The nation recalls this week the spontaneous uprising of the people fifty one years ago. On 24 January 1969, Matiur Rahman, a young student of Nabakumar Institution in Dhaka, was shot dead by the police while students and the general masses were staging protests against the undemocratic rule of the regime of Field Marshal Ayub Khan in what was then yet Pakistan’s eastern province. It was one of those defining moments in Bengali history when the people rose to demand an end to the decade-long regime. But, of course, the regime, tottering and nervous though it was, was equally determined to hang on to power. Only days earlier its police had killed the university student Asaduzzaman, who was part of a protest demonstration against the ruling classes. The killing of Matiur was to be followed by other instances of murder committed by the regime, but what began on 24 January would eventually turn out to be an unstoppable movement that could not be silenced by the regime.
It is this history which the nation recalls today, a part of its political narrative which must be handed down to the young, indeed to everyone born in the post-Liberation period in Bangladesh. We say this because of the many dark efforts which have been expended in attempts to undermine history through giving it new twists and new spins by people uncomfortable with an acceptance of history as it actually shaped up in 1969 and afterward. At the same time, there is the uncomfortable truth that studies of history have been in steep decline in the country, so much so that people have precious little idea of the details behind such momentous events in national life as the Language Movement of 1952, the Six Point Movement of 1966, the Eleven Points of the Students in 1969, the foisting of the so-called Agartala Conspiracy Case on a Bengali nationalist leadership, the killing of Sergeant Zahurul Haq in imprisonment, the circumstances of the rise of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as the undisputed spokesperson of the Bengali nation, the unparalleled role of Moulana Bhashani in carrying the struggle against the Ayub-Monem regime forward and other aspects of national history. The commencement of the Mass Upsurge in January 1969 was to be a signal that the days of the regime were numbered. More importantly, it was a harbinger of politics that would eventually lead Bengalis to the War of Liberation in 1971, resulting in the emergence of a sovereign Bangladesh.
In broad terms, a recapitulation of the Mass Upsurge more than half a century ago is a reminder of the importance of history, of the need for constant studies of and research into it. This morning, we pay homage to all those brave individuals --- Asaduzzaman, Matiur, Prof Zoha and all others --- whose lives were taken from them by a power-hungry coterie unable to grasp the lessons of history. Let our nation, especially our young, be enlightened on the circumstances which made possible the freedom we enjoy in this country today.