Monday, December 15, 2008

Bangladesh Victory Day


The Jatiyo Smriti Shoudha (National War Memorial) 
at Savar, near Dhaka, on Nov. 19, 1986
© Jerome D'Costa)

Bangladesh observes its 37th Bijoy Dibosh (Victory Day) tomorrow. This victory was achieved at the cost of three million lives, about 10 million displaced persons within its borders and outside, 300,000 raped women, and over a billion dollars worth of infrastructure and property destroyed.

Independence of Pakistan

After 190 years of British rule, the Indian subcontinent won independence in August, 1947. The Hindu-majority regions became India and Muslim-majority areas Pakistan. Pakistan again was divided into East Pakistan (presently Bangladesh) and West Pakistan (presently Pakistan). These two sections of Pakistan had about 1,000 miles of Indian territory between them. This odd configuration of the country also symbolized marked differences between the two sections of Pakistan.

Differences Between the East and West Pakistanis

Except the religion of Islam, the people of East Pakistan and West Pakistan completely differed in physical structure and skin colour, food habits, dress, intellect and attitude, culture and language. There was only peripheral similarity in religion. The East Pakistani Muslims observed syncretic and more tolerant Islam, whereas the West Pakistanis observed conservative to fundamentalist Islam.

Most of the Muslim leaders, giving leadership in the independence movement against the British, were of Farsi or Urdu speaking background and they were living in northern India. After independence, they naturally moved to West Pakistan, where Farsi and Urdu were also in use to a certain extent, and formed the new central government of Pakistan. Everything was being administered and controlled from West Pakistan. From the very beginning, East Pakistan, instead of being equal with West Pakistan, was in the secondary position and was being treated almost as an "administered territory."

The State Language Crisis and the East-West Discrimination

The effort of the ruling elite to impose Urdu as the state language of Pakistan was mostly resisted by Bengali-speaking students of East Pakistan. Ultimately on February 21, 1952 police fired on protesting students in Dhaka and killed three university students and two other non-students. This incident had country-wide repercussion. On May 7, 1954 Pakistan government recognized Bengali along with Urdu as two state languages of Pakistan. The Constituent Assembly ratified it on February 26, 1956. This language movement aroused Bengalee nationalism that culminated in independence of Bangladesh.

The unceasing and unabashed exploitation -- whether political , economic, social or religious -- of East Pakistan by West Pakistan and conscious struggle for Bengali identity and cultural freedom led to deep resentment among the East Pakistani educated class. Different student movement of the decade led to mass movement in 1969 and brought about the downfall of the military ironman Ayub Khan. It also led to overwhelming victory of the Awami League under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the election of December 7, 1970. The Awami League won 160 seats out of 162 seats of the Pakistan National Assembly in East Pakistan. With this victory he became the leader of the majority party destined to lawfully form the central government of Pakistan. In this election the East Pakistani overwhelmingly gave support to the Awami League's six-point demands seeking greater regional autonomy for East Pakistan.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Deprived of His Right of Being the Prime Minister

The military elite and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the then leader of Pakistan People's Party, that received the second highest number of National Assembly seats, openly expressed their opposition to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's forming the government. In the name of negotiation for handing over the power to him, the military were heavily arming themselves in East Pakistan. The Bengalees were losing patience and there were several unhappy incidents between the Bengalees and Urdu-speaking Bihari Muslims, who, due to communal riots, had previously fled to East Pakistan as refugees from the Bihar province of India. These Biharis always supported the Urdu-speaking West Pakistani ruling class.

The War of Independence

The East Pakistanis started a country-wide non-cooperation with the existing military government. On the night of March 25, 1971, there came the deadly military crackdown in Dhaka city where thousands of unarmed people, including university students and Bengalee policemen, were killed in cold blood, many houses and shanties were burned down, and numerous others were wounded.

After receiving Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's written note on the declaration of independence, the Bengalee Major Ziaur Rahman, on March 27 declared independence of East Pakistan as the People's Republic of Bangladesh over a makeshift radio station at Kalurghat near Chittagong. The Awami League also formed the Bangladesh government in exile. Thus began the 9-month Bangladesh War of Independence. During this war about eight million inhabitants of varous religious and ethnic groups fled and took refuge in India, the country that was always on the lookout for ways to weaken its rival Pakistan. Getting this opportunity out of the blue, India took full advantage of it and provided guerrilla warfare training to thousands of East Pakistani refugee youths organized into Mukti Bahini (liberation force).

These guerrillas for a few months indiscriminately attacked Pakistani army posts in different parts of East Pakistan and almost broke down the enemy morale. Pakistan as a last resort, declared war on India on December 4, 1971, but, in face of superior Indian army aided by the Mukti Bahini, lost it with the full surrender of its forces consisting of 90,000 soldiers and paramilitary men in East Pakistan on December 16, 1971. The embattled East Pakistan emerged as the full-fledged independent nation of Bangladesh.

Pope John Paul II on an official visit to Bangladesh
pays homage at the National War Memorial at Savar
on Nov. 19, 1986
(Photo © Jerome D'Costa)

War Crimes Unpunished, Reparations Still Due

After the long-awaited independence, Bangladesh started from the scratch. Under foreign pressure and influence it could not try the war criminals and until now it failed to receive due reparations for the wealth it lost to the West Pakistanis. It is ironic that Pakistan always declared its unconditional allegiance to Islam that speaks of love and justice, but it has been acting as a coward by not expressing its simple regret for its deliberately discriminatory and unjust role in East Pakistan.

Do you think that the Government of Bangladesh should actively pursue the issue of war crimes and genocide with the United Nations Human Rights Commission and related agencies?
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