In early March 1971 - in anticipation of Pakistani onslaught - student and youth leaders from cities and villages formed the Sangram Parishad (War Union) to protect the country. These Sangram Parishads combined with Mukti Fauj (Freedom Army), made up of defect members of East Pakistan armed forces, para military forces and police, formed the Mukti Bahini. Though it's not clear when and how the Mukti Fauj was created nor when they adopted the name Mukti Bahini, it is certain that the names originated from the people who joined the liberation struggle.
Members of the Mukti Bahini, and other forces who were striving towards an independent Bangladesh were known as 'Mukti Juddhas' (Freedom Fighters) - or 'Muktis' for short, as used mainly by the Pakistani army.
When I took over as Eastern Army commander in August 1974 I asked to see the records (of the creation of Mukti Bahini). I was told that they have been shredded.
Lt Gen (retd) JFR Jacob, Chief of Staff of Indian Army's eastern command refuses to discuss who ordered the destruction of the records
The earliest move towards forming a liberation army officially came from the declaration of independence made by Major Ziaur Rahman of East Bengal Regiment on behalf of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. In the declaration made from Kalurghat Betar Kendra (Chittagong) on 27 March 1971, Major Zia assumed the title of "provisional commander in chief of the Bangladesh Liberation Army", though his area of operation remained confined to Chittagong and Noakhali areas. Major Ziaur Rahman's declaration on behalf of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman marked a break with Pakistan by the Bengali units of the army. When Colonel Osmani took over as Commander-in-Chief of Bangladesh Armed Forces on 17 April 1971, the Mukti Bahini came under his command and leadership.
Colonel MAG Osmani was in command of the Mukti Bahini - estimated to be around 100,000. The increasing terror tactics of the Pakistani Army gave the Mukti Bahini more recruits then they could absorb. Thousands of Bengalis, old and young, including boys of tender age, volunteered for recruitment to fight the Pakistani Army. Husbands separated from their wives and children, sons from their parents, brothers from their sisters, joined the Mukti Bahini. In order to cover the entire area of Bangladesh, Mukti Juddhas were recruited from all parts and trained in camps, located close to their areas.
My 15-year-old son Daud joined the guerrillas. We told him not to but he went, and when I asked him 'Aren't you afraid?' he said, 'No, my gun will speak for me'.
Those who wished to join the Mukti Bahini were asked, among other things, about their political affiliations. However, during the conflict not all mukti juddhas were Awami League supporters as people who were not consciously or directly Awami League supporters also joined the struggle, as the national movement turned into a movement for liberation.
The Mukti Bahini was manufactured overnight by the Pakistan Army. If the Pakistanis had only limited their action against selected politicians, Bengalis in the army and the police might have stayed neutral. It was only when information got around that the Pakistani army was out to kill the Bengali intellectuals and servicemen as well that they revolted to a man.
Tagore sang lovingly about a Bengal that suffered partition; but in 1971, fervent choruses of "Joy Bangla" and "Amar Sonar Bangla" rang out together to evoke the beauty and strength of another Bengal, a new Bengal, which Tagore never knew, whose people fought for freedom from Pakistan.
After the end of April 1971, the Mukti Fauj operations abated considerably - and the next phase started, the long process for the recruitment, organisation, training and equipping of what eventually came to be called the Mukti Bahini.
Freedom fighters sought sanctuaries along the Indo-Bangla border. They established camps, recruited large numbers of educated youth - mainly Muslim but included many Hindus - who escaped from the campaign of "elitocide" let loose on 25 March 1971. They were organised, trained and armed at these camps, and given operational experience.
Mukti Bahini were trained in centres in West Bengal, Bihar, Tripura, and Meghalaya (all regions in India, surrounding Bangladesh from every side) and were given training on tactics and the use of arms and explosives and bolstered by weaponry supplied from India. Their initial activities were engaged with skirmishes and continual hit-and-run clashes with the mighty Pakistani Army who were armed with heavy, advanced machinery.
Since most of the recruits were educated youths from schools and colleges, they were easy to train. The normal recruit's training period could be considerably shortened. Every six weeks 2,000 guerrillas were being turned out for operational duty. The Mukti Bahini is in fact one of the most highly educated armed forces ever.
At the beginning the guerrillas were armed mainly with rifles and submachine guns. As their operations intensified - and they began to score successes against isolated garrisons and patrols of the enemy - their armour also expanded.
By the end of September , many guerrilla groups had acquired light machine guns, hand grenades and even mortars. Clandestine factories were set up in the sanctuary areas for the manufacture of such items as anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, booby trap explosives and grenades - albeit of crude and cumbersome design. But they were effective: they began to take their toll of Pakistani lives. Bridges could be blown up, vehicle columns destroyed and, occasionally, even the tracks of enemy tanks damaged.
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