ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Dhaka 1969

A reading of 1969, the momentous year of protests against Ayub Khan’s dictatorship in East Pakistan is offered, going beyond the popular tropes of inevitability and loss. The moments when Bengali nationalism exceeded its own expectations by making michhil or procession its main focus are identified. A rumination on Dhaka, which found its present cultural and political identity through the upheaval of the 1960s is presented.


The tumultuous and long decade of the 1960s prior to Bangladesh’s independence enjoys multiple afterlives. To many, it was a necessary precondition to the unique and inescapable moment of sovereign becoming. The uprising against Ayub Khan’s dictatorship in East and West Pakistan reached a tipping point in 1969. Gana abbhutthan or “mass uprising” was a testament to the popular appeal of the protests, which in effect convulsed an entire decade. In most retrospections, the chain of events had set the stage for Bengali self-determination.

For vocal groups of progressive thinkers, 1969 bore the fruits of radical political organising, which were eventually eclipsed by nationalism. The failure of the a socialist project that became apparent soon after independence makes such framing not altogether surprising. The 1960s was also the peak of an urban working class and the student movement that put up serious resistance in both wings of Pakistan (Ali 2015). The nostalgia for a failed revolution makes a common thread in reminiscences from Bangladesh and Pakistan. In 1971, Tariq Ali remembered the upsurge of 1968–69 as the period in which the gulf between Bengali nationalism and West Pakistani oppositional parties was briefly transcended (Ali 1971). Yet, a hereditary devotion to constitutionalism compounded the class limitations of petty bourgeois politics. However, for Ali (1971), it eventually failed to carry out a “real struggle” for national independence. For others, the ideological conflicts within progressive politics were also responsible for the dissipation of revolutionary energies (Muhammad 2007).

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Updated On : 30th Oct, 2021
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