The monumental March 7 speech by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the embodiment of the Bangali people’s sentiments. The contents of the speech alone, delivered by anyone else, could not have galvanized the people into a united front against West Pakistan.
It was the booming baritone voice, laced with bitter regret at knowing the bloodshed which would follow, the fraternal tenor appealing to every victim of persecution, the charisma of his persona, and the look in his eyes which disqualified every living person from delivering the speech with the same eloquence, cadence, and gravitas.
Historian Prof Syed Anwar Hussain said it was the Agartala Case which established him as the symbol of unity of the Bangali people. He praised Unesco for acknowledging the March 7 speech as a world documentary heritage in 2017. But he questioned why the government did not take any initiatives earlier to promote it sooner.
He said: “Education Ministry claims to have done a lot, with no evidence to back their claims. Bangabandhu’s 1138-word-speech was the flashpoint for the historic political evolution of our people. It took us a long time to realize that this speech is among the most important feats of oration in world history.
“For 21 long years, we were deprived of this speech as it was banned nationwide. I believe we must do our best to share Bangabandhu’s words with the world. Our embassies can provide the speech as pocketbooks worldwide.”
Dr Anisuzzaman, professor emeritus at Dhaka University, said after the speech, Bangabandhu’s word became the law for everyone in East Pakistan, except the military.
He said: “People would go to work after 2pm. No taxes were paid into West Pakistan’s coffers. Even the banks defied the Pakistan Central Bank to follow Bangabandhu’s instructions.”
The professor said there was much trepidation regarding how a civilian population would combat a fully armed and trained military. But such was Bangabandhu’s oratory magic, that every single person had the resolve to go to war and lay down their lives if need be. He stressed the importance of incorporating the speech to textbooks to illuminate the next generation.”
Eminent academic Prof Syed Manzoorul Islam reminisced going to the Race Course Maidan as a third year student to translate the speech to a foreign journalist. As Prof Manzoorul was transcribing the speech, the journalist asked him to stay his hand, saying: “Let me hear that man.”
Prof Manzoorul said: “His words were electrifying. Was there a single person in attendance not shivering when they realized the magnitude of the words spoken? Of the freedom which lied in wait?”
After the speech ended to rapturous applause, the journalist turned to me and said: “You have a fight coming. He has issued a call-to-arms, get ready.”
Veteran journalist Golam Sarwar said the people in attendance transcended gender, class, caste, and all social boundaries, into a single label of unity – Bangali, an identity emblazoned into their hearts and minds by Bangabandhu.
“It did not matter if you were a journalist, a farmer, a civil servant, a rickshaw-puller, or a student. You were a Bangali, and nothing but Bangali.”