March 17: Historical perspective
Published : Saturday, 17 March, 2018 at 2:00 PM Count : 2763
The history of Bangladesh has experienced diverse ups and downs throughout the decades. This country for its critical placement among strong neighbors, who also experience lots of turmoil among themselves, had been the victim of regional interests. Bangladesh achieved independence in 1971 through a bloody 9-month long liberation war. It finally achieved freedom on December 16, 1971 as we all know it officially. But from another context, Bangladesh actually achieved independence on March 17, 1972.
During the volatile days before the liberation war, the Pakistan (former West Pakistan) government was exploiting erstwhile East Pakistan in every possible way. They have broken many promises and people in East Pakistan were being treated as slaves. On the back of such turmoil, Bangabondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman addressed the nation at the Ramna Racecourse Ground on March 7, 1971. He asked the people of East Pakistan to be united and to prepare for a war to gain their freedom. His speech was so appealing to the people that they got determined from inside. According to many who were present on the ground or hearing the speech somehow, something changed that day.
The first brutal attack came on to the Bangladeshis during the dark night of March 25, 1971. Thousands of innocent Bengalis were killed by the Pakistani occupation army. East Pakistan (later independent Bangladesh) lost many of its golden sons on that night during the coward attack by the Pakistani forces. No words can ever describe the brutality of that night. Bangabondhu was arrested on the same night but he managed to declare independence of Bangladesh before being taken to a West Pakistani prison. As per his declaration at early March 26, 1971, the liberation war started.
The liberation war continued for 9 months. Bangladeshis engaged in guerrilla fight against the Pakistani forces. The brave Bangladeshis, with very low combat capabilities, fought bravely against an elite force which was highly trained and equipped. But they never let the Pakistani forces to rest. India was supporting Bangladesh in this war from the very beginning as millions of Bangladeshis took refuge to the neighboring country. Bangladeshi guerrilla soldiers received their short trainings in India and also weapons and ammunition from them. But India was not directly engaged in the war -- though it sent troops into Bangladesh around the end of the war.
Finally, the Pakistani forces surrendered to the joint Bangladesh-India Command on December 16, 1971 heralding the independence of Bangladesh. Gen. A.A.K. Niazi of Pakistan army led his troops at the surrender to the commander of the Allied Forces, Lt. Gen. Jagjit Singh Aurora at the historic Racecourse ground. But Bangabondhu, the father of the nation was still being held in prison in West Pakistan.
With a great relief to the entire nation, Bangabondhu was released from the prison of Pakistan on January 8, 1972. Bangabondhu directly went to London from Pakistan and returned to Dhaka via New Delhi on January 10, 1972. At New Delhi, he, the President of independent Bangladesh, was welcomed and greeted like a hero by the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Bangabondhu was a visionary leader. He realized that, the Pakistani forces had left the soil of Bangladesh but the Indian forces are very much there. To achieve complete independence, the Bangladeshi soil must be freed from any foreign forces. He was delighted and appreciated the gesture of the Indian government and people while he was in New Delhi but he did not lose his focus from the total independence of his country. He thanked India for supporting and helping Bangladesh during the critical period of liberation war and expressed his gratefulness forever. He also expressed high hopes on the relationship of Bangladesh and India in the future for the prosperity of self as well as of the region. Along with that, in a personal meeting with Indira Gandhi, he brought a promise from the Indian Prime Minister that the Indian forces will leave the soil of Bangladesh whenever Bangabondhu wishes to.
Bangabondhu returned to the newly born Bangladesh, the dream for which he made remarkable sacrifices, with the cheers of emotion-filled tearful countrymen. The people of Bangladesh did not limit themselves to show love and respect to their beloved leader, the Father of the Nation - Bangabondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The leader, also filled with emotions, went right to the historic Racecourse ground and gave a speech to his free, independent countrymen for the first time.
Bangabondhu stepped down from his position as the President and took the role of Prime Minister on January 12, 1972. The Indian forces were still in Bangladesh though upon continuous insisting by Bangabondhu, they started to leave in phases. On the course of several events during the first quarter of 1972, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi came on a bilateral visit (Mar 17-19, 1972) to Bangladesh. The day was significant for two other reasons. Firstly, the last batch of Indian forces left the soil of Bangladesh on that day and secondly, it was Bangabondhu's birthday. Bangabondhu and Indira Gandhi addressed a mammoth crowd at Racecourse Ground that very day with huge reception from the people of Bangladesh. It seemed like it was Indira Gandhi's present to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on his birthday as with no foreign soldier in Bangladesh, this country gained complete independence on that day- March 17, 1972.
While chasing the dream of making the new born Bangladesh, one of the greatest countries of the world, Bangabondhu Sheikh Mujib was brutally murdered with many of his family members on August 15, 1975 - only after 4 years of independence. The forces against the liberation war triggered his killing. The country lost its soul and the greatest son. The nation lost its father. It was the darkest day in the history of Bangladesh.
After the killing of Bangabondhu, the government had changed several times and ruthless actions to acquire power had taken away so many lives of leaders and people. The ill forces have tried to alter the history of Bangladesh.
The history of Bangladesh has been under several attacks from the independence till now. In 47 years of independence, the history has been changed or modified or even damaged multiple times which made it very difficult for the new generation to learn about their country's past and contribution of the people who sacrificed a lot to gift us 'today'. But few people kept trying to prevent contortion of the history of Bangladesh and to educate the new generation about the struggle we have been through to reach here.
On 3rd August, 1990 national children's organization Bangabondhu Shishu Kishore Mela was established with the conviction to play effective role against contortion of history. After the establishment of this organization with the best intellectuals of Bangladesh, programme of conveying correct history of the liberation war and the implementation of Bangabondhu's idealism among the children were being conducted through various events and activities.
Among the intellectuals and patrons, eminent journalists IqbalSobhanChowdhury, Mir Mosharref Hossain, Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury, Dr. A.K. Azad Chowdhury, Sarah Begum Kobori, Advocate Yousuf Hossain Humayun, A.A.M.S. Arefin Siddique, Syed Shamsul Hoque, Artist Qaiyyum Chowdhury, Dr. AbulBarakat, Rahat Khan, Poet Mahadeb Saha, M.A. Goni, Dr. Inamul Haque, Asad Chowdhury, Lucky Inam, Zahir Quazi, Kha. Ma. Harun, Engr. Abdus Sobhan and many others are noteworthy.
During the course of 28 years of the organization, many advisers and people related with Bangabondhu Shishu Kishore Mela have been long. Among the deceased advisers of the organization former President of Bangladesh Md. Zillur Rahman, Dr. Neelima Ibrahim, Poet Shamsur Rahman, former Chief Justice Kamal Uddin Hossain, Justice K.M. Sobhan, Shawkat Osman, Santosh Gupta, M. Anisuzzaman, Mustafa Sarwar, Kaleem Shorafi, Dr. Mazharul Islam, Alhaj Mohammad Jahirul Hoque, Poet Rafiq Azad, Poet Shamsul Islam, Habibur Rahman Milon must be mentioned. Their contribution had made this organization established in the heart of the new generation.
From its foundation, the activity titled as 'Itihasher Shandhane Notun Projonmo' is being conducted to imbue the children with the spirit of the liberation war for long 28 years. Among several activities, 'JatiyoShishuDibosh' (National Children's Day) on the birthday of Bangabondhu, which was recommended by Dr. Neelima Ibrahim and introduced by BangabondhuShishu Kishore Mela, is noteworthy.
The 2nd convention of Bangabondhu Shishu Kishore Mela was rendered with its advisers, sponsors and officials on November 02, 1993. Only after a few days of the convention, adviser of Mela, Dr. Neelima Ibrahim wrote a letter to the president of the organization. Addressing the president as "Dear", Dr. Neelima Ibrahim mentioned that she could visualize the ray of lights from far at Bangabondhu Shishu Kishore Mela. Seeking more and more success of the organization, she recommended celebrating birthday of Bangabondhu as 'National Children's Day' (Jatiyo Shishu Dibosh).
Dr. Neelima Ibrahim's own-written letter of recommendation to celebrate National Children's Day on Bangabondhu's birthday is such - "I am not only delighted to be present at your programme on last 12.11.93 but also could visualize a far ray of lights. I hope for more and more success of your organization".
"I would like to offer a proposal to the organization through you. Today 14th November is the birthday of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru; this day is celebrated as children's day in whole of India. Through you, I want to propose to celebrate the birthday of Bangabondhu as children's day in Bangladesh. Your organization will provide the declaration; you will see that one by one many will accept it and the government will also yield if pressure can be created. Best Regards - Neelima Ibrahim."
This proposal of Dr. Neelima Ibrahim was discussed at the meeting of central executive committee. All officials of Bangabondhu Shishu Kishore Mela gave opinion to approve the proposal at the first national convention of the organization in presence of Bangabondhu-daughter Sheikh Hasina. In that same meeting, first national convention's date was fixed to be December 25, 1993. The convention was arranged at Shilpakala Academy Auditorium. Awami League president Sheikh Hasina was present as the Chief Guest. The proceedings of the convention started with the representative of 116 branches, only after three years of foundation of the organization.
At one point, the proposal of Dr. Neelima Ibrahim to celebrate National Children's Day on Bangabondhu's birthday was presented. In the presence of people's leader Sheikh Hasina, decision was taken to observe National Children's Day on Bangabondhu's birthday with loud claps of thousands of representatives and invited guests. The chief guest of the programme Sheikh Hasina, in her speech, welcomed the initiative to celebrate National Children's Day on the birthday of the father of the nation and assured of all of sorts of co-operation.
The new committee, formed through the 1st national convention of Bangabondhu Shishu Kishore Mela, started taking preparations to observe first National Children's Day (Jatiyo Shishu Dibosh) on Bangabondhu's birthday from 1994. To observe the first national children's day, meeting of advisory and executive committee was held. With everyone's agreement, proposal to make Awami League president Sheikh Hasina the Chief Guest was accepted.
To invite people's leader Sheikh Hasina to become the Chief Guest at the programme of first national children's day, Chief Adviser of Bangabondhu Shishu Kishore Mela M Anisuzzaman, Adviser Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, Alhaj Mohammad Jahirul Haque, then General Secretary Meah Monsaf and Organizing Secretary Shirin Akter Monju went to the residence of then opposition leader at Mintoo Road on January 01, 1994. Besides inviting honourable daughter of Bangabondhu as the Chief Guest, a memo was provided to celebrate national children's day at national level.
As the people's leader Sheikh Hasina advised to inaugurate the 1st national children's day by another daughter of Bangabondhu, Sheikh Rehana, few members of the advisory under the leadership of Dr. Neelima Ibrahim went to invite Sheikh Rehana at her Gulshan residence. She accepted the invitation with open arms.
On March 17, 1994, programme recommended by Dr. Neelima Ibrahim and introduced by Bangabondhu Shishu Kishore Mela - the 1st National Children's Day -- was held at Bangladesh Shishu Academy. The inaugural programme was at 10am. Hundreds of children greeted Bangabondhu-daughter Sheikh Rehana as Late Alhaj Mohammad JahirulHaque, adviser of Bangabondhu Shishu Kishore Mela accompanied her to the programme place. Then she inaugurated 1st National Children's Day by flying balloons and exchanged pleasantries with the participants of drawing competition. Then she gave her speech at the inaugural programme.
Bangabondhu-daughter Sheikh Rehana along with her two children Bobby and Tulip enjoyed the cultural programme by the central artists of Bangabondhu Shishu Kishore Mela at the end of inaugural speeches. Though Bangabondhu-daughter left the programme place after the inaugural programme, she returned to handover prizes to the winners of the drawing competition in the afternoon and handed over the prizes to the winning participants. Contribution of Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana, both daughters of Bangabondhu, as sponsors and appreciator, must be mentioned in making this organization a nation-wide success.
National Children's Day received national recognition after Awami League gained national power in 1996. March 17 was being celebrated throughout the country as National Children's Day while educating the new generation of the significance of this day. Many intellectuals and dignitaries joined the organization notably, Mir Mosharref Hossain - the chief sponsor of the organization along with many others to strengthen the organization. With their contribution, March 17 was being celebrated on a much larger scale.
In 2001, when BNP-led 4 party coalitions formed government, National Children Day on Bangabondhu's birthday was cancelled. Current government under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina again took the decision to celebrate national children's day on Bangabondhu's birthday at the first meeting of the council of ministers immediately after regaining power in 2008. From then, national children's day is being officially observed on the birthday of Bangabondhu till now. The new generation of the whole country will be able to know about the revolutionary life of Bangabondhu by observing this day as the national children's day. They will know about Bangabondhu's contribution to the freedom of nation, named Bangladesh.
Bangabondhu Shishu Kishore Mela observed 25th National Children's Day this year. Comprehensive programme has been taken at over 400 branches of Bangabondhu Shishu Kishore Mela to observe the day. Arrangement of selection phase of National Cultural Competition-2017, discussion, rally, poem recital and cultural programmes are part of the activities this year.
The people of the country again got the opportunity to celebrate national children's day on Bangabondhu's birthday through regaining of national power by the forces in favor of liberation war. Leaders and workers of Bangabondhu Shishu Kishore Mela at every level are delighted and proud for that. We are expressing our gratitude to the current government for that.
We hope March 17 live among the new generation not only for National Children's Day or the Birthday of Bangabondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman rather it live as the day Bangladesh achieved total independence and we are very much progressing on the right track as on today’s joyous occasion, the United Nations (UN) has declared Bangladesh’s eligibility to have ‘Developing Country’ status. We hope Bangladesh continues this progress under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina so that we can be considered as a developed country in the near future.
The Writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA) and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Center (DRC)