Inde­pen­dence of Bangladesh : Lib­er­a­tion War 1971

Pak­istan, which emerged con­sti­tu­tion­ally as one coun­try in 1947, was in fact a dou­ble coun­try, the two wings were not only sep­a­rated from each other by more than one thou­sand miles, they were also cul­tur­ally, eco­nom­i­cally and socially dif­fer­ent. The cure, at least as far as the East Ben­galis were con­cerned, proved to be worse than the dis­ease.

The peo­ple of Bangladesh dis­cov­ered their iden­tity through the Lan­guage Move­ment in 1952. The strug­gle to estab­lish their iden­tity and national spirit began soon after 1947 when they real­ized that under Pak­istan cre­ated on the two nation the­ory they was lit­tle scope for the dis­tance cul­ture of Ban­glees to flour­ish . The refusal of the cen­tral gov­ern­ment to grant sta­tus to Bangla lan­guage became the focal point of strug­gle, because lan­guage was the most impor­tant vehi­cle of the cul­tural expres­sion of the peo­ple of this land.

The con­tra­dic­tion of the two Pak­istans , the racial oppres­sion and the exploita­tion of the West over the East was grad­u­ally unveiled. The strug­gle for the con­scious­ness of iden­tity and cul­tural free­dom which began with the advent of the stu­dent move­ments of the 60’s gained momen­tum in the mass move­ment of 1969. Though it brought about the fall of a mighty mil­i­tary ruler like Ayub Khan, the ulti­mate goal was not achieved.

In Decem­ber 1970, elec­tions were held through­out Pak­istan to choose an assem­bly that would serve as a leg­is­la­ture and write a new con­sti­tu­tion. The Awami League, a party led by East Pakistan’s Sheik Mujibur Rah­man (known as Sheik Mujib), won a major­ity of the seats. The party strongly sup­ported increased self-​government for East Pak­istan.

On March 1, 1971, Pres­i­dent Yahya Khan of Pak­istan post­poned the first meet­ing of the assem­bly. East Pak­ista­nis protested, and Yahya Khan sent army troops to East Pak­istan to put down the protest. Sheik Mujib was impris­oned in West Pak­istan.

Sheik Mujibur Rah­man declared at a his­toric pub­lic meet­ing held at Ramna Race Course (renamed Suhrawardy Uddyan) on 7 March, 1971, attended by around 2 mil­lion peo­ple, “This time the strug­gle is for our free­dom” It was given at a time of sim­mer­ing ten­sions between the increas­ingly seces­sion­ist Ben­gali pop­u­lace of East Pak­istan and the pow­er­ful polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary estab­lish­ment of West Pak­istan. Dur­ing the speech, Sheikh Mujib pro­claimed his most famous words in a thun­der­ous voice– “Ebarer san­gram amader muk­tir san­gram, ebarer san­gram amader shad­hi­natar san­gram”, mean­ing, “This time the strug­gle is for our free­dom, this time the strug­gle is for our inde­pen­dence”. He also announced the his­toric “non-​cooperation” move­ment in the province which would prove to be one of history’s great­est civil dis­obe­di­ence move­ments along with the Salt March of Mahatma Gandhi and the Amer­i­can Civil Rights Move­ment.

A planned mil­i­tary paci­fi­ca­tion car­ried out by the Pak­istan Army — code­named Oper­a­tion Search­light — started on 25 March to curb the Ben­gali nation­al­ist move­ment by tak­ing con­trol of the major cities on 26 March, and then elim­i­nat­ing all oppo­si­tion, polit­i­cal or mil­i­tary, within one month. Before the begin­ning of the oper­a­tion, all for­eign jour­nal­ists were sys­tem­at­i­cally deported from East Pak­istan.

There was an ear­lier broad­cast of the Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence. Very few peo­ple heard that dec­la­ra­tion. Zia’s famous “Ami Major Zia Bolchhi” mes­sage has now become a house­hold phrase. The pre­vi­ous dec­la­ra­tion was broad­cast on the morn­ing of March 26, 1971. The mes­sage went:

“Today Bangladesh is a sov­er­eign and inde­pen­dent coun­try. On Thurs­day night West Pak­istani 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 Pindi on the other, are going on. The Ben­galis are fight­ing the enemy with great courage for an inde­pen­dent Bangladesh. May God aid us in our fight for free­dom. Joy Bangla.“

It was decided that they should go back to the other side of Kalurghat bridge where rations had just been deliv­ered to the jawans of East Ben­gal Reg­i­ment under the com­mand of Major Ziaur Rah­man. As the Ben­gali sol­diers took posi­tions to guard the trans­mis­sion cen­ter, the rebels put their heads together and secured the help of a few engi­neers of the Kalurghat indus­trial com­plex to con­vert it into a broad­cast­ing sta­tion. As Kalurghat was get­ting orga­nized into a nerve-​center for coor­di­nat­ing the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle, Baluch troops had invaded the EBR (East Ben­gal Reg­i­ment) bar­racks where under the com­mand of Major Zia a bloody bat­tle raged. Major Zia had to retreat and with a bat­tal­ion of troops came to Kalurghat. He was made com­man­dant of the rebel forces at Kalurghat where the trans­mit­ter was now ready for broad­cast­ing. Con­tact could not be estab­lished between the lead­ers of the Awami League and Major Zia broad­cast a mes­sage of inde­pen­dence to the peo­ple of Bangladesh. At 7:45 pm on 26th March 1971, Major Zia broad­cast the mes­sage which became his­toric in the strug­gle for inde­pen­dence.

“This is Swad­hin Bangla Betar Kendra. I, Major Ziaur Rah­man, hereby declare at the direc­tion of Bango Bondhu Mujibur Rah­man, that the inde­pen­dent People’s Repub­lic of Bangladesh has been estab­lished. At his direc­tion, I have taken com­mand as the tem­po­rary head of the repub­lic. In the name of Sheikh Mujibur Rah­man, I call upon all Ben­galis to rise against the attack by the west Pak­istani Army. WE shall fight to the last to free our moth­er­land. By the grace of Allah, vic­tory is ours. Joy Bangla.”

Major Zia’s mes­sage was picked up by a Japan­ese ship anchored mid– stream in Chit­tagong har­bour. When the news of this dec­la­ra­tion was broad­cast by Radio Aus­tralia, the rest of the world came to know of it.

Dura­tion of nine months war, approx­i­mately 3,000,000 (Three mil­lions) of civil­ians died in that bloody fight­ing that fol­lowed, and mil­lions of refugees poured into India. Dur­ing the early months of the civil war, East Pak­istani guer­ril­las also crossed into India. The gov­ern­ment forces shelled Indian ter­ri­tory and fol­lowed the guer­ril­las across the bor­der. Indian troops fourth bor­der clashes with the Pak­istani gov­ern­ment sol­diers. In Decem­ber 1971, few thou­sands Indian army advanced into East Pak­istan and joined the guer­ril­las. The com­bined forces of the Guer­ril­las and Indi­ans over­pow­ered West Pak­istan, which sur­ren­dered on the 16th Decem­ber, 1971.