‘The biggest way to show respect to the martyrs is to know their history well’
January 20 is observed as Shaheed Asad Day. On this day in 1969, Amanullah Mohammad Asaduzzaman, an MA student of Dhaka University and a leader of the East Pakistan Students' Union, was killed by the Pakistani police forces while students were holding processions against the repressive regime of Ayub Khan, breaking Section 144 of the constitution imposed by the government. Renowned actor and Member of Parliament Asaduzzaman Noor, who was a student activist during that time, talks to The Daily Star's Naznin Tithi about some of the historical events of that time and the day on which Asad sacrificed his life, turning the movement against Pakistani oppression into a mass uprising, which eventually led to our Liberation War.
How do you remember January 20, 1969, the day Asad was killed by the Pakistani forces?
In 1969, I was a student of Dhaka University and a resident of Iqbal Hall (now Zahurul Haq Hall) which was the centre of all political activities of that time—all the political programmes would be decided and declared from that hall. During that time, the Six Point Movement by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was gaining popularity among people. The West Pakistani rulers were scared of this because they knew the seeds of East Pakistan's independence were sown in the six points. In January, 1969, the Sarbadaliya Chhatra Sangram Parishad (All Parties Student Resistance Council) was formed. The then Dhaka University Central Students' Union (Ducsu) VP Tofail Ahmed was the convener of the council. The Parishad added another five points with the six points of Bangabandhu and announced its 11-point charter. At that point, people like Mahbubul Haq Dolon and Nazim Kamran Chowdhury, who were part of the National Student Federation (NSF), left that organisation and joined with the students' 11-point movement, which was a very significant development.
As the 11-point demands were gaining popularity among the students, the peasants and labourers also started to join the movement. The demand for the release of Sheikh Mujib (yet to be Bangabandhu) and withdrawal of the Agartala conspiracy case were the most popular demands, while the demand for the autonomy of East Pakistan was also very prominent. The popular slogans were:
"Padma, Meghna, Jamuna/ Tomar amar thikana."
"Dhaka na Pindi/ Dhaka, Dhaka."
On January 20, 1969, a strike was announced by the students to put pressure on Ayub Khan's government to fulfil their demands. During that time, the political parties also formed a forum named Democratic Action Committee (DAC), which held some programmes that day. The Sarbadaliya Chhatra Sangram Parishad had announced that a demonstration would start from Dhaka University and move towards Shaheed Minar, and the political parties were supposed to start a procession from what is now the General Post Office area and move towards Gulistan. Being a student of Dhaka University, I participated in the students' procession. When we were marching towards the Shaheed Minar, police attacked our procession and sprayed coloured hot water on us. The clash between police and students started even before we crossed Jagannath Hall. At one stage, the police retreated. There was another procession which came from Changkharpool and was trying to cross Dhaka Medical College to move towards Shaheed Minar. Asad was in that procession. When the protest march was in front of what is now Dhaka Medical College Hospital's (DMCH) main entrance, police fired on the procession and killed Asad instantly. Now, there stands a monument in memory of Shaheed Asad there.
How did Asad's martyrdom impact the political movement of that time? Would you share with us the events between January 20 and January 24 (which is now known as Mass Uprising Day) as you saw them?
After the police shot Asad in the chest, students immediately took him to the Emergency unit of DMCH where the doctors declared him dead. Students became furious at his death and continued the processions with Asad's blood-stained shirt. Immediately after the incident, renowned poet Shamsur Rahman wrote his famous poem Asader Shirt. The angry protesters instantly changed the name of Ayub Gate in the city's Mohammadpur area into Asad Gate.
The killing of Asad completely changed the political scenario of that time. Demonstrations erupted all across Dhaka as lakhs of people took to the street. The Chhatra Sangram Parishad announced its programmes—on January 21, there was a protest rally at Dhaka University; on January 22, all the buildings in Dhaka hoisted black flags; on January 23, students brought out a torch procession; and a complete shutdown of all the educational institutions in East Pakistan was called on January 24. When the hartal was being enforced on January 24, police again opened fire on the protesters, killing Matiur, Rustom and three others. In fact, we heard that more people were actually killed by the police but their dead bodies disappeared. From January 24, the movement reached such a level that there was basically no control of the Pakistan government on Dhaka, as well as on the whole of East Pakistan. Both the incidents of January 20 and January 24 gave a serious impetus to our movement. The movement continued with the same pace and on February 21, 1969, Bangabandhu was released from jail and the notorious Agartala conspiracy case was withdrawn. The rest of the events of how we gradually moved towards our Liberation War are known by all.
Did you personally know Shaheed Asad, since both of you were Dhaka University students and were actively involved with politics?
No. I didn't know him personally. As you may know, there were two factions of Chhatra Union during that time—the Chhatra Union Matia group was pro-Moscow, and the Chhatra Union Menon Group was pro-Peking. Although Asad was an organiser of the Menon group, many of us (especially those of us who belonged to the other faction) didn't know him. The reason could be that he was not only a member of the Chhatra Union but was also involved with the Krishak Samity in his village home in Narsingdi. Although he used to spend much of his time in Narsingdi organising the farmers, he would regularly come to Dhaka to perform his organisational responsibilities since Dhaka was the centre of all political activities during that time. On that fateful day, he was in Dhaka and participated in the procession.
I do have a personal story to share relating to Asad's death. I was quite active in Dhaka during that time and had good relations with many organisations, including the Chhatra League. As the news of Asad's death spread, a lot of people thought that it was me who was killed. The news also spread to the small town of Nilphamari where I grew up. Students from schools and colleges came out hearing the news and brought out processions in Nilphamari town in protest. My mother fell ill after hearing the news. Once I realised the confusion, I immediately sent a telegram to my parents saying that I was alive and well. Later, I met Shaheed Asad's two brothers with whom I still have good relations.
How can we make sure that Shaheed Asad and the other martyrs of 1969 get their due place in history?
It is not possible to give proper respect to a martyr only by observing a day in his name. Our independence and all the national achievements from 1952 till 1971 came through the supreme sacrifices of lakhs of people, particularly our young generation. We should all know about them and the history of their contributions. If you now ask people about Asad Gate or Asad avenue, most of them will probably not be able to answer your question. I think, the lack of interest among people to know history is our weakest point as a nation. And the biggest way to show respect to the martyrs is to know their history well.
Matiur, the schoolboy who was killed on January 24, 1969, participated in the namaz-e-janaza of Shaheed Asad. Who would have thought four days later, he would also become a martyr? I heard from Matiur's father that Matiur ran away from home to participate in the namaz-e-janaza of Shaheed Asad. He fled from home on January 24 as well to participate in the mass movement of 1969. It was remarkable how a schoolboy was inspired with such patriotism and had the spirit to fight for his country and sacrifice his life. Sadly, people do not know much about them. To learn about them and hold their ideals in our hearts are the biggest ways to show them respect.