There is that certain smell of death about August. There are remembrances of blood spilt on the streets and in the alleys. There are images of burials in cemeteries pelted by rain. In August, memories swirl around us. It was in this month that darkness descended on this country through the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family. We as a nation have not quite recovered from the shock.
August again is a season which speaks to us of the evil which continues to lurk in the bushes. There are the macabre images which come back to haunt us, those of the explosions which claimed the lives of twenty two individuals at an Awami League rally in 2004, of the bombs detonated by religious extremists all across Bangladesh on a single day in 2005.
On 11 August 1971, the murderous Yahya Khan junta placed Bangabandhu on trial before a secret military tribunal in Mianwali. Three months later, the sham tribunal sentenced the Father of the Bengali nation to death. On the rain-drenched evening of 18 August 1945, the plane carrying Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose came crashing down in Taipei, bringing to an end the life of a great Indian nationalist.
Only days before Netaji's death, US President Harry Truman pushed tens of thousands of Japanese to death through dropping atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In August 1983, the opposition Philippine politician Benigno Aquino Jr was murdered on the tarmac at Manila airport moments after he returned home from exile in the United States.
Five years later, on 17 August 1988, Pakistan's third military dictator Ziaul Haq was blown to pieces when an aircraft carrying him crashed moments after taking off from Bahawalpur. A whole group of senior military officers, as also the American ambassador to Pakistan, died with him.
In August 1946, the communalism let loose by the All-India Muslim League in support of its demand for the creation of Pakistan pushed anywhere between five thousand and ten thousand Hindus and Muslims to death in riots in Calcutta. Having called a Direct Action Day for 16 August, the Muslim League, then in power in Bengal under Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, was unable to restore order in the city. Four days of murder and mayhem followed.
The obduracy of the Muslim League leadership led to the vivisection of India in August 1947, with the state of Pakistan taking shape in two improbable pieces of geography separated by a thousand miles of Indian Union territory. It was a division that was to have grave ramifications for South Asia, with India and Pakistan going to war three times in a span of twenty four years.
August remains memorable because of the freedom it brought to the people of Indonesia. Struggling for independence from the Dutch, Indonesia's nationalist leadership, with Ahmad Sukarno at the head, decreed that the country was on the road to self-determination. That was in 1945. In that same year, the people of Korea finally threw off the yoke of Imperial Japan and since then have observed their national day in August.
In August 1975, a few days before Bangabbandhu's assassination, former president Abu Sayeed Chowdhury joined his cabinet as a minister without portfolio. Following the bloody coup of 15 August, Chowdhury took over as foreign minister.
In the same month, General Ziaur Rahman took over from General K.M. Shafiullah as the Bangladesh army's new chief of staff. Towards the end of August 1975, the coup makers placed the four leaders of the 1971 Mujibnagar government --- Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmed, M. Mansoor Ali, A.H.M. Quamruzzaman --- under arrest and carted them off to prison.
They were to be murdered in incarceration three months later. In August 1968, Warsaw Pact forces led by the Soviet Union, unwilling to accept the Prague Spring inaugurated by Alexander Dubcek, invaded the country, removed the reformist leadership and restored conservative communism in Czechoslovakia. Years later, in August 1991, a band of diehard communists in Moscow forced reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev out of power in a coup. The coup, of course, collapsed in a matter of days and Gorbachev was restored in office, albeit in much weaker form. The disintegration of the Soviet Union would be complete by the end of the year.
Princess Diana died in August 1997. In August 1963, the Kennedys would see their new-born baby die. Three months later, President John F. Kennedy would be assassinated in Dallas. Early in August 1990, Iraq's Saddam Hussein sent his army into Kuwait, keeping the country under occupation for months until a coalition led by the United States restored Kuwait to freedom.
Iraq would never be the same again, coming as it did under severe international sanctions and passing into poverty and gathering disorder. In August 1963, Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan, speaker of the Pakistan national assembly and, earlier, president of the country's constituent assembly, passed away.
On 28 August 1963, the American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr delivered his stirring 'I Have A Dream' speech before a million-strong crowd in Washington DC. He envisaged a time when people would not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. In August 2006, the much-loved, much humble poet Shamsur Rahman saw his life sink on the far horizon, in the manner of a bright day losing itself in the gathering dusk.
The writer is Editor-in-Charge,
The Asian Age
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