On January 8, 1972, after nine long months of imprisonment, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was released from the Central Jail Mianwali, Punjab in Pakistan and allowed to leave that country.
He flew to London that same day, and then to New Delhi and then on to come home to a hero’s welcome in Bangladesh on January 10, 1972, now known as Homecoming Day.
Amid the media frenzy in New Delhi, Bangabandhu in his speech said: “I go back now to free, sovereign, independent Bangladesh. I go back, not with any hatred in my heart for anyone, but with the satisfaction that truth at last triumphs over falsehood. Sanity over insanity, courage over cowardice, justice over injustice and good over evil. Joy Bangla! Joy Hind!”
Jack Paxton, NBC journalist, reporting from New Delhi said: “The Indian government had planned an extensive schedule but Sheikh Mujib cut the trip short, he left in two and a half hours, he said he was in a hurry to get home.”
He arrived on January 10, 1972 to face a jubilant nation with more than 500,000 people waiting to receive him. Even though the security at the airport was tight, the rush of people trying to get a glimpse of their leader was more than the security forces were prepared for.
New York Times reporter Fox Butterfield was present during the homecoming and detailed the jubilant air of that day in his report “Sheik Mujib Home; 500,000 give him rousing welcome”.
“The exultant crowd showered Sheik Mujib with flowers and chanted ‘Joi Bangla!’ [Victory for Bengal!] as their leader stepped from the British Royal Air Force Comet jet that had brought him from New Delhi.
“Sheik Mujib, looking tired but elated by this reception, later said at an enormous rally at the Dacca Race Course: ‘My life’s goal has been fulfilled. My Bengal is independent.’ His voice broke with emotion.
“Standing in the bright sun light today, Sheik Mujib appealed to his vast audience not to seek revenge for the three million Bengalis he said had been murdered by the Pakistani Army during their nine-month drive to suppress the Bengali secession movement he led.”
The New York Times report further goes on to quote Bangabandhu at the rally: “‘Forgive them!’ he shouted to the crowd. ‘Today I do not want revenge from anybody! There should not be any more killing!’”
“The Bengal that will eat, smile, sing and be happy is my Bengal. Everyone in Bengal is now a Bengali and we must live together,” he said.
Butterfield reports: “His appeal was thought to be directed to the problem of the two million Biharis, the non-Bengali immigrants from India who had sided with the Pakistani Army.
“Bengali officials estimated that half a million people were at the race course and that 100,000 lined the mile and a half route there from the airport,” his report said.