Historic 7 March Speech: Context and Significance
Bangladesh Awami Leauge
50 years ago, Bangabandhu gave the finest speech of his life at the erstwhile historic Race Course Maydan. Disregarding the intimidation and threats of the Pakistani Army’s tanks, guns and machineguns, and in the presence of a million audience, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared in a booming voice: “This time, the struggle is for our liberation, this time the struggle is for our independence”.
In what circumstances did Bangabandhu give that speech?
Under the leadership of Sheikh Muibur Rahman, the Awami League won an absolute majority in the National Assembly elections of Pakistan held on 7 December 1970. In that election, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s Awami League won 167 out 169 seats in East Pakistan, with the other two seats going to PDP. After the 7 December elections, the then military ruler of Pakistan General Yahya Khan called for a session of the National Assembly on 3rd March 1970.
But the leader of West Pakistan’s PPP ZA Bhutto and the military establishment of Pakistan started their conspiracy to resist the elected Awami League from gaining their rightful governing powers.
The President of Pakistan was supposed to address the nation on this day. The entire country waited to hear what he had to say via their TVs and radios. But to the dismay of these people, instead of Yahya, another spokesperson announced that: “Till next announcement, President Yahya Khan has indefinitely suspended the session of the National Assembly. He has commented that the current situation in Pakistan as a deep political crisis”.
This deeply angered Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He called for the liberation of the Bangali people. In a press conference, he stated that this is no political crisis but the expression of the autocratic attitude of the Pakistani rulers. He added that the Bangalis have rejected this announcement and called for a general strike on behalf of the people for 2nd March in Dhaka and 3rd March nationwide. He also asked the Bangalis to wait for his next instructions. Subsequently, the Bangalis for the first time called for their independence with slogans like: “Brave Bangalis Take Up Arms, and Liberate Bangladesh”. The Shadhin Bangla Chatro Shongram Parishad (Independent Bangla Students Struggle Council) was formed.
Dhaka was a city of strikes, processions and curfew on this day. The highlight of the day was the raising of the flag by Chatro Shongram Parishad at the university. From the morning, all processions were headed to the university. Such gathering of students was hitherto unseen at that time. It spread from New Market to Public Library via the Nilkhet Road. The flag of independent Bangladesh was flown proudly at the Bottola (shed of banyan tree) on this day by Chatro Shongram Parishad led by Chatro League. Following the rally, a massive procession moved around Dhaka with sticks and rods.
One of the most notable things was the fading away of the use of the word ‘Pakistan’ from the vocabulary of Bangalis of East Pakistan from that day. In his press conference in the evening, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman repeatedly uttered the term ‘Bangladesh’. The government-backed goons came out on the streets to resist the general strike of the common people. At least 50 were admitted Dhaka Medical College Hospital with gunshot wounds. They were mostly from the Tejgaon area. Azid Morshed and Mamoon of Tejgaon Poly Technique College died after being brought to the hospital with gunshot wounds. The martial law administrator imposed a curfew on that day. It was announced that until further announcement, the curfew would remain in place from 7.00 pm to 7.00 am every day. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in a press conference in the evening strongly condemned the shooting of unarmed people. Mujib announced half-day nationwide general strikes between March 3 to March 6 from 6.00 am to 2.00 pm. The following day he announced a rally at Paltan after meeting with Chatro Shongram Parishad.
A mourning day was observed in remembrance of those killed. In a meeting of Chatro League and Sromik League as the Chief Guest, Bangabandhu observed with a heavy heart: “Whether I am here or not, Bangalis’ liberation struggle should not stop. The blood of Bangalis cannot go in vain. If I am not here, my colleagues will lead. If they are killed, then those who survive will lead. The struggle must go on at any costs. The rights must be established”.
Bangabandhu announced earlier that his next instructions would come at the Racecourse Maydan on 7 March.
4 March 1971 was tumultuous from the mass demonstrations. As the day passed, the one point demand as in the aspiration for independence became even stronger. On this day, thousands of people came out on the streets breaking the curfew imposed by the military junta.
In Khulna, there were clashes among Bangalis and non-Bangalis on this day. In Dhaka, the Awami League Parliamentary Group strongly condemned the repression of general strikes and processions. Due to the continuous strikes, Dhaka along with the whole nation came to a virtual standstill. East Pakistan Women’s Council leaders poet Sufia Kamal and Maleka Begum in a joint statement called for a demonstration on 6 March at Baitul Mukarram area.
Something significant happened on this day. The name of Radio Pakistan Dhaka was changed to Dhaka Betar Kendro. This event of that day added new momentum to the movement which facilitated the path towards liberation.
One day before March 7, on March 6, General Yahya Khan had a phone conversation with the majority leader of the Pakistan National Assembly, Awami League President Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It was also announced on March 6 that the session of the National Assembly would sit on 25 March at Dhaka. Due to the prevailing situation, the cornered East Pakistan military establishment tried to sporadically send messages to Sheikh Mujib and Awami League that independence not be declared on 7 March. Tanks were put in place keeping the 7 March rally in mind. Military grade weapons were stockpiled and kept on standby. Major Siddiq Sadiq in his book wrote that the GOC of East Pakistan told Bangabandhu clearly: “If anything is said contrary to the unity of Pakistan, it would be met with strong force. Tanks, cannons, machineguns all have been kept ready for wiping out traitors (Bangalis). If need be, Dhaka would be raised to the ground. There will be no one left to rule or be ruled”.
It was in this difficult and crisis-filled context that Bangabandhu delivered his historic speech at the Racecourse Maydan on March 7. By stipulating four conditions for the Pakistan military establishment, Bangabandhu concluded his thunderous speech by saying: “This time, the struggle is for our liberation, this time the struggle is for our independence”.