Every celebration of Independence Day is an opportunity for the nation to recall the immense sacrifices made in the tortuous struggle for Bangladesh's freedom forty eight years ago. When Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman made the declaration, in the early minutes of this day in 1971 moments before his arrest by the Pakistan army, unimaginable atrocities had been unleashed by the enemy.
In those initial moments of the genocide by the Yahya Khan military junta, thousands of Bengalis were murdered in Dhaka. Over the following months, the number of the dead would rise in horrific proportions, to reach the disturbing figure of three million. Along the way, the occupation forces left tens of thousands of women raped, villages, towns and indeed an entire infrastructure ruined.
And yet this morning we recall too the courage and spirit of freedom our countrymen demonstrated in the face of the enemy's brutalities. The young and the middle-aged went off to the fields of battle.
For the first time in history, a government formed and operated by Bengali politicians took shape at Mujibnagar. It did the job of forging liberation strategy remarkably well through putting in place a wartime administration and a guerrilla structure that would lead us to freedom nine months after the declaration of independence. It was a triumph richly deserved, one that did us proud.
Today we remember in profound pride our compatriots who died in the battle for freedom and those who survived to tell the story of the struggle. And we ask, even as we celebrate our passage to liberty, how many of the goals we set for ourselves in 1971, those we perceived would be our priorities following our victory against the enemy, we have seen through to fulfilment.
And that, in essence, is the challenge alongside the opportunity. Today, close to half a century after the declaration of independence, it remains our job to build for ourselves a democratic society that has for an underpinning respect for every citizen, every religious belief, every individual endeavour towards national development.
We need to ensure that the spirit of the Liberation War is reflected and ingrained in all of us through an adherence to the principle of free speech and respect for opinions. At the same time, it is well to remember Bangabandhu's dictum that while it is hard to achieve independence, it is equally hard to maintain it. And therefore the only way in which independence can be made meaningful is through ensuring an equitable distribution of resources, through putting in place a strong base of education for all, through making sure that the poor and the less fortunate are lifted to happiness and prosperity.
Bangabandhu spoke of the need for democracy of the exploited to serve as the basis of our development programmes. In line with his philosophy, it becomes a necessity for us to have democracy developing from the grassroots, indeed to have meaningful local government beginning at the village level serve as the foundation of our pluralistic society. And, of course, pluralism is but a broad canvas of liberalism, of tolerance, of respect for every citizen of this land.
On Independence Day, let our resolve be to build an egalitarian social construct for ourselves, for the generations to be. That was --- and is --- the message scripted in Joi Bangla.
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