Executive Summary

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The Liberation War Museum in Dhaka, Bangladesh was established in 1996. It commemorates the heroic struggle of the Bengali nation for their democratic and national rights. The struggle turned into an armed conflict following the genocide unleashed by the military rulers of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, with the emergence of Bangladesh as a secular, democratic state in December 1971.

Hindu-Muslim communal tensions fanned by the British colonial rulers to perpetuate their hold on India had led to the partition of India in 1947. Pakistan was created as a separate homeland for Muslims. This unnatural separation of the Bengali society on the basis of religion created deep fissures in a society – which had hitherto had a pluralistic character. The Province of East Pakistan was physically separated from West Pakistan by a thousand miles. Pakistan therefore, was an unrealistic state from the very beginning. The Pakistani ruling elite controlled by the military elite subjugated the Bengalis politically, culturally and economically and therefore the disillusionment with the new nation was not surprising. In the first-ever national Parliamentary elections held in 1970 based on a one man-one vote basis, the Bengali nationalist forces led by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman won landslide victory and his party, the Awami League became the majority party in the whole of Pakistan. However, in an attempt to crush this nationalistic movement, the Pakistani Military Junta unleashed a systematic genocide against the Bengali people on the fateful night of March 25, 1971. The Junta received support only from a handful religion-based local parties and religious fundamentalists. The Pakistani rampage in the nine months of 1971 resulted in the worst genocide since the Second World War, and an estimated 3 million people were killed, some 278,000 women were raped and 10 million had to take refuge in neighboring India. A government in exile was quickly formed and the resistance started becoming more and more co-ordinated. Young people from the villages and students took military training and the Mukti Bahini (freedom fighters) back the occupation forces under 11 Sectors, adopting guerilla tactics and kept the Pakistani army in a harassed and indefensible state. By September these half trained young men had infiltrated deep inside Bangladesh and a large part of the country was virtually self ruled. On December 3, after Pakistan attacked and bombed airfields in the western part of India, the Allied Command of the Indian Army and the Muktibahini (Bangladesh Freedom Fighters) was formed and they started the formal armed assault. On December 16, 1971, the Pakistani Armed Forces ignominiously surrendered to this Allied Command and independent Bangladesh was born as democratic and secular state.

The prime objective of the museum is to make the new generations aware about the true spirit and aspirations for which their forefathers had fought. It also encourages them to take a firm stand against violations of human rights and the acts of genocide carried out in 1971. The Liberation War Museum is the outcome of a citizen’s effort and is run by a Board of Trustees. It is now recognized, nationally and internationally, as a credible institution on the history of Bangladesh’s independence. The museum, through its special programmes endaevours to link history of the Liberation War with contemporary pressing social and human rights issues. LWM is a founder member of International Coalition of Sites of Conscience and is an institutional member of the American Association of Museums.

The museum is housed in a two-storied Colonial building with displays in six galleries. Currently, the museum has in its collection 17,500 (July 2014) objects, which include rare photographs, documents, media coverage and materials used by freedom fighters and martyrs of the Liberation War. However the museum can display only around 1,300 objects due to paucity of space. A proper museum with an area of about 20,000 sq. m., endowed with modern concepts of display and archiving is scheduled to be opened in July, 2015. The Liberation War Museum excavated two killing fields in the Dhaka suburbs and preserves one site, and these human remains have added dimension to the displays.

Attempt is made for visitors to the museum to realise how the fundamental principles of democracy, secularism and nationalism of the Bangladesh Constitution (1972) evolved through popular struggle and human sacrifices. Attempts have been made through displays in the museum as well as regular programmes, the most important of which are two school programmes, one for Dhaka city and a travelling museum for schools in the remote villages to create a living museum. Students/participants/visitors can draw contemporary relevance from these displays for building national unity and a tolerant and secular society and fight abuses of human rights.