The following is a simplified and necessarily incomplete timeline of the lead up to Bangladeshi Independence.
August 1947 – Independence and Partition for India and Pakistan
British colonial rule over India ends. A largely Muslim state comprising East and West Pakistan is established, either side of India. The two provinces are separated from each other by more than 1,500 km of Indian territory.
March 1948 – Bengali Language Movement demand Bengali be an official language.
Birth of Bhasha Andolon – the Bengali Language Movement. Students of the University of Dhaka and other colleges of the city organized a general strike in to protest the omission of Bengali language from official use, including on coins and stamps. The movement demanded that Bengali was declared an official language of Pakistan.
1949 – Awami League established
The Awami League is established to campaign for East Pakistan’s autonomy from West Pakistan. It also supports the Bengali Language Movements call for Bengali to be recognised as an official language.
May 1954- Bengali becomes an official language
Official language status is granted to Bengali. The constitution of Pakistan was reworded to say “The state language of Pakistan shall be Urdu and Bengali.” Some Bengali Nationalists are still not happy and want more freedom from West Pakistan.
November 1970 – Bhola Cyclone
Bhola Cyclone kills up to 500,000 people in the storm. The Pakistani government is severely criticized for its incompetent handling of the relief by locals and the international media.
December 1970 – Awami League wins election but not power.
On December 7th 1970, the first general elections in Pakistan were held. The unhappiness of the Bengali people was powerfully shown by a huge victory of the Awami League. The party won 160 of 162 seats for East Pakistan!
March 1971 – Sheikh Mujibur announces aim for Bengali Independence.
Despite their victory in the elections in East Pakistan, the Awami League are blocked from taking power by the West Pakistanis. After months of waiting Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the leader of the Awami League announces to a big crowd in Dhaka, “The struggle this time is the struggle for our emancipation! The struggle this time is the struggle for independence!“
March 1971 – Days Of Civil Disobedience
Following Sheikh Mujibur Rahman speech on the 7th of March East protests for independence. In response the West Pakistan Army opens fire on Bengali demonstrators in Syedpur, Rangpur and Chittagong. More than a thousand people are killed.
March- May 1971 – Operation Searchlight begins
The Pakistan Army launched a campaign to scare the Bengalis into giving up. Within hours a organised killings had commenced in Dhaka, with the heaviest attacks concentrated on the University of Dhaka and the Hindu area of the old town. The Pakistan Army came with hit lists and killed several hundred Bengalis, taking military control of all the major towns. Over the year over 100,000 more are killed and many more attacked, injured or made into refugees. It is recognised by the rest of the world as a genocide against Bengalis (both Muslim and Hindus).
March 26, 1971 – Sheikh Mujibur arrested.
Considered the official Independence Day of Bangladesh, because on this day Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the leader of the Awami League sent the following telegram before being arrested : “I am asking help to all the nations of this world. Our freedom fighters are valiantly fighting against the foes to save their motherland. In the name of Almighty Allah my last request and order to you all is to fight for independence till death… No compromise, the victory is ours. Execute the last foe from our holy motherland. Carry my message to all the leaders, activists and the other patriots from the every corner of the country. May Allah bless you all. Joy Bangla.”
December 1971 – India joins war.
With hundreds of thousands of Bengalis seeking refuge in India, they become involved in the conflict. Pakistan seek to attack Bengali refugees inside India and this leads India into a war with Pakistan. During this conflict the Indian Army convincingly defeats the Pakistani Army.
December 16, 1971- Pakistan Surrenders
Over 93,000 Pakistani troops surrendered to the Indian forces, making it the largest surrender since World War II.
January 1972 – Bangladesh becomes Independent.
Sheikh Mujib returns, becomes prime minister and ‘Bangladesh’ (Bangla-Land) becomes an internationally recognised Independent Country within the next few years.