Remembering Sheikh Kamal: An icon of the youth

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Published on August 5, 2021
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ABM Sarwer-e-Alom Sarker:

Captain Sheikh Kamal, the eldest son of the Greatest Bangali of all times, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was born on the 5th of August 1949 at Tungipara in Gopalganj. He was the second among five siblings.

Childhood

When his father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was arrested on the 14th of October 1949 while campaigning for the state language Bangla, Sheikh Kamal was an infant of two months and ten days. On the day of his father's release on the 27th of February 1952, Sheikh Kamal had just learned to speak a little. He merely saw his father that much to recognise him. All of a sudden, at that time, he asked his elder sister Sheikh Hasina, 'Hashu apa, can I call your father my father for a while?'

Sheikh Kamal spent about 5/6 years of his childhood in Tungipara, a village depicted as a green canvas of Palm-Tamal-Hijal trees near the banks of the Baigar river. Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq formed the cabinet after the victory of the United Front led by the Awami League in the 1954 election. Sheikh Mujib took office as a Minister. Soon after joining the cabinet, he shifted all his family members from Tungipara and started living in Dhaka.

Education

Sheikh Kamal was admitted to Dons Kindergarten School at 112-Segunbagicha in 1956 in KG-I. He was admitted to class-V at BAF Shaheen School in 1961 with double promotion after studying at Dons from KG-I to KG-III and Standard-I to Standard-III. The students of Shaheen School's Titumir House elected him captain. Almost everyone in that house became his fans because of his etiquette, manners, and great moral human qualities.

When Sheikh Mujib remained out of jail, he used to take Sheikh Kamal to school. Otherwise, Kamal went to school on a scooter alone. He passed the Secondary School Certificate examination from this school in 1967 and later got admission to Dhaka College. He received his Higher Secondary School Certificate from Dhaka College in 1969.

Sheikh Kamal was admitted in the Department of Sociology at Dhaka University in 1969. He was a second-year student of BA (Honors) during the War of Liberation. After the emergence of Bangladesh, he appeared in the final examination BA (Honors) despite suffering from illness. However, he secured second class, obtaining the fifth position. In his university life, Sheikh Kamal attended every class, including the tutorial classes. He also had a calligraphic handwriting style. Later, in 1975, he took part in the post-graduate examination in the same discipline. He appeared for the final oral test on the 14th of August.

The result of the post-graduation examination came out on the 29th of January 1976 after his tragic demise. He obtained a second class in that examination as well. Nevertheless, many of his teachers expressed that Kamal got fewer marks than he deserved; otherwise, he would have done better.

Role in the Liberation War

On the 7th of March 1971, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, while having dinner with his family, said, 'I have declared what I had to announce in public today. The government may now arrest or kill me at any moment. That is why you all will sit twice a day for lunch and dinner with me from today.' The same rule continued till lunchtime on the 25th of March. At around 9pm on the 25th of March, Sheikh Kamal said goodbye to everyone and left home.

He returned early the next morning to 32-Dhanmondi and met his mother and brothers. The Pakistan army again attacked their house at 32 Dhanmondi on the 26th of March. At that time Dr. Samad of the next house in the neighborhood sent his eldest son to bring Begum Mujib, Sheikh Jamal and Sheikh Russell to his house. Sheikh Kamal left to join the War of Liberation.

After leaving home, he stayed with a Swiss family in Dhanmondi for the next few days. Later in disguise, he reached Gopalganj in mid-April with incredible difficulty. Sheikh Kamal, along with his cousin Ilias Ahmed Chowdhury, took refuge in Baspur of Kashiani but had to move several times due to security threats. Finally, both of them left for India with the Tagore family of Orakandi. Beginning at Chaptabazar of Kashiani, Gopalganj, Sheikh Kamal had a long, tedious journey and avoiding enemies (Razakars) crossed the Ichhamati river at Debhata-Hasnabad border in Kaliganj Upazila of Satkhira district to reach West Bengal, India.

After reaching West Bengal, Sheikh Kamal moved to Delhi. There he met Indian Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi, at her residence and described the situation in Dhaka to her. Mrs. Gandhi told Sheikh Kamal to stay safe in Delhi and start studying. However, Sheikh Kamal expressed his gratitude to Mrs. Gandhi and replied that he wanted to join the war to liberate his beloved motherland.

In exile, the Government of Bangladesh organised the Mukti Fauj, formed the Mukti Bahini (Liberation Army), and expanded it, foreseeing a prolonged fight with the Pakistan army. Accordingly, the Government selected sixty-one highly qualified, intelligent, spirited young professionals from the 11 sectors of the Liberation War as Gentleman Cadets (GCs) to lead the Liberation Army, assigned them to the Indian Officers Training Wing (OTW) in Murti-camp of Dehradun near the Himalayas in present-day Uttarakhand.

Sheikh Kamal was one of the 61 luckiest young men who completed the 'Bangladesh First War Course' and got a commission as lieutenant in the Bangladesh Army. The first war course started at the end of June 1971, with the participants passing out on the 9th of October of the same year. Sheikh Kamal never felt sick while engaged in the 16-week training course in a very adverse environment. His physical fitness and performance were the best among all of his course mates. He stood fifth in that training course. He served as ADC (aide-de-camp) to General Osmani, the Commander-in-Chief of the Liberation Army during the War of Independence.

On the 19th of December 1971, the two brothers, Captain Sheikh Kamal and Lieutenant Sheikh Jamal returned home from the war front to the then family residence at Dhanmondi Road No. 18. At that time, they were wearing military uniforms. Their family members burst into tears at their reunion about nine and a half months after March 1971. Sheikh Kamal was promoted to Captain after the great victory in the Liberation War as two years of seniority was awarded to all freedom fighter officers. Then he quit military service and returned to Dhaka University to resume his studies. Sheikh Kamal did not receive a Freedom Fighter Certificate in his lifetime.

Sports Organiser and an Agile Player

Sheikh Kamal was the most incredible sports organiser of all time in Bangladesh. He had the most significant contribution to sports. Kamal started playing on the playground between North-South Road and Bijoy Nagar in his childhood after arriving in Segunbagicha, Dhaka, from Tungipara. He played in a field at Lalmatia, Mohammadpur, during 1967-68. He also played at the Dhanmondi playground.

However, there was no club for children and youth in the Dhanmondi area at the time. In that situation, he was the first who took the initiative to set up a sports association. He first formed the Abahani Social Welfare Organisation. Then after returning from the Liberation War, he established the Abahani Sports Club in 1972. He took that great initiative to protect the young generation from going astray in the post-independence situation and bring them back into a disciplined life. He went to watch the Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany, in 1972. He led a 75-member delegation from Bangladesh to attend the 10th World Youth Conference held in Berlin, Germany, in 1973.

It was not only in football that he initiated organisational measures. He also formed hockey, cricket, and table tennis teams under Abahani Sports Club. His team was proud to be the national champion in all branches of the sport. In addition, his team won an inter-university basketball competition. At one time, he became very enthusiastic about providing modern costumes and sports equipment to players. He appointed a British citizen, Mr. Bill Heart, as the first foreign coach in independent Bangladesh to provide advanced training skills in sports. As a result of his various initiatives, the fame of this club spread all over the country. At one stage, he decided to establish district branches of Abahani Sports Club. He brought about revolutionary changes in sports. Apart from taking steps to make the players self-reliant, he arranged resources to provide them with retirement allowances. For the economic security of players, he set up a Players' Welfare Fund with a grant of BDT 10,00,000 (ten hundred thousand) from Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Political Activities

Sheikh Kamal's leadership in the political sphere was highly commendable. He played a very active role in every movement starting from the Six Points, Agartala conspiracy case, 11-point, and non-cooperation movement. The Pakistan army arrested Bangabandhu while he was leading the 6-point movement in 1966. At that time, under Bangabandhu's secret instructions, Sheikh Kamal organised the Awami League and Chhatra League in 44 unions of the then Dhaka city without caring about his life being in jeopardy. Sheikh Kamal also led Chhatra League activists in displaying black flags before the then Governor of East Pakistan, Monem Khan, the chief guest at the East Pakistan Students Conference at Dhaka College in 1968. On the night of the 20th of February 1969, he set up a martyrs' memorial in front of the North Hostel of Dhaka College, ignoring the fury of the Pakistanis. There, very early in the morning, all the students laid floral wreaths and took part in the morning parade. Sheikh Kamal led covert weapons training to build armed resistance against the Pakistani army during the non-cooperation movement in 1970. Sheikh Kamal, along with his elder sister Sheikh Hasina regularly participated in the election campaign on behalf of Awami League and Bangabandhu in Sutrapur-Kotowali, popularly known as the nest of the Muslim League in the election of 1970. As a result, Bangabandhu defeated Khwaja Khairuddin of the Muslim League by a considerable margin.

Sheikh Kamal was one of the prominent members of the central committee of the Chhatra League. The Chhatra League faced a huge number of factions intent on destabilising the political environment of the newly independent country. Sheikh Kamal reorganised the Chhatra League and made the organisation more robust than before with the help of his universal acceptance and powers of negotiation.

Cultural Personality and Organiser

Sheikh Kamal was a shining star in the world of culture. In this regard, he had a three-dimensional talent – he was a great actor, singer, and sitar player. Sheikh Kamal used to learn sitar, and his elder sister Sheikh Hasina practised violin in Chhayanaut. At the same institute, his younger brother Sheikh Jamal learned guitar. His younger sister Sheikh Rehana trained in dancing and singing. Sheikh Kamal was a talented performer, in a nutshell, like professionals. His creative acting, depth of voice, and proficiency in creating mimicry of any sound made him unparalleled. He regularly rehearsed in Natyachakra and performed in several plays there, which earned him massive popularity among cultural connoisseurs. He was the key actor under the direction of M. Hamid in 'Danab (Monster)' – a translation of prominent playwright Maxim Gorky's 'The Devil'. He was the lead actor in 'Nabanna' by Bijan Bhattacharya, 'Roller and the Killed LMG' by Al Mansoor, 'I will be a Minister', and a good number of other plays. He won first place in the inter-university stage performance competition.

Sheikh Kamal had great respect for girls; at the same time, he was uncompromising on the issue of girls' safety. After rehearsing from 10 to 11 at night, he would take the girls to their homes, sometimes by car and sometimes on foot, and after that he would go home. Sheikh Kamal participated in the Bangladesh-India Friendship Culture Exchange Fair held in Calcutta in April 1972 from Dhaka University Sanskriti Sangsad. He also performed the lead role in the play 'Keu Kichu Bolte Pare Na (No one can say anything)' by the martyr Munier Chowdhury. The original drama 'You Never Can Tell' was written by the playwright George Bernard Shaw.

He was runner-up all over Pakistan in the inter-college sitar competition. He obtained second place in the inter-college music competition. Before independence, he established a cultural organisation called Mridanga (an egg-shaped drum). He was the chief advisor of Spondon Shilpi Gosthi, set up on the 17th of January 1972. He was the vice-president of Natyachakra. He introduced 'Talent Show' in the field of music. He proposed celebrating the university's Rag Day through rallies, cultural events, debate competitions, discussion meetings, sports competitions, photo exhibitions instead of celebrating it by throwing colours all around in random manner.

Simple Lifestyle

Sheikh Kamal's only favourite personal property was a Toyota-68 model red car, which Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman used before becoming Prime Minister. He had no attraction to money-making and business. Even though Begum Mujib was the wife of the undisputed leader and supreme commander of Bangladesh, she did not change her appearance nor did she wear foreign chiffon clothes. Similarly, their beloved first daughter Sheikh Hasina also went to Dhaka University classes wearing a simple cotton saree. Sheikh Kamal was never seen on the campus wearing a shirt tucked in. Instead, he wore loose full-sleeve T-shirts and pants and ordinary sandals or sandal shoes on his feet. Sheikh Kamal never wore a suit in public. He was a diehard activist of the Chhatra League, but he was never interested in taking a leadership position.

Sheikh Kamal was a brilliant, humble, and well-mannered young man. 'Simple Living, High Thinking' was the motto of the family members of Bangabandhu. Hence, instead of their happiness and comfort, national interests have always been the priority to them. The way the reactionary and counter-revolutionary forces started slandering Bangabandhu's Government after independence, in the same way, fabricated criticisms and gossip brewed up about Sheikh Kamal. The then JSD's mouthpiece 'Ganakantha' and 'Hakkatha' of the NAP of Bhasani played a very disgusting role in that regard. Mr. Abul Fazl, the former Vice-Chancellor of Chittagong University, was appointed as an advisor to the then military dictator Ziaur Rahman after the brutal killing of the Father of the Nation on the 15th of August 1975. He remarked in his speech, 'Sheikh Kamal was an ideal man. He had no prejudice. He was very down-to-earth and courteous'. Within a few days of making that statement, Zia dismissed Mr. Abul Fazl from the position of advisor.

Marriage

Sheikh Kamal liked athlete Sultana Khukee. However, the marriage took place through family initiatives. Khukee's father was the chief engineer of Dhaka University. The couple got married on the 14th of July 1975 with the consent of the two families. Guests invited to the wedding were discouraged from bringing gifts. The wedding reception was straightforward, without frills. Guests were served in a most hospitable way but with sweetmeats, biscuits, tea and samosas.

Heartbreaking 15th of August, '75

The Father of the Nation was to pay a visit to Dhaka University on the 15th of August 1975. A festive atmosphere was prevailing on the campus for that purpose. Sheikh Kamal had been leading a volunteer brigade for the past several days. With the spontaneous participation of general students, the unit started a clean-up exercise in the entire university area from the 1st of August. After attending Nasim Osman's wedding at the Dhaka Ladies Club starting from Narayanganj on the 14th of August, he, along with his wife, returned to campus at night and had a meeting with the volunteer brigade members. When he was attempting to return home at midnight, he said he would come back in the morning on the next day. On the early morning of the 15th of August 1975, some disgruntled soldiers brutally attacked Bangabandhu's residence.

At first, two policemen were injured in their fierce firing and started screaming. When Sheikh Kamal reached the reception room on the ground floor from the upstairs to see what was going on, the assassins shot him dead in a burst of gunfire. In a short while, a great calamity descended on the Bangali nation. One by one, the assassins mercilessly killed 18 family members, including the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The brave freedom fighter Captain Sheikh Kamal and other family members were later laid to rest at the Banani Graveyard in the capital.

Writer: Assistant Press Secretary to the Prime Minister

Courtesy: The Business Standard