When India was partitioned after independence, modern-day Bangladesh, as a Muslim-majority region, became part of Pakistan. Yet East Pakistan, as it was known, was effectively ruled from Islamabad, with Urdu the sole national language and Bengali not recognised.
Pro-independence sentiment was boosted in 1970 when cyclone Bhola killed up to half a million people. The poor relief effort organised by the Pakistani authorities was condemned by pro-independence leaders as ‘gross neglect, callous and utter indifference’.
In March 1971, the Pakistani army launched an operation to liquidate the growing nationalist opposition, gunning down demonstrations and targeting activists. In response, Bangladesh’s independence was declared, and the Mukti Bahini (Liberation Army) was organised. The War of Liberation lasted until December, when the entry of the Indian Army into Bangladesh on the side of independence decisively turned the tide against Pakistan.
Human rights violations were widespread, and many estimates put the number of people killed by Pakistani forces at more than a million. The United States supported Pakistan in the conflict.
Pro-independence leader Sheikh Mujibar Rahman addressing a rally at the Race Course Maidan, on 7 March 1971, brfore the army crackdown on 25 March. Photo: Abul Lais Shyamal.
Wounded freedom fighters near rehabilitation camp Dhanmondi, Dhaka. Photo: Anwar Hossain
Bengalis massacred by the Pakistani Army and Al Badrs (local Bengali collaborators) being salvaged, Buriganga, Dhaka, late 1971. Photo: Anwar Hossain.
Victorious freedom fighters at the village of Charkushai, Dohar Thana, Dhaka, late 1971. Photo: Anwar Hossain
These photographs, commemorating the struggle for independence, are from the collection of the Swadhinata Trust, a Bengali heritage association based in Tower Hamlets, London: www.swadhinata.org.uk
Battles for survival: climate crisis and far right rising ● Europe’s creeping fascism ● The far right in Britain ● New anti-racist movements ● The climate uprising ● Green New Deal debate ● Lowkey interview ● Anti-fascist music ● Book reviews ● and much more
And you choose how much to pay for your subscription...
The redevelopment of a London council estate has led to the loss of a mature ‘urban forest’ - as well as hundreds of rented homes. Photos and text by Matthew Benjamin Coleman.
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
As Chats Palace in Hackney celebrates its 40th anniversary, Red Pepper takes a look through the arts centre's photographic archives
You sent us your pictures of anti-G8 action this month in London
Mary Turner's photographs of a fight not just for land but for a community