Bangabandhu in his library
A little after 4 a.m. on 15 August 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. The tanks rumbled past Ganobhavan, the president's office, and turned left. A few tanks 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. Meanwhile, other soldiers arriving before the house began firing into the residence and at the walls, obviously to generate as much panic as possible. 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 passage downstairs.
He was shot at close range. A young boy who worked as a servant was killed as well. Meanwhile, Bangabandhu was frantically trying to contact the army chief. Finally, when he got through to him, 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, who had only been repatriated from Pakistan the previous year, rushed out in his dressing gown and pyjamas, got behind the wheels of his car and drove at fast pace toward 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, in his white kurta and lungi. 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. 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 is not clear what response came from Bangabandhu, but there have been the varying nature of the reports that have been 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 by name, 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 at the landing that led to the ground floor. 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 the 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 Sheikh Mujibur Rahman 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, one of them a personal employee of the president, by the wall near the gate and in due time Mujib's youngest son, Russell (who had been named by the president after the British philosopher Bertrand Russell) was brought there.
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. The bodies fell in a heap. 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 which had earlier made its way to Minto Road, finished off Minister Abdur Rab Serniabat and his family. In another part of Dhanmondi, soldiers rushed into the home of Sheikh Fazlul Haq Moni and shot him 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 hospital.
They died there. Meanwhile, Mujib's chief of security, Colonel Jamil, who had earlier left his home when he heard of the attack on the presidential residence, approached Road No. 32. He certainly did not know that by then the whole family had been wiped out. Soldiers stationed there by Col. Farook Rahman stopped him at the entry to the road 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. As the sun rose, Farook Rahman and a band of the men who had taken part in the killings, made their way back to the cantonment, obviously to rally other men to them as also to inform them of what had been done. Colonel Rashid, in the company of another group of soldiers, rushed to the residence of Khondokar Moshtaq Ahmed in the old part of Dhaka to inform him that Mujib and his family were all dead and that it was time for him to take over.
In the cantonment, Farook Rahman and his fellow plotters marched into the office of the army chief of staff and ordered him to go with them to the radio station. Elsewhere, similar action was being taken in the case of the chiefs of the navy and air force. At the Bangladesh Rifles, whose chief was away on a trip abroad, his deputy was collected and taken to the radio office. Some of the plotters made their way to the offices of the chief of general staff, Brigadier Khaled Musharraf, and acquainted him with the details. Likewise, Colonel Shafaat Jamil was informed of the coup. When some officers with no link to the coup turned up at the home of the deputy chief of army staff, Major General Ziaur Rahman, to inform him of the violent change that had taken place, they found him shaving. He coolly responded that the vice president was around to take charge.
As the morning progressed, all the three services chiefs as well as the heads of the police and Bangladesh Rifles were brought to the Radio Bangladesh centre in Shahbagh, where each one of them read out a statement of loyalty to the new regime. After the statements of loyalty had been made, Khondokar Moshtaq addressed the country, telling them that he had taken over as president of Bangladesh in what he described as a moment of historical necessity. He made no mention of Bangabandhu and his family, but he did not forget to salute the soldiers who had carried out the coup d'etat as children of the sun who, in his view, had done the country proud.
Early on the morning of 16 August, 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 cemetery in Banani. The bodies were placed in one single, long grave and covered over without the rituals of an Islamic burial.
Late in the afternoon, the body of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, founder of the independent state of Bangladesh and its president, 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.
The writer is Editor-in-Chief, UNB
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