The people of Bangladesh (re)discovered their identity during the Language Movement of 1952. The struggle to establish their identity and national spirit began soon after 1947 as the Bengali people realized that under the two-nation Pakistan, there was little scope for the distinct culture of Bangalees to flourish. The refusal of the Pakistani central government to grant status to the Bangla language became the focal point of the struggle as language was the most important vehicle of the cultural expression of the Bengali people.
The contradiction of the two Pakistans – the racial oppression and exploitation by West Pakistan over East Pakistan was gradually revealed. The struggle for consciousness of identity and cultural freedom, which began with the student movements of the 1960’s, gained mass momentum in 1969. Though it brought about the fall of the powerful military ruler Ayub Khan, the ultimate goal was not achieved. Soon after, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of the Bangalee Awami League was elected Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1970.
In the elections of December 7, 1970 the Awami League won 160 out of 162 seats in East Pakistan and would have had a clear majority in the new assembly had it been convened. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman became the majority party leader of the Pakistan National Assembly.
The military rulers of Pakistan refused to allow the Awami League to form a government. Major General Ziaur Rahman, on behalf of Sheikh Mujib, declared independence. A full scale movement of non-cooperation with the military government began on March 26, 1971, a date now celebrated as the Bangladeshi Independence Day. Bangladesh was plunged into its Liberation War.
The Pakistani Army began their genocide by attacking Dhaka first. They massacred 35,000 Bengali intellectuals and unleashed a brutal war against the Bangalees of East Pakistan to prevent secession.
During the 9-month struggle which ensued, an estimated 3,000,000 Bengalis were killed, 250,000 women were raped and 10,000,000 refugees fled into India. Sheikh Mujib himself was imprisoned in West Pakistan. A Bangladesh Government-in-Exile was established and the Indian Army launched a massive offensive against the Pakistani forces to support the Bangladesh Liberation movement. On December 16, 1971, the Pakistani army surrendered.