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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 1, New Delhi, December 19, 2020

Bangladesh: Looking back at its Liberation in 1971 | Sumit Chakravartty

Saturday 19 December 2020, by Sumit Chakravartty


As many as forty-nine years have passed since December 16, 1971, resulting in the transformation of South Asia with the independence of a new nation called Bangladesh. This was a momentous development which led to the end of the pernicious two-nation theory that caused enormous damage to the polity which emerged after the independence of our subcontinent from alien imperialist rule in August 1947. The emergence of Bangladesh in December 1971 changed the whole complexion of South Asia. Since 1971 up till today there have been several important developments in the political field in India and beyond; however, none of them can match what the end of 1971 meant for this country and its people.

   On a personal note, I am proud to be the son of East Bengal citizens; they had long years ago migrated to West Bengal from the Eastern part. So it was natural that we like our citizens of West Bengal were highly elated by the movement for independence of Bangladesh, breaking the yoke of Pakistani tyranny. And we were also witness to the freedom struggle and the flow of countless refugees from East Pakistan since the beginning of 1971.

   We crossed the border and entered East Pakistan, i.e. the Jessore district of the country in May 1971 and saw with our own eyes the kind of struggle that was being waged by the common people braving the repression of the military rulers in power in Islamabad. When we did so three of us, two correspondents including me and a press photographer in the organisation that I represented were taken to a small granary that had been set on fire by the Pakistani intruders in Jessore. Our photographer took snapshots that were published the next day in the daily that I represented.

     The next time I went to Bangladesh was a few days after its complete liberation in 1971; the date was December 27 and we crossed the Gede border and entered Bangladesh with freedom fighters known as ’Mukti-Joddhas’. That was also a memorable visit and what happened then remains etched in my memory for all time to come. At that time several Bangladeshis we met on the way were describing to us the kind of repression they had to suffer for all the months of Pakistani occupation of their country. It was not just the attack on the people but the assault on the women-folk which was quite brutal in every sense of the term. But what was remarkable was the bonhomie between the ‘Mukti-Joddhas’ and the Indian armed forces from the other side welded in the flames of the common struggle against the common enemy. That common enemy happened to be the Pakistani Armed Forces serving the interests of the military rulers of Pakistan, not the Pakistani people as the country was then governed by the military rulers and not a Government, democratically elected by the Pakistani people. Hence those who try to besmirch the Indian assistance to Bangladesh at that time by seeking to give the impression that the Indian security forces attempted to dominate the scene and attack the common people of Bangladesh are totally ignorant — either innocuously or by design - of the actual state of affairs. In fact, the ‘Mukti-Joddhas’ (freedom fighters of Bangladesh) were all praise for the Indian Army — who gave by their behaviour towards the Bangladeshis a total contrast between India and Pakistan on this score. The visit was also significant for a trip to Silaidaha, where Rabindranath Tagore’s ancestral house was located, by this journalist. When one reached Tagore’s ancestral home, dusk was slowly approaching and the entire landscape was gripped in picturesque beauty. It was, therefore, a highly memorable trip which will remain fresh in one’s memory till the last hours of one’s life.

The third time I visited Bangladesh was in February 1972 when we went to Dhaka’s Shahid Minar (which had been erected in the memory of the martyrs of the language movement of 1952) on February 21 around midnight. The founder of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who was then the Prime Minister of the country, had come to the Shahid Minar to offer floral wreaths and thereby pay respect to the martyrs as the founder of Bangladesh on that auspicious occasion after the liberation of the country for the first time. It was also a brilliant manifestation of Indo-Bangladesh amity based on the common ideals of language and culture; the binding force of all this was, of course, Rabindranath Tagore whose writings, including poems and songs, are as valued in Bangladesh as in West Bengal. It is well known that Tagore is the author of the National Anthems of both India and Bangladesh.

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