Friday, August 15, 2008

The sinister darkness in which Sheikh Mujib died

The sinister darkness in which Sheikh Mujib died
A.L. Khatib
Source: Daily Star
August 15, 2008

AUGUST 1975 was a transitional time in Bangladesh. Mujib was making radical administrative changes and adopting measures that would have a tremendous social impact. There was only one political party in the country now -- the Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (BAKSAL). BAKSAL on which all sections of the people, including the armed forces and the police, were represented, would be an integral part of the administration. The importance of bureaucrats would diminish, when the governors-designate of the districts took up their new offices on 1 September 1975. The army was to be split and made to join in productive work at the district level. It was a revolutionary step.

The evening of August 14, 1975 did not seem different from any other evening in August.

Dhaka University was preparing to welcome Mujib the next day.

Mujib was arrested in March 1948, when he was a law student, for leading a black-flag demonstration against Jinnah on the highly emotional issue of making Bengali one of the two State languages.

Mujib was arrested again next year for leading a strike of lower grade university employees. When he was released, he found that he had in the meantime been rusticated from the university.

He would be visiting the university the next day as the Chancellor.

Following the exploding of a hand grenade on the university campus, security arrangements for Mujib's visit to the university were tightened. Bomb blasts and grenade explosions had, ever since the Pakistani army's crackdown on Bengalis on the night of March 25/26 , 1971, become almost a part of life in Dacca and did not disturb one's sleep. But there were rumours

Mujib returned home from Gano Bhaban around 8.30 pm. Russell, Mujib's ten-year-old son, was all excitement. He was one of the six boys chosen by the Principal of the University Laboratory School to welcome Mujib when he visited the university the next morning.

Kader Siddiqui, better known as Tiger (Baga) Siddiqui for his exploits in the Liberation War, was one of the governors-designate. When he was going to the Post Graduate Hospital in Dhaka to see his ailing mother on the evening of August 14, he saw a tank near Karwan Bazar. There was another tank near the hospital, which is almost opposite the Radio Station.

After seeing his mother, Kader drove down to Motijheel. Yet another tank; three tanks within a radius of one kilometre. He turned back. There was still another tank near the Engineer's Institute, hardly two hundred metres from the hospital. It was a little past 11 pm.

Kader Siddiqui drove on to the Rakkhi Bahini camp near Gano Bhaban in Sher-e-Bangla Nagar. Anwarul Alam Shahid, Deputy Director of the Rakkhi Bahini, told Kader Siddiqui that the Bengal Lancers had been authorised to take out three tanks. But why were there four tanks? Shahid said, "You may have seen one tank twice." Could be. Shahid was a former student leader and had fought in the liberation war. There was no reason to doubt what he said.

Tank manoeuvres were a Thursday-night routine and twice a month the Bengal Lancers and the Second Field Artillery held combined exercise.

It was late by the time Kader Siddiqui returned home. He asked his sister not to wake him up in the morning. He had been leaving home early for many days now, but the training program for governors-designate would end tomorrow with a lunch meeting at which all the ministers would be present. He could take it easy.

Brigadier Jamil, the President's Security Chief, spent a restless night. His wife was ill, and he had to escort the president to the university in the morning. It was not a new duty for him, but he was very uneasy. He had been appointed Director of the Field Intelligence Unit, but handing over charge of the Unit to him had somehow not been completed still. Jamil's wife asked him to go to sleep. "I can't sleep," he said.

Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed too spent a sleepless night. There were a number of visitors to 54 Agha Mashi Lane, Moshtaque's house in old Dhaka. One of the visitors was his nephew Major Rashid.

Taheruddin Thakur was like a cat on hot bricks that night. Any call would make him jump. He tried to calm his nerves with prayers. He had a bath and got ready as if he had to keep an appointment at an unearthly hour. A guest in the house wondered why Taheruddin was so tense.

Kamal, Mujib's son, came back home after midnight from the university campus, where last-minute touches were being given to the preparations to welcome Mujib. At the same time finishing touches were being given to a plot at the Dhaka cantonment.

When it was still dark, Col. Farook addressed the Bengal Lancers, whom he had trained to hunt in killer packs. The Lancers in their black overalls were like the hordes of Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost.

Farook spat fire and venom. He said that Mujib had sold the country to foreign powers and was going to break up the army and disband the Lancers. He played on their fears and incited them in the name of Islam. It was time to strike.

They moved out in three columns. Their targets were less than two kilometres away.

In the glimmering before dawn, the Rakkhi Bahini hurriedly took up positions in front of their camp near the MNA's hostel in Sher-e-Bangla Nagar. Most of them were wearing lungis and were bare-footed. While some living in the area were still wondering what was happening, the Rakkhi Bahini were withdrawn. A tank raced down the airport runway, bridged a wall and trained its gun on the camp.

Thirty tanks were deployed at strategic points in the city.

The houses of Mujib, his brother-in-law Abdur Rab Serneabat and his nephew Sheikh Fazlul Huq Moni were surrounded simultaneously.

Soldiers started shooting at Mujib's house from all directions. Bullets were whizzing in through the windows on the first floor, where all the bedrooms were. A bullet grazed the hand of Sheikh Nasser, Mujib's younger brother.

They all took shelter in Mujib's dressing room, which was the least exposed. It was a repetition of March 26, 1971, when Pakistani troops had encircled the house. Mujib rang up some officers. Begum Mujib tore a strip from her sari and bandaged Nasser's hand.

Kamal came down and asked the guards to take action, but they had been 'neutralised.' While Kamal was still trying to persuade the guards to act, Major Huda entered the house with some men. The guards saluted him. One of the men with Huda shot Kamal.

Meanwhile, Brigadier Jamil was hurrying to Mujib's house. When his jeep was only a few hundred metres from Mujib's house, some soldiers who were waiting near Subhan Bagh mosque barked: "Halt." Jamil identified himself. They knew who he was; they had been posted there to intercept him. "We have orders to shoot anyone who passes this way," they threatened. When Jamil did not heed their warning, they shot him.

Soldiers were by then swarming all over Mujib's house. They found a room closed on all sides -- it was Rehana's bedroom. They forced a door open, sending a cupboard full of things crashing to the floor.

"Let me see what they want," Mujib said and came out of the room as he had done on the night of March 26, 1971. He had faced the Pakistani soldiers. These were his own men.

Mujib was wearing a checked lungi and a white kurta.

Mujib met Huda on the staircase. "It is you. What do you want?" Mujib asked. "We have come to take you," Huda said. "Do you think it is fun?" Mujib thundered. "I will not allow the country to be ruined." Huda was unnerved. A servant cried: "Kamal Bhai is dead." Havildar Moslemuddin, who was coming down from the terrace, swore and opened fire from behind with an automatic weapon, riddling Mujib's body with bullets.

Soldiers were picking up whatever they could. "Take whatever you want but don't kill us," Begum Mujib pleaded. But hearing the burst of firing, she came out. "You have killed him, kill me," she wailed. She was silenced forever.

Jamal, his wife Rosy, and Sultana, Kamal's wife, were still in the dressing room. A burst from a sten gun and the three were dead.

The gunmen found Nasser in a bathroom and shot him. Russell was cowering in a corner. "Take me to my mother," he whimpered. "We will take you to your mother," one of the homicidal maniacs said. A police officer pleaded for Russell's life: "He is only a child." The officer was killed. One arm of Russell had been shot off, yet he begged: "Don't kill me, don't kill me." The answer was a bullet. Russell lay dead by his mother's side.

Farook and Rashid were late in reaching Mujib's house. Farook went up to satisfy himself that all had been killed. He telephoned someone.

The article is an extract from the work, Who Killed Mujib? by the eminent journalist (now deceased) A.L. Khatib.

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