Bangladesh came through a long history of political evolution. The area’s early history featured a succession of Indian empires, internal squabbling, and a tussle between Hinduism and Buddhism for dominance. All of this was just a prelude to the unstoppable tide of Islam which washed over northern India at the end of the 12th century. The Portuguese arrived as early as the 15th century but were ousted in 1633 by local opposition. The East India Company negotiated terms to establish a fortified trading post in Calcutta in 1690.
The British Government replaced the East India Company following the Indian Mutiny in 1857. At the closure of World War II it was clear that European colonialism had run its course and Indian independence was inevitable. Independence was attained in 1947 but the struggle was bitter and divisive, especially in Bengal where the fight for self-government was complicated by internal religious conflict. The British, realizing any agreement between the Muslims and Hindus was impossible, decided to partition the subcontinent.
Bengal and Punjab, the two overwhelmingly Muslim regions were divided to be part of both India and Pakistan. Under the rule of Pakistan, the people of Bangladesh discovered their identity through the Language Movement in 1952. The struggle to establish their identity and national spirit began soon after 1947 when they realized that under Pakistan created on the two nation theory there was little scope for the distance culture of Bengalis to flourish.
The refusal of the central government to grant status to Bangla language became the focal point of struggle, because language was the most important vehicle of the cultural expression of the people of this land The contradiction of the two Pakistan, the racial oppression and the exploitation of the West over the East was gradually unveiled. The struggle for the consciousness of identity and cultural freedom which began with the advent of the student movements of the 60’s gained momentum in the mass movement of 1969.
After this, came the election of 1970 with absolute victory Awami League, but the party was refused to form a government. At the brink of midnight, on March 25th 1971, as the Bengalis residing in the region were nestled into their homes with their families unaware of what would follow, they were terrifyingly awoken to the sound of guns and tanks.
The war broke out when army units directed by the State of Pakistan launched a military operation called Operation Searchlight in East Pakistan against Bengali civilians, students, intelligentsia, and armed personnel. Bengali military, paramilitary, and civilians formed the Mukti Bahini (“Liberation Army”) on March 26, 1971, in response to Operation Searchlight and used guerrilla warfare tactics to fight against the West Pakistan army. When the Pakistani air force made a pre-emptive attack on Indian forces, open warfare ensued.
Indian troops crossed the border and the Pakistani army found it being attacked from the east by the Indian army, the north and east by guerrillas and from all quarters by the civilian population. On 16 December 1971, the allied forces of the Indian army and the Mukti Bahini defeated the West Pakistani forces deployed in the East. The resulting surrender was the largest in number of prisoners of war since World War II. In 9 months the struggle for liberation was over and Bangladesh, the world’s 139th country, officially came into existence.