I come before you today with a heavy heart.
All of you know and understand how hard we have tried. But it is a matter of sadness that the streets of Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna, Rangpur and Rajshahi are today being spattered with the blood of my brothers, and the cry we hear from the Bengali people is a cry for freedom, a cry for survival, a cry for our rights.
You are the ones who brought about an Awami League victory so you could see a constitutional government restored. The hope was that the elected representatives of the people, sitting in the National Assembly, would formulate a constitution that would assure the people of their economic, political and cultural emancipation.
But now, with great sadness in my heart, I look back on the past 23 years of our history and see nothing but a history of the shedding of the blood of the Bengali people. Ours has been a history of continual lamentation, repeated bloodshed and innocent tears.
We gave blood in 1952, we won a mandate in 1954. But we were still not allowed to take up the reins of this country. In 1958, Ayub Khan clamped Martial Law on our people and enslaved us for the next 10 years. In 1966, during the Six-Point Movement of the masses, many were the young men and women whose lives were stilled by government bullets.
After the downfall of Ayub, Mr. Yahya Khan took over with the promise that he would restore constitutional rule, that he would restore democracy and return power to the people.
We agreed. But you all know of the events that took place after that. I ask you, are we the ones to blame?
As you know, I have been in contact with President Yahya Khan. As leader of the majority party in the National Assembly, I asked him to set February 15 as the day for its opening session. He did not accede to the request I made as leader of the majority party. Instead, he went along with the delay requested by the minority leader, Mr. Bhutto, and announced that the Assembly would be convened on the 3rd of March.
We accepted that, agreed to join the deliberations. I even went to the extent of saying that we, despite our majority, would still listen to any sound ideas from the minority, even if it were a lone voice. I committed myself to the support of anything to bolster the restoration of a constitutional government.
When Mr. Bhutto came to Dhaka, we met. We talked. He left, saying that the door to negotiations was still open. Moulana Noorani and Moulana Mufti Mahmood were among those West Pakistan parliamentarians who visited Dhaka and talked with me about an agreement on a constitutional framework.
I made it clear that I could not agree to any deviation from the Six Points. That right was vested in the people. Come, I said, let us sit down and resolve matters.
But Bhutto’s retort was that he would not allow himself to become a hostage on two fronts. He warned that if any West Pakistani members of Parliament were to come to Dhaka, the Assembly would be turned into a slaughterhouse. He added that if anyone were to participate in such a session, a countrywide agitation would be launched from Peshawar to Karachi and that even business would be shut down in protest.
I assured him that the Assembly would be convened and despite the dire threats, West Pakistani leaders did come down to Dhaka.
But suddenly, on March I, the session was cancelled.
There was an immediate outcry against this move by the people. I called for a hartal as a peaceful form of protest and the masses readily took to the streets in response.
And what did we get in return?
He, Yahya Khan, turned his guns on my helpless people, a people with no arms to defend themselves. These were the same arms that had been purchased with our own money to protect us from external enemies. But it is my own people who are being fired upon today.
In the past, too, each time we, the numerically larger segment of Pakistan’s population, tried to assert our rights and control our destiny, they conspired against us and pounced upon us.
I have asked them this before: How can you make your own brothers the target of your bullets?
Now Yahya Khan says that I had agreed to a Round Table Conference on the 10th. Let me make it clear that it is not true. What RTC?
I had said, Mr. Yahya Khan, you are the President of this country. Come to Dhaka, come and see how our poor Bengali people have been mown down by your bullets, how the laps of our mothers and sisters have been robbed and left empty and bereft, how my helpless people have been slaughtered. Come, I said, come and see for yourself and then be the judge and decide. That is what I told him.
Earlier, I had told him there would be no Round Table Conference. What Round Table Conference, whose Round Table Conference? You expect me to sit at a Round Table Conference with the very same people who have emptied the laps of my mothers and my sisters?
Then suddenly, without consulting me or even informing us, he met with Mr. Bhutto for five hours and then delivered a speech in which he placed all the blame on me, laid all the fault at the door of the Bengali people!
The deadlock was created by Bhutto, yet the Bengalis are the ones facing the bullets! We face their guns, yet it is our fault. We are the ones being hit by their bullets and it is still our fault!
Brothers, they have now called the Assembly to session on March 25, with the streets not yet dry of the blood of my brothers. You have called the Assembly, but you must first agree to meet my demands. Martial Law must be withdrawn; the soldiers must return to their barracks; the murderers of my people must be tried. And …. power must be handed over to the elected representatives of the people.
Only then will we consider if we can or cannot take part in the National Assembly.
Before these demands are met, there can be no question of our participation in the National Assembly. That is one right not given to me as part of my mandate from the masses.
As I told them earlier, Mujibur Rahman refuses to walk to the Assembly treading upon the fresh stains of his brothers’ blood!
Do you, my brothers, have complete faith in me….?
Let me tell you that the Prime Minister’s office is not what I seek. What I want is justice, the rights of the people of this land. They have tempted me with the Prime Minister’s position but they failed to buy me. Nor did they succeed in hanging me on the gallows, for you rescued me with your blood from the so-called conspiracy case.
That day, right here at this Race Course, I had pledged to you that I would pay for this blood debt with my own blood. Do you remember? I am ready today to fulfill that promise!
I now declare the closure of all the courts, offices, and educational institutions for an indefinite period of time. No one will report to their offices; that is my instruction to you.
In order that the poor are not inconvenienced, rickshaws, trains and other transport will ply normally, except serving any need of the armed forces. If the army does not respect this, I shall not be responsible for the consequences.
The Secretariat, Supreme Court, High Court, Judge’s Courts, and government and semi-government offices, Wapda, shall remain shut. Only banks may open for two hours every day for business transactions. But no money shall be transmitted from East Bengal to West Pakistan. The Bengali people must stay calm during these times. Telegraph and telephone communications will be confined within Bangladesh.
The people of this land are facing elimination, so be on guard. If need be, we will bring everything to a total standstill…….
Collect your salaries on time. If the salaries are held up, if a single bullet is fired upon us henceforth, if the murder of my people does not cease, I call upon you to turn every home into a fortress against their onslaught. Use whatever you can put your hands on to confront this enemy. Every last road must be blocked.
We will deprive them of food, we will deprive them of water. Even if I am not around to give you the orders, and if my associates are also not to be found, I ask you to continue your movement without let-up.
I say to them again, you are my brothers, return now to the barracks where you belong and no one will bear any hostility toward you. Only do not attempt to aim any more bullets at our hearts. It will not do you any good!
….. And the seven million people of this land will not be cowed down by you or accept repression any more. The Bengali people have learned how to die for a cause and you will not be able to bring them under your yoke of oppression!
To assist the families of the martyred and the injured, the Awami League has set up committees that will do all they can. Please donate whatever you can. Also, employers must give full pay to the workers who have participated in the seven days of hartal or were not able to work because of curfews.
To all government employees, I say that my directives must be followed. From today, until this land is freed, no taxes will be paid to the government.
But be very careful. Bear in mind that the enemy has infiltrated our ranks as provocateurs. Whether Bangali or non-Bangali, Hindu or Muslim, all are our brothers and it is our responsibility to ensure their safety.
I also ask you to stop listening to the radio, television and the press if these media do not report news of our movement.
Since we have given blood, we will give more of it. But, God willing, we will free the people of this land!
The struggle this time is the struggle for emancipation!
The struggle this time is the struggle for independence!
(Translated from Bengali by Syed Badrul Ahsan)