before the Liberation
Road to Independence
and information pervade our times. As we are lost in
their all-consuming presence and wide ramifications,
there is still, room for remembrance of a leader who,
even after 28 years of his death, has simultaneously
been at the receiving end of eulogy and criticism.
the image of the man still stands tall, as his public
persona is still something to be vied with, the facts
behind the making of the leader has been made turbid
by subsequent military juntas who rode power in independent
Bangladesh. Attempts were made to put a veil on the
history of independence and its leader. After he was
brutally murdered on August 15, 1975 by a section of
highly ambitious and conspiratorial faction of the army,
his legacy was deliberately distorted along with history
of this nation. Even after democracy was restored in
the 90s, the facts were never allowed to surface. SWM
strives to piece together the shattered saga of an extraordinary
man who still remains the most revered leader of this
32 years of independence, history remains a puzzle to
a nation that relies too much on word of mouth. Official
history, too, has been tampered with. In this context
the political life of the leader, who first earned the
epithet of 'Bangabandhu' in 1969 and 'the Father of
the Nation' after the liberation, is often seen as a
chapter only to be read by the loyal supporters of his
the 23 years of Pakistan rule, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman
spent twelve years in jail and ten years under close
surveillance. Rulers of Pakistan saw him as a leader,
who with his charisma and conviction could stir the
masses, which he did. Under his charismatic leadership
the Bangali people of the former East Pakistan became
united as never before and collectively plunged themselves
into a movement that later transformed itself to our
armed struggle for independence.
Mujibur Rahman was born on 17 March 1920 in the village
Tungipara under Gopalgonj district, then a Sub-division
in the Faridpur district. His father, Sheikh Lutfur
Rahman was a serestadar in the civil court of Gopalganj.
His mother's name was Shahara Khatun. Sheikh Mujibur
Rahman's initiation to politics began in the Gopalgonj
Missionary School, from where he obtained his matriculation
in 1942. It was in this school ground that he met Hussain
Shahid Suhrawardy and A.K. Fazlul Haque when they came
for a visit. Sheikh Mujib had the opportunity to talk
to Suhrawardy for the first time, a man who would later
become his mentor.
1942, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman got admission in the Islamia
College in Calcutta. Soon he was to become enmeshed
in politics. He started out as an activist of the Student
League of Bengal Provincial Muslim League remaining
an elected member of All-India Muslim League Council
from 1943 onward. There were two factions in Muslim
League of Bengal, one was steered by Surhwardy and Abul
Hashim and the other by Akram Khan and Khaja Nazimuddin.
Mujibur Rahman had become an activist and a supporter
of the former. He and the other activists of this faction
were often referred to as the Hashemites.
Islamia College, now called the Moulana Azad College,
Mujib obtained his IA in 1944. It was a tumultuous time.
The Second World War was ending and on the Azad Hind
Fouze Day a youth died near the Baker Hostel, where
Mujibur Rahman used to reside. During this time his
involvement with politics had intensified. In 1944,
he was elected general secretary of the Islamia College
Student Union. In 1946, because of his active participation
in politics, he could not sit for BA examinations. In
the same year the Muslim League sent him to the Faridpur
district to campaign for the party in the general elections.
The Surhwardy and Hashem faction of the Muslim League
won 116 seats in the 119 seats allocated for Muslims.
It was an unprecedented victory. Mujib, proved to be
an organiser par excellence in this election.
Mujibur Rahman with HS Suhrawardy in Rajshai, 1954.
M.R. Akhter Mukul is of the opinion
that it was Surhwardy who taught Mujib the tactics of
parliamentary politics. And it was from Moulana Bhashani
that he picked up his speech making expertise--the emotionally
charged, inspiring delivery of his political address.
Both had a strong influence in his political career.
After partition of British India in
1947, and having passed his BA from Islamia College,
he came to Dhaka and got himself admitted to the University
He was a student of law, but he could
not complete his study as he was expelled from the university
in early 1949 after being charged with 'inciting the
fourth-class employees' towards agitation. In 1948 under
the leadership of Maulana Bhashani and Suhrawardy East
Pakistan Awami Muslim League was formed. He was elected
one of the joint secretaries of the newly formed party
although he was then interned in Faridpur jail. He was
one of the leaders behind the formation of the Muslim
Students League in 1948. His contribution in the Language
Movement of 1952 was also significant. He was one of
the first few leaders of the language movement to serve
a jail sentence. In 1953, he was elected general secretary
of the East Pakistan Awami Muslim League, a post that
he held till 1966, the year he became the president
of the party.
As an advocate of the rights of the
Bangali people, Mujibur Rahman was unrelenting from
the very beginning. He always gave voice to issues that
had related to economic, social and cultural rights
of the Bangalis and to the rising discrimination between
the two wings of Pakistan.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, for the first
time, was elected a member of East Bengal Legislative
Assembly in 1954. It was the year of the rise of people
of East Bengal. The United Front (UF), formed by the
unity of three leaders- AK Fazlul Huq, Moulana Bhashani
and Shaheed Suhrawardy, and all other smaller opposition
parties, dealt a death blow to the ruling Muslim League
in the election for provincial legislative. The 21-point
programme, written by Abul Mansur Ahmad, which articulated
the aspirations of the people of the East Bengal created
a landslide for the United Front giving it practically
all the seats. The Muslim League never recovered from
this electoral debacle.
The skirmishing among factions of the UF and all sorts
of conspiracies on the part of the West Pakistan authority
prevent the United Front from remaining in power dashed
all hopes for democracy in Pakistan. On May 19, 1954
the Pak-American defence treaty was signed, and right
after that, the United Front government was arbitrarily
dismissed and the centre-imposed governor's rule was
put in place. Many leaders were sent to jail including
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
the following year, after the dismissal of the United
Front government and after Sher-e-Bangla Fazlul Haq
broke away from the UF and had secured a place in the
centre as the foreign minister, the name Awami Muslim
League was changed to Awami League. The decision to
omit the word 'Muslim' was a sign of departure from
the religious oriented politics to a more secular politics.
Mujib entered national parliamentary politics in 1956.
He was also a member of the Pakistan Second Constituent
Assembly-cum-Legislature from 1955 to 1958. He resigned
from the cabinet of Ataur Rahman Khan (1956-58), in
which he was the provincial commerce minister, to devote
himself to building up the party from the grass root
level. His single minded activities to develop the party
made a very popular party figure. It also made him a
target of the Ayub which jailed him at regular intervals.
It was during his grassroots party activism that Sheikh
Mujib developed his own political profile. Although
generally under the shadow of his mentor Shaheed Suhrawardy,
he started articulating bold, if not radical views on
the future of East Pakistan. However he followed his
mentor blindly when CENTO and SEATO treaties were signed
by Pakistan. For this action a split was created between
Suhrawady and Bhashani; in the eyes of left-leaning
politicians of East Bengal, Mujib became a part of the
pro-American axis. In spite of this, Mujib could be
seen as having a left-of-centre political inclination.
time passed Sheikh Mujib developed extraordinary skill
in understanding peoples' psyche and articulating them
in the most effective manner. “He understood his own
people, he spoke their 'language' and as a leader he
was an antidote to the armchair politics practiced by
many leaders of that period”, says poet and political
analyst Farhad Mazhar.
Mujibur Rahman takes oath as minister in the Jukta Front
cabinet before Chief Minister AK Fazlul Huq on May 15,
It was Moulana Bhashani who, in his
famous Kagmari council session in 1957, hinted at the
idea of an independent nation for the Bangalis if Pakistan
continued its politics hegemony and oppressing the Bangalis.
But the nation had to wait till 1966 to see a strong
surge of opinion in favour of self-rule and then later
for independence. Sheikh Mujib who had a tremendous
sense of timing realised the right moment for articulating
the aspiration of the Bangali people for self rule.
In 1966, he announced his famous six-point programme
at a meeting in Lahore with General Ayub Khan who had
taken over power in Pakistan through an army coup in
1958. This, in his own words, was 'our (Bangalis') charter
of survival'. The six-point programme catapulted Sheikh
Mujib into the forefront of national politics united
the people of East Pakistan behind a clear cut and easily
understood political programme.
As a politician, Mujib always preferred
the democratic path to achieve his political goals.
He was not a revolutionary in the conventional sense
of the term and was always committed to mass movement
as a method of political activism. He never propagated
the violent overthrow of established regimes however
autocratic. As his activism became more vigorous and
his mass appeal became stronger and more widespread,
the Pakistani regime became more and more oppressive
against him. He was frequently arrested and kept interned
for longer and longer periods.
1960s was a seminal decade for the Bangalis
as well as for Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Although he had
spent most of the Ayub era behind bars, Mujib and his
Awami League were instrumental in putting up a resistance
against the autocracy from the start when Ayub took
power in 1958. After the death of giants like Fazlul
Haque and Surhwardy respectively in 1961 and 1963, a
new era began that saw the rise of a younger generation
of politicians. Journalist Ataus Samad gives salience
to this, “After the death of Suhrawardy it was Sheikh
Shaheb who was responsible for the revival of the Awami
League,” he points out. He explains that Sheikh Mujib
and Moulana Bhashani are the leaders who spent more
than eleven years in roaming around East Bengal, getting
to know people at the grass-roots. This he thinks had
an effect in how they evolved as mass leaders and how
they behaved in the political arena. Although, Samad
remarks, in later life Mujib could not rise above party
The Hindu-Muslim riot of 1964 stoked
by the then governor Munaim Khan, and the 17 day-long
Pak-India war of 1965, were turning points in the political
life of the Bangalis. It was during the war that the
people of the East Pakistan suddenly became aware of
the vulnerability of their position. The army that was
being raised with their tax money appeared solely to
be geared to protect the western region. Suddenly to
the issues of economic, social and cultural autonomy,
the issue of defence also became attached.
After Mujib's six-point programme, the
idea of self-rule started to gain a new vigour and unprecedented
momentum. As Sheikh Mujib's popularity rose, the Pakistan's
army government became increasingly desperate. It tried
to stop him through frequent imprisonment and other
types of oppression. When nothing worked they launched
a new attack that of 'conspiracy against sovereignty
of the nation'. A case was instituted that Mujib had
conspired with India to dismember Pakistan. As the Agartala
Conspiracy case, as it became popularly known, went
to trial public support for Mujib's popularity rose
sky high. By then Mujib's identity was established as
the unrelenting champion of the Bangalis, and as the
man who unified his people and made them a courageous
lot. All this made him the unquestioned leader of his
people. Mujib popularity shot up so high that Ayub Khan
was forced to withdraw the Agartala Conspiracy case,
in the face of united student's movement under the 11
point charter, and invited him to a 'roundtable conference'
in Islamabad. This military dictator's surrender to
public will further established Mujib's pre-eminent
position as the supreme leader of the Bangalis.
sangram amader shadhinoter sangram”-----The historic
address at the Race Course ground, March 7, 1971.
the round table meeting, Mujib was not willing to make
any concessions on his six-point demands. The meeting
failed to produce any result. After two weeks, on March
24, 1969, Ayub was forced to step down. Army chief,
General Yahya Khan took over power in a bloodless coup.
Then came the general election of 1970.
December 9 was the day of elections, and the army stood
guard while the electorate gave a huge mandate in favour
of Awami League. Without competing in the West Wing
of Pakistan, AL secured 167 seats. This was the historical
achievement of the pro-self-rule people led by Sheikh
Mujibur Rahman. Mujib was successful in making the Bangalis
speak with one voice and that was a voice for their
economic, social and cultural emancipation.
The historic address of March 7, 1971,
in the then racecourse (now the Suhrawardy Udyan), by
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was a clarion call for an independent
Farhad Mazhar believes that Mujib was
a believer in the parliamentary system, and in his address
to the public, he never clearly proclaimed independence
although it was, at that time, taken as a call for independence;
he did not ask the people outright to take up the gun,
but he did imply it in a very emotional way.
He fought for a democratic form of government,
yet he knew that independence was the only way. Although
the student leaders of various parties had been calling
for independence since March 2, he kept on trying to
at find a peaceful solution through a legal procedure.
The dialogue he continued with general Yehya and Bhutto
is proof of this. The effort failed, as Mujib did not
compromise the interest of the Bengali people.
Leaders of West Pakistan came to Dhaka
to talk, but when the talk was on the verge of collapse,
they left for west Pakistan leaving the Bengali people
to face a genocidal crack down by the Pak military on
the night of March 25. Sheikh Mujib was arrested on
the same night from his Dhanmondi residence and kept
incarcerated at the Dhaka cantonment until he was flown
to West Pakistan to be tried on charges of sedition.
Farhad Mazhar lauds his action at this critical moment.
His courage to wait in his own home without knowing
his fate was exemplary.
Mujibur Rahman did not physically participate in the
armed struggle for the Liberation of Bangladesh. But
in every freedom fighter's lips his name resonated and
with every heartbeat they felt his presence. The massive
sea of people who welcomed him back on 10th. January
1972 when he was released from Pakistani prison proved
how much the people, of now independent Bangladesh really
loved and revered him.
after the Liberation
Turbulent Political Career
Bangabandhu returned home on January
10, 1972 after ten months of solitary confinement in
a Pakistani prison. Seventy million people of the newly
liberated country had been waiting for his return since
the end of the war and the subsequent surrender of the
Pakistani army on the 16th of December 1971.
But January 10 was more than a leader's
triumphant homecoming. “Hundreds of thousands of people
gathered on both sides of the streets that led to the
airport. He was later taken to the Suhrawardy Uddyan;
another hundreds of thousands of people gathered there
just to have a glimpse of him,” Nafia Din, a student
of Dhaka University during the turbulent days and now
a professor of political science at a U.S. university
describes the most momentous event in our political
history after independence. In fact Suhrawardy Uddyan
was the place where Mujib had made his last public speech,
declaring civil disobedience against the Pakistani junta
till the hand over of power to the legitimate representatives
of the people. Ataus Samad, former correspondent of
the BBC describes Mujib's homecoming as an event that
made our independence complete.
Mascarenhas, a journalist working for London based newspaper
the Sunday Times who really broke the story of genocide
against Bangali people internationally, writes in his
book, “Bangladesh: A Legacy of Blood” about Bangabandhu's
homecoming, “It was as if a human sea had been packed
into the three square mile arena. Nothing like this
had happened ever in Dhaka. There's been nothing like
it since then. The frenzied cheering, the extravagant
praise, the public worship and obeisance were beyond
the wildest day dream of any man.” But, Mascarenhas
goes on “The trouble was that even before the last echoes
of the cheering had faded Mujib the demi-god was brought
face to face with an overwhelming reality.” Twenty million
people displaced within the country plus ten million
refugees who were coming home from India needed shelter,
food and clothing.
affixes his signature to the draft of the Constitution
of the People's Republic of Bangladesh.
The country was devastated by what Mujib
later called “the greatest man made disaster in history.”
Topping it all was the destruction of the transport
and communications systems, which made the movement
of relief-supplies a daily miracle. The railway tracks
and signalling equipment and rolling stock were severely
damaged. Every major bridge and more than half the river
transport were completely destroyed. Chittagong, one
of the country's two ports and principal entry point
for food imports, was rendered unserviceable by 29 ship-wrecks
blocking the Karnafulli River channel. Fewer than 1000
of the country's 8000-truck fleet were serviceable.
There was no gasoline. Bangladesh desperately needed
2.5 million tons of food to avoid famine. And when this
was forthcoming from the international community it
required an additional miracle to get it to the country's
60,000 villages, Mascarenhas writes.
To make it a law and order nightmare
for any government there were an estimated 3,50,000
guns with equally vast quantities of ammunition left
in the hands of various self-styled 'Bahinies'. The
world's newest nation and its fragile economy were tittering
on the brink of a total collapse.
The desperation was evident in an interview
Bangabandhu gave to the Sunday Times. “What do you do
about the currency? Where do you get food? Industries
are dead. Commerce is dead. How do you start them again?
What do you do about defence? I have no administration.
Where do I get one? Tell me, how do you start a country?”
he remarked to his interviewer six days after the jubilant
reception he received at the Suhrawardy Uddyan.
The first move he made to run the country
had cost him dearly. Unlike the overwhelming numbers
of army-men and members of the police, with a few honourable
exceptions, the bureaucrats remained in the service
of the Pakistani occupation forces. When Bangladesh
became independent on December 16, 1971, they quickly
jumped on the bandwagon, proclaiming their new-found
nationalism. So did many other opportunistic elements
who were derisively dubbed the '16th Division', Mascarenhas
says. Mujib turned to the 16th Division in the bureaucracy
to run Bangladesh. “It was one of the fundamental mistakes
he made in his three and half years in the helm,” Ataus
Samad says. “It has been said that Castro told him not
to run an independent country with the help of officials
experienced in running a colonial administration. He
advised an overhaul in the administration during the
Non-Aligned Summit in Algiers, in 1973, where the two
met for the first and the last time. But Mujib didn't
listen to that suggestion,” Samad continues.
about 11,00,000 government certified freedom fighters,
at the very outset of the independence, felt ignored
and excluded from the reconstruction of the new country.
Though Mujib offered the FFs to join the armed forces,
only 8,000 turned up and they were absorbed in the Jatiya
Rakkhi Bahini; officially it was the national militia,
in practice, it behaved like a private army of the ruling
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the parliament,
In contrast to the above administrative
failures Bangabandhu's government produced a very important
success: a Constitution was framed on November 4, 1972,
enshrining most of the noblest of principles found in
any other constitution. On December 16 that year it
took effect. “It was a Herculean task, and it was done,
unbelievably, within a year of our independence. It
was like France after the bourgeois revolution; the
Constitution guaranteed every basic right of the citizens.
It was the finest document of liberal democracy,” Nafia
says. Democracy, socialism, nationalism and secularism
were made the four basic guiding principles of the newly
liberated country. Mascarenhas, too, believes Bangladesh
“had a Constitution, which any country could be proud
The first general election, held in
1973, in the independent Bangladesh was smooth sailing
for Bangabandhu and the Awami League. In a landslide
victory, the party won 307 out of the 315 of the total
seats in the Jatiya Sangsad. Maulana Bhashani, the octogenarian
leader of the National Awami Party saw the election
result, according to a Guardian report, as “the signal
for the arrival of undiluted socialism.”
the diplomatic front Bangabandhu's foreign policy saw
some significant success. The newly independent country
got diplomatic recognition from all the major powers
of the world including the four veto-wielding nations(
all except China's) at the United Nation's Security
Council. Bangabandhu's presence at the Organisation
of Islam Council's (OIC) summit meeting in the Pakistani
City of Lahore was a decision only a leader of his statute
could make. Farhad Mazhar, believes “Mujib went to the
OIC and set up the Islamic Foundation because he could
feel the pulse of the people.” And his larger than life
presence at the NAM conference in Algiers gave a huge
boost to the morale of this tiny nation of 70 million
people. The speech he made in Bangla at the United Nations
in 1974 and the international publicity that followed
made Bangladesh the voice of the Third world.
However some dark cloud of failure began to gather in
the independent sky of Bangladesh. The rot was setting
in from within. Corruption and monopolisation of state
contracts by the ruling party cliques became so rampant
that an economy of nepotism, corruption and black market
literally took over the economy. Political oppression
on Shiraz Sikdar revealed the autocratic nature of the
highly personalised government run by Bangbandhu. The
breaking out of JSD from within the ranks of Awami League
clearly revealed the breach within ruling party ranks.
inspecting a guard of honour of the Air Force.
By this time Bangladesh was facing a
new menace that had almost crippled its already fragile
economy. It was smuggling. Tony Hagen, then head of
the UN Relief Operation to Dhaka, aptly described the
situation to the Sunday Times“Bangladesh is like a bridge
suspended in India.” Some unscrupulous businessmen and
officials smuggled, almost all they could, to the neighbouring
country. According to some reports the smuggling of
goods across the border during the first three years
cost the country's economy about Tk. 60,000 million.
The goods that were smuggled were mostly food-grains,
jute and materials imported from abroad. In fact by
December 1973, the economy was completely bankrupt,
and about 2-billion US dollars of international aid
had already been injected to the country's economy.
Some of these “unscrupulous businessmen and office bearers”
were Awami Leaguers; and though, the whole party was
in no way collectively responsible for the smuggling,
Nafia Din believes, “ Some of their involvement in smuggling
and the '25-years treaty' with India gave the Awami
League a pro-India label.”
came the flood of 1974. Smuggling coupled with corruption
and sheer nepotism in food distributions had turned
the natural disaster into a man-made calamity. Bangabandhu
publicly admitted the death of 27,000 people of starvation.
Mascarenhas believes the death toll “of the (subsequent)
famine was well into the six figures.”
Buckingham Palace with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince
Bangabandhu wanted to make Bangladesh
“the Switzerland of the east.” Nonetheless when the
Rakkhi Bahini was raised to 25,000 men with basic military
training and modern automatic weapons, the discontent
amongst some army men turned into antagonism. “Most
people wanted to see a Che Guevara out of Sheikh Mujib,
but certainly he wasn't Che,” says Farhad Mazhar. Mazhar
thinks that because he wasn't a revolutionary like Che
or Castro, Mujib couldn't make any people's army after
the independence like Castro did in Cuba after the liberation;
which he believes the country at that moment desperately
in the name of socialism, without giving the local entrepreneurs
a level playing filed, nationalised all the industries
in the name of a 'planned and controlled economy'. Ataus
Samad believes Mujib's economic policy “had demolished
the entrepreneurship skill of the Bangalis.”
with the Algerian president and Bhutto at the Islamic
Summit, Lahore, 1974.
“Corruption, cronyism, sycophancy and
political repression had virtually isolated Bangabandhu
from the people by then,” observes Nafia. Bangabandhu
himself told the press that almost 4000 of his party
workers, including 5 MPs had been killed by numerous
self-styled political factions. In November that year,
Tajuddin Ahmed, who led the nation on behalf of Bangabandhu
and tipped as Mujib's natural successor, publicly criticised
the government for corruption and mismanagement. In
a move that may be termed as suicidal for Sheikh Mujib,
he asked Tajuddin to resign who readily complied and
retired from politics for the moment. As the situation
got worse and Bangabandhu became more isolated, on December
28, 1974 he declared a state of emergency and on January
25, 1975 he was sworn in as the President. On June 7
that year the one party state was formed.
BKSAL (Bangladesh Krishok Sramik Awami
League), now the only legitimate political party, was
officially described as the “Second Revolution.” But
in effect it made Bangladesh a one party state with
every political and administrative power personally
vested in Sheikh Mujib. The promulgation says: “When
the national party is formed a person shall:
a) In case he is a member of Parliament
on the date the National party is formed, cease to be
such a member, and his seat in Parliament shall become
vacant if he does not become a member of the National
Party within the time fixed by the President
b) Not be qualified for election as
President or as a Member of Parliament if he is not
nominated as a candidate for such election by the National
c) Have no right of form, or to be
a member or otherwise take part in the activities of
any political party other than the National Party.”
Bangabandhu handpicked 61 men, which
included many serving bureaucrats, as District Governors,
to run the country. These non-elected “Governors” were
to control the Bangladesh Rifles, the Rakkhi Bahini,
police and army units stationed in their respective
areas from September 1. Thus the man who led his country
towards independence and freedom, within four years
after its independence turned it into a monolithic and
one party state. Through promulgating BKSAL all newspapers,
except four under government control , were closed.
But the worst was yet to come for this
infant nation wobbling on its independent feet. On August
15, 1975, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was killed,
along with 13 members of his family, by a bunch of disgruntled
army officers, under the political leadership of Khondokar
Mushtak Ahmed.It was the most gruesome political assassination
that continues to haunt the nation even today.
On that fateful night a group of killers
led by ex-Major Noor and Major Mohiuddin, along with
a group of mutineers from the Bengal Lancers, went to
the private house at Dhanmandi to kill Bangabandhu.
Ex-Major Noor fired a burst from his Sten gun on the
right side of Bangabandhu; his whole body twisted backwards
and then it slipped to the landing space of the stairs.
It was 5:40 in the morning. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur
Rahman died at an age of 56, at his home, from where
he had led his people to independence. Begum Mujib was
killed a moment later in front of their bedroom. Then
the mayhem began. Sheikh Kamal and Sheikh Jamal, Bangabandhu's
two sons and their newly wed wives were killed. Sheikh
Nasir, Mujib's brother, who had allegedly amassed a
heavy fortune during that period, was also killed. The
self styled saviours of the people then killed Mujib's
7-year old son, Sheikh Russell.
this time another killer team, according to Mascarenhas,
led by major Dalim went to Abdur Rab Serniabat's house.
In a 20-minute long massacre that followed, Serniabat
was killed along with his wife, daughters and 3 minor
members of the family. Serniabat's son Abul Hasnat,
a survivor in the family who had luckily escaped on
that frightful night, according to Mascarenhas, “(later)
saw his wife, mother and 20-year-old sister badly wounded
and bleeding. His two young daughters, uninjured, were
sobbing behind a sofa where they had hidden during the
massacre. Lying dead on the floor were his 5-year-old
son, two sisters aged 10 and 15 and his 11-year old
brother, the family ayah (maid), a house-boy and his
cousin Shahidul Islam Serniabat.”
Krishak Sramik Awami League (BKSAL), a national front
comprising major political parties and professional
groups of the country was formed in 1975. People are
seen attending the first conference.
The attack on Sheikh Moni's house was,
to quote Mascarenhas, “Brief and devastating.” Risaldar
Muslehuddin led the killers to the house of Sheikh Moni,
which was also at Dhanmandi. Moni's seven months pregnant
wife jumped in front of her husband, in an attempt to
save him from the Risaldar's bullet. Both were killed
by a single bullet.
Khandakar Moshtaque Ahmed who declared
himself as the president on August 15 following Bangabandhu's
brutal assassination, promulgated, on 26th September,
an ordinance indemnifying the killers. The Ordinance
was promulgated, as the Bangladesh Gazette dated that
day says, “ to restrict the taking of any legal or other
proceedings in respect of certain acts or things in
connection with, or in preparation or execution of any
plan for, or steps necessitating, the historical change
and the Proclamation of Martial Law on the morning of
15th August, 1975.”
August 15 killing and the Indemnity Ordinance had encouraged
several successful and unsuccessful coup attempts later
in the army. The killers were later awarded with high-ranking
government jobs by the subsequent military governments
that came as a natural by-product of the August 15 mayhem.
The Ordinance, which was turned into an act and incorporated
in our Constitution by General Ziaur Rahman who succeeded
to power in November '75 was scrapped in the late 1996
when Awami League came to power. The trial was held
under the ordinary law of the land and after several
years of legal proceedings verdict was given on this
historic case. It is now under appeal at the highest
Here comes another August 15
and brings with it the shocking memory of the most gruesome
murder in the history of Bangladesh. It was the 15th
August of 1975. A group of disgruntled blood-thirsty
mid-level army officers stormed into the two-storied
building at road number 32 in Dhanmandi. When the killers
came out of the house the greatest Bangali political
hero who led the Bangalis to their greatest achievement-
independence- Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was
lying dead in a pool of his own blood in the staircase
of his home. Along with him almost all his family members,
10 in all, met the same fate. Only his two daughters--Sheikh
Hasina and Sheikh Rehana survived the massacre.
As the nation mourns the killing
of its greatest political hero its sense of grief is
deepened by the fact that justice has not yet been dispensed
to the killers. Not even after 28 years. In fact it
took 21 years to bring the murder case to the court.
Khandakar Mustaque enacted an indemnity ordinance that
would bar any legal action against those who were involved
in the chilling murders of Bangabandhu, his family members
as well as his relatives and senior Awami League leaders.
Subsequently, during Ziaur Rahman's time this was incorporated
into the Constitution through the 5th amendment.
Thus the killers were secured
from being tried for the next 21 years. In fact, early
in the day they were awarded diplomatic assignments.
Sixteen years of military rule, parts of it under civilian
garb, was followed by 5 years rule of a democratic government
led by Begum Khaleda Zia, but the indemnity act remained
intact. It was only when Awami League came to power
in 1996 that the murder case was finally taken up for
October 2, 1996, a FIR was lodged with the Dhanmondi
Police station and thus the government initiated the
trial under the ordinary law of the land through the
arrest of the accused murderers. Eminent criminal lawyer
Serajul Huq was appointed as the special Public Prosecutor
by the government. He was assisted by Anisul Huq, Barrister
Mosharraf Hossain Kajal, Sahara Khatun, Nurul Islam
Sujan and Syed Rezaur Rahman. The chargesheet was submitted
accusing 23 persons, 3 of them already dead, on January
15, 1997. The hearing took around 18 months to be completed
and District and Sessions Judge Kazi Golam Rasul gave
his verdict on November 8, 1998. Fifteen of the accused
were given death sentence while five others were acquitted.
his family members: (from left) Sheikh Kamal, his oldest
son, younger daughter Sheikh Rehana, youngest son Sheikh
Russel on his lap, wife Fazilatunnesa, second son Sheikh
Jamal and daughter Sheikh Hasina. All of them were brutally
killed on the night of August 15, 1975, except Sheikh
Hasina and Sheikh Rehana.
As required by law the case was
then referred to a two-judge High Court Bench. After
almost two years the High Court delivered its judgement
on Dec 14, 2000. It was a split verdict -- while Judge
ABM Khairul Huq upheld the trial court verdict, Justice
Ruhul Amin confirmed the death sentence against nine,
gave life imprisonment to one and acquitted the remaining
five of their charges. The case was then referred to
a third Bench of the High Court. The hearing started
on February 12, 2001 and Justice Md Fazlul Karim pronounced
his judgement on April 30, 2001. He confirmed death
sentence against 12 of the accused and acquitted three
others. Those who are facing death sentence are Lt.
Col. (Rtd) Khandaker Abdur Rashid, Lt. Col. (Rtd) Noor
Chowdhury, Lt. Col. (Rtd) Shariful Huq Dalim, Lt. Col.
(Rtd) Abdul Aziz Pasha, Lt. Col. (Rtd) Rashed Choudhury,
Major (Rtd) AKM Mohiuddin Ahmed, Lt. Col. (Rtd) Syed
Faruq Rahman, Lt. (Rtd) Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan
and Major (Rtd) Bazlul Huda, Lt. Col. (Rtd) Mohiuddin
Ahmed, Capt. (Rtd) Abdul Majed, and Lance Dafadar Moslehuddin.
He acquitted Capt. (Rtd) Kismet Hashem, Capt (Rtd) Najmul
Hossain Ansar, Major (Rtd) Ahmed Shariful Hossain of
their charges. However, only four of them are now in
custody who are Lt. Col. (Rtd) Syed Faruq Rahman, Lt
(Rtd) Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan, Major (Rtd) Bazlul
Huda and Lt Col (Rtd) Mohiuddin Ahmed while others are
believed to be abroad.
The convicted persons then appealed
to the Appellate Division (AD) of the Supreme Court
against the verdict. The law requires a three-judge
Bench to hear an appeal. The crisis began when 3 of
the 7 judges of the AD felt 'embarrassed'; while the
other 2 judges had already heard the case when they
had been in the High Court, which disqualified them
to hear it again. Thus a Bench of three judges could
not be constituted till now.
Meanwhile, AL lost the general
election in October 2001 and BNP came to the power.
On October 28, 2002, Serajul Huq, the Special Public
Prosecutor appointed by the AL government for this particular
case passed away. Anisul Huq, his son and associate
throughout this case, then wrote to Chief justice Mahmudul
Amin Chowdhury regarding the appointment of ad-hoc judges
so that the case can be resolved. Chowdhury passed on
the request to the concerned authority, but in vain.
Barrister Moudud Ahmed, Minister for Law, declined to
comply saying that they had already raised the number
of judges in the AD from 5 to 7. In an interview he
also argued that the constitution doesn't permit appointment
judges on ad hoc basis.
Anisul Huq however differs with
him. Article 98 of the constitution does have the provision
of appointing an ad-hoc judge, he says emphatically.
“The government is simply not sincere about seeing this
case being completed smoothly,” he says. Huq's allusions
echo the more explicit accusations of the Awami League
of the BNP's attempts to delay the completion of this
Apparently the present government's
sincerity regarding the completion of the Bangabandhu
murder case is not beyond question. Its record concerning
appointment of judges and absolute inaction regarding
the extradition process of some killers living abroad
gives some justification for the AL position.
The Bangabandhu Murder Case needs
to be resolved not just for the consolation of the bereaved
family or to satisfy a certain political party, but
mainly for the sake of establishing the rule of law