By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
As part of an ongoing celebration of Bangladesh’s 51st Independence Day anniversary, that country’s ambassador to Mexico, Abida Islam, in cooperation with Mexico City’s Miguel Hidalgo Municipality, hosted a two-day festival of Central Asian art and culture in the capital’s Lincoln Park on Saturday, March 26, and Sunday, March 27.
Bangladesh won its independence from Pakistan on March 26, 1971, after a difficult and bloody struggle.
“On this great occasion, we pay homage to all the martyred freedom fighters in our war of liberation, and to all the martyrs in the history of our struggle for freedom,” Islam said at the inauguration of the festival, which included a performance of traditional Bangladeshi dances by performers from the Bangladeshi Institute of Performing Arts in New York, as well as a display of Bangladeshi handicrafts and delicacies.
“Also, I pay my deepest homage to the greatest Bengali of all times and the father of the nation of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.”
During the partition of India on Aug. 14, 1947, Pakistan gained independence from Great Britain and became separated from India, and what is now Bangladesh became known first as East Bengal and later East Pakistan.
However, in 1970, the country was led by President Yahya Khan, from the minority West Pakistan region.
After the general elections, Rahman, who was from East Pakistan, won the presidency but West Pakistan refused to hand over power.
This led to a demand for independence by the people of East Pakistan.
The government then began arresting army personnel who were from East Pakistan, leading to mass forced disappearances.
On the night of March 25, 1971, the Pakistan Army declared Operation Searchlight, a military operation that essentially constituted Bengali genocide, leading to the indiscriminate deaths of approximately 3 million Bengalis.
Finally, on the morning of March 26, Rahman declared the independence of East Pakistan from West Pakistan.
For the next nine months, a liberation war raged between both regions.
The war, which became known as the Bangladesh War of Independence, finally came to an end on Dec, 16, 1971, when Pakistan surrendered.
“Rahman was a lifelong fighter for democracy, as well as a unique ambassador of peace who proclaimed our country’s independence,” Islam said.
The ambassador also spoke about her country’s historic heritage, which she said dates from the third century B.C.