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Dhaka Tribune

OP-ED: On this day in 1971 …

How we fought tooth and nail for our freedom

Update : 16 Dec 2020, 12:49 AM

December 16. Victory Day. The long, pitch-dark night that had begun in the life of the Bengali nation ended 49 years ago on this very day. Every year, December 16 reminds us anew how difficult it is to regain the precious gem of freedom once lost.

Historically, the people in the Ganges Delta have always been independently minded. Until the defeat of Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah at the hands of the British Company Army in the Battle of Palashi, the region had been ruled by independent kings, sultans, nawabs, or zamindars for most of history. Many of them might have been of foreign descent, but they took this country as their own. It never became a colony of any imperialist power before British rule.

In 1757, when the English East India Company, with the connivance of Mir Zafar Ali Khan and his allies, defeated Siraj-ud-Daulah’s army, the conspirators could not have realized that this nation would be plunged into a deep darkness.

The Company removed Mir Zafar and placed his son-in-law Mir Qasim on the throne, thinking it would be to their advantage. When the delayed enlightenment of the independently-minded Mir Qasim took the form of a resistance war in Buxar, the insidious Englishmen had already established a solid foundation. As a result, Mir Qasim’s defeat was inevitable. Mir Zafar sat on the throne again, butas a servant. The almost-broken main gate of his house in Murshidabad has been named later by people as “Nimak Haram Deuri” (a traitor’s porch).

While palace conspiracies of kings and princes to seize power were nothing unusual back then, Mir Jafar’s treachery became so important in history because it sowed the seeds of subjugation not only in Bengal but in the whole of India.

However, this nation has never easily accepted subjugation. Even when subjugated, whenever the opportunity arose, it rebelled, trying to stand with its head held high. The Fakir-Sannyasi rebellion in the late 18th century, Titumir’s bamboo fort movement, Haji Shariatullah’s Faraizi movement in the early 19th century, the Santhal rebellion of 1855, the Sepoy Mutiny or First War of Independence of 1857, the simultaneous Khilafat and non-cooperation movement in the early 20th century -- these have repeatedly highlighted their dissatisfaction with colonial power and the desire for independence.

Success might not have come, but these movements and struggles played a historic role in keeping the desire for self-control and freedom alive in the minds of the people from generation to generation.

The journey of the All India Muslim League, an organization that led the anti-British independence movement for Muslims to gain a separate homeland, began in 1906 under the leadership of Nawab Sir Salimullah. The historic Lahore proposal raised by the organization later in 1940, demanding a separate homeland for Muslims, was also presented by another accomplished son of this soil, Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq.

In the 1937 elections, the Muslim League achieved significant success in Bengal. The 1946 elections saw the Muslim League in Bengal, led by Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy, win 114 out of the 121 seats reserved for Muslims. The uncompromising role of the spirited population of this land served as the key driving force in the movement for the establishment of a separate homeland for Muslims.

Despite the acquisition of a separate territory within the structure of Pakistan at the end of British rule, the people of the region quickly realized that their expected independence had not yet come. The gap between the East and West was widening day by day as a result of contempt for ethnic identity and culture, political-economic inequality, and especially, repeated stumbling blocks to democracy due to military intervention.

The journey that started through the Language Movement of 52 culminated in Bangabandhu's 6-point movement in the 60s. The 1970 election was a kind of referendum on the demands raised by Bangabandhu for the political and economic liberation of this region, and the people came out in his favour. The election results showed that the East and the West had been unofficially separated.

Even then, Bangabandhu continued to try for a peaceful solution. However, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who won the majority in West Pakistan, recklessly refused to accept the people's verdict, and in support of him, the military government, instead of handing over power to Bangabandhu, arrested him on March 25, 1971, and cracked down on the peace loving people. These developments made the independence of this region inevitable.

Bangabandhu had already given instructions in his speech on March 7 out of such apprehension. Therefore, the people of this country did not have to take much time to decide to jump into an armed struggle for liberation. Bengali members serving in different forces of Pakistan also revolted and quickly joined the ranks of the people. At the cost of the lives of innumerable martyrs, the brave fighters of Bengal finally defeated the extremely powerful Pak army and snatched the victory in a bloody nine-month war.

The defeat of the invading forces was inevitable, as they had engaged in a war against a nation united in a dream of liberating their motherland. We are overwhelmed with joy on December 16 every year, but will the deep wounds of long struggle and pain ever be erased?

This victory might not have been so easy if a large neighbour like India had not patiently come to our aid that day. By providing the shelter to the refugees, arms and training to the freedom fighters, building up public opinion across the world in favour of us, and directly participating in the final stages of the war, the unique role that India played for us that day is truly rare.

Many of those who took a stand against us then, such as Saudi Arabia, the US, and China, are our friends today. This is the result of Bangabandhu's generosity and “friendship with all, no enmity with anyone” policy.

But, Pakistan? Bangabandhu extended the hand of friendship by participating in the OIC conference held in Pakistan in 1974. But has there been any remorse among the Pakistanis for their oppressive policy towards the people of this land in 71?

Dr Mohammad Didare Alam Muhsin is Professor of Pharmacy, Jahangirnagar University.

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