We were 30 years old in March 1971. We were the Dhaka University batch of 1961, beaming with nationalistic spirit in continuation of the democratic practices in our college and university campus.
Our “Paltan-Stadium group” comprising batch mates, affectionate juniors, and respected seniors, met every evening to exchange views on current affairs emanating from the language movement all the way back to the partition of Bengal in 1947, with socio-economic and political aspirations to participate in cultural and political movements, as well as personal matters.
In our childhood, we witnessed the fading sun of the British rule, who left creating two independent nations in 1947: India and Pakistan.
True, Pakistan was a peculiar country with two wings separated by almost a thousand miles -- with East Bengal having the majority of the population (56%) and the West wing comprising four provinces, about 44% of its total population.
Soon after Partition, it was understood that the west wing was the metropolitan wing and the east wing was the colonial one.
The deprivations inflicted by the elite, not people, led to the struggle of Bengalis, pioneered by leader of the oppressed Maulana Bhashani and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It led to the start of the Liberation War on March 26, 1971 through the sacrifice of millions.
The turning point in history was the Pakistan general election on December 7, 1970 where Awami League won, securing 167 seats in National Assembly -- AL was set to form a government led by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
After the landlslide victory, people of all strata were eagerly waiting for a session of parliament and it was scheduled to commence on March 3, 1971. But Chief of Pakistan People’s Party Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, expressed his desire to share power with Awami League ignoring all democratic norms -- even conspiring with President Yahya Khan.
On March 1, 1971 President Yahya Khan suspended the parliamentary session sine die, because of which the people took to the streets and rallied with slogans against Yahya-Bhutto, in Dhaka and everywhere in the erstwhile East Pakistan -- demanding an independent Bangladesh.
At that hour, on our way to the biggest quasi commercial outfit in erstwhile East Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) dredger base at Narayanganj, we found spontaneous processions, and everybody at the base came out of their office, workshop, and dredgers to join the movement under the leadership of Bangabandhu.
Observing Independence Day in 2017, we commemorate the sacrifices of those who came before and we understand that where we are today is because of our history
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman called for the immediate transfer of power, and every soul in then East Pakistan looked to Bangabandhu, the one who astutely controlled emotions of millions.
I remember how I asked the accounts officer, a man named Sikder, in WAPDA who hailed from Gopalganj, who had relations with the Father of the Nation’s family, to attempt to know about the next course of action.
Sikder went to the Dhanmondi residence of Bangabandhu the next morning, and found him in a room deeply engrossed in preparing the famous March 7 speech.
In the afternoon of March 7, 1971, our leader delivered the historic speech at the Ramna Race Course Maidan, which we attended, standing very near to the podium.
We saw planes hovering over our heads as if to drop bombs, but everyone seemed ready to embrace martyrdom.
Not a soul paid any heed to the planes and instead listened to the speech with utmost attention. He declared: “Our struggle this time is the struggle for freedom, our struggle this time is for independence.”
Subsequently, he declared programs for peaceful movement, which were accordingly observed.
The Mujib-Yahya talks commenced on March 16 and ended on March 23 without any tangible results.
Mujib was informed that an announcement would be made in this regard later on, but in reality the Bhutto-Yahya partnership was conspiring to finalise their preparations to carry out a genocide on Bengalis in their lust for power and control.
Leaders representing other parties from the west wing were in Dhaka, and, in one evening, Khan Abdul Wali Khan told us at National Awami Party (NAP) offices that he knew Bhutto as a classmate and that Bhutto could go to unimaginable lengths to satisfy his greed for power.
Unfortunately, his words proved to be right.
On the night of March 25, under orders of Pakistan President Yahya Khan, armed forces attacked unarmed Bengalis in Dhaka.
It was a bloodbath, as they were out to kill Bengali Police personnel at Rajarbag Police Line, soldiers from the East Bengal Regiment (EBR), and in cantonments at Chittagong, Comilla, and Jessore.
It was an act of inhumanity and ruthlessness that forced the Bengali members of the armed forces into retaliation against the Pakistani occupation forces. The Chittagong Radio Station came under the control of rebels, thankfully.
Bangabandhu declared independence on March 26, and the message was passed through EPR Wireless -- a precautionary arrangement was made as he believed he might be killed or arrested.
The moment he declared independence, the army attacked his residence and arrested him.
A curfew was imposed, but the people’s morale could not be suppressed. On the evening of March 27, Major Ziaur Rahman of the eighth East Bengal Regiment, urged the people to join the struggle for freedom under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from Chittagong Radio.
Observing Independence Day in 2017, we commemorate the sacrifices of those who came before and we understand that where we are today is because of our history.
We must attempt to restore our sense of morality instead of twisting history for personal aggrandisement and self-glorification of the powerful elite.
Let us bid farewell to divisiveness, and adhering to the ideological principles that helped us win over a hegemonic state of power and earn our freedom.
Muhammad Quamrul Islam is an economist, advocate, and social activist.