March 7 is an important day for the People’s Republic of Bangladesh because it was the day when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman delivered a historic speech in 1971 that left a significant impact on Bangladesh’s history. The resounding speech gave voice to the aspirations of a brand-new independent nation and marked a turning point in the conflict over the separation of East Pakistan from West Pakistan. The speech that was delivered at Dhaka’s Race Course Ground saw over two million people listen to his speech. Millions of Bengalis were mobilised to prepare for an independence war. 

He is revered as the “Father of the Nation” and the embodiment of Bengali pride in both identity and culture. His idea of a secular, democratic, and socialist Bangladesh continues to inspire generations of Bangladeshis today. During the speech, he declared, ‘The struggle this time is the struggle for emancipation. The struggle this time is the struggle for independence. Joi Bangla.’ In this historic speech, Mujib urged the nation to break the shackles of subjugation and declared, “Since we have given blood, we will give more blood. By the will of the Almighty God, the people of this land will be liberated… turn every house into a fortress.” (The Unfinished Memoirs of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, 2022). The overwhelming response of the people of Bangladesh to his call was unprecedented in the region’s history. In reality, he ruled an independent Bangladesh from 7 March to 25 March 1971 since Pakistan Army arrested him from his Dhanmondi residence after the declaration of independence of Bangladesh on 26th March 1971. However, on 10th April, the Provisional Revolutionary Government of Bangladesh was formed and elected Mujib as president and Syed Nazrul Islam as acting president. 

The speech inspired and brought the Bengali people together. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s call for a non-cooperation campaign and his peaceful demonstrations inspired millions of Bengalis and gave them hope that independence was possible. Secondly, the speech helped the Bengalis in acceptance on a global scale. The speech was heard by millions of people in Bangladesh and around the world. It drew attention to the violations of human rights committed by the Pakistani army and assisted in inciting outrage among political figures. Thirdly, the speech demonstrated Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s vision and leadership. He urged all Bengalis to work together, regardless of their political affiliations or socio-economic standing and provided a clear roadmap for achieving independence. He emphasised the importance of being a democratic, secular country, and denounced the notion of a theocratic state. 

The speech served to increase global support for the Bengali cause and showcased Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s excellent leadership and vision. Since then, it has come to represent the movement of Bengali nationalism. The speech is regarded as a watershed moment in Bangladeshi history and a symbol of the country’s struggle for independence. The Bangladeshi government later conferred the title “Father of the Nation” upon Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 2010 in honour of his national leadership and significant role in bringing Bangladesh’s independence. 

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman

Born on March 17, 1920, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is the father of the incumbent prime minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina. He is a politician and statesman who was instrumental in the formation of Bangladesh as a sovereign nation-state from Pakistan. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was known for his fervent speeches and commitment to social justice and democracy. He was a very influential and active political leader who struggled and worked tirelessly in founding Bangladesh in 1971. He was born in the family of Tungipara in the Faridpur District. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman became involved in social movements and activism at a young age. The moniker “Bangabandhu,” which means “Friend of Bengal,” was given to him in honour of his outstanding leadership and unwavering commitment to the nation’s freedom. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman began his political career while he was a student of Gopalganj Missionary School when he received the affection of his political guru Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy during his visit to Gopalganj along with A.K Fazlul Huq, who was Chief Minister of undivided Bengal then. He participated in several movements and demonstrations against British colonial rule and was greatly influenced by the ideologies of Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was particularly moved by the values and greatest affection of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy whom he revered as his political guru. 

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of Bangladesh had to spend most of his life in prison since his exponential growth of influence among people was found to be a threat to those people who were in the power.  The very person who supported the independence of Pakistan quickly realized that the creation of an independent country based on religion is not the best idea and he immediately started work for creating an independent state based on the will of the people.  On 11th March 1948, Mujib led a protest against the Muslim League regarding language issues and he was arrested along with some of his colleagues. 

He was once again arrested on September 11 and was only released from jail on 21st January 1949. Despite his imprisonment, he was appointed as Joint Secretary of East Pakistan Awami Muslim League in 1949. Mujib had to bear a severe Hunger Strike in 1952 demanding his release from prison. In 1958, Major General Iskander Mirza imposed martial law and banned political activities. Mujib was once again arrested on 11th October. He was, however, released from prison after fourteen months. He was harassed in many false cases.  

Despite countless turbulence and imprisonment, Sheikh Mujib advanced quickly through the party’s ranks before being appointed as General Secretary. He was chosen to serve in the Pakistan National Assembly in 1956 after being elected to the East Pakistan Provincial Legislative Assembly in 1955. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he persisted in advocating for the rights of Bengalis and the complete autonomy of East Pakistan. The movement for Bangladesh’s independence began in the late 1960s when the Pakistani government enacted anti-Bengali laws. While denying them the freedom to practise their politics, language, and culture, the West Pakistani ruling class economically exploited the Bengalis. This led Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his party to start arguing for giving East Pakistan autonomy.  

In the 1970 general elections, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman led his party to a resounding victory, taking home 167 of the available 169 seats in the National Assembly. Following Bangladesh’s independence in 1971, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was named the country’s first President of independent Bengal. It became a huge challenge for him to rebuild the war-torn country and install a democratic government. He also implemented a socialist economic plan in addition to launching a massive initiative to redistribute land to the peasants who were lacking it. However, a few political and religious organizations opposed him. In 1975, a group of army officers assassinated Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the majority of his family. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman left a lasting legacy as the nation’s founder and the driving force behind Bangladesh’s independence. He is still a pivotal figure in Bangladeshi history and an inspiration to all who fight for freedom and justice. 

On 30th October 2017, UNESCO also recognized it as a historic speech. 

Contributed by 

Rinchen Thongdrel & Tshering Tobgay


Centre for Bhutan & GNH Studies (CBS)