A defining day in history

Bangabandhu delivers his historic speech on 7 March 1971File Photo

There comes a special moment in the long span of socio-political history that gives rise to a fresh spurt of strength that opens the doors to a vista of new possibilities, that can change the course of history, that can turn a corner in history. In the study of history such sudden events are termed as synchronic, that rarely have precedence. The date 7 Match 1971 is such an eventful day, a day that gave a specific direction to our struggle for freedom.

The unfolding of events from 1 March was given a fresh boost of strength after 7 March. Young people all over the country began to get together and prepare for war, took up training in arms, starting with getting the feel of firearms in the preparatory stages. Informative books on the preparatory stages of the liberation war contain details on the matter.

The event on 7 March was the speech delivered at the racecourse by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, a speech significant for a multitude of reasons. If we look into the reasons and analyse the matter, it will be clear why it was inevitable that this speech created so much concern in the minds of the Pakistani rulers that they took steps to block it from being aired on the radio to deprive people to hear the speech that drew thousands of people to the racecourse. The Pakistanis were never well versed in history. Or the history that they read was erroneous. They were unable to grasp the impact of this day.

The speech still has the power to rouse us, to inspire us to take a struggle against the common foes (like poverty, disparity, lack of rights and those who are responsible for this)

I was a first-hand witness to that public rally, I was there listening, watching. On those grounds I could feel the aspirations, the emotions, the thrill that swept through that massive gathering. Actually it was from the morning that I could see this spirit among my university hall friends. I felt that it has become inevitable for Bangabandhu to deliver that speech on 7 March. That day, 7 March, gave birth to a moment, a moment that united the nation, that set them on the path to independence and freedom.

It may not be possible to see 7 March in the manner that it as seen by the nation in 1971, as the day that bonded the nation which was riddled with disparity, intolerance and vested interests. But if we can discern a few important incidents of that day, then paths will open up to resolving many problems that plague us at present. It may at least give us inspiration to proceed ahead towards a common goal.

If we listen to Bangabandhu’s speech with care or read it attentively, placing it the contest of 1971, we will see that he pinpointed this unity as the main driving force. He even identified certain characteristics of this nation state – he understood this was not an aggressive nation, but could turn around if it became a victim of aggression. He made people aware of this ability to turn around, that is, to gather the power of resistance.

Throughout 1971 the Pakistanis made brutality the norm. They indiscriminately killed men, women and children. No woman was safe from them. The freedom fighters in 1971 targetted the enemy troops, and those who fought for the enemy. There was fear that they could kill those who were unarmed, even on Victory Day, but in actuality they could safely return to their country. This would not be possible if the liberation war had been a war of vengeance.

This was a matter of pride for us as a nation, but we failed to hold on to this pride after 1971. If we kept 7 March, Bangabandhu’s speech, in mind, perhaps we could have ended the conflicts, clashes and vengeful incidents of present times.

There was a brief summary of history at the outset of Bangabandhu’s speech. He pointed out various incidents that had occurred up till 7 March. This made clear the objectives of the Pakistanis to deprive us of our rights and to exploit us. It is also a record of why we took up arms. In the second part of the speech, Bangabandhu highlighted certain things that needed to be done at the time. He gave a brief but unfolding list of what we must do against the misrule and repression.

Then in the third part of his speech, Bangabandhu presented a farsighted plan. He called upon the people to take up whatever they had and build up a resistance. He declared that this struggle was for freedom, for independence. In other words, he set history in diachronic motion, indicating how the past sets the basis for the present and if the present can be controlled, how we ban mould future.

During the 7 March speech, Bangabandhu often broke into colloquial language, making it all the more appealing. There was controlled expression of emotion and our culture of displaying respect towards the enemy even (referring to Bhutto as Bhutto sahib). The well enunciated speech did exactly what the main objective of communication is – create deep vibes in the minds of the people and grab their total attention.

If will look into how this was achieved in a short speech of just 18 minutes, we will see that Bangabandhu did nothing outside of what people wanted – he simply echoed the sentiments of the people in his speech. He grasped the people’s sense of history, their rebellion and resistance, their aspirations and expectations, and expressed this in his own words with his eloquence, spontaneity and skill. That would perhaps not be possible on the part of anyone else at the time.

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It was only Bangabandhu would could have delivered such a speech in March 1971. And he delivered it at such a moment, that can be called a definitive moment in history. He managed to build up history in such a manner that he could generate this power within himself.

Bangabandhu’s speech roused the people in 1971. Those who listened to him at the racecourse, or over the radio the next day, were inspired with fresh hope. He did not give any specific declaration of independence that day. Had he done so, certain international superpowers would have directly stood in opposition to our struggle for independence. Our demand for freedom may not have gained that credulity. But he gave a direct message in his speech, that the war which we would be taking up shortly would be a war of independence. The speech still has the power to rouse us, to inspire us to take a struggle against the common foes (like poverty, disparity, lack of rights and those who are responsible for this).

Bangabandhu’s 7 March speech spurred on a moment that lit the path for us to proceed from the present to the future. We want such a moment now too. It is 7 March that still can show us the way to close the gap between what we want and what we get. That is why this speech will never grow old.                                    

* Syed Manzoorul Islam is a writer and educationist

* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir