Bangladesh is celebrating its 45th year since coming into existence as a country, with commemorations in the country as well as in neighbouring India.
The Victory Day, celebrated on December 16, to mark the victory of the people of Bangladesh in the liberation struggle in 1971, is being held with much pomp and vigour. Major cities in India such as Kolkata, the capital of eastern Indian state of West Bengal, have joined hands to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the liberation.
The Bangladesh Liberation War can be traced to a sudden crackdown at midnight on March 25, 1971 in the country, which was formerly known as East Pakistan, by Pakistani troops. As calls for autonomy and self-determination grew stronger in Bangladesh, the March 25 crackdown took place followed by nine long months of armed struggle that ended on December 16, and is today known as the Victory Day. The Indian government had also stepped in by pledging support to Bangladesh, and eventually had three corps of the Indian army involved in the struggle.
With official figures of deaths at three million and widespread reports on atrocities by the Pakistani army, Victory Day marks the surrender by the Pakistani army to allied forces of freedom fighters and Indian soldiers. “Bangladesh will always remember your contributions,” said Sheikh Hasina, the Bangladeshi Prime Minster at the National Parade Square in Dhaka, the capital of the country. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party Chairperson Khaleda Zia, commemorating the heroes of the victory, expressed concern, urging for a revival of the spirit that led to the struggle.
In Kolkata, West Bengal’s Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee inaugurated a five-day event slated to be held to celebrate the Victory Day. “The relationship between Bengal and Bangladesh goes beyond borders and boundaries. We share a deep bond of culture, language and a deep history of brotherhood. We can never forget the Language Movement, which gave Bengali language international stature. We can never forget the contribution of the Mukti Joddhas during the Bangladesh Liberation war of 1971,” she said. The event took place in collaboration with the tourism board of Bangladesh, who has set up a stall showcasing the wide range of possibilities for travellers to discover Bangladesh.
International recognition of struggle for language
The nationalist struggle by Bangladeshis was directed in asserting a self-identity even prior to what grew into an armed struggle against the Pakistani army. A political movement was underway, marked by the February 21, 1952 protest by students and other political activists where some were killed as a result of clashes with police forces. Known as Bhasha Andolan (protest for linguistic liberty), this was Bangladesh’s fight to utilise the Bengali language after the Government of Pakistan had declared that Urdu alone would be the state language of Pakistan. The majority of people living in East Bengal or Bangladesh at the time spoke in Bengali, and protested against the order to allow Bengali in government affairs, as a medium of education, in media, currency & stamps and in the scripts.
In 1956, after continual violent confrontations between agitators and the police and Pakistani forces, Bengali was finally granted an official status in the country. As a symbol of solidarity and respect for the right to speech in a mother tongue, sign of bottomless reverence and remembrance for such a right, UNESCO declared February 21 as the International Mother Language Day on November 17, 1999.
The unique and rich heritage of Bangladesh is thus remembered in more ways than one, with Victory Day as the ongoing event to mark the landmark days in the country’s history.