Thousands of Bangladeshis living in London have been passing days amid deep uncertainty due to the current situation caused by the outbreak of COVID-19.
The crisis also triggered panic buying of essentials and their abnormal price hike by some unscrupulous traders of the Bangladesh community, said Yunus Ali Sheikh, a Bangladeshi-origin British citizen, while narrating the condition of Bangladeshis in London amid the global coronavirus outbreak.
Yunus, also a former UNB journalist, said the main concern is now personal safety and the possibility of being unemployed as there are huge Bangladeshis in the UK who are doing contractual jobs, and they are going to be the worst sufferers.
“They won’t get money if there’s no work. And if there’s no money, they won’t get food. This is the main concern among the people who work on contractual basis,” Yunus observed.
“But”, he said, “There’re social safety net facilities…unemployed and small-income group get state benefits like Jobseeker’s Allowance, income tax credit etc. But these benefits are meant for only British citizens and there’re huge Bangladeshi origin migrated people who are not citizens yet. They work mainly in restaurants, fried chicken shops, and are in zero-hour contracts.”
Besides, Yunus said, the people of the Bangladesh community, who account for about 451,529, have stockpiled essential commodities from different stores being panicked of a possible lockdown.
“I came to know one Bangladeshi man has procured 42 sacks of rice weighing 20 kg each! Taking advantage of the situation, some Bangladeshi shop owners have hiked the prices of commodities. Earlier, the price of 20kg rice was 25 pounds which has been increased to 35-40 pounds abruptly.”
Besides, the price of a chicken has been raised to 20 pounds from 3.5 pounds.
“This tendency is mostly seen among Bangali shop owners,” said Yunus adding that making money in all situations is their common tendency.
But the scenario is different in the stores owned by the British, he said mentioning that they are offering various facilities to buyers so that the people of all ages can buy products at their convenient time.
Talking about religious gatherings, he said there was no Jum’a prayer in mosques in London as part of safety measures.
Asked whether the Bangladeshi High Commission there contacted them amid the crisis, he said there was an invitation from the embassy on the occasion of Mujib Year. However, later the programme was postponed.
On March 23, the British government restricted the movement of people to curb the spread of coronavirus as fears grew that people were not sufficiently respecting guidance on social distancing.
According to worldometer, the UK has so far reported 11,658 coronavirus cases and 578deaths linked to the virus.
I want to draw everyone's attention to time. It is running out fast.
With every passing moment, we are losing the opportunity we still have.
If we can comprehend the severity of the massive Corona war, we had better prepare ourselves appropriately. As our everyday life goes on today, it is very clear that we have not been able to present the picture of what is about to happen to the entire nation almost overnight. If we could enable people to comprehend the reality, we could motivate them to prepare for it right now. If they knew that their lives are in mortal danger, they would get ready to give out everything to fight for their lives. No sacrifice would seem to be too big. We must get everyone ready to fight for every single life. Together we can win. There is no scope for surrender. Surrender would mean enormous suffering and a huge number of deaths. That would be totally unacceptable. We must get ready to protect every single person. We must get ready with the best organizational and management preparations that we have, in every corner of this country.
It is stunning to see the victory march of the pandemic from one corner of the world to the entire world at lightning speed. China reported an unknown disease to the Beijing office of the World Health Organization on December 31, 2019. Today is March 22, 2020. This reporting was done only 82 days ago. In these 82 days, the virus has ravaged the whole world. Already in many countries army and para-military have been called in to cope with the unexpected situation. It has paralyzed country after country before in what seems like a blink of an eye. It forced people in city after city to take shelter in their homes, isolating themselves from their work, from their near and dear ones, for an unknown number of days.
Many governments who could afford it, sanctioned trillions of dollars to cope with the unexpected human disaster. Heads of all levels of governments are constantly on television and all other media outlets explaining to aggrieved citizens each step they are taking, and seeking their support in this dire emergency. All political parties in the parliaments are unanimously passing laws to combat the situation, making sure that the people have trust in them and remain calm, disciplined, and law-abiding. More than one country and many regional governments, city governments declared state of emergency to allow governments to apply all possible powers to fight the enemy. All around the world people are watching the Coronavirus’ scoreboard with utmost anxiety to see what is happening to whom. They are shocked by the soaring number of deaths every day. They feel relieved to see that in some countries the number of new cases has remained zero over some days.
It all happened in 82 days. It turned a ‘normal’ everyday world into a world which makes all of us feel like we are in a Hollywood horror movie. Nobody is excused.
We Are Lucky
We are lucky that we are not in the list of countries which have gone through this experience already. At least not yet. But we see the ominous signs of it quietly emerging in our country. We must thank our stars that we got 82 days to monitor all these countries where Corona devastation played out step by step, and how each country is struggling with their ingenuity, science, management skill, and determination to fight it out. We got 82 days to learn and prepare. That is our biggest advantage in this war against this deadly disease.
Now we cannot say we did not know it was coming, we did not know how to handle it; or that we did not know what works. If we have not learnt from the experiences of others we can blame only our disinterest. If we have kept our heads buried in the sand all these 82 days, then nobody can help us.
Corona Has no Mercy
Everyone wants to know how many people are infected by Coronavirus once it gets into a country or region. I give here two estimates on the high side, given by two leaders. One is Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. She was very candid and bold. Before the German people had a chance to get used to the horror of Coronavirus, she went ahead to address the nation, to tell them what is coming. She told them that 60 to 70 percent of the population of Germany would be infected.
A very recent estimate that I want to present comes from the Governor of California in his speech on March 20, 2020. He informed the people of his state that the number of infected persons in California could reach 25 million in the next couple of months. That is, 56 percent of population in his state, in 2 months. The first person with infection in California was identified on January 22, 2020 exactly two months ago. That means, in just four months the number of infected persons would jump from a single person to 25 million. What a lightning speed! Corona has no mercy.
Southeast Asian Experience
A few countries have been able to combat Corona most successfully, among all countries around the world. These are all from Southeast Asia. China, where it all began, has emerged from this pandemic with great success. Reports on new cases have stopped coming for many days now. They accomplished it in 82 days!
Other countries which contained Corona successfully are: South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. All these successful countries followed one common strategy uncompromisingly. This uncompromising strategy was: identify the infected. Completely isolate him or her. Spare others from being infected. The virus will not spread if the infection stops. If we allow one person to infect others, then the number of infected will increase very quickly. Statistically speaking, if one person infects 2.5 people every 5 days, then he alone will infect 406 people in 7 days.
All these successful countries mobilized all their might to identify the infected, and kept them away from others. As a result, the bulk of the people in their countries were not affected. Today Coronavirus affliction has stopped in these countries. What great success stories.
The countries which failed to adopt this strategy are suffering endlessly. They are: Italy, US, UK, Spain, and Switzerland. Their situation is now out of their control. Total number of deaths in Italy has already surpassed the total number of deaths in China, a country with several times more population than Italy.
Which Way Will Bangladesh Go?
Which Way Will Bangladesh Go? The decision is ours to make. We have already missed great opportunities. But better late than never. We have to mobilize all the capacities of the nation to identify and isolate those who are infected. Even if we cannot be perfect, we can still save many lives. While each life is important, in Bangladesh many lives mean truly a great many lives. We have to devote fully to contain this infection. We do not have to wait to have perfect estimate of the percentage of population that will be infected, because all of us know any percentage of Bangladesh population is an unacceptably large number. Go ahead, try it out in your mind.
Is the Corona Flood Coming to Bangladesh?
Yes, it is almost at our doorstep. There is no example in the world where there were only a few infected persons one day, and somehow we never heard of more people getting infected in the following days. The global experience is it starts as a few drops, then if you let it proceed, it becomes a tsunami in weeks.
How do we hold back the Tsunami? Successful countries showed the way. Their formula is test, test, test. Isolate, isolate, isolate. Identify, isolate. Identify, isolate. Identify, isolate. Never stop doing it. WHO has been repeating the same formula globally umpteen times every day.
This formula reminds us of the old folklore of how the shoe was invented. In order to keep his feet free from dust, a king ordered his subjects to sweep the whole country. A tired subject frustratingly suggested to the King why does he not just cover his feet and keep it free from dust. The King liked the idea and got it done. The concept of the shoe was born.
Why not run after every person who is infected. Why don’t we go to the source of the infection. Keep them away from the masses of people. In the beginning, infected people are only a few. The task becomes very simple. They are the ones who will infect millions if they are not identified and isolated. We missed that chance at our airports when infected people started arriving from infected countries. Now they are scattered everywhere and remain untested. The demon of Corona is out of the bottle. Putting it back into bottle is our task. It is a big task now.
Obviously we are already late. But that does not mean we should give up. Giving up means committing mass suicide. We can still do our best to slow down the infection rate and slow down the death rate. We must commit everything we have as a nation to make that happen.
Unfortunately we do not have enough kits to identify the infected. We can start with what we have. Identifying even one person is important. If we can keep him in isolation we protect thousands in coming weeks. Let us not ignore one individual. We must use the kits now. Tomorrow its contribution to the fight will decrease sharply. Let us mobilize the international community to get more kits. People will be eager to know how many people are identified each day. People need to be informed to get them engaged.
Everybody knows how to prevent Corona, thanks to the communication technology. But we are not showing sufficient urgency. We know what it is, but we are not applying our knowledge. We are saying that physical distance is the only way to save oneself and to save others from this virus. But we do not mind holding a conference to announce these instructions, killing the very essence of the announcement. There is no consistency between what we are saying and what we are doing. Coronavirus is still just a subject of conversation, of news articles, and of TV talk shows. We are watching these, and reading these as if we watch and read news from distant countries. We do not feel It is happening in my family, in my house. I still cannot feel the shock of knowing that very soon, within weeks, I may be the cause of death of my family members. Or that one of them may be the cause of my death. The realization still does not come to us that protecting them from the virus ultimately protects me.
A lot of advice is being given out every day as a matter of routine work. People do not feel any sense of concerns behind those words. Even the people who give the advice not only publicly violate those advice but also publicize them without any feeling of guilt. Time of advising is long over. Now we are at the stage when we should be fighting the enemy the hardest. It is the time to build the resolve of the nation to stand up with all its might to confront possibly the greatest danger in the history of the world.
At this moment of the greatest crisis of the nation we do not see any round-the-clock work without any sleep, and without any food, to build the dam to protect everything we possess from the global Tsunami which we all see coming. One sees only a total lack of urgency and concern everywhere.
I am absolutely intrigued by one question: Are we really so unconcerned about saving our family members, relatives, our friends, and even ourselves, that we show no interest in stopping it? Or we are just in a dreamworld where we think this nightmare cannot be true, or do we think it is a part of fake news campaign.
The Students and The Youth
Always my hope is in the youth of this country. This is the time for them to stand up and save our families, and our country. I appeal to the youth to come forward on their own and build their initiatives as they feel appropriate. Today’s youth are super human beings. You are equipped with such technologies that the world has not seen before. Each one of you has unlimited convening power. You can bring the whole world together. Mobilize the youth of Bangladesh, mobilize the youth of the whole world. Save the world. Save Bangladesh. Save the humanity. Build the world the way you want. Be conscious about the unlimited power you possess. This is the time to use it. If you don’t use it NOW, it will never be used. Organize yourselves to save your para (neighbourhood), your village, your upojela, your district. And in the process, save the whole country. You already know what to do. Go ahead and do it. These are your families you will be saving. Your parents. Your friends, Your relatives. You will never get a better chance to show your worth than now. In the process you find out how creative you are. How smart you are. Collectively build your own organizations, make your own plans, assign responsibilities among yourselves. In every home you already have your representatives, the youth and students of all ages, in the family, create a series of networks with them to fight this Tsunami. Make sure you keep your family inside home. Do not let them be exposed to outside contact. Find food for them. Share food with the neighbors who do not have access to food. Entertain them so that they are not bored sitting home day after day. Make them have fun too during these gloomy days. If you put your mind into it, you’ll be amazed how much you can do. You have so many volunteers in each home, from 5 year olds to 80 year olds. Your capacity is limitless.
If you live in the city, make a network in your street, in your block, in your neighborhood. Connect with each other.
Social Distancing With Strong Social Mobilization
Youth always came forward to save people in all disasters of Bangladesh. You know the history of youth in this country. You take this history to its peak, by defeating the world’s most dangerous and invisible enemy, Corona. This is your day. Grab it. You provide leadership to the youth of the whole world, who are also struggling with the same enemy. You will be a unique force in this fight. Do not pass it up.
This applies to all youth, whether at home or abroad. Everybody can join a local initiative at village level or street level. Those who are located in other countries can organize themselves to provide ideas, supplies, and support. Publicize who is engaged with whom. Involve your Bangladeshi and foreign friends, businesses, institutions to join the fight for your village. This will bring you close to the people you always wanted to be helpful to.
So far we have been talking non-stop about social distancing, and how important it is for fighting Corona virus. We are fully behind it. But we want to put equal emphasis on social mobilization. It is our fellow-feeling which will make us survive. There is no strategy for survival of an individual without survival of the all. The key is social distancing on strong foundation of social mobilization. We must make sure that daily-income-earners do not have to leave home to earn a living. Social mobilization must find ways how ‘surplus’ families can take care of ‘deficit’ families. If anybody has to go out for living, it would not be safe for people who live inside home.
The educational institutions have been closed. It was a decision well taken. Students will get the chance to mobilize their families, friends, and neighbourhoods. Junior students can join hands with senior students and other youth to carry out their surveillance and actions to save their own families first, then families next door, ultimately the whole neighborhood. The focus will be to ensure that the virus cannot sneak in. There must be special attention to the old, sick, pregnant mothers, physically and mentally disabled people and the poor.
Through social media, students may share all the information, problems they are facing, and their experiences. This is happening already. They will exchange advice and encouragement among themselves within the country and beyond.
For this purpose, the students with the youth, NGOs, social and business institutions may be able to come forward together or as individual entities. Already BUET students have been applauded by the nation for their contribution to make hand washing popular and easy.
Set Up Free Zones and Keep Them Free
From all considerations there is no doubt that we are about face a national calamity. It will be at the scale which will have the potential of destroying the basic fabric of most of our lives. Even if Coronavirus does not turn out to be the greatest of disasters, we still have to prepare for the worst. We cannot afford the luxury of remaining unprepared. We have to get prepared. While preparing, we must prepare for the worst.
During an invasion by a foreign power it is usual for the resistance forces to set up “liberated areas” or “Free Zones” which are not controlled by the invading army. This gives the population tremendous moral boost. During the invasion of Corona we can set up similar Free Zones, like corona free-villages, upojelas, or cities. We commit all our strength to keep them free. We apply the same technique that countries apply – not allow our enemy to enter our free zones. We strictly practice the formula — test, test, and test, and keep us safe, while continue to work on freeing the occupied territories. Local people have to do it. That is why the social mobilization becomes the most important strategy. The fighters who could keep an area free throughout the invasion period will be remembered in history.
Microcredit Borrowers Are a Disciplined Community
NGOs have microcredit programs in every village of the country.
The microcredit borrowers are a well-trained and disciplined community. They have rich experience of fighting disasters as a community. Without their disaster fighting skill microcredit programs could not have survived through major floods and other local disasters. They may be immediately mobilized to get ready to fight the biggest disaster ever. NGOs can come up with new disaster manuals and protocols for them to prepare them about the do’s and don’ts, how to withstand this disaster with discipline and courage. How they can act together even without weekly meetings. How to join forces with others to protect the families and the village. Luckily their financial and organizational strength will be tremendously helpful. They can be the examples in the village to encourage others to stay home continuously and be social leaders to take care of the old and the vulnerable of the entire village.
There are many government, private and social institutions in the country. They have many field staff in the villages and cities. All organizations can mobilize their employees to fight this disaster. Every organization, public or private, must quickly prepare their calamity fighting strategy and train their employees to take responsibility of the assigned villages, or own village, or city or neighborhood. They must know what is their responsibility, who do they report to. Who do they get the help from.
Unanswered Questions Must Have Answers Soon
Along the way we must find answers to many questions:
What will happen to those who live hand to mouth during the disaster?
How will the common people of the country survive?
After the disaster what kind of life will be waiting for the people after going through this experience. Where will they start?
Economic structure of the world may collapse. How does it start functioning again?
How long would it take to get the economy of the world and Bangladesh back in gear?
What would the post Corona world be like? Most likely that the world will have a new birth. The new-born world may not look like the world that we know now. It is strange to think that we will be facing an unfamiliar world within about a year — global framework will change, people will change, institutions will change, most importantly, the thinking of the world will be changed.
The demon of Corona is out of the bottle. Will this monster eat up the whole world? Can the world put the monster completely back in the bottle again? What kind of world will it leave for us?
What kind of Bangladesh will it leave behind for us?
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman showed us the path to the future through his seminal Six Point programme in 1966. He was only forty six.
His leadership led the people of Bangladesh to freedom five years later, in 1971. He was nearing fifty two.
At the age of fifty five, in 1975, his life was over, pushed to a brutal end by conspiracy at both the local and global levels.
It was a life lived in the fullness of political excitement. More importantly, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s politics was fundamentally a shaping of the Bengali ethos, all the way from the 1960s to the 1970s. He was a political being unlike any other, in a number of ways. For starters, it was courage he brought into his propagation of ideas. Never one to flinch in the face of danger, he stood his ground. Again, there was in him that spirit of defiance, of the uncompromising as it were. He knew what he needed to do for his people and would not stop or have second thoughts about it. He mapped his path to the future and would brook no opposition or admit any impediments to the achievement of his goals.
In Bangabandhu subsisted a thorough political being. His politics was, from a certain perspective, radical. And yet it was radicalism grounded in his belief in constitutionalism. He was a Bengali nationalist, persuading himself that if the state of Pakistan was to respond to the call of modernity, it would require a transformation of a sweeping kind. But, given the truths that came attached to Pakistan, he was prepared to take his fellow Bengalis out to better, greener pastures. That destination was Bangladesh. He it was who enlightened his people on a winter’s day in 1969 with the thought that East Pakistan would henceforth be Bangladesh.
It was a step forward in his politics. The Six Points, he told those close to him, were a path to the attainment of a single point --- that of national sovereignty. And yet, as his seminal oratory on 7 March 1971 so patently demonstrated, he was averse to secessionism. He was, in that season of intense drama, giving the generals and political classes of Pakistan enough rope to hang themselves. He knew the negotiations with Yahya Khan and Z.A. Bhutto were going nowhere, but he was prepared to go all the way till the end. Nearer the end, he proposed, through his negotiating team, a change in strategy. Pakistan, he said, could survive if it could graduate to a confederation.
When the soldiers struck, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman knew the course he would need to take. Informing the nation that it was a free entity, that Bangladesh was on the way, he courted arrest. He could have left the city; he could have escaped the clutches of the army; he could have gone underground. He did not do any of these things, for a couple of reasons. First, he had never run from the police or the military. Second, he was the elected leader of the majority party in the aborted national assembly and elected leaders did not make themselves physically scarce.
But his sufferings? The years, the thousands of days he spent in prison? For him, as he was wont to tell people, prison was his second home. It was an experience that took away his youth, left him hardly any chance of being with his family. It all began in 1948, within months of the creation of Pakistan, a state for whose establishment he had identified with the Muslim League in the mid-1940s and yet one that was fast turning into a geographical entity sliding from being a dream into a nightmare. Through the 1950s and 1960s, the state made sure that his liberties were curtailed if not proscribed. Every arrest was followed by a bail in court, which again was followed by a fresh new order of detention. Mujib did not expect anything different. His tormentors waited for him to capitulate. He refused to give them that macabre pleasure.
Bangabandhu’s life was always lived in danger. Twice the state of Pakistan went into the sordid business of trying to put him out of life or put him away. The Agartala Conspiracy Case caused fears to grow among his people that the gallows waited for him. But fear was never his, for he told foreign newsmen that he could not be kept a prisoner for more than six months. Agartala came apart, Ayub Khan fell. Mujib emerged free, the de facto spokesman of Pakistan’s Bengalis.
But a far bigger danger awaited him in 1971. Yahya Khan’s bluster of not ‘letting this crime go unpunished’ --- post-March negotiations --- had a single goal: Mujib’s life had to be brought to an end or he needed to be put away in prison for life. Even so, the Bengali leader remained unconcerned. In solitary confinement in distant Mianwali, deprived of access to newspapers, radio and television, he did not cave in. The military court was a contraption he did not recognize, the lawyer the state foisted on him was an arrangement he did not agree to. He would emerge, once again, a free man. Only this time, he was the father of his nation. His Bangladesh waited for him to come home.
As we observe the hundredth anniversary of his birth, it is the symbol of Bengali aspirations that we spot once again in Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It is the evolution in the man that we recall. For one who came into politics determined to uphold the communal policy propagated by the Muslim League and then move on into a more liberal world of secular politics, it was an act of unadulterated courage. And that precisely is what Mujib demonstrated. Where Mohammad Ali Jinnah went from secularism to communalism, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman went the other way --- from communalism to secularism. That was his greatness. It was courage. It was a politician rising to being a statesman.
Bangabandhu was our superman. And yet his greatness kept him fastened to our desires. He was one of us, never remote and never arrogant and not at all elitist. He remembered faces. He recalled names. He mingled with the masses as easily as he enjoyed the company of his peers around the globe. He was at home sharing food with a humble peasant and equally comfortable speaking to the world at the United Nations.
And, of course, there was a consistency of confidence in him. He asked Indira Gandhi when she would take her soldiers back home. He was blunt in his responses to global leaders critical of his nation’s struggle for freedom. For him, Bangladesh was the epic tale he narrated everywhere and at every opportunity. It was his poetry, lyrics he had imbibed from Tagore and Nazrul. It was a song that filled his soul with its richness of melody.
In this centenary of his birth, it is Bangabandhu’s ideals that matter. They matter because they speak of the primacy of constitutional governance; because they espouse rule of law; because they adhere to the sanctity that comes with free, fair and transparent elections; because they have at their centre the power of the people as it ought to be in a secular, liberal democracy.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was our collective national presence on Mount Olympus. He showed us the Promised Land . . . and then took us there. His was leadership, moral and political, on the peaks of history. ***
On the centenary of his birth, it is time to celebrate the Liberator yet again. He was our Bangabandhu --- Friend of Bengal. It is time to rekindle his memories, that moment in life when past glory and old causes re-ignite the collective spirit of the Bengali nation.
It is the courage of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman we miss as we go through life. And yet it is something more, something of values that you associate with any remembrance of him. He embodied some of the finest traditions that self-respecting people anywhere have throughout the course of history upheld in their lives. And among those values is the refusal to compromise, to undermine yourself through a convenient jettisoning of the ideals that you have always held dear.
Bangabandhu never flinched from doing or saying anything he thought was right, or made good sense. His disillusionment with Pakistan having taken a firm shape by the early 1960s, he knew which course he needed to take. And he took it resolutely. There was little room in him for second thoughts. He was the troubadour who moved through the hamlets and villages of Bengal, disseminating the message that freedom from colonial rule and emancipation from economic exploitation were of the essence. And what he stood for came alive assertively in 1971 when seventy five million Bengalis prayed for him even as he languished in solitary confinement in Pakistan. All politics, all religion in that year of tragedy and decision focused on Bangabandhu. An entire war of national liberation was shaped and waged in his name.
Principles underlined Bangabandhu’s fundamental political premise. The Six Points could not be trifled with. And when the Pakistan army tried to shoot them down, he went for a single point: he declared the nation’s independence before being seized by the army. He prepared for freedom in the only way a man believing in constitutional politics would. He was not a revolutionary, which was why he was not willing to go for a direct confrontation with the Pakistan government. Neither was he an adventurist, for which reason he warded off all calls for a unilateral declaration of independence on 7 March 1971. And yet the oratory of the day remains part of history, of the Bengali psyche, for everything it pointed to, for the clear set of guidelines he left for his people to follow in the event of his absence from the political scene. It was these guidelines that Bengalis worked on for nine months. His words, his image, his idealism served as a metaphor for the armed struggle for freedom.
It is this great man, this embodiment of freedom, we lost to dark conspiracy on 15 August 1975. Life was never to be the same for us. And yet life goes on for us, in our constant remembering that he was, is and will always be with us, as our light unto the dark.
A hundred years after 1920, Bangabandhu remains our North Star. ***
The January 10, 1972 speech by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, on the occasion of his return to independent Bangladesh, is one of his historic speeches. While the March 7, 1971 speech was heralded as the declaration of the ‘struggle for emancipation’ and the ‘struggle for independence’, the 10 January speech drew up guidelines for the new nation on how to realize the spirit of those struggles with courage and patriotism. The March 7 speech has been translated into English and many other languages, but there was no acceptable English translation of the January 10 speech till now. However, commissioned by the National Implementation Committee for the Birth Centenary Celebration of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, I translated the January 10 speech into English:
At first I remember the students, the labourers, the peasants, the intellectuals, soldiers, the police, the people, the Hindu and the Muslim of my Bangladesh who were killed. I, wishing for their souls and paying tribute to them, would like to say a few words to you.
My Bangladesh has been independent today, my life’s desire has been fulfilled today, the people of my Bengal have been liberated today. My Bengal will remain free. Today I won’t be able to make a speech. The way the sons of Bengal, the mothers of Bengal, the peasants of Bengal, the labourers of Bengal, the intellectuals of Bengal did struggle---I was imprisoned, was ready and waiting to go to the gallows. But I knew that they could not suppress my Bangalees. The people of my Bengal would be liberated. I pay tribute to those of my brothers who made the supreme sacrifice, suffered martyrdom, I give them my regards, seek forgiveness of their souls.
Today, in percentage terms, I am reliably informed, nearly 30 lakh people have been killed in Bengal. In the Second World War and also in the First World War, such a number of people, such a number of common citizen did not die, were not martyred, which happened in my 7-crore people’s Bangladesh.
I did not know I would return to you. I told just one thing, I have no objection if you kill me. Please return my dead body to my Bangalees, this is my only request to you.
I congratulate the Prime Minister of India Mrs. Indira Gandhi, I congratulate the people of India, I congratulate the armed forces of India, I congratulate the people of Russia, I congratulate the governments and people of Britain, Germany, France and those who have supported us.
I congratulate the people of America, I congratulate the oppressed of the world who have supported this liberation struggle of mine.
I am to say, one crore people from Bangladesh took refuge in India leaving the homestead. The people of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi gave them food, shelter, I cannot but congratulate them. I am to congratulate others who too helped us.
However, we should keep in mind, Bangladesh is an independent and sovereign state. Bangladesh shall remain independent. None can suppress Bangladesh. There is nothing to be gained by conspiring against Bangladesh. Before I left, I said, Oh, Bangalees! Your struggle this time is a struggle for independence, your struggle this time is a struggle for emancipation. You’ve done it. I said, build fortresses at every house. You struggled by building fortresses at every house.
I congratulate my colleagues. Many of my brothers, many activists, many mothers and sisters are no more in this world, I shall not see them. Today I saw the people of Bangladesh, saw the land of Bangladesh, saw the sky of Bangladesh, felt the weather of Bangladesh, I greet Bengal with salaam. My Bengal of gold I love you so much, this is perhaps the reason why I have been called back.
I hope, I appeal to all the states in the world, I have no roads, I have no ghat, my people have no food, my people are homeless-helpless, my people are street beggars. You help my people, I want help from you for the sake of humanity. I want help from all the states in the world. Please recognize my Bangladesh. Give relief from the United Nations, you have to give, no way you must give. I, we won’t admit defeat, We don’t know how to admit defeat. Kabiguru, Kabiguri Rabindranath said, “You have made seven crore Bangalees, Oh Mother Bengal, remain as Bangalees, you haven’t made them humans.”
Kabiguru’s words have proved wrong. My Bangalees are now humans. My Bangalees have shown in the history of the world, in the history of the world, that no such numbers of people have made self-sacrifices, no such numbers of people have laid down their lives. That’s why I say you could not suppress me.
From today my request, from today my command, from today my order, as a brother—not as a leader, nor as the president or as the prime minister, I am your brother, you are my brothers. This independence of mine will be futile—if the people of my Bengal are not fully fed on rice, this independence of mine will not be fulfilled—if the mothers and sisters of Bengal do not get clothes, this independence of mine will not be fulfilled—if the mothers and sisters of this country do not get clothes for the protection of their modesty, this independence of mine will not be fulfilled—if the people of this country, the youth of mine, do not find employment or do not get jobs.
I congratulate you-- the freedom fighters, the student community, activists. You became guerillas, you gave blood, blood won’t go in vain, blood didn’t go in vain.
Just a word—from today, from today, let there be no theft and robbery in Bengal. Let there be no plundering in Bengal. The other sections of the population who are in Bengal, the people of other countries, the people of West Pakistan, who do not speak Bengali. I’m still saying, become Bangalees. And I am saying to my brothers, do not raise your hand to them. We are humans, we love humans.
But those who have collaborated, those who have killed my people entering their rooms, will be brought to justice and punished. Leave it with the government, in the hands of the independent government of Bangladesh. None would be spared. However, I want, in the independent country, like the independent citizens, in the independent court, they would be tried and punished. You, I want to show the world that peaceful Bengalis know how to give blood and peaceful Bengalis know how to keep peace. You have received me. I have come. I did not know I was sentenced to death by hanging. A grave was dug for me beside my cell. I prepared myself, I said I’m a Bangalee, I’m a man, I’m a Muslim—who dies once not twice. I said, if death comes to me, I’ll die laughing. I will not die dishonouring my Bengali nation, I’ll not beg your pardon. And will shout out while dying, Joy Bangla, Free Bangla, Bengali is my nation, Bangla is my language, the land of Bangla is my place.
My brothers, you know, we have a lot of work to do. I want all my people to begin work on the construction of the roads where broken. I want you all to go back to the field and cultivate paddy.
I want to tell the employees, do not take bribes, not even a single person. Remember, it was not an opportune moment then, but now I will not forgive bribes.
My brothers! As I was being taken away under arrest, Tajuddin, Nazrul and others went towards me. I told, ‘let me die with seven crore Bangalees. I bless you.’ Tajuddin and others were crying. I said, ‘you go away. Struggle on. I have faith in you. I want to die at this house. This will be the place of Bangladesh, I want to breathe my last in this house. In no way, I can bow my head to them.’
Brothers mine, they have interrogated Dr. Kamal there for three months so as to make him testify against Mujib. Some Bangalees have given their testimonies against me, and we all know and recognize them. They will be brought to trial.
You, today, I am not in a position to make a speech. You understand, “Take the salute my beautiful mother, motherland, the banks of the Ganges, the gentle breeze have soothed my life.” (Recites a poem by Tagore).
Today, when I landed in Dhaka, I couldn’t hold back my tears, because never did I think I would be back to the land, the people, the nation and the country, Bangladesh, that I love so much. Today, I have returned to Bangladesh. I have come back to my mothers, my sisters, my brothers. My Bengal is now independent, and my people of Bengal are independent today.
I tell the brothers of West Pakistan, you stay happy. We bear you no grudge. We will try our best to show respect to you. Things that your military men have done-- raped my sisters and mothers and killed my three lakh people. Go away and be happy. You stay happy. We are no longer with you. It’s over. You remain free. I, too, remain independent.
As a citizen of an independent country, I can make friends with you, otherwise there can be no friendship. However, adequate action will be taken for those who have wronged.
I apologize to you. I will make a speech another day, after a few days when I’ll get a bit well.
You see I’m not that Mujibur Rahman any longer. When I look at my Bengal, you see, places have been flattened, villages after villages have been burned down. There’s hardly any family left where my people haven’t been killed. What a howling cowardice that, the military men killed innocent civilians in this way! And what they claim! ‘We are the Muslim military in Pakistan.’ They should be hated. They should have known that Bangladesh is the second Muslim country in the world after Indonesia. The Muslim are large in number – second position. And India is in the third position. And West Pakistan is in the fourth position. We are Muslims, do the Muslim rape mothers and sisters? We are Muslims. In my state, in this Bangladesh, there will be a socialist system. There will be democracy in this Bangladesh. Bangladesh will be a secular state.
I want to tell them who are eager to know. On my way home, I had a discussion with Mrs. Indira Gandhi in Delhi. I can tell you it since I know her very well. I hold her in high regard. She is the daughter of Pundit Nehru. She is the daughter of Motilal Nehru’s son. They were involved in politics, they did sacrifice. They became prime ministers of India. The day I ask, Indian army will leave the soil of Bangladesh, and she is withdrawing little by little.
However, the help she extended to us, I, on behalf of the seven crore sad Bangalees, congratulate Mrs. Indira Gandhi, her government and the people of India, I thank them from the bottom of my heart.
There’s hardly any head of the state to whom she did not request personally to secure Sheikh Mujib’s release. She personally told all the states in the world, “you ask Yahya Khan to release Sheikh Mujib, to find a political solution".
A crore of people have moved to a country leaving their motherland. There are many countries having ten lakh, fifteen lakh, twenty lakh, thirty lakh, forty lakh, fifty lakh population. Sixty percent states have population below one crore. Whereas one crore people from my Bengal took refuse in India leaving the lure of the motherland. Many of them died there sick, many suffered the agony of starvation. Many houses were burned down by this gang of beasts.
Forgive me, my brothers, forgive me. Today, I have no desire for vengeance on anyone. Don’t tell anything to anybody. I will punish them who did wrong. Don’t take the law into your own hands. The youth of the liberation forces, take my salam. The student community, take my salam. The working community, take my salam. The peasantry, take my salam. You take, the luckless Hindus and Muslims take my salam.
And those of the employees who received bullet injuries shot from machine guns and those who fled for fear of life leaving behind their mothers and sisters, their young wives captured and thrown into Pakistani camp at Kurmitola, I salute you all and offer my best regards.
Together we will build a new and prosperous Bengal. The people of Bengal will cheer up again, live life merrily and breathe freely in an open atmosphere. The people of Bengal will have two squire meals a day. All my endeavors are aimed at achieving this goal. In fact, establishing the country on a firm financial footing is the motto of my life. With these words I would like to take leave of you. I wish I could die with the solace that the woes of my people are over. I seek your wishes and blessings to this end. With these words I would like to take leave of you. I express my sincerest thanks to my colleagues who stood by me at the hour of need, who obeyed the orders l gave, they proved through their deeds that they were equal to the challenge and spared no pains to translate into action the orders of their Mujib bhai: fight to the last, liberate the country, sacrifice your lives and emancipate the people. Don't worry about me. Let me go. I doubt whether I would be able to come back here. But Allah is helper of the helpless. That's why, I've been able to get back to you again with His blessings.
My dear colleagues, I congratulate you wholeheartedly on your snatching victory. I know well the severe pain you have taken. You know I was detained in prison. For nine months I was kept out of touch with any newspaper. It is true that at the moment of my departure Mr. Bhutto said: Sheikh Shaheb, please make an effort to maintain a semblance of unity between the two wings. I said I had not made up my mind about it yet. Even I was unsure of my whereabouts then. I said I would speak my mind as I returned home. Today, I say in no uncertain terms that the knot has been undone for ever. It's time to part our ways.
And if you're entering a secret deal with any superpower and attempting to sabotage our independence, then mark it, Sheikh Mujib would be in the commander's position this time. He would rather die than let our independence slip.
My dear brothers, four lakh of our Bangalees are languishing in West Pakistan. I would put in a request, of course with your approval, my dear colleagues, to the international bodies like the UN or International Court of Justice to institute an enquiry as to the brutal atrocities committed and the colossal massacre perpetrated by the Pakistani army, the truth must be revealed to the international community. I would urge the UN that Bangladesh be granted membership immediately and institute an enquiry.
Dear brothers, if you attempt at any foul play, the consequences would be dire. I know the cycle of conspiracy hasn't ended. Bangalees, beware of conspiracies being hatched against us. Once I gave a clarion call to my people: turn each of your houses into a fortress, didn't I? And fight with whatever you have, didn't I? I said our struggle this time is a struggle for freedom and emancipation. I said it standing on this ground on 7 March. Today, I urge: be fair and stay united and don't listen to the words of the mischief makers.
Since we have been independent we’ll remain independent if Allah wills. The struggle shall continue as long as a single living soul exists in this Bangladesh.
Today, I can't continue my speech any longer. I wish to speak to you again after I get a bit better. Please do forgive me. Pray for me. You will keep me in your prayer. Please put up your hands with me in supplication to Allah for His mercy.