In the presence of a million audience, disregarding the intimidation and threats of the Pakistani army, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, 49 years ago, declared in a booming voice: "This time, the struggle is for our liberation, this time the struggle is for our independence"
Speeches are powerful and sometimes they are even enough to create new history. And such history was created through the March 7 speech of Bangabandhu, which ended with the liberation of Bangladesh on December 16, 1971, working as a Deus ex machina for the Bangladeshi people seeking liberation from the exploitation of West Pakistan.
Also, on October 30, 2017, the Unesco added the speech to the Memory of the World Register as a documentary heritage.
In the presence of a million audience, disregarding the intimidation and threats of the Pakistani army, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, 49 years ago, declared in a booming voice: "This time, the struggle is for our liberation, this time the struggle is for our independence".
And it was necessary back at that time not only because of becoming a separate entity, but also because of freeing the people of Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) from political and economic oppression done by West Pakistan.
Back in 1947, when the British colonialists finally left the Indian subcontinent, the partition of India created two independent dominion states – the Union of India and the Dominion of Pakistan. And the states were created not on the basis of culture but on the basis of religion which included two geographically and culturally separate areas, one east of India and the other west.
The western zone was named West Pakistan and the eastern zone was named East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Amongst the two zones, West Pakistan dominated the country politically, and its leaders exploited the East economically, leading to popular grievances.
In the National Assembly elections of Pakistan held on December 7, 1970, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's Awami League won 167 out of 169 seats in East Pakistan, with the two other seats going to PDP. After the December 7 elections, the then military ruler of Pakistan General Yahya Khan called for a session of the National Assembly on March 3, 1970.
But the leader of West Pakistan's PPP ZA Bhutto and the military establishment of Pakistan started their conspiracy to resist the elected Awami League from gaining their rightful governing powers.
On March 1, 1971, people of East Pakistan were eagerly waiting to hear the public address of the then President of the country Yahya Khan. But to the dismay of these people, instead of Yahya, another spokesperson announced that: "Till next announcement, President Yahya Khan has indefinitely suspended the session of the National Assembly. He has commented that the current situation in Pakistan is a deep political crisis".
The announcement clearly showed that West Pakistan was never going to accept their defeat and give the ruling authority to East Pakistan. This brought tension in this part of Pakistan and in a press conference, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman stated that this is no political crisis but the expression of the autocratic attitude of the Pakistani rulers.
He added that the Bangalis have rejected this announcement and called for a general strike on behalf of the people for March 2 in Dhaka and March 3 nationwide. He also asked the Bangalis to wait for his next instructions.
Subsequently, the Bangalis for the first time called for their independence with slogans like: "Brave Bangalis Take Up Arms, and Liberate Bangladesh".
On March 2, Dhaka became a city of strikes and processions. From the morning, all processions were headed to the university. Such gathering of students was hitherto unseen at that time. It spread from New Market to Public Library via the Nilkhet Road.
The flag of independent Bangladesh was flown proudly at Dhaka University premises.
Mass shootings were also seen in the general strike of the common people. At least 50 were admitted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital with gunshot wounds, and Azid Morshed and Mamoon of Tejgaon Polytechnic College died after being brought to the hospital with gunshot wounds.
Additionally, the martial law administrator imposed a curfew on that day, and announced that until further announcement, the curfew would remain in place from 7pm to 7am every day. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in a press conference in the evening strongly condemned the shooting of unarmed people.
Mujib announced half-day nationwide general strikes between March 3 and March 6 from 6am to 2pm. The following day, he announced a rally at Paltan after meeting with the Chhatra Sangram Parishad.
One of the most notable things was the fading away of the use of the word 'Pakistan' from the vocabulary of the Bangalis of East Pakistan from that day. In his press conference in the evening, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman repeatedly uttered the term "Bangladesh".
Later on March 3, in a meeting of Chhatra League and Sramik League as the chief guest, Bangabandhu observed with a heavy heart: "Whether I am here or not, Bangalis' liberation struggle should not stop. The blood of Bangalis cannot go in vain. If I am not here, my colleagues will lead. If they are killed, then those who survive will lead. The struggle must go on at any cost. The rights must be established".
He also earlier announced to give his next instructions for the nation at the Racecourse Maidan (now Suhrawardy Udyan) on March 7.
March 4, 1971, was tumultuous from the mass demonstrations. As the day passed, the one-point demand as in the aspiration for independence became even stronger. On this day, thousands of people came out on the streets breaking the curfew imposed by the military junta.
In Khulna, there were clashes between Bangalis and non-Bangalis on this day. Due to the continuous strikes, Dhaka along with the whole nation came to a virtual standstill. East Pakistan Women's Council leaders poet Sufia Kamal and Maleka Begum in a joint statement called for a demonstration on March 6 at Baitul Mukarram area.
But the most significant thing that happened on this day was the name change of Radio Pakistan Dhaka to Dhaka Betar Kendra.
A day before March 7, on March 6, General Yahya Khan had a phone conversation with Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It was also announced on March 6 that the session of the National Assembly would be held on March 25 in Dhaka.
Tanks were on the roads, and military grade weapons were stockpiled and kept standby keeping the March 7 rally in mind. Even Major General khadim Hussain Raja, then GOC of East Pakistan told Bangabandhu clearly: "If anything is said contrary to the unity of Pakistan, it would be met with strong force. Tanks, cannons and machineguns all have been kept ready for wiping out traitors (Bangalis). If need be, Dhaka would be razed to the ground. There will be no one left to rule or be ruled."
But there was no force that could stop Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from delivering speech addressing the people of Bangladesh. He stood up at the Racecourse Maidan on March 7 and delivered the thunderous speech that laid the foundation of independent Bangladesh.