A CHILDREN’S HISTORY OF THE LIBERATION WAR
Muhammed Zafar Iqbal
Once upon a time, our beloved green Bangladesh was known as East Pakistan. At that time, Pakistan was a truly strange country because it had two parts: One was called East Pakistan while the other was West Pakistan. The distance between East and West Pakistan was almost two thousand kilometers, and in between lay another country – India. The Bangalis lived in East Pakistan. Their language, dress, food, and culture were nothing like those of West Pakistan.
The population of West Pakistan was less than the Bangalis of East Pakistan. And yet, they ruled over the Bangalis and exploited them in different ways. The revenue earned in East Pakistan was mostly spent in West Pakistan. There were very few Bangalis in the military of Pakistan. And that’s not all. They tried to force the Urdu language onto the Bangalis. The Bangalis refused to accept this, and so they rebelled. Bangla was then made the state language but this came at the cost of the lives of Salam, Barkat, Rafiq, Jabbar, and many others like them. This day in 1952 is commemorated all over the world on February 21 as the International Mother Language Day.
A_Children’s_History_of_Bangladesh_Liberation_War_Dhaka_TribuneA great leader, and a favorite of the Bangalis in East Pakistan, could not tolerate the torture and abuse perpetrated by the West Pakistanis. So, to free his people, he decided to take a stand against them. This man was Sheikh Mujib. Mujib made a six-point demand, which, if accepted, would end all the torture and abuse on East Pakistan. He and several members of his party were imprisoned and tortured for this six-point revolt, or Chchoy Dofa Andolon, but he refused to stand down. Finally, in 1969, after a great rebellion, he was set free. The people put their faith in Sheikh Mujibur Rahman then and came to support him. As a result, during the 1970 elections in Pakistan, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s party, the Awami League, won all but two of the seats in the parliament. This meant that Bangabandhu Mujibur Rahman would now be the state leader of not only East Pakistan, but of the whole of Pakistan as well.
The leader of the Pakistan military, General Yahya Khan, and his supporters could not accept this at all. They could not imagine the Bangalis ruling over Pakistan. So they began to conspire with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the political leader of West Pakistan. As part of their conspiracy, the National Assembly session scheduled for March 1971 was suddenly halted. When the news reached East Pakistan, the people poured into the streets in angry protest. Demonstration after demonstration took place all over the country, the slogan Joy Bangla on everyone’s lips. Bangabandhu then began his non-cooperation movement. He declared the Bangalis would not cooperate with the Pakistanis until the latter accepted their demands. The whole of East Pakistan ground to a standstill at this one declaration.
A_Children’s_History_of_Bangladesh_Liberation_War_Dhaka_TribuneThe students and general public of East Pakistan had understood by this time that it was not possible to remain with West Pakistan any longer. So they began an uprising for an independent Bangladesh. They created a new national flag with the map of Bangladesh on it and declared Amar Shonar Bangla as the national anthem. The flag of an independent Bangladesh began to fly from the tops of each house in the country.
On March 7, 1971, Sheikh Mujib gave a speech at the Racecourse Maidan. There he declared, “Our fight today is for freedom! Our fight today is for independence!” This speech inspired the thousands of spectators to become ready to lay down their lives for their country’s freedom.
The West Pakistan military were certainly not sitting around idly. On the pretext of talking to Bangabandhu, they began to smuggle arms, canons, gunpowder, bullets, and thousands of military personnel into East Pakistan. Then, calmly, in a premeditated move, they attacked the people of Bangladesh in the middle of the night on March 25. That night, the Pakistani military murdered thousands of people in Dhaka City. They destroyed the buildings and set fire to homes. Machine guns shot down those who tried to escape. The Pakistan military was most enraged by the university students and teachers. So they sought them out and killed them. And without any form of preparation, the Rajarbagh Police in Dhaka and the EPR (BDR) in Pilkhana fought back with all their might. But the Pakistan military, with their heavy artillery and tanks, far outnumbered them, so they were forced to back down.
The Pakistan military commandos attacked Bangabandhu in his home on March 25 and arrested him. But Bangabandhu had already declared independence by then. This declaration was broadcast after midnight, and so our Independence Day is March 26.
The Pakistan military seized the weapons of the Bangali military and either locked up the soldiers or killed them. Innumerable Bangali soldiers died, but those who could, fought like heroes and escaped from the Pakistan military camp. On March 27, Major Ziaur Rahman read out the declaration of independence once more on behalf of Bangabandhu from the Kalurghat Radio Station in Chittagong. The general public, including the students, the farmers, and the laborers, all joined the Bangali armed forces to fight against the Pakistan military. The Bangalis, however, were not prepared for an armed war at the time because they had no arms or experience. So, by mid-May, the Pakistan military had, more or less, taken over Bangladesh. Then began a spate of horrific mass killings, torture, and persecution.
A few traitors from this country, of whom most were members of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, joined hands now with the Pakistan military. They put together the Rajakar, Al-Badr, and Al-Shams Bahini and, alongside the Pakistan military, began to wreak untold violence on the people of this country. To save their lives, almost a crore people escaped into the neighboring country, India, to seek refuge. Although India provided shelter, it was not prepared for the arrival of so many people. So there was not enough food or any form of medical help available. Unable to stand the unspeakable conditions, thousands died there, most of whom were children.
A_Children’s_History_of_Bangladesh_Liberation_War_Dhaka_TribuneSince the Pakistan military had arrested and taken Sheikh Mujib away, Tajuddin Ahmed stepped up to guide the country. Gathering all the leaders of Bangladesh, he formed the Government of Bangladesh on April 10. Under their leadership now began the fight for liberation. Colonel MAG Osmani became the Commander-in-Chief of the Bangladesh Armed Forces. As the regular armed forces fought face to face with the Pakistani army however, the guerillas in the Mukti Bahini, or Freedom Army, began stealth attacks.
The whole country was divided into eleven sectors and the fight for freedom began with renewed vigor. Students and the public, the farmers and the laborers, the women and the men, the children and the tribal people all joined this fight. Those who were not directly involved with the fighting helped by giving the freedom fighters shelter and food.
The artistes at the Shadhin Bangla Radio sang patriotic songs and broadcast news of the war to the people to inspire and encourage them. Those who lived abroad collected funds and garnered public support for the freedom fighters. World-famous singers held concerts while poets wrote poetry, and in this way, people from all over the world came forward to support the Liberation War of Bangladesh.
In the beginning, the guerillas lacked experience, but they quickly learned and soon grew very daring. They put their lives on the line in this fight. Most of these guerillas were young men, but how courageous they were, and how deep was their love for their country! The Pakistani army was perturbed by their attacks. So, to get back at the guerillas, the army began to burn down neighboring villages and kill civilians. But the guerilla attacks did not stop – they continued. And gradually, the Pakistani army became too scared to even venture out of their camps. They stayed in their bunkers and tried to somehow save themselves. It began to slowly dawn on them that they would lose this war. And because India had provided arms and training to the freedom fighters and given shelter to a crore refugees, they were upset with India as well. So, on December 3, Yahya Khan suddenly attacked India. And India declared war on Pakistan. The Indian army now joined the freedom fighters of Bangladesh to create an allied force called the Mitro Bahini.
The Pakistani army had become so weak and scared from the guerilla attacks that when the Indian Mitro Bahini joined the Mukti Bahini, they could barely last another two weeks. In just another thirteen days of fighting, the Mukti Bahini and the Mitro Bahini defeated the Pakistanis and surrounded Dhaka City. When the Pakistani army realized there was no way out, the one lakh strong army surrendered like cowards. That day was December 16, and so this day became our Victory Day.
However, a group of traitors were lying in wait inside our country. They realized the Pakistani army would lose and an independent Bangladesh would be born. But, to prevent Bangladesh from ever standing tall, the traitor Al-Badr Bahini murdered hundreds and hundreds of teachers, doctors, engineers, poets, litterateurs, journalists, and scientists. There is no mercy for such a crime. The people of Bangladesh have never forgiven these men, and they will never do so.
Not one, not two, but at the cost of thirty lakh lives, we gained our independence in 1971. A number of years have passed since then. We have achieved much, but there is so much we have not. We are continuously working to attain what we have not yet. We dream that, some day, the students and the public, the farmers and the laborers, the women and the men, and the tribal people will all come together to develop our beloved nation.
We will remain forever grateful to the freedom fighters who brought us independence, and will love them forever as well. We have shown our respect by awarding the title of Bir Sreshtha to seven of them and given medals to several others, but there are innumerable other freedom fighters for whom we have done nothing. We must seek these freedom fighters out, touch their hands and say, “We love you forever for giving us an independent Bangladesh.” We must look into their eyes and promise to build the nation they had dreamed about. We will certainly repay you for the blood you have sacrificed.
(Translation by Arifa Ghani Rahman, Dhaka Translation Center at ULAB)
DECEMBER 16, 2014