For most Bangladeshis Bangabandhu and the month of December are their symbols of identity and joy. Come December, there is an outpouring of respect for both.
Recently I was asked to speak on December 6, 1971, at a very prestigious forum. I sat to recollect what did I witness as a 10-year-old at that time of our history. It was the day when East Pakistan made a giant leap to become Bangladesh and with that most prayed for Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s life as the West Pakistanis prepared to execute him quickly realising they would be defeated.
For many, it was also a day to wait and pray for their loved ones who went missing since the start of our independence war against the Pakistani occupation army. The belief was strong that they might have been kept in captivity by the Pakistani army and their freedom was close.
On 06 December 1971 Bhutan and India recognised Bangladesh as an independent country, just on the fourth day of an India-Pakistan war over the yet to be born country of all Bangalis.
There was a debate which country was the first to recognise Bangladesh. In fact, their recognition came close together and thus the confusion. Bangladesh, several years back, confirmed that the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal was the first to protest the genocide carried out by the troops flown in March 1971 from Islamabad to East Pakistan.
Thus as a new nation then and now we acknowledge the support and final recognition by both Bhutan and Nepal with our heads bowed in eternal gratefulness. To me, these two countries would remain my personal best friends, no matter what, and pursue in my own way further cementing of ties between the two and Dhaka.
The recognition made the Pakistanis weaker mentally and they hung their blood-soaked gloves after killing Bangalis, although their local Razakar, Al Badr and Al Shams militias carried on with their targeted killings until 16 December 1971, our Victory Day.
None knew yet when the war and the occupation by the Pakistanis would end, but surely all were confident that final victory was not far taking into account the recognition by two South Asian countries.
The Pakistani army was on the retreat while Muktijodhas or Freedom Fighters backed by allied Indian forces moved towards Dhaka. The news aired by the Shadhin Bangla Betar Kendro was all about the defeat of the enemy forces.
General AKK Niazi, holed up in a bunker in Dhaka had by then realised that a defeat for his men was imminent and asked them to converge in and around Dhaka to protect the city from advancing enemy forces.
The runway of the Dhaka Airport was made inoperative by air bombings and the major 9th Division started to flee.
Attempts to derail the Independence War was stopped by the then Soviet Union for the second time by vetoing an American ceasefire proposal in the UN Security Council. We should remain grateful to the Russians as well as its former members of Union.
Come 16 December 1971. Amid thoughts of missing loved ones returning and Joy Bangla slogans, the new nation vibrated with life and energy.
Remembering the initial days, months and years of our freedom it was a time of huge respect for the returning freedom fighters, prayers for the martyrs and Bangabandhu’s return home, which had become imminent under international pressure on Pakistan to free him.
Families of the martyrs were held in high esteem with loving words of bravery by the dead.
Sadly, that started to change after the 1975 assassination of Bangabandhu along with most of his family and the pro-Pakistani regime led by slain general Ziaur Rahman grabbed power.
With Pakistani-collaborators, Pakistani-minded Bangalis and Islamabad entering the power game, the very basics changed quite abruptly in Bangladesh. The Spirit of Liberation Was booted out never to return, or at least not until now.
Many freedom fighters were dying due to poverty or begging. The same was true of many families of the recognised martyrs and this was only in about 50 years of our independence.
In many areas, including the administration, people who have no respect for the war or for Bangabandhu or who had bad-mouthed him or his able daughter under Zia or Ershad regimes were all around. Thus such a scenario was not surprising.
Many who love Bangabandhu, our father irrespective of age or political beliefs, his worthy daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and salute eternally our martyrs, have the fear that the way things were in these areas, all those would be buried for good in the next 50 years.
It is with great hope we pray that does not happen and the nation re-learns to respect Bangabandhu without question, the war, the freedom fighters, the martyrs and their families.
Long live Bangladesh of 1971 Joy Bangla! The national slogan of our War of Independence.
Nadeem Qadir is the Consulting Editor, Daily Sun and a UN Dag Hammarskjöld fellow.