Bangladesh has conveniently forgotten its bloody history

As a result, the saga of the bravery of the four national leaders has now faded from our lives. We have forgotten our Liberation War. We have utterly failed in the task of giving them their rightful place in history.

Farabi Bin Zahir Nov 08, 2023
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Bangladesh

November 3, 1975. A day of shame and profound sorrow in the history of Bangladesh. On August 15, 1975, after the brutal assassination of the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, four national leaders of Bangladesh were mercilessly killed in the secluded chamber of Dhaka Central Jail. These leaders were the first interim President of Bangladesh, Syed Nazrul Islam, Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmad, Cabinet member Captain M. Monsur Ali, and AHM Qamruzzaman.

The enemies of independence and the Liberation War did not spare the best sons of the motherland. They did not just shoot at the four national leaders, they brutally pierced their bodies, treating them like inanimate objects. They inflicted injuries and damage, not just on the bodies, but on the spirit of '71. It set Bengal back from the path of progress and prosperity. This brutal massacre in history not only affected the people of Bangladesh but also stunned the entire world. Such incidents of barbarity, where a heinous massacre took place in the safety of a prison, are rare in the annals of world history.

After the ruthless assassination of Bangabandhu, the murderer Moshtaq Ahmed unlawfully seized power. However, following this unlawful seizure, Moshtaq was apprehensive of a potential military coup. Though some immediate senior leaders were imprisoned, many others remained in self-imposed seclusion. Some other leaders, either openly or secretly, reached compromises with the new President Khondaker Mushtaq Ahmad. Many withdrew from active politics altogether. However, there was a kind of division within the military forces. Among the senior army officers, there was a power struggle. On one side was Major General Ziaur Rahman and on the other was Major General Khaled Mosharraf. Moshtaq Gang believed that under Khaled Mosharraf's leadership, there could be a resurgence of Awami League or leftist political power.

Cold-blooded killings

The power-hungry Moshtaq and his supporters did not want to see another opposing force come back to authority. If such a government existed, the four leaders were probable candidates. They believed that if these four leaders were assassinated, even if there was a political upheaval, there would be no one with the potential for political leadership.

Moshtaq Gang's fear and calculated thoughts directed them towards this ruthless massacre. Under the leadership of Resaldar Musleh Uddin, they formed a deadly group of five. When it came to planning the killings in the Bangabandhu assassination, the members of this deadly group were particularly shrewd. Shortly after the Bangabandhu assassination, Musleh Uddin was promoted to the rank of an Honorary Lieutenant. On August 15, Musleh Uddin led the assassination at Sheikh Monir's house. Moshtaq Gang meticulously planned the murder of the four leaders with a very cold and calculated mindset.

The killers used the state machinery to enter the prison. They then brought the four leaders inside, displayed a facade of following all legal procedures, and shot them to death within the confines of the prison. The killers didn't stop at just shooting; they made sure of the deaths by bayoneting the bodies repeatedly. This example of preserving national security within a prison, and the ruthlessness exhibited, is rare in the history of the world.

General Ziaur Rahman also halted the judicial proceedings of this massacre. A report had to be submitted every day, meaning every 24 hours, at the jail. After the jail killings, the then Superintendent of the Jail, M. Aminur Rahman, prepared a report and handed it over to IG (Prisons) Nuruzzaman Howladar. Simultaneously, on November 4, a case was filed at Lalbagh Police Station. In the case, the name of Resaldar Mosleh Uddin was mentioned, stating that under his leadership, four to five army personnel entered the prison and killed four leaders. They first fired bullets, and then bayoneted them, ensuring their deaths.

Forgotten history

On the following day of filing the case (November 5), IG (Prisons) Nuruzzaman Howladar submitted the jail killing report to the Home Secretary. On November 6, a three-member investigation committee was formed comprising Justice Ahsanuddin Chowdhury, Justice KM Sobhan, and Justice Mohammad Hossain. However, on November 7, when General Ziaur Rahman became the most powerful figure in the country, he announced the suspension of the activities of this investigation committee. On the other hand, the investigation report on the jail killings mysteriously disappeared from the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Not only was the judicial process for the massacre suspended but the murderers were also rewarded with jobs in various countries under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In Bangladesh, there has been no trial for this brutal massacre for an extended period. The immediate rulers have evaded the issue. However, 23 years after the massacre, when the Awami League government came to power, they initiated the legal process, and on October 15, 1998, complaints were filed against 23 individuals.

On October 20, 2004, the Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Judge's Court sentenced three of them to death and 12 to life imprisonment. In 2008, although the High Court upheld the death sentence for Resaldar Moslem Uddin, two other convicts, Marfot Ali and Hashem Mridha, were acquitted. However, when the state appealed the High Court's decision, on April 15, 2013, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty for the three individuals and life imprisonment for the other 12.

Now the question arises how much social recognition have we bestowed upon these four martyred national leaders? As a nation, how much respect have we shown them? If we seek answers to these questions, we will not find a limit to our shame. We will understand to what extent we have regressed as a nation in terms of ingratitude. In a seminar titled "50 Years of Victory: Realities and Agendas in Textbooks of the Liberation War," organized by the Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs (BILIA), research papers presented at the event depict a sorry understanding of our national history.  The research was conducted in seven educational institutions in the Tangi area in November-December 2019, involving 105 students from grades eight to twelve. The research paper reveals that no one knows the names of the four national leaders. They are unaware of how many people sacrificed their lives for the Liberation War. They cannot say anything about the first government of Bangladesh. 

A divided nation

It is deeply concerning that the current generation in Bangladesh, who may shape the country's future or lead in various sectors, has such limited knowledge about these four national leaders. They lack awareness of the historical significance of the four national leaders during the Liberation War. They are unaware of the injustices and brutality that led to the ruthless assassination of these leaders in the desolate corridors of a prison, following the barbaric events of August 15.

We have achieved the golden jubilee of independence, but our new generation has not been able to grasp the accurate history of the blood-stained Liberation War. As a nation, can there be anything more embarrassing than this? Naturally, the question arises whose responsibility is this? In reality, it belongs to all of us. No individual can bear the responsibility apart from the nation.

Even after fifty years of independence, we have not been able to reach a consensus on historical matters. There have been constant controversies regarding the history of independence. There is no accurate list of freedom fighters. On every issue related to the Liberation War, we are deeply divided. 

As a result, the saga of the bravery of the four national leaders has now faded from our lives. We have forgotten our Liberation War. We have utterly failed in the task of giving them their rightful place in history.

(The writer is a Bangladeshi columnist and civic activist. Views are personal. He can be contacted at fbzahir@gmail.com)

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