Retracing Our Ideas of March 25
By Adnan M. S. Fakir
Photo Credit: (Back ground)
Sania Binte Satter
Writing about our liberation war is often a hard undertaking; primarily because of the emotions that get attached but also because I do not want to promote hatred towards anyone because of past events. I honestly believe that in order for us to move forward as a nation and as a unified form of humanity, hatred is a big barrier for many of us. Keeping that in mind, I also believe that every citizen of our country, especially the younger ones (meaning us), should be aware of the toil that was put in so that we can call ourselves Bangladeshi. Another reason that makes it difficult is the ambiguity that lies our in factual history as a result of dirty politics. It's become worse than calling someone a communist in the US. Oh and this name change politics with tax payers' money (which is ours by the way) has to stop; instead concentrate more on efficiently carrying out those Annual Development Programs (ADP) which actually is supposed to help the poor but for some reason is never implemented properly under any government. Yes, I am an egalitarian. Finally, it is a hard undertaking also because I am a lazy bum and doing proper research takes a lot of time. Moving on...
Putting things in a wider context, the 1971 liberation war was the third big shock that impacted the people of the region; the first being the devastating famine of 1943/44, and second being the Partition of 1947. We also have to bear in mind that the war throughout its entirety was part of two larger political games: the rivalry between India and Pakistan and between the Cold War superpowers. The world is naught but a stage for politics I tell you. No wonder Shakespeare loved it. To know why March 25 came to be rather than not to be, we only have to look back a little; and reading Hamlet won't help much here. In the first nationwide elections of 1970 (comprising of both East and West Pakistan), Awami League had won 160 out of 162 seats of East Pakistan putting them in absolute majority in the then Pakistan's 300 seat national assembly. However the West was not about to agree to Mujib becoming the Prime Minister of Pakistan due to obvious clash of interests that had been raging for some time. In Dante's terms, that would be the greed and pride portions of Yahya (the name sort of makes you go yeah-yeah doesn't it? I blame Usher) and Bhutto screaming out. Yahya and Bhutto had come over to the East for negotiations and when they saw that things weren't exactly going according to their plan, on 25 March night, Yahya stealthily flew back to the west side (or should I call it the dark side?) after ordering the army to attack the heart of the East's autonomy movement, igniting the Bangladesh Liberation War, little knowing that we were much more than only men. We also had the women fighting alongside with equal vigor, if not more.
As Schendel puts it beautifully in his book, “A History of Bangladesh,”25 March orders of a full-blown army attack was meant to be a “punitive operation to eliminate Bengali nationalism and reassert West's dominance.” The armed assault was appropriately code named “Operation Searchlight”, and was led by General Tikka Khan. It was a brutal onslaught. The police and the paramilitary East Pakistan Rifles were first crushed so that there was no serious armed resistance to the operation. Troops rampaged through the Dhaka University campus using mortars on dorms killing students and faculties, their primary targets. Fortunately DU was closed during the time and many students were not present during the massacre. Unfortunately the targeted killings of the intellectuals did not stop there and the most mentioned is the execution on 14 December, the Shahid Buddhijibi Dibosh (Day of the Martyred Intellectuals). On that day, over 200 of our intellectuals including professors, journalists, doctors, artists, engineers, poets and writers were picked up from their homes in Dhaka, blindfolded and taken to torture cells and executed en masse, notably in Rayerbazar and Mirpur. Banglapedia mentions a total of 991 academics, 13 journalists, 49 physicians and 42 lawyers among others to have been killed during the war. Should they have been alive, Bangladesh may have been a much better and properly run country by now. But then again, maybe Bangladesh would never have been born. The Martyred Intellectuals Memorial raised at Rayerbazar is in memory of these specific nobles of the days.
Going back to 25 March, Operation Searchlight also involved demolition of the Shahid Minar and capture of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Mujib was already a strong symbol and the West dared not to kill and make Mujib a martyr and further incite the East's population. There were verbal and later written orders to shoot Hindu citizens and the old artisan neighborhood of Shakhari bazar (area of conch shell makers) was ravaged. Flamethrowers were used on slums to prevent concentrated mass uprising, and elsewhere outside of Dhaka the army onslaught was equally excessive.
However, not everywhere did the army succeed in establishing control. Bengali troops in Chittagong heard about the incidents in Dhaka, quickly killed the Pakistani officers residing there, moved out of town and put up resistance. It was from a small radio station in Chittagong that a call to “the people of Bangladesh” to resist the attacking army, was announced by Ziaur Rahman. The station had very limited range and was soon demolished by an air raid. This later came to be known as the “declaration of independence,” what we now celebrate on 26 March, which sadly is a Friday this year meaning no extra day of holiday from school or work. Darn it.
Like almost any other nation born from the clutches of colonialism, Bangladesh is filled with enthusiasm; enthusiasm for a future that beams back at her and says, “You the man!” But in order for that to happen, the people of the country have to work in unity towards its betterment. By unity I do not mean lack of differences in opinion or ideas; such differences breeds creativity and we need that more than ever. By unity what I mean is a common goal keeping civil unrest to a minimum. If others can do it, we can do it. Heck! If others can't do it, we can do it! The power is ours! The responsibility is ours too.