On January 18, 1972, David Frost sat down with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. On the occasion of Bangabandhu’s birthday, we reproduce an abridged version of that historic interview
Here in Chakrapadi, as you can probably see, life in the new-born State of Bangladesh under their beloved leader Sheikh Mujibur is returning to normal -- or at least as normal as it possibly can be considering the events of the past few months.
It is estimated that 10,000 people died here in Chakrapadi alone; but now a new nation has been born, and today Sheikh Mujibur, the beloved leader of that new nation, talks on television for the first time. This is his story of the past few months of bloodshed out of which Bangla Desh has been born. Joi Bangla!
On the night that you were arrested, on the night when in fact West Pakistan was about to invade, at 8 o’clock you were at home on the night you were arrested and you got a warning, I believe, by phone that the army was on the way. Why did you decide to stay and be arrested?
You see, there is a most interesting story on this point. That evening, my house was surrounded by commandos and they wanted to kill me if I came out of the house, giving the names of my own people and saying that Mujib Rahman has been killed by the extremists of Bangla Desh.
Then they decided to take action by telling the world that we are negotiating with Mujibur Rahman but the extremists killed Mujibur Rahman and that Yahya Khan has no alternative but to take action against that. That was their first idea. I know they are brutes, uncivilised. They will kill my whole people. They will make a massacre. I thought it is better I die and at least save my people who love me so much.
You were right of course, because this is what in the past nine months made yousuch a symbol for people to believe in. They think of you now as almost a God.
I don’t say that, but I say that they love me. I love them and I wanted to save their lives. But those brutes arrested me, destroyed my house, destroyed my village home where my old parents are living. My father was 90 years of age, my mother was 80. They were living in my village house, my ancestral house in the interior of the village. They sent the army, drove my father and mother from the house and burned the house in front of them. So they had no shelter. This way they have burned everything.
I thought if they get me at least they will not kill my people. But I know my party is sufficiently strong enough. I have organised a party and the people who are behind it will fight it out. I told them, you must fight every inch. I have told them it might be my last order until and unless you get emancipation, you continue fighting.
How did they actually arrest you? It was 1:30 in the morning, wasn't it? What happened?
They machine-gunned my house first.
Where were you when they arrived?
I was sitting in my bedroom. They started machine-gunning from that side. Some machine-guns were this side and from that side they started firing on the windows.
This was all destroyed?
All destroyed. I was with my family and a bullet entered my bedroom. My six-year old child was sleeping on the bed. My wife was here with two children.
Where did the Pakistani troops come in?
All sides and they started shooting through the window. Then I told my wife to sit here with my two children. I went out leaving my wife.
What did she say?
Not a word. I only kissed her a farewell kiss. I opened the door and came out and I told them to stop shooting. I said: “Stop shooting, I’m here. Why are you shooting, what for?” Then they started rushing from all sides, these military persons with bayonets, to charge me. One officer was here. He caught hold of me. “Don’t kill him,” he said.
Just one officer stopped them?
Yes. Then they took me, dragged me from here, and started giving me blows from the back on my legs and with the back of their guns started pushing me here and there. The officer caught me, but still they were pushing and dragged me down. “Don’t drag me,” I said. “Wait, allow me to bring my pipe and tobacco or get it from my wife; I require my pipe.” Then I came up again and saw my wife standing with my two children. They brought the pipe for me and a small suitcase. I went away. I could see fire from all sides burning everywhere. They took me from here.
As you left your home at 32, Dhanmondi, did you think you would ever see it again?
I didn’t, I thought this was the last, but if I die as a leader with my head up, at least they will not be ashamed; but if I surrender to them, my nation, the people of my country cannot show their face to the world. It is better that I die keeping the prestige of my people.
Did the Pakistanis loot everything from your house? Why, why did they take everything?
I don’t know. They are not human beings, they are criminals, they are fanatics, inhuman, uncivilised creatures. Forget about this whole thing of mine. Think about them killing a two-year old child, a five-year old child, womenfolk. People who had no hearths or homes. I have shown you how they burned the poor quarters. They were machine gunned from all sides and killed in the thousands.
What about your trial?
They made it a court-martial with five military officers and all civil officers.
What did they charge you with?
Treason, war against the Pakistan government, against the armed forces, wanting to make Bengal independent, and what not.
I believe that you discovered that in the next cell to you they were digging a grave.
Yes, just near my cell they dug a grave. I saw that.
And even when Yahya Khan was handing over to Mr Bhutto, I gather he again suggested that you should be hanged. Is that right?
Absolutely right. That is the most interesting story that Mr Bhutto told me. When Yahya Khan wanted to surrender power to Mr Bhutto, he said, “Mr Bhutto, I’ve created the greatest blunder by not killing Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.”
If you came face to face with Yahya Khan today, what would you say?
He’s a criminal. I don’t like to see his photo even. He has killed my 3 million people of Bangla Desh through his soldiers.
Mr Bhutto has him under house arrest. What should Mr Bhutto do, do you think?
You know what has happened in Bengal ? I will tell you. 3 million people have been killed, including children, women, intellectuals, peasants, workers, students. At least 25% to 30% of houses are burned and looted in Bangla Desh.
And how do you know that the number was as high as three million?
Before my coming, my people had started collecting the information. I have messages coming from all areas where I have a base. We have not finally concluded, it might be more, but definitely it will not be less than 3 million.
And it was Muslims killing Muslims?
They proclaim to be Muslims. How the Muslims have killed Muslim girls. We tried to rescue thousands. Many of them are still in our camps. Their husbands are killed, fathers are killed. In front of the father and mother they have raped daughters, in front of the son they’ve raped the mother. You can’t think of this. I cannot stop my tears. How these people can claim to be Mussalmans. They are worse than animals.
Many leaders, many workers, many intellectuals, many government officials, were taken from custody and killed after being tortured for days and then killed. This inhuman torture I have never heard of in history. Even the animal, even the tiger, will kill a man but never like this.
What do you think now of Mr Bhutto? Do you think one day, as prime minister or as president of Pakistan, he will ever visit free Dacca? Will he ever come here for talks?
I don’t know. But let him recognise the reality now that Bangla Desh is an independent country, and then he should know that there is no use shouting that Bengal is his territory.
You have so much to do in the first week of a new country, you have also selected, for instance, a flag and a national anthem.
Yes. That was the flag used long before, but there is only a small change. This was our national song long before, but I wanted to give it official recognition and I have given the official recognition now. I’m only making a small change in my flag because in my flag there was a map of Bangla Desh. No country can give a map of its territory in their national flag.
Do you wish that on March 7, at the race course, you had declared the independent state of Bangla Desh then?
I knew what was to come and I declared in that meeting that this time the fight was for liberation, emancipation, and freedom.
If you had to say: “I, today, declare the independent state of Bangla Desh,” what would have happened?
I didn’t want to do it that day particularly because I didn’t want to allow them then to tell the world that Mujibur Rahman has declared independence and we have no alternative but to hit back. I wanted them to hit us first and my people were ready to resist it.
They say, you know, you have the great power of leading Bangla Desh. There is that old quote: “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” How will you stop power corrupting you?
You know that if a man like Yahya Khan comes to power by accident, he can be corrupt; but if a man comes through a process, struggling, suffering, fighting, whatever power you give him will not become corrupt.
At this moment in time as you look back, what would you say was your gladdest moment in the past year? What was the moment which provided the greatest happiness for you?
The day that I heard that my people bad been liberated, my people were independent and I have got Bangla Desh as an independent sovereign country. That was the happiest day of my life.
[Frost produces photographs] These pictures are pictures that we will never forget.
They are pictures you know that moved the world. When you saw those pictures for the first time ...
I wish you hadn’t shown me for I become emotional [weeps].
You must be. What did you say when you first saw those pictures?
What could I say? I had no words to say. I became emotional. I started weeping. Tears come to my eyes even now. Innocent boys, innocent girls, innocent people were killed mercilessly by the Pakistan army. They burned the houses, raped my people, raped my sisters and my mothers. That was the worst time of my life and I am a strong man. Perhaps nobody has seen tears in my eyes but now tears are coming and I can’t stop them.
Prime Minister, could you offer a prayer in which the world could join?
I always pray that the world should come forward to help my people. I always expect that they should come forward for the sake of humanity and my unfortunate people of Bangla Desh. No country in the world has suffered so much for their liberation as my people of Bangla Desh have suffered. I am very grateful to you, you are a friend of mine. I invited you to come and see for yourself. You have seen.
See some more, go, and move around. There is absolute law and order in my land. The question now does arise that if anybody asks you anything, do whatever you can do and give my good wishes as a prayer to the world. I wish everybody good luck and I expect that everybody will come forward to help my hungry millions. Thank you my friend. God help you. Joi Bangla.
Joi Bangla. I’m sure the world will come forward and I’m sure that if it doesn’t, God will never forgive us.