The struggle for an independent nation with a distinct identity in the then East Pakistan began long before the declaration of independence of Bangladesh on 26 March 1971, historical evidence suggests.
However, the struggle reached its culmination in 1971, especially after the crackdown by the Pakistani army on 25 March.
That ‘black night’ saw deaths of more than 10,000 innocent Bangalees, according to the global media reports published the following day. The figures, however, vary in various reports published later on.
A day after the brutal killing, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, then the undisputed national leader who led the Awami League to election victory in 1970, declared independence, before being arrested. The Mujibnagar government, later in April, made a formal proclamation.
The declaration of independence hit headlines of the world media on 27 or 28 March 1971. More than 90 newspapers globally ran stories on the declaration of Bangladesh, according to a compilation titled “Bangabandhu's declaration of independence through the world media” by Avraneel Yatri.
The world media coverage of the massacre and declaration of Bangladesh independence is summarised below:
Bangladesh Liberation War e-Archive, also known as Muktijuddho e-Archive, readied a compilation titled “The New York Times Report Archive - 1884-1978” on Bangladesh issues.
“Armed Rebellion Reported” was the title of the special report run by The New York Times, on 27 March 1971, with reporting from New Delhi. It reads, “Open rebellion broke out yesterday in East Pakistan, with fighting reported in several cities, and a radio station broadcast proclamation of an independent people’s republic.”
The American newspaper alone published more than 7 stories on the Pakistan issues on the day, including more than two special stories.
The Times on 27 March (Saturday) ran another story headlined “Leader of Rebels in East Pakistan reported seized” filed by the New Delhi correspondent of The Associated Press.
“The Pakistan radio announced today that Sheik (sic) Mujibur Rahman, the nationalist leader of East Pakistan, had been arrested only hours after he had proclaimed his region independent and after open rebellion was reported in several cities in the East,” according to the story.
The newspaper used Reuters a story filed from Delhi, titled “Violence reported quelled in a city in East Pakistan". It reads, “Violence in the riot-torn West Pakistan city Lyallpur was brought under control by the police today and a 24-hour curfew was lifted, the Pakistani radio monitored here, reported.”
Another NYT report by Sydney H Schanberg used headline “Artillery Used: Civilians fired on – Sections of Dacca [now Dhaka] are set ablaze” and said, “The Pakistani Army is using artillery and heavy machine guns against unarmed East Pakistani civilians to crush the moment for autonomy in this province of 75 million people”
However, a day before, on 26 March, The New York Times published a report with Washington dateline and its title was “US aides rate West Pakistan’s forces as stronger”. NYT correspondent William Beecher wrote there, “Warfare in East Pakistan would find the regular West Pakistani army with superior number of troops and modern weapons, according to the United States analysts here.”
“Toll called high: Deaths put at 10,000 – Radio says army in control”, reads a headline of another NYT report which mentioned, “Pakistani government troops supported by artillery and air force jets were reported battling on many fronts today with the forces of Sheik (sic) Mujibur Rahman.”
Avroneel Yatri, in “Bangabandhu's declaration of independence through world media”, compiled news reports carried by at least 90 media outlets globally.
The Time (USA) ran a story titled “Pakistan toppling over the brink” that reads, “The government ordered a strict 24-hour curfew in Dacca (sic), with violators shoot on sight.”
A report by The Times of India on 27 March with title “Free Bangla Desh (sic)” with a subhead “Heavy casualties in civil war; Pindi troops surrounded in at least six cantonments” reads, “A ‘sovereign independent' people’s republic of Bangla Desh (sic) was declared by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman today even as President Yahya Khan ordered the army to ‘fully restore the authority' of his government in turbulent eastern wing.”
The Irish Times on 27 March ran a report titled “Declaration of independence by East Pakistan: Fighting Heavy” that reads, “A clandestine radio said last night the East Pakistan has been declared independent and that heavy fighting was going on between East and West Pakistani forces. The radio also said that West Pakistan forces had begun hunting for the East Pakistan leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who went underground after fighting began.”
The Michigan Daily on 27 March published a photo circulated by The Associated Press titled ‘Call to Revolution’. A caption of the photo story reads, “Awami League leader Sheik (sic) Mujibur Rahman, speaking to a rally in Dacca (sic) East Pakistan Wednesday, urges support of the East Pakistani nationalist movement. Yesterday, Rahman proclaimed independence for the strife-torn nation.”
Irish Independent daily published a report on 27 March with a headline “Blood flows in East Pakistan”.
The Bangkok Post on 26 March published a report titled “ Pak Near Civil War” with a subhead ‘East Declares Independence’ that reads “A civil war situation developed in Pakistan as President Yahya Khan outlawed the Awami League of East Pakistan, as its leader, Sheikh Mijubur Rahman proclaimed independence for the province under the name of Bangla Desh (sic).”
On 27 March 1971, The Windsor Star published a report titled “Government planes bomb town: Civil war rages in E. Pakistan”.
The Transcript, the oldest independent college student newspaper, ran a story titled “Independence proclaimed: Civil war erupts in East Pakistan” on 27 March.
Ohio-based The Bryan Times published a story with a headline, “East Pakistan rebels battle of independence”, on 27 March, which reads, “Heavy fighting raged today in East Pakistan where the rebels proclaimed the region independent.”
Oregon-based the Bulletin published a report titled “Breakaway action sets off conflict in E., W. Pakistan” that reads, “Civil war broke out today in East Pakistan and East Pakistan leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared his province’s independence from West Pakistan.”
St. Petersburg Independent on 27 March ran another story titled “Thousands killed in Pakistan” that reads, “United News of India reported thousands dead in fierce fighting in East Pakistan today and said West Pakistan-dominated army units battling civilians in Dacca (sic), the provincial capital.”
Australia's Sydney-based The Sunday Morning Herald on 29 March ran a story titled “Plunge into chaos”. It said, “It is impossible to know what is happening in East Pakistan. According to Radio Pakistan, President Yahya Khan’s predominantly West Pakistani army is in control of East Pakistan, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is under arrest…”
An Australian newspaper, The Age, published a story titled “Pakistan Tragedy.”
Scottish tabloid The Evening Times also published a story that reads “10,000 dead in Pakistan battle” with a shoulder “Mystery of Sheik (sic) Mujibur arrested claim.”
The Irish Press ran a story titled “Pakistan in UDI battle” with a shoulder “Thousands reported dead as civil war rages.”