Bangladesh is mourning its founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and almost all members of the family killed in the Aug 15, 1975 carnage, the darkest chapter in the country’s history a short while after independence from Pakistan.
Not only did Bangladesh lose the Father of the Nation in the massacre, but it also started a journey backwards, plunging into the darkness of Pakistan-style military rules, just four years after liberation.
The killers – a group of rogue army officers – could not be tried because of an Indemnity Ordinance. Finally, when Bangabandhu’s Awami League party returned to power in 1996, with his daughter Sheikh Hasina at the helm, the government paved the way for the trial of the assassins.
Now, more than a decade after executing some of the Bangabandhu murder convicts, Bangladesh has celebrated Bangabandhu's 100th birth anniversary and the golden jubilee of independence through yearlong programmes.
President Md Abdul Hamid, in a message marking the day, said: “Bangabandhu is no longer with us, but his principles and ideals will always inspire the freedom-seeking people to attain their rights and the mass awakening against exploitation and oppression around the world." Hamid will host a special prayer at the Bangabhaban on Monday for the victims of the carnage.
Hasina, as the prime minister, reiterated the call for turning the grief of losing Bangabandhu into strength. “Let's build a non-communal, hunger-poverty-free prosperous Golden Bangladesh as dreamt by Father of the Nation through reflecting the glory and ideals of his long-struggling life in our actions; this should be our firm pledge on this National Mourning Day."
Neither Bangabandhu’s 10-year-old son Sheikh Russell nor nephew Sheikh Fazlul Huq Moni’s pregnant wife Arzoo Moni was spared during the massacre at Dhaka’s well-known landmark, Dhanmondi 32. Hasina and her sister Sheikh Rehana survived the carnage as they were in Europe.
Besides Moni, the others included Bangabandhu’s wife Bangamata Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib, brother Sheikh Naser, brother-in-law Abdur Rab Serniabat, sons Sheikh Kamal, Sheikh Jamal, daughters-in-law Sultana Kamal and Rosy Jamal.
The president’s Military Secretary Bir Uttam Colonel Jamil Uddin Ahmed, who rushed to the Bangabandhu Bhaban at Dhanmondi 32 on receiving SOS from him early in the morning, was also slain on the way.
Bangabandhu was buried in his hometown Gopalganj’s Tungipara and the others at Banani graveyard.
Special prayers will be held in mosques, temples, churches and pagodas.
The Awami League will distribute food among the poor.
Bangladesh Television, Bangladesh Betar and other private television stations will broadcast special programmes on the day. The national dailies will publish special supplements.
August 15 has been observed differently in political situations since 1975. It was not observed officially for 20 years until 1996, when the Awami League assumed office and announced the day as the National Mourning Day.
The Awami League resumed observing the day through party programmes after the BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami coalition government dropped the mourning day and prohibited flying the national flag at half-mast on days other than official ones after forming government in 2001.
The High Court restored the National Mourning Day in 2008 during the caretaker government.
After the Aug 15, 1975 massacre, Bangladesh’s first military ruler Gen Ziaur Rahman promulgated the Indemnity Ordinance to save the self-proclaimed killers of Bangabandhu.
Bangabandhu’s residential personal assistant Mohitul Islam on Oct 2, 1996 filed a case over the assassination after the Awami League was voted to power. The Indemnity Ordinance was abrogated on Nov 12 the same year.
Police pressed charges against 19 on Jan 15, 1997 and Dhaka District and Sessions Judge Kazi Golam Rasul condemned 15 of them to death on Nov 8, 1998. The High Court bench of Justice Mohammad Ruhul Amin and Justice ABM Khairul Haque gave a split verdict in the appeal against the punishment.
The senior judge, Justice Amin acquitted five of the original 15 accused, but Justice Haque upheld the lower court verdict. Later, as a third judge, Justice Mohammad Fazlul Karim handed down capital punishment to 12 accused.
As five death-row convicts again moved the Appellate Division, the decision remained pending due to a shortage of minimum requirement of three judges for a hearing session since August 2001, as several judges were embarrassed to hear the case.
A five-member special bench of the Appellate Division gave its verdict on Nov 19, 2009 rejecting the appeal.
Syed Faruque Rahman, Sultan Shariar Rashid Khan, Bazul Huda and AKM Mohiuddin (Lancer) were executed on Jan 27, 2010.
Of the seven other death-row convicts, M Rashed Chowdhury is living in the US and SHMB Noor Chowdhury in Canada. The whereabouts of Abdur Rashid, Shariful Haque Dalim, and Moslem Uddin are unknown. Abdul Aziz Pasha died in Zimbabwe while on the run while Abdul Mazed was caught and executed in 2020.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was born on Mar 17, 1920 at Tungipara in Gopalganj.
He burst onto the political scene with the formation of Purba Pakistan Chhatra League following the end of British rule in the Indian sub-continent.
Mujib continued to rise in national politics by dint of his active involvement in the Language Movement in 1952, 1954 general elections, and Six-Point declaration in1966.
His arrest in the Agaratala conspiracy case catapulted him into the national limelight, making him the undisputed leader of the Bengalis' freedom struggle against Pakistani exploitation.
He was given the Bangabandhu title after he was freed from jail in 1969.
On Mar 7, 1971 he delivered the historical speech at Race Course Maidan, now Suhrawardy Udyan, which inspired the Bengalis to wage an armed struggle to win independence from Pakistan.