This article is being republished on the occasion of National Mourning Day
It has been 42 years since the assassination Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the cold blooded murders of his family, but the night of August 15 still haunts Dr Nasreen Ahmad like it was yesterday.
The Dhaka University Pro-vice Chancellor (academic) and her family lived next door to Bangabandhu’s house on road 32 in Dhanmondi.
But despite this close proximity, it took almost a week for people who lived on the same road to find out that the Father of the Nation had been assassinated.
“Suddenly sometime after midnight, we heard deafening gunshots,” Nasreen said. “We looked out the window and saw army tanks on the road. We had no idea what was going on.”
“At first we thought it was a riot or something, and the army guards protecting the house might have been firing against some disgruntled people who were trying to attack Sheikh Mujib’s home”.
Nasreen said her family began to panic as the sounds grew louder, so they ran from their beds into the bathroom and crawled under the toilets to hide.
“Then we got a phone call from our neighbour Raju Bhai’s wife, Tuku Bhabi, and she told my brother that Sheikh Fazlul Haque Moni (Sheikh Mujib’s nephew) had been killed by a group of men.”
Desperately trying to figure out what was actually going on, her brother crawled out of the bathroom towards the windows and saw that hundreds of soldiers had taken position outside Bangabandhu’s house.
However Nasreen could not believe what Tuku Bhabi said on the phone: “We were not sure who or what to believe but we knew something was terribly wrong.
“The realisation was slowly setting in, that the gunshots were not to protect Bangabandhu but the other way round. I slowly began to lose hope that we might be spared our lives as well.”
No sooner had those dark thoughts settled, three grenades went off one after another followed by a knock on the door.
“We will shoot if you do not open the door this instant,” yelled an army official.
Nasreen was sure that she was going to die that night, alongside her baby, two brothers, a sister, two cousins, an aunt and two domestic helpers.
Thinking that there was no way out, the family obliged and opened the door. Standing in front of them were men in black clothes, who drew a line and told them to stand right behind it.
“This felt like 1971 all over again,” said Nasreen. “We were scared the minute they told use to stand in line because that means they were getting us ready for a firing line, just like the war.
“I began to cry and pleaded with them not to kill us. One of the younger army men, said ‘Madam please just stand in line quietly,’ and so I grabbed my son and younger sibling’s arm and stood in line with everyone else.”
Instead of shooting, the rogue army officers ordered the family on to the veranda. “They offered my aunt a chair, and I began to feel some sense of relief in that they might not actually kill us,” Nasreen said.
In trying to placate the situation, Nasreen offered the army men some food in the hope that if they were nice, then they would spare the family their lives.
“Suddenly we heard two women shrieking from Bangabandhu’s house and realised it was Khuku (Sultana Kamal Khuku, wife of Sheikh Kamal) and Rosy (Parveen Jamal Rosy, wife of Sheikh Jamal). Then two shots were fired followed by an eerie silence.”
Nasreen said a junior soldier then rushed into the house. “He whispered to one of the men: ‘There’s blood everywhere.’ It was early morning and more tanks and men in black uniforms began to arrive on the road.”
One of the junior soldiers asked Nasreen if any arms were kept at the home. “He said, ‘We need to sweep the house for arms of any kind’ and so my brother took them around the house. They ransacked and looted anything valuable on the way, especially jewelry.”
Nasreen said one of the leaders in the group recognised her cousin, Khondker Aminul Haq Badsha, who was the director of the External Publicity Division of Bangladesh Mission in Mujibnagar.
“He casually said, ‘hey Badsha bhai, I know you! how are you?’ My cousin just replied: ‘I know you too’.”
The family asked to be able to leave the premises, but were ordered to go upstairs. “We are still cleaning up, you cannot leave the house now,” they were told.
Nasreen and her family had no idea what was happening or what “cleaning up” meant.
“One of the army men came back later and told us that we could leave,” Nasreen said. “When we were leaving the house we could see the gates of Bangabandhu’s house flung open. There were coffins and ice everywhere.”
Nasreen said they went to stay at their cousin’s house. “For a week had little or no information about what had transpired that night,” she said.