March 7, 1971: Historical Events before Bangabandhu's Speech

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Published on March 9, 2022
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Following the harshness of winter, spring brings fresh air to nature. Likewise, the month of March in 1971 came with a life-changing message for the Bengali nation. Dhaka got turbulent from the first day of that exceptional spring marked by blood from mass people. The administrative structure of Bangladesh started following the direct command of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. At a public meeting in Paltan on March 3, Bangabandhu said that a mass rally would be held at Suhrawardy Udyan on March 7 where final instructions would be announced. The day became the centre of hope for seven crore Bengalis. On that day, Bangabandhu addressed more than one million people while announcing the world’s best tactics for the long-awaited liberation struggle.

The United Nations later recognized the speech as one of the world's best speeches and a world documentary heritage. It was not just a political or war speech, rather it talked about changing the destiny of oppressed people. It called for a peaceful non-cooperation movement against human rights violations. At the same time, it asked people to get prepared at homes for mass resistance, even with arms in need to counter armed attacks. It is the 7th March speech that made it possible to announce systematic but full-fledged guerrilla warfare and call for revolution with the involvement of 70 million people in a fully democratic process. That is why this speech is an impeccable world heritage today. And to us, it is the complete war strategy and direction of the Liberation War.

What was Bangabandhu doing before his much-awaited speech on March 7?

The party leaders and activists started gathering in the historic building at Dhanmondi No. 32 Road residence on the morning of March 7 in 1971. There was a crowd of student leaders all the time. Bangabandhu held an hour-long meeting with top Awami League leaders at his residence. He then informed the student leaders that a four-point demand would be placed at the Racecourse (rally at Suhrawardy Udyan) in the afternoon, said former DUCSU leader MA Wazed Miah, son-in-law of Bangabandhu and husband of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

In an interview with the BBC in 2016, Tofail Ahmed, then a student leader close to Bangabandhu, said that Bangabandhu had discussed only these four points in his meetings with party colleagues on the evening of March 6 and the morning of March 7. There was no draft for anything else. He delivered his speech on March 7 from his thoughts.

Tofail Ahmed further said that When Bangabandhu came out of the residence of 32 number road around 2 pm to give a speech, his wife Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib had told him, "You will say whatever you believe."

He added that the capital Dhaka became a city of processions since morning. Traditional folk music was playing on the stage of Racecourse Maidan since morning. Only Sheikh Mujib addressed the rally on that day where he turned the unarmed nation into an armed one through his speech.

According to the witness of the rally, millions of people were chanting slogans with sticks and festoons in their hands since morning, but during the speech of Sheikh Mujib, there was complete silence. At the end of the speech, Dhaka streets heard the slogans of independence again.

From Dhanmondi No. 32 residence to Suhrawardy Udyan

Bangabandhu was scheduled to arrive at Suhrawardy Udyan (Racecourse Maidan) at 2 pm for the rally. But the Racecourse turned into a sea of people by 11 am.

In 2000, Bangabandhu’s cousin Mominul Haque Khoka published a book titled 'Astaragy Smriti Samjjwal: Bangabandhu, Tar Poribar O Ami’. There, he said, he drove the car in which Bangabandhu was taken to Suhrawardy Udyan that day.

Meanwhile, the then-student leader Abdur Razzaq, who was the chief of Awami Swechhashebok force, was tasked with taking Bangabandhu to Suhrawardy Udyan from Dhanmondi 32 residence and returning him home. Kamrul Alam Khan Khasru, a guerrilla commander of the Dhaka region during the Liberation War (later hero of the film 'Ora 11 Jan') was one of the people responsible for the security of the stage at the Racecourse.

Abdur Razzaq said in his memoirs that he had been with Bangabandhu since morning. Three cars were set to go to the Racecourse together. There would be two cars with people who had moustaches and wore Panjabi with back-brushed hair. Student leaders would lead the fleet of the car. Bangabandhu set out from home at 2 pm exactly. However, the previously planned route through Elephant Road and PG Hospital from his residence was changed instantly, rather they reached Racecourse Maidan through High Court premises via New Market and Dhaka University campus.

Kamrul Alam Khan Khasru described the journey and security measures taken for Bangabandhu on that day in his writings. He said three teams of 50 volunteers were formed that day – one team to bring Bangabandhu from home to Suhrawardy Udyan, another group to stay under the stage during the speech and the other one to keep a constant watch around the stage.

Fear of arresting or killing Bangabandhu in commando attack

At the end of the rally, the vehicle carrying Bangabandhu returned to Dhanmondi 32 residence through Shahjahanpur, Motijheel Colony via Sher-E-Bangla Nagar, avoiding the straight path.

As the reason for such security, it was said that there was a conspiracy to assassinate Bangabandhu in an attack. Helicopters were also hovering in the sky. The security measures had to be taken because he could not be saved if there was an attack on him.

According to the memories of Wazed Miah, Bangabandhu returned home after the speech and had dinner with all the family members. He then said to them, 'What I had to say, I have said publicly in today's gathering. The government can now arrest me at any moment. That is why you will eat with me twice a day from today."

Bengalis take control of Bangladesh after Bangabandhu’s March 7 speech

After the 7th March speech, resistance committees to counter Pakistani occupation began to be formed across the country. Awami League took the lead to form Sangram Parishad in every part of the country. There started collecting arms and weapons along with training. The drill for the ensuing Liberation War started all over the country. Later, after the Pakistani junta attacked the sleeping Bengalis on March 25, Bangabandhu declared the country’s independence in the wee hours of March 26 saying 'Bangladesh is independent of today'. Upon hearing the announcement on a special wireless frequency, the Pakistani army quickly arrested him. But our people came down to the battlefield at the risk of their lives. After a long nine-month war, we achieved the much-awaited victory and freedom.

The essence of the 7th March speech is unique. The junta started pressurizing Bangabandhu after he finally gave complete instructions in backdrops of ongoing movements in March. Even Pakistani bombers and helicopters started patrolling over Suhrawardy Udyan on the morning of March 7. Ammunition tanks were even deployed near the Dhaka cantonment. The junta also threatened to kill millions of civilians if Bangabandhu declared independence there. As a result, Bangabandhu took a tactical decision.

Without directly announcing independence in the rally, he imposed four conditions on the Pakistanis. These included withdrawing martial law, sending the army back to their barracks, the trial of genocide by the junta across the country in March, and transferring power to the elected representatives. He also issued ten instructions to the Bengalis. These included stopping paying rent-tax, shutting down offices-courts-educational institutions, halting vehicle movement, hoisting the black flag and forming Sangram Parishad, among others. These measures brought the control of the whole state to the hands of Bangabandhu and the Bengalis.