Why does Bangladesh celebrate ‘Independence’ and ‘Victory’ separately

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Why does Bangladesh celebrate ‘Independence’ and ‘Victory’ separately
Photo: Anne de Henning

Bangladesh celebrates two distinct national days centering its independence in 1971 – 26 March as Independence Day and 16 December as Victory Day. With political trickeries by Pakistani military junta, who were ruling then, a political crisis escalated in the erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Basically, the Bengalis who were dominant/majority is East Pakistan’s political economy, had won the election in 1970.

Bengalis were being led by their undisputed firebrand politician Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, popular as Bangabandhu. The junta refused to hand over power, instead resorted to violent intimidations; intensifying a constitutional crisis.

On the night of 25 March 1971, the Pakistan Army launched a killing operation on unarmed civilians of East Pakistan. Seeing this, Mujib immediately, at early hours of 26 March 1971, took charge and declared independence of the new country, Bangladesh. With chaos, crisis and violent crackdown escalating, soon after, Mujib was picked up by the Pakistani junta. Since then, 26 March became Bangladesh’s “Independence Day.”

After declaration of independence, Bangladesh came into being, and the Pakistan Army was occupying the land as an occupation force. Bengalis began to forge a resistance against the Pakistan Army. Soon there was organized war effort from Bengali politicians, military servicemen and freedom fighters.

After nine-month of attritional fighting, Pakistani forces were defeated and they surrendered on 16 December 1971. Hence the day is commemorated as “Victory Day” when Bangladesh was unoccupied, and emerged as a sovereign state on the world map.

Let us dive into the unique context of the two significant national days of Bangladesh.

After partition of British India in 1947, today’s Bangladesh became a part of Pakistan, namely East Pakistan. East Pakistan’s population was largely Bengalis. Soon after the birth of Pakistan, the West Pakistani elite-led government tried to weaken its majority citizens – the Bengalis, through exclusionary policies.

Economic subjugation was one of the factors that led to the dissatisfaction of Bengalis. The rulers were keen to suppress Bengalis’ quest for democratic rights through use of oppressive measures. Meanwhile progressive political organization Awami League, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was popularizing the demand for Bengali autonomy and was turning a movement into struggle for independence.

26 March: Independence Day

In the general election of 1970, the people of East Pakistan mandated Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his party Awami League to form a new government. But the military regime did not accept the election outcome. The people of East Pakistan despite military action, staged protest throughout the province.

The junta leader Yahya Khan gave order to his commanders to launch a brutal crackdown on the Bengalis on the night of 25 March 1971. In the early hours of 26 March, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman made the declaration of independence via an airwave, moments before he was arrested by the Pakistani military. His message was:

From today Bangladesh is independent. I call upon the people of Bangladesh, wherever you are and with whatever you have, to resist the army of occupation to the last. Your fight must go on until the last soldier of the Pakistan occupation army is expelled from the soil of Bangladesh and final victory is achieved.

The message was relayed from Swadhin Bangla Biplobi Betar Kendro (a clandestine radio station) later that day. From that moment, the people of East Pakistan were no longer a part of Pakistan, rather citizens of the new country, Bangladesh. Thus, 26 March is observed as “Independence Day” to commemorate the fact that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder and architect of the country, declared independence on that day.

War of Liberation 1971

A spontaneous uprising throughout the region followed the declaration of independence by Mujib. Battles with the occupation force ensued in many places.

In early April 1971, senior Awami League leaders including elected members assembled at Baidyanathtala in western district of Meherpur to form the provisional government of Bangladesh. The newly formed constituent assembly issued a “Proclamation of Independence” which reiterated that Bangladesh to be a sovereign Peoples’ Republic and endorsed the Declaration of Independence made by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on 26 March 1971.

The provisional government took charge of conducting the war, the civil administration, and the diplomatic efforts to let the world know about the genocide taking place in Bangladesh.

In the frontlines, the Bangladesh Liberation Force – consisting of regular and irregular forces – started fighting with the Pakistan army. After a long fighting spree, the joint command of the Bangladesh force and the Indian Army, started operation from 3 December, 1971. The joint command continued advancing towards Dhaka. Defeat of the Pakistan army became a matter of time.

16 December: Victory Day

Pakistani occupation forces were completely defeated by the freedom fighters. On 16 December 1971, 93,000 soldiers of the Pakistan army, surrendered at the Racecourse ground in Dhaka. The victory marked the emergence of Bangladesh as a free independent nation.

Bangladesh effectively started its journey as a sovereign state after emerging victories on 16 December, hence the day is commemorated as “Victory Day.” Earlier, on 26 March 1971, Bangladesh was born as an independent state through the Declaration of Independence, hence marking the “Independence Day.”

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