Millennium Post

1971 on celluloid

Bangladeshi youth are protesting against a new Bollywood action thriller that portrays 1971 struggle for independence from Pakistan wrongly. The thriller, titled Gunday, depicts the bloody creation of Bangladesh as a byproduct of a 13-day battle between India and Pakistan beginning on 3 December 1971. According to the viewers, the film apparently indicates that Bangladeshis were involved in crimes like arms smuggling while there were insinuations that they preferred identifying themselves as Indians.

Protesters say the film does not address the historic struggle for self-governance by the Bengalis of then East Pakistan, which culminates in the war of liberation. The war was imposed by the Pakistanis who started genocide on 25 March 1971. Yash Raj films, the production company behind Gunday, has apologised in a statement on its blog for ‘any disrespect or hurt’ the film has caused to Bangladeshis. ‘This was and is meant to be a fictional work and does not in any way project or disrespect any particular segment of society or persons or a nation,’ the statement says.

Yet the most important statement was made by Ali Abbas Zafar, the writer and director of Gunday. He said that films about history or politics inevitably have multiple conflicting narratives. ‘Each country has its own version of events… [the Bangladeshis] see it from their point of view, but according to Indian history, the war began when Pakistan attacked India on 3 December,’ said Zafar. ‘We are not trying to offend their sentiments, but the facts on the Indian side are different,’ said Zafar. ‘People have responded well to the film, but only object to the first two minutes,’ he added.

The war in 1971 was a complex phenomenon involving several parties and groups. At one level, it was the Indo-Pak war as two enemies slugged it out and India won defeating Pakistan. The surrender ceremony held at Dhaka has become an iconic event for Indian Army. For a strange reason, the commander-in-chief of Bangladesh army was not present at the surrender ceremony. Looking at the photograph of the surrender of Pakistani army, it was hard to conceive that the war was between Pakistan and the combined force of India and liberation fighters.

Bangladeshis believe that war was the final touch of their nationalist movement and their fight for freedom, which started in 1952. Their aspiration for freedom gained momentum through the six-point movement of 1966 and became a mass upsurge in 1969. The Indo-Pak war was in fact a byproduct of the Bangladesh war of liberation.

Bangladeshi people also contest the Indian narrative, which claims ‘India liberated Bangladesh’, sounding as if a favour was done to them. Many Bangladeshis also believe that Indian intervention was actually an attempt to impede the nationalist movement, which without Indian assistance would have succeeded in the long run. They argue that a longer war would have led to Leftists in leadership, something India didn’t want. In fact, in many occasions, Awami League-supported freedom fighters were engaged in fight with leftist revolutionaries. It is widely believed that the mainstream left parties CPB-NAP had to form a separate armed force with 15,000 soldiers to fight against Pakistani forces, but did not get opportunity to launch full-scale attack.

Pakistan and India had been enemies for long and had fought two wars – in 1948 and 1965 – and hating each other was and still is a national obsession. Pakistan in particular, had evolved into a state where national security/fighting India was its primary goal. India was also obsessed with Pakistan and considered it to be the prime enemy. However, while Pakistan was focused on only one enemy – India. India has two – Pakistan and China. China was also Pakistan’s main friend in the region making it a deadly combination for India. In 1971, the situation offered India great opportunities to regain national pride, which was shaken during Indo-China war in 1962.

From 25 March to 3 December 1971, it was only the freedom fighters who fought against the Pakistani armies and shattered their confidence to a great extent. Freedom fighters, who did not take any assistance from India, both in terms of weapons and training, fought extraordinarily well in some areas and created free sovereign territories within occupied homeland.

Why Pakistan attacked India in 1971 is a puzzle but India took full advantage of that ‘gift’. India had all the natural gifts in hand when it planned the final assault. It had 10 million refugees who were a big burden and also the reason to attack Pakistan. It had few options left other than that. Bangladeshis find it difficult to accept the Indian narrative that they were not capable of winning the war. Though they had few resources, little organisational capabilities and a few weapons too. Moreover, their sanctuary was India, camps were in India.

war positions lead to different conclusions. To the Indians, independent Bangladesh was a byproduct of the bigger Indo-Pak war. India’s main objective of 1971 war was ‘dismembering’ Pakistan. To Pakistan, it was also a Pak-India war and the Bangladeshis were running a guerrilla war as an Indian proxy. To Bangladeshis, their war that is Pak-Bangla war is the main frame and dismembering Pakistan was impossible without the conflict generated by the situation during March 1971.

What India never acknowledges is, without Bangladesh and its movement, Pakistan would never have had a reason to behave the way it did. The election of 1970 led to the March crackdown events and ultimately the war. Nationalist movement since 1952 started a snowball effect, which gained momentum through 1962, 1969 and eventually led to the ultimate defeat of Pakistan on 16 December 1971 at Dhaka.

India for sure did not support the nationalistic movement of Bengalis. It was not possible for their part to support a movement of Bengalis while keeping half of Bengali speaking people within its sovereign territory. It was too dangerous for India. India by default will never uphold the true spirit of Bengali national identity. It will be a backlash to its own existence. Therefore, she will continue to undermine the true spirit of 1971 war, Gunday was that Indian narrative in disguise and we should thank Zafar for being truthful. No Indian politician had the courage to express their true feeling about Bangladesh liberation war.


The author is a blogger and online activist in Bangladesh
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