Forty Years of Bangladesh Liberation: Quite Young
Dr. Punam Pandey

Bangladesh has celebrated its forty years of liberation from Pakistan on 16 December2011. Anniversaries are very important in personal as well as collective life because it provides an opportunity to think about the time gone by and an opportunity to set new aspirations for the coming time. This becomes particularly important in the life of a nation state where 40 are considered quite young and has to go a long way. The Bangladesh government has begun planning to set an agenda of a “Digital Bangladesh” by 2021 the year when it will be celebrating 50th anniversary. The remembrance of liberation struggle is important not only for Bangladesh but also to all those around the world and South Asia who advocate discourse of nationalism based on religion and believe that religion provides glue for holding nation-state together.

It is important to mention here that Bangladesh is the only nation state in South Asia which has undergone pain of partition twice once in the name of religion in 1947 and another on the ground of assertion of democratic rights in 1971. The ideology upheld by the champions of Pakistan that nation state based on religious homogeneity will provide solidarity to society was defied by the birth of Bangladesh. As religion was the only criterion for asking partition of British India by the Muslim League leaders in 1947 irrespective of linguistic and other differences even among followers of same religion. It is a historical fact that in the 1945 election, Bengali Muslims voted overwhelmingly for the Muslim League which was demanding separate state. Among Muslims, the League received 82 percent of the votes, the highest for any of the Muslim-majority provinces of British India. Once, religious homogenious state was set up, people of East Bengal realized soon enough that having religious commonalty is not sufficient reason for realization of collective aspirations of citizenship.

The people of East Pakistan experienced disparity in all walks of lives. To being with, their sentiments got hurt when Urdu was recognized as the state language of Pakistan. Jinnah and the other key persons in the government were determined that Urdu would be the national language of Pakistan. This decision was taken even though Bengali being the language spoken by the majority of people of Pakistan. Jinnah, in March 1948, on his visit to East Bengal after independence, declared that anyone who opposed Urdu as the national language was an enemy of Pakistan. This decision was followed by strong protests by the students as well as political groups of East Pakistan. Later on Bengali was recognised as another state language. But from here onwards, relationship between both wings of Pakistan went beyond rapproachment.

This episode was followed by a number of denials meted out to Bangladesh people in one form or another by the Pakistan government. People of East Pakistan had few representations in civil and military administration. The final blow to people came in 1970. In the national assembly election, the Awami League got majority of seats but was denied to form the government at the centre. The brethren who had fought hand in hand for Pakistan became foes soon. The Awami League led sustained political agitation for respecting democratic rights of East Pakistan. But Pakistan regime led by General Ayub Khan launched brutal attack on people and leaders. Intellectuals were the most important target of the Pakistan army.

Bangladesh succeeded the struggle of 1971 with an estimated loss of millions of lives. Almost two lakh of women got robbed of their dignity by the Pakistani army. Almost 10 million refugees came to India. India faced a huge burden of refugees when its nation building exercise was still on nascent stage. But it played a decisive role in Bangladesh liberation war. The post liberated Bangladesh society saw different groups of freedom fighters which began debating and contesting India’s motives for help.

Today, Bangladesh presents a complex picture. On the one hand are Birangana (brave women) who demonstrates the supreme symbol of sacrifice, on the other hand are collaborators called Biharis. Birangana are still waiting for fair treatment from society and the government. Biharis are known as collaborators because they collaborated with the Pakistan army in different capacities against freedom fighters during the Bangladesh liberation war in 1971. These Biharis migrated to Pakistan from Indian state of Bihar during 1947 partition. They have not been taken by Pakistan as citizens though they had opted for Pakistani citizenship during 1971.

The sad aspect of the post liberation struggle is still the lack of consensus about how to deal with liberation war criminals. Attempts to hold the trials began with the promulgation of the Collaborators Order 1972 soon after liberation. The International Crimes (Tribunal) Act was passed in 1973, when about 30,000 collaborators were in jail. The Bangladesh Prime Minister Mujibur Rahman declared general amnesty but pledged war criminals investigation against whom allegations of murder, raping and looting were recorded, and against those who planned those crimes. After the brutal killings of Mujib and his family in 1975, the military regime repealed the Collaborators Order of 1972 and released all accused war criminals from jail. This was followed by the military government's decision to allow the leaders of the anti-liberation to participate in the government. The Constitution was amended to remove the basic principles of the state. This trend continued for more than twenty years following the unconstitutional power capture of 1975.

Amidst the celebration of forty years, the country should not forget almost two lakh women whose dignity was violated at the prime age of their lives. Though independent government termed them Birangona, they are still considered as ‘outcasts’ in the society and leading lives in complete contradiction of their decorated titles. The government must consider extending all the benefits to these unfortunate women which freedom fighters are enjoying, then they will be able to spend their old age at least in little comfort even though their prime age had been full of deprivation. Then only, country will be moving to celebrate 50th anniversary with less baggage in 2021

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Published Date : 2nd January 2012

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