The Darkest Night of the Nation & A Long Battle for Ensuring Justice

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Published on August 7, 2021
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The name of Bangladesh and Bangabandhu is inseparable. Without the Father of the Nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Bengali nation would not have an independent and sovereign state called Bangladesh. When the Architect of the Nation was marching towards turning the war-ravaged country into the Golden Bengal, a group of misguided army officers brutally killed the best Bengali of all time, putting the country into the darkness on the fateful night of August 15 in 1975. The most unfortunate chapter of Bengali history was written on that night by a group of fierce vultures.

Like any other typical day, President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman returned to his house Dhanmondi 32 number residence around 8 pm. Little did he know that a group of army officers and soldiers were busy preparing for the worst massacre in the history of Bangladesh.

The Preparation for The Heinous Murder in The History

As evening approached on August 14, 1975, the army vehicles in the Army's Two-Field Regiment was being stirred. The 105 mm cannons were taken to the under-construction at Kurmitola airport from Dhaka Cantonment with a heavy truck for regular night training. The Bengal Lancer T-54 tanks left the unit from the northern end of the cantonment around 10 pm. At the airport, 18 cannons and 26 tanks were assembled. Major Shariful Haque Dalim, Major SHMB Noor Chowdhury, Captain Mohammad Bazlul Huda, Major Shahriar Rashid, Major Aziz Pasha, Major Rashed Chowdhury and others gathered there around 11:30 pm.

In the early hours of 15 August, Major Syed Faruque Rahman instructed the officers to meet at the Squadron Office at the Headquarters near the Airport. Faruque was in charge of the operation. He was the one who informed the officers about the plan of operation. The main target was Dhanmondi No. 32, the residence of the President of Bangladesh, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. They planned for carrying the attack directly with two circles around the house. Members of the inner circle would directly attack Bangabandhu's house. The members of the outer circle would be stationed outside to prevent any confrontation by the national security guards or others. Major Noor and Major Huda were given charge of the outer circle.

It was also planned that they would block Dhanmondi Road No. 27, Sobhanbagh Mosque and Bridge at No. 32 Road. They also decided to attack the houses of Sheikh Fazlul Haque Mani and Abdur Rab Serniabat in Dhanmondi along with the attack on Bangabandhu's house. Major Dalim took the charge of attacking Serniabat's home. Dalim set off in a speeding jeep loaded with heavy machine guns in a large truck and a platoon of soldiers. Risaldar Moslemuddin Khan was given the responsibility of attacking Sheikh Mani's house. He was accompanied by two-platoon soldiers.

Major Shahriar was in charge of the radio station, university and New Market area with a company army. The group was also given the responsibility to repel any attack by the BDR at Peelkhana.

Major Faruque himself took the responsibility of resisting the security forces at Sher-e-Bangla Nagar with 26 tanks. Although there was no ammunition in those tanks, there were lots of bullets in the machine guns.

Major AKM Mohiuddin Ahmed prepared three hundred and fifty ordinary soldiers in 12 trucks to attack Bangabandhu's house. Major Rashid's responsibility was to handle the post-assassination situation and to coordinate the overall political situation. The 18 cannons under his command were loaded with ammunition and kept ready if there erupted any war. The cannons were aimed at the Rakshi Bahini (Security Force) headquarters and Bangabandhu's house. A 105 mm howitzer cannon was kept ready under Major Mohiuddin’s instruction from the opposite side of Bangabandhu's house on the lake. After distributing the assignments, everyone was given fresh bullets. The assassinators started their journey from the airport area to Dhanmondi around 4 am.

Faruque led 28 tanks to enter the cantonment through the Banani MP (Military Police) check post on the airport road. As Fajr Azan started, Faruque took his tank through the line of the 46th Brigade unit and followed the bypass road to the main road of the cantonment. He entered the airport (old airport) through a gate on the opposite side of the helipad of the Air Force in Dhaka cantonment. At that time two tanks managed to follow Faruque. The rest of the tanks lost their way and proceeded towards Farmgate through Jahangir Gate. Faruque broke down the western wall of the airport and took the position in front of the Security Force headquarters. Around 5.15 am, the houses of Abdur Rab Serniabat and Sheikh Mani, led by Major Dalim and Risaldar Moslemuddin, were attacked. The assassinators killed Sheikh Mani and his pregnant wife. Sheikh Mani's sons Sheikh Fazle Shams Parash and Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh survived by luck.

Dalim led the attack and killings of Abdur Rab Serniabat, his 14-year-old daughter Baby, 12-year-old son Arif, four-year-old grandson Babu (Abul Hasnat Abdullah's son), nephew Shahid Serniabat, nephew Abdul Naeem Khan Rintu (Awami League leader Amir Hossain Amu's cousin). Three guests and four housekeepers were also killed then.

Eyewitness Accounts of the Black Night

Bangabandhu got the news of the murder of his relative and cabinet member Abdur Rab Serniabat. As if everything happened faster than time.

Bangabandhu telephoned his assistant AFM Mohitul Islam on the ground floor and said that miscreants had attacked Serniabat's house. He asked him to call the police control room soon. But no response came from the police control room. Mohitul kept trying at Ganobhaban (then President's Office) exchange. As soon as the guards of Bangabandhu's house started hoisting the national flag at 5:30 am, the assassinators started attacking the house directly from the south.

Meanwhile, Bangabandhu opened the door of his house and came out on the verandah. Hearing the incident, Sheikh Kamal got down on the ground floor wearing a shirt and pants. Sultana Kamal came up to the first floor. Sheikh Jamal and his wife went to Fazilatunnesa Mujib's room on the first floor. Meanwhile, Mohitul kept calling different places in front of Bangabandhu in the reception room. At one stage, Bangabandhu took the phone and said, "I am President Sheikh Mujib calling...". Bangabandhu could not finish his speech. Several bullets smashed the window glass and hit the office wall. Mohitul injured his right elbow with a piece of glass. Shots kept coming through that window. Bangabandhu lay down beside the table and grabbed Mohitul's hand and pulled him to bed.

Meanwhile, Fazilatunnesa Mujib sent his punjabi and spectacles to Bangabandhu through housemaid Abdul. After a while, when the firing stopped, Bangabandhu stood up and took punjabi and glasses from Abdul's hand. Bangabandhu came out of the first-floor room on the verandah and told the army and police members on guard, "There are so many shots being fired, what are you doing?" Then he went to the first floor.

As Bangabandhu was going upstairs, Sheikh Kamal went down and stood on the verandah and said, "Army and police brothers, come with me." Mohitul Islam and Divisional Superintendent of Police (DSP) Nurul Islam Khan followed Sheikh Kamal. Just then Major Noor, Mohiuddin Ahmed (Lancer) and Captain Bazlul Huda entered Bangabandhu's house with the soldiers. As soon as they entered the gate, they started shouting 'hands up. Nurul Islam Khan dragged Mohitul Islam into the room. Bazlul Huda shot Sheikh Kamal in the leg without saying a word. Sheikh Kamal jumped into the room to save himself. He kept saying to Mohitul, "Tell them that I am Sheikh Mujib's son Sheikh Kamal." Mohitul told the assassinators, "He is Sheikh Kamal, the son of Sheikh Mujib." As soon as he said this, Bazlul Huda brush-fired on Sheikh Kamal with his weapon. Sheikh Kamal died immediately. One of the bullets hit Mohitul in the knee and the other in the leg of Nurul Islam.

In this situation, Nurul Islam dragged Mohitul to his room. There they saw a member of the special branch of the police standing, trembling with fear. The weapon is lying at his feet. Within a moment, Bazlul Huda entered the room and told everyone to stand outside. Bangabandhu was able to guess what was happening under the building. He closed the door of his house on the first floor and kept calling different places. At one point he got his military secretary Colonel Jamiluddin on the phone. He told her, “Jamil, come quickly. Army men attacked my house. Ask Safiullah to send force.”

Bangabandhu also called the then army chief General Safiullah. He told him, "Safiullah, your force has attacked my house, it seems that Kamal (Sheikh Kamal) has been killed. Send the force quickly. "Safiullah replied," I am doing something. Can you get out of the house?"

After receiving Bangabandhu's call, Colonel Jamil left for Bangabandhu's house in his private red car. The driver was Ainuddin Mollah. But on the way, the assassinators shot and killed him near Sobhanbagh Mosque. Ainuddin however managed to escape and survived. Meanwhile, Mohitul, Noorul Islam, Abdul Matin, members of the special branch of the police and other members were lined up in front of the gate of Bangabandhu's house. One of the killers shot a member of a special branch of the police and he fell. The assailants then went upstairs to shoot shooting randomly. They shot Abdul, a housemaid who had taken hiding in the bathroom of Sheikh Jamal's room. With bullets in his hands and abdomen, he leaned against the stairs and sat reclining. He was accompanied by his wife Fazilatunnesa Mujib, sons Sheikh Jamal and Sheikh Russell, Sheikh Kamal's wife Sultana Kamal and Sheikh Jamal's wife Parveen Jamal Rosie.

The Stairs Soaked in Blood

The assailants took up position outside Bangabandhu's room. When the gunfire stopped, Bangabandhu opened the door and as soon as he came out on the verandah, they surrounded him. Major Mohiuddin and his troops started taking Bangabandhu down. Addressing the killers, Bangabandhu said, “What do you want? Where will you take me?” Mohiuddin panicked at Bangabandhu's personality. Bangabandhu said, "Where will you take me, what will you do - why are you being rude?" At that time Bazlul Huda and Noor took a position in the middle of the stairs on the ground floor and first floor. Mohiuddin stepped aside when Noor said something while bringing Bangabandhu down. Immediately Bazlul Huda and Noor shot the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with their Sten guns. Bangabandhu was shot 17 times in the chest and abdomen. The frozen body remained to lie in the stairs. The whole staircase was flooded with blood.

Shortly afterwards, Major Aziz Pasha and Risaldar Mosleuddin entered Bangabandhu's room with their troops. Aziz Pasha went to the first floor with his soldiers. They kept knocking on the door of Bangabandhu's room. At one point they shot at the door. Fazilatunnesa Mujib then opened the door and requested not to kill anyone in the house. But the killers started bringing down Fazilatunnesa Mujib, Sheikh Russell, Sheikh Nasser and Rama. Seeing Bangabandhu's body on the stairs, his wife broke down in tears. He shouted, "I will not go, kill me here."

When Fazilatunnesa Mujib refused to go down, the assassinators took Sheikh Russell, Sheikh Nasser and Rama down. And Fazilatunnesa Mujib was taken back to her room. Sheikh Jamal, Sultana Kamal and Rosie Jamal were already in Bangabandhu's room. Aziz Pasha and Risaldar Mosleuddin shot and killed everyone including Fazilatunnesa Mujib indiscriminately. Fazilatunnesa Mujib's frozen body lies at the door of the room. Sheikh Jamal's body was lying on the left side. Rosie Jamal was shot in the face. Sultana Kamal's face turned pale with bleeding.

Innocent Kid Russell Killed in name of Taking Him to His Mother

Sheikh Nasser, Sheikh Russell and Rama were then taken down and lined up. Sheikh Nasser was taken to the bathroom adjacent to the office and shot. 11-year-old Sheikh Russell stood in line, hugged Rama first and then Mohitul Islam and said, "Brother, will they also kill me?" Mohitul replied, "No brother, they will not kill you." At that time, when Sheikh Russell wanted to go to his mother, Aziz Pasha asked a soldier to forcefully take him from Mohitul to the first floor. According to Aziz Pasha, a havildar took Sheikh Russell to the first floor and shot him dead. In the massacre, a thick layer of blood fell on the floor of the house. At the same time, the assailants carried out looting.

Bangabandhu’s two daughters were not present during the massacre on the day. The eldest daughter Sheikh Hasina was in Germany with her husband. They also took younger sister Sheikh Rehana and they luckily survived. The bodies of all the victims were buried at Banani Graveyard on August 15 except Bangabandhu's body.

On August 16, Bangabandhu's body was taken to Tungipara by an army helicopter. There he was buried next to his father's grave.

Protecting Murderers by Indemnity Ordinance

After the assassination of Bangabandhu, the military ruler Ziaur Rahman came to power. During his tenure, the trial of this murder was blocked issuing the infamous Indemnity Ordinance. This black ordinance was issued on September 26, 1975, by order of Khandaker Mushtaq. Later, on November 8, 1975, Major General Ziaur Rahman took control of the state power. On April 29, 1976, Ziaur Rahman declared himself the Chief Martial Law Administrator. He declared himself President on April 21, 1977. Then, on 18 February 1979, a one-man so-called parliamentary election was held in the country under Ziaur Rahman's martial law where his BNP won. The parliament adopted the fifth amendment in the Constitution to legalize all ordinances including the Indemnity Ordinance and declarations under martial law of the four years from August 15, 1975, to April 9, 1979. Ziaur Rahman not only stopped the trial of Bangabandhu's murderers with legal protection but also awarded the assailants with jobs in various embassies.

Bangabandhu Murder Trial

Under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina, the Awami League returned to power in 1996. The Indemnity Ordinance was repealed on November 12 in the same year. On October 2, 1996, AFM Mohitul Islam, Bangabandhu's Resident Private Assistant (PA), lodged an FIR with the Dhanmondi Police Station in connection with the heinous murder of August 15, 1975. On October 3, the Bangabandhu murder case was handed over to the CID and they started investigating the case. On January 15, 1997, the CID filed a charge sheet in the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate's Court accusing 20 people in the case. After completing the legal formalities on March 1, 1997, the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate of Dhaka sent the case to the Dhaka District and Sessions Judge's Court for trial. Judge Kazi Golam Rasul sentenced 15 former army officers to death on November 8, 1998. On April 30, 2001, the High Court upheld the death sentence of 12 convicts. One of them, Aziz Pasha, died in Zimbabwe in 2002 while on the run. However, when the BNP-Jamaat coalition government was formed in 2001, the trial of Bangabandhu's assassination came to a halt again.

When the Awami League-led grand alliance formed the government in 2009, the case gained momentum. After a 29-day hearing in the High Court, the final verdict was announced on November 19, 2009. A five-member bench of the Appellate Division of the Bangladesh Supreme Court dismissed the appeal filed by five convicts and upheld the verdict of the High Court. The High Court also upheld the death sentence of 12 people in the murder case of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family on August 15. Among the assassins of Bangabandhu, Syed Faruk Rahman, Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan, artillery Muhiuddin Ahmed, Bazlul Huda and Lancer AKM Mohiuddin were executed on January 28, 2010. Later, another murderer Abdul Majed was brought from India and executed after trial.

But even after a long time, the government is still trying to bring back the five more fugitive killers of Bangabandhu. According to various sources, including diplomats, Rashed Chowdhury and Risaldar Moslemuddin are currently staying in the United States. Noor Chowdhury in Canada. Another killer, Khandaker Abdur Rashid, is in Libya or Kenya, while Shariful Haque Dalim is in Pakistan.

Sheikh Hasina's Emotional Return

During the assassination of Bangabandhu and his family members on August 15, 1975, his two daughters Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana were staying out of the country. Their way back home was blocked. Bangabandhu's eldest daughter Sheikh Hasina was, however, able to return home on May 19, 1981, after spending six years abroad with her husband and children. Leaving his two children Sajeeb Wazed Joy and Saima Wazed Putul with his younger sister Sheikh Rehana in London, he returned to the country at the risk of his life to restore democracy and progressive politics in Bangladesh.

Returning to the country after a long time was much more sadly emotional than happy for Sheikh Hasina. From that Sunday morning of May 19, 1981, a nor’easter with a strong wind at the speed of 75 miles per hour started. But hundreds of thousands of people flocked to the airport that day amid storms and torrential rain. After six and a half long years, Sheikh Hasina was overwhelmed with emotion as soon as she set foot on the soil of the country. All the roads from Kurmitola International Airport to Sher-e-Bangla Nagar turned into a sea of people that day to catch a glimpse of Bangabandhu’s daughter. After keeping her foot on the soil of the country, Sheikh Hasina said, “I have come to you after losing everything; I want to sacrifice my life to avenge the murder of the Father of the Nation and implement his visions.” On the occasion of her arrival, the invincible sound of independence 'Joy Bangla' was again uttered in millions of voices that day.

After the assassination of Bangabandhu on August 15, 1975, Bangabandhu's daughters Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana had to live in exile in a hostile environment. In that situation, the leaders of Awami League, in the party council in 1981, unanimously elected Sheikh Hasina as the president. After returning to the country, he took charge of the Awami League, the leading political party with the spirit of Liberation War.

Returning the country, on the first day, Sheikh Hasina rushed to Dhanmondi 32 residence. But the government of dictator Ziaur Rahman did not allow her to enter the house that was soaked in the blood of his relatives. Sheikh Hasina was forced to stand in front of the house and return after reciting prayers.

The assailants wanted to bury the ideologies of the Father of the Bengali Nation by brutally killing him along with most of his family members. The subsequent government led by Major Ziaur Rahman tried in every means to halt the trail of the worst heinous killing in the history. But it is Sheikh Hasina, the current Prime Minister, who against all odds took risks of her own life to bring the killers to justice and implement the philosophy of the Father of the Nation.

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This article is based on these references: AFM Mohitul Islam, Abdur Rahman Sheikh (Rama), Md. Selim (Abdul), retired Havildar. The testimony of Quddus Sikder, retired Lieutenant Colonel Abdul Hamid, former Army Chief Safiullah, Ainuddin Mollah (driver of Bangabandhu's military secretary Colonel Jamiluddin killed in Sobhanbagh) and the book 'Three Cases' by retired Lieutenant Colonel Abdul Hamid.