November 3 shall remain as one of the most ignominious day in the annals of Bangladesh’s political history because on this day in 1975, four national leaders, undoubtedly some of the brilliant minds in our body politic, were most brutally murdered while in custody. It was gruesome and diabolic because these defenceless persons were lodged in the sanctum sanctorum wherein they were entitled to state protection, but where unfortunately pursuant to the macabre designs of a notorious cabal, they were killed in the cruellest of manner.
The slain leaders—Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmed, AHM Qamaruzzaman and Mansur Ali—were all very close and trusted associates of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, architect of independent Bangladesh, and whose contributions to our liberation struggle shall be remembered forever in solemn silence and with deep gratitude. They were all popular and capable colleagues of the Supreme Leader and were doing their best to steer the country out of the tumultuous post liberation aftermath. Amidst national and international conspiracies when the country was venturing to find its feet, Bangabandhu’s gory assassination on August 15, 1975 interposed between the nation and the polity as a great historical aberration.
In a scenario where towering Bangabandhu’s demise obviously created a lackadaisical environment in a shell-shocked polity that was frenetically venturing to come to grips with altered reality with a view to restoring normalcy, much depended upon the stewardship and wise guidance of the four slain lieutenants of Bangabandhu. This dimension of our political existence surely drew the attention of the then ruling cabal who lost no time to carry out their nefarious designs by sending a murderous gang to the Dhaka Central Jail for doing away with the aforementioned national leaders.
It is time once again to remember the four national leaders whose sacrifices and fidelity to their leader and the nation make us proud. They were special because allurements of safety and state honours were on hand from the ruling cabal but they resolutely refused to compromise their dignity and betray their leader. These leaders definitely harboured a certain extravagance of objectives and thus wandered beyond the safe provision of personal gratifications. They displayed the sterling characteristic of stressing on work and achievement and not power and acquisitiveness for their own sake. They stood like solid rocks in the wilderness of shifting sands and thus remain admirable beacons of freedom.
The compounding tragedy in the whole transaction is that the brutality and shame did not stir the national conscience until a favourable political scenario emerged in 1996.
Records show that the slain leaders could have bargained with the assassins and their patrons but they did not wilt. This was a rare instance of displaying inner strength; a necessity for establishing truth under adversity.
The tragedy in Bangladesh is that we, as a nation, have not been able to come out of our self-centeredness and it was thus no surprise that it took 21 years to officially recognise the culpability of a heinous offence committed in the most blatant manner.
The historical significance of the sacrifice of the four national leaders cannot be lost sight of and we have to admit that by wavering for a painfully long time in taking the legal action we have made ourselves small.
The state sprang into action to investigate into the ghastly misdeeds only when a favourable scenario emerged. However, the task was not easy by any count. The First Information Report (FIR) had mentioned the name of only one person as accused and four accomplices were shown as unknown. Significantly, the original FIR could not be located despite the best efforts given in tracing them from the concerned court, police station and CID office. Finally, a hand-written copy of the original FIR was located at Police Headquarters.
The investigator of the ghastly crime thus had to commence his work with a handicap. Curiously, though the FIR was lodged on November 4, 1975, at Lalbagh police station, the investigation officer, the then Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), Mr Saifuddin was not allowed to visit the place of occurrence despite repeated efforts, thus failing to take initial steps towards the investigation.
Between 1975 and 1996 the investigation could not commence due to establishment indifference, and consequently many relevant supportive papers and direct evidence just disappeared much to the prejudice of the prosecution.
Some of the jail employees of the relevant period had been located from different places around the country after prolonged efforts and the complainant of the incident, the very old former DIG Prison was traced from Sandwip Island to prove the FIR.
Some old files had been retrieved from the prison records but copy of the inquest and the post-mortem reports of the slain leaders could not be traced.
The then establishment instituted a Judicial Commission after the incident but the said commission could not complete their inquiry. The relevant file regarding this commission could not be traced at the ministry as some interested quarters were suspected to have caused its disappearance.
Admittedly, the investigator’s job was made very difficult.
The misguided soldiers who committed the atrocities were rewarded with diplomatic postings. The job of tracing them and bringing them under the law was an awesome task. These accused persons were staying in “Bangabhaban” the seat of power and from there they proceeded to Dhaka Central Jail to commit the massacre.
After a lapse of so many years, it was extremely difficult to trace the relevant files in these sensitive places. Equally difficult was locating important exhibits from Radio Bangladesh.
Despite all the odds, encumbrances and limiting factors, the case ended in charge sheet against 21 accused persons including 14 absconders. The trial court awarded death sentence to three accused persons and sentenced 12 to life imprisonment, thanks to the mind exacting and gritty investigation of Mr Abdul Kahhar Akand, the then Senior Assistant Superintendent of Police. The trial was held in the ordinary court of law where defence enjoyed all the statutory privileges.
Of significant consequence is the fact that our socio-political situation turned for the worse with the tragic murder of the Father of the Nation and four national leaders in 1975.
Muhammad Nurul Huda is a former IGP.