The gory killings of four national leaders by misguided soldiers inside Dhaka Central Jail in the early hours of November 3, 1975, remain an indelible shame on the national psyche.
The compounding tragedy in the whole transaction is that the brutality and shame did not stir the national conscience until a favourable political scenario emerged in 1996.
The four slain leaders namely Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmed, AHM Kamruzzaman and Captain Mansur Ali were no ordinary men because for them public service was more important than life itself.
They had immense concern and were exceedingly interested in public welfare and demonstrated their will to fight valiantly for justice.
Anyone who has read the diaries of late Tajuddin Ahmed will be able to see the gritty dimension of his personality and his depth of understanding the socio-economic issues besieging a newly independent war-ravaged country.
His exemplary stewardship of our liberation struggle during the war in 1971, under daunting adversity in exile, shall remain a milestone in the annals of Bengali resistance and emancipation.
He proved brilliantly that when the going got tough the tough really got going.
When it was a question of displaying unflinching devotion to the fallen leader and his ideals, Syed Nazrul Islam, AHM Kamruzzaman and Captain Mansur Ali were second to none. They did not compromise with the murderous cabal to earn freedom or a cozy position in the establishment while others capitulated in the most shameful manner.
Records show that they could have bargained with the assassins and their patrons but they did not wilt. This was a rare instance of displaying inner strength; a necessity for establishing truth under adversity.
The tragedy in Bangladesh is that we, as a nation, have not been able to come out of our self-centeredness cum tribalism and it was thus no surprise that it took 21 years to officially recognise the culpability of a heinous offence committed in the most blatant manner.
The cynics say that we have in our midst far too many "boneless wonders." With such men, expediency is all. The four slain leaders, however, were men who had the courage not to submit or yield and were really like rocks in the wilderness of shifting sands.
The historical significance of the sacrifice of the four national leaders cannot be lost sight of and we have to admit that by wavering for a painfully long time in taking the legal action we have made ourselves small. Must we not admit that vigorous societies have to harbour a certain extravagance of objectives, so that men wander beyond the safe provision of personal gratifications?
As mentioned, the State sprang into action to investigate into the ghastly misdeeds only when a favourable scenario emerged. However, the task was not easy by any count. The First Information Report (FIR) had mentioned the name of only one person as accused and four accomplices were shown as unknown.
Significantly, the original FIR could not be located despite the best efforts given in tracing them from the concerned Court, police station and CID office. Finally, a hand-written copy of the original FIR was located at police headquarters.
The evidentiary value of the original FIR, which is first hand undiluted information of the incident and is relevant and admissible, need not be over-estimated. The investigator thus commenced his work with a handicap. Curiously, though the FIR was lodged on November 4, 1975, at Lalbagh police station, the investigation officer, the then Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), Mr. Saifuddin was not allowed to visit the place of occurrence despite repeated efforts, thus failing to take initial steps like drawing sketch maps of the place of occurrence, collecting exhibits and evidence and the like.
Between 1975 and 1996 the investigation could not commence due to establishment indifference, and consequently many relevant supportive papers and direct evidence just disappeared much to the prejudice of the prosecution.
Some of the jail employees of the relevant period had been located from different places around the country after prolonged efforts and the complainant of the incident, the very old former DIG Prison was traced from Sandwip Island to prove the FIR.
Some old files had been retrieved from the prison records but copy of the inquest and the post mortem reports of the slain leaders could not be traced.
The then establishment instituted a Judicial Commission after the incident but the said Commission could not complete their inquiry. The relevant file regarding this Commission could not be traced at the ministry as some interested quarters were suspected to have caused its disappearance.
Admittedly, the investigator's job was made very difficult.
The misguided soldiers who committed the atrocities were rewarded with diplomatic postings. The job of tracing them and bringing them under the law was an awesome task. These accused persons were staying in "Bangabhaban" the seat of power and from there they proceeded to Dhaka Central Jail to commit the massacre.
After a lapse of so many years it was extremely difficult to trace the relevant files in these sensitive places. Equally difficult was locating important exhibits from Radio Bangladesh.
Despite all the odds, encumbrances and limiting factors the case ended in charge sheet against 21 accused persons including 14 absconders. The trial Court awarded death sentence to 3 accused persons and sentenced 12 to life imprisonment, thanks to the mind exacting and gritty investigation of Mr. Abdul Kahhar Akand, the then Senior Assistant Superintendent of Police. The trial was held in the ordinary Court of law where defence enjoyed all the statutory privileges.
It has been our unfortunate experience to recollect that our socio-political situation turned for the worse with the tragic murder of the Father of the Nation and four national leaders.
For many years these offences were not legally and appropriately. Such realities do have substantial adverse impact on the enforcement and adjudication temperament and culture.
Instances were there when many heinous criminal cases involving murder, abduction, grievous hurt, amongst others, were allegedly withdrawn as part of a deal struck with some political parties by the establishment.
Equally distressing is the fact that exoneration from criminal charges has been easy when political control was assured. The moot question is: Should standards of justice vary with variance in the colour of political establishment?
The crux of the subject is primarily rooted in our political culture.
The writer is a columnist of The Daily Star.