16 years on, Bangladesh grenade attack survivors still live with scars of horror

It was a regular evening when the Awami League peace rally against violence was scheduled after the party chief Sheikh Hasina delivered her speech. It was never to be; a gruesome grenade attack wreaked havoc there.

Kazi Mobarak Hossain Staff Correspondentbdnews24.com
Published : 20 August 2020, 08:04 PM
Updated : 20 August 2020, 08:04 PM

Many of those injured in the grisly attack on the Awami League rally at the Bangabandhu Avenue on Aug 21 in 2004 have ‘splinters’ in their bodies, causing severe pain that never let them forget about the massacre.

At least 24 Awami League leaders and activists including Ivy Rahman, the then secretary of women affairs, who was also the wife of late President Zillur Rahman, were killed in the incident, with hundreds of people injured.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina survived the attack but got her hearing impaired for good.

Ahead of the 16th anniversary of the carnage on Friday, some of the survivors shared their harrowing experiences and psychological trauma with bdnews24.com.

Nasima Ferdous, the vice president of Dhaka North Awami League, was standing beside the steps when Hasina was coming down from the makeshift stage after finishing her speech.

“I can still visualise those harrowing moments every time I remember the day. It was a near-death experience. There was a big bang when our leader Sheikh Hasina was coming down from the stage,” she said.

“It was followed by loud bangs everywhere and I‘d no idea what was happening. I saw everyone on the ground. Then someone carried me and laid me on the pavement. I fainted after that,” she added.

“A shiver runs up my spine in fear whenever I recall those moments; I get goosebumps. And that happens when I feel the pain caused by the splinters inside my body,” said Nasima Ferdous, also the vice president of the Mohila Awami League.

“I’m bearing around 1,500 splinters in my body. Our leader has arranged a better treatment for us. She sent me to the Apollo Hospital in Delhi. But the splinters inside my body cause unbearable pain,” said Nasima.

The pain in his legs does not let Nazim Uddin sleep well. The environment secretary of the Dhaka Metropolitan Awami League, another survivor of the blasts, always feels a nagging pain in his right leg, left knee and toes.

He does not hold any position in the party now, he said, adding Hasina had helped him to get treatment at the hospitals in the country and in India.

“Right now I don’t have a major complication but every now and then when the splinters move, they cause acute pain. It feels that the grenade splinters and the pain they cause are an integral part of my life,” he said.

Rashida Akhter Ruma, the secretary for women affairs to Kotwali Thana Awami League recalled the gory event in harrowing details.

“Our leader was about to get down from the stage when the big bang was heard, and then the noise continued. I fell down and wasn’t sure if I was wounded,” she said.

“I laid on the ground when the grenades were hurled. Countless people trampled on me while I almost lost consciousness on being hit with grenade splinters. I couldn't get on my feet no matter how hard I tried.”

“But I realised that everyone was dying. By that time I passed out. I woke up in a hospital bed. I still remember that dreadful scene every now and then.”

Blood comes out from Rashida Akhter's left leg even though she had received treatment from the beginning. “The right leg is better now, but the wound in the left leg still bleeds. It hasn’t healed in 16 years.

"Now doctors say that I have to have it amputated. With every passing day, the pain from splinters increases.”

Apart from party head Hasina, no one has ever checked on her, a disgruntled Rashida said.

“I can’t attend all programmes since the incident. My right hand and right leg were severely injured. Now the splinters have spread into the left leg and left hand as well. I feel pain throughout my body and am living by taking therapies.”

“Our leader gave me Tk 1 million. No one else has ever asked about me. The party people treat me with disregard. I have no position in the party now.”

MP Iqbal Hossain Apu, a member of Awami League Central Working Committee, was there beside the stairs when Hasina was walking off the stage. Apu had his legs severely wounded after the grenades were charged. He still feels pain in his right leg, left knee and toes.

“I need medical treatment throughout the year because of the pain the splinters cause. I'm having physical trouble all the time. I try to forget about my pain by meeting the leaders and activists,” said Apu.

“I haven’t forgotten that day for a single moment in the past 16 years. Our leader was getting off the stage when we all heard the sound. I fell down and couldn’t realise if I was hurt and thought they were killing everyone,” he said.

“Whenever I remember that day of August 21, I feel our leader survived by the grace of God and I, too, came back from the brink of death.”

Investigations revealed that the attack was an attempt on the life of the then opposition leader Sheikh Hasina.

In October 2018, 14 years after the incident, Judge Shahed Nuruddin Ahmed sentenced former state minister for home Lutfozzaman Babar and 18 others to death for their roles in the grenade attack.

Tarique Rahman, the son of the then prime minister Khaleda Zia, has been jailed in absentia for life along with 18 others.