Dr. M. Abdul Kaium & Israt Zahan
Bengalis weep as August begins - the month of loss and grief. August brings the universal sadness of losing a father, a mother, siblings and a kid. But August is not just about grief, it is also about turning that grief into strength. If there is one thing Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had thought us to live by, it is that spirit of never yielding to tyrants and oppressors- the spirit that once led us to the glory of independence under his epic leadership. In the psyche of every Bengali, August is therefore etched with a mixed feeling of grief and reawakening to the needs of time.
Bangabandhu planted in us the seeds of freedom and made us dream to be free. And it was the Bengalis who, over a period of nine months of extreme tribulation of war, materialized that dream. That is why, Bangabandhu is inseparable from the annals of Bangladesh, and remains deeply embedded in every living moment of her independent existence.
On August 15, 1975, golden rays of the sun, as usual, lit up the eastern horizon; the tweeting sound of birds, as usual, greeted the newly-born morning. The sound of Fajr call for prayer added to the piety of the moment when a brigand of scheming self-deluded soldiers embarked on the most treacherous act ever heard of at Dhanmondi 32. The malevolent spirit Mir Jafor stirred in the hearts of those perpetrators as they went on to murder, in a gruesome fashion, Bangabandhu, our beloved leader, the best Bengali this land has ever produced. As the news of the killing of Bangabandhu went abroad, leaders and people across countries found themselves in a state of utter shock. No words were enough to condemn the barbarity of the act. The world, as it dawned on everyone, is infinitely poorer without Bangabandhu.
On the fateful night of 15 August of 1975, the killers also killed, along with Bangabandhu, 16 other family members and relatives. The murdered included Bangamata Begum Fazilatunnesa Mujib, sons Sheikh Kamal, Sheikh Jamal and Sheikh Russell, daughters-in-law Sultana Kamal and Rosy Jamal, Bangabandhu’s brother Sheikh Naser, brother-in-law Abdur Rab Serniabat, nephew and eminent journalist Sheikh Fazlul Huq Moni, his pregnant wife Arzoo Moni, Baby Serniabat, Shahid Serniabat, Nayeem Khan Rintu, Arif Serniabat, Sukanto Abdullah Babu and military secretary Colonel Jamil. As many as 28 people died on that night. Two of Bangabandhu’s daughters, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana, got away from the death as they were visiting Germany then. Such manslaughter on such a massive scale is a rarity even by the global standard of history, and Bangladesh is the unfortunate country who had to be the unwilling witness to that tragic episode.
That sinister anti-liberation force however refused to surrender. On August 21, 2004, that force again resurfaced in the form of the deadliest grenade attack in history carried out to wipe out Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Bangabandhu. In spite of the fact that she barely escaped the assault on an Awami League anti-terrorism rally at Bangabandhu Avenue in the capital, 24 people, including female Awami League Leader Ivy Rahman, lost their lives. The following year, on August 17, 2005, JMB, the Jamaat-backed insurgent group, triggered the panic-button for the peace-loving people of the country as the terrorist outfit mounted a series of attacks on key strategic spots in 63 districts across the country.
There was no direct military coup on 15 August 1975, but it was a clear sign of the fact that the legacy of conspiracy hatched between British Raj and the local collaborators, leading to the loss of sovereignty of the independent Bengal in 1757, was far from being over. It is hard to imagine that Bangabandhu's Sonar Bangla could actually give birth to sons who would one day turn out to be assassins of their Father. Today, Bangabandhu rests in peace in Tungipara of Gopalgonj, the place of his birth. His final resting place has become the holy shrine of pilgrimage for Bengalis from all over the world.
After the assassination of Bangabandhu, Willy Brandt, the Nobel Laureate leader of West Germany said, “The Bengali nation cannot be trusted after they killed Sheikh Mujib. They can do any hateful work.” Prominent writer Nirod C Chowdhury terming the Bangalees as ‘traitor’ said that, “The Bangalees have exposed their suicidal character as they killed the dreamer of Independent Bangladesh.” The Times of London in its August 16, 1975 edition, commented that, “Despite everything Bangabandhu will be remembered all the time. Because in reality, Bangladesh has no existence without him.” In the edition of the same date, The Daily Telegraph said that ‘millions of people will consider the death of Sheikh Mujib as an irreparable loss’.
Under Bangabandhu's fearless and uncompromising leadership, the people of Bengal were liberated from the clutches of the Pakistani aggressors. On the 7th March of 1971, he called out countrymen in a thunderous voice for independence. His clarion call didn't go unanswered- the crowning moment came on 16 December when a country named Bangladesh was formally marked on the World's map for the first time in history. It is however very ironic that Bangabandhu who never bothered about what length he needed to go to liberate his beloved country, finally fell by sword of his countrymen. But the killing of Bangabandhu cannot wipe out his glorious legacy; it will live on through the breathing of millions of Bengalis.
“As long as the river Padma Jamuna
Gauri Meghna flows on
Until then, fame is yours
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.”
Attempts were however made in the past to stop the flow of the legacy. The post-1975 political scenario of Bangladesh was marked by political unrest and dictatorial ascendancy. At one stage, Indemnity Ordinance was passed to bar intentionally the trial of his killers. After Awami League came to power in 1996, the notorious indemnity ordinance was revoked and the legal process for the trial of Bangabandhu's killers was set in motion. With the final verdict of the trial of Bangabandhu's assassination on January 27, 2010 and with the execution of six assassins, the nation had been finally freed from stigma of Bangabandhu's murder. But the entire country is still awaiting the execution of Bangabandhu’s remaining fugitive killers.
It must be kept in mind that Bangabandhu is a 'poet of politics'. A multi-faceted genius, his political career represents an epic journey of a visionary. The details of his life are inexhaustible sources of inspiration and insights. Every August brings home to us the message that we must not confine our interest in Bangabandhu in certain stereotypical categories but open it up for limitless possibilities. The millennial scope of his vision that wanted Bangladesh to be free from poverty and hunger must be embodied in the institutions of a progressive political culture. This is why we have reasons to be very optimistic as Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Bangabandhu, is trying her level best to establish Bangladesh as the role model of development for the rest of the world.
Dr. M. Abdul Kaium teaches at the University of Barishal whereas Israt Zahan is a PhD Fellow, China University of Geosciences, Wuhan, China.