I was around six to seven years old and would live in a remote village of Gaibandha at the time. The war was over and the Pakistani troops had surrendered. It was winter and darkness had descended in the evening, fog all around. We set out in the evening. Young boys, teenagers and the youth of the neighbourhood, armed with flashlights, we marched through the fields and marshes to other localities, gathering more people along the way. We paraded around the entire village. Our slogan was, we’ll break the jail’s locks, and bring Sheikh Mujib back!
Then one day my brother came rushing out of our uncle’s room, radio in hand, exclaiming, Bangabandhu has been freed! We crowded around him, exultant, trying to listen to the radio news. Everyone was cheering, eyes brimming with tears of joy.
On this anniversary of Bangabandhu’s homecoming, my mind slips back 48 years.
I was just watching a video of Bangabandhu’s homecoming on You Tube. His plane had landed in Heathrow, London, on 8 January at 6:36 in the morning, before the scheduled time. He was wearing a black coat and Dr Kamal Hossain was seated beside him. Legs crossed, he was lighting his pipe. He went from the airport to London’s Claridges hotel. He spoke over phone from London to prime minister Tajuddin Ahmed and Begum Mujib in Dhaka and Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi in Delhi. He met with the British prime minister Edward Heath at 10 Downing Street. And opposition leader Harold Wilson came to meet with him. After that, Bangabandhu addressed a press conference at the hotel.
He flew to Delhi on a British Airways flight first where he was received by Indian president VV Giri, prime minister Indira Gandhi, ministers, senior officials and diplomats. He was given a gun salute and guard of honour. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Indira Gandhi joined a massive public rally at the Delhi parade grounds where cries of ‘Joy Bangla’, ‘Bangladesh Zindabad’ and ‘Sheikh Mujib Zindabad’ filled the air.
Indira Gandhi addressed the rally in Hindi after which Bangabandhu began his speech with an English greeting. But this was met with cries of ‘Joy Bangla!” Bangabandhu smiled at these cries of ‘Joy Bangla’, turned to Indira Gandhi and then began his delivery in Bangla. On behalf of the ‘suffering people of Bengal’, he expressed gratitude to the people of India and Indira Gandhi.
He did not forget to mention the ‘suffering people of Bengal’ that January in 1972. It was his lifelong dream to bring a smile to the faces of these suffering people. All his life he dreamt of an independent Bangladesh.
At 1:41 in the afternoon of 10 January 1972, his plane landed at the Tejgaon airport in Dhaka. Thousands of people thronged the area, their slogans of ‘Joy Bangla’, ‘Joy Bangabandhu’ resounding in the air all around. Tajuddin Ahmed, Syed Nazrul Islam and others mounted the plane’s stairs and greeted him at the door with garlands and tears. He embraced Tajuddin and they both wept.
Bangabandhu’s father Sheikh Lutfur Rahman was there among the crowds. And when Bangabandhu stood at the racecourse grounds delivering his speech, his wife Begum Fazilatunnessa sat at home in Dhanmondi, listening to him over the radio. These two people had great contribution to Bangabandhu’s life. His father always lent him support, gave him courage and when Bangabandhu was taken to jail, he would proudly say that his son was imprisoned in the cause of justice. And there was Begum Mujib. In diplomat Kamruddin Ahmed’s writing it was stated that Sheikh Mujib could be Sheikh Mujib because of his wife. She never had any complaints and always stood by his side. At moments of crisis, he often gave him sound advice and decisions.
Bangabandhu gave the 3000 year old Bengali nation a state of their own, gave them independence.
Professor Abdur Razzak has written that from 25 March 1971 till 10 January 1972, Bangabandhu had been absent and two unequal forces had engaged in a brutal war. It was Bangabandhu and Bangabandhu alone who stood as a symbol, bringing together hapless supporters of one cause together in unity. Bangabandhu alone was that symbol.
It took many years of struggle for that man to become such an icon. In 1948 during the language movement, he was imprisoned. His struggle began even before that. In an interview with Annada Shankar Roy after independence Bangabandhu said that the idea of Bangladesh had entered his head from way back in 1947.
He had searched for ways in which Bangladesh could achieve independence. He reached his target through his strong patriotism, integrity, dedication, sacrifice, courage, fearlessness and perseverance. He understood that an organisation, a democratic mandate would be needed to free the country. The people would have to be given a dream. They would have to be unified.
On 10 January 1972 he said, “My Bangladesh is independent today, my life’s dream has come true, my people of Bengal are free.”
He said, “I had said that I would smile in the face of death if it came, I would not humiliate my Bengali nation, I will not beg your pardon. I would go down crying out Joy Bangla, independent Bangla, Bangla is my my nation, Bangla is my language, the soil of Bangla is my land.”
He said, “This independence of mine will not be complete if the people remain hungry, this independence of mine will not be complete if the mothers and sisters of the land do not have clothes to wear, this independence of mine will not be complete if the young people of the country are unemployed. I greet you freedom fighters, students, you were guerrillas. You shed blood and your blood will not go in vain. Blood does not go in vain.”
In giving the country independence, Bangabandhu opened the doors wide to opportunities of victory in all spheres. We are advancing along that path. There is much to do ahead. We must bring smiles to the faces of the suffering people of the country. We must take the fruits of independence to the poor and the suffering common people.
Bangabandhu said that I am indebted to your blood. You shed blood to free me. I will repay that debt in blood. And he kept his word.
And he has indebted us with his blood. We will strive to repay even to a small extent that debt by building a developed, non-communal, discrimination-free and democratic Bangladesh.
* Anisul Hoque is associate editor of Prothom Alo and a writer. This column has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.