A brief look at the Bangladesh Liberation War through the holdings of the BLDS Legacy Collection
One of the main aims of the British Library for Development Studies Legacy Collection (BLDS) project is outreach and promotion. As part of this we are assisting with some teaching sessions at Sussex in order to demonstrate both the relevance of specific holdings and to educate and hopefully enthuse students as to the value of using primary source materials in their research.
One such class is on the International System Today course, where we will be dropping into the session on South Asia to show some materials and explain a little bit about the collection. We knew already that this area was one of BLDS’s strengths, with nearly 300 shelves of material from India, around 100 shelves from Pakistan and nearly 400 boxes from Bangladesh.
With the Indian and Bangladeshi material already catalogued (and now also available via Primo Collections) we were able to browse for material under the theme of ‘Conflict’ as well as search via the relevant Subject Headings (India-Pakistan Conflict, 1971) to find a whole host of relevant material, and then narrow this down to items containing illustrations, which we might reasonably expect to be more aesthetically appealing examples to present to students.
This was thus an opportunity to see how the metadata work we’ve done to make the BLDS Legacy Collection more accessible functions with a specific test case – and it was with relief that we realised that we hadn’t been totally wasting our time for the last two years! There was a huge amount of relevant material, and we were therefore able to pick out a few different examples for the class.
We wanted to show how material from different types of organisation can illustrate their varying agendas, and also contemporary ephemera reveals the narratives and conflicts of the time, rather than those imposed by hindsight.
So, for instance, this issue of Pakistan News, dated 15 July 1971 and produced by the Pakistani Embassy in London. The headline concerns the British response to what Pakistan considered to be Indian belligerence, with the main article reporting a formal protest lodged by the Islamabad government. Interesting too is the language used of ‘secessionists’, ‘Bangla desh’ with very much inverted commas – attempting to establish a clear narrative of illegitimate revolt and foreign interference.
We can contrast this with various publications produced by the nascent Bangladesh independence movement/government, which instead seek to turn the attention of world opinion to the atrocities committed by the Pakistani army. The Truth About Bangla Desh which is a compilation of press reports from foreign journalists on the March 1971 crackdown, produced by the Bangladesh Public Relations Department, and The Road to Freedom which is full of evocative photos depicting the Bangladeshis as plucky insurgents.
The final items in this quick survey are from the sub-collection of Indian political parties pamphlets, which provide in contrast a non-governmental slant on the conflict, and show how it fitted into wider political discourses of the day on the sub-continent.
The Indian Communist Party’s US Arms for Pakistan, final page makes clear that for the ICP, who aligned with the Soviet Union, the conflict was part of wider regional geopolitics which at the time pitted the United States, Pakistan and China against India and the Soviet Union.
The second pamphlet Bangla Desh and Jana Sangh is from the Sampradayikta Virodhi Committee, an anti-communalist front formed in the 1960s to combat the rise of Hindu nationalism, and shows another interesting dynamic of the conflict, namely the clash between the Islamism of West Pakistan and the secular tendencies within the Bangladeshi independence struggle – and how this complicated analysis of the struggle for those viewing it through a solely Hindu/Muslim lens.
We definitely don’t pretend to be subject experts ourselves. Instead, we hope that this post highlights the value of the collection for those interested in the history of South Asia in the second half of the twentieth century. As well as illustrate the different light that the varied source material available in the BLDS Legacy Collection can shine on complicated historical events.