BANGLADESH: THE PATH TO DEMOCRACY, 1991-2009
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LIBERATION WAR

Imperialism or the policy of extending a nation’s authority by territorial acquisition and the extension of a country's influence through trade, diplomacy etc. is one of the techniques of achieving power. The British Empire, which originated around the 16th and 17th centuries, was one of the largest and most powerful colonizers ever to exist. Bangladesh was once part of India which was under the rule of the British. In 1947, India gained independence and this resulted in the formation of two states; the Hindu majority remained in India while the Muslim majority formed Pakistan. Pakistan at that time was divided into two geographically and culturally separate regions called East Pakistan and West Pakistan. East Pakistan later became Bangladesh.

top: Map of East and West Pakistan

On March 7, 1971, Shiekh Mujibur Rahman declared independence at the Dhaka Race Course that mobilized the Bengali nation for resistance. He said, “The struggle this time is for emancipation! The struggle this time is for independence!” As a result of the nationalistic events that took place following the declaration, West Pakistan began ‘Operation Searchlight’ in March of 1971 to crush the Awami League and prevent the formation of a sovereign state. During the war, Bangladesh gained the support of India, which provided economic, military and diplomatic support to the ‘Mukti Bahini’ i.e the freedom fighters. My grandmother told me many stories about the Independence War that is vivid in my mind. The night when Operation Searchlight began was incomprehensible. West Pakistan armed forces hopped from house to house lighting them on fire. They began to target cars that had flags on them and government workers. My grandfather at that time was a government worker and each day was a nightmare for our family. My grandmother took refuge in a neighbor’s home since their house had become a target. I cannot imagine how she must have felt and the thoughts that were going through her head at that time. No war is a pretty sight but from the descriptions I heard from my grandmother, only one word came into my mind and that is ‘inhumane.’ The actions of the armed forces on March 25, 1971 cannot be forgiven or forgotten. One reporter, Simon Dring who was present at that time reported that “In 24 hours of killing, the Pakistan Army had slaughtered as many as 7000 people in Dhaka and up to 15,000 people in all of Bangladesh. The Pakistan Army employed tanks, artillery, mortars, bazookas and machine guns against the unarmed population of Dhaka. Their targets were students, local police, intellectuals, political leaders, Awami League supporters, Hindus and ordinary citizens. They carried out their ruthless killing spree with military precision.” My grandmother’s brother Dr. Giasuddin who was a Professor Giasuddin in Dhaka University was one of the victims of the 1971 war. Another key group put salt on the wound was the ‘Razakars,’ a paramilitary force organized by the Pakistan Armyduring the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. The term is synonymous with ‘traitors’ and ‘betrayers’ because they provided key information to the Pakistan Army such as the list of intellectuals and their whereabouts. The deadly battle went on for nine long months and by the end of it, three million Bengalis had been killed. On December 16, 1971 the Pakistan Army formally surrendered. Therefore, March 25 is known as Independence Day of Bangladesh while December 16 is the Victory Day of Bangladesh. Seven freedom fighters, who showed utmost bravery and made the ultimate sacrifice for their nation, received the ‘Bir Sreshtho’ Award. Bir Shrestho means ‘The Most Valiant Hero’ and was the highest military award of Bangladesh. The martyrs are Engineroom Artificer Ruhul Amin, Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir, Sepoy Mostafa Kamal, Sepoy Hamidur Rahman, Flight Lieutenant Matiur Rahman, Lance Naik Munshi Abdur Rouf and Lance Naik Nur Mohammad Sheikh.

top: Women Fighters in 1971

top: Protest during the War of 1971

Like most countries, independence did not come easy for Bangladesh. Between March and December, a lot of bloodshed and misery had resulted from the war but on December 1971, a new country was born. Knowing how much our forefathers had sacrificed so that we can say we are from Bangladesh, it is truly sad to see the devastation in our country today. It is true that 38 years is not old when we consider how long a country has been independent, but we cannot use that as an excuse to surrender. We have to live up to the expectations of the freedom fighters and create a beautiful Bangladesh without hunger, poverty and corrption.