Lawrence Lifschultz interviews Rubana Manzur, the eldest of the four children of General Manzur and his wife,
Rana Manzur. In this interview, Rubana Manzur, reflects on her father's life and her hopes for the future.
Rubana Manzur was a young girl when her father was murdered in Chittagong in June 1981. According to charges filed by the Criminal Investigation Department of the Bangladesh Police senior military officers of the Bangladesh Army, including Lt. General H.M. Ershad, Chief of Army Staff in 1981, conceived and executed a plan to murder Major General Muhammed Abul Manzur.
Over the last 19 years the case has been adjudicated by 23 different judges. Yet, there has been no resolution reached in the case. Recent press revelations have brought to public notice new information regarding General Manzur's murder.
On February 27 Judge Khondker Hasan Firoz directed the CID to extend their investigation into the case.
Lawrence Lifschultz (LL): On June 1, it will be the 33rd anniversary of your father's murder. The circumstances of his death have now become an important issue in Bangladesh. What are your hopes? What would you like to see happen?
Rubana Manzur (RM): More than anything else I hope there will be justice. We have been waiting for this since we learned of my father's death. My father was arrested for a crime that he did not commit but he was denied a trial. He was murdered while in military custody. Nevertheless, if those who allegedly murdered my father are given a fair trial and brought to justice, my mother and the four us will at last find some measure of peace in our hearts.
There will also be another result. I believe a just resolution of my father's case will also strengthen the judicial system of Bangladesh. We need a strong system of justice where everyone is treated equally. It is a foundation of human rights.
This will allow the families of others who have been unjustly killed to stand-up and ask for their legal rights. This is not just for those who were Freedom Fighters like my father but for all citizens of the country he fought to create.
L L: You are the eldest of General Manzur's four children. What are your memories of your father? What do you remember most about him?
RM: What I remember most is his smile. I have his smile. I remember his light brown eyes. My sister, Karishma, and her son, have my father's eyes. My brother, Shafqat walks like him. Finally, Zoheb, the youngest one, looks like Bappi, and has his laughter.
I remember how the four of us would run out to greet him when he came home. The older three would compete to take his boots off. Some days he would have me run all over the badminton court while he stood in one place and chuckled. I remember practicing how to ride a bike with him sitting on the bar! It seems like almost a lifetime of memories. They are so wonderful to remember but also so painful.
There is so much more to know about my father than the circumstances of his death and how he was killed. I hope that those who knew him and fought with him in the 8th Sector during the Liberation War will come forward and speak about their memories of my father. We would really appreciate hearing from those who were with him in Jessore during the War or during the tank battle at Shiromoni where his leadership and courage was decisive.
I hope also that those who knew him before and after the War will record their memories. He was a remarkable person. His grandchildren, their children and their descendents would treasure these memories. They are also part of the history of Bangladesh.
LL: In your view why is justice for your father important for the people of Bangladesh?
RM: We in Bangladesh need to know our history. We need to be able to recognise the difference between the “untruths” that we have been fed by those in power. It is the moral duty of those in the press to find out the facts and inform those who are not aware. What happened to my father and our search for justice is part of that process. It is the process of finding out the truth and gaining justice by knowing the truth.
On May 4 of this month, Begum Zia made a speech and she alleged that General Ershad killed both her husband and my father. I understand that she has also stated this view to a well-known journalist through a trusted intermediary. General Zia's family knows that my father did not kill General Zia. This was a false story. Yet, it became the public lie that was woven into the fabric of public opinion. My father was falsely accused and then murdered.
L L: On June 1, 1981, you were with your father when Captain Emdad's unit took him into custody. This would be the last time you saw him. What are your memories of that day?
RM: I had my arms wrapped around his waist. I wouldn't let go of him. I was crying. We were all crying. And, then they forcibly took him away from us. We never saw him again. They murdered him within just a few hours. Now all this is known. I cannot say anymore. It is too painful. Too difficult. He was our father. We loved him. We love him still.
LL: How does your mother feel about this case?
RM: My mother is surprised that what started as a request to Aminul Huq and Dr. Kamal Hossain in the early 1990s has come this far. She was amazed that Aminul Huq was able to start this case as Attorney General. But, she lost all hope after his death in 1995.
What we did not understand then was that Dr. Kamal Hossain asked his daughter Sara Hossain to keep this case alive. She has done so. I have tremendous faith in her and Dr. Shahdeen Malik. Like all of us in the family, my mother hopes for justice. It has been 33 years since she lost our father, her husband.
When a father or husband is murdered, the people that are most devastated by the death is his nuclear family. Others may feel bad, even sympathetic and they may cry out for the truth. But, it is the wife and children who are given the life sentence of pain and suffering.
As a family we do have a specific request and our attorney will be writing formally to the government regarding this matter in the near future. We would like to know where our father is buried. If we decide to do so, we would like to visit his grave to offer our prayers. We have heard that General Manzur was buried on June 1, 1981 inside the Chittagong Cantonment. However, we are not sure this information is correct.
We hope the government and the Army will fully cooperate and assist us in this matter. At the conclusion of the Liberation War our father was awarded the military distinction of “Bir Uttam.” He served his country with honour. He never committed a crime. It is the government's own case that he was murdered. General Manzur should not have been buried somewhere in an anonymous grave. He and his family should be shown respect. It is a matter of decency.
LL: Is there anything else you hope from the leaders of the present government?
RM: According to information based on testimony given to the CID that has been recently published, the order to murder my father came from the highest authority in the Army. Several officers at different stages were allegedly involved in carrying out this order. Whether this is true or not must be decided by a Court of Law.
If it is possible, we hope the Supreme Court will take this case within its jurisdiction based on the “public interest.” Whatever the reasons, my father's case has stagnated in the lower courts for nineteen years. We feel that perhaps the best chance to achieve justice would be if the Supreme Court took this case under its umbrella. It would give us hope. I pray that the present government will let justice take its course.
LL: It has been 19 years since the Manzur Murder Case has been filed against General Ershad and four army officers? Over this period the case has been shifted 22 times from one judge to another? What do you hope from the Bangladesh judicial system? Do you think even now justice can be achieved?
RM: We can hope Inshallah. I believe that Allah is a better planner than any of us, so only He knows what the future holds.
LL: Would you like to say something more?
RM: In early February 2014 a group called Shaheed Asmal Parishad formed a human chain in front of the Dhaka Press Club in honour of my father. They called out for justice in his case. We did not know these people. We want to thank them. We hope they will get in contact with us so we can personally express our appreciation for what they have done for us.
When we left Dhaka in the early 1990s it was still a traumatic place for our family. To see a picture of this group standing in front of the Press Club with banners calling for justice to be done in General Manzur's case was unbelievable. They never met us but they were there.
I would also like to thank Sheikh Hasina. I believe as a daughter of parents who were murdered by the same anti-liberation forces as our father, she understands our never ending pain. I have faith that she and her advisers will put the issue of justice above all other considerations.
My mother, Rana Manzur, and Sheikh Hasina met after Ershad fell from power. It was not a political meeting but a meeting between two women whose family members had been murdered. Those we loved had been victims of political murders. I am sure Sheikh Hasina has not forgotten her meeting with my mother. Our family appreciated Sheikh Hasina's sensitivity and attention. We have faith that she understands our pain and will support the cause of justice.
We also want to thank Redwan Ahmed, a young man who started a Facebook page entitled “Justice for Major General Abul Manzoor – Bir Uttom.” I think of Redwan and those like him as the Freedom Fighters of this generation. They really love Bangladesh. They don't use guns but they want to complete the task that those who fought in 1971 were unable to do. I hope all those people on Facebook will join Redwan.
It is also our hope that on June 1, the 33rd anniversary of my father's death, the Parishad and many others will stand peacefully before the Supreme Court in Dhaka and call for justice for my father. We hope they will also call for justice for the 13 Mukti Bahini officers who General Ershad hanged in Chittagong after a trial that no one could ever consider a fair trial. The men were tortured and not given a right to defend themselves. They were tried like Colonel Taher inside a prison, not in a Court of Law.
I also request that the Masjids around the country have a milad asking Allah to bless my father and all those who were killed with him. This includes not only Freedom Fighters but every man, woman and child who gave their life for this country. My father was a religious man. He was also a Freedom Fighter. There was no contradiction in this. He was strengthened by his faith when he fought Pakistan's oppression and its denial of democracy.
I never saw my father miss a prayer. He always said his Fazar in the morning and he made up all the others during his Isa prayers. Just before his death he finished a reading of the Quran. One of my last memories of him was watching him during his Isa prayers. He kept making mistakes and then repeated the prayers. He turned to me and with very sad eyes said: “Why am I making so many mistakes?” My father was so much more than what his murders have made him to be. It is our time now to tell the truth.
On June 1 we hope there will be no crude slogans against General Ershad or others. A dignified call for justice voiced by many is what we need. They killed without mercy. We seek Justice with dignity.
I hope also that people in Jessore and Khulna and those areas where General Manzur fought in 1971, as the 8th Sector Commander, will also find a way to express their desire for Justice. May this also happen in Chittagong where he was killed and in Comilla, his mother's ancestral home, where he was born. May the call for Justice happen all across Bangladesh.
We hope that the call for Justice from the people of this country will rise up once again and be heard.
Rubana Manzur can be reached at OpenDoor.RubanaManzur@gmail.com
The interviewer was South Asia Correspondent of the Far Eastern Economic Review (Hong Kong). He is the author of an eight part series entitled “The Murder of Major General Abul Manzur – Bir Uttam” which appeared in this newspaper. The series were printed in two installments in February and April 2014. He can be reached at OpenDoor.Lifschultz@gmail.com