Opinion

August 1975 and Sheikh Hasina’s days in Europe


Published : 17 Aug 2022 07:44 PM

(Continued from last day’s section)

Upon entering the room on the third floor, Sheikh Hasina requested with tears to know what Humayun Rashid Chowdhury had said to Wazed Miah. Wazed Miah advised them to cancel their trip to Paris and return to Bonn immediately. After saying this, he went to the restroom, locked the door, and began to ponder various issues. Rehana awakened at the same time and entered Hasina's room.

 As Wazed came from the restroom, Hasina and Rehana asked him, tears in their eyes, whether he had any bad news he did not want to share. They also said they would not leave the house unless he explained why they were not going to Paris. Therefore, Wajed Miah told them they should not go to Paris since something catastrophic had happened in Bangladesh. The two sisters burst into tears upon hearing this. Their crying awoke Joy and Putul from their sleep.

Ambassador Chowdhury spoke with Sanaul Haque again after talking to Wazed Miah over the phone. He asked Sanaul Haque to arrange transportation to Bonn for Sheikh Hasina and others. "I will lose my job if I arrange to send them to Bonn in the embassy's flag car," Sanaul Haque said, expressing his inability. After talking to Sanaul Haque, Ambassador Humayun Rashid Chowdhury slumped down on the sofa with great disappointment. A short time later, he stood and said in a loud monologue (soliloquy), "I am the captain of this ship; let me take the decision." I cannot abandon Bangabandhu's daughters on the streets of Europe. I will bring them back here.

Astonishing, to say the least! Fearing for his job, one ambassador urged his two recently bereaved daughters to leave his residence immediately, while another ambassador welcomed them with the utmost compassion.

After a while, Sanaul Haque called Ambassador Chowdhury to inform him that he had arranged for Sheikh Hasina and others to travel to Aachen on the Belgian-West German border in the private car of Jahangir Sadat, the Bangladesh Embassy's second secretary in Brussels. He requested Mr Chowdhury to arrange their transportation from the Belgian border to Bonn.

Sanaul Haque called the driver of the Brussels embassy, Tanu Miah, and brought him home. Then he informed Tonu Miah about Bangabandhu's killing and requested that he drive Sheikh Hasina and others to Aachen on the Belgium-West Germany border. Tanu Mia used to drive the embassy's spacious French Citroen car. In that car, he took Sheikh Hasina and others to The Hague and Amsterdam. He was quite surprised to hear they had to be taken in the embassy's commercial secretary's personal Toyota car.

At 10:30 a.m., Sheikh Hasina, Sheikh Rehana, and Wazed Miah left the third floor of the ambassador's residence. Wazed Miah, along with Joy and Putul, was the first to come down. Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana followed him.

Tanu Miah kept their items in the car's boot. Ambassador Sanaul Haque's wife and daughters bid them farewell. At this moment, they consoled the bereaved Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana. Wazed Miah and Sheikh Hasina sat in the back of the car with their two children, Joy and Putul. Sheikh Rehana sat in the first row on the right.

Brussels and Aachen are roughly 145 kilometres apart. Throughout the journey, Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana cried and wiped their eyes with handkerchiefs. "Perhaps what we heard is not entirely true!" Wazed Miah sought to console them. Tanu Miah repeatedly said, "Sisters, please do not cry anymore!"

Tanu Miah became upset after seeing Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana cry. Finally, they reached Aachen at one o'clock. Tanu Miah met his old acquaintance, the driver Shahjahan Talukdar, there. Shahjahan used Talukdar Tariq A. Karim's personal Volkswagen Passat to take Sheikh Hasina and others to Bonn. They both loaded their baggage into the Volkswagen.

Wazed Miah hugged Tanu Miah and said goodbye. He gave Tanu Miah twenty German Mark as a tip. "No, please keep it; you are going through a tough time," Tanu Miah said, declining the money. Sheikh Hasina intervened and compelled Tanu Miah to accept the twenty Mark.

Sheikh Hasina and others travelled 95 kilometres from Akhen to Bonn, arriving at 3 p.m. Before their arrival, Dr Kamal Hossain, Bangladesh's then-foreign minister, came to Bonn through Frankfurt after an official visit to Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Mr Humayun Rashid Chowdhury appeared in the villa's courtyard with Dr Hossain shortly after Sheikh Hasina's arrival.

Seeing Dr Kamal Hossain, a grieving Sheikh Hasina asked him, "Uncle, what happened?" Then, Joy and Putul, Sheikh Hasina's two children, started crying simultaneously. Everyone in the room was moved to tears by the touching scene. Finally, Mahjabin Chowdhury and Nagma Karim escorted Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana into the residence.

Kamal Hossain, Humayun Rashid Chowdhury, and Wazed Miah sat in the drawing room of the ambassador's residence in Bonn that evening, worriedly listening to several radio channels, including the BBC and Voice of America. At that time, Wazed Miah asked Humayun Rashid Chowdhury about what actually happened in Dhaka.

Humayun Rashid told Wazed Miah that he could not say anything to Sheikh Hasina or Sheikh Rehana until they reached a safe place. According to BBC, Bangabandhu's wife and younger son Russel are the only surviving members of his family. And according to a report issued by the British mission in Dhaka, none of Bangabandhu's family members is alive. Wazed Miah asked the ambassador where they may now seek refuge. Humayun Rashid stated that they could not seek safety anywhere else but in India right now. 

The news emerged on August 15 in Bonn that the daughters of the assassinated president of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and the foreign minister had taken shelter at the Ambassador's residence. As a result, a group of German investigative journalists assembled in front of the Bangladeshi embassy in Bonn and front of the Ambassador's residence. The embassy's press attaché, Amzadul Haque, continued receiving calls from many individuals.

 In response to press inquiries, Ambassador Chowdhury directed all embassy staff to state that they knew nothing about it. He also instructed them not to disclose that Sheikh Hasina, Sheikh Rehana, and Foreign Minister Dr Kamal Hossain were in Bonn. There were offices of numerous foreign media in Bonn at that time. They learned that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's daughters were living in Bonn. In addition, several national media outlets followed them.  

On August 15, it was rumoured in Bonn's media circles that Bangabandhu's two daughters, Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana, were imprisoned. The information reached Ambassador Humayun Chowdhury. Ambassador Chowdhury sought advice from journalist Gisela Bonn, on responding to the rumours. Gisela Bonn then suggested holding a press conference the next day. Furthermore, Sheikh Hasina and Wazed Miah requested Foreign Minister Dr Kamal Hossain to hold a press conference to protest the brutal incident in Bangladesh.

Anil Dasgupta arrived from Frankfurt early the following day, on August 16. Ambassador Chowdhury already knew Anil Dasgupta, one of the organisers of the 1971 liberation war. Ambassador Chowdhury spoke with Anil Dasgupta about the press conference and urged that he offer a protest speech at the event. He requested Anil Dasgupta to reserve a meeting room at a hotel near the embassy for the press conference. Ambassador Chowdhury also informed Anil Dasgupta that Dr Kamal Hussain would depart for London before noon on the same day. Thus, it is preferable to have the press conference before that time.

Anil Dasgupta then contacted a hotel near the Embassy in Bonn and reserved a meeting room for the press conference. He collected the phone number from Ambassador Chowdhury and called journalist Gisela Bonn. Gisela Bonn rushed to the hotel's conference room after receiving the call. She contacted many journalists from there to tell them about the upcoming press conference on the Bangladesh uprising and invited them to attend. The hotel management also completed the preparations for this press conference on time.

German media outlets such as Deutsche Welle, Die Welt, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and others immediately arrived at the hotel upon hearing about the press conference. However, despite extensive preparations, Dr Kamal Hossain did not attend the press conference that day. Due to the cancellation of the press conference, Anil Dasgupta and Gisela Bonn were very upset.

Later, Ambassador Humayun Rashid Chowdhury disclosed to Anil Dasgupta that he attempted but failed to send Dr Kamal to the news conference. "Had the press conference been held that day," Anil Dasgupta subsequently informed a journalist, "it would have been the first worldwide protest against the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman." Sheikh Hasina stated in this regard, "As a government official, the then-ambassador to Germany, Humayun Rashid Chowdhury, helped us. However, my father's cabinet's foreign minister was abroad. He did not helped us. He even refused to issue a statement. "Uncle, you are the foreign minister; please conduct a news conference and alert the world media about the current situation," Sheikh Rehana pleaded to Kamal Hussain. "Please notify our diplomatic missions to defend. Unfortunately, he ignored my request. Maybe he did not think much of my request since I was young”. However, the scenario might have been different if Foreign Minister Kamal Hossain had held a press conference at the time.”

International journalists assembled in front of the ambassador's residence. They wanted to know if Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana had been arrested. Humayun Rashid Chowdhury then instructed them to approach the window and explain their actual condition. Finally, Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana reached the window and told the reporters, "We have found shelter here, not captivity." The journalists departed after hearing their statements.

However, two intrusive reporters from the local Die Welt newspaper, Klaus Korn and Ulrich Luke went to Humayun Rashid Chowdhury's residence that day. Along with them was photojournalist Richard Sulze-Forberg. Ambassador Chowdhury granted them thirty minutes. Journalists were seated in his home's ground-floor lounge area. There hung a big photo of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on the wall.

Sheikh Hasina, Sheikh Rehana, and Wazed Miah were staying on the third floor of that house. On the third floor, there were three rooms. They were accommodated there. When the journalists arrived at the residence, the third floor was filled with the sound of crying.

On Monday, August 18, these journalists wrote a report in De Welt summarising the situation. The report was co-written by journalists Klaus Korn and Ulrich Luke. The report was printed in four columns with three photographs. It was titled "Sheikh Mujib's Daughters Mourning in Bonn." This article also mentioned Ambassador Humayun Rashid Chowdhury's residential address.

Consequently, expatriate Bengalis who supported Bangabandhu's murderers and some expatriate Pakistanis surrounded the residence. They pressed Ambassador Chowdhury to remove Bangabandhu's image from the embassy in Bonn. They also demanded the Ambassador evict Sheikh Hasina and others from his home. Instead of succumbing to such pressure, Humayun Rashid Chowdhury stated, "This building still belongs to Bangladesh. I have not received any orders from Dhaka. If you continue to cause a disturbance, I will contact the police". Those people then left.

(To be continued)

 

Dr Abul Hasnat Milton is General Secretary, Australia Awami League and Public Health Expert