From 'A charter of survival' to 'An Inspiration for a bold new future'

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Published on June 7, 2020
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Sharifuzzaman:

It was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who alluded in his book 'The Great Tragedy' that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's six point movement was a veiled secessionist agenda not supported by the people of East Pakistan. The subsequent events that included mass demonstrations, historic political gatherings and a glorious freedom war proved that Bhutto couldn’t be further from the truth. 75 million Bengalis, answering the call of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, stood firmly behind the Awami League resulting in a landslide election victory of AL in 1970 National and Provincial elections which in turn led to the birth of Bangladesh. The Six Point movement proved to be the very cornerstone of an independent Bengali political entity and to this very day, is rightly called 'Our six point charter of survival'.

The six point programme as well as the movement remains to be an important milestone in Bangladeshi, even global, politics as it envisaged a more equitable world based on self-sufficiency and dignity within federal entities in countries across the world. It was, however, originally designed to be the basis of a Constitution for a 'Better Pakistan' where the federating units (provinces) would receive greater autonomy and would get greater initiatives to serve the people which would, in effect, abolish the all too powerful military-bureaucratic Central Government replacing it with a smaller,effective and democratic federal Government charged with only two vital responsibilities - foreign relations and defence. The six point programme explicitly seeks to create a 'True Federation' stopping exploitation of one province (in this instance, East Pakistan) by other federating units and delegating the power of taxation to individual provinces to ensure effective spendings. This historic charter was presented by Bangabandhu in February 1966 in an opposition party gathering after the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 explicitly pointed out the Pakistani establishment's utterly inadequate military preparedness in the Eastern wing (justifying Six point's demand for a provincial militia) and the continued capital flight from East Pakistan (justifying the demands for autonomous provinces and fair monetary policies).

The West Pakistani establishment, sensing an immediate threat to their ever-expanding power, sought to discredit the Awami League and the six point programme branding Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as secessionist, at the same time holding on the reins of government ever so fiercely. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's call for democracy and autonomy resonated deeply with the Bengali populace which was further helped by media supports such as Daily Ittefaq's brilliant articles explaining Six Point's valid arguments leading to massive popular support for the Awami League which unquestionably irritated and in some cases, terrified Ayub Khan's government at Islamabad. To quell this popular movement, Islamabad used the Governor, Monem Khan, to discredit Sheikh Mujibur Rahman which of course fell flat as the populace shunned propagandist circulations from a government that ridiculed and rejected their just demands for long. Eventually, the East Pakistani government, a mere puppet of President Ayub Khan, arrested Sheikh Mujib igniting a massive protest for his release and enactment of Six point programme. The government's utter lack of understanding of public sentiments as well as ruthless actions led to the death of 11 protestors (as well as injuries of 800 more) during a strike on 7 June, 1966. The fateful day finally sealed East Pakistan’s fate and led to the eventual freedom struggle five years later.

The six point movement, as well as the 7th June strike, is a turning point in our national history and it could still play a vital role to guide the people, especially today's youth like us, towards a better future. The six point, though designed in a bygone era for a country, that no longer is in a political union with Bangladesh, can still be looked at for future inspirations and the mass movement of 7th June can still teach us about the power of democratic will which may help to shape our future.

But to realize Six Point Movement's relevance in today's Bangladesh, 54 years after its formulation, we require awareness and willingness for positive change. Today's youth, though somewhat informed of the title, are vastly ignorant of the premise and purpose of the 'Six Point Movement', We must be aware of the historic importance of it as well as the strength of mass democratic movements, only through which can we truly honour the sacrifices of 7th June victims and shape a better future. In this regard, current Bangladeshi Government's initiative to introduce 'Bangladesh Studies' throughout the academic sphere (from Primary level to the University curriculum) and mass public outreach initiatives (online and offline) surely steps in the right direction.

Also, we must have the willingness to move towards gradual and positive changes in political and economic areas. East Pakistan, in the year of her independence, was barely a billion dollar economy comprising of 75 million people living in an agrarian society with a central government that was too big and incompetent to function effectively. Now Bangladesh, a nation of 170 million people working vigorously in agriculture, industry and service sectors, boasts an economy of over 347 billion dollars, hosts emerging entrepreneurs with huge technological potentials and offers her citizens better quality of life with improved healthcare systems as well as other welfare measures. The budget figure swelled from a mere 787 crores in 1972-73 to 5,23,190 crores in 2019-20!!! All these positive changes must be furthered with more positive advances. Local governments must be further strengthened for which the autonomous spirit of Six Point Movement should be our inspiration, and the youth must be engaged with the political process of the nation with a say in the nation's development process following the glorious examples of the protestors of 7th June,1966. Various initiatives by the Bangladesh government, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, must be applauded in this regard for introducing numerous workshops, ICT initiatives, youth training programmes as well as many other measures. The Prime Minister's relentless efforts to include the young generation in the political process, as well as her respect for popular sentiments, reflect the same spirit which was displayed in that fateful day in 1966 by fearless protestors.

It has been more than half a century since the day when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman called on all East Pakistanis to rally behind the six point - The Charter of Survival - which finally emancipated the people giving birth to an Independent Bangladesh. The sacrifice of Bengalis in June,1966 resonated deeply with the freedom fighters in 1971 as The Six Point Movement carried the spirit of freedom and justice. Today, along with all other portion of the populace, the youth must share that spirit and work together to create a country our founding father envisioned - a happier Bangladesh, a brighter Bangladesh and by all means, a better Bangladesh.

Writer: Postgraduate student of English Language and Literature in Jashore University of Science and Technology

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Six Points, 1966,