“7th March” research:
Understanding Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s speech in historical and global context
When the liberal daily, The Guardian, published a compendium of 14 great speeches of 20th Century in 2007, it was expected – especially by its non-Euro-American readership – that it would be relatively global in its selection. Only a handful of speeches by non-Westerners, even less of those made in non-European languages, were included. Even the figures in this tiny minority are selected primarily for their star roles in Euro-American popular culture. It is sad that this is still the case in our presumably globalised world that anything that merits to be called ‘great’ needs to be of the West or at least widely recognisable by its public. Of course great historical moments are coming to pass – often propelled and expressed by great speeches – outside the West, beyond its concerns and interests. One such moment was the liberation of Bangladesh and the speech that encapsulated its spirit and launched the final phase of its realisation; Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman delivered on 7th March 1971. Despite its far-reaching significance it was less than 20 minutes long.
On that day, over a million people gathered in Ramna Race course in Dhaka to hear Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. In many ways that speech culminated the long history of the struggle of Bengali speaking people of the then East Pakistan for democratic rights, economic justice and cultural self-determination. When Bangabandhu took the stage he was already the undisputed leader of Bengali speaking people of East Pakistan, who mandated him to speak on their behalf, looked up to him to express their longing and give direction. It was an onerous responsibility but Bangabandhu rose to the occasion and spoke, using his considerable rhetorical skills, judiciousness and charisma, to present – on the one hand – a constitutional argument for the legitimate claims of his people, and – on the other hand – to direct them to take up arms for achieving national independence.
For his listeners, Bangabandu’s speech, where he announced “this time the struggle is for emancipation, this time the struggle is for independence” amounted to the declaration of independence. For the poet Nirmalendu Goon the speech was an epic poem that authorized the people to own the word ‘independence’ and embrace its significance as their emotional reality and historical destiny. When the Pakistani army launched its genocidal campaign on 25th March 1971 against Bengali people, thousands of young men and women, whose ancestors were mocked by the Pakistanis as ‘Machlee Kur Bengal’ (fish eating Bengalis) for their supposed soft and non-martial temperament. They took up arms and realised ‘independence’ in a nine-month long war in which 3 million people perished.
Regrettably, to date there is no significant piece of work either in print or film to present the speech to the international community, Bengalis in diaspora and to the next generation. The aim of this project is to gather personal testimonies of people from all walks of life who were either present at the speech or affected by it; and to conduct an analysis of its content – its significance, implications, rhetorical style, its political/historical context and its comparative merits.
The aim and objectives of the research
The main aim and objectives of the research are as follows:
- To understand the impact of Sheikh Mujib’s speech of 7th March 1971 in relation to defining the future direction for the liberation struggle of Bangladesh as well as its bearing on the socio-politics of the subcontinent;
- To capture the political situation of the country as well as the sentiments and expectations of the people of Bangladesh at the time through talking to eye witnesses;
- From 1971-2013, forty-two years on, what appeal this speech has on three generations of Bengalis (from fathers to sons/daughters and grandchildren);
- The research also aims to help the younger generation of Bengalis born and brought up particularly in Europe and America to learn more about the liberation struggle of Bangladesh and its great leader;
- Examine the speech in the context of the national, regional global politics of 60s and 70s;
- To examine, compare and contrast this speech with other great speeches of the 20th
OUR APPROACH AND SCOPE OF THE RESEARCH
For this research, we will be taking a holistic and inclusive approach during the collection of the primary qualitative data. Whilst we attest and recognise the immense values of the professional views and opinions, we consider that the views and opinions of the labourers, peasants, boatmen, rickshaw pullers, porters and house wives are worthy of equal weighting in order to understand the true significance of the speech.
Also, it is important to create a space for diversity of opinions. This requires including a range of opinions from a wider political, social, professional and geographical spectrum in the research process.
Furthermore, we consider that it is of paramount importance to go beyond the traditional approach of researching social and political matters. We believe that the research objectives make it inevitable to look at political and social aspects of the speech. Nonetheless, it is worth remembering that the leader in question was also a head of the household, a father, a husband, a brother and so on. A significant question is required to unearth how he managed all the conflicting demands and emotions?
We aim to conduct approximately 50 in depth interviews with individual Bengalis and non-Bengalis from various walks of life in Bangladesh and elsewhere. We will be conducting 14 focus groups with men and women of varying ages in small towns and villages in Bangladesh. Furthermore we will be conducting approximately 5 trios with family members where at least one member of the family being an eye witness to the liberation struggle.
It is envisaged that this qualitative research will include considerable desk research and in-depth interviews with people from various walks of life in Bangladesh, Europe and America. The research will be conducted in a number phases as follows:
During phase 1 of the research we aim to collect and analyse both published and unpublished printed and audio visual materials from official as well as individual sources.
In this phase of the research we aim to construct the topic guide and conduct the face-to face and telephone interviews with key informants. All this will be audio and video recorded. We will be also aiming to make a documentary film to complement the publication of the findings of this research at a later date.
This is the penultimate and crucial phase of the research. During this phase we will be analysing the data and commencing writing the findings of the research.
The research project will conclude with the publication of the findings of the research primarily in English for the younger generation of Bengalis and western audience.
OUR CORE RESEARCH TEAM
Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury (Chief Advisor)
Nooruddin Ahmed (Project Director)
Dr Syed Manurul Islam (Senior Research Consultant)
Dr Kapil Ahmed (Senior Advisor –Bangladesh)
Ansar Ahmed Ullah (Researcher)
Jamal Khan (Media Advisor)
Azad Bokth Choudhury (Community liaison)
Azizul Kamal (Community liaison)
Arifur Rahman (Project Manager)
Naajia Ahmed (Office and Research Executive)