Words are powerful things. Put in the hands of skillful orators, they have the ability to inspire, heal and rally vast swathes of people. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman knew how to use words for achieving greater causes.
Bangabandhu’s stirring oration is perhaps his greatest legacy. His speeches during the troubled time of the late 60s and early 70s gave the Bengal Tiger its roar. And at the top of Bangabandhu’s great speeches sits the one that he delivered in a crowded Race Course Maidan (now Suhrawardy Udyan) on March 7, 1970.
Last Monday, UNESCO recognised the historic March 7 speech of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as part of the world’s documentary heritage. That speech, which gave the necessary fuel to ignite the Bangali’s war of liberation, was included in the Memory of the World International Register, a list of the world’s most important documentary heritage maintained by UNESCO.
The Memory of the World International Register is a list of documents that was created to ensure preservation of, and access to, documentary heritage in various parts of the world. A document has to bear immense significance and form part of the heritage of the world at large to be included in the registrar. As of now, a total of 427 documents and collection from all continents are there, including Bangabandhu’s speech.
Great speeches have a habit of being made at times of strife and Bangabandhu’s March 7 speech is no different. It was delivered during a time when the eyes of the world had been focused on East Pakistan’s continuing struggle against the oppression of West Pakistan.
A fiery yet measured speech
There was speculation ahead of the unfolding of Bangabandhu’s March 7 speech that Sheikh Mujib would declare a unilateral declaration of independence from Pakistan.
Ambassador Munshi Fayez Ahmed, Chairman, Board of Governance, Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BISS) said, Bangabandhu tacitly left out a direct declaration of independence from his speech.
“Nevertheless, the speech was immensely successful in giving Bengalis a clear goal of their struggle, the goal of independence. It inspired millions across East Pakistan to be engaged in the freedom struggle,” he said.
Ambassador Ahmed said if someone carefully listens to the speech, s/he finds out that though it was a fiery speech, it didn’t disparage any political opposition, which speaks of the political modesty and generosity that Bangabandhu possessed.
“The speech was also marked with measured diplomatic words so that the Pakistan government couldn’t accuse him of high treason,” he said.
In his speech, Bangabandhu articulated several directives to the nation as part of the civil disobedience movement. “He used a set of emotional appeals to establish his point which in thus convinced people to agree on his argument about freedom,” said Munshi Fayez.
A speech that primarily spoke of human rights
Prof Dr Syed Anwar Hossain, Supernumerary Professor of Department of History, Dhaka University said the historic March 7 speech was one of his shortest public speeches ever.
It only lasted for 18:31 minutes and comprised of 1108 words. However, each of those words was spoken not only for the Bengali people of East Pakistan but for the whole of humanity.
“Those words were a culmination of his political excellence with which he had left a legacy for aspiring human right fighters,” said Dr Hossain.
The DU professor believes Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman barely needs any further accolades. “In his lifetime, he received people’s love and after his demise, he has been remembered as the best Bengali who has ever lived.”
So this inclusion of his historic March 7 speech in the list of UENSCO’s world’s documentary heritage is of course just an added accolade to his long list of achievements, he said.
This is however not the first time the March 7 speech has gotten international recognition, Dr Hossain informed. In 2014, his speech was included in the the book We Shall Fight on the Beaches: The Speeches That Inspired History by Jacob F Field, as one of the most inspirational speeches ever.
The book is a collection of “extracts from the most rousing and inspirational wartime speeches of the last 2,500 years—Cicero to Churchill, Lincoln to Mao.”
Bangabandhu’s speech has been placed on page 201 under the title ‘The Struggle This Time Is the Struggle for Independence.’
“I am very happy to see that his great speech has received another global recognition,” said Prof Hossain.