13 March 2012

Bangladesh and its struggle for Independence in 1971

As 26th of March approaches, I remind myself and others of the brutalities that was unleashed on the Bengali people in 1971.

March 26 is the Bangladesh Independence Day (Shwadhinota Dibosh in Bangla). It commemorates the declaration of independence, and the start of Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971.

The below from Liberation War Museum talks about the country and its struggle to end oppression and gain independence.


Bangladesh is located in the easternmost periphery of the Indian Subcontinent. The people of Bangladesh can be proud of a civilization that dates back to almost two millennium. For centuries, the lush and fertile plains of Bengal have attracted traders, travelers and conquerors alike. The Bengali culture has assimilated the influences left by these contacts but at the same time has retained its distinctive features. Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam have also left their own signatures in the life and society and in the process have helped to make Bengal a tolerant and secular society with a liberal outlook. Bengal is also the home to almost 45 different ethnic tribes, each with their distinct language and culture.

Bangladesh carries a rich tradition of folklore and folk music, heavily influenced by mystic traditions, which in a large measure has given Bengal its characteristic of humanism and tolerance. The spread of modern education, the influence of the European Renaissance brought by the British, the literary excellence of Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam and others have deeply influenced the Bengalee society. There have been great social reformers like Rammohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Gupta who have helped to modernize the society and its social customs. Begum Rokeya has pioneered education among conservative Muslim women.

During the Pakistani period, the struggle for a Bengali cultural identity began with the language movement of 1952. The cultural struggle has always been an integral part of the national struggle.

Emergence of Bangladesh

In the background of the nationalistic struggle against British Colonial Rule in India since the mid 20's of the last century, Hindu-Muslim communal tensions led in 1947 to the partition of India and Pakistan was created as a separate homeland for Muslims. East Pakistan was inhabited by the Bengalee nation with a distinct language and culture of its own and was physically separated from West Pakistan by a thousand miles. Pakistan therefore, was an unrealistic state from the very beginning.

Since its very inception, the Pakistani rulers denied the democratic aspirations of the Bengalees and their national rights. The country declared itself as an Islamic Republic in 1956 and military rule was imposed from 1958. The Military Rulers tried to subjugate the Bengalees politically, culturally and economically and naturally the disillusionment with the new nation was not surprising. The struggle for a separate homeland manifested itself right from 1948 through a continuous, united and popular struggle for democracy, autonomy and for the upholding of its secular cultural identity.

In first-ever national Parliamentary elections held in 1970 based on a one man-one vote basis, the Bengalee nationalist forces led by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman won landslide victory and his party, the Awami League became majority party in the whole of Pakistan. However, the Pakistani military machinery refused to accept this electoral verdict; thus leading to a non-violent non-cooperation movement in East Pakistan.

In an attempt to crush the nationalistic movement in East Pakistan, the Pakistani Military Junta unleashed a systematic genocide against Bengalee people on the fateful night of March 25, 1971. The Junta received support from a handful local religion based parties and religious fundamentalists.

The Pakistani rampage resulted in the worst genocide since the Second World War, and an estimated 3 million people were killed, some 278,000 women were raped and 10 million had to take refuge in neighboring India.

In this background, the independence of Bangladesh was declared and elected representatives of 1970’s election from East Pakistan formed the Bangladesh Government in Exile on the 10th of April, 1971. The Cabinet took oath of office at Baiddyanathtala in Meherpur, later renamed as Mujibnagar on April 17, 1971. Students and youth took military training and the Mukti Bahini (freedom fighters) fought back the occupation forces under 11 Sectors, adopting guerilla tactics and kept the Pakistani army in a harassed and indefensible state. International condemnation of Pakistan’s atrocities came from governments, public leaders, cultural personalities and media. Unfortunately, the Nixon administration of United States and China supported Pakistan government, more from global strategic interests, while India and The Soviet Union supported the Bangladesh cause.

On December 3, after Pakistan attacked and bombed airfields in the western part of India, The Allied Command of the Indian Army and the Muktibahini (Bangladesh Freedom Fighters) was formed and they started the formal armed assault. On December 16, 1971, the Pakistan Armed Forces ignominiously surrendered to this Allied Command and independent Bangladesh was born as democratic and secular state.

Evolution of Fundamental Principles of 1972 - Bangladesh Constitution

The Bengalee nation had struggled for democracy, secular values and national rights for years. The Military rulers of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan tried to deny the democratic and national aspirations of the Bengalees and carried out systematic genocide in the name of religion. As a result, the struggle of the Bengalee people began from language movement of 1952 to the armed resistance in 1971, which ultimately led to the emergence of Bangladesh as a secular democratic nation state.

The following fundamental principles enshrined in the Constitution therefore evolved from its tradition and experience of this popular struggle.
  •     Democracy
  •     Nationalism
  •     Secularism

(Socialism was other fundamental principle. However this principle was generally considered to mean social justice particularly for the disadvantaged.)

The people of Bangladesh are still continuing their struggle to retain these principles against many odds.

Short Video Documentaries

Further Information:

Bangladesh Genocide Archive
Wikipedia: Bangladesh Liberation War
Liberation War Museum

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