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What did they feel while receiving the Gallantry Awards? (Part-3)

At this critical moment of history of this land, a band of young Bengali military officers, fired with nationalistic zeal and patriotism of the highest order, responded positively to the yearnings of people of East Pakistan and took a momentous decision, first of all, through a mass revolt, then by issuing a declaration of the Independence of Bangladesh, and finally by launching the Liberation War through mobilization of their forces in all the cantonments. The Bengali military officers kept the falg of Bangladesh aloft till the formation of Government of Bangladesh in-exile on 19 April 1971. This study has focused on these military officers, their motivations, ideals and activities at this critical phase of history.

Pakistan came into being in 1947 through a voluntary union of East and West Pakistan. The main factors that led to the union were the predominantly Muslim majority in both the wings and their fear of domination by Hindu majority in united India. Apart from these two, most of the ingredients that generate in people a solid bond of unity and keep them going as a nation were absent in Pakistan. The people of East and West Pakistan had neither any experience of living together for generations within a continuing political framework nor had they been under any identical political institutions which might have fostered common political perceptions, nor did they belong to a distinct cultural area. The only common bond that existed between the people of the two wings was a set of Islamic values and some experiences of the political movement for a separate homeland for the Muslims in the Hindu-dominated India on the basis of two-nation theory.

East Pakistan was separated from West Pakistan with more than 1000 miles of India territory lying between them. This geographical distance also created differences in the configuration of physical and climatic conditions in the two regions. The differences in topography and climate of the two regions not only generated differences in agricultural patterns but also nurtured different food habit, dress, rituals and customs, thus producing two distinct cultures. This exclusive geographical separation also prohibited the communication and social interactions between these two different socio-cultural units in the same country. The population was not evenly distributed in the two wings. The area of East Pakistan being six times smaller than that of West Pakistan contained 54 percent of the total population of Pakistan, thus the population density of East Pakistan being seven times higher than that of the other wing.

The topographical and climatic diversity also determined the linguistic complexity in Pakistan. East Pakistan had one dominant mother tongue, Bangla; but a totally different scenario existed in West Pakistan, where a complex polyglot was practiced. Bangla remained almost an unfamiliar language in West Pakistan’ likewise the majority of Bengali could never adopt Urdu, Panjabi, Pushtu, which were spoken in West Pakistan. The differences in the alphabets and script imposed a barrier in the acceptance of language in both the wings.

Though the societies in East and West Pakistan were based on Islamic principles, still there remained basic differences in terms of attitude towards religion. In East Pakistan, Islam is more of a liberal type in the sense that more of its ethos rather than the archetypal rites and practices had appeal to the people. In West Pakistan, however, Islam is more conservative and orthodox. In terms of ethnicity, East Pakistan was more homogeneous. The majority of its population (more than 97 percent) belong to one ethnic group, the Bengali; in West Pakistan many ethnic and tribal groups formed the social mosaic. For all these Pakistan has been known as a ‘double country’ since its inception.

National integrity in Pakistan demanded a policy package which might have motivated the people of the two regions to get closer through involvement in the carefully devised participatory programmes. It needed some creative steps which might have fostered unity and curb separatism. The ruling elite however pursued from the very beginning certain policies which, instead of bringing the two regions closer to each other, exacerbated the existing structural differences. The administrative policies through such instruments as the highly centralized civil and military bureaucracies, more in the format of British Indian control and domination of colonial India through the good old Indian Civil Service (ICS), resulted in the domination of West Pakistan over East Pakistan under the domineering role of the West Pakistan-based bureaucrats.

The bureaucrats in Pakistan, inheriting the intellectual orientation of the ICS and British Indian Army and apparatuses of colonial bureaucracy, being recruited and trained in the same tradition and working within similar institutional framework, became the most dominant social sector in Pakistan. The political system was also more or less similar to that which functioned in British India – a highly centralized and unitary system conducted by the bureaucrats. For historical reasons, there was an imbalance in bureaucracy in respect of regional representation right from the beginning. At the time of partition there were only two ICS officers. Over the years East Pakistan’s representation increased and in the period 1950- 68, 40 percent of the new recruits were from East Pakistan, though overall representation remained less than 30 percent in the civil service. This representation was however in the lower echelons and in department which did not influence the vital areas of policy. Like the civil servants, all the top-ranking military officers were from West Pakistan.

The policies of administrative and political centralization thus demonstrated the domination of West Pakistan. In the first decade following independence, Bengali participation in national policies was limited, but the parity among the political elite had balancing effect. After the military take over in 1958 it was totally lost, because military rule was in effect a rule of the bureaucrats where the representation of the Bengali was the minimum. The pursuance of this kind of policy first prompted the Bengali to raise the issue of regional autonomy. The cultural policy of assimilation in a heterogeneous society of Pakistan provided a wider emotional appeal to the demand of autonomy and helped develop a linguistic nationalism in East Pakistan. The ruling elite believed that the two regions could be held together only if there were one language and one culture in Pakistan. Their insistence on making Urdu the only state language in Pakistan, even though Urdu was practically unknown in East Pakistan, was opposed tooth and nail as it was taken to keep them subjugated politically, educationally, culturally and administratively. The central government still then persisted till 1956 when the constitution recognized both Urdu and Bangla as the state languages of Pakistan, after a gory language movement in 1952. The language movement helped foster the beginning of Bengali nationalism and set a pattern of student-literati-professional alliance which began to be used in subsequent movements against West Pakistan.

In sum, the policies of administrative and political centralization and the assimilation cultural policy, pursued by the ruling elite, not only alienated the people of East Pakistan from the overarching framework of Pakistan but also made them conscious of their separate identity as a people. The rule of the West Pakistan- based bureaucrats always reminded them that they were neither equal partners and participants in the affairs of Pakistan nor masters at their own home.

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