The Pakistan Overprints of Bangladesh

Peter Symes

First published in the

International Bank Note Society Journal

Volume 39, No.3, 2000

Under the entry for ‘Bangladesh’ in the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money, the first four bank notes catalogued (and illustrated) are notes issued by the State Bank of Pakistan. Each of these notes has a purple overprint stamped on its front, with the overprint reading ‘Bangladesh’ in Bengali or English. The four notes are grouped under the heading ‘1971 Provisional Issue’ and a short description below this heading states that, while the Bangladesh Bank never issued overprinted notes, it is considered likely that these notes were issued by a local authority. This is not the case. These notes simply have graffiti on them and, arguably, never circulated in Bangladesh.

              From 1947 to 1971 Bangladesh was part of Pakistan, being the area known as ‘East Pakistan’. While the background to the separation of East and West Pakistan is complex, matters came to a head in December 1970 when elections in Pakistan saw the Awami League win an absolute majority of seats in the parliament. The Awami League was a political party based in East Pakistan and led by the charismatic Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Following the surprise win of the Awami League over the Muslim League of West Pakistan, the military government, which had allowed the elections to take place, decided not to recognise the outcome of the election. This in turn saw the outbreak of civil disturbances in East Pakistan as the people began to voice their protests.

              Following some months of these disturbances, which included calls for independence by the people of East Pakistan, the armed forces moved to take control of East Pakistan. This move was met with resistance from the people of East Pakistan and resulted in a civil war that was to last for nine months. The war was finally won by East Pakistan, following intervention from India, and the new nation of Bangladesh was born.

              During the civil war, the banks of East Pakistan became targets to a variety of looters. Within a couple of months, the amount of currency looted from branches of the State Bank of Pakistan became so large that the Government of Pakistan was forced to take dramatic steps to ensure the stability of their currency. The bold plan of the Government was to demonetize all the 100- and 500-rupee notes circulating in Pakistan. As the majority of looted money was in these denominations, the notes held by the looters would become totally worthless. The demonetization was instigated by Martial Law, under ‘Regulation No. 81’, on 8 June 1971. The regulation stated:

‘All Pakistan currency notes of the following description shall cease to be legal tender within the meaning of section 25 of the State Bank of Pakistan Act, 1956 (XXXII of 1956), on and from the dates mentioned against each—

‘(a) Pakistan currency notes inscribed or marked with, or having impressed or embossed thereon, the expressions “Joy Bangla” or “Bangla Desh”, or any similar expressions, or having embossed or stamped thereon the expression “Dacca” in any language or form whatsoever;

‘(b) Pakistan currency notes of 500-rupee and 100-rupee denominations. Date of commencement of this Regulation: 8th June, 1971.’

              While the demonetization of the 100- and 500-rupee notes is of some interest, it is clause ‘a’ of the regulation that is of particular interest. This clause identifies the fact that numbers of notes had been stamped with subversive slogans and were to be withdrawn along with the large denomination notes. Amongst the slogans stamped on the notes were ‘Joy Bangla’ and ‘Bangla Desh’, one of which is the slogan stamped on the notes illustrated in the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money.

              It appears that bank notes of the State Bank of Pakistan were being used as instruments of propaganda in East Pakistan, with sections of the Bengali population using the notes to carry their political message of the call for independence. However, the notes illustrated in the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money are not the only denominations to have carried these overprints. In an article published on 10 June 1971 in Dawn (an English-language newspaper published in Karachi), it was reported that the remains of 100- and 500-rupee notes with overprints of ‘Bangla Desh’ or ‘Joy Bangla’ had been found in a watercourse in Karachi. (The notes were probably officially destroyed, but their remains indiscreetly disposed.) Accompanying the article is a photograph of the remains of a 100-rupee note which bore the overprint of ‘Bangla Desh’. Thus, it is likely that all denominations issued by the State Bank of Pakistan carried several varieties of overprints prepared by one or more groups of people in Bangladesh. The fact that none of these high denomination notes with overprints have been reported by collectors is not surprising, considering that the notes were withdrawn from circulation. However, it is perhaps surprising that no 50-rupee notes with such slogans have been identified by collectors.

              In observing the four bank notes illustrated in the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money, which have been stamped with Bengali slogans, it is important to remember that two of the notes were printed with no Bengali text on their front. The 1- and 10-rupee notes carried only Urdu text on their front, and the 10-rupee note carried only the denomination of the note in Bengali text on its back. Despite Bengali-speaking people constituting half the population of Pakistan, Urdu had been imposed upon the people as the language of officialdom; although attempts to make Urdu the single official language had been thwarted. During the 1960s the State Bank of Pakistan had been introducing a new series of bank notes that carried equal amounts of Urdu and Bengali text, as can be seen on the 5-rupee note. However, by early 1970 the 1- and 10-rupee notes had not been replaced. The attempt by the State Bank of Pakistan to apply a balance of Urdu and Bengali text to the notes reflects a belated attempt by the authorities in West Pakistan to give due recognition to the culture and language of the people of East Pakistan. Unfortunately, the events of 1970 and 1971 were the fruit of seeds of mistrust that had been sown over the previous twenty years. Having lived for so long with bank notes that bore a text that the Bengalis could not read, it was only natural that the bank notes became a medium for Bengalis to express their desire for independence.

              As examples of paper money overprinted with a political slogan, these bank notes really deserve no status as issued notes under the entry for ‘Bangladesh’ in the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money; as they are really no more than notes bearing graffiti. It is also doubtful as to whether these notes actually circulated in Bangladesh, although they certainly circulated in Pakistan. East Pakistan had declared its independence on 17 April 1971, but did not win the ‘War of Liberation’ until eight months later on 16 December. If the earlier date is accepted as the date that Bangladesh came into existence, then the notes would have circulated in ‘Bangladesh’, but if the more commonly accepted date of 16 December is accepted, then the notes only circulated in ‘Pakistan’. Whatever the finer point of deciding in which ‘state’ the notes circulated, the overprinted notes remain interesting examples of the way in which paper money can be used in political struggles.

This article was completed in May 2002
© Peter Symes