All Section, Special Supplement

On this day in 1971

Published : 15 Dec 2020 11:32 PM | Updated : 15 Dec 2020 11:32 PM

Mohammad Didare Alam Muhsin

December 16th is the Victory Day. The long pitch-dark night, that began in the life of the Bengali nation with the setting of the sun of Bengal's independence in 1757 at the mango grove of Plassey, ended 49 years ago in 1971 on this very day. The betrayal of Mir Zafar Ali Khan, a nefarious, power-hungry and ambitious man, and his associates wrote on the forehead of this nation the life of subjugation for more than two hundred years. During subjugation for more than two hundred years, this nation had to understand the value of independence by enduring long sufferings. Every year December 16th comes back to the life of this nation, and reminds us anew how difficult it is to regain the precious gem of freedom once lost.

Historically, the people in the Ganges Delta have always been independently minded. Until the defeat of Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah at the hands of the British Company Army at the Battle of Plassey, the region had been ruled by independent kings, sultans, nawabs or zamindars for most of the known history. Many of them might have been of foreign descent, but they took this country as their own. It never became a colony of any imperialist power before British rule. It is true that when the glory of the Mughals in India was in the middle of the sky, the region became part of the vast Mughal Empire; but the representatives of the Mughal emperors also worked for the establishment of good governance in the region and for its prosperity, not considering it as a foreign land and exploiting it, as the British colonists did, to inflate the treasury of Delhi.

In 1757, when the British East India Company, with the connivance of Mir Zafar Ali Khan, the Nawab's chief of staff, and his allies, defeated the army of Siraj-ud-Daulah, the last independent Nawab of Bengal, by somehow fighting without a fight, the conspirators did not even realize in a whirlwind that the fate of this country and nation is going to be shattered in a deep darkness. It was too late for Nawab Mir Zafar Ali Khan as ascended the throne as a puppet of the East India Company and began to understand. The Company removed him and placed his son-in-law Mir Qasim on the throne, thinking it would be to their advantage. When the delayed enlightenment of the independently-minded Mir Qasim took the form of a resistance war in Buxar, the insidious Englishmen had already stood on a solid foundation. As a result defeat of Mir Qasim was inevitable. Mir Zafar Ali Khan sat on the throne again, but much as a servant. The almost-broken main gate of his house in Murshidabad has been named later by people as 'Nimak Haram Deuri' (a traitor's porch). In those days, the palace conspiracies of kings and princes to seize power were nothing unusual. The reason why Mir Jafar Ali Khan's treachery became so important in history is that it sowed the seeds of subjugation not only in Bengal but in the whole of India.

However, this nation has never easily accepted subjugation. Even when subjugated, whenever the opportunity arose, it rebelled, tried to stand with head held high. The Fakir-Sannyasi rebellion in the late eighteenth century, the bamboo fort movement of Titumir and the Faraizi movement of Haji Shariatullah in the early nineteenth century, the Santhal rebellion of 1855, the Sepoy Mutiny or First War of Independence of 1857, the simultaneous Khilafat and non-cooperation movement in the early twentieth century --- all these have repeatedly highlighted their smoky dissatisfaction with the colonial power and their desire for independence. Success might not have come, but these movements and struggles have played a historic role in keeping the desire for self-control and freedom alive in the minds of the people from generation to generation.

The journey of the All India Muslim League, an organization that led the anti-British independence movement for Muslims to gain a separate homeland, began in 1906 under the leadership of Nawab Sir Salimullah from here. The historic Lahore proposal raised by the organisation later in 1940, demanding a separate homeland for Muslims, was also presented by another accomplished son of this soil, Sher-e-Bangla Ak Fazlul Huq. Is that just so? In the 1937 elections, the Muslim League achieved significant success in Bengal, when it failed to garner such a response in other Muslim-majority provinces. The 1946 elections - which played a decisive role in the Pakistan movement - saw the Muslim League in Bengal, led by Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy, win 114 out of the 121 seats reserved for Muslims. Altogether, the uncompromising role of the fighting and spirited population of this land served as the key driving force in the movement for the establishment of a separate homeland for Muslims. 

Why did this land have to take such a difficult decision to get out of Pakistan, in achieving which it had played the leading role? Despite the acquisition of a separate territory within the structure of Pakistan at the end of British rule, the people of the region quickly realized that their expected independence had not yet come. The gap between East and West was widening day by day as a result of contempt for ethnic identity and culture, political-economic inequality, and especially repeated stumbling blocks to democracy due to the intervention of ambitious military high-ups. The journey that started through the language movement of '52, culminated in Bangabandhu's 6-point movement in the '60s.The election of '70 was a kind of referendum on the demands raised by Bangabandhu for the political and economic liberation of this region, where the people came out in his favor. The election results showed that the East and the West had been unofficially separated. Even then Bangabandhu continued to try for a peaceful solution. However, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who won the majority in West Pakistan, recklessly refused to accept the people's verdict, and in support of him, the military government, instead of handing over power to Bangabandhu, arrested him on the black night of March 25, 1971 and cracked down on the peace loving students and mass people. These developments made the independence of this region inevitable.

Bangabandhu had already given instructions in his speech on March 7 out of such apprehension. Therefore, the people of this country did not have to take much time to decide to jump into armed struggle for the liberation of the country by declaring independence. Bengali members serving in different forces of the then Pakistan also revolted and quickly joined the ranks of the people. At the cost of the lives of innumerable martyrs and the honor of so many women, the brave boys of Bengal finally defeated the extremely powerful Pak army and snatched the victory in a bloody 9-month war. This is the first time that the world has witnessed an event of the declaration of independence by a nation and later winning the war by forcing the invading forces to surrender on the battlefield. This is a unique history. The defeat of the invading forces in this war was inevitable, as they engaged in a war against a nation united in a dream of liberating their motherland. The joy of liberation and victory makes people forget all their sorrows. We too are overwhelmed with joy on December 16th every year, but will the deep wounds of long struggle and pain behind it ever be erased?

This victory might not have been so easy if a large neighbor like India had not patiently come to our aid that day. By providing the shelter to the refugees, the arms and training to the freedom fighters, building up public opinion across the world in favor of us and directly participating in the final stages of the war, the unique role that India played for us that day is truly rare. Many of those who took a stand against us that day, are our friends today. This is the result of Bangabandhu's generosity and 'friendship with all, not enmity with anyone' policy. But, Pakistan? Bangabandhu extended the hand of friendship by participating in the OIC conference held in Pakistan in 1974. But, has there been any remorse among the Pakistanis for their oppressive policy towards the people of this land in '71?

Dr Mohammad Didare Alam Muhsin is a Professor of Pharmacy, Jahangirnagar University.