The history of independence of Bangladesh is a complex web of occurrences happening for a really long period of time. Although the British departing from the Sub-continent and the birth of Pakistan created a new ray of hope among the people of then East Bengal, they soon started to understand that the dream of independence was still a farfetched one. Even before the birth of Pakistan, the people of Bengal started to feel that the intentions of the Pakistani rulers were to suppress them. In the early stages, prior to the partition of British India, there were proposals of separate Muslim majority countries in the eastern and northwestern regions of British India in the Lahore Resolution. Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy proposed the creation of “sovereign Bangla”, but proposal was rejected by the colonial leaders. All these resulted in the creation of East and West Pakistan, two landmass situated 22,000 kilometers apart, but a single country only because of the religious similarity of the population. As a result, the people of the then East Bengal was deprived of their promised independence.
Since the initiation of Pakistan, the people of East Pakistan were being the victims of deprivation in every single sector. As a result, dissatisfaction started to grow among the mass. The first outburst of the agitation was the language movement. It was also the realization for the Bengalis that the Pakistani rulers were not going to provide them their equal rights unless they fight for it. The final result of this constant oppression of the West Pakistanis and the outburst of the East Pakistani population was the liberation war of 1971 and the birth of Bangladesh, an independent country.
March of 1971 is the most significant month in the history of Independence of Bangladesh. 7th, 25th and 26th can be considered as the most eventful dates of this month that shaped the history of the country.
The national election of 1970 was the initiating factor of the occurrences that followed. In this election, Awami League led by Banglabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman won a huge victory with 167 out of 169 seats of East Pakistan in their bag. This also meant that the party was also the major seat holders in the national assembly which had 313 seats. This majority gave them the right to form the Government of Pakistan by the constitution of Pakistan. But the west Pakistani leaders did not seem to be interested in handing over the power to Bengalis. In a separate attempt to hold onto power, they proposed “One Unit Scheme” which would consider the entire West Pakistan as a single state. Fearing the end of their control over the east, Julfiquar Ali Bhutto, the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, refused to hand the constitutional authority to Awami League as well as the rightful post of Bangabandhu to be the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Instead he proposed the idea of electing two prime ministers for each part of the country. They also refused to implement the “Six Points” proposed by Bangabandhu which would ensure the right of the then East Pakistan to have full control over its resources along with the termination of the deprivation that hindered the growth and prosperity of the Bengalis. All these actions of the West Pakistani leaders created a huge outrage throughout East Pakistan.
On the 3rd March of 1971, the two main leaders along with President General Yahya Khan met in Dhaka to decide the fate of the country. But as the discussion couldn’t generate any result, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman called for a countrywide strike. Fearing that the protest might end up in a civil war, Bhutto sent a messenger to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and they agreed to have another discussion. Bhutto and Rahman agreed to build a coalition Government where Bhutto would still be the president but Sheikh Mujibur Rahman would be the Premier.
On the 7th March, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman gave a speech to the mass of East Pakistan at the then Racecourse (now in Suhrawardy Uddyan at Shahbag). In his speech he announced a further four points to be implemented before the general assembly meeting that was scheduled to be held on the 25th March. These four points included the lifting of Martial law to active immediately, the withdrawal of all army to their barracks immediately; a proper and neutral enquiry about the loss of lives during the martial ruling and the immediate transfer of power to the elected representatives before 25th March. He urged the people of Bengal to turn every single house of Bengal into fortress of resistance. The electrifying ending phrase of his speech, ”This fight is for our freedom; this fight is for our independence” is considered as the very words that brought out the urge of freedom burning silently in the soul of every single Bengali.
After this speech, it was clear to the Pakistani oppressors that the reign of their unquestioned control was over. As the last desperate attempt to hold onto the control, they decided to silence the people of East Pakistan with firepower and planned for “Operation Searchlight”, one of the biggest mass killings in the history of world. General Tikka Khan was flown to Dhaka as the Governor of East Pakistan, thousands of Pakistani soldiers were sent in the civil disguise. “MV Swat”, a ship of Pakistani navy anchored in Chittagong port carrying arms and ammunitions. As the Bengali workers and sailors refused to unload the ship, the East Pakistani Rifles was ordered to fire upon them. But the East Pakistani Rifles refused the direct order, initiating a mutiny among the Bengali soldiers in the Pakistan Army.
Operation Searchlight was a planned military pacification to be started from the 25th March. It was designed to diminish the independence movement of the Bengalis by taking control of all the then 26 districts of East Pakistan and eliminating all the existent and potential threats, both political and military. The initial operating period of operation spotlight was one month. To prevent the outside world from knowing about this mass killing, all the international and foreign journalists were deported from East Pakistan before that very date. According to Asia Times, in a meeting with the top personnel of Pakistan Army, General Tikka Khan told his subordinates, “Kill three million of them and the rest will eat out of our hands”.
During the late hours of the 25th March of 1971, one of the most vicious genocides in the history of the world began. Armed Pakistani Army came down on the streets and started killing everyone they came upon. As per Bengali media and reference books, around 200,000 – 300,000 people were killed around east Pakistan in a single night. Independent resources indicate that the figure is ranged within 125,000 to 500,000.
The only resistance was created by the brave police force of Rajarbag Police Line. But the army were heavily armed and almost completely destroyed the police line. Dhaka University student residents were major targets as all the resistance against the Pakistani rulers initiated by the university students. The only hindu hall of Dhaka University, Jagannath Hall suffered the most with over 700 murders.
The western world became aware of this mass killing when a journalist named Anthony Mascarenhas , who was sent to East Pakistan to fabricate news favoring West Pakistan fled to United Kingdom and published an article in The Sunday Times describing the massacre that occurred throughout East Pakistan on the night of 25th March. This mass killing was the official indication that West Pakistan was never interested in a peaceful solution and the discussion was only a camouflage to hide their real intention of silencing the Bengalis for once and all.
The army captured Bangabandhu during the early hours of 26th March. Before being captured, he announced the independence of Bangladesh. “Today Bangladesh is a sovereign and independent country. On Thursday night [March 25, 1971], West Pakistan armed forces suddenly attacked the police barracks at Razarbagh and the EPR headquarters at Pilkhana in Dhaka. Many innocent and unarmed have been killed in Dhaka city and other places of Bangladesh. Violent clashes between EPR and police on the one hand and the armed forces of Pakistan on the other are going on. The Bangalees are fighting the enemy with great courage for an independent Bangladesh. May Allah aid us in our fight for freedom. Joy Bangla,” His words were announced by MA Hannan.
During the 26th March, the killing by the Pakistani army continued. Civilian people fled wherever they could to save their lives. Army Took over the Dacca Betar Kendra and renamed it as Radio Pakistan Dacca. In the meantime, Bengalis took control of a small radio station in the Kalurghat area of Chittagong, named it Shadhin Bangla Betar Kendra and started broadcasting from the evening to inform the shocked Bengalis of the countrywide killing of the Pakistan Army and the independence announcement of Bangabandhu. The printed declaration of Bangabandhu came upon the hands of several students in Chittagong and eventually reached Shadhin Bangla Betar Kendra before sunset. Later on, MA Hannan also announced on behalf of Bangabandhu.
The oppressing leaders of Pakistan thought they would be able to break the backbones of the Bengalis, but the dark night of 25th March and the occurrences of 26th March spurred the people of Bengal as the Bengalis became determined not to let the Pakistani Army and rulers get away after conducting such a viscous crime. After nine months of bloodsheds and deaths, Bangladesh was free from Pakistan and achieved the recognition as a free sovereign country in the globe on 16th December, 1971.
Nabid Hasan Dip and Dhrubo Alam
Photo: Muktar Hossain