1089Published on October 19, 2022
“Those assassins did not even spare my ten-year-old brother Sheikh Russel” is how Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recalls the brutal massacre of nearly her entire family – father, mother, brothers, including Russel, and sisters-in-law.
Quite obviously, the killers had been tasked to wipe out the entire family of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation. Seventeen family members were all gunned down ruthlessly, all riddled with bullets to negate any chance of survival.
Sheikh Hasina, now Bangladesh’s longest-serving Prime Minister, and sister Sheikh Rehana survived because they were in Europe at the time.
But as Hasina recalls, with tears in her eyes, the murder of Russel was the most shocking because he was dragged to the heap of bodies before he was shot. This is what author Anthony Mascarenhas describes in his book, “The Legacy of Blood”.
Subsequent assassination attempts on Sheikh Hasina, including the gruesome grenade attack on 21st August 2004, also point to the vicious plot to eliminate the entire top Awami League leadership and turn Bangladesh into another Afghanistan.
In 1975, the brutal assassination of Bangabandhu’s family and that of his close relatives, Sheikh Fazlul Huq Moni and Abdur Rab Serniabat on the same day, was followed up a few months later with the killings of four of Bangabandhu’s closest associates who had led the Liberation War effort in 1971.
The 2004 grenade attack, with full patronage of the then BNP-Jamaat government in power, was a similar attempt to liquidate the entire Awami League leadership including Hasina. The makeshift stage, from where they were making speeches, faced a hail of grenades. Nearly 30 leaders and activists died but Hasina and some other senior leaders miraculously survived.
These killings all reflect the same mindset of the complete elimination of rivals that was so typical of the Pakistani military regime which pounced on the Bengali intelligentsia in the very last days of the 1971 war to deprive the nation of its brightest minds.
The BNP, born in the barracks and shepherded by the country's first military ruler General Ziaur Rahman, carries that Pakistani legacy.
In this culture of impunity, even innocent children would not be spared, as Russel was not. He was born to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his wife Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Renu on October 18, 1964. At midnight, in an under-construction house on Dhanmondi’s Road 32, Bangabandhu and Bangamata’s youngest son Sheikh Russel was born in his elder sister Sheikh Hasina’s room. The innocence in the newborn’s tender but restless glance flooded the entire house with joy.
Russel was the apple of the eye of elder sisters Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana, and elder brothers Sheikh Kamal and Sheikh Jamal. They would jostle to hold him.
After his night’s sleep, Russel would nestle into the broad chest of his father, like a little bird, to soak in the warmth emanating from Bangabandhu.
That was the time Bangabandhu declared the famous Six-Point program, later seen as the charter of the nation’s emancipation. Next, he went to the masses in every nook and corner of the country and made them realise why the ‘Golden Bengal’ has turned into a cremation ground.
The Pakistani Junta panicked at the popular response generated by Bangabandhu. On May 8, they arrested Bangabandhu and confined him in jail for a long time. Little Russel could no longer find his father anymore. As time went on, Bangabandhu’s six points continued waking up the people of the country from their slumber, while the sprightly little Russel started learning how to walk holding the fringes of his mother’s saree. By then, his eldest sister Sheikh Hasina had already been elected as the Vice-President of the students’ union of the Government Intermediate College and had established herself as a leader of the Chhatra League.
But Russel didn’t understand any of that! To him, she was just his “Hasu Apa”. Little Russel would often play with the pigtails of his eldest sister. Russel would go to the prison with the rest of his family to pay a visit to his imprisoned father. Russel would want to embrace his father, he wanted to fall asleep, hugging his father. He would carry his sister Sheikh Rehana’s letter in his pocket and hand it to his father at the jail gate. When the time came to head back, he would get into the lap of his mother Sheikh Fazilatunnesa or his Hasu Apa with a gloomy expression on his face.
Meanwhile, in 1968 the secret trial of the Agartala conspiracy case began against Bangabandhu. He was brought inside the cantonment where a plot to murder him was hatched. He was no longer allowed to see his family. Russel would grow restless to see his father. Every night, he would fall asleep with a heavy heart while listening to stories about his father.
At last, on February 22, 1969, the Pakistani junta were forced to release Bangabandhu. Little Russel once again became sprightly after his father’s return. With a fearless attitude, Russel would roam around the streets of Dhanmondi on his bicycle.
By then, Bangabandhu was busy with the upcoming general elections. His mother admitted Sheikh Russel to a kindergarten school.
In the 1970 election, the people overwhelmingly voted for the boat, Awami League’s electoral symbol. But the Pakistanis began hatching another conspiracy. The entire country was waiting for a spark to be ignited. Thousands of people would chant slogans around Bangabandhu’s house. Seeing all this from the balcony, little Russel picked up all the slogans.
On March 23, 1971, Bangabandhu hoisted Bangladesh’s flag at his residence. Seeing this, Russel also attached a miniature flag to his bicycle. He joined the masses to raise the slogan – “Joy Bangla!…”
In the first hour of March 26, Bangabandhu declared Bangladesh’s independence before being detained by the Pakistanis. Bangamata and the other members of the family were kept under house arrest. Placing his head on his mother’s lap, Russel would fall asleep on the bare floor. The restless butterfly lost his spark after hearing the deafening noise of the fighter jets flying over his house. Bengali people from all sections of society fought with all they had against the Pakistani junta for nine long months.
On December 16, Bangladesh won the war for independence and on the 17th, Bangabandhu’s family was freed. Little Russel joined the masses on the streets of Dhaka and together chanted the slogan “Joy Bangla”. After returning home, Bangabandhu focused on rebuilding a war-torn Bangladesh.
At the age of seven, Russel finally got the opportunity of spending time with his whole family. He got to shake the hands of various world leaders, courtesy his father. Russel’s confident manner of speaking, intelligent gaze and angelic expressions amazed all of them. In every fearless step, Russel took, he mirrored Bangabandhu.
But stung by the venomous conspiracy hatched by the defeated forces in the war for independence, in the early hours of August 15, 1975, this promising child’s heart was forever silenced. Everyone’s favourite child was shot by the assailant’s bullets and drowned in a sea of blood. Russel’s cruel death rendered the world’s global conscience speechless. A fog of gloom covered the fields, riversides and nature of Bengal. He may have suffered a premature death while teeming with innocent dreams in his heart, but with time, it seems that his life force has spread across everyone’s childhood. Just like how every sunrise comes to life with the songs of birds, in every Bengali child’s playful antic, Sheikh Russel lives on. May every child in the country grow up with a pure heart in a safe environment.
Writer: Coordinator of ALBD Web Team, CRI and a member of the Science and Technology Sub-committee, Bangladesh Awami League