This Op-Ed is being republished on the occasion of National Mourning Day
A little after 4am on August 15, 1975, tanks of the Bangladesh army rumbled down the empty roads on their way to their destinations. One team would head for Bangabandhu’s Dhanmondi residence; another would move towards Minto Road, the area that housed government ministers; and a third would go to another part of Dhanmondi where Mujib’s powerful nephew Sheikh Fazlul Haq Moni lived with his family.
The tanks headed for Bangabandhu’s residence went past the camp of the Rakkhi Bahini at Shere Banglanagar.
They rumbled past Ganabhaban, the president’s office, and turned left. A few stopped at the head of Road No. 32 while a few others went in, coming to a stop at the gates of Bangabandhu’s residence.
The first group of soldiers alighted and ordered the security personnel at the gates to let them in. The presidential guards, completely taken by surprise, refused and were swiftly mown down.
Another group began firing into the residence and at the walls, obviously to generate as much panic as possible.
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The sounds roused Bangabandhu and his petrified family as well as the entire neighbourhood. Sheikh Kamal quickly rushed down the stairs and ran smack into some soldiers who had already entered the residence. He was shot at close range.
Bangabandhu was frantically trying to contact the army chief. When he finally got through, he told him tersely that his family was under attack from soldiers and needed security. General Shafiullah proved unable to help his president. He asked the pretty pointless question: “Can you come out of the house, Sir?”
The next call made was to his security chief Colonel Jamil. The colonel rushed out in his dressing gown, got behind the wheels of his car, and headed straight for the president’s residence.
Meanwhile, Mujib began receiving calls from Abdur Rab Serniabat, his brother-in-law and a minister in the cabinet, suggesting that his residence on Minto Road had also come under attack. At Sheikh Moni’s residence, a similar situation prevailed.
The soldiers were running amuck everywhere. Bangabandhu’s helplessness was complete when the telephone lines at his residence soon went dead. The commotion downstairs prompted the president to emerge from his bedroom. As he stood at the top of the stairs, a major was seen running up. He suddenly stopped when he saw Bangabandhu standing there, a looming presence. The officer, suddenly nervous, stared.
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The Father of the Nation asked him: “Where is Kamal? What do you want?”
The major, Bazlul Huda, stammered: “You have to come with us, Sir.”
It’s not clear what response came from Bangabandhu, but there have been varying accounts flying around for years. One of them has Bangabandhu exploding in anger at his assailants. Another would have one think he was properly ready to go with the soldiers, in a repeat of the conditions he had always faced with the Pakistan army.
There can be no knowing what Mujib thought as he stood facing a shaky major Huda there. Suddenly, another major, Noor, rushed up and shot Bangabandhu in the chest and stomach. The impact led to the president’s rolling down the stairs and coming to rest on the landing. He was dead. One of the bullets had gone right through his stomach and emerged from his back.
Blood streaked the walls and the staircase. The sound of gunfire brought the president’s wife Fazilatunnessa running out of the room. She was immediately shot. Her lifeless body lay sprawled between the room and the corridor.
Once Bangabandhu and his wife were dead, the soldiers ran riot all over the residence. They stormed the rooms of the house looking for the other members of his family. Some of them had lined up a few individuals by the wall near the gate, including Mujib’s youngest son, Russell. The ten year-old boy, shivering in fright and wailing to be taken to his mother, was made to stand in the line. He asked the personal secretary, Mohitul Islam, if the soldiers were going to kill him. Islam, terror-struck himself, nevertheless reassured the boy that he was safe.
In the house, the remaining members of the president’s family comprising his second son Jamal (a lieutenant in the army who had recently returned after completing a course at Sandhurst in the United Kingdom), Mujib’s newly-wed daughters-in-law and his younger brother Sheikh Naser) took shelter inside the bathroom attached to the main bedroom of the residence. It did not help, as the soldiers soon broke down the door and sprayed them all with machine gun fire.
Outside, as Russell kept asking to be taken to his mother, one of the soldiers, in a moment replete with unmitigated cruelty, brought him upstairs, over the body of his father on the stairs and to the spot where his mother lay dead. Without further ado, the soldier pumped a round of bullets into the child’s head.
Across town, the group of soldiers that had earlier made its way to Minto Road, finished off Minister Serniabat and his family. In another part of Dhanmondi, soldiers shot Sheikh Fazlul Haq Moni and his pregnant wife Arzoo, before their two young children. When they left, one of Moni’s brothers rushed him and his wife, both of whom were still barely alive, to the hospital. They died there.
Meanwhile, Mujib’s chief of security, Colonel Jamil, approached Road No. 32. He had no idea that by then the whole family had been killed. Soldiers stationed there by Col Farooq Rahman stopped him and asked him to turn back. He refused. The soldiers murdered him in his vehicle.
The killings were over before dawn broke. As the Islamic call to prayer was heard in the mosques of the city, the assassins went about ransacking Bangabandhu’s house and laying hands on everything of value they could find.
Early on the morning of August 16, the soldiers collected the bodies and placed them in rough, makeshift coffins. Except for Bangabandhu’s body, all the other corpses were hastily buried in the Banani cemetery, without the rituals of an Islamic burial.
Late in the afternoon, the body of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was laid to rest beside the graves of his parents in the village where he had been born fifty five years earlier.
Before leaving Tungipara, the army officers who had helicoptered to the village with the body made sure that soldiers and policemen would stand guard at the grave and allow no one to approach it.
It rained in the evening.
Enayetullah Khan is Editor-in-Chief, United news of Bangladesh (UNB) and Dhaka Courier.