Bengalis and Bengal


Bengalis and Bengal

Bengalis and Bengal


One can with certainty follow the history of Bengal on definite recorded events since fourth century BC. In the third century BC, Bangladesh formed part of the extensive Mauryan kingdom, then known as Pundravardhana Bhukti comprising roughly the entire triangular delta from the snow-capped Himalayas in the north to the Bay of Bengal in the south. From third century BC to the end of twelfth century, the northern and western part was successfully ruled by the great Mauryans, Guptas, the Palas and Sena kings till the latter was overthrown by the Muslims in 1204 AD. However, the trans-Meghna region in the south and east was ruled independently by the Buddhist Deva and Chandra kings of Samatata. Hiuen Tsang (Xuanzang), the famous Chinese pilgrim, while visiting this kingdom in early seventh century, recorded it to be an extensively forested and wet country on the sea coast, comprising of roughly the modern districts of Comilla, Noakhali and parts of Chittagong and Bakerganj. The Pala supremacy in the north lasted over three hundred years – from the eighth to the tenth centuries. With the establishment of a long spell of peace and settled government during their rule unprecedented artistic and architectural activities thrived within the far-flung empire of the Palas. The Pala’s (Buddhist) hold on the land began to erode and was firmly replaced by the Sana Kingdom (Hindu) and then in the beginning of the thirteenth century the Sultani (Muslim) era began in Bengal. The Sultani era attained its zenith during the sign of Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah. The Mughal (again Muslim) victories placed them as the rulers of Bengal in the early 17th century followed by two hundred years of British Colonial occupation which was economically oppressive and Bengal’s riches wee depleted. This colonial regime lasted till 1947, when India was split two.

Amongst the oldest of civilizations, the Indian civilization was one of the most developed. Circa : 500-600 B.C. With the invasion of the Aryans the Indian civilization, for the first time came in contact with Western Civilization. Gradually the Aryans, gained a strong foothold in India, but the local Draisdian agro-based culture also influenced the Aryan life style.


Circa: 600 AD. The Pala Dynasty brought a golden beginning to the political history of Bengal. One may find alphabets and drawings being used from the Puthis of that era.

Circa: 8 -9 AD. The oldest known examples of Bengali poetry written by Kanhupad and Bhushukpad date back to the 8-9 century AD. It was Bhushukpad who first used the word ‘Bengali’ in his poem. The beginnings of the Bengali Intellectual journey can be dated to 982 AD.with the birth of Atish Srignan Dipanker in the village Bajrajogini of Bikrampur, in the the district of Dhaka.

With the discovery of the route to India by Portuguese traveler, Vasco-da-Gama, the sub-continent including Bengal, was visited by many European and other travelers.

Before the conquest of Bengal by Bakhtiar Khilji, Aulias and Dervishes of the Sufi cult from Persia & Arabia came to Bengal to preach Islam. The Baba Adam Mosque in Bikrampur is proof of that.

Circa: 1389-1409 AD. During the reign of Sultan Ghyiasuddin, the language and literature of Bengal developed.

Circa: 1415-1417 AD. During the reign of King Ganesh one can find the evidence of Bengali alphabets in monetary coins. In the middle ages one sees the growing influence and awareness of secularist thought amongst the Bengalis, beginning with Chaitanyadev.


Nawab Sirajuddowla (1756-1757) was the last independent Nawab of Bengal. With his defeat by the British in the Battle of Plassey (23 June, 1757) Muslim rule over Bengal which was begun 500 years ago by the Turk Bakhtiar Khilji ended.

Of the few heroes who fought the British rule valiantly is Tipu Sultan, son of Haidar Ali, the King of Mysore, who was killed in 1799 in the battlefield by the British.

The people of Bengal could not accept the British rule. Fakir and Sanyasi revolts (1760-1800) and the Nil-Chashi (Indigo farmers) revolution shook the British reign from the very beginning. Under the leadership of Haji Shariatullah and Titumir the Bengalis kept harassing the British from 1831-1839.

To avenge the defeat in Plassey (1757) the Indian soldiers including the Bengalis, revolted against the British in 1857. Karl Marx termed this revolt as the first movement for Independence by Indians. In May 1857 they revolted in Barrackpore and then other cities in North India, most importantly Delhi. On 22 November when the fire of this revolt spread in Dhaka it was subdued with the help of Khwaja Abdul Ghani, who was later rewarded with the ‘Nawab’ title by the British rulers.

On 16 October 1905 the British rulers with a proclamation declared the division of Bengal. The reasoning as stated by an English officer ‘United Bengal is a dangerous force for the British. Once divided they cannot make trouble for us.’.

In 1915 Revolutionary leader Rashbihari Basu escaped to Japan and in 1921 formed ‘Independent India League’ in exile. Under the leadership of Masterda Shurjo Sen on 18 April 1930 the revolutionary Bengalis revolted against the British in Chittagong. They attacked two British armory and kept Chittagong liberated from 18th. to 22nd November. On 16 February 1933 Shurjo Sen was captured by the British soldiers and on 22 January 1934 he was sent to the gallows. A few years later, the popular Bengali leader, Netaji Shubash Chandra Bose escaped to Germany and to Japan and formed the ‘Azad Hind Fauj’. On 21 October 1943 Bose formed the provisional Azad Hind Government in exile in Singapore.

14 August 1947 the British gave Independence to Pakistan. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the first Governor General, on 21 March 1948 at a public meeting in Dhaka declared ‘ Urdu shall be the only state language of Pakistan’. The students and others attending immediately protested against this pronouncement.

Soon after the creation of Pakistan the Bengalis began to show their resentment. In Netrokona under the greater Mymensing district the Hajongs revolted against the Tank and Levy system. In such movements the women were equal participants. Under peasant Leader Ramen Mitra and Ila Mitra the peasants of Nachol in Rajshahi also revolted. The Pakistan Government used unorthodox force to squelch those revolts.

On 21st February 1952 on the demand for Bengali as state language the students community came out disregarding the Section 144 earlier imposed by the Police. Police retaliated by firing which killed Salam, Barkat, Rafiq and Jabbar and Shafiur.

In 1954 under the leadership of Sher-e-Bangla A. K. Fazlul Hoque, H. M. Suhrawardy and Moulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani the Jukta Front was formed in the then East Pakistan as a challenge to the Muslim League. In the Provisional Assembly election that year Jukta Front scored a resounding of victory. This victory of the democratic struggle did not last long and on 7 October 1958, Martial Law was declared by the Pakistan Armed Forces. On 27 October 1958 General Ayub Khan took over the power from the then President Iskander Mirza.

In February 1962 the students of Dhaka University called for a successful Hartal against the martial law and arrest of some political leaders. The timing was synchronized with the arrival of Ayub Khan in Dhaka. In August 1962 the students began agitation against Ayub’s education policy. Thus began the popular movement the military junta Ayub Khan in East Pakistan which culminated with his fall in 1969.

On 6 September 1965 the second war between India and Pakistan began on the question of Kashmir. The small number of Bengalis belonging to the Pakistan Army proved their worthiness by fighting valiantly in the battlefield.

On 5 and 6 September, 1966 the Politicians of West Pakistan organized a conference of different political parties of Pakistan. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the general secretary of East Pakistan Awami League presented the famous 6 points demand outlining full autonomy for East Pakistan in that meeting. Unfortunately the West Pakistani leaders openly oppesed the 6-points demand and declared Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as a separatist.

In January 1968 Field Marshal Ayub Khan declared that there was a conspiracy hatched by some politicians, bureaucrats and armed force personnel for an armed revolt against the state. 35 Bengalis including Sheikh Mujibur Rahman were arrested and the famous Agartala Conspiracy case was started on 11 June 1968 inside Dhaka Cantonment.

In the backdrop of the Agartala Conspiracy case the whole of the then East Pakistan rose in protest revolted against Ayub and his cronies. From the end of 1968 till Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was released on February 22 1969 the streets of East Pakistan with revolting people and students. On 23 February the Students Action Committee gave a reception to Mujibur Rahman at the race course and bestowed on him the title of ‘Bangabandhu’.

On 25 March, 1969 Field Marshal Ayub Khan and his crony the Governor of East Pakistan Monem Khan were compelled to resign in the face of peoples’ revolt. Another Martial Law was declared and General Yahya Khan became the new President.

On 12 November, 1970 a devastating cyclone hit the coastal areas of the then East Pakistan. 3 lakh people lost their lives and crores of taka worth of properties were destroyed. Unfortunately non-preparedness and ineffectiveness of the authorities to bring succor to the suffering left no doubts in the peoples’ minds about the callous attitude of the ruling class about the Bengalis.

The Bengalis from all levels came out to help the victims and cried out to the outside world for help. They also found out the time has come to know who are our friends and who are the Masters.

On 7th and 17th. December 1970 the National and the Provincial elections, respectively, were held. The election results surprised and dumbfounded Pakistani leadership because in the National Assembly Awami League under Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman got 167 seats whereas the People’s Party of Bhutto came close only with 83 seats. In the Provincial Assembly AL got 167 seats, all but two. This land slide victory for Bangabandhu was a victory for the Bengalis which the Pakistani leadership saw as an end to their hegemony over Bengalis.

On Feb. 13th, 1971 Gen. Yahya Khan summoned the National Assembly to meet in Dhaka on March 3rd. to frame the Constitution. Earlier on Feb. 15th. Z. A. Bhutto had already declared that his party would not attend the National Assembly.

On March 1st. 1971 Yahya Khan declared a postponement of the summoning of the National Assembly. The reason cited was Mr. Bhutto intention not to attend the Assembly with AL as the majority party. The streets of Dhaka responded with protest. The leader of the majority party said ” This is most unfortunate. As far as we are concerned, we are the representatives of the majority people and we cannot allow it to go unchallenged.”

On March 7th, 1971, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman made the historic announcement at the Dhaka Race course: “The struggle this time is for freedom, the struggle this time is for independence”. Thus began the ‘parallel government’ in the then East Pakistan which ran under the directive of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Two flags were seen to be flying on every rooftop. A black flag to protest the Pakistani treachery and the flag of Bangladesh – green background with a map of Bangladesh over a red sun. This National flag was designed by Shib Narayan Das and first hoisted on March 2nd. at the Students League meeting under the Bottola (Banyan tree) of Dhaka University. The period between March 7 and 25 was marked by a non-violent, non-cooperation movement in all spheres of public life. The entire population responded enthusiastically.

On the night of March 25th, 1971, the Pakistan Army unleashed a reign of terror unparalleled in the history of mankind. The Pak Army with all their might attacked innocent victims at different dormitories of the Dhaka University, the Rajarbagh Police Lines and the EPR Headquarters at Peel Khana. Besides, other places whereever they felt that there could be a chance of resistance were attacked indiscriminately. The city of Dhaka lit up like an inferno. Innumerable people became the victims of this Pakistani Genocide.


The military crackdown of the 25th, March was the final and decisive turning point in the History of Bengali nationalism. Before this period, the Bengali emancipation or recognition that was demanded, had always been within the framework of Pakistan. But after this night the Pakistani attempt to impose a military solution on the simmering constitutional crisis was to be matched by full fledged armed resistance.

The ‘Genocide’ began on that fateful night, was to be a ‘cleansing process’. This the military regime of Pakistan intended as a solution of the political problem. Hand in hand with it would go on an equally brutal colonization process of the province. A simple but brutal solution that would ultimately backfire on the Pakistanis.

Right after the crackdown on March 25, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was arrested. In the early hours of March 26, a pre-recorded declaration of Independence, made by Bangabandhu was transmitted over the EPR transmitter from Chittagong. On March 27, Major Ziaur Rahman read the declaration of Independence on behalf of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from Chittagong Radio station.

Dhaka was under the occupation of the Pakistan Army. Other districts were still under Bengali dominance. Soon the news of Dhaka massacre spread to those areas and resistance grew with the Bengali elements in the armed force, Police, EPR and civilians.

Bengalis all over prepared themselves with whatever they had to face the Pakistanis. Students, Peasants, workers, Bureaucrats, armed force personnel all rose to the occasion to save the motherland.

The rag tag Liberation Force soon formed into a disciplined and determined force which carried out devastating operations against the Pakistan Army.

To escape from indiscriminate killing millions of people ran from their homes and took shelter wherever they felt safe. Not finding any safe haven within the country millions went across to India and became refugees.
On April 17, 1971, in Mujibnagar under Kushtia the Provisional Government was formed and took the oath of office. Syed Nazrul Islam took over as the acting President and Tajuddin Ahmed got the portfolio of the Prime Minister.
As the Pakistani Army regrouped and reinforced and began to spread to the countryside the Liberation Force (Mukti Bahini) took shelter in India and with the help of Indian Government and the people set up camps for shelter and training.

The Liberation Forces gained ground with the popular support of the people, whereas the Pakistan Army began to become demoralized.

The international media was overwhelmed with the struggle of the Bengali people. The international community extended their sympathy and support.

The political and moral strength of a Liberation Force can never be underestimated if they have the support of the people. In the case of the Liberation War of Bangladesh, the people were wholeheartedly in support of the cause of freedom. The Mukti Bahini found shelter, food and information wherever they went without any hesitation.
Bengalis living abroad and their friends join hands to fight the Pakistani atrocities and in the War of Liberation. The Pakistani army in desperation, bunched on air attack on the Indian airports on the Western border on Dec 3, 1971. The Joint Command of the Indian & Bangladesh forces was created and India launched a full scale war.
Under the air and land attack of Indian and Bangladeshi forces, Pakistani strongholds one after another began to fall.

On December 16 1971 the Eastern Command under General Niazi surrendered to General Aurora Joint Commander of Indian and Bangladesh Forces.

The joy and happiness of the people were subdued by the discovery of Killing Fields spread all over Bangladesh. In Rayer Bazar of Dhaka, Foy’s Lake of Chittagong, Goldamari of Khulna and hundreds of other places decomposed and brutally murdered victims of the Pakistan Army atrocities were discovered. The victims were all the shinning stars of the future Bangladesh, but sacrificed in the alter of devil by the agents of Pakistan Army The Razakars, Al-Badr and Al-shams to avenge their eminent surrender and defeat at the hands of freedom loving Bengalis.

Every glory has a price to pay. Bengalis had to pay a high price for their freedom. But the great Liberation War brought the nation together. It was the moment of truth for Bengalis when they all united to join hands to fight the Pakistani aggressors. In the eyes of the Pakistani forces they were no longer just little brown people, instead they fought back and got their victory. The pride and glory and the spirit of the Liberation War.

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