At the dawn of Independence | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 26, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 07:24 PM, May 08, 2015

Independence day today

At the dawn of Independence

Bangabandhu aide recalls history taking turn at Dhanmondi 32
Wasim Bin Habib & Tuhin Shubhra Adhikary

It was like an eerie calm before the storm.

Since the morning of March 25, 1971, people's nerves were on the edge as it became almost clear that talks between the Awami League, the Pakistan People's Party and the Yahya Khan junta had failed.

No one had any idea what was going to happen.

All eyes were on one house -- the Dhanmondi 32 residence of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the undisputed leader of seven crore Bangalees.

Amid constant rush of politicians and officials to the two-storey building since the morning, one man was at Bangabandhu's side most of the time -- even moments before the leader was detained by Pakistan army. 

He is Haji Ghulam Murshid, an associate of Sheikh Mujib since 1946.

Now 84-year-old, Murshid shared with The Daily Star his memories of events unfolding at the Dhanmondi house on March 25, 1971.

"The five-member high command of Awami League had a meeting with Bangabandhu sometime between 10:00am and 11:00am," he said at his house near the capital's Asad Gate on March 19.

The "high command" was comprised of Tajuddin Ahmad, Syed Nazrul Islam, M Mansoor Ali, AHM Quamruzzaman and Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed, he noted.

Dr Kamal Hossain, Barrister Amir-ul Islam and Sirajul Alam Khan, among others, also sat with Bangabandhu.

Earlier that morning, Haji Ghulam Murshid had a conversation there with Ansar director Abdul Awal. "He [Abdul Awal] told me that there was a huge stock of arms and ammunition in every district police lines and suggested distributing those among police."

When Awal's suggestion was brought to his attention, Bangabandhu asked Murshid to talk to Col (retd) Ataul Gani Osmani, who was present there at the time. 

At lunchtime, as Ghulam Murshid was about to leave for his house, then in Kakrail, Osmani wanted a lift home.

He gave Osmani a lift on his Toyota Semi Deluxe.

The retired colonel-turned politician was living as a guest at the house of Muhibus Samad, a high official of an insurance company, on Dhanmondi 5 or 6.

At his request, Murshid took lunch there after performing Zohr prayers, instead of going to Kakrail, and returned to Dhanmondi 32 around 4:00pm.

Bangabandhu and Amir-ul Islam were on the ground floor and were soon joined by Abdul Awal.

"Bangabandhu asked me and Awal to meet the SP of Dhaka, EA Chowdhury, and ask him to hand over all arms and ammo from Rajarbagh Malkhana [armoury] to the members of police force," Murshid said.

The two went to the SP's residence near the Circuit House and discussed the matter with him in detail. “The SP nodded his approval."

They returned to Dhanmondi 32 in the evening and reported to Bangabandhu.

Amir-ul Islam told Murshid to call up Mashiur Rahman, a cental AL leader from Jessore, from his own house and ask Mashiur to distribute arms and ammo from Jessore police lines among the force.

"Amir-ul told me that making phone call from here [Bangabandhu's house] would be a problem as the matter needed secrecy," he said.

Murshid went home and phoned Mashiur, also an ex-minister.

In the meantime, rumours began whirling about an imminent military crackdown. Yahya Khan had boarded a Karachi-bound Pakistan International Airlines flight in absolute secrecy in the evening.

Dhaka University students and citizens in general put up barricades at different parts of the city.

After the phone call to Mashiur, Murshid left for Azimpur graveyard to offer prayers at the grave of his mother. It had become his everyday practice since she died on February 3, 1971. He was planning to go to Bangabandhu's residence from the graveyard.

When he crossed Dhaka Club, he saw barricades at Shahbagh intersection. "I could not go to Azimpur."

Murshid then turned his car to Old Airport Road. But he found heavy barricades at Farmgate. He took a left turn to Green Road and reached Kalabagan through a narrow ally to find a big tree felled ahead. He finally reached Bangabandhu's residence through the bridge on Dhanmondi Road-9.

It was around 10:00pm when Murshid reached Dhanmondi 32.

There was no one but a policeman on the ground floor. He took the stairs to the first floor. "As I stood before the open doors of his bedroom, Bangabandhu saw me and instantly said: 'We have become independent. They are coming to arrest me. I have decided to stay',” he said. 

"Those words still ring in my ears," added Haji Murshid, who was appointed the honorary aide to Prime Minister Sheikh Mujib after independence. 

 His face brightened up recalling those moments with eyes closed. After a brief pause, he opened his eyes and went on, "Bangabandhu asked me to run away. I replied, 'It's not going to happen.'"

Phone calls kept coming from different places, different people. There were two telephones at the house – one on each floor. But Bangabandhu was not picking up any.

Shubodh Mitra MCA called up and said, "Tell him [Bangabandhu] to move to safety".

The next one was from the wife of noted lawyer Sirajul Huq. "She said that Bangabandhu must leave ... otherwise they would kill him.”

Barrister Moudud Ahmed also called, making the same request.

Dr Kamal Hossain and Amir-ul Islam came again sometime between 10:00pm and 11:00pm, he said.

Then it was Tabibur Rahman, a Chhatra League leader. A tall man, Tabibur requested Bangabandhu to leave, saying, "They will kill you."

But Bangabandhu was adamant that he won't leave. He replied: "If they do not get me, they will massacre all the people and destroy the city."

Tabibur left crying.

By that time, the Pakistan army pounced on the people of Bangladesh. Different units of the army fanned out in various directions.

Tanks, armoured cars and trucks loaded with soldiers headed for Dhaka University, the Central Shaheed Minar, the Race Course Maidan (now Suhrawardy Udyan), Hotel Intercontinental and Old Dhaka.

The sharp cracks of rifles, rat-tat-tat of machine guns, and earth-shattering shelling of mortars were all around. Tracer fire lit up the night sky.

At Bangabandhu's residence, the telephone on the ground floor rang; it was just before or after midnight.

As Murshid picked up the phone, a person from other side said, "I am calling from Baldha Garden. The message has been sent. What should I do?"

He ran to Bangabandhu and delivered the message. Bangabandhu replied: "Tell him to break the machine and run away." He did it accordingly.

After some time, tracer fires lit up the house. Wearing a genji, Bangabandhu took some stairs down and asked where the lights came from.

"I pointed to a side. Bangabandhu walked up to the first floor."

Then another phone call came and Murshid got busy picking it up. "Suddenly I heard 'hands up'." The receiver of the phone fell from his hand and he heard: "Maat maro [don't shoot]."

In no time, Murshid was hit hard in the head. He lost consciousness.

Bangabandhu was taken into custody by the Pakistan army. But already, his message embodying the Declaration of Independence was dispatched.

The Liberation War began.

Over the next few days, Bangabandhu would be kept at Adamjee Cantonment College before being flown to West Pakistan.

When Murshid woke up in the wee hours of March 26, he found himself lying on the ground, writhing in pain. The Pakistan army took him onto a vehicle with his hands tied up on his back. Someone said: "Aankh maat uhtao [don't open your eyes]."

For the rest eight months, Murshid endured untold torture until he was freed by the Pak army on November 25, 1971. And he would see the nation free twenty-one days later.

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