, therefore, appeal to you to do the same for Bangladesh and give it immediate recognition and all possible help to the government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh.'
Maulana Bhashani, who opposed US policy tooth and nail throughout his life, in a telegram to President Nixon, said: 'Under the direction of dictator General Yahya Khan, and with the help of modern war weapons supplied by your and China's governments, the barbarous soldiers of West Pakistan are brutally slaying lakhs of innocent, unarmed and helpless masses of Bangladesh irrespective of caste, creed and sect -- including women, children and even newborn babies. I fervently appeal to you to please stop fresh supply of arms and to do the needful to give an effective check in using those weapons previously supplied, so that Yahya's government cannot use these arms to kill unarmed masses in Bangladesh. Please extend your immediate recognition and all possible help to the government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh.'
In his message, he further said: 'I shall be highly obliged if you be kind enough to make an arrangement so that the foreign correspondents of different news agencies are able to tour inside Bangladesh to see the nature and volume of looting, arson, gangsterism, mass killings, and molestation of women by the West Pakistani army so that the true picture of sordid tales of Bangladesh can be revealed to the people of the world.'
In a telegram to French President Pompidou, Bhashani said: '...may I appeal to you to raise your voice against the barbarous atrocities being committed by West Pakistani soldiers under the direction of dictator General Yahya Khan and with the help of modern weapons of war supplied to him by your government and other governments? I appeal to you to raise your voice against the brutal suppression of human rights in Bangladesh. France has a great tradition of leading the revolutionary movements of the world, and will, I hope, under your wise leaderships, give a lead in recognising the fundamental rights of the people of Bangladesh to decide their destiny without any interference from the military regime of West Pakistan.'
Bhashani, in a message to British Prime Minister Edward Heath, said: 'I appeal to you... to raise your voice against the brutal massacre of hundreds of thousands of innocent East Bengalis by the military dictatorship of General Yahya... I hope that your government will recognise the realities of the situation and extend immediate recognition and all possible help to the government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh. It was heart-rending to read accounts of atrocities by British correspondents in the British newspapers. However, even these accounts fall far short of the real nature and volume of looting, arson, gangsterism, mass killings and molestation of women that is being perpetrated by the trigger happy soldiers of West Pakistan on the innocent and defenseless people of Bangladesh.'
The Maulana sent telegrams to Yugoslav President Marshall Tito, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, Arab League secretary general Abdel Khalek Hassuna and secretary general of the Organisation of African Unity, Diallo Telli.
In an appeal to UN secretary general U Thant, Bhashani said: 'I appeal to you to issue an immediate appeal to stop these brutal massacres of innocent people and to extend all possible help for the relief of victims of the dictator General Yahya against military rule in Bangladesh. I would welcome sending your observers inside Bangladesh to see the nature and volume of looting, arson, mass killings and molestation of women by West Pakistani Army so that they can reveal the true picture of the sordid tale of Bangladesh to the people of the world through the United Nations.'
The nationalist movement of the people of Bangladesh was the freedom movement--not a secessionist movement like those of Kosovo or the Crimea. The War of Liberation was the culmination of a 23-year long movement based on Bengali nationalism.
An All Party Consultative Committee was formed by the government-in-exile with Maulana Bhashani as its chairman. Among other members of the committee were Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed and Khondkar Mustaque from Awami League, Moni Singh from CPB, Muzaffar Ahmed from NAP (M) and Monoranjan Dhar from Congress.
On December 16, Bhashani was in Delhi. After more than nine months in India, he returned on January 22, 1972 to his long-cherished independent Bangladesh.
The writer is a noted columnist, researcher and social activist.