The light of the larger than life leader, the greatest Bangali of a thousand years, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman shines bright to lead the country out of darkness to light
August 15, 1975. Friday.
Mid-August in Dhaka has always been the muggy, tropical city at the fag end of the monsoon. The unbearable heat and humidity during the day is often relieved by a relatively cooler dawn and with a slight southerly breeze making it almost bearable. The morning pale was spreading in the East making ready for another busy day.
Dhaka University was getting ready for a special day of its own. Set in the Ramna area smack middle in the city, the most beautiful part in an otherwise unplanned urban sprawl, covered in greenery, open spaces, wide roads, and historical places, the university had been cleaned up, painted, decorated and readied to receive somebody very special. The Chancellor of the university.
President Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was coming to visit the university as a special guest that day. The president had a special place in his heart for the university and its teachers and students. During his life-long struggle for the people’s rights of his country and an independent Bangladesh, the students and teachers of the university have always provided support to him and his party. He got his sobriquet “Bangabandhu” from the students of this university. His oldest son Sheikh Kamal and daughter Sheikh Hasina were students at the same university. The university was waiting to welcome this great architect of the Liberation of Bangladesh in its bosom.
Dhanmondi Road 32, House 677.
It is a modest three-storied house where the president of the country resides with his close family members as a doting father. Situated lake-side on a street lined with flaming red-flowered Krishnachura trees, this house has become the pilgrimage of the people of Bangladesh before the war for independence began. Now, after the country became independent after nine months of destruction, blood and tears, it continues to be the residence of the president of the country.
Bangabandhu and his family, his devoted wife Begum Fajilatunnesa Mujib, his sons Sheikh Kamal, Sheikh Jamal and the youngest, Sheikh Russell, along with Bangabandhu’s two daughters-in-law, and brother Sheikh Naser are home that night, fast asleep.
The guard platoon on duty that night is getting ready for the morning change of guards and raising of the green and red national flag in the president’s house for the day.
A F M Mohitul Islam, the personal assistant of Bangabandhu, was on night duty. It has been a gruelling day for him as well keeping up with the very busy president. Visitors streamed in all day in his office and home– officials, party workers, guests both local and foreign, bureaucrats, common country people. Bangabandhu managed to give time to all.
Mohitul had retired to bed around one in the morning. Nobody knew they would be waking up to a morning like no other morning on 15 August, 1975. An evil darkness was slowly creeping up to engulf the Dhanmondi house and the rest of the nation for decades to come. It would be a morning darker than the darkest night that would take the country back to the grips of anti-liberation forces who would try to erase Bangabandhu’s name from history and rewrite all in it.
Mohitul’s sleep was interrupted at around five am by the insistent ring of the phone. It was the president, Bangabandhu himself on the other end.
The president had an urgency in his voice, “Get the police control room,” he ordered. Mujib had just been informed that his brother-in-law Abur Rob Serniabat’s house was under attack.
Mohitul jumped up and dialled the numbers of the police but the call did not go through. He then tried the Ganobhaban exchange and someone picked up the phone but it was only silence from the other end. The unknown person who had answered would not or could not speak.
Impatiently, Bangabandhu wanted to know what was the hold up, why was Mohitul not connecting the police control room.
Mohitul gave him the apparently inexplicable bad news, he was unable to connect to anybody.
An irritated Bangabandhu himself snatched the phone from Mohitul’s hand and spoke in it. “This is president Sheikh Mujib speaking!” his deep baritone voice thundered.
Bangabandhu’s frantic efforts to get help for his family was brutally interrupted just then. A hail of bullets with ear shattering sounds hit Mohitul’s room. Broken shards of glass from the window panes flew everywhere.
The killing team of the Bengal Lancers had arrived and made their first move. Bangabandhu had no idea of what was happening. Yes, there were incidents stirred up by ultra-left adventurists around the country making it very difficult for him to run a country. Even the day before, on 14 August, JSD Ganobahini members had exploded four improvised device bombs around the campus that he was to visit today.
But that a group or conspirators from the very army that had also fought to liberate the country, that he so lovingly was trying to build up, would turn their gun barrels on him was unthinkable. But the unthinkable was happening right then. Bangabandhu did not know that his charismatic, larger than life character would be extinguished in a short while.
A few minutes earlier, the police guard detail in charge of protecting the president was hoisting the national flag to the tune of the bugle at Bangabandhu’s residence. Havildar Md Quddus Sikder was leader of the seven-member police guard team that morning in charge of the protocol detail. The change of guard was in progress when the ceremony was interrupted by gunshots coming from the direction of the Dhanmondi lake.
The guards immediately did what they had been trained to do. They took defensive positions behind the low boundary wall. They were baffled by the sudden burst of bullets and were looking for the source of the attack when some army personnel clad in black and khaki rushed into the compound through the gate.
“Put your hands up!” they commanded the guards. The first line of the tragic story of the Bangali nation thus started.
Inside Mohitul’s office, Bangabandhu stepped beside a table and pulled Mohitul to the ground to save him from bullets. The house help Abdul rushed in right at the moment with Bangabandhu’s panjabi and glasses from his first floor bedroom. The president quickly put them on and came out in the verandah.
He shouted at the sentries, “They are shooting from all around! What are you doing?”
Then he rushed upstairs where his wife, sons Russell, Jamal and his wife Parvin Jamal Rosy and brother Sheikh Abu Naser were sleeping. That would be the last time they would be in each other’s company alive.
Long time house help Rama used to sleep in the verandah in front of Bangbandhu’s bedroom. At around 5:00am the bedroom door opened suddenly and out came Begum Mujib.
“Criminals have attacked Serniabat’s residence!” she exclaimed.
A panicked Rama sprang up from the floor and ran down the stairs out on the road. A chill ran down his spine at what he saw. Several army personnel were approaching House 677 briskly with their weapons raised, shooting.
Rama immediately thought of Sheikh Kamal, Bangabandhu’s oldest son as the one who should know what was coming.
He ran back to the house and sprinted up to the second floor where Kamal and his newly married wife Sultana slept in their bedroom. He woke up Kamal and blurted out the terrible news that persons clad in army uniforms had attacked their residence.
Kamal was quick. He put on his trousers and a shirt and ran down to the ground floor. Rama, meanwhile, moved Sultana to the first floor where the rest of the family members were.
Rama also knocked on the door of Sheikh Jamal who got up to put on his shirt and trousers and went to his mother’s room along with his wife. As they cowered in the room, on the ground floor, all hell had broken loose as bullets pinged and whizzed past. Somebody was groaning, obviously hurt by the indiscriminate shooting. They had no way of knowing that Sheikh Kamal had been cut down by the bullets.
Mohitul saw Kamal coming down the staircase rapidly. As he reached the ground floor he called loudly: “Army and police members, please come with me.” He was trying to organise and repel the attack with the small and poorly armed security detail in the president’s house.
The killers appeared just then. They were between three to four in number, clad in khaki and in black fatigues, the uniform of the Bengal Lancers, the armoured corp to which some of the key conspirators belonged. Their weapons were held at waist level, the typical assault position of small arms. They made a beeline to Kamal as Mohitul and Nurul Islam, a police officer stood dazed behind Kamal. It was beyond their comprehension what was happening or would happen within the next few seconds.
Mohitul later said he recognised major Bazlul Huda dressed in Khaki. He had met him before. Huda shot Kamal without a word, first in his leg. Kamal tried to move away telling Mohitul to tell the assassins who he was: “Tell them I am Sheikh Mujib’s son Sheikh Kamal.”
“Don’t shoot him,” Mohitul had pleaded with Huda, “he is Sheikh Kamal, Sheikh Mujib’s son.”
Sheikh Kamal did not need an introduction. Everybody in the country knew him either by name or by face, but at that moment it was a desperate attempt to distract the killers.
But the killers were on a mission by then. Maybe they needed that positive identification to be sure they had the right person. They opened up on Kamal without hesitation. He fell in a hail of bullets from the sub-machine guns. Kamal lay dead.
Kamal was but the first small game to the killers and they were there for the big target. They kept Mohitul and the injured police officer under the watch of some soldiers and went off to look for the president himself for it was he they were there for.
Mohitul could hear their heavy footsteps go up the stairs and then he heard the loud voice of Bangaandhu. Then he heard shots being fired. Mohitul could not see what was happening up there. He could only hope Bangabandhu was safe.
It was to be the ill-fate of havildar Quddus to witness the terrible events that followed that day. He was part of the president’s protection detail in the house and was detained by the killers the moment they entered the residence compound. Now they had ordered him to follow them to the first floor and he obeyed, too shocked, too afraid to protest.
Major Huda and major Noor came face to face with Bangabandhu as they stopped on the landing of the staircase. The president was being escorted down the stairs by major Mohiuddin and his troops. Quddus, the policeman, was right behind Huda and Noor. At that moment, Noor said something in English that Quddus could not make out but major Mohiuddin and his men moved aside in the staircase.
Bangabandhu seemed unfazed. “What do you want?” he had asked. Nobody answered.
Suddenly Huda and Noor trained their sub-machine guns on Bangabandhu and pulled the triggers. The terrible noise of the 9mm bullets in that confined space was deafening.
The president collapsed there on the stairs, dead. Blood filled the landing first and then started to trickle down the stairs. His body lay there, his hands still clutching his favourite tobacco pipe and a matchbox.
Muhiuddin, Noor, Huda and their accomplices walked down the stairs and exited through the gate on the south of the president’s house compound.
The mission they were here for was done.
Rama had been following the group of Mohiuddin who had brought Bangabandhu out of his room. He saw him die in the hail of bullets. He was ordered to ‘get lost’ by the killers.
A terrified Rama entered the bedroom of Begum Mujib and found the rest of the family holed up in a bathroom. Sheikh Naser had been injured and bleeding from his hand. Sultana Kamal, Sheikh Jamal and his wife Rosy, and Sheikh Russell were all huddled together. Rama joined them to break the terrible news to Begum Mujib that Bangabandhu had been killed.
Just then the killers returned and entered the bedroom. There were impatient knocks on the bath door and then they shot at the lock. The bathroom filled with noise, flying bullets and splinters.
Begum Mujib went forward saying, “if we must die, let’s die together,” and opened the door. She then begged the killers to spare her family members.
The killers then herded Sheikh Naser, Sheikh Russell, Begum Mujib and Rama towards the stairs.
As soon as Begum Mujib saw Bangabandhu lying in the pool of blood on the stairs, she stopped, breaking down in tears. “I won’t go anywhere, kill me here,” she had said.
The killers took Begum Mujib back into her room. Quddus then witnessed another heart-rending scene that would haunt him for the rest of his life. Major Aziz Pasha and Risaldar Muslemuddin gunned down the entire group.
Begum Mujib, Bangabandhu’s Renu; Sheikh Jamal and his wife Rosy, and Sheikh Kamal’s wife Sultana slumped on the floor with multiple bullet wounds.
Next the killers herded Sheikh Naser, Sheikh Russell and Rama to the ground floor and lined them up beside Mohitul.
Naser pleaded with the killers that he was not a politician. “I do business for a living,” he said.
According to Mohitul’s account, an army officer told Naser, “We won’t hurt you. Take a seat in that room,” pointing to Mohitul’s room. He then took Naser into the bathroom attached to Mohitul’s office and shot him.
Mohitul could hear Naser begging for water. One of the army men winked at another, “Go and give him some water,” he said.
Then the other soldier went inside the bathroom and shot Naser again ensuring his death.
The most heart-rending event was yet to come. The killers brought Sheikh Russell. Bangabandhu’s 10-year-old son, forward. Bewildered and terrified, the child clung first to Rama and then to Mohitul.
“Bhaiya, will they kill me too?” the child repeatedly asked in a terrified voice.
“No bhaiya, they won’t kill you,” Mohitul tried to reassure the child. He didn’t know the killers’ mindset.
A khaki-clad soldier wrenched Russell away from Mohitul. The child wanted his mother.
“Take him to his mother,” major Pasha ordered an army havildar.
The havildar complied, taking little Russell by his hand to the first floor. Russel was wailing by this time. Then came the sound of another burst of gunshots.
Shortly, major Faruque Rahman met Bazlul Huda at the gate. “All are finished,” Huda had informed Faruque.
The killers then left the place.
After the killing of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, one of his close associates in Awami League, Khondokar Musthaq Ahmed was declared the president by the killers and he took it gladly. He then promulgated martial law in the country prompted by his army backers. Major general Ziaur Rahman was promoted as the army chief.
Four close associates of Bangabandhu, Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajudin Ahmed, M Mansur Ali and A H M Qamruzzaman were arrested and lodged in Dhaka Central Jail. On the morning of 3 November, 1975, a group of army personnel forced their way in the jail and killed all four leaders of the Liberation War. The killers were given safe passage to Thailand the next day. Zia was put on house arrest later to be freed by another coup on 7 November and restored as the Chief of Army Staff.
An Indemnity Ordinance was proclaimed by president Khandakar Moshtaq Ahmed to give immunity to the killers. Later the 5th Amendment to the Constitution passed by the BNP government on 6th April, 1976 gave a blanket validity to all activities and orders and amendments to the constitution by the military regime since August 15, 1975 till 9th April, 1979 (both days inclusive), thus blocking all pathways to seek redress to the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Following the assassination of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, a period of great unrest unfolded with coups and counter-coups and following a meeting at the army headquarters an interim government was formed with justice Abu Sadat Mohammad Sayem as president and major general Ziaur Rahman as the Chief Marial Law Administrator in 1976. Even then the actual power was in the hands of Ziaur Rahman himself and in 1977 he took over power from president Sayem and became the president.
The key killers of Bangabandhu were promoted and given diplomatic assignments by him.
During Sayem’s presidency religion based politics was reintroduced in the country by amending the Constitution, removing secularism from the four state principles and the proviso in the Constitution that no religious ideology based political party can function in the country. He revived ultra right-wing politics in the country by allowing the anti-independence Islamic parties to become active again and that gave the Jamat e Islam and its fascistic student wing Islamic Chhatra Shibir the needed space to start functioning again. Ziaur Rahman also allowed the Jamat aamir Golam Azam to return to Bangladesh from his self-imposed exile. His citizenship had been revoked for anti-Bangladesh activities during the War of Liberation.
Ziaur Rahman himself was killed in a coup on 30 May, 1981 and in 1982 general H M S Ershad grabbed power from the civilian government of president Abdus Sattar of BNP.
Soon after the assassination of Bangabandhu, his assistant A F M Mohitul Islam had tried to file a murder case against the army officers but he was assaulted by the police at the police station and driven away.
Two daughters of Bangabandhu, Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana were in West Germany at the time of the assassination and later flew back to India and took refuge with the Indian government. Sheikh Hasina returned to Bangladesh on 17 May, 1981. She then took the helm of Awami League as a successor of her father.
After the Awami League came to power in 1996, the Indemnity Ordinance was repealed and Bangabandhu’s murder trial began with a case filed by Mohitul.
After long proceedings, captain (Rtd.) Qismet Hashem, captain (Rtd.) Nazmul Hossain Aanssar, and major (Rtd.) Abdul Majid were acquitted through the high court division and appellate division verdicts and they now live in Canada. Taheruddin Thakur, former information minister and one of the suspects, was cleared during the Hasina Government, acquitted in trial, and released. He died of natural causes in 2009. The other conspirators, major (rtd.) Bazlul Huda, lieutenant colonel (Rtd.) Mohiuddin Ahmed, major (rtd.) A. K. M. Mohiuddin Ahmed, colonel (rtd.) Syed Faruque Rahman, and colonel (rtd.) Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan were executed on 28 January 2010. On 11 April 2020 Abdul Majed was executed by hanging. He had returned to Bangladesh the previous month after living a fugitive life abroad for 23 years.
Even though plotters at various times had tried their best to derail the country from Bangabandhu’s dream of a secular Bangladesh free from inequality and religious intolerance, his dream lives on in the work of his most able daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who has avowed to build a Bangladesh based on the dreams of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. So Bangladesh did not lose its way in darkness. The light of the larger than life leader, the greatest Bangali of a thousand years, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman shines bright to lead the country out of darkness to light.
They had killed the person Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman but they could not take away his dream of a Bangladesh of prosperity and pride. It lives on in the crores of hearts everyday and the song of Mujib’s Bangla can be heard at the beating of the pulse of all citizens of this country.