Space For Rent

Space For Rent


Clandestine killings in the Bangladesh Army
Publish Date : 2014-01-16,  Publish Time : 20:13,  View Count : 8
Anwar Kabir
1977
2nd October 1977.
A failed coup occurred in Dhaka. A few days back, another uprising took place in Bogra cantonment. In the couple of months that followed unprecedented things happened, which is rare, the world over. Nowhere else in the world has such incidents occurred, except in war times. At this time the 22nd East Bengal regiment stationed in Bogra was dissolved.
Writing about this period, renowned journalist Anthony Mascaranhas in his book, Legacy of Blood says, Later, an Air Force publication about its history says, about the same day, that it was a "Black Day" for armed forces and the air force. The booklet says that 560 airmen were killed on the day. In most prisons in Bangladesh hangings were carried out. Almost all progressive organizations of the country protested these incidents. It was charged that these trials were stage-managed, ignoring all laws of the country. People were being hanged on flimsy grounds. The families of those hanged had no knowledge about where and how the trials were taking place. They did not even get the corpses after the hangings. We will now talk to some of the family members of those who had been hanged then, the chairman of the tribunal, some soldiers who had been imprisoned and others, who are first person witnesses to the incidents and try to know what actually happened.
On 2nd October 1977 in Dhaka's Kurmitola airport a Japanese airliner with 156 passengers aboard was hijacked by five members of the Hidaga commando unit of the Japanese Red Army soon after it had left Dhaka for Bangkok. The hijackers forced the aircraft to return to Dhaka again. The entire incident was being telecast time on the state owned Bangladesh Television, when the revolt occurred. Some of the pictures taken then have been captured on camera. Those photographs show then chief of Bangladesh Air Force A. G. Mahmood negotiating with the hijackers. Some corpses of some dead airmen during the revolt can be seen at the airport. Some pictures are being shown. Those who are being seen in the photograph are Air Force GC's, meaning ground combatants. Those who are being seen in the photographs are all dead. The person in the middle is Corporal Habib. He is missing since the incident. On the left is Corporal Tofayel, who was sacked and died later.
I joined the Pakistan Air Force and later in 1973 was repatriated to Bangladesh. (Corporal Khairul Anwar, convicted to 8 years rigorous imprisonment following the 1977 incident.) I was stationed in Base Jahurul Huq, which is in Chittagong. It was my principal area of posting. There I worked till April 1977. Thereafter I was transferred to BAF Base Bashar. At the end of September 1977 a Japanese aircraft was hijacked by guerillas of the Japanese Red Army. Our tragedy started from there. For five days there was exchange of prisoners. On 1st October when the exchange was completed we returned to our barracks and went to sleep at around 11:30 after seeing it on TV. At around 3:30 or 4 (a.m.) we heard the crack of intense gunfire from inside the cantonment. Our barracks were in Kurmitola. We went out from the mess and heard some people speaking in abusive language. We were trying to identify them but most of them were wearing black uniform and black caps. They were repeatedly asking us to come out of the barracks and they were using very filthy language. We could not make up our minds. Meanwhile, one of those wearing black dresses entered my room and hit me with his rifle's butt. He told me to get out of my room as a revolution had occurred. I was scared for my life and I thought my only duty was to save it. So I followed his instructions. I came out and got on a vehicle, which was parked in front. The vehicle started moving for an unknown destination. These vehicles belonged to the Air Force MP (military police) squadron.
They were trucks, 56-seaters and coaches. The Army Signal unit was located nearby. They watched the attack on our camp, which we came to know later. Our camp was totally unprotected. The MP's (military police) on guard were obstructing the Army personnel and repeatedly talking to the Air Chief, Air Vice-Marshal A.G. Mahmud, on the telephone about what to do.
They were saying that some unidentified Army personnel were trying to get into the barracks saying that a revolution has occurred and were asking us to join them. He replied, do whatever you think is good, and don't bother me. I'm very busy with some work of high national importance. So we got up on the vehicles and were dropped off near the old airport at Tejgaon, where there was another base, Base Bashar. I was ill. On 1st October I had reported sick. The next day, on 2nd October I was to go to the medical squadron for stomach pains. So I came to Kurmitola where these was an empty cafeteria. I sat behind the canteen. There was an armoury beside the cafeteria --- the Base armoury. They broke the Base armoury and took some weapons. They told me to join them but I told them I was sick and consequently unable to move. I was just waiting to find out a way to go to the barracks. In this situation, a person came and told me that some officers had been killed inside the airport. The people moving around seamed chaotic, nothing organized. But I saw, our Sergeant Afsar, very busy. There were some people with him, those whom we had always seen with him at Kurmitola camp. They were very busy along with some Army personnel.
Later we saw Group Captain Azam and a few other officers lined up to be shot. The mutineers were being instructed by Afsar. At this point, when the guns were cocked Corporal Azad, also of our Air Force, who hailed from Barisal, came between them and said, kill me before you kill them. Because you know this upsurge is no upsurge this is only a conspiracy. You are being used to kill each other. You should spare them, or at best, you can take them as hostages -- so that you can bargain, later. This statement was somewhat acceptable to Afsar, he then put them on an open truck. I asked, where were they being taken? I was told they would go to Kurmitola camp. So I scampered onto the truck to go to Kurmitola. The officers were put in front. I, along with some other airmen, was behind. The truck passed through the Army Signals' Unit and dropped us in front of the Kurmitola camp. They were taken to some other place. I went to the mess, had breakfast, and returned to the camp. On return, I asked my friends, what is going on? But everybody had the same question: Who had organized this? Nobody had any answer. Corporal AB Siddiq, a highly educated man, who had passed from the university and later done his LL.B. -- a very educated man-- we sought his council. We asked him - what will happen? He said, it is a kind of mutiny and these people will be tried. Those involved directly will be awarded capital punishment and those who are not, may lose their jobs. Those who were directly involved escaped and those who were not stayed back. They thought, what will happen, at best we will lose our jobs. So we stayed back. On 2nd October, we were called to the Kurmitola play ground, at around 10 or 11 in the morning. Living in and leaving out -- all airmen. It was raining heavily. About an hour later, the Air Chief, AG Mahmud, came escorted by some Army personnel. He started off by calling us bastards and he continued in the same vein for an hour. Of the 11 officers who were killed, one was his brother-in-law, so there was a very special reason for his anger. He also said, you have killed 11 persons, so 1100 of you, will perish.  He said this clearly to us and said do not try to go out of the camp, if you do so, you will be killed, as you are surrounded on all sides by the Army.
He handed over the entire Air Force to the Army. The Kurmitola camp was given to one Naeb Subedar (Sergeant Major). We were under his orders. We saw in front of our camp, a tank and field guns, directed at us and the soldiers were looking at us with great hatred and suspicion. They had reports that we had a good number of weapons and could react, anytime. After a few days, when they saw that we were just going to the mess and returning to our houses, spending time singing, they were surprised. One night they checked all our barracks to find out whether we had secretly stowed some weapons, outside the barracks. Then they went inside and they did not find any weapons there, either. After that they used to call us every morning and take us to a playground in front of the Kurmitola cafeteria and make us sit there the whole day. They used to return us to camp in the evening. Then they resorted to subversion. They made us spy on each other. One person would be called and promised freedom in exchange of a frank confession. Some made confessions.  Others did not. This did not work very well. Then they started issuing slips. They would mention a name like Anwar and all Anwars -- Anwarul Islam, Anwar Ahmed, et at., all would be hauled up and taken away. On the fifth day, they took me, along with five others to what is now the parliament complex community center. They stuffed 30/40 people in a 10x10 feet room and locked us up. We were told not to converse or move. We started spending days like that there. At meal time, people would be taken away and we would hear their cries from physical torture and this would scare us and we would not be able to take our meals. We spent 20 days there. After that, apart from 125 airmen, the rest were 'honorably acquitted." As for the others, investigations went on to find, whether they were really involved. We left the place in four Air Force 56-seaters. Before we went to Kurmitola, we were taken to a place near the prime minister's office, where there is an air force provost squadron office. There we were locked in the buses. We spent the whole day there and in the evening the vehicle started moving and we ended up in the Dhaka Central Jail. There our clothes were changed for white dresses and sent in. When we reached the buildings, we found many Airmen and Army personnel, who were already there. Some convicted, others awaiting punishment. Those who had been convicted were unidentifiable. They were tortured so severely that their faces were distorted. They could not move. I recalled one of them, Corporal Azam; he had completed Honors in English. The lone charge against Azam was that he had spoken in English in the martial law court. He was convicted to 2 years imprisonment. But he could not serve it out as he died on the very night he was sent to jail, as he was tortured severely.
When I went to see him at the jail hospital, there was stench coming from his body. I shouted out to take him to a proper hospital. He was taken. The next morning, we heard, he was dead. We started waiting for our turns. The nights were terrifying. At 12 o'clock the inmates would come with slips to call people. They would say, you have a visitor. How can you have a visitor at that hour?
If somebody refused to go, he would be dragged out. He would never return. He had been hanged. His visit would end there. There was Corporal Akbar, who was sentenced to two years in prison. There was another Akbar of the Army who was sentenced to death. He was playing in the "condemned cell" when his call came. He did not hear them and failed to respond. The jail people were always in a hurry so they left and came to our cell and said "Akbar." When Corporal Akbar responded, he was taken out. He repeatedly said that I have been sentenced to two years in prison and the sentence was read out at the jail gate to me, where are you taking me? But they refused to hear anything. They bathed him and took him to the gallows and put the noose around his neck. He pleaded repeatedly saying that he was not the concerned person. Finally, he said, when you are not asking me my father's name or address, at least check my number. The Airmen number is usually single digit, while those of the Army are double digit. The jailer, then asked him, what is your number? His number had six digits and he could see the difference. They could not adjust the capital punishment figures for three months.
As for me, I waited five days and then with 20 others were taken to the provost squadron where we waited two hours. Thereafter we were told to blindfold ourselves with our vests. We were in dhotis. I don't know where we were taken, as we were blindfolded, but my guess is it is a place in Ibrahimpur, where the torture center was located. The torture started. The tormentors were also Airmen. They were always drunk. They used abusive language and a variety of techniques. Electric shocks, beatings, kicks, blow--all of it was used. Blindfolded I stayed five days there. I didn't know when it was day or night. The sound of birds and the muezzin's call to prayer indicated it only. I prayed like that. They did not allow us to go for ablution.
At meal times, our hands would be untied but we did not know what we were eating. After the meal they would blindfold us again. One day I was told to sign a paper. I asked them what was written on it. I received a hard slap, which has left one of my ears, permanently dysfunctional. They said, we ask you to sign, so sign it. Nothing more. I signed and along with a few others we were sent to provost squadron 1. The 31st special tribunal was located there. The chairman of the tribunal was Squadron Leader Sabihuddin Nur Khan. He hails from Sylhet. There the mockery of a trial occurred. We were 20 or 21. Each of us were taken in for a few minutes or so and flushed out. When my turn came, I was brought in with a cloth wrapped around my body to hide the marks of torture and also my hands, which were tied. Only my blindfold was taken off. He told me, my punishment was death because of mutiny. I told him, I was not a mutineer. He asked me for witnesses, I told him there was no witness to my mutiny, either. I told him, I was new in Dhaka but he did not acknowledge it.
He wrote something and walked off. It took a little more than 3/4 minutes. Others had a minute or two. After that we were blindfolded again and taken to Dhaka Central Jail. They divided us into two groups: One went to the condemned cell, meaning, they were to be hanged. And another, that included me, was taken to what is known as building No 4. A month later, we came to know, after the dissolution of the martial law courts, that I was served with an 8 years' sentence. Possibly, it was 29th October, when we were sent back to jail after punishment and from that day to 16th December 1981 I was in prison. Many innocent people were hanged. A few examples: Corporal Arzoo was body guard of the Air Chief, took him to a safe place past the boundary wall of the old airport and said, you can go now, sir, you are safe. How could the same Arzoo be hanged? Till the last, he said, ask the chief, whether I had taken him to safety. They did not ask him.A few more narratives about torture. One day, they brought Corporal Azad. I was blindfolded but I could hear them talking about him. He was welcomed, laughingly, and then they started to beat him up from there. After a while there were no more sounds. Some of them said, he was dead. Others said, he was feigning. They beat him up again but even then there was no response. Finally, they decided, he was dead and threw away the body.
Another person, Corporal Latif, was brought up. One could identify Latif from his voice. He was tortured, too, stark naked. Most of us had only underwears on. After beating, them, they pushed a mango stick through his anus, and twisted it, with a great shout Latif collapsed, dead.In 1977 Ziaur Rahman organized a referendum. He got a firm 'no' from the Kurmitola camp, as the voters were all Airmen -- all very highly educated.  They did not want Army rule. I want a proper investigation into the incidents of 1977. Nobody believes me because I'm a jailbird. We've no other desire. 
 In 1970 my elder brother, Mohammad Wadud, joined the Pakistan Air Force. He left for Pakistan and his number is 440694. He returned from Pakistan after liberation. He was only 26. He was single. On 14th August we saw a prospective bride for him. My eldest sister lived in a rented house in Nakhalpara, Dhaka. The house belonged to one Mr. Sujayetullah On 1st October 1977, talks were finalized, about my brother's marriage. He went out for shopping and showed the wares to our sister. He stayed up to 8:30 or 9 p.m. After that he left the house. This was to be his last journey from his dear ones. He could not return to his dear ones, ever again. After that, we do not know anything about his whereabouts, officially. As far as we know, since then 2700 Airmen are missing. I had personally written to the government, asking them to inform us about his whereabouts. I never received a reply from the president or chief martial law administrator. I had also written to the air chief but didn't get any reply. 5/6 months later we received a short note that said, Abdul Wadud, number 440694, is missing since October 2 1977. There was no explanation about why or how, he was missing. Or the reasons, thereof. I've a right to know where my brother is, where my father is. My brother was not an ordinary person. He was an Airman. He is under government supervision. He holds a government job. If the government doesn't know, how will we know? We asked the government and did not get a reply. (Advocate Dewan Abdur Rahim, brother of missing Corporal Abdul Wadud). He worked under government supervision, there must be a cause for him being 'missing.' If the government fails to answer my questions, the government will have failed to preside over its 'proper power.'
My brother came and had dinner with me. He was sick. He had shoulder pain (Mrs. Hosne Ara Begum), sister of missing Corporal Abdul Wadud). I told him to stay back but he wanted to go back because they would be showing the plane hijacking on TV. Besides, I've to go to a doctor.  How can I see a doctor, if I stay with you? At around 11 he left. He had bought some stuff for his marriage. I haven't heard from him, since. I've had no news of him. The government has not informed me. Nobody has given me any information about him.    
The writer is a journalist




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