Opinion

August 1975 and Sheikh Hasina’s days in Europe


Published : 19 Aug 2022 08:50 PM | Updated : 19 Aug 2022 08:50 PM

(Continued from last day’s section)

The guest house's three-bedroom apartment was filled with grief and silence. Joy and Putul used to play in the front field. They are now housebound. At the time, Joy, four years old, used to stare at her mother and auntie's distressed faces. Putul, who was one and a half years old, occasionally cried. Sheikh Rehana tried to spend most of the day with Joy and Putul.

On August 19, Wazed Miah requested Shahid Hossain to stay with them. Thinking about Sheikh Hasina and others’ safety, Shahid Hossain and Amirul Haque stayed in the room next to them. On August 20, Wazed Miah went to his institute to bring the required books. During those days, Shahid Hossain used to go to the supermarket to buy essentials and cook chicken and vegetables.Sheikh Hasina occasionally cooked stale rice with onions and chilis for breakfast. Shahid Hossain once handed Sheikh Rehana a piece of paper with prayers written on it and told her, "If you read these, it may help to lessen your mental suffering."

 During their stay at the guesthouse, Sheikh Hasina and Wazed Mia were eager to hear the latest news from Bangladesh following the coup. At the time, the old television in their guesthouse was malfunctioning. In this situation, Shahid Hossain brought his television from home.

 Ambassador Chowdhury called Wazed Miah from Bonn on August 22 to enquire if the Indian Embassy had contacted them from Bonn. Wazed Miah informed him that no one had contacted him. 

The next day, August 23, Indian Ambassador Ataur Rahman phoned Wazed Miah from Bonn to tell him that the Indian Embassy's First Secretary, Arun Patwardhan, would see him at the guesthouse.  At approximately 2:00 p.m., Arun Patwardhan met Wazed Miah. He told Wazed Miah he would be back the following day to take them all to Frankfurt Airport. Arun Patwardhan requested that Wazed Miah keep their trip to the airport and India secret.

Air India operated only one weekly direct flight between Frankfurt and Delhi in 1975. On Sunday afternoons, an Air India jumbo jet regularly departed for Delhi. Consequently, CV Ranganathan called the Air India office in Frankfurt and confirmed that Sheikh Hasina and others would fly to Delhi on August 24.

 Arun Patwardhan also spoke to the Frankfurt airport VIP protocol regarding Sheikh Hasina's security. Then, on the morning of August 24, Arun Patwardhan came to the guest house and took Sheikh Hasina, Dr Wazed Miah, their two children Joy and Putul and Sheikh Rehana in two taxis first to Karlsruhe railway station. From there, they went to Frankfurt Airport, 130 km away, within two hours by train.

Wazed Miah took Shahid Hossain with them since he was concerned for their safety. Before leaving Karlsruhe, Sheikh Hasina gave Shahid Hossain a piece of paper with the phone numbers of various relatives in the United Kingdom and an address in Kent. She did so while contemplating an unknown fear and their uncertain future. 

After arriving at Frankfurt Airport, Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana were separated from the other passengers. Finally, after two hours of waiting at the airport, Wazed Miah, Sheikh Hasina, and Sheikh Rehana, with their children, entered the departure lounge at about 2:00 p.m. 

Then, the passengers were instructed to board the aircraft. Wazed Miah hugged Shahid Hussain before entering the departure lounge, whilst Sheikh Hasina continued to cry. They entered the departure lounge after saying their goodbyes. Then, Arun Patwardhan and Balbir Goel passed immigration and entered the Air India aircraft. Sheikh Hasina, Sheikh Rehana, Dr. Wazed Miah, and the children were all sitting in their seats on the plane at the time. After saying their goodbyes, Arun and Balbir exited the plane. Later, Air India's jumbo jet flew towards an uncertain future with Sheikh Hasina and others. 

Was it believed at the time that the two sisters might be sent back to Bangladesh, handed over to the murderers, or murdered by assassins? Was this the reason the Indian government got concerned about their safety? It was natural to believe this considering that, except Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana, all members of Bangabandhu's family were killed, including influential close relatives.

Indira Gandhi, India's then-prime minister, stood beside the two sisters like a shadow over their heads at this moment. Muhammad Ataur Rahman, the ambassador of India to West Germany, devised a flawless strategy in this respect. Two embassy officials accompanied him.

 Sheikh Hasina had to leave West Germany that day in utmost secrecy. Everything was kept a secret, even from Sheikh Hasina's well-wishers in West Germany. 

Even Shahid Hussain, who arrived at the airport with Wazed Miah at the last minute, had no idea where they were going. Shahid Hossain was unaware of Sheikh Hasina and the others' destination - London or Deutmost.

(Concluded)

 

Dr Abul Hasnat Milton is General Secretary, Australia Awami League and Public Health Expert