Looking back to 50 years ago in 2021
For my younger friends ….
50 years ago today I am sure I never thought, I would be still alive and be a citizen of a country that has evolved from a ‘bottomless basket case’ to a nation which many looks up to learn, understand and adapt the best practices. A nation of resilient people who have not only overcome a vicious enemy but raised a war torn country to become a sustainable developing country.
To me 1971 was and still is a nightmare, a horror movie in 4 dimensions. Many of us 18 to 20 years old had to become men and women overnight! Those who witnessed or were combatants or victims can never forget nor overcome the trauma 1971 gave to them. We can’t share nor can anyone understand that pain or the trauma we have carry silently or insanely.
I take every opportunities, I get, like a broken record, to recollect and reaffirm our belief and faith in 1971 to the younger generation, born after 1971, who have been raised in a free land that was curved out with the glory and bravery of young men and women who DARED to challenge the mighty Pakistan Army and defeated them. A country that bears the pain of my sisters and mothers raped by Pakistani and the blood of our slain innocent men and women. A nation of brave warriors’ who dared and won because they wanted equal rights and opportunities from their lords the Pakistanis. In 1971 the Pakistanis, once dreaded as the best soldiers and trained by the Americans had no chance with the small brown Banglalees they called the ‘tiny Machli eaters’, because the Machli eaters had awaken and was ready to die for their ‘Mother’. The Pakistanis underestimated the desire for freedom of the Bangalees. They had ‘nothing to lose but their chains they have a world to gain’
In 1971 I was hardly 18 years old but already influenced by the ‘Banglaee’ nationhood infection. The desire for my identity was imbued on us, by the fact that in 1947 Bangalees of the Eastern part of Bengal were promised emancipation. The Lahore Resolution did agree that a federation within the United Pakistan, will guarantee for the national and cultural identity of each of the provinces. We were to be ‘Bangalee first and then Muslims were my upbringing as we were raised in an atmosphere of diverse community that belonged to different language, dialects, faith, ideas and cultural practices. Unfortunately the western wing of Pakistan and her people thought we Bangalees were to give up our identity and become like the rest of those non Bangalee Pakistanis. Pakistan was created on the basis of an abstract idea, which was bound to be a failed nation as it had no solid philosophy of uniting two or more diverse people from two or more regions with separate language, culture, heritage and life style except for a common religion, that too of only 70% of Bangalees (in East Pakistan). It was obvious to my generation, that from the beginning this new nation called Pakistan was a union of hatred and suppression. The West Pakistani hegemony over the eastern wing began from day one with the Businesses, Bureaucrats and Military (unfortunately in some case few Intellectuals too) from the west, all wanting to take control of the Bangalees. It felt we have transferred the owners of the colony of Bengal from the British to the Pakistanis. And yes of course, there was a small Benglaee privileged class that would manage to be in the good books of Pakistanis by being their agents or collaborators/lackeys call them what you may (and those days we called them ‘Chamches’ or chamchas in Bangla). These group of Bangalee Pakistani lovers remained loyal to them till the last and many collaborated with them in 1971 to become part and parcel of the destructions of property and innocent people. They also played important roles in the crimes against humanity and has to be tried as ‘War Criminals along with the Pakistani principal perpetrators for their part in 1971’.
If I go back to early days of Pakistan we can see the first taste of suppression was felt when the so called father of their nation Quad E Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah retorted in the Curzon Hall of Dhaka that ‘Urdu and Urdu shall be the official language of Pakistan’ right after Independence of Pakistan. This was an aggression on the rights of Bangalees to be Bangalee and people in general were amazed at the audacity. The Bangalee students, of course, protested and roared back NO to such an absurd suggestion even right on his face. Thus, probably, the first movement for the mother tongue in the world began in 1948 making it a historical point of our start for emancipation. This is probably when the young leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who fought with his mentor Hussain Suhrawardy for Pakistan as Bengalee representation in the Muslim League, became aware of the betrayal and his long struggle for total emancipation for his people begun.
YES from 1952 to 1971 was not just long but a treacherous journey for us and painful struggle for Bangabandhu. The exploitation of Bengalee continued as the Pakistanis merrily looted our resources and built their cities and factories in Pakistan. When I look back and realize that under an occupation or suppression the rulers make you morally and emotionally so weak that we begin to think them as superiors and Pakistanis were surely doing that. I attended the school and were friends with people whom one could consider as elitist. My Bangalee friends would even tease me as a Moura. I was fortunate that my family was grounded and the practice of Bangalee culture was a priority. My mother was in the forefront of cultural movement while my father being a senior Engineer with the Government could have created conflicts at home. My father was not just a tolerant man but understand that Bangalees can’t be dominated for long. The Pakistani Government in the 60s used to feel irritated by what was referred as a ‘Hindu Culture’ practiced by Bangalees with their music, dancing and even certain ceremonies they practiced which had more a cultural than any religious connotation. My family although coming from a very conservative Muslim background of Chittagong didn’t approve of the fanaticism preached by those ultra-right Pakistani politicians and rulers. Like my family most Bangalee Muslims felt suppression of one’s way of expressing emotions or roots and origin is inhuman and has no place in religion. My father’s bosses, the Pakistan’s, never stopped harassing him but he was an arrogant Chatgaeah Chowdhury. My family never stopped being Bangalee Nationalist openly. Therefore, when in 1969 the students’ movement began for equal rights and democracy against the then dictatorship of Field Marshal Ayub Khan I had no qualms in joining the protest and activist although I belonged to the school that was in the Cantonment and operated by the Pakistan Army.
The rise of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was vivid at this time as youth were rising with the call of emancipation and dreaming of freeing themselves from the shackles of Pakistani usurers. When Mujib made his unique call for ‘6 points’ demands, which was in fact in line with the Lahore Resolution of 1946 of Pakistan written by the founders of Pakistan that had highlighted the autonomy and freedom for each of the 5 provinces in Pakistan as a federation. After independence in 1947 they backed out of it as the Punjabis of Pakistan were afraid the autonomy to provinces will make the Center a paper tiger and lose control of the 5 provinces. Therefore, this hegemony between the Bureaucrat Business and Military created a ‘power base’ of the west Pakistanis to exploit rule and control Eastern Wing of Pakistan and other weaker partners of Western wing like the Baluchis and Pathans. This ‘Troika’ would never allow Mujib to rise as he was the rebel rouser but very popular and getting strong with the little Bangalees. In fact most of our Bangalee nationalist leaders like Moulana Bhashani, Suhrawardy and the youngest of them Sheikh Mujibur Rahman could never be tamed and fought constantly, nail and teeth, with West Pakistanis. All of them spent years in Pakistani Jails but Bangabandhu was the one who was in custody the longest of all those leaders. It is said that he has spent more time in jail cells then his own home, but his belief and passion to serve the people and the country never swayed.
The first opportunity Bangalees got to decide their faith was in the 1970 Pakistan General Election. The people of Bangladesh (the then East Pakistan) didn’t hesitate to vote Bangabandhu overwhelmingly because he had a mandate for emancipation with the 6 points well drafted demand as his mandate which the voters could relate to. The Bangalee voters gave him and his party the Awami League an overwhelming majority votes. The result was as expected with AL getting 160 seats and his closest opponent and the most dreaded evil force of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto PPP got only 81 seats, out of total 300 seats for the National Assembly of Pakistan. It was obvious Bangabandhu was to become the leader of the then Pakistan, but, that was unthinkable to the Pakistani Troika power base. Seeing the results Bhutto not only went berserk but had a tantrum which the Punjabi Military had to listen and go along with his stupid argument probably that ‘a Bangalee can never be trusted as a Prime Minister of Pakistan’. On March 25th. night under the shadow of darkness the Pakistani Tanks and Mortars started their ‘operation searchlight’ in Dacca….”a short and crisp operation that would silence the little Bengalese forever”, was the intent of the Pakistani war lords when they planned the attack. They underestimated the Bangalees and our Bangabandhu. He had prepared us for this day and told us loud and clear that even if he is not around we must rise with whatever we have and defeat the Pakistani evil forces. He had inspired us with his words and deeds to believe we the Bangalee people can rise with whatever we have and defeat the Pakistanis for the sake of Sonar Bangla. The Pakistanis used to call us “Gaddar” so they thought once the Khakis come out storming we shall be Gaddar and betray Bangabandhu on the night of March 25 1971. They were wrong…we couldn’t me silence so we fought back.
After the reign of terror was unleashed, on that darkest night in our history, the Bangalee soldiers of Pakistan Military revolted and were joined by youth, peasants, workers and even many government officials in all parts of the occupied (East Pakistan) Bangladesh. The Riffraff forces spread in different cantonments or border outposts converged to confer and make a plan of action in early April 1971 in a tea garden at Teliapara Sylhet. They agreed to form themselves as an organized guerilla force for liberation of Bangladesh with the leadership of senior serving and retired officers for directing the liberation war known as Mukti Bahini. Soon after, the politicians of Awami League who were elected members of the 1970 election formed a government in exile with one of the brightest political leaders like Tajuddin Ahmed as the Prime Minister. The Government and cabinet were sworn in a remote liberated area of Kishoreganj on April 17 1971. Although Bangabandhu was arrested by the Pakistanis on the night of March 25-26 and shooed away to a jail somewhere in West Pakistan, he was declared (in absentia) as President of the newly formed People’s Republic of Bangladesh. As the Pakistanis spread the reign of terror allover Bangladesh more and more youths and adults were joining the Mukti Bahini (Liberation Force). As the Pakistanis were getting desperate, since they didn’t expect to be challenged, their atrocities increased many fold, making the innocent Bangalees homeless and women became the target for rape and torture to fill their lust and hatred against Bangalees. They wanted to annihilate the Bangalees and create a breed of their own in Bangladesh. Millions of men, women and children had to flee across the border to take refuge in India.
We were fortunate that India was our neighbor and in 1971 proved to be a true friend in need. Millions of innocent people could shelter there as the Pakistani marauders continued a festival of terror and horror which was never witnessed by the world before. We were not just surprised but in disbelief to see how these people who we thought were our own could turn on us with such ferocity. The animosity in Pakistanis of that period is something that I will carry always as a scar of “Never Again” as it was a traumatic experience for all of us. Even today when I meet a Pakistani I expect (unintentionally) the werewolf jumping out of him or her. It was unfortunate that many of the so called western nations promoting themselves as upholders of freedom, liberty and human rights were either silent, in denial or in few cases directly supporting Pakistani Military with weapons and fund. It was incredible and assuring to see the people and media stood by us as rock globally no matter whom their Government supported. The world conscience stood by us as morale support and inner strength to survive and fight. We were alone in the battle filed but felt confident as we felt them standing with us and drying our tears. This is Humanity. If those people never stood by us in 1971, the pain of the innocent people of Bangladesh would have been more horrific. The pain, hatred, greed and moral degradation we see today in Bangladesh is the cause and effect of the horror pain and terror the Pakistani left behind in our minds. After 1971 it is difficult to be normal because the trauma Pakistanis caused has left a scar of hatred in all of us. Yes, it is something to think about! Just imagine if the Indians and world conscience were silent in 1971 the Pakistanis could have purged all of us Bangalees. The stories of East Pakistan wouldn’t be heard and they could have succeeded with their blueprint for purifying the Bangalees in producing a new breed of race called ‘PakiBangla’, a breed of pure Muslim Banglees in the limelight of Pakistani mold. The Pakistanis never believed that the Bangalee Muslims were true Mosalmans and could be trusted. Unfortunately even today we have some Bangladeshis with that mindset or mentality. What a shame.
Today after 50 years many still ask me a very irritating question ‘is this the Bangladesh you fought for?’ I never understood where they were coming from, but it did bother me as I knew so many Bangladeshis in 1971 opted to be on the fence waiting to join the winning side. The Pakistan we defeated was rotten and evil period anyone having any doubt in 1971 about their betrayal can never be trusted by me.
I personally always felt that we have to say goodbye to them and build our own destiny someday but didn’t expect so early and that in 1971 I will have to make the choice and I chose for justice and freedom. Today when we look at Pakistan we see they remain almost the same and the fact that they have not changed is no surprise to me! Even TODAY they are a rouge NATION. A country that breeds and exports TERRORISM. A country that spreads hatred and is destroying the great religion of the global Muslims which is supposed to be a religion of Peace. We are glad we have nothing to do with them and as a nation we are surely doing much better than them. In 50 years we have surely stepped forward BUT the exploitation, injustice and inequality continues. We still have a long ways to go for total emancipation of all. We can overcome but can’t forget that soon after the Independence we had many hurdles to cross. After 1972 when Bangabandhu was attempting to raise the war torn nation there were many forces both within and outside that created unprecedented obstacles. The people were impatient but many who were against the creation of Pakistan waited for an opportune moment to destroy our spirit of 71. We sided with the Devil and we blew the horn of hell to greet the death of the liberation war spirit in 1975 with the gruesome assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman along with his family members. The defeated forces of 1971 never gave up but did rise to destroy our history our past and our glory. From 1975 onward, one after another the forces controlled by the pro Pakistanis and supported Pakistan in 1971 creeped back to power. They distorted the historic facts and tried to demure the freedom fighter, the Martyrs and our glorious liberation war. They poisoned a generation with lies, distortion, immorality and the practice to lie as part of habit. The moral, social and family values were drowned and century old Bangalee heritage and culture of tolerance was washed out with a perverted dream of individualism and materialism borrowed from the West.
In 1981 after Sheikh Hasina returned there was a sigh of relief amongst many but many were also doubtful of her political maturity and her organizational capabilities. In 1975, during the carnage of killing in Road 32 Residence of Bangabandhu, she and her younger sister got spared because they were abroad with their scholar spouses. The trauma of hearing that the whole family has been wiped out could drive anyone crazy and fall in depression. Fortunately they were ‘no ordinary folks’ but the children of Bangabandhu who had taught them from the moment they were born that their Father is the voice of the people and has dedicated his life for the Motherland. From childhood to adulthood they have seen the giant of a man they called their father belonged to the nation. He spent more time in jails than in his home. When not in jail he was moving from villages to towns to cities fighting for the rights and emancipation of all people. It must have been painful for both but the eldest of the two must have known as the older one she must take up the fallen flag of her father and continue his struggle for the people. Bangladesh was far from what the people and Bangabandhu fought for but she had to wait till those in power would allow her to return home. Sheikh Hasina was still young many thought, but that was her huge advantage as Bangladesh is a young country and the majority of the population are youth. She could connect with them and she had the inner force to turn her pain into growth by leading the youth to Sonar Bangla that the freedom fighters fought for. It’s my intuition that those initial days of her evolving into a leader was not really difficult, after all she was groomed by one of the great leader in the world during his time. She had her focus on the people and their welfare but also she knew that the youth of Bangladesh are the new force that can take the nation forward as the youth did by becoming freedom fighters.
In 1971 they fought with weapons and guns but in the new century it’s going to be with soul and brain. She wanted the youth to be equipped with the technology that would make them global citizens and have access to employment or entrepreneurship opportunity not just at home but globally. She was also young and Bangladesh was a young country with a rich resources of youth with energy and vitality to move forward. Awami League itself has a grass root connection who needed a leadership like her who was bold, youngness, passionate about the country and the people. Bangabandhu was the unconditional leader of the people and his killers and associates misunderstood the people. They will never forget or erase him. His assassination made him larger than life. Fidel Castro had rightfully compared him with the Himalayas.
In the last 10 years Bangladesh has taken the path that she dreamt of and promised in her mandate to the people when she dedicated herself to the service of the people as the leader of her political party Awami League. Like her father she has the ability to read and understand people. She had time to listen and always ready to learn. In less than 30 years she grasped the art of being a statesperson. Her biggest strength was her father’s genes which made her a fighter and daring. In 1971 Bangabandhu was aware of the Pakistani wreath for daring to ask for freedom. When the Pakistani Military started killing indiscriminately on that night of March 25th, he stood in the front line while his people could make a strategic retreat to regroup and make the final assault victory to create Bangladesh with the Bangalee men and women fighting arm in arm. Sheikh Hasina inherited a divided nation far off the track of the spirit with which the people had fought for. She has seen the loyalty and love of the people for her father and the country. She has also seen the betrayal of many. She knew the real people are the Mass who are not corruptible and still cried for Bangabandhu. That was her strength and the youth was her force. She had the vision of seeing Bangladesh a land of opportunity if the youth had the right tools and infrastructure. She sailed through many storms not just internally but globally including facing the Pandemic as boldly as one can. 50 years ago we fought for our country today we face an invisible enemy and a Pandemic which can be overcome by the youth with that passion of freedom fighter. To be strong and be united as nation who have faced many storms and overcome. This pandemic is an opportunity to decide our fate as nation that the value our forefathers taught is not to be taken lightly but cherished. We have a lot to gain from our own age old values rather than chasing a western dream of materialism Bangladesh can make it but we have to think as US not as ME anymore.
Akku Chowdhury a veteran freedom fighter, Director of Liberation War Museum and former CEO of Transcom Foods Ltd.