She lay hidden beneath a cot, transfixed, numb with fear, watching these ghastly scenes being enacted before her eyes. She struggled in vain to not shout but gave in to the horrific incident and let her pain come out loud. Then, it was her turn, to be brutally raped.
In the evening of Mar 26, 1971, Jamaat-e Islami leader Abdul Quader Molla and several other Biharis forced into the residence of Hajrat Ali Laskar in Mirpur. Ali was shot at, his pregnant wife and her two daughters aged 7 and 9 years were slaughtered.
Molla and his associates pulled Momena out from under the cot. All of them raped her as she fell unconscious. They took her for dead, but she survived to tell the tale.
It would have been abnormal for Momena Begum to live as if nothing had happened after those hours of horror. Having lost her mental balance, she gradually recovered, apparently to survive as the lone witness to crimes that would have the man, the perpetrator of this boundless brutality, land in the death row 42 years later.
Momena never got to know what had happened to her father, Hazrat Ali Lashkar, who was not killed before her eyes but was dragged away by the criminals.
When she stood in the dock, deposing before the International Crimes Tribunal, she said, “I want to ask him: where is my father?”
Apparently, these atrocities against Momena’s parents and siblings had turned Molla’s life term into a death sentence on Tuesday.
Momena gave her deposition about the crime at the ICT-2 on July 17. bdnews24.com got a copy of the Appellate Division’s verdict containing her statements.
The SC enhanced Quader’s life term, given by the ICT, to a death sentence following the prosecution’s appeal against the ICT sentence. The murder of the family of Ali was the sixth charge the prosecution had pressed against Quader Molla, who had earned the appellation ‘Butcher Quader’, and “Butcher of Mirpur.
Abdul Quader Molla (File Photo)
“He was young at that time, he was at his tender age,” Momena had said as she identified Quader standing in the dock at the ICT. Momena could still recall the attire Quader had on that day - a Panjabi.
A tailor by profession, Hajrat Ali was a regular participant in Awami League processions during those days of protests against Pakistani exploitation of Bengalees. He was an activist who would walk through the city streets, pasting posters for the Awami League candidate contesting the 1970s national election from his area, Mirpur.
Hajrat Ali lived in House No.21 in Lane No.5 of Kalapani, at Mirpur-12, in Dhaka. All hell broke loose on the night of March 25, when the Pakistani army began its Bengali-cleansing operation to subdue the people’s struggle for independence.
According to Momena, it was a pre-twilight attack on her family, and Molla was the man who had led the raid.
“Father ran to and fro saying,‘Quader would kill us.’ Akter gunda, those Biharis and Pak (Pakistan) military had come running. Father locked the door from inside after entering the house.”
Ali asked his children to hide under the cot. Momena and her sister Amena Begum did exactly what their father had said.
It was at that time that they heard the voice of Biharis and Quader Molla. “You, son of a swine, open the door; otherwise, we will charge bombs.”
A bomb exploded in front of the house, as they took time to open the door. Hajrat Ali’s wife took out a kitchen knife and opened the door. She was shot dead at once.
“Father ran to get hold of mother. Quader pulled him back by the collar of his shirt from behind and said, ‘You, son of a swine, will you not act like an Awami League activist now? Will you not go (out) with Bangbandhu? Will you not join the procession? Will you not say Joy Bangla?’”
“Father brought his hands together to beg and said, ‘Brother Quader, spare me.’ (Father) told Akter Gunda, ‘Brother Akter, spare me.’”
But Biharis were not moved. They dragged Hajrat Ali out of the house.
Then a barbaric cruelty was unleashed on the rest members of the family.
Momena wept as she stood in the dock, four decades after that horrific day, recalling everything for justice that she has been long denied.
“They slaughtered my mother using a Da (a sort of machete). (They) slaughtered Khodeza (sister) with a machete. (They) slaughtered Taslima too.”
“I had a brother (called) Babu, two years old, he was smashed (against the floor) to death.”
“Babu was screaming, crying out for ‘mother’.”
Amena could not take it anymore and screamed from beneath the cot. The attackers had more victims to prey on.
“They pulled Amena out (from under the cot), tore all (her) cloths. Then they kept torturing her. Amena was screaming a lot, but the screaming faded at one point,” said Momena.
Momena almost fainted in the dock as she narrated the incident. But her own story was yet to come.
She had been hiding under the cot until then. It was dark by then and the attackers were searching every corner of the house to see if anyone had been left alive.
As the searched frantically, the sharp tip of an attacker’s weapon hit Momena in her leg. She tried hard to hold back the cry of pain, but failed.
They dragged her out, and tortured till she lost her senses.
Momena regained consciousness later in the night and took shelter in a neighbour’s house. The neighbours informed her in-laws, who came to take Momena away with them.
After independence, Momena spent days looking for the bodies of her parents and siblings. But she never found them. She did not find her father, whom she had not seen being killed.
“There was a man named Kamal Khan, who made tea for freedom fighters. He used to tell me, ‘Quader Molla has killed your father and mother.’ Akkas Molla was my in-law who used to say the same thing.”
Momena, traumatised, lost her mental balance for the next three years, when she had to be kept chained in the house. But she managed to recover, get back her mental bearings slowly, through gradual treatment.
“I still cannot forget the way they were murdered. That’s why I went almost insane. I am a living dead. (I) only demand justice.”