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Month of Mourning
Month of Mourning
August is the month of mourning. On the fateful night of August 15 in 1975 the founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and all but two members of his family were assassinated in a gruesome and barbaric manner by a group of pro-Pak army officers in connivance with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s own trusted associate Khondaker Moshtaq Ahmed. Bangabandhu’s two daughters, Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana, who were abroad at the time, were debarred from returning to the country.

Khondaker Moshtaque Ahmed immediately took control of the government, proclaiming himself President. The army officers who were involved in the killing received overnight promotions. Maj Gen Ziaur Rahman was appointed Army chief. Khondaker Moshtaque Ahmed proclaimed the Indemnity Ordinance which granted immunity from prosecution to the assassins of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and blocked investigation into the cold-blooded murders.

 

Khondaker Moshtaque Ahmed immediately took control of the government, proclaiming himself President. The army officers who were involved in the killing received overnight promotions. Maj Gen Ziaur Rahman was appointed Army chief. Khondaker Moshtaque Ahmed proclaimed the Indemnity Ordinance which granted immunity from prosecution to the assassins of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and blocked investigation into the cold-blooded murders.
The killers were allowed free passage to Bangkok by a special charter plane. From Bangkok they reached Libya. The getaway was arranged by Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed soon  after killing of four national leaders inside Dhaka central jail on Nov 3, 1975 in which all the ‘Killer Majors’ (a term used for the Army officers who killed Sheikh Mujibur Rahman) also participated. Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed was, however, ousted from power in a military uprising soon after.

 

The Martial Law government of Gen Ziaur Rahman that followed took the Indemnity ordinance into the statute book and gave protection to the killers under the cloak of law. Assuming power through the political changeover in 1975, the country’s first military dictator Gen Ziaur Rahman rewarded all the killer army officers with diplomatic jobs at Bangladeshi missions abroad. They were also incorporated in the Foreign Service. 

 

Gen HM Ershad, who came to power through a military coup on March 24, 1982, followed the footsteps of his predecessors and far from taking any punitive action against the killers he continued with the same policy of rewarding and protecting the killers. After him, the government headed by Khaleda Zia came to power in 1991. Although this was a democratically elected government it was in no way different from the previous military regimes and it continued to toe the same line. The killers   continued to enjoy all facilities of government job and promotions.

 

It was in 1996, twenty one years after the heinous crime was committed, that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s Awami League, led by his daughter Sheikh Hasina, came to power and she annulled the Indemnity Law to pave the way for prosecution of her father’s killers. Her government also declared August 15 as ‘National Mourning Day’ to pay homage to the Father of the nation.

Gen HM Ershad, who came to power through a military coup on March 24, 1982, followed the footsteps of his predecessors and far from taking any punitive action against the killers he continued with the same policy of rewarding and protecting the killers. After him, the government headed by Khaleda Zia came to power in 1991. Although this was a democratically elected government it was in no way different from the previous military regimes and it continued to toe the same line. The killers continued to enjoy all facilities of government job and promotions.

 

As the Awami League went out of power in 2001 and BNP-Jamaat Alliance took over, this step was reversed in a shameful manner and official status of August 15 as National Mourning Day was scrapped. Not content with that, Khaleda Zia announced that August 15 was her birthday (her school records show otherwise) to ensure that the day is celebrated with great fanfare and merry-making. What followed afterwards was a bizarre sequence of events one would associate with mafia rule rather than a civilized government.

 

The decision to cancel observance of August 15 as National Mourning Day was undoubtedly an act of political myopia and vindictiveness on the part of then BNP-Jamaat government. It undermined the efforts that had been initiated by Sheikh Hasina to correct the course of history and restore morality in national politics.

 

Against this background of regressive politics, the nation noted with happiness, the statement of  Gen Moeen U Ahmed, former army chief who was the driving force behind the Caretaker Government (2007-08), asserting that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is the Father of the nation and there cannot be any two opinion about it. He also deplored Khaleda Zia government’s decision canceling observance of August 15 as National Mourning Day saying it was in bad taste. It was left to the Army-backed Caretaker Government to set the matter right by approaching the High Court.

 

The High Court decision in this regard was indeed evocative of the sentiments of the nation. The people of Bangladesh have all along been of the opinion that the tragic happenings of August 15 are a blot on human conscience. At the same time, they have all along been in favor of observing the day in remembrance of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to whom Bangladesh owes its existence as an independent country.

 

The nation has always looked at the assassination of August 15 as the darkest period in the history of Bangladesh; and people of conscience have repeatedly underscored the idea that the men who carried out the heinous acts of killing had to be brought to justice.  At last, as the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League came to power for the second time in 2009, it became possible to restore morality and rule of law in the country. Five of the twelve convicted killers of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman were brought to justice thirty five years after the crime and they were executed on January 28, 2010 in accordance with Supreme Court verdict. Six of the convicted killers are still on the run while one has died over a period of time.

 

High Court verdict striking down the ill-motivated decision of the BNP-led alliance government obviously cheered all sections of people of conscience the world over. And it will because of quite a few reasons. In the first place, it is a step toward reminding the nation as well as the world outside of the collective shame that the people went through when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was murdered. Secondly, it is a clear sign that for all the darkness that the country has traversed in the years since the assassination, the people need to reassert the Bangabandhu’s legacies and values that have consistently underscored secular Bengali language, culture and heritage.

 

For BNP the reinstatement of state recognition of August 15 as National Mourning Day has come as a big shock. But this has undoubtedly reaffirmed belief that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the undisputed Father of the Nation and what happened on August 15, 1975 was a heinous crime that must be condemned by all in unequivocal terms.




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