Guest Editor’s Introduction

Smruti S. Pattanaik is Research Fellow (SS) at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • November 2021

    The birth of Bangladesh with the surrender and humiliation of the Pakistan military to the joint India-Bangladesh forces on 16 December 1971 is one of the most extraordinary political events in the Indian subcontinent. West and East Pakistan separated by more than a 1000 miles were never destined to co-exist and the fallacy of Muslims as a ‘cohesive factor’ only proved right as Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in the wake of Islamabad dishonouring the mandate of the first-ever democratic election in Pakistan in December 1970, called for ‘ebar songram muktir songram, ebar songram swadhinatar songram’ on 7 March 1971.

    This special issue captures the essence of the liberation war and its many protagonists. It brings out personal accounts of how each contributor looked at the struggle and coped with the loss of family and friends. The issue also captures fifty years of diplomatic relations between India and Bangladesh, the road the two countries traversed and the hope of a better future.

    In the Reminiscences section, Aroma Dutta documents the contribution of her grandfather Dhirendranath Datta, who was the first to have raised the issue of recognizing Bengali as one of the national languages along with Urdu in the Constituent Assembly. His unflinching conviction of making Bengali the national language earned the wrath of the Urdu-speaking leadership of that time, that finally had him killed as well as his younger son. Gp. Capt. Shamsul Alam, describes the heroic Operation Kilo Flight that weakened the enemy positions during the War and Ian Cardozo, the Indian Army officer who valiantly fought in spite of adversity in Sylhet, documents this historical episode. Nasreen Ahmed, who worked as a newsreader, kept the world informed of the freedom struggle and the sacrifices of valiant fighters. Meghna Guhathakurta gives her personal account of the carnage at Jagannath Hall of Dhaka University and how the Pakistan Army targeted the minorities and sympathizers of the Awami League. Her struggle to survive in a hostile environment after her father was martyred, depicts the sacrifices of each one of them to unshackle the stranglehold of the Pakistani State. Lubna Marium, who was part of the Muktir Gaan troupe, accounts her version of the liberation war. Keeping the morale of the freedom fighters through their songs was extremely important. Julian Francis who was working with OXFAM when refugees began entering India, narrates his experience in the refugee camps and providing humanitarian assistance while caring for them, for which he was honoured by the Bangladesh Government. Afsan Chowdhury, an acclaimed author and researcher who has authored several books on various aspects of the liberation war, brings in what he calls ‘memories, facts and words overheard’, documenting his perspective on 1971.

    Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty and Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury have looked at fifty years of diplomatic relations, documenting the ebb and flow in the India–Bangladesh relationship while reflecting on the future of the bilateral relationship. Mohammed Ayoob, who along with K. Subrahmanyam authored one of the first books on the liberation war, delves into India’s justification to get involved in the liberation war. Syed Badrul Ahsan focuses on Bangladesh’s political journey in the last ‘half a century’ and Nayanika Mookherjee analyses the politics of war-time rape through the accounts of Birangonas. Anindita Ghoshal focuses on the refugees in Tripura and the response of this border state to the War of liberation, while Urvi Mukhopadhyay examines how the newspapers published in West Bengal depicted the liberation war through cartoons. My article analyzing how the liberation war was debated in the Indian Parliament and shaped India’s response to the crisis in East Bengal, has also been included in the issue.

    The special issue also includes an interview of Tanvir Mokammel, whose films deal with the sensitive issue of Partition and liberation. The volume also includes reviews of two recently published books on Bangladesh’s liberation. The Archives section carries two important speeches—by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on 10 January 1972 in Dhaka after reaching Bangladesh on being freed from prison, and by Indira Gandhi during her first state visit to Bangladesh on 17 March 1972.