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Photo: bdnews24.com
Photo: bdnews24.com

Mukti Juddher Chetona (MJC), in principle, should refer to the spirits/values that guided the 1971 Liberation War and inspired its brave conduct. This commentary intends to catalogue the historical perspective and evolution of the MJC in a succinct manner.

MJC really started to shape up first through the Language Movement (Bhasha Andolon) of 1952, and then became more defined, mature and widely shared through the 6-Point mass movement of 1966 and the 11-Point student movement of 1969. At the time of 1947 partition and leading up to it, religious nationhood dominated linguistic/cultural nationhood (Bangali) among both Bangali Muslims and Hindus. In 1947, members (mostly Muslim League) of the Bengal Legislative Assembly representing the Muslim majority areas voted in favour of the undivided Bengal joining Pakistan. But ironically the members representing the Hindu majority areas voted against undivided Bengal that, under the Mountbatten Plan, led to the splitting of Bengal.

A few years later, the Bhasha Andolon marked a monumental shift in the chetona of the Muslims of East Pakistan. As their ethnic (linguistic/cultural) majority was turned upside down against them by the minority non-Bangali rulers of Pakistan sharing the same religion, the chetona of religion-based nationhood gave away to the chetona of linguistic/cultural (Bangali) nationhood. This led to massive realignment of political allegiance away from the Muslim League and catapulted the Awami League (formed in 1949) into the voice of the rediscovered Bangali nationhood. Instead of being prisoners of gratitude, shunning loyalty to the party that led the creation of the country they wanted in 1947 was pragmatic in 1952, and lending support to the newly born Awami League was a dynamic choice that reflected their audacity of hope for a future consistent with their reconfigured Bangali nationhood chetona, and freedom of expression and democratic rights in a broader sense.

In the decade that followed the Bhasha Andolon, it became apparent to the Bangalis of Pakistan that they have also become victims of economic colonialism by the non-Bangali rulers of Pakistan. This expanded their chetona to include economic freedom and justice that was soon incorporated in the demand for more provincial autonomy and power to self-govern in the 6-Point movement of 1966 led by Bangabondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Importantly, the 6-Point movement also strengthened the chetona of democratic norms by demanding the supremacy of a parliament elected on the basis of universal adult franchise.

A critical development during the next three years was the coming together of the Chhatra League and leading left-wing student organisations and the formation of the Sharbodoliyo Chhatra Shangram Parishod (SCSP). The SCSP launched the 11-Point movement in early January of 1969 that added to the 6-Point, demands for the rights of workers and nationalisation of bank, insurance, jute and large scale industries. This was also the first time that the dream of transforming East Pakistan into an independent country captured the imagination of a wider array of student organisations  as they openly chanted “Tomar Desh, Amar Desh, Bangladesh, Bangladesh” and “Joy Bangla”, although some left-branded organisations appeared to have circulated in print the call for an independent Purba Bangla in 1968 (David Ludden, Forgotten Heroes, http://www.hindu.com/).

The above historical perspective allows a clean articulation of the MJC and the goals of the Liberation War as they stood at the onset of and during the 1971 Liberation War. No less important it is to discern what values/spirits were not in the MJC and what the Liberation War was not about at the time.

First, the most primitive and overriding of the spirits/values in the MJC, in a literal sense, was the Bangali nationhood. But importantly the Bhasha Andolon of 1952 and the movements later did not want to take away the linguistic/cultural freedom from the non-Bangalis although Bangla was clearly the majority language. This means that the underlying core chetona was the freedom of expression (speech, language/culture, religious, political) without inhibition and with security for all, Bangalis and non-Bangalis. The religious freedom of expression and security was the principal chetona in 1947 and was behind the spontaneous support and martyrdom of Bangalis in the 1965 War against India. This requires territorial sovereignty and defence against predominantly non-Muslim neighbours, as forcefully advocated in the 6-Point Movement as well as in the 11-Point movement. To secure both religious and linguistic/cultural freedom, Bangali Muslims needed political freedom or more concretely a political jurisdiction where they will be majority both in terms of religion and language/culture. They won the right to this political freedom in the December 1970 elections, but when it was denied at gunpoint, there was just one way to achieve this, namely an all-out Liberation War.

Second, Bangalis have always cherished democratic norms and pursued democratic means of expressing and achieving their aspirations despite military regimes, distorted democratic forms of government and brutal suppression inflicted by the non-Bangali rulers. The demand for parliamentary democracy based on universal adult franchise in the 6-Point and 11-Point movements formally and clearly captured this chetona. Even to the last hopeless moment of March 25, 1971, Bangabandhu pursued ways of salvaging the fragile democracy of Pakistan. The democratic norms were so strong that the widely popular Chhatra League and Awami League joined hands with left-branded parties and formally adopted socialism as a chetona in 1969 for the first time. This was to widen the mass movement and also to strategically position the Awami League to win a landslide in East Pakistan that was necessary to gain exclusive majority in the Pakistan Parliament.

Third, economic justice and freedom became a prominent component of the overall chetona through the 6-Point movement and it remained as a cornerstone of the mass movement leading up to the December 1970 elections. With free enterprise and private property rights as the historical norm of the region and the Islamic tradition, the pre-liberation adoption of socialism as a chetona by the Chhatra league and Awami League was a temporary strategic move to win crucial support for the Liberation War from the left, and from Russia and its allied parties in India. But, instead of being held as prisoners of gratitude, the regimes (including the Awami League) after 1975 showed enormous pragmatism and dynamism in shunning socialism as a chetona in light of the epic global shift away from it.

Fourth, the most controversial use of MJC by the political parties since liberation concerns secularism (religion-independent governance). But Bangabandhu included secularism as one of the four pillars of the state of Bangladesh only after independence (Joseph T. O’Connell, 1976, Dilemmas of Secularism in Bangladesh, pp. 68-69). There was no reference to secularism, communalism and religious fundamentalism in the 6 Points, 11 Points, or in Bangabandhu’s historic March 7, 1971 speech. Thus, as desirable as it is, secularism was not a part of the MJC. Eradicating communalism and religious fundamentalism is also a noble chetona shared by this author like most Bangladeshis, but it simply was not part of the historic MJC either since it didn’t have to be at the time. The 1971 genocide took place to retain East Pakistan within Pakistan, not because the non-Bangali rulers were religious fundamentalists. In fact, the communal forces and fundamentalist parties (like Muslim League, Jamaate Islam) were cleanly defeated by the secular parties in West Pakistan in the December 1970 election.

The 1971 Bangali traitors (mostly Jamaat/Shibir) were communal and fundamentalist, and there is no compromise in prosecuting their crimes against humanity. But the freedom fighters sacrificed their lives principally to free Bangladesh from the (West) Pakistani invaders, and neutralising the traitors came only by the incidence of their collaboration.

Note that communalism and religious fundamentalism exist in most societies and are on the rise even in developed secular democracies like USA. In India and Israel, communal and fundamentalist parties even came to share governance power through the democratic process. These are extremist psyches as is effectively one-party rule and autocratic democracy (neo-communism), and they must be fought off and marginalised through democratic means and nurturing tolerance in all matters and at all echelons.

To conclude, the Mukti Juddher Chetona (MJC) is a historic collection of values/spirits that evolved from the 1947 partition to the 1971 Liberation War, and as such it must be recollected truthfully and respected gracefully. But, as the history of Bangladesh amply demonstrates, to succeed as a people, Bangladeshis need to practice strategic pragmatism and adapt dynamically to evolving circumstances instead of being held as prisoners of gratitude to chetonas, political allegiance and external relationships that made sense in the past, but may not be warranted driving forward.

Mo Chaudhury, Ph.D., is a Professor of Practice at McGill University, Montreal, Canada.

Mo Chaudhury, McGill University, Montreal, Canada.

20 Responses to “The Spirit of 1971”

  1. Rafu

    This is a useless article. There are many people still alive who were present and participated in the movements the writer referring. Many books are available also. The question is why he wrote this article? May be he wants to let us know he also ‘knows’ or he has other intentions which he will reveal later. His subject is ‘Mukti Juddher Chetona’, but he created a painting with hurried brush strokes! Does he mean political movement is ‘Chetona’? He described some picked up events of the history like giving a class lecture, which in no way close to the ‘Dream of Liberation’. I don’t know writers background, but I doubt whether he has real connection with the grass root people of any society. To explain ‘Chetona’ one needs to understand the movers, activities of the leaders are not enough. I appreciate that he has ability to write and like to request him to stay with people until he understands them very well. Then please write again on this subject. However, he could give another name for this write up!

  2. Sumit Mazumdar

    This very polished article, written in perfect English by someone who enjoys all the benefits of living in a western country which treats all its citizens as equals, – argues against secularism!

    And what is Chaudhuri’s argument? That Mujib did not mention secularism before Bangladesh won its Liberation War (hence it is less valid an opinion? Mujib matured from being a pro-Pakistan Muslim League politician to a real Bangali in his lifetime!) Supposedly also the freedom fighters of Bangladesh just wanted independence from West Pakistan and did not fight for secularism (how did Chaudhuri figure out what drove them?) Towards the end the article Chaudhuri reverts to the ultimate excuse of a racist majoritarian: “… communalism and religious fundamentalism exist in most societies…”.

    Nonsense! There is not ONE example of a theocratic state or a country with a state religion that treats its minority citizens as equals. Once some citizens have been OFFICIALLY declared as second-class citizens, there will right away be opportunistic marauders who will grab the property of these “inferior” human beings. Chaudhuri does not have to go far to confirm this. This is what has happened to Hindus in Bangladesh (whose numbers have dwindled from 20% in 1972 to 7% today). There are many other examples (Christians in the middle east, even in Palestine; Copts in Egypt, …)

    Of course there is racism in countries which do not have a state religion. Should that justify having a state religion? I challenge Prof Chaudhuri to show me erstwhile Indian Bengali Muslims who left India for Bangladesh after 1965. India is as poor as Bangladesh (notwithstanding a few billionaires and Bollywood) but the STATE DOES NOT SANCTION INEQUALITY officially (32 Gujerati rioters were sent to prison in India recently). There is a huge difference between state sanction of inequality and state’s inability to protect all citizens.

    Chaudhuri should read the Pakistani newspaper Dawn (dawn.com). An arbitrary Hazara Shia would exchange his/her place with an Indian Kashmiri Muslim any day! Not to mention the Qadianis and the Christians!

    The first person to make the case of Bangla as the national language of Pakistan in the Pakistan assembly was a Hindu: Dhirendranath Dutta.


    • Mo Chaudhury

      Mr. Mazumdar, It is my norm to respect the opinion of others and the same applies to yours.

      I believe you have completely misunderstood my commentary. Like most Bangladeshis, I am a strong supporter of secularism (religion-independent governance) and I strongly disapprove communalism and religious fundamentalism.

      You might have missed it, I say so in the commentary. However, the end does not justify the means, and thus misrepresentation of the Mukti Juddher Chetona even for a noble purpose is disrespectful to the the Liberation War.

      If you believe otherwise, please present objective counter facts/evidence. Thanks for reading the write-up though. .. Mo Chaudhury

      • Mo Chaudhury

        Mr. Mazumdar,

        Please see this in my write-up:

        “Thus, as desirable as it is, secularism was not a part of the MJC. Eradicating communalism and religious fundamentalism is also a noble chetona shared by this author like most Bangladeshis, but it simply was not part of the historic MJC either since it didn’t have to be at the time.”

      • Sumit Mazumdar

        Mr. Chaudhury:

        I am sorry if I have misinterpreted your column. However, the very sentence you give can imply that exclusively what was “part” of MJC forms the basis of governance, and all other items ought to be shelved until negotiations have taken place in the future. The two paragraps from “Fourth…” can be easily (mis)interpreted.


      • Mo Chaudhury

        Dear Mr. Mazumdar,

        My apologies for any lack of clarity in my writing. Indeed Bangabandhu showed great leadership in adopting and constitutionalizing secularism upon his return. While it is the right principle of governance, unfortunately communalism is a mental disease that is often stoked by politicians of many countries for petty political mileage. Perhaps I am too optimistic, but I hope nurturing tolerance in all matters and spheres can and would help control the disease. If you have time, please see my bdnews24.com write-up “Binary Mindset”. Regards.

    • Golam Arshad

      Right Sumit! Mr.Dhirendranath Dutta was the FIRST person to move a Resolution for BANGLA along with URDU to be the State Language of Pakistan, in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in 1948. Has he been recognized? Has R P Shah the legend of Charitable edification has been recognized? We are ungrateful to them. Are we NOT?

  3. Matiur Rahman

    A correct depiction of historical facts.To go even deeper, societal evolution should be discussed in some other piece from the perspectives of sociology and anthropology. A commendable write-up, indeed.

  4. Sam Bain

    Much of the talk of the spirit of the fight for the freedom of Bangladesh in 1971 has been filled with dishonesty and irrationality. This article is no exception to that. The honest truth is that the Bangalee struggles of 1947 to March of 1971 were for linguistic, economic and political justice within the framework of Pakistan, not for an independent country. The pre-1971 sporadic slogan of “Tomar Desh, Amar Desh, Bangladesh, Bangladesh” was necessarily due to frustration with the ruling elite who were mostly based in West Pakistan. If the ruling military dictators handed over power to the people’s representatives in 1971, there would be no Bangladesh. The real spirit of the liberation fight of 1971 was “seeking human dignity” in the face of an extreme brutalization of the Bangalees by the Pakistani military. Seeking human dignity is honorable. Let us put that honor in the minds of our next generations, and let us encourage them to expand on the sense of justice. Let us not continue the dishonest jargons.

    • Golam Arshad

      Right Bain! The current generation want to move forward. They care less why and How ! 1947 was the EPI CENTER of successive MOVEMENT that led to the creation of Bangladesh. It was simply a POLITICAL Wrangle between the Winner and the Looser i.e. Awami League and Peoples Party!Unfortunately, WE have to pay a HUGE price in tears and BLOOD, fact of the matter is the BLOODY TRAGEDY of March 25th 1971 could have been avoided! Had there been a COMPROMISE between the two PROTAGONIST, Sheikh Mujobur the WINNER and Zulfiqur Ali Bhutto the LOOSER!! Please our current generation DREAM BIG in present for a BRIGHT FUTURE. Thank you

      • Sam Bain

        What compromise, Golam Arshad? Bhutto had no business talking about sharing power, or opposing handing over power to Awami League, the party with an absolute majority in the parliament. The talk of giving anything more than the leadership of the opposition in the parliament to Bhutto is dishonest at best and treasonable at worst.

        Hatred and irresponsibility will not bring bright future anywhere in the world for any kind of people. Bangladesh or Pakistan would not be any exception there. (I am not sure if you are a Bangladeshi or a Pakistani.)

      • Golam Arshad

        Sam: Wonderful! By the same TOKEN NOW. do you stamp legitimacy to this set up Election! One Hundred Fifty Three seats taken by BAL unopposed! What is your take on the Fifteenth Amendment? Thank you for your comment!

      • Sam Bain

        BNP should have participated in the election instead of creating anarchy in the country. Participation of BNP in the election would have allowed international observers to watch the election. If there were any significant vote rigging, we could have blamed the Election Commission and the Awami League government. Getting elected uncontested is not illegal, although it surely does not look like democracy. I would blame BNP more than Awami League for this. Caretaker system is found only in countries that really have no tradition of democracy. BNP should have given the elected government a chance to have the election done the way it is done in almost all democratic countries. The call of BNP for boycotting the election was not followed by the public. The public did no go to the polling places due to the anarchy and the threat to public safety created by BNP-Jamaat. We have no basis to think that BNP was actually popular in Bangladesh.

      • Golam Arshad

        Sam: Sorry! Can’t accept your ARGUMENT! Have you read the FIFTEENTH AMENDMENT? IF NOT! Please READ it! I can write it down that HASINA would have NOT only boycotted the Election, she would have create HELL out of this FIASCO. Do you believe that she would have accepted the so called INTERIM Government, if headed by Khaleda Zia? Impossible! Impossible! Have you observed what a DRAMA and a DECEPTION she prompted over a Telephonic Dialog with Begum Khaleda Zia! Hasina is holding Power in sheer ARROGANCE and without people SUPPORT!! India for the First Time in Forty Three Years, headed by UPA ( INDIAN CONGRESS LED MAJORITY) Government, all out support being given to Hasina to RETURN to Power in the name of “Communal Twension” and stifling the power base of the Islamic Forces including Jamaat! This was a Himalayan Blunder, India will realize their MISTAKE in supporting a voter less Election, sooner than later! Indian Congress will be facing a tough Election in May, who wins that will be watched and observed by the political pundits on both sides of the border. Thank you Sam you have done a marvelous job, inking your thought to an Election that is very hard to legitimize and accepted by the people of Bangladesh. Only little over Five Percent voted, and you are WRONG, that people did NOT turn up fearing anarchy let loose by the boycotting opposition.Instead of Rapprochement, peace and a congenial atmosphere of a DIALOG for a fresh Election, she is going after the Opposition, bull dozing whoever opposes this Election! Right partner. Keep up the Good Work!!

      • Sam Bain

        Well, Golam, obviously you and I are not on the same page. But let me make a final point here.

        The real problem that I see in Bangladesh is that the country has too many religiously brainwashed irrational and uneducated (even among big degree holders) people. Most of the so-called secular forces are also largely like that, and that is why they talk about more madrassas and mosques in the country, instead of what would advance the country – rational education. Look at Egypt for example. When excessively religious people are given the opportunity, they would try to establish a fanatic and unjust system democratically. That is why they are really not ready for democracy; they need good and sensible dictators, who are probably too difficult to find in the world.

    • Alphons Pereira

      Mr. Sam Bain : There is no iota of truth in your remarks. Without knowing the facts and figures, you have made a swift comment. Alas! Your stranger friend, a close ally of war criminals, has also sung the same song because that will give him good dividend.

      • Golam Arshad

        Good Dividend! OH Really!! Salute you in the shinning credence to love Peace and Amity! Borgira and Jamaati are SAME, Right Alphons Pereira. Who will support Hasina in exterminating ALL JAMAATI’S? Raise your hand! Dresden has fallen! Hitler planning to attack Moscow/Russia in Grim Cold Winter! What a time ? Please! Please don’t run out of stock, hit me HARD with another Head Butt! Thank you

      • Alphons Pereira

        If you are truthful enough, please come out from your concealing cover!

      • Moriom Shimali Hoque

        What do you want to say? Be careful!! Everyone will raise his/her hands to punish the Al-Badrs, Al-Shams, Jamaati war criminals except the collaborators of Jamaat. It is not true to exterminate the Jamaatis as you have fabricated. To punish them is to do justice to those familiies who lost their near and dear ones at the hands of those miscreants in 1971. We shall carry on our struggle against these ruffians till these are weeded out from our society.


        All Students :
        Zinat, Nabendu Chakma, David Das, Srabanty Barua, Nikhil, Masum, Animesh Khisha, Sanjit, Shakil, Minu, Moriom, Shushil Garo, Rea, Jakir, Badrul, Samir Barua, Antony, Jalal, Bashar, Shisir Shaozal, Nandita, Mahmud, Nasir, Bernard Sarkar, Ashish, Mohiuddin, Amalendu Khisha, Rajib Ali, Reza, Arunima Dutta, Shuvashis Dewan, Munir Mohiuddin, Jhony Gupta, Masuma Khaled, Apurba Khan, Nishita Chowdhury and Chitra Sengupta, Nishita Hoque, Abir Ahmed, Zoglul Ahmed, Nuria Hosein, Abida Islam, Nandini Maria, Jhinuk Rahman, Shipla Roy and Rita Rahman.

      • Monami Rahmatullah

        Are Jamaatis better than Borgira?

        Are not you a dari-tupi-wala? Are you not living in Bangladesh? Are you facing extermination because of your dari-tupi?

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