Excerpts from Bangladesher Swadhinata Shangram (Bangladesh's Struggle for Independence) by Rafiqul Islam
The historic announcement of March 7 by Bangabandhu was, in fact, the call for the independence of Bangladesh. The speech inspired the Bengalis all through those months of the Liberation War. Many a lives that were involved in the sacred war of freedom, sacrificed themselves for their motherland. The 7th March speech was supposed to be aired by the Dhaka Betar (radio), and the broadcasting had begun too at the scheduled time, but it was suddenly put to a stop by the Pakistani Army. In protest, the Bengali staff of the Betar walked out of the station. As a result, the radio stopped functioning altogether. Finally, the Military allowed the recorded speech to be aired the next day, 8 March. Until the 25 March, the radio and television were operated by the staff of the respective stations free from political constraints. The announcements were made on behalf of Dhaka Television and Dhaka Radio. On March 23, the so called Pakistan Day, the Pakistani flag was not hoisted anywhere in the country except the Governor House, President House and Cantonment. Everywhere else there was the green and red flag of Bangladesh alongside a black flag as a sign of protest of the killing and mourning.
YAHYA ARRIVES IN DHAKA
On 15 March, Yahya Khan arrived in Dhaka under strict surveillance with almost all the generals of the Pakistani Army. On that very day, the Swadhin Bangladesh Kendriyo Chhatro Sangram Parishad called for a public meeting at Baitul Mukarram. A.S.M. Abdur Rab declared, “Bangladesh is free today. No one has the right to enforce the Martial Law on us; the people of Bangladesh will abide by the words of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman only. All men and women have to become militants. The enemies of the people are trying to turn our country into another Vietnam or Hiroshima. We have to defend our country with everything we have.”
At the meeting, Abdul Quddus Makhan said, “If any injunction has to be issued in Bangladesh, only Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman can do it.” Shajahan Siraj said in his speech, “The opposition party is silent right now, but they are waiting to strike a fatal blow. Unless we repel them, the independence of Bangladesh cannot be sustained.”
Noor-e Alam Siddiqui in his speech of the Chairman opined, “We can have no compromise with those that have turned the golden Bengal into a burning ground. We did attempt to show solidarity and patch-up our differences through the Six-points and Twenty-one-points Movements, but they have repulsed all our efforts. Now no power on earth can demolish our independence.”
From16 March onward, a discussion session started at the President House under strict surveillance of the armed forces between General Yayia Khan and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The meeting was more of a farce than actual discussion because at the back of this discussion General Yahya Khan was holding meetings with the experts of his army about the strategies to be undertaken in the upcoming operation. On the other side, there were also numerous meetings and processions taking place throughout the country claiming independence for Bangladesh. At the behest of Bangabandhu, the Eastern Mercantile Bank started to accept taxes on behalf of the Central Government. The armed forces were ordered to deploy a campaign of terror. They attacked the civilians that participated in the non-cooperative movement in Rajshahi Medical College Hostel, Joha Hall, Munnujan Hall, Jessore and Rangpur Cantonment area, Khulna, Chittagong, Dhaka- Pilkhana, Farmgate, the second capital, Rampura and Kochukhet. They did not spare the women even.
On 17th March, Yahya Khan and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman sat for another bout of discussion. This was also the birthday of Bangabandhu. He addressed the journalists thus:
I don't celebrate birthdays. What does my birthday matter, or even death anniversary matter when my country is going through such adversities?... For the people of this country, birthdays have no significance. Whenever someone wishes to kill us, we die. They have given us no security for life. The people of this country are breathing their last. What kind of birthday should I celebrate? I have dedicated my life for the people of my country. I am one of them.
Dainik Pakistan, 18 March, 1971
On 18 March, a press release by the Swadhin Bangladesh Kendriyo Chhatro Sangram Parishad urged the freedom aspiring world citizens to support Bangladesh's struggle for independence. The statement also appealed to the super powers like the United States, Britain, Russia and China to stop genocide on Bengalis by the Pakistani Army through their supply of weapons. Requests were made to other neighboring countries so that they would not allow the Pakistani aircrafts to fly over their countries carrying weapons and ammunition. At this time, the Teachers' Association of Dhaka University sent numerous telegrams to the governments, universities and intellectuals around the world, and drew their attentions to the conspiracy of the impending mass-murder of the Bengalis. They urged that the Pakistani Army is restrained from committing genocide.
On March 19, there were frictions in Joydebpur and Gazipur between the army and the people and the Bengali soldiers. The East Bengal Regiment flatly refused to fire on the unarmed crowd. People constructed barriers on the streets to hamper the movements of the West Pakistani Army. When curfew was declared and attempts were made to remove those barricades, there were skirmishes. The West-Pakistani Army used arms against the protesters, forcefully entered houses in the villages and tortured both men and women. As a result, a large number of people were wounded. People around Tongi were also affected severely that day.
THE UPRISING OF THE SECOND EAST BENGAL REGIMENT IN JOYDEBPUR
The Second Battalion of East Bengal Regiment was stationed at Joydebpur. On 19 March, the brigadier in charge, Jahan Baj Arbar ordered the Second Battalion to open arm on the local civilians involved in non-cooperation movement. The Bengali officers and soldiers refused to comply. Then attempts were made to disarm the Second Battalion, but that, too, failed. The mutiny of the Battalion was led by Major Shafiullah—later the Chief of Staff of Bangladesh Army, Major General Shafiullah. The incidents at Joydebpur caused much uproar in Tongi and Dhaka. The attempted mutiny on the part of the East Bengal Regiment and the attempts made by the Pakistani Army to take over the Gazipur Ordinance Factory caused serious unrest and turmoil. Actually, the way the Bengali staff of the Gazipur Ordinance Factory, the villagers around Joydebpur crossroad, the Second Battalion of the East Bengal Regiment and the workers of Tongi Industrial area stood against the Pakistani Army on 19 March, it virtually heralded the beginning of the armed resistance of the Bengalis. Three people named Hurmat, Niamat and Monu Khalifa were martyred on this day. From Joydebpur to the crossroad—the two and half a mile road was packed with processions, resistance and agitation. People struck against the Pakistani Army with guns and sticks.
On 19 March, Yahya Khan and Bangabandhu held meeting for the third time. The Sheikh Shaheb protested the killings by the Pakistani Army at Joydebpur and Tongi, saying, “If they think that they can resist the people's struggle through bullets and force, they must be living in a fool's paradise… when ordinary people get ready to shed blood, no power in the world can suppress them.” At a press conference on 20th March, and then again at a public meeting on the 21, Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani urged Yahya Khan to allow a caretaker government to be formed under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman . He said, “This caretaker government will decide the relationship between Bangladesh and Pakistan.” The Maulana Bhashani also added, “If Mujib declares the independence of Bangladesh, then all the freedom loving nations of the world will acknowledge Bangladesh.” It is interesting to note that for the first time Maulana Bhashani uttered the name of Independent Bangladesh on March 21, 1971, at that press conference. Up until then he had spoken of the “freedom of East Bengal,” and even before that, of an “Independent East Pakistan.”
Notes: A.S.M. Abdur Rab was the DAKSU Vice- President, and Abdul Quddus Makhan, the DAKSU GS. Noor-e-Alam Siddiqui was the Chhatra League President, while Shahjahan Shiraj was the Chhatra League GS in 1971.
Sohana Manzoor is Assistant Professor, Department of English & Humanities at ULAB. She is also the Editor of The Daily Star Literature and Reviews pages.