The heroic people of Chittagong played a unique role in the nationwide non-cooperation movement which started on March 3, 1971 at the call of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on March 3, before the start of the direct war of liberation of Bangladesh against Pakistan. It is worth mentioning that hundreds of workers and Bengali soldiers fought to the death to prevent the unloading of arms from the Swat ship carrying arms from Pakistan.
Bangabandhu’s speech at the racecourse ground on March 7 aroused the whole people of Chittagong to struggle. Since that speech, small and large mapped flags of Bangladesh have been seen being made and sold in different places of Chittagong at a price of four annas to one taka. Almost every day, processions and gatherings of the people including cultural activists continue in one place or another. Leaders and activists are engaged in alerting and organizing the people about the need for independence and the conspiracies of the Pakistani military-junta. All the people mentally assumed that Bangabandhu had indirectly declared independence by declaring, ‘This time the struggle is for liberation, this time the struggle is for freedom’. Therefore, a direct war with the Pakistani forces could start at any time. Keeping Bangabandhu’s declaration in mind, the Awami League, Juba League, Chhatra League, Sramik League and Swechchhasebak Bahini prepared for civil resistance through mutual discussion and formation of Sangram Parishad. The process of collecting guns, spears and indigenous weapons started in the area.
Meanwhile, since March 7, there have been rumors that a ship called ‘Swat’ has crossed the Arabian Sea and landed in the port of Chittagong in Bangladesh. Some of the Bengali employees understood the conversations of the Pakistani navy stationed in the port over the wireless. They informed the Awami League leaders outside about the arrival of arms shipments. When the matter quickly spread throughout the city, there was a strong reaction from the people at all levels. At this time the Awami League leaders decided what to do through communication with each other. They decided that any attempt to disarm should be stopped. Zahur Ahmad Chowdhury, MR Siddiqui, MA Hannan, M Siddique, Abdullah Al Harun Chowdhury, Sirajul Haque Mia, MA Mannan, Ataur Rahman Khan and others were among the first line leaders of Awami League in Chittagong.
It was later learned that the 480-foot-long Swat, carrying a Pakistani flag carrying 9,223 tonnes, arrived from the port of Karachi and landed at the outer port of Chittagong on February 26 at around 2.30 pm. One of the captains of the ship was S (Shamsul) Alam Chowdhury. The agent was the National Shipping Corporation.
The ship was docked at Jetty No. 18 on March 17 between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. At that time the port pilot was a non-Bengali Mr. Mokaddam. When an attempt was made to unload the ship from March 17, the Bengali workers-employees-officials of the port refused to cooperate.
According to retired Major Rafiqul Islam Bir Uttam (later Home Minister), “On 27 February, the Swat ship ran aground with 10,000 tons of arms and ammunition. On the same day, a contingent of the Baloch Regiment landed at Dhaka Airport on a plane from Pakistan. This means that at some point in mid-February, the Pakistani forces decided that they would not hand over power to the Bengalis and that a genocidal operation would be launched against us. ”
Meanwhile, after receiving the news of Swat sheep at the port, people from all walks of life, including cultural activists from Chittagong, became determined to disarm Swat and prevent it from being supplied elsewhere. Several units were set up for mutual communication and coordination in this regard. It was the duty of the Bengali officers and employees on duty inside the jetty to provide information on when and where the shipment of boxed arms was landing at the jetty. It is said inside the port that the Swat jetty will be crowded by March 20. In a secret meeting, the labor leaders working at the jetty decided that no Bengali worker would be allowed to unload any goods from Swat. Bengali drivers also promised not to be involved in transportation. On the other hand, the concerned quarters of the Pakistani forces came to know about these decisions through some local followers. They too became desperate to disarm by any means. They understood that the Bengali Brigadier Majumdar of the East Bengal Regiment was delaying the unloading of arms. So far, the workers have been refusing to unload arms from the Swat ship anchored at the jetty in Chittagong. Bengali Brigadier MR Majumdar had indirect support for this.
East Pakistan GOC Major General Khadem Hossain Raja arrived in Chittagong by helicopter on March 24 to ensure the disarmament. Brigadier Majumdar was taken to Dhaka. Non-Bengali Brigadier Ansari was given charge of Chittagong. “We have to unload ammunition at any cost,” he said.
MA Hannan, the then secretary of the Awami League, decided to prevent the disarmament in consultation with MR Siddiqui. When MA Hannan spoke to Brigadier Ansari about this, he remained adamant about disarmament. In this situation, the people created barricades at different places of the road from the port to the cantonment area. Many labor leaders including Rahmat Ullah Chowdhury, Abul Bashar, Ahsan Ullah Chowdhury, Abul Kalam, Mannan Sikder, Nazrul Islam, Omar Farooq played a courageous role in preventing the Swat ship from being unloaded.
Weapons were heard from a ship at a public meeting of the Awami League in New Mooring area on March 24
Students are urged to resist. Swadhin Bangla Chhatra Sangram Parishad, Chhatra League activists and workers marched in the port area with militant slogans. Meanwhile, members of the Dock Workers League surrounded the ‘Swat’ ship inside the port.
Raisul Haque Bahar, a freedom fighter-journalist involved in the resistance struggle, said, “March 24 is the most memorable day for me before the start of the war.” On that day a public meeting was organized in the field of our colony. In the morning, Shamsuddin Bhai called us in the field of the colony and said, “There will be a public meeting in this field this afternoon. Awami League leader MA Hannan will give an important speech. You have to take responsibility for this meeting. ” Our job from the morning was to spread the word about public meetings in Mike New Mooring, Halishahar, Patenga etc. We hired a microphone from Ejahar Miah, a militant political activist from Malum’s house in central Halishahar, and organized a campaign and a meeting. Ezahar Mia is locally known as ‘Mike Ezahar’. Before the meeting started, the field of the colony was filled and the surrounding area became crowded. The roof of the house, the branches of the tree, people and people everywhere. MA Majid, MA Hannan addressed the meeting presided over by Badshah Miah. After MA Majid’s speech, MA Hannan was lecturing on the overall situation in the country, when a procession of about five thousand people from the Steel Mill area was seen rushing towards our public meeting. Everyone in the procession had an iron stick in their hand. They made these sticks by cutting rods from steel mills. As soon as the procession entered the meeting place, Mr. Hannan said, “Pakistani army ship Swat is stationed at Jetty No. 18 of the port next to our public meeting place. Weapons were brought from West Pakistan on that ship to kill the Bengalis by additionally equipping the non-Bengali troops stationed in East Pakistan. We will prevent these weapons from being unloaded from the ship in any way. ” Immediately after his announcement, the crowd erupted in excitement chanting slogans. They vowed not to blockade or lay siege to Swat. Mr. Hannan called for an orderly procession from the meeting to the Army control room at Jetty 3 next to Barik Mia School to protest and stop the unloading of weapons. After the meeting was broken, the leaders immediately took position at the front of the procession. As the procession was moving towards the control room, a stream of people came from all around and merged into the procession. Another procession from Port Colony was added to it in front of the port building. As soon as they reached in front of Jetty Gate No. 3 at 5.30 pm, Pakistani troops opened fire on the procession from the direction of the Navy Fleet Club, causing many casualties and falling to the ground. The people in the procession, unprepared for such barbarism, cried in terror and tried to defend themselves by running as fast as they could. I reached my area by taking a detour through North Halishahar through Nimtala, Port Colony. The next day I came to know that 18 people were killed and many others were injured in the incident. Detailed news about this was published in Azadi and People’s View. Awami League leaders MR Siddiqui, Zahur Ahmad Chowdhury and others went to the spot and went to the hospital to see the injured. Bangabandhu condemned the incident and demanded punishment for the culprits. Tajuddin Ahmed also protested in the statement.
Captain Rafique said, “There were those soldiers of Pakistan Army in Chittagong port, those who were in the Navy shot and killed Bengali workers indiscriminately that night. They dumped the bodies of these Bengalis in the deep sea in a song boat, many people do not know about that incident. The bodies floated to the Kalurghat area a few days later. ”
A large gathering of cultural activists at the Chawkbazar Parade Ground on March 24 protested the disarmament efforts. At the end of the meeting, thousands of people marched towards the port. Mahbub Hasan, Sultan-ul-Alam and other activists of the cultural movement at that time said that Professor Mamtajuddin Ahmed’s play ‘Struggle for Freedom’ was staged on March 24 at Chawkbazar Parade Maidan. About 70,000 people gathered in it. During the drama, it was reported that the Pakistanis were firing indiscriminately on the Bengalis who were obstructing the disarmament from Swat. This created excitement among the audience. About 10,000 people marched towards the port to take part in the resistance. Incidentally, Mahbub Hasan and Sultan-ul-Alam and the playwright Mamtajuddin Ahmed acted in the play. On 25 March, the people rushed to resist Swat from the rally at Laldighi ground. Zahur Ahmad Chowdhury, MR Siddiqui, MA Hannan and others discussed possible ways to prevent disarmament. On the night of March 24, Bangabandhu, through Naeem Gowher and Mosharraf Hossain (former state minister for energy) from Dhaka, instructed Chittagong not to allow the unloading of arms. (Interview with Mosharraf Hossain)
Zahur Ahmad Chowdhury telephoned Brigadier Ansari and requested him not to open fire on the workers obstructing the unloading of arms. But Ansari rejected the request, saying, “Leave Koi She in front of the Agar Mera car, then do what I want.” Ansari also rejected MA Hannan’s request.
Meanwhile, thousands of workers took to the streets to protest. They built barricades along the road from the port to the cantonment area with broken chassis of old trucks, tree trunks, electricity poles and stones wherever they were found. Night
Many people noticed a surprise incident around 11:15 am. Near the present Agrabad Bidyut Bhavan, (slightly north) a liquor store seems to be walking automatically, across the street. Some thought that the Khan army might be taking up positions with weapons by building shops in that way. It was later learned that a shopkeeper by the name of Suryamallik, with the help of his employees, picked up the entire liquor store and set it up on the road as a barrier.
From midnight onwards, intermittent gunfire could be heard from ‘Swat’. A contingent of armed Punjabi navy came from Bakhtiyar, a naval base near Dewanhat. The Khan army also came out of the Natunpara cantonment with tanks.
The military authorities sent fifty Bengali soldiers to the port with a company of the 20th Baloch Regiment to unload the goods. When the workers resisted, the soldiers opened fire. At first eight people were killed. At one stage, the workers clashed with sticks, spears and a small number of guns. Twenty people were killed and more than a hundred were injured in the overnight clashes. At half past two in the night, in the face of strong resistance, the unloading of weapons was suspended. The bodies of Bengali workers were taken to sea by gunboat.
Meanwhile, at around one o’clock in the afternoon, two platoons of Bengali soldiers under the protection of the 26th Punjab Regiment were removed and brought to the port for unloading. At around 11 pm on March 25, a team led by the then Major Ziaur Rahman also started moving towards the port. In the Agrabad area, he heard from Captain Khalequzzaman about the Pakistani attack on the Bengalis. At that time he (Zia) went to the port area and returned to Sholashahar thinking of his own danger. Ahsan Ullah Chowdhury, one of the collaborators of the Swat Ship Disarmament Prevention Movement, recalled those days and said, “The Swat Resistance Movement is a heroic event for the people of Chittagong. I was involved in a coordinating process in an effort to prevent Swat so that there were no casualties and peace was maintained. We were working for peace with Zahur Ahmad Chowdhury, Purnendu Dastidar, Nasir Uddin, a non-Bengali and Hasnat, a non-Bengali teacher of Raozan Engineering College. As far as I know, Ziaur Rahman tried to go to the port with troops to unload arms from March 16 to the night before he left the city. But he has returned after getting obstructed by the people again and again. By 10 a.m. on March 26, some soldiers were forced to remove the barrier. At the end of the work, they were not allowed to return to the barracks and were disarmed and kept inside Swat. The most brutal incident was that the unfortunate Bengali soldiers were not allowed to eat anything but were brutally killed by standing on the platform of their jetty on March 26 at around 4 pm. The wounded were stabbed to death with bayonets. ”
Thus, at one stage of the massacre of the common workers and the Bengali army, the unarmed mob, unable to withstand the modern weapons of the invading forces, fled from the main road to the nearby safe havens. As the March 26th dawned, the Punjabis, armed with tanks and other weapons, began to remove roadblocks and were able to disarm Swat. Seeing so many weapons, the common people, including the port officials, were naturally frightened that day. However, the way in which the brave people of Chittagong responded to Bangabandhu’s call and showed their thumbs down to the orders of the Pakistan military junta and showed non-cooperation at the risk of their lives is incomparable.
Rahmat Ullah Chowdhury, Abul Bashar, Ahsan Ullah Chowdhury, SM Jamal Uddin, Abul Kalam, Mannan Sikder, Nurul Islam, Abdus Chattar, Omar Farooq, Abdul Nabi Chowdhury were among the labor leaders who played a leading role in organizing the workers and masses at that time. (Nabi Mistry), Shukkur Saudagar, Nur Mohammad, Majid Mia, Enamul Haq and others. The incident surrounding the Swat ship before the start of the official war on March 25 made the people of Chittagong even more angry and agitated against the Pakistanis.