The call for independence came on 7th March 1971, by the leader of the East Pakistan (Now Bangladesh) at the time Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. When the tragedy of a distant dream was shattered by the night of 25th March 1971, as the totalitarian military junta from West Pakistan attacked its Eastern province. The cause behind such measures was the elections held in the previous year that affirmed an overwhelming victory to Awami League in the general elections. The minority ruled regime in West Pakistan (at the time) headed by the General Yahya Khan and the opposition party leader Zulfikar Bhutto disapproved of the idea of a Pakistan being governed by ‘Bengalis’. Even though, the primarily ‘Bengali’ party won overwhelmingly all over Pakistan including its Western province of Baluchistan and North-West Frontier Province. Ultimately, the invasion led to a destructive bloodbath resulting in the death of 1.5 – 3 million people and over 10 million refugees fleeing to neighbouring India. The war of liberation damaged the relation of the Bengalis with its previously ‘brotherly’ counterparts Pakistan (the people of both nations remain friendly to one another). The regime after the defeat in December 1971 pulled out and surrendered marking the end of a bloody conflict. Countless sacrifices were made for the liberation of the nation to unshackle it from the clutches of a minority ruled junta.
After the liberation, Bangladesh suffered from various economic setbacks. As all the financial reserves were kept in the western province, the currency was newly formed. The country was looted of the little riches that were left after 200 years of colonisation. The country immediately after its liberation faced a deadly famine which was overlooked by majority of the world while they were preoccupied with other matters. The liberation war of Bangladesh was opposed by the majority of the ‘liberal’ governments at the time, as it was believed the separation would cause geopolitical implications which they couldn’t control. Further, the country saw its first coup made by military backed minority committing treason of killing the President and the Prime Minister along with a handful of state officials. The days of turmoil continued in the two decades of the country’s inception. As a result, Bangladesh remained isolated and unable to stand firmly in the global arena. However, after the fall of military rule in the early 1990s brought some openness to the country. For a long time from the late 1980s saw political stability and economic growth with occasional hiccups.
The persistence and hard-work of the Bengali people enabled the nation to stand steady. Bangladesh has made productive and profitable relations with the countries whose government initially opposed its liberation. Nevertheless, Bangladesh remains a country which gets along with all the other countries in the international arena. The cost of the war is uncountable and beyond reparations, the people of the country dreams of a peaceful stable environment where their daily lives and businesses will prosper.
The country was founded on the principles of secularity (religious freedom), nationalism and democracy. In the recent past Bangladesh saw movements from some extremist groups as an attempt to shift the state into a more intolerant society. Gracefully, this has been widely rejected by the majority of the Bangladeshis. The people of this nation historically lived side by side with minorities and have plurality inherent to its core. The pluralistic vision of the founders of Bangladesh is instilled in the hearts of all Bengalis residing in Bangladesh. The overwhelming population of this nation reject intolerance as there are large minority communities in Bangladesh. Evidently, Bengalis have been cordial with the rest of the Subcontinent and any other people who have arrived here throughout its history.
The history of Bengal’s mitigation with various cultures has made the people in this region overwhelmingly pluralistic in nature. The predominant Muslim population quite effortlessly accepts its Hindu, Christian or Buddhist counterparts with respect and dignity. Importantly, the history of Bengal connects with the traditional Islamic values of pluralism, tolerance and peace. Religion is cherished by the Muslim majority of Bangladesh as well as in its minority groups. Therefore, throughout a near thousand year’s history of Islam in Bengal, the Bengalis have remained pluralistic and peaceful in their daily dealings.
Nevertheless, in recent times there has been a rise of an international extremist ideology that has taken the world by storm and had some minority stance in Bangladesh. For the first time in its history Bangladesh experienced some extremist inspired attacks on minorities and its population. There have also been foreign funded extremist movements, who have attempted to promote bigotry and intolerance. These movements have significantly failed as the majority of Bengalis have rejected their ‘neo-extremist ideologies’ and hold the traditional Islamic belief of tolerance and moderation.
It is important to remember the atrocities that were suffered by the people during the war of independence, and to remember the losses. It is equally important for the nation to be vigilant as there is international ‘neo-extremist ideologies’ appearing in various corners of the globe including the most ‘developed’ of nations and threatens the peaceful Bengali way of life. Extremism breeds in ignorance, thus the most important part of being an aware citizen in contemporary times is to stay vigilant and approach every issue with logic. Forgiveness is in the nature of Bengalis, the nation is always prepared to mend old wounds and look to a prosperous future in friendship and dignity. The threat caused by ‘neo-extremism’ Bangladesh as a nation has fought hard against it and continues to do so. The civil order remains firm, as the people in a united voice with the government and law enforcement bodies carried the banner of plurality, tolerance and peace in Bangladesh.