Mournful Month: History’s most heinous crime

The killers of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman did not give him much time to steer the nascent state, Bangladesh, to the position he had long been dreaming of. They killed him along with most of his family in four years of Bangladesh’s liberation from the clutches of Pakistan and two years of the 1973 general election that Bangabandhu-led Bangladesh Awami League won by a landslide. Bangabandhu dreamt of a happy and prosperous Bangladesh. After his homecoming from the prison in Pakistan following the independence, he announced, standing on the debris in the war-ravaged country, that Bangladesh will be built as Sonar Bangla (Golden Bengal). And he meant it. To attain the goal, he introduced the five-year plan in 1973, within one and a half year of independence with the main focus on the socialisation of property. The target of his economic strategy was attaining self-reliance and diminishing the dependence on foreign aid. 

Though a group of disgruntled mid-level Army officers took part in the most heinous murder in history on the fateful night of August 15, 1975, the conspiracy to kill Bangabandhu was deep-rooted. The forces inside and outside Bangladesh, which could not accept the country’s independence and its march toward a dignified state by shrugging off the Pakistan-era legacy of religion-centric politics and military supremacy, started hatching plots since the very birth of Bangladesh. And those who took the responsibility of executing the conspiracy wanted to annihilate his entire family, close relatives and associates to ensure that neither of them returns to state power in future. Which is why, they did not spare even nine-year-old Sheikh Russel, Bangabandhu’s youngest son, who was too young to do anything wrong to anyone or judge which is good or bad. 

In the gruesome attack, they also killed Bangabandhu's wife Begum Fazilatunnesa Mujib, brother Sheikh Abu Naser, sons Sheikh Kamal and Sheikh Jamal, daughters-in-law Sultana Kamal and Rosy Jamal, nephew Sheikh Fazlul Haque Moni and Moni’s wife Begum Arju Moni, and brother-in-law Abdur Rob Serniabat, Serniabat’s daughter Baby Serniabat, son Arif Serniabat, grandson Sukant Abdullah Babu and nephew Shahid Serniabat. The murder of four other national leaders Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmed, Mansur Ali and AHM Quamruzzaman, who shouldered the Herculean task of organising the Liberation War in absence of Bangabandhu and led the struggle to the final victory, in custody in high-security Dhaka Central Jail 78 days later was the culmination of a chapter of the entire conspiracy. 

No sensible person has any doubt about the severity of brutality the killers and conspirators showed, but the murder of innocent Russel, other minors and women and leaders in custody prompts anyone to think that the killers were no human beings by any standard and were worse than hyena.

Bangabandhu was not merely the leader and founding father of Bangladesh for his struggle, sacrifice and preparing the unarmed nation for the war against well-organised Pakistan military through his series of movements and motivation; he was the beacon of the hope and aspirations of the new nation. Differences in political beliefs and affiliation could not be a barrier for anyone to reach Bangabandhu and seek anything from him. Even his political opponents had access to the great leader for his being the true Father of the Nation.

Bangabandhu, hailing from this backward part of the globe, won high [better say the highest] esteem in the world community, of course by his acts, personality, courage and leadership quality. Cuban leader Fidel Castro compared him with the Himalayas. "I have not seen the Himalayas. But I have seen Sheikh Mujib. In personality and in courage, this man is the Himalayas." was exactly what he said about Bangabandhu, embracing him at the Non-Aligned Summit in Algiers in 1973. The fame Bangabandhu earned as the leader of Bangladesh in turn glorified the country. BBC Bangla correctly adjudged him the greatest Bengali of a thousand years.  

The conspirators and killers wanted and worked to destroy Bangabandhu’s family and the Awami League. But maybe the Almighty had a different plan. He saved Bangabandhu’s two daughters – incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana. They were outside the country on that fateful night. Nobody knows what would have happened to Bangladesh, had not the two daughters survived. While living in exile in India, Sheikh Hasina was elected President of the Awami League in 1981 and she returned home the same year. Eventually, she led the party to election victory several times – three terms in a row – creating a scope of taking the country back on the right path and establish the rule of law.

The notorious Indemnity Act [initially Indemnity Ordinance] that the conspirators framed and enforced to give impunity from legal action to the killers of Bangabandhu was repealed in 1996 during her government, paving way for the trial of the killers. Following court verdicts, several killers –Faruk Rahman, Shahriar Rashid Khan, Mohiuddin Ahmed, Bazlul Huda, AKM Mohiuddin and Abdul Majed – have been hanged. One killer, Aziz Pasha, died abroad while others – Abdur Rashid, Shariful Haq Dalim, Noor Chowdhury, Moslemuddin and Rashed Chowdhury – are on the run.

History has given the killers and conspirators a befitting reply; several of the hanged killers faced obstruction to be buried at their places of birth. People in the predominantly Muslim country usually do not bear any grudge against anyone after death or execution, but these killers earned so much anger, wrath and hate of the people that they cannot forgive them even after their death. And the killers who are still at large are living the life of absconders with fear of extradition and execution haunting them all the while. The house of the main conspirator, Khandker Mustaque Ahmad, in Dhaka has been a place of expressing hatred; people passing by his grave spit at the house. His children living abroad cannot visit his grave in Cumilla, even the country, in fear of facing public wrath.

Under Sheikh Hasina’s leadership, Bangladesh got rid of the least developed country status by graduating to lower-middle income status, and is marching toward being a middle-income country by 2021 and developed country by 2041. She is leading the country to a status where Bangabandhu wished to take the country to.

Bangabandhu is no more and he will never return among us. The highest degree of justice now we can do to him is executing all his killers, materialising his ideology, establishing rule of law and building Sonar Bangla. Let these be our pledge in this mourning month, which coincides with Bangabandhu’s birth centenary.

- Shiabur Rahman is the executive editor of Bangladesh Post. He can be reached by email --