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March 1971 Diary: From non-cooperation to People’s Raj

  • Published at 12:00 am March 20th, 2021
Victory_Liberation_War-Museum
Courtesy: Liberation War Museum

This extract is part of a series that will run until March 25, in which we reproduce Rehman Sobhan’s contemporaneous account of the events of the momentous month of March 1971. This was first published in Forum magazine on March 13, 1971

The movement has in effect released untold resources from within the people. Today, in law, there is no government in Bangladesh nor the sanctions which go with it.

The limited decisions and authority exercised by the Awami League are not enforceable in any court of law nor is there any effective machinery to put their decisions into effect.

If they pass a decree prohibiting private banks from remitting money out of Bangladesh or withdrawals for unauthorized purposes there is none to enforce it for them.

This extraordinary set up is thus predicated on the unstinted loyalty and co-operation of the common man with the people’s representatives. We have seen how in offices it is the clerks and lower division worker who act as custodians of the public interest.

Outside, in spite of some initial anarchy which found expression in loot and communal vandalism, normalcy has returned. Even the escaped convicts seem to be acting with patriotism and restraint. Police report an actual decline in the crime rate from normal times.


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Today they collaborate with the green capped Awami League volunteers to police the towns not just against a recrudescence of violence but generally to ensure law and order.

In Gulshan and Dhanmondi, where middle-class nerves are particularly on edge, volunteers have been visiting houses and making their presence felt.

This is not to say that some peaceful nirvana has descended upon Bangla Desh either. It is reported that chemicals for explosives have been taken away from the Dacca University Laboratories and the PCSIR laboratories by armed bands. Sentries of VIPs have been overpowered and their weapons seized. The other face of the struggle is going on and one can be sure that in any future upsurge in violence will not be one-sided.

Militancy is reflected in the spontaneous acts of resistance against the security forces. Their own press note reported that supplies to their base areas in Sylhet and Jessore were interrupted. It took 18 hours for a supply convoy to get from Khulna to Jessore because of cuts in the road by peasants.

In Chittagong, M. V. Swat, carrying the first reinforcements from West Pakistan, had been partially unloaded into wagons. But workers, taking their own initiative, suspended unloading and removed the becalmed wagons.

All this reflects the spontaneous response of workers, peasants, and the common man to what they feel is a struggle for survival.