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16 December, 2019 00:00 00 AM


Celebrating Bangladesh’s glorious Victory Day

The independence reflected the aspirations of democratic-minded, secular and forward-looking Bengalis
Syed Mehdi Momin
Celebrating Bangladesh’s glorious Victory Day

Sixteenth December is celebrated in Bangladesh as the country’s Victory Day. On this day in 1971 General Abullah Khan Niazi surrendered to the joint command of Bangladeshi freedom fighters and Indian army at Suhrawardy Uddyan (then known as Racecourse Maidan) in front of millions of jubilant Bengalis. The Bengalis won their victory after nine months of brave fighting against the Pakistani army and their local collaborators. On March 26, 1971, a people longing for freedom found itself in the most unenviable position with a brutal and fierce Pakistan occupation army unleashing a genocide – one of the worst of its kind in modern history. In that valiant war of nine long months Bengalis emerged victorious because of the righteousness of the cause it was fighting for. In the years that followed after the achievement of independence, the nation lost sight of many of the ideals that shaped the foundation of a new state called Bangladesh.  

For a proud and freedom-loving nation, it is appalling to have our history of the Liberation War distorted. We must set it right and uphold the ideals for which this nation made the supreme sacrifice. Only then can we hope to establish a society free from exploitation and injustice.  The leadership, under  Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had a dream that actually guided the people to fight the Pakistani forces. Today we need to revive that vision and the dream in every citizen’s heart so that they feel inspired to achieve great things with bursts of creative energy a nation on move is capable of.  Currently the country may be in danger of losing the spirit of the Liberation War, once again and a demand for reconciliation with our history is gaining momentum. The reconciliation puts a premium on our commitment to the country’s fundamental principles that went into the making of this nation.  

We are yet to establish a society based on the principles of equal opportunity, justice and fair play which were the dream of the architects of this nation as well as the war heroes and martyrs. On this day of celebration of our emancipation from the oppressive Pakistani rule we need to rededicate ourselves to realising the unfulfilled dream of an economically strong, socially and culturally progressive and peaceful country. The people have enough potential, what they need is quality leadership which can inspire them to get united for the cause of nation-building.  There is much to celebrate on this day, as Bangladesh has come a long way since those days of injustice that the people of this country suffered at the hands of a foreign occupier and their racist policies. However, as we look back and commemorate, there is still much to be desired that we must continue to strive towards in the days to come.

In spite of our tremendous economic progress, the egalitarian society that our martyrs died for is yet to materialise as economic inequality, along with social and political imbalances continue to draw us back. The existing hostility towards freedom of expression and thought that is unseemly of any democratic society pose grave dangers to the dreams that gave birth to this nation. Large scale corruption, lack of political space for non-conformists and a parliament which cannot yet be said to fully represent the people are only some of the challenges that remain to be overcome. Moreover, transparency and accountability in governance are among some invaluable customs that we have not yet adopted, often leading to the triumph of greed over generosity and partisanship over meritocracy, in our society since independence.

The independence reflected the aspirations of democratic-minded, secular and forward-looking Bengalis nurturing a value system that keeps them firmly rooted to the nation’s cultural mooring. We should remember that Independence is a goal-oriented, continuous and never-ending process. As we celebrate this Victory Day we must prepare ourselves for future victories.

The Mukti Bahini had fought many successful battles in putting up initial resistance. But within a short time, they were temporarily contained by the Pakistan army and were compelled to withdraw to the safe sanctuary in the Indian territory. The Mukti Bahini was, however, re-equipped, reorganised and retrained. As a result, it got into fighting with fresh zeal after April-May 1971.

The joint command of the Mukti Bahini and the Indian army was underway from November 1971. Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, Commander, Eastern Command of Indian Army, became the commander of the joint forces. The joint command of the Mukti Bahini and the Indian Army, however, started operation from the evening of 3 December, when the Pakistan Air Force bombed Amritsar, Sree Nagar and the Kashmir valley. Immediately, the Indian armed forces were ordered to hit back the Pakistan army and thus the Indo-Pak war broke out. The Mukti Bahini and the Indian army continued advancing inside Bangladesh and the defeat and surrender of the Pakistan army became a matter of time. International efforts for a cease-fire before Bangladesh is fully liberated failed due to Soviet veto in the United Nations Security Council.

We embarked on a nine-month-long Liberation War which culminated in victory on December 16, 1971. The valiant freedom fighters with help from the Indian Armed Forces inflicted a crushing defeat on the Pakistani army-which boasted of being the best in the world.

Ironically enough it was the Bengali Muslims who shed their blood and suffered tremendously for the achievement of Pakistan. If not for their immense contribution it may well be possible that Pakistan would never become a reality. Bengal was the only place where the Muslim League was a party with mass support and could hold mammoth rallies. Their commitment to Pakistan was much more than any other province. The Bengalis hoped that in the new nation they would be proud citizens and their great contribution towards the establishment of Pakistan. However their hopes were soon to be dashed.  

The Punjabi-dominated West Pakistani rulers saw the movement as a sectional uprising against Pakistani national interests and the ideology of Pakistan. West Pakistani politicians considered Urdu a product of Indian Islamic culture, as the dictator Ayub Khan said, as late as in 1967, "East Bengalis... still are under considerable Hindu culture and influence."

The catastrophic cyclone on November 12, 1970  killed an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 people. It is known as the deadliest tropical cyclone on record. The callous attitude of the West Pakistani leadership added to the grievances of the Bengalis at that time. At a meeting of the military top brass, Yahya Khan declared: "Kill three million of them and the rest will eat out of our hands."   

The ruling oligarchs in the then West Pakistan balked at having to give up the reigns of power to East Pakistanis. They stalled the installation of the newly elected parliament, and on the dark night of March 25, 1971 embarked on a genocidal reign of terror aimed at extinguishing all signs of Bengali nationalism. In the face of this, the inevitable declaration of independence was proclaimed, and the fight was on for the people of Bangladesh to achieve independence, at a terrible price of 3 million people killed by the marauding armies of Pakistan

The Independence of Bangladesh was formally declared on the eve of the War of Independence with Pakistan that led to the emergence of Bangladesh as a sovereign nation. The Bengali soldiers of the Pakistan Army, East Pakistan Rifles, police. Ansar and above all common people from all walks of life built up resistance to vanquish the army of occupation and their treacherous Bengali collaborators.!

The Punjabi-dominated Pakistani army wanted to punish Bengalis for electing Awami League. They were not prepared to accept the election results that would have meant sharing the resources of the country including jobs in the army and civil service with all nationalities.

Like their British masters the Punjabis always looked at the Bengalis with a degree of suspicion. The elite among themselves used to say that one can never trust these rice-eating dark fellows. However since the Bengali resistance began they had nowhere to run. They soon found out that while it was easy to gun down unarmed civilians it was a different task altogether when faced with an enemy who shot back.

Even the poorly-trained and poorly-equipped freedom fighters made lives miserable for the Pakistani soldiers. But Pakistan's army officers had institutionalised anti-Bengali attitude to the point where the soldiers were willing to believe that they were engaged in rape and murder to save Islam in East Pakistan.  

Though the population of East Pakistan was significantly more the ruling West Pakistani elites were in no mood to consider them as equals. The West Pakistanis considered themselves as superior Muslims and superior human beings. It was this sure arrogance which prompted Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to press on with his unreasonable demands.Veteran Pakistani journalist Z A Suleri has written how shocked he was in 1971 to find Pakistan army officers nonchalantly joking about the on-going rapes in East Pakistan as a service to the Bengalis to improve their genetic pool.

There was a strange sort of racism at work here. During the end of the Liberation War when the Pakistanis realised that they had virtually no chance to hold on to East Pakistan the Generals used to say, " Kartar Singh a jaye to bhi thik hai (even if the Sikhs come it is all right) but we will not let the black bastards rule us."

History shows that most of the area which now constitute Pakistan was under Sikh rule for a major part of the eighteenth century. The Sikhs were only around fifteen per cent of the population but they ruled over the Punjabi Muslims and Pathans with an iron fist for decades, so much for the latter being martial races.

The writer is the Senior Assistant Editor of The Independent



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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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