The rainbow skies of December
Four decades and a half ago, the People's Republic of Bangladesh came to life over the ashes of what had effectively been, till midnight of March 25-26 of the year, the eastern province of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. It was December 16, 1971. In slightly over twenty four years since the partition of India on the false premise of communalism, the Bengalis of East Bengal / East Pakistan were proud witnesses to a restoration of their secular heritage in terms of both culture and politics. Slogans of Joi Bangla rent the air as the nearly hundred thousand strong Pakistan military capitulated before the combined assault of the Mukti Bahini and the Indian army. It was pure joy to be alive. It was, in a great way, a restoration of our faith in history when Niazi and his men bit the dust.
That is the essence of the epic tale we live through every time December comes round. The month is a substantive reminder of the intensity that came to define our armed struggle for liberty which had been set off nine months earlier. By December 1, 1971, the War of Liberation had taken a concrete shape owing to the increasing activities of the Mukti Bahini, especially in the border regions. Additionally, in the urban centres and particularly in Dhaka, guerrilla movements became increasingly more pronounced. A sign of that were the growing instances of explosions in areas where the military regime was thought to have a presence, be it in terms of infrastructure or troop concentrations. The rural regions had by the first day of December turned into a veritable death trap for Pakistan's soldiers. The feeling had begun to rise that the occupation forces were fast finding themselves in a constantly shrinking area of operation.
But, of course, these ground realities were ignored by the Yahya Khan regime in Rawalpindi, at least in public. It went into desperate saber-rattling against India and into harshly abusive mode against the Mukti Bahini which for it was but a ragtag band of 'miscreants'. In late November, a group of pro-Pakistan Bengali politicians had travelled to Rawalpindi, the ostensible purpose being to seek ways for a 'transfer of power' to the elected representatives of the people. The irony was not missed: the elected representatives who had won a majority at the general elections just a year earlier and who had been deprived of power were at the time marching steadily toward creating the new state of Bangladesh. The pro-Pakistan politicians were to be trapped in Pakistan, for soon December 16 would upset everyone's calculations. It is a matter of supreme irony that even as Niazi signed the Instrument of Surrender in Dhaka, the soon to fall Yahya junta distributed draft copies to local and foreign newsmen in Rawalpindi of a proposed constitution envisaged for Pakistan by the regime. Half of Pakistan had gone by then. East Pakistan had simply ceased to be.
As December began, the Yahya Khan regime prepared to hand down a sentence of death on the imprisoned Bengali leader Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman following a sham military trial in camera. Bangabandhu had been detained since March and in his name his lieutenants had been waging the war for freedom. By December 1, the Bengali freedom fighters could tell themselves that it was possible for them to breach and storm the citadel of the enemy. In Dhaka, the so-called civilian administration of Dr Abdul Muttalib Malek, dominated and guided by Pakistan army officers, began to demonstrate signs of nervousness as the full weight of the situation swiftly began to dawn on it. Malek and his cabinet would resign some days later in the intense bombing launched by the Indian air force on Governor's House (today's Bangabhaban). They would then be escorted to the neutral zone designated for the collaborator regime and civilian officials from West Pakistan and their families at Hotel Intercontinental.
Forty five years ago, the Bengali nation spotted the unmistakable points of light dotting the skies of freedom. December 1971 was to be unlike any other season, for it would symbolise a glory that was to be etched for all time in the collective Bengali consciousness. December is thus that time of year when the softness of dawn complements the tenderness of twilight, to remind us of the dreams that powered us to liberty through a long, tortuous valley of death. In December, we recall in profound solemnity the three million of our compatriots whose lives were snuffed out by an enemy intent on a demonstration of medieval barbarity in its efforts to quell civilised living. In December, we remember with deep reverence the political leadership which inspired us into shaping visions of national grandeur.
In December, it is time to paint the skies with the rainbow colours of Joi Bangla yet once again. r
Syed Badrul Ahsan is Associate Editor,
The Daily Observer