Thursday, October 23, 2008

Authority & Responsibility - 11

Khan Arif wrote:

For East Pakistan debacle the responsibility lies on ZAB and General Yahya who listened to people like Khar who said that anybody who goes to Dacca for NA, his legs would be broken by PPP. Had Yahya listened to Asghar Khan, there was chance of Pakistan remaining united as a confederation!

Arif N. Khan
Imran Majeed wrote:

bilkul i totally agree.....1971,

Dear Sir,

If you talk of Politicians then be brave and realist and dont spare Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan and that Racist Bigot Sir Syed for the following mess. They also made severe mistakes in the early years of Pakistan and so-called Interpreter and Commentator of Quran i.e. Deviant Racist Sir Syed made mistakes while discussing Bengalis as Inferior Race and that was much before partition.

September 15, 1947

Tamuddun Majlis (Cultural Society, an organization by scholars, writers and journalists oriented towards Islamic ideology) in a booklet titled State Language of Pakistan : Bengali or Urdu? demands Bengali as one of the state language of Pakistan.

The Secretary of the Majlis, at that time a Professor of Physics in Dhaka University, [Abul Kashem] was the first person to convene a literary meeting to discuss the State Language issue in the Fazlul Huq Muslim Hall, a student residence of Dhaka University.

Supporters and sympathizers soon afterwards formed a political party, the Khilafate-Rabbani Party with Abul Hasim as the Chairman. (Talukder Maniruzzaman)

November 1947

In Karachi, the representatives of East Bengal attending the Pakistan Educational Conference, called by the Minister of Education Fazlur Rahman, a Bengali, oppose Urdu as the only national language.

February 23, 1948 [Jinnah was alive]

Direndra Nath Dutta, a Bengali opposition member, moves a resolution in the first session of Pakistan's Constituent Assembly for recognizing Bengali as a state language along with Urdu and English. The resolution "... was opposed by Liakat Ali, the Prime Minister of Pakistan and other non-Bengali members in the Assembly. Regrettably, this was opposed by Khawaja Nazimuddin - hailing from the eastern wing - and a few other Bengali collaborators of the West Pakistanis in the Assembly. Later, D. N. Dutta came up with a few amendments to the original resolution, and
everytime these were opposed by the west Pakistanis and their Bengali stooges. The West Pakistanis were uncompromising to such a genuine demand of the majority Bengalis." (Rafiqul Islam)

"The demand for Bengali as one of the state language gathered the spontaneous support of the Bengali Civil Servants, academics, students, and various groups of middle class. Several members of the Provincial Assembly, including some ministers, were reportedly active in supporting the movement. By the end of February 1948, the controversy had spilled over on the streets. The East Pakistan Student League, founded in the first week of January by Mujibur Rahman, was in the forefront of the agitation." (-- Hasan Zaheer)

March 1948 (1st week) [Jinnah was alive]

A Committee of Action of the students of Dhaka University, representing all shades of opinion - leftists, rightists, and centrists - is set up with the objective of achieving national status of Bengali.

March 11, 1948 [Jinnah was alive]

Students demonstrating for Bangla as state language is baton-charged and a large number of students are arrested in Dhaka.

" The situation grew worse in the days that followed. The Quaid-i-Azam was due to visit Dhaka from 19 March. The provincial government became nervous and Nazimuddin under pressure of widespread agitation, the impending visit of the Governor-General, sought the help of Muhammad Ali Bogra to enter into negotiations with the Committee of Action. An agreement was signed by Nazimuddin with the Committee which, inter alia,
provided that

(1) the Provincial Assembly shall adopt a resolution for making Bengali the official language of East Pakistan and the medium of instruction at all stages of education;


(2) the Assembly by another resolution would recommend to the central government that Bengali should be made one of the state languages." (-- Hasan Zaheer)

March 21, 1948 [Jinnah was alive]

Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan and its first Governor-General, while on a visit to East Bengal, declares in Dhaka University convocation that while the language of the province can be Bengali, the "State language of Pakistan is going to be Urdu and no other language. Any one who tries to mislead you is really an enemy of Pakistan."

"The remark evoked an angry protest from the Bengali youth who took it as an affront: their language Bangla (Bengali) was, after all, spoken by fifty-four percent of the population of Pakistan. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, then a university student, was among those who raised the protest slogan and was placed under detention. The Dacca University campus became the focal point for student meetings in support of the Bangla language." (--Siddiq Salik)

Jinnah meets the student representatives of Committee of Action to persuade them of the necessity of having one national language, but the students are not convinced.

"The discussion of Jinnah with the student representatives could not bear any fruit but blurred the difference between the student group led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his associates and the student group led by Shah Azizur Rahman. The National leadership resorted to repressive policies in order to crush the Bengali language and put its supporters behind bars." (-- Md. Abdul Wadud Bhuiyan)

2nd Wave

January 26, 1952

The Basic Principles Committee of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan announces its recommendation that Urdu should be the only state language. In a public meting at Paltan Maidan, Dhaka, Prime Minister Nazimuddin declares that Urdu alone will be the state language of Pakistan. Both the developments spark off the second wave of language agitation in East Bengal.

January 28, 1952

The students of Dhaka University in a protest meeting call the Prime Minister and the Provincial Ministers as stooges of West Pakistan.

January 30, 1952

In a secret meeting called by the Awami League, which is attended by a number of communist front as well as other organizations, it is agreed that the language agitation can not be successfully carried by the students alone. To mobilize full political and student support, it is decided that the leadership of the movement should be assumed by the Awami League under Bhashani.

January 31, 1952

Bhashani presides over an all-party convention in Dhaka. The convention is attended by prominent leaders like Abul Hashim and Hamidul Haq Choudhury. A broad-based All-Party Committee of Action (APCA) is constituted with Kazi Golam Mahboob as Convener and Maulana Bhashani as Chairman, and with two representatives from the Awami League, Students League, Youth League, Khilafate-Rabbani Party, and the Dhaka University State Language Committee of Action.

February 3, 1952

Committee of Action holds a protest meeting in Dhaka against the move 'to dominate the majority province of East Bengal linguistically and culturally'. The provincial chief of Awami League, Maulana Bhashani addresses the meeting. On the suggestion of Abul Hashim it decides to hold a general strike on 21 February, when the East Bengal Assembly is due to meet for its budget session.

February 20, 1952

At 6 p.m. an order under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code prohibiting processions and meetings in Dhaka City is promulgated. This order generated tension and resentment among the students.

February 21, 1952

A general strike is observed.

Noon - A meeting is held in the campus of Dhaka University. Students decide to defy the official ban imposed by Nurul Amin's administration and processions are taken out to stage a demonstration in front of the Provincial Assembly. Police starts lobbing tear gas shells to the students. Students retaliate by batting bricks. The ensuing riot spreads to the nearby campuses of the Medical and Engineering colleges.

4 p.m. -The police opens fire in front of the Medical College hostel. Five persons - Mohammad Salauddin, Abdul Jabbar, Abul Barkat, Rafiquddin Ahmed and Abdus Salam - are killed, the first three are students of Dhaka University.

"The news of the killing spread like wildfire throughout the city and people rushed in thousands towards the Medical College premises." (-- Talukder Maniruzzaman)

Inside the assembly, six opposition members press for the adjournment of the House and demand an inquiry into the incidents. But Chief Minister Nurul Amin urges the House to proceed with the planned agenda for the day. At this point all the opposition members of the Assembly walk out in protest.

February 22, 1952

Thousands of men and women throng the university, Medical College and Engineering College areas to offer prayers for the victims of the police firing. After prayers when they go for a procession, the police opens fire.

The police also fire on angry mob who burned the offices of a pro-government newspaper. Four persons are killed.

As the situation deteriorates, the government calls in the military to bring things under control. Bowing to the pressure, the Chief Minister Nurul Amin moves a motion recommending to the Constituent Assembly that Bengali should be one of the state language of Pakistan. The motion is passed unanimously.

"For the first time a number of Muslim members voted in favour of the amendments moved by the opposition, which so far had consisted of the Hindu Congress members only. The split in the Muslim League became formalized when some members demanded a separate bloc from the Speaker; the Awami (Muslim) League had attained the status of an opposition parliamentary party." (-- Hasan Zaheer)

February 23, 1952

A complete general strike is spontaneously observed, despite the resolution by the Provincial Assembly. The government again responds with repressive measures.

APCA decides to observe a general strike on February 25 to protest the government's actions.

The students of Medical College erect overnight a Shahid Minar (Martyr's Memorial) at the place where Barkat was shot to commemorate the supreme sacrifices of the students and general population. Shahid Minar later became the rallying symbol for the Bengalis.

February 24, 1952

The government gives full authority to the police and military to bring the situation in Dhaka back to normal within 48 hours.

"During these 48 hours the police arrested almost all the student and political leaders associated with the language movement." (-- Talukder Muniruzzaman)

February 25, 1952

The Dhaka University is closed sine die. "In the face of these repressive measures, the movement lost its momentum in Dhaka. But it spread widely throughout the districts ... In addition to demands for recognition of Bengali as one of state languages of Pakistan, students now began to call for the resignation of the 'bloody' Nurul Amin cabinet ... Nurul Amin claimed that the government "had saved the province from disaster and chaos" by its repressive measures. The students, however, argued that they had already "written the success story of the movement on the streets with their blood." In retrospect, whatever the merits of government and student actions, it is clear that the movement did sow the seeds of a secular-linguistic Bengali nationalism in east Bengal. Its immediate impact was to prepare the ground for the complete routing of the Muslim League in the 1954 elections by a United Front of opposition political parties, on a nationalistic planck of cultural, political and economic autonomy for East Bengal." (-- Talukder Maniruzzaman)

"The Language Movement added a new dimension to politics in Pakistan. It left deep impression on the minds of the younger generation of Bengalis and imbued them with the spirit of Bengali nationalism. The passion of Bengali nationalism which was aroused by the Language Movement shall kindle in the hearts of the Bengalis forever ... Perhaps very few people realised then that with the bloodshed in 1952 the new-born state of Pakistan had in fact started to bleed to death." (-- Rafiqul Islam)


May 7, 1954

The Pakistan government recognizes Bangla as a state language.

Feb 26, 1956

The Constituent Assembly passes the first Constitution of Pakistan recognizing Bangla as a State Language.

March 23, 1956

The first Constitution of Pakistan comes into effect.

March 26, 1971

Bangladesh become an independent nation.

The Bengalis were despised as non martial by all West Pakistanis. However much later an interesting controversy developed in which the Punjabis and Hindustanis blamed each other for doing so! The Hindustanis blaming Aziz Ahmad etc and the Punjabis blaming many Hindustani ICS old foxes of the 1950s! There is no doubt that this exercise in Bengali degrading was neither totally or exclusively Punjabi led but a a true for all West Pakistanis business!

The foreign reader may note that Bengalis were despised as a non martial race from the British times. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan a Hindustani Muslim and an eminent Muslim leader of the North Indian Muslims in late 19th century made open fun of Bengalis in his various speeches, notably the one delivered at Lucknow in 1887. I.H Qureshi another prominent Hindustani Muslim and a post 1947 cabinet minister declared in a roundabout manner that the Bengalis were an inferior race. Ayub made various remarks implying that the Bengalis were an inferior race in his memoirs written in 1967.38

Selected Excerpts from “Pakistan Army Since 1965” re-drafted as an article exclusively for the “Defence Journal”. “The Pakistan Army Since 1965” is the second volume of the Two Volume history of Pakistan Army and covers Pakistan Army from 1965 till 2000.

Maj (Retd) AGHA HUMAYUN AMIN from WASHINGTON DC makes an interesting foray down memory lane.

Excerpts from various books related to 1971 by important players of that time

The series of assassinations in Former East Pakistan [now Bangladesh] was started from 1969 when a Shams Duaa-Haa, professor of Chemistry in Rajshahi University, was assassinated in daylight. Let me explain what the Al-Badar and Al-Shams were and are?

Al-Badar was and is militant wing of Jamait Islami and a paramilitary force formed in Bangladesh in 1971 by General Yahya INC. Al-Badar forget that what the real Jihad is ? And fight against the Muslims in Bangladesh, Bengalis use to call Al-Badar as "Butcher of Bangladesh." The Al Badar was assigned a variety of combat and non-combat tasks including taking part in the operations, spying against Bengali Intellectuals, interrogation, working as the guides for Tikka Khan and Niazi, assassination, detecting and killing Bengali intellectuals.

The force was composed of madrassah students-teachers, supporters of Muslim League and Jamait Islami. History tell us that killings which began on 25 March 1971 and sparked the Bangladesh Liberation War and also led to the deaths of at least 26,000 people as admitted by Pakistan on one hand (by the Hamoodur Rahman Commission) and 3,000,000 by Bangladesh on the other hand, (From 1972 to 1975 the first post-war prime minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, mentioned on several occasions that at least three million died).

Doctor Fazl Rabbi was an eye specialist; he was kidnapped by Al-Badar. Next day his body was found from a drainage line. His both eyes were vanished and there were marks of switchblade. “What should we think about such peccadilloes?”

Sources says, “accused as Butcher of Bangladesh I mean the ex-militants of Al-Badar are settled in UK and other European countries and they are appointed as cleric of mosques there. And I want to remind the readers that too, “Jamait Islami’s former leader Maulana Modudi had rejected the theory of Pakistan but since 1947, when Pakistan came into being, it is claimed by the leaders of Jamait Islami that they are playing leading role of toady.

December 16, 2007 [Daily Dawn Book Review]

Bittersweet memories Reviewed by Ayesha Azfar

GROWING up in a Pakistan bereft of its eastern wing, it would have been easy to discard the hazy memories of black paper being pasted on windows before nightfall or of ‘soldiers’ knocking on the door once in a while to pick up provisions. In fact, over the years, these recollections were reinforced by the conversations of courteous white-haired men, who ached longingly for the years before the 1971 debacle. As former civil servants, they would often talk about their postings in India, but it was their post-Partition stints in various parts of East Pakistan that were recalled by them with special affection.

It is fortunate that not all limited their reminiscences to verbal expressions. Like the late Dr Aftab Ahmad, some put pen to paper. After all, it must have been a form of personal catharsis for them, especially where East Pakistan was concerned. For having lived through the Pakistan movement and imbibed its revolutionary zeal, Partition was the fulfilment of a dream, and many among this set of venerable old men gave their best to the new country — only to see politicians and military rulers obstruct the smooth running of the administrative machinery. The frustration and sadness that resulted in the loss of the eastern wing remained with them for the rest of their lives and many died disappointed men.

But in Beyond the Vision, a compilation of articles (printed mainly in this newspaper) and papers presented internationally, in addition to a chapter on his stay in Dhaka never before published, Dr Aftab Ahmad’s reflections betray no rancour or bitterness. They are simple and forthright. Any lessons to be drawn from the East Pakistan tragedy are not propounded by him. They emerge on their own, especially in comparison to the frail state of Pakistan today. What no doubt makes his unbroken flow of memories and ideas quite remarkable are his standing as a literary scholar and his interactions with other men of letters, both in the country and outside.

Perhaps it was partly the same scholarship and depth of understanding that enabled him to sympathise with the plight of the East Pakistanis, to appreciate them as a people belonging to a vibrant culture, and as a nation, united by the bonds of language and tradition, and distinct from West Pakistanis in many ways.

It is unfortunate that when a new country is born on the basis of one identity, be it ethnic, religious or some other, there is a propensity to trample on other identities and make these subservient to the unbending rules of a statehood that frowns upon cultural diversity. It is even more tragic when the rulers are a set of men with tunnel vision, with no sense to note the numerical strength of the ones they are alienating or to be alarmed by the absence of geographical contiguity between two parts of political territory until it is too late.

Gen Ayub’s disaffection with the Bengalis was no secret and Dr Aftab Ahmad puts this in a personal perspective in his opening chapter that describes his meeting with the president who wanted him to take up the post of joint secretary at the information ministry in Dhaka. Ayub Khan, while complaining about the Bengalis’ ingratitude, showed ‘a streak of reproach bordering on contempt — the kind of contempt one has for an inferior people.’ That such an observation came from a head of state, as Dr Aftab Ahmad writes, is ‘upsetting’ to say the least.

But there were plenty in officialdom to follow Ayub Khan’s cue, even in East Pakistan. Among them was Governor Monem Khan whose idiosyncrasies give a light touch to the description of otherwise troubled times. Nevertheless, while he has dwelled on the weakness of some leaders (and defended others like Bhutto, to whom, he says, the phrase ‘udhar tum, idhar ham’ has been erroneously attributed), Dr Aftab Ahmad has criticised the tendency to name ‘individual scapegoats for our collective failures as responsible citizens…’ He has blamed civil society, especially its intellectual elite, for not being aware of the happenings in East Pakistan and also for thinking of Bengalis as a ‘trouble-making’ people — perhaps, a feature of society that holds true even today with reference to other minorities.

In the present circumstances, it would be useful to reflect on Dr Aftab Ahmad’s view that ‘what we regard as a national tragedy was for them the successful culmination of their war of independence’. Today, even after losing half the country, there is still no attempt to understand the difference in perceptions.

Finally, the point raised by Dr Aftab Ahmad: ‘was Bangladesh a logical outcome’? This collection of articles seeks to answer the question. Although written as separate essays, their direction is one, and supported by deep insights, personal experiences and the relevant historical background they give the reader a definitive answer.

EXCERPT: Remembrance of things past

The work is a memoir with details of the people and events that led to the creation of Bangladesh.

Departure from Karachi

It was a lovely winter afternoon in Karachi, with a deep blue sky and bright sunshine when we took off. As we were air borne, I started thinking about my scanty and limited knowledge of East Pakistan and the people of that wing. I knew a couple of officers of my service but did not know them well enough. They were rather reserved and mostly kept to themselves. I had visited Dhaka only once, back in 1960, to attend a PEN conference of writers to which I was invited through the courtesy of Prof Ali Ashraf of the Karachi University?s English Department, whom I came to know when I was posted in Karachi. The conference was presided over by Prof Shahid Suhrawardy, elder brother of H. S. Suhrawardy, one of Pakistan?s Prime Ministers in the ?50s. The only two persons I knew from among the participants of the conference were Begum Shaista Ikramullah and Mr G. Allana, both of whom, like myself, had been invited from Karachi. The rest of the participants were all Bengali writers and intellectuals from East Pakistan. The moving spirit of the conference was Ali Ashraf?s brother Ali Ahsan, Professor of Bengali at the Dhaka University.

The conference was held in the fall of 1960, two years after Ayub Khan?s Martial Law. Ali Ahsan had taken good care that the papers presented at the conference were mostly non-controversial, almost conformist. But this was different from the tone and tenor of the discussions that took place in the conference. In the papers presented by Munir Chaudhary of the Bengali Department of Dhaka University, there were some very positive and candid remarks about the writers? social responsibility. These remarks were indeed a breath of fresh air in the otherwise rather stilted atmosphere of the conference. I was quite impressed by them, so during the tea break I engaged Munir Chaudhary and his brother Kabir Chaudhary who was a Professor of English at a Government college in some other city, in conversation. Munir promptly invited me to tea the next evening at his University residence. There I met a few more Bengali writers and University teachers. They talked informally and more freely. I could see what the Bengali intellectuals thought of Ayub Khan's Martial Law and how it had dashed their hopes of the February 1959 General Elections under the 1956 Constitution, agreed upon between the East and West Pakistan leaders. They argued that it was an East Pakistani leader Maulvi Tamizzuddin Khan, who filed a case against the abrogation of the 1956 constitution and that it was a Punjabi Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mr Justice M. Munir, who turned it down and gave a verdict in favour of martial law. There was in their remarks an easily discernible sense of bitterness, frustration and alienation from the West Pakistani power elite.

Actually I was to see more of this sense of frustration and alienation at the Finance Services Academy itself, where we had an equal number of West Pakistani and East Pakistani probationers. It was to be seen in a much sharper focus during the September 1965 war. The Academy was located at Walton in the Lahore Cantonment, an area very close to the border and the scene of action. As soon as the war started, the West Pakistani probationers left the hostel and went home whereas all the East Pakistanis had to stay on at the Academy premises; they had no choice.

My wife was still in Karachi, so I left my official residence on the campus and moved into a room in the hostel to live with the East Pakistani probationers. They were all in an extreme state of nervous tension, completely cut off from their homes with no news from their families. They remained glued to their transistor sets listening to Radio Pakistan, to All India Radio and particularly to the BBC to find out how the war was progressing. Then they would exchange notes with me and it was during this period, with the constant sound of artillery shelling during the day and tracer bombs during the night, that I came to know what their feelings were vis-୶is West Pakistanis and how they looked at things in general and at the Indo-Pak war in particular. They heaved a sigh of relief when the war ended and a cease-fire was announced.

After a few days the West Pakistani probationers came back and normality returned to the Academy, but I could then see a divergence of attitudes between West Pakistani and East Pakistani probationers in the class discussions where controversial topics did somehow crop up. They were all young men fresh from the universities, and had not yet acquired the bureaucratic habit of reticence and reserve. They did not mind saying what they felt. I remember one morning when I was going to lecture on the administrative structure in the country with reference to the constitutional provisions, Tanvir Murshed, a probationer from East Pakistan stood up and said: ?Sir this constitution begins with the declaration: ?I General Muhammad Ayub Khan hereby give this constitution to the people of Pakistan?. Sir, does any constitution in any other country of the world start with such a declaration?? Nasim Waqar, a probationer from West Pakistan, who was a law graduate, joined him and called it a one man constitution made to perpetuate himself in power. I listened to them for a while because I did not want to give them the impression that they could not have their say and then closed the subject with the remark: ?The circumstance under which this constitution was promulgated are well-known but they do not form part of our course here?.

I could then see a divergence of attitudes between West Pakistani and East Pakistani probationers in the class discussions where controversial topics did somehow crop up.

Immediately after the war a rather unpleasant incident occurred. The classes were over and the probationers were in the dining hall having their lunch. I was sitting in my office when the head bearer came and informed me that there had been a scuffle between two probationers. A West Pakistani probationer, a big hefty young man had pounced upon a rather small built East Pakistani after an argument at the dining table. The other probationers from both sides intervened and they separated them. Soon after, some of the probationers from both the wings came to report the incident to me. What had happened was that an East Pakistani accounts service probationer had expressed his satisfaction over the end of the war and the cease-fire decision to which a West Pakistani custom service probationer took exception, a heated argument followed which led to the West Pakistani pouncing upon the East Pakistani probationer. I then callzzed the West Pakistani probationer involved in the scuffle and asked him what had happened. His narration of the incident was not any different. However, the cause of his provocation and fury was that he came from Jhelum district in the Punjab and many of his family members and friends had been killed in the war, he had therefore a burning desire for revenge against the enemy and the cease-fire for him was an act of cowardice. I tried to calm him and expressed my sympathies to him, but told him there was no reason for him to pounce on someone who had a different point of view.

I then called the East Pakistani probationer and heard his story. I explained to him the frayed nerves of the West Pakistani probationer because many of his relatives and friends had been killed in the war. Finally the matter was amicably settled and both persons involved shook hands with each other. The incident by itself was a minor one but it did show the acute difference of perception of an educated West Pakistani and an educated East Pakistani on national affairs.

These were recollections of the past that came to my mind but how the future unfolds itself was also now my concern. I would be engaged in a job that was normally reserved for a CSP or an information service officer. I belonged to neither of these cadres. I did not know the language or the land and knew little about the people. The world I was entering was going to be another world where I would be a stranger and an outsider in more than one sense. My foremost problem therefore would be acceptability by the people I work for and work with. It was to them that I had to show my mettle. I was engrossed in these thoughts all through the flight across the subcontinent. The weather remained fine and the Boeing flew like a bird with no turbulence of any kind. When we were nearing Dhaka, I could see the sun setting in a slightly cloudy horizon presenting a view of magnificent colours. By the time we got down it was dark at the airport and in the city.

* * * * *

Diversity cannot be undone

The reference to the decision of the Hindu leaders of West Bengal at the time of partition to join India, in the last observation of Kamruddin Ahmed quoted from his book A Social History of Bengal (P.IX, Introduction), earlier, requires an explanation. In February 1947 when the division of Bengal became a real possibility under the Indian partition plan, Abul Hashim a leader of the Bengal Muslim League, secretly discussed with Sarat Chandra Bose, a Bengali Congress leader, plans for a united and sovereign Bengal. In May, H.S. Suhrawardy, an eminent Bengali leader of the All India Muslim League and Abul Hashim did indeed work out an agreement with the willing Congress leaders in this regard. The agreement, however, was subject to the approval of the high commands of the Muslim League and the Congress, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the President of the Muslim League, reportedly gave his blessing to the agreement. The Congress leaders, Gandhi, Nehru and Patel and the Hindus in general were all opposed to the idea and nothing came of it.

Now the question is why did eminent Bengali Muslim leaders want an independent united Bengal and why did Jinnah give his blessings to the idea? The answer appears to be that in an independent united Bengal, Muslims would have been in a majority, though not very large. The point made by Hasan Zaheer (The Separation of East Pakistan) is well taken that for Bengali Muslim leaders.

Pakistan meant achieving state power to redress the injustices inflicted by Hindu dominance since the advent of the British, more than one and a half century earlier. As regards the Bengali language and culture, the Muslims had no problem with Hindus. They could share them and did not have to go to northern India for their cultural inspiration.

What was indeed the crux of the matter and a basic element in the cultural divide between West and East Pakistan. West Pakistan comprising Punjab, North West Frontier Province, Sindh and Balochistan were part of northern India and received their cultural inspiration from their respective regional heritages. They also imbibed the central tradition of Muslim India ? a tradition developed in the United Province and Delhi, which now form part of the Indian Union, but which had been the seat of Muslim power in the subcontinent for centuries. The Urdu language is perhaps the most significant and most cherished heritage of the Muslims of India. It had developed as their main cultural language over and above the other regional languages. It is for this reason that the founding fathers wanted Urdu to be the only national language of Pakistan.

I tried to calm him and expressed my sympathies to him, but told him there was no reason for him to pounce on someone who had a different point of view.

The Urdu-Bengali controversy was only one aspect, perhaps the most important aspect, of the cultural divide. The other aspect related to the difference of attitudes between the people of the two wings towards music and dancing. In East Pakistan, people of all classes, high and low, loved these fine arts and considered them as a part of their culture. It was quite common and normal for womenfolk to sing and dance in mixed private parties and at public functions. There was no stigma attached to it nor was it considered un-Islamic. I was told by Ms Rokeya Rahman Kabeer, a former professor of history and now an eminent social worker of Bangladesh, that two of Maulvi Tamizzuddin Khan?s daughters took part in dance-play in early 1950, when Maulvi Tamizzuddin Khan was the President of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly, having succeeded the Quaid-i-Azam in this position in 1948. He was a deeply religious man and prominent political leader of Muslim Bengal. In the mid and later ?60s, Firdousi Rahman and Shahnaz Begum, two well-known singers of East Pakistan, were educated girls from highly respectable families.

People in West Pakistan on the other hand, did and still do not like or allow their womenfolk to sing or dance even in mixed, private parties, leave alone public functions or on radio and television. It was considered infradig by the social elite and un-Islamic by the religious and conservative sections of society. Generally, it was taken as a sign of Hindu influence to cultivate and promote music and dancing. There was, as such, a strong prejudice amongst West Pakistanis against these fine arts which sometimes reflected itself in government policies and became a source of unnecessary irritation and resentment among East Pakistanis. For instance, Tagore songs were banned on the governmentmedia, radio and television, not realising that Bengali poetry without Tagore is like Urdu poetry without Iqbal.

I may perhaps illustrate the point further by relating an incident in which I was personally involved. It was February 1969 and the movement against Ayub Khan?s rule was in full swing. I was at that time serving in Dhaka as Joint Secretary, in-charge of the Branch Secretariat of the Central Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Suddenly the issue of the Tagore songs along with the issue of the bindia came in the forefront. I might perhaps explain that bindia is a mark, usually of crimson colour, worn commonly by Hindu women on their forehead. A certain class of modern women in East Pakistan also wore it as part of their makeup, I was told they had started doing so in greater numbers as a protest against the government policy of not allowing women to wear it while performing at public functions organised by government agencies or in television programmes because it was considered a Hindu custom. As the Bengali Language Day grew closer, there was a demand by the powerful student organisations that the day should be observed officially on the radio and television and the ban on Tagore songs and bindia should be lifted. I started receiving threatening messages from the student leaders that if the demand was not conceded, they would, burn the radio and television stations and take the members of the staff as hostages. The agitation could not be brought under control and the government had to concede the demand. So on February 21, 1969, the Bengali Language Day was officially observed on the East Pakistan radio and television, with Firdousi Rahman and Shahnaz Begum singing Tagore songs and wearing bindia on their foreheads. Whether they wore it normally or not, I do not know. But they did so on that particular day to celebrate the victory of the student community over the government.

This in substance is the story of the cultural divide and its impact on the politics of Pakistan between the years 1947-1971. The lesson it underscores is that regional ethnicity and multicultural traditions are distinctive features of today?s world. In federal structure linguistic and cultural diversity of the regions cannot be steamrolled in the vain hope of creating a unified culture. It has to be respected and accepted along with political and economic aspirations of the region. Things came to a boiling point in Pakistan because people had been denied the right to run their own affairs. During the period under review, the country remained first under the military rule of Ayub Khan and then of Yahya Khan for 13 years. One sometimes tends to speculate, that if parliamentary democracy had had the opportunity to debate and discuss controversial issues in a spirit of give and take, things would have been different, and Pakistan could have perhaps avoided the traumatic experience of a violent breakup. Or is it the fate of human beings to learn only after the events? As Kierkegard has said: ?Life can only be understood backwards, but it has to be lived forwards.?

Dr Aftab Ahmed served as Joint Secretary, Ministry of Information in Dhaka from 1968 to 1970 and was a keen observer of events in East Pakistan before and during the 1971 war.


1- Hasan Zaheer, The Separation of East Pakistan - The Rise and Realization of Bengali Muslim Nationalism, Oxford University Press, Karachi, Pakistan, 1994

2- Talukder Maniruzzaman, The Bangladesh Revolution and its Aftermath, Bangladesh Books International Ltd., Dhaka, Bangladesh, 1980

3- Siddiq Salik, Witness to Surrender, Oxford University Press, Karachi, Pakistan, 1977

4- Rafiqul Islam, A Tale of Millions, Ananna, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 3rd edition, 1986

5- Md. Abdul Wadud Bhuiyan, Emergence of Bangladesh and Role of Awami League, Vikas Publishing House, Delhi, India, 1982

No comments: