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by Sushrita Acharjee.

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1971 The Lasting Impact of Collectible E
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A plethora of ephemera, such as posters, placards, pamphlets, graffiti, cartoons, stickers and tape recordings of public speeches by political leaders, have been collected in the wake of the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh and preserved at archives and museums—namely Bangladesh Liberation War e-archive, Liberation War Museum in Dacca and so on. While music offered an aural experience of dissent against the West Pakistani perpetrators, these ephemera made a visual appeal.

What is Ephemera?

The word ephemera, which is the plural form of ephemeros or ephemeron, has its root in the Greek ‘epi’ which signifies the preposition ‘on’ or ‘for’, and ‘hemera’, meaning ‘day’. Evidently, ephemera denote things that lasts only for a day or for a short time. In literary studies, ephemera signify texts or images—printed and often handwritten or hand-drawn—for a specific purpose, context and occasion, and are not meant to be preserved for posterity. Some of the most widely collectible ephemera include greeting cards, posters, graffiti, pamphlets, menu-cards, newspaper advertisements, notices, product labels and so on. Since the twentieth century, the concept of audio-visual ephemera has become vogue; some of the most popular audio–visual ephemera comprise television and radio broadcasts, tape recordings and so on.

The Significance of Ephemera in 1971 Liberation War

● Under media blackout during the situation of Emergency imposed by the West Pakistani Government, the handwritten and hand-drawn posters, pamphlets, cartoons, graffiti, slogans etc. by Bangladeshi students, artists and intellectuals largely contributed to the dissemination of information, organization of mass protests and the like. The Provisional Pro-Liberation Government formed in Bangladesh in 1971, also known as the Mujibnagar Government in the name of Bangabandhu Mujibur Rahman, encouraged the artists and intellectuals to produce more visually appealing and motivational work so as to incite the country people as well as expose the situation in Bangladesh to people across the globe.

● Because ephemera are context-specific and produced for a certain purpose by the people for the people, these prove to be some of the most authentic relics of a certain moment in history. Years later the posters, pamphlets etc. display the spirit of resistance of the Bangladeshi people against an oppressive authoritarian force and make it impossible for the oppressors to manipulate the lived experience of violence, displacement and subsequent trauma that the colonized people underwent in 1971.

● The posters, pamphlets and cartoons most often produced in the Bangla language were reminders of the 1952 Bangla Language Movement when thousands of young people of Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) protested the unfair imposition of Urdu language on the people of Bangladesh, thereby rendering their mother tongue Bangla into a second language. These ephemera, which function as non-violent expressions of dissent, also showcase the rootedness of the Bengali peoples in their own rich cultural heritage.

These collectible ephemeral materials preserved in the aftermath of the 1971 War can be categorised in three groups in terms of the sources of their production: materials funded by the Provisional Bangladesh Pro-Liberation Government; materials created by Bangla’r Patua Samaj, headed by artist Quamrul Hassan; and miscellaneous ephemera.

A. Contribution of the Provisional Pro-Liberation Government of Bangladesh

The Mujibnagar Government or the Provisional Government of Bangladesh formed in April 1971 funded the making of many patriotic posters, cartoons and festoons—even in exile—so as to keep the peoples of Bangladesh motivated. Artists such as Nitun Kundu, Pranesh Kumar Mandal and the like made minimalistic yet effective posters to arrest the attention of both—the Bangladeshi people longing for liberation and the oppressive West Pakistani force. Red and black were the colours of choice for many of these artists; besides adding vibrancy to the posters, these colours also signified the invincible willpower of the liberation army, even if they were not as equipped with ammunition as the West Pakistani army were. One of the most famous posters was inspired by Mujibur Rahman’s fiery speech on 7 March 1971 at Ramna Race Course, Dacca. Bangabandhu Mujibur Rahman in this speech called for a civil disobedience and called for the people of Bangladesh to turn each of their houses into a fort ready for battle.

(Courtesy: Liberation War Museum, Dacca)

The above poster, which was patronized by the Bangladesh Government’s information and radio wing, includes an excerpt from Rahman’s speech in bold red calligraphy:

‘[. . . E]barer sangram swadhinata’r sangram, rakta jakhan diyechhi, aro rakta debo’(This time, it is a struggle for our independence, we have already shed much blood, we will shed more); and ‘ghare ghare durga gore tolo’ (turn each house into a fort).[i] Along with the text, the poster displays a sketch possibly inspired by photographs of Mujibur Rahman delivering the speech while raising his hand and pointing towards the mass gathered at the Race Course.

(Courtesy: Muktijuddho e-Archive Trust)

The following poster, designed by artist Debdas Chakraborty, is based on the song ‘Bangla’r Hindu, Bangla’r Boudhha, Bangla’r Christan, Bangla’r Musalman, amra shobai Bangali’ (Bengal’s Hindu, Bengal’s Budhhist, Bengal’s Christian, Bengal’s Muslim, we all belong to Bengal) written by Gauriproshonno Majumdar and composed by Shamar Roy. The minimalist poster in its background has silhouettes of the places of worship for all the religions mentioned in the song—a temple, a monastery, a church and a mosque. The lyrics of the song are written on the orange foreground of the poster, symbolizing a new sunrise, a new dawn of independence that is about to arrive.

(Courtesy: Liberation War Museum, Dacca)

The bold calligraphy of ‘amra shobai Bangali’ (We all belong to Bengal) highlights the unitive nature of the movement that transcends the petty boundaries of religious identity. It is the Bangla language that binds them together and therefore, all Bangla-speaking people should come forward for the cause of the nation.

The next two posters bring to the fore the brave women and men, the liberation warriors of Bangladesh. The poster on the left, designed by Pranesh Kumar Mandal, shows a Bengali woman clad in a traditional saree and holding a bayonet, breaking the barriers of normative gender roles and taking up weapons to free the people of the land. Accompanying the image, the text on the poster reads, ‘bangla’r mayera meyera shokolei muktijoddha’ (the mothers and daughters of Bengal are all liberation warriors). Using the same colour palette and style, Nitun Kundu made the poster on the right; displayed here is a male warrior holding a bayonet much in the same way the woman is holding a bayonet in the image on the left. The text on Kundu’s poster reads, ‘sada jagrata Bangla’r muktibahini’ (the liberation army of Bengal is ever awake).

(Courtesy: Liberation War Museum, Dacca)

The Provisional Government of Independent Bangladesh, after taking oath on 17 April 1971 published these posters exhibited below. The statements made on the posters, such as, ‘Yahya Hitler keo lojja diyechhe’ (Yayhya has gone beyond even Hitler), ‘Pakistan aaj mrito’ (Pakistan is dead now), ‘Joy Bangladesh, Joy Muktibahini’ (Hail Bangladesh, hail the Liberation Army), ‘Bijoy amader e’ (Victory is ours) display conviction, rage and the indomitable spirit of the Bengali peoples.

(Courtesy: Liberation War Museum, Dacca)

With the flourish and democratization of the printing press from the 1960s on, the quality of the posters improved. However, in order to make these posters discreetly during stringent curfew, many artists and intellectuals would often merely use cardboards, papers, poster colours, charcoal and brushes.