The speech of 7th March brings is considered by many to be the greatest speech given by a Bengali and of course a Bangladeshi. The significance of the speech lies however not in its intrinsic quality but in the historicity of the speech. It was delivered at a time when so many forces had come together to create the final steps to the production of a state. It facilitated history like few oratory ever did.
In our work on 1971, we come across many reactions and responses from various classes, communities and people of professions and zones. It’s because of this variety that history becomes multiple and this is natural. There is no one person who experiences history in a single moment for everyone. Different people do it differently but together have a common identity which allows them to formulate a common objective based experience and the process to reach this common objective becomes the path to understand the birth of a state.
The politician’s 7th March
The many interpretations and speculations on what Sk. Mujib said or intended to say or were forced to say or didn’t say belong to the political space. There is no shortage or positions and every name has been called and everyone has been dubbed from a hero to a traitor one side or another. This ‘jhogra” will go on because by claiming the rights to the speech, a particular group or faction can claim to have greater signification in the state production process.
One group feels that on this day independence was declared. But becomes difficult to understand why the entire lot was not arrested by the Pakistanis who were itching to do so for doing that. In fact, mayhem was planned according to Pakistani sources but they are notorious liars on everything 1971. However, no media said that SM had declared independence the next day including Bangladesh media.
This declaration approach is the bureaucratic approach to history where a gazette notification is seen as more important than the entire process of history. The same declaration syndrome affects the independence declaration on the night of the 25th by Sk. Mujib which is contested by the BNP and some others. Meanwhile the AL has now passed laws to protect the declaration claim contesting. On the other hand BNP claims that Zia declared independence on 27th March which is now virtually illegal to say so.
Both groups over emphasize the importance of declarations. That makes an entire movement limited to an event or a day, a sudden one without much history. Some even within the AL say that Mujib was not interested in declaring independence and so on. The point is, did it or does it matter?
Instead of reducing the entire state making process into a conflict over its spoils by declaring who did what first, one could actually study the history of Bangladesh from 1937 onwards in general and 1947 in particular to look at the process which led to 1971. It didn’t happen because Pakistan refused to hand over power but that it was impossible for Pakistan to hand over power to those who were never full “Pakistani” after 1947 and nearly “Indian” after 1958 when Gen. Ayub Khan took over.
By looking at that historical process, we can see that there were many important dates but the political movement towards state making moved in its own pace. If there is one person who claims leadership, it’s Sk. Mujib as the leader of the nationalist movement. So if one accepts that Bangladesh was the product of that movement, other debates and claims are moderated. The arguments going on are not about accuracy of history but using history to gain political advantages.
The peasant’s view
The peasant is located in the village where the entire microcosm of Bangladesh lived at least in 1971. Living at the crossroads of transition, as national and local politics began to become close and perhaps start to blend, the 7th March speech had very significant meaning in terms of participation. The peasant heard the news through radio and it circulated in the villages as a call to ‘prepare’ for war. This was not done under the shadow of the Pak army presence as many in Dhaka did or Chittagong or other cities and towns but entirely to villagers on their own in a world swayed by the ethos of village life only.
What our research show is that the villages for the first time heard a speech that rang across the entire country and became the trigger for transition in each independently. Villages formed Sangram committees and many pro- Muslim Leaguers even joined. But the villages began to prepare and the cities next to the villages also were drawn into this net to resist.
Thus the hubs of humanity became political links in a chain that began to fashion the necklace that become the ornament of resistance in 1971. It really didn’t matter what the speech said in terms of independence. What mattered was what it said in terms of building “fortresses of resistance”. It spoke to them and ignited the ancient memories of resistance which the peasants carry and which they brought forward in creating the space in which the war of liberation was fought.
The significance of the 7th March speech is not as much for the political activists who were already stomping the ground as much as it was for the villagers who bore the brunt of the war, resistance and suffering. They were in effect joining hands with the wider Bangladesh making its birth possible. Various discussions and debates by political activists are about establishing or diminishing their own or other’s status. For the peasant it was once more a call to history, a call they have always answered even when made by other classes, who often prove not to be their best friend by appropriating the benefits of their war.