The End of a Tragic Epic
Fifteen years back on a rainy afternoon of August 1994 when I stood in silence in front of Bangabandhu's Mazar in Tungipara I wondered whether the nation would ever be able to dispense justice to Bangabandhu and his family in our lifetime for the brutal murder committed on the fateful morning of August 15, 1975 by a bunch of cold blooded killers and lunatics in which the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib and his entire family were massacred. It was a matter of fate that his two daughters were spared as they were not in the country during those fateful hours. I along with my friend Dr Abu Yousuf (present VC of Chittagong University) travelled to Tungipara to pay respect to the Father of the Nation and speak in a public meeting to observe the National Mourning Day on August 15. Bangabir Kader Siddiki organised a weeklong programme in Tungipara to pay tribute to Bangabandhu. In the evening we spoke for about two hours in the slushy playground of Gima Danga High School. Thousands of people listened to us and at brief intervals chanted slogans demanding justice to the killers of Bangabandhu and his family. Each day's programme was presided over by a person who was involved with the burial of Bangabandhu on the afternoon of August 16, 1975. A very noble gesture indeed. Taking a chance of their presence, I managed to talk to about half a dozen of these fortunate individuals and each and everyone had two wishes they wanted to see come true in their lifetime. One was to see the killers of Bangabandhu and his family tried and hanged and the other was to see the 'Sheker Maiya' Sheikh Hasina as the Prime Minister of the country her father struggled to create. The second wish came true in 1996 and the first one finally on January 28, 2010. I am not sure how many of these people are still alive to see their both dreams come true.
It was a long wait by the two daughters of Bangabandhu and the nation to see justice delivered and executed. Long 34 years. Too long in contemporary history. Too long for civilisation to endorse. And all these delays in delivering the justice was not by chance but by design. The design meticulously conceived by the perpetrators, the conspirators and their accomplices. First came the Indemnity Ordinance, promulgated by Khondakar Mushtaque, one of the key conspirators of Bangabandhu Killing and the self styled President of Bangladesh, on September 26, 1975 , exactly 11 days after the killing of Bangabandhu and his family. The Ordinance indemnified all deeds committed by the killers on August 15, 1975 and guaranteed that no action shall be taken against the killers in any court of law of the country. It was one of the most bizarre laws enacted in any civilised country whereby rule of law was shelved by another law. These were no ordinary killers. They murdered the Father of the Nation, his family, innocent women and children. They virtually murdered the nation. Mushtaque was removed from power on November 5 in a military putsch and Justice A S M Sayem was installed as a lame duck President with General Zia in the driving seat. On April 29, 1976 Zia became the Chief Martial Law Administrator. It was not enough for him and on April 21 of 1977 Sayem had to go, leaving Zia with all the power he wanted. The CMLA and the President. On February 18, 1979 the second parliamentary election of the country was held under Martial Law of Zia. As expected, his party got two thirds majority and formed the Government. On April 9, 1979, the Parliament through the adoption of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution incorporated all the Ordinances promulgated during the previous four years, including the infamous Indemnity Ordinance, sealing the fate of the trial of the killers of August 15, 1975.
The cries and the demands for justice and trial of the killers of 1975 fell on deaf ears until 1996, when Sk. Hasina and Awami League were voted into power. During these long years, General Zia, Justice Sattar, General Ershad, Begum Zia ruled the country, either as the Chief Martial Law Administrator, or the President or the Prime Minister. None of them ever felt the necessity to repeal this infamous ordinance and help the country to return to the Rule of Law. All these people were directly or indirectly beneficiaries of the tragic events of August 1975. The killers even confessed in televised interviews that General Zia was aware of all the developments that led to that bloody fateful morning.
In 1996 when the Bill to Repeal the Indemnity Ordinance was tabled in the Seventh Parliament by Awami League the beneficiaries were not happy. On November 12 the Bill was passed and the opposition BNP and Jamaat were conspicuous by their absence in the Parliament.
The trial of the killers of Bangabandhu could have been pursued in a Special Tribunal. This would be very much within the purview of law. Instead the then Awami League government decided to follow the normal process of law and hoped that the final verdict would be arrived at within a reasonable period of time. On November 8, 1998 the Trial Court pronounced the verdict and sentenced 15 killers to death by hanging. BNP called hartal in Dhaka City on that day on a separate pretext. The five killers, who were already behind bars appealed in the higher court. Seven judges either felt embarrassed or refused to hear the appeal, thus causing a further delay in disposal of this important case. On April 30, 2001 the final verdict of the High Court was delivered upholding the death sentence of 12 killers. The five condemned who were already in prison appealed in the Appellate Division for a review of the case. By stroke of luck Awami League was voted out of power in 2001. The final review process was put on hold by the BNP government by manipulating the system. The Appellate Division did not have enough judges to hear the case. Some of those already in the Appellate Division may have already heard the case in the lower court or felt embarrassed. The promotion of Judges in the Appellate Division was also done in such a way that those who felt embarrassed or refused to hear the case in High Court Division were promoted. Appointment of one or two ad-hoc judges to the Appellate Division could have solved the problem. The request, even from the Chief Justice fell on deaf ears. The then Law Minister, whenever asked by the media to comment on this issue, with his usual mysterious smile would repeat his favourable quote ' law will take its own course.' The law never did during the Jamaat-BNP rule of 2001-2006. It was a comical sight on November 19, the day the final judgment on this case was delivered when Barrister Moudud expressed his sigh of relief that the judgment has finally been delivered and it should at not be looked from a political viewpoint!! Unfortunately people of Moudud variety could never appreciate the intelligence of the common people. Finally justice was delivered by the Apex court of the country on November 19 and review petition by the convicts disposed of on January 27th and the verdict executed on January 28th. For a long 34 years the nation has carried on its shoulders the mortal remains of Bangabandhu and his family members with its soul full of pain and guilt. Finally the soul has been healed.
Sk. Hasina and her government by allowing the case to be heard and tried in a normal court of law has marked a place in history for herself. It was not a Prime Minister demanding justice for her family's brutal murder. It was a daughter seeking justice for the death of her parents. It was a sister seeking justice for the killing for her brothers. It is a civilised human being seeking the return of rule of law in a society which was denied such a rule for decades. It was a step towards making her a statesman. Her and her family's patience must be admired. So must be admired the patience of the nation. The trial of the killers and the execution of the verdict has put nation's faith in the rule of law. One good deed and a good gesture can make a person immortal. Maybe this is the one for Sk. Hasina. My prayers for the martyrs of August 15. The nation will be ever grateful to two persons who risked their lives and went to seek justice in the court of law -- Banagabandhu's PA A F M Mohitul Islam and the other one the young Rajshahi Law College student Taiduddin Khan. Taiduddin was the first person to have gone to lodge a case in Dhanmondi Police Station on October 31, 1996. It seems like the end of a tragic epic. Let this day be the beginning of a new chapter in the nation's history.
Abdul Mannan is a former Vice Chancellor, University of Chittagong. January 31, 2010. Currently he teaches at ULAB, Dhaka.
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