Bangladesh Liberation War

Matchbox showing the Liberation of Bangladesh in 1971

Exhibitor : Mohammad Jamal Uddin

The People’s Republic of Bangladesh is a country in South Asia. It is the third most populous Muslim country in the world, which had to fight hard for its independence. My exhibit tells the story of gaining independence, illustrated on a set of commemorative matchboxes.

Partition of India, 1947

After the end of British colonial rule in 1947 the Indian subcontinent was divided into two countries named India and Pakistan, and Pakistan consisted of two separate provinces : West Pakistan and East Bengal (renamed as East Pakistan in 1952).

Map showing East and West Pakistan

The Dominion of Pakistan was composed of various ethnic and linguistic groups, with East Bengal having a mainly Bengali population.

In 1948, the Government of the Dominion of Pakistan ordained that Urdu would be the sole national language in East Bengal, as part of its policy of Islamization and Arabization. It also declared that Bengali should be written in Arabic script.

This sparked extensive protests among the Bengali-speaking majority of East Bengal who became increasingly angry at their exploitation and oppression at the hands of the Pakistani government.


Bengali language movement, 1952

Bengali Language Movement protests

The Bengali language movement was a political movement in East Pakistan advocating the recognition of the Bengali language as an official language to be used in government affairs, education, media, currency and stamps, and to maintain its writing in the Bengali script.

Facing rising sectarian tensions and mass discontent with the new law, the government outlawed public meetings and rallies. The students of the University of Dhaka and other political activists defied the law and organised a protest on 21 February 1952. The movement reached its climax when police killed student demonstrators on that day. The deaths provoked widespread civil unrest.

After years of conflict, the central government relented and granted official status to the Bengali language in 1956.

War of Independence, 1971

The elections of 1970 were a turning point in the country’s struggle for independence. Although the Awami League won the majority, the military junta refused to hand over power. As there was no agreement the then President of Pakistan, General Yahya Khan, arrested the undisputed leader of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, late on the night of 25 March 1971, and the Pakistani army began indiscriminate attacks on Bengalis as part of Operation Searchlight. This was the start of the Bangladesh Liberation War.

Liberation Day

Independence was officially declared on 26th March 1971, but it took another 9 months to achieve liberation from Pakistan. A provisional government was formed under the leadership of Syed Nazrul Islam. Freedom fighters took up arms to liberate the country under the leadership of Ataul Gani Usmani, the commander-in-chief of the liberation war. The freedom fighters of Bangladesh fought continuously for 9 months and defeated the Pakistani forces in December 1971. Through this, the independent, sovereign state of Bangladesh was established.

Every year 26th March is celebrated as Independence Day and 16th December as Victory Day in this country. Also, 21 February (Ekushey February) is observed as Language Movement Day, a national holiday and in 1999 UNESCO declared 21 February as International Mother Language Day.

Commemorative matchboxes

A set of 10 matches has been made with images of some momentous events in the Liberation War. This historic matchbox set was created by the Bangladesh Matchbox Museum, which has been making matchboxes for matchbox collectors’ since 2015 and has so far produced more than 600 designs. It should be noted that Bangladesh Matchbox Museum Bangladesh is the first and only institution that produces matches only for collectors.

Click on an image in the gallery below to enlarge it and see the commemorative matchbox.

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