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Witness to the darkest day

  • Published at 12:34 am August 15th, 2018
Bangabandhu
Photo: Shilpakala Academy

Accounts from the people who were present at Bangabandhu's funeral

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's funeral was held on August 16, 1975 in Tungipara after his body was flown in from Dhaka under tight security. His coffin was carried from the helicopter to his ancestral home by Sonali Bank's Tungipara branch manager Kashem, a cashier from the bank, Post master Anowar Hossain, Abdul Hai Member and a few others from the village including Akbar Kazi, Md Iliyas Hossain, Zohur Munshi, Shona Miah Kobiraj, Sheikh Nurul Haque Gedu Miah, Sohrab Master and others. 

Bangabandhu's body was bathed with a 570 brand soap and wrapped with relief clothes from Red Crescent. After his namaz-e-janaza, he was laid to rest beside the graves of his father, Sheikh Lutfor Rahman and mother, Sheikh Sayera Khatun. Late Moulabi Abdul Hamid conducted the rituals where a handful of people, around 30 to 35, took part. Others from Tungipara and surrounding villages were barred from attending by the army and police.

'It seemed to me as if he was merely resting'

One of the men who took part in Bangabandhu's burial rituals in Tungipara was carpenter Ayub Ali Sheikh. At the age of 53, he recounts the events from the dark day, “My late father, Halim Sheikh, and I were summoned to pry open the coffin. The moment I laid my eyes on Bangabandhu's body, I was dumbfounded. My body froze with the realization. Tears started streaming down my cheeks – I could not come to terms with the fact that our favourite leader was no more. It seemed to me as if he was merely resting. I was drifting in these thoughts but was brought back to reality as an army personnel shouted at me to hurry up. I spent many sleepless nights after that day.”

'His body was still bleeding'

Md Iliyas Hossain, the mayor of Tungipara municipality, is also a living witness to Bangabandhu's funeral. Hossain recollected the events - “I left my house the moment I heard the news of Bangabandhu's death. The entirety of Tungipara was a ghost-town as people were grieving the demise of their leader. The military helicopter carrying Bangabandhu's coffin landed on a helipad beside Tungipara thana in the afternoon. I, along with others, were summoned to carry the coffin.”

“Members of the army who transported the body ordered us to bury the coffin along with the body but Moulabi Abdul Hamid strongly protested the idea and urged them to facilitate the burial according to Islamic rituals, as is the right of any Muslim. We were ordered to complete everything within fifteen minutes,” he added.    

Hossain continued, “His body was still bleeding and his chest was battered with bullets. He was wearing a white panjabi and white checkered lungi -- all bloody from his wounds. One of his pockets carried his glasses and his favourite pipe. The index finger, which became a symbol that stirred up an entire nation to fight for independence during 1971, was brutally severed by his murderers on the night of August 15, 1975 -- probably as a horrific statement. Munnaf Sheikh, Shona Miah and Imam Uddin Gazi bathed Bangabandhu's body with a single 570 brand soap, sourced from Ashraf Mollah's store while we received a 'Mala' sari, initially intended for relief, from Tungipara Sheikh Sayera Khatun Red Crescent Hospital to use as his burial cloth. The red and black borders of the sari were cut-out to leave only the white part to be used.”

'No one could go near his grave, not even to pay respects'

Retired post-master Anowar Hossain also recounted his memories from the day of Bangabandhu's funeral. “His grave was dug well before the arrival of his body. As people from Tungipara and adjacent villages began to take part in the rituals, they were obstructed by members of the army and the police. Some 30-35 people were allowed to attend and right when Bangabandhu's burial was complete, extra police members were deployed to make sure that no one could go near his grave, not even to pay respects or pray for the departed soul.”

 'They tried to erase the architect of our independence from our history forever'

Another witness, Sheikh Abul Bashar, general secretary of Tungipara Upazilla Awami League, said, “I was stopped on the roads while heading towards Bangabandhu's funeral by members of different security forces. They had prohibited everyone from visiting Bangabandhu's grave but despite their efforts, many made their way to pay their final respects. They (his murderers) tried to erase the architect of our independence from our history forever by burying him secretly in the middle of the night – but they failed. Rather, he became the greatest Bengali of all time.”

Translated by Baizid Haque Joarder