In 1947, as the British ruler finally gets ready to leave the greater Indian sub-continent nearly after 200 years of its occupation, they left the country divided in two pieces. Thus two different independent country was born in the map of the world, India and Pakistan. This separation was mostly because of their religious differences than anything else, an utter disgusting representation of people who were living on the same land for thousands of years and sharing pretty much the same culture in peace and harmony.
However, the birth of so called “secular” India and religiously influenced Pakistan followed entirely two different path after their independence. Indian with all its states and 30+ different languages eventually followed a democratic system where everyone’s rights were pretty much protected regardless their religion and ethnic identity. On the other hand Pakistan and its people continues to suffer from discrimination at the very core of their identity including their language issues. Perhaps, this is one of those many attributes that divided Pakistanis more than anything else. Military influence at the government level always disrupted the democratic system. This is probably truer for Pakistan than any other nation in the world.
In this post, I will look back in history and pick up some of the incidents that really change the course of history of United Pakistan which eventually led towards the Independence of East Pakistan (Bangladesh).
Partition of India and Pakistan
Nearly 200 years after their invasion, British colonialists left the Indian sub-continent. Resulting widespread communal violence and huge migration that costs millions of lives. All that happened in the name of Religion. With the partition of India and Pakistan, East Bengal becomes a dominion of Pakistan as expected. Regardless their cultural differences East Pakistan remained loyal to their long anticipated Independent Muslim homeland. However it took little while to shatter their day dream. As Anatol Lieven argues that:
no freak of history like united Pakistan with its two ethnically and culturally very different wings separated by 1,000 miles of hostile India, could possibly have lasted for long.
(Lieven 10). Very soon East Pakistan sensed the discrimination against them. As, “East Pakistan contained the majority of the nation’s population but was given only half of the seats in the upper house of the Central Legislature” (Wynbrandt 172). This was just one of the many reason what led to the struggle for independence of East Pakistan.
From the very beginning, the central government of Pakistan made it clear that Urdu would be the only official language of Pakistan. On the other hand, as a legitimate right, Bengalis also wanted “Bangla” to be an official language of Pakistan along with Urdu but it was turned down by the central authority, despite the fact that East Pakistan made up 44 million of the newly formed Pakistan’s 69 million people (Islam 2).
The Shaheed Minar is Located in Dhaka, Bangladesh
Less than a year after the independence of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah arrived Dhaka in March, 1948. On 21st March, in a speech Jinnah declared “Only Urdu alone would be the national language of Pakistan.” (Wynbrandt 164). He also warns that anyone who disagreed with his views would be viewed as the “Enemies of Pakistan”. Such statement did not only upset Bengalis but also inflamed the public sentiment against west Pakistani’s attitude towards their fellow countrymen.
After the death of Jinnah in September, 1948, Bengali language movement gained its momentum once again as the Governor-General of Pakistan Khawaja Nazimuddin, defends the “Urdu Only” policy in a speech on 27th January 1952. Perhaps one can easily argue that, this was one of those turning points for East Pakistan when they finally realized that they had enough of Pakistan.
Later on, under the direction and guidance of Maulana Bhashani, all out protest was called on 21st February, 1952 that includes strikes and rallies. The student body of the University of Dhaka gathered around the university campus violating government imposed “Section 144” that banns any public gathering of more than three people.
Eventually, few students namely Abdus Salam, Rafiq Uddin, Abul Barkat and Abdul Jabber were shot during the protest that sparked country wide strike, shutting down offices, public transportation, shops etc. As the news of the death of students spreads throughout East Pakistan, disorder erupted across the city. After long consideration, on May 7th 1954, central government recognized “Bengali” as the state language of Pakistan along with Urdu through an amendment on the constitution.
Towards Independence Movement
Regardless the fact that language issue was pretty much settled down by 1956, a newer approach was conceived by the West Pakistan’s central government under the military regime of Ayub Khan. It was more of a political and economic struggle that East Pakistan and its people faced every single step of their lives over West Pakistan. Ayub Khan favored the interest of West Pakistan at the expense of East. Despite the overwhelming majority in terms of population, East Pakistan remained under represented in civil, military services along with state funding for development related activities. Following table gives us a clear-cut view of economic discrimination committed by the West Pakistan’s central government towards the East Pakistan.
The consequences of such economic discrimination was pretty much expected as much of the development related activities took place in the West. However, federal government continued to tax the Eastern part of the country and paying for the expenses of the West. The long run effect of such disparity was revealed by the following table that explains the per capita income differences of East and West Pakistan.
It was the time, when the concept of “Bengali Nationalism” appeared to be the only viable alternative over Pakistani Nationalism for the Bengali people and the support of such ideology grew over the years.
In 1958, Ayub Khan imposed martial law which sealed the political hopes for Bengalis. It also underestimates the willingness of Bengali political elites to reach an accommodation with the central government to work under the united Pakistan framework, As Mujibur Rahman from “Awami League” got arrested.
In early 1968, Mujibur Rahman the leader of Awami League and East Pakistan was arrested along with 34 others because of conspiracy against the state which is also known as “Agartala Conspiracy Case” (BDNews24). The allegation was that Mujib and his fellow colleagues were in touch with Indians to break the unity of Pakistan. On 21st February 1969, Ayub Khan announced that he would not participate in the next presidential election. Ayub Khan believed, doing this would calm the army and the opposition party which he could use to influence the election of an appropriate successor (Baxter 301).
Mujibur Rahman was released from the prison on the same day and he made it clear that he would settle for nothing less than his six points, which Ayub Khan defines as “There was no give and take in his points…. He was greatly under the influence of extremists in his party and the students who were completely out of control” (Baxter 302).
It is quite true that any Sovereign country and its government would deny the six points that Mujib demanded to the central Pakistani Government. Many believes that it was an attempt from East Pakistan to achieve full autonomy from the Central government, so that it can rule itself as if it is an independent country. Perhaps, it was the time when East Pakistani Bengalis were determined to achieve their political and socio economic independence from the West Pakistan. In other words, Bengalis were determined about their independence and it was open indirect declaration of Bengali Nationalism.
Bengali sentiment reached at its blowing point when in 1970’s election Mujibur Rahman won 160 seats in East Pakistan yet West Pakistani central government denied to hand over the power to the East Pakistani leader Sheikh Mujib. Even though Zulfikar Bhutto own only 81 seats in West Pakistan, it didn’t give him enough constituency to form a democratic government. Eventually central government sent military personnel in Dhaka and started slaughtering sleeping people on 25th March at around midnight. On 26th March, 1971 East Pakistan declared its independence as a sovereign state (Bangladesh).
So, officially East Pakistan got into war with West Pakistani military regime. The statistics that we get is highly controversial depending on the source and their political ideology. As Sarmila Bose argues, “Many “facts” had been exaggerated, fabricated, distorted or concealed.”(Bose 2). However, roughly the 25,000 to 3 million lives has been lost in this war. With the help of Indian armed forces and Guerilla “Mukti Bahini”, East Pakistan finally became independent on 16th December, 1971 and became known as Bangladesh. Thus the new sovereign land for Bengalis (East) emerges.
For East Pakistan, what started as the fight for achieving its right turned out to be the fight for its very independence and its survival. Bangladesh was created not because it wanted to be independent rather it had no options but to fight for their right.
Bengalis or people of Bengal played a crucial role throughout the history of Indian sub-continent. It influenced and shaped the geopolitical, religious and socioeconomic identity of greater India in many ways. Starting from the Battle of Plassey in 1757 to the very independence of India from the British Empire. Creation of the state of Pakistan to an Independent Bangladesh, one can hardly deny the participation of these people on shaping the Indian subcontinent as we all know today. Bengalis proved over and over again that they are not the people that can be exploited for long.
Unfortunately, the discriminatory attitude of the Pakistani government towards its own people within the country is nothing new. Nearly 65 years after its independence people of Balochistan, Sindh are still struggles for their own rights and social recognition, this is simply unacceptable. Following a democratic system and recognizing the ethnic minorities, Indian flourished at disproportionate level over its neighbors. Even though it’s not the perfect example but India still could be a role model in many ways for rest of the south Asian nations to achieve economic and political success while maintaining regional sovereignty.