“The struggle this time is the struggle for emancipation. The struggle this time is the struggle for independence.”
Those were the timeless words pronounced by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman when he addressed tens of thousands of people on Mar 7, 1971. His words became the key plank of the independence struggle for the Bengalis.
As poet Nirmalendu Goon put it: “Since then, the word “independence” has been ours.”
Eighteen days later, the Pakistan military launched a brutal crackdown, leading to the nine bloody months of the Liberation War. At the end of the struggle, Bangladesh emerged as an independent nation.
UNESCO has added Bangabandhu’s speech to the Memory of the World Register, recognising its importance as part of the documentary heritage of the world. Bangladesh commemorates the historic day with different programmes and activities.
The day is an unforgettable day in the history of the nation’s liberation movement and independence, said President Abdul Hamid in his message on the occasion. He remembered Bangabandhu, the architect of independence, with profound respect and highlighted the historical importance of the speech.
Bangabandhu delivered a lucid and dazzling speech, which became the “charter of independence” for the nation, he said. His speech, which lasted about 19 minutes, “shook the throne of the Pakistani dictator”.
The Joy Bangla slogan and the 7th March speech of Bangabandhu will expedite the journey of development, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said in her message.
Terming Bangabandhu and Bangladesh synonymous, the prime minister said Bangabandhu was the only strongest voice among the exploited and deprived Bengalis in the past thousand years.
"In his speech on March 7, 1971, he gave an immortal message of freedom and showed us the path to freedom.”
The Awami League would be inspired by Bangabandhu’s speech and propel its journey towards development, Bangabandhu’s daughter Hasina said.
Different programmes will commemorate the day at the national level. The Awami League hoisted the national flag and party flag at the Bangabandhu Bhaban and its office at 6 am. The leaders and activists of the party and its associate organisations were expected to pay tribute to Bangabandhu at his mural at 8 am.
The party also organised a discussion meeting at the Krishibid Institution Bangladesh auditorium at 3:30 pm.
The nation of Pakistan was formed in 1947 during the Partition of India. But, due to the distribution of Muslims across the subcontinent, the territory of the new country was split in two – East Pakistan and West Pakistan.
Though East Pakistan was the more populous part of the country, much of the military and political power was concentrated in West Pakistan. East Pakistan was also exploited economically, giving rise to a groundswell of discontent among the people.
In 1970, the Awami League, the East Pakistan party led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, won a landslide victory in the national elections – taking 167 of the 169 seats in East Pakistan and winning a majority in the 313-seat National Assembly. Though this gave him the right to form a government, the West Pakistan establishment refused to cede power, leading to a series of talks.
As negotiations with the military junta appeared to go nowhere, Bangabandhu came to the Racecourse around 3:20 pm on Mar 7, 1971, wearing his trademark white pyjama-panjabi combination and a sleeveless black coat that would become iconic.
To a milling crowd of nearly a million people, he said: "Today, I come to you with a heavy heart. You know everything that has happened and understand all that has been going on. We have tried our best.”
“But every time we have talked, the streets of Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna, Rajshahi and Rangpur have run red with the blood of our brothers. Today, the people of Bangladesh want freedom. They want to live. They want to secure their rights."
Speaking extempore, he spoke the words that would be immortalised by the people.
The speech cut across the social divide and struck a chord with the 70 million Bengalis of East Pakistan.
And from the stage, their towering leader, a powerful orator, called for a civil uprising and declared war against the Pakistani junta.
“We have given so much blood, but we are ready to give more. But this time, we will definitely liberate the country In Sha'a Allah… Turn every house into a fort and face the enemy with whatever you have.”
He called on the Bengali people to prepare for an armed struggle against the Pakistani military junta.