Space For Rent

Space For Rent

Clandestine killings in the Bangladesh Army
Publish Date : 2014-01-18,  Publish Time : 20:15,  View Count : 4
Anwar Kabir
Shapla Club, Sheikh Shimul. Established: 2000. Regd. No. .... P.O. Kadamtali, Ghatail, Tangail.

This is the house of Sergeant Afsar. On 2nd October 1977 the abortive coup was said to have been led by Sergeant Afsar. The official history of the Air Force, published by the authorities, says that Sgt. Afsar had spoken over radio in support of the coup. We learnt that Sgt. Afsar had come across Col. Taher's younger brother, currently a professor in the Department of Bio-Chemistry and Molecular Biology of Dhaka University, in jail. Nobody knows why Sgt. Afsar got involved in the mutiny and what he said to his interrogators. We will now talk to his almost centurian mother, his brother, a colleague and Prof. Anwar and find out about him.Sgt. Afsar was a great son of this soil. (Sgt. Afsar Ali Khan; BD: 79113; Village: Sheikh Shimul; Post: Kadamtali, Police Station: Ghatail; District: Tangail.) We've forgotten many things. Sgt. Afsar could not join the liberation war because he was stationed in Pakistan. (Sgt. M.A. Majid; Sgt. Afsar's colleague; dismissed after the incidents of '77). As proof I can say in 1972 he fled Pakistan and came to Bangladesh through Afghanistan and India. After he joined the Bangladesh Air Force he was given the responsibility of the mess. The responsibility perpetuated and it became a part of his persona. Later, when he was promoted from corporal to sergeant, he continued in the same capacity at the sergeant's mess.
He was very politically conscious and he used to study a lot. He was three months' senior to me in the Air Force. His trade was supply assistance, mine was as G.D clerk. We had no direct contacts, at work. One day my friend, Shahabuddin, introduced me to Afsar and said that he wants to do something for the people and the country. It was a time when Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD)-National Socialist Party --- had emerged on the political scene. The party had caught the imagination of meritorious youth and most people who wanted to do something for the country. Some of us had moved away from JSD and were involved with Jatiya Ganatantrik Mukti Institution (JAGMUI) - National Democratic Liberation Institution --- which was a front organization of the Communist Party of East Bengal. Its leaders were Deben Sikder, Abul Bashar, Sirajul Hossain Khan, Mahbubullah, Kamrul Anam, et al-many of them were involved and were our leaders.
At that time, Haji Danesh was the president of JAGMUI, Enayetullah Khan was its vice president, and Sirajul Hossain Khan was its general secretary. He (Sirajul Hossain Khan) was Ershad's livestock minister, later. When we came to know that they believed in Marxism-Leninism we started going to political classes at Mahbubulallah's house or at the JAGMUI office at Motijheel, mostly on holidays. When we were in the barracks, we used to close the doors of our room and complete small meetings there. Every week I and Afsar used to go to the JAGMUI office or Mahbubullah's house and discuss political theory. It was a kind of study circle and we used to study a lot about ways and means of economic emancipation. There was nobody more competent than Afsar in the Air Force then. I remember an incident of 2nd October: a warrant officer was asked why did you join the revolution? He said, Sgt. Afsar asked me to, so I joined. They said: you are a warrant officer and you follow the direction of a sergeant?  He is your junior why did you follow his command? He answered: Sir, everybody follows his command, so I also followed him. Sgt. Afsar had only one shirt and one trouser. Even then he had no money. Whatever little he had he gave to the waiters and stewards at the mess. Somebody's sister was getting married or his parents were sick and Afsar would help out with whatever little he had. In those days airmen were very poorly paid-200/300 takas a month. He would use it for the welfare of the needy. I don't know, how much he gave to his family, possibly very little, mostly he gave to the poor, who worked at the mess. It was like religion to him. This is Sgt. Afsar's house: his ancestral abode. This is my third visit here. When I came here first, that was in 1976. We had come here to discuss about politics and our future course of action. I remember we had been invited by Afsar and we had come here at night.
Afsar was involved with JAGMUI and Communist Party of East Bengal and had educated himself in the political strategy of the party. There is controversy about his role (in 1977). Many call him a traitor. Others say he is a patriot. It is said that a betrayer is a patriot, if he succeeds. One group called him a traitor and killed him or hanged him.
In those days the relationship of the soldiers and airmen with the officers was like lord and slave. This Afsar never tolerated. The leaders of JSD and JAGMUI, many of whom are ministers now, never mentioned the name of Afsar. They did not even issue a press statement in favor of him. This is very shocking. I met him last on 1st October 1977. At noon I came to the Sergeant's Mess and Afsar gave me food. He told me one thing: yesterday, it was in Bogra, today it will be in Dhaka. I told him that it was JSD, who had done it we're not involved with them. Why should we co-operate with them? He did not say anything. Later, I came to know Corporal Altaf (of JSD) had contacts with him and they used to meet at an Army staff quarter. Later Altaf died in Tangail in a front fight. He was with the Baten group.
When the mutiny had failed and people were fleeing, friends told Afsar to flee also. But he said those who had joined the revolt in my name and at my call, many of them have been arrested, and if I flee now I will always be considered as a 'traitor' by them. That was the only reason he did not flee, which he could have, if he had wanted to. His roommates, I remember only one now, Tajul. There were 8/9 of them. All of them were killed. They were hanged. The charge against them: they were Afsar's roommates. Without any involvement in the coup, just because I was Afsar's friend, I was dismissed from the Air Force, within 24 hours. "Your services are no longer required," the order said. The leaders, whose adventurism led to Afsar's death are still around. Even after 30 years the nation should know the truth. It is a great pleasure that I could come to Afsar's house after so many years. I, former Corporal Md Monaem Khan, joined the Army in 1970. In July 1971 I came here on leave and joined the Liberation War. (Corporal Monaem Khan, colleague of Sergeant Afsar, sentenced to 2 and a 1/2 years' imprisonment in the 1977 events.) I first met Afsar Bhai sometime in 1972. He was then overall-in-charge of our mess. He used to love me like a brother. On the day of the incident, 2nd October 1977-a day before it, he had told me not to go on leave. At night, he called me and with some others, we went out. Many things happened and I was with Afsar Bhai. At the beginning, at the airport tarmac building, there was Air Chief, AG Mahmood, Group Captain Saiful Azam and Group Captain Toufiq Amir. They had been rescued by Afsar Bhai and then we came over to Kurmitola but he was arrested, meanwhile. At that time I saw many Army trucks with white flags moving around. Then I, with some of my colleagues, fled from BAF Base Bashar, through the eastern gate near Bangladesh Tobacco (Company). For two days, I was underground, in Dhaka. Then I went to the village. But when police started looking for me, I went underground for about two years.
In 1979 I was arrested from my village home by the police. I was imprisoned at No 1 BNS unit. For two years I spent time in a cell. They did not know what to do with me: whether to hang me or send me to prison. During my imprisonment I came to know a lot about Afsar Bhai: how he behaved in prison; how he was hanged; etc. Then one day, SES Admin, came for inspection and when he saw my state, informed me, I would be disposed off, shortly. I was given two years' in prison. I spent the next two years in jail and then came out. Stories about Afsar Bhai are endless. Very little was published. It was not allowed. If he had been misguided let the country know and if he had done something good for the country, let it be known, too. After the assassination of Bangabandhu in 1975 there was a lot of uncertainty in the country. Zia's greed for power only made things worse. We resisted it. There was no constitutional rule in the country then. I was deprived of all job benefits. I had to spend my life in misery for quite some time.
I am Mohammad Lutfur Rahman Khan Keya. (Younger brother of Sgt. Afsar, Sheikh Shimul, Ghatail, Tangail.) On 2nd October 1977 when there was an insurgency in the Air Force I heard of the disturbances and rushed to Dhaka. I tried to go to the Air Force mess but I was not allowed. The duty officer told me I could not go and they do not know about the whereabouts of Afsar. Then I went to the central jail but there, too, I could not trace him. I returned home and then returned to Dhaka again, two days later, but I could not get any news of my brother. In 1976 some airmen came to our house: they were 8/10 of them. They discussed about their future course of action. My brother tried to be in contact with different political parties, particularly JAGMUI. Sirajul Hossain Khan, Deben Sikder, Enayetullah Khan-were its leaders. JAGMUI was the public front and Communist Party of East Bengal was its mother organization, which was underground. I knew Deben Sikder, personally and also Abul Bashar. Different airmen, including officers, came here. My brother used to hold meetings with many Army personnel, also, including some majors. We do not want anything. If my brother had committed any crime he should be tried. But we do not know what his crime was or when he was hanged. We only heard that he was given capital punishment.
He used to tell us: study well, love people, particularly the poor ones. We heard from people that he had led the revolt on 2nd October and that they had captured the radio station. A month before the revolt he had been here. That was the last time I met him. I wonder why they went for the revolt. The reasons are not known to us. (Sheikh Shimul, Ghatail, Tangail) After 30 years you have come to recollect the memories of my brother, we are all very grateful to you. (Mohammad Hashmat Ali Khan, Sgt. Afsar's younger brother) I was recruited in the Army by my brother. He told me I would get the appointment letter soon. On 2nd October, my brother, went missing. I did not receive the appointment letter, then. In 1979, I got an appointment letter, and joined. Unfortunately, some airmen recognized me, as I used to go to see my brother, sometime. They told me not to talk about my brother. And if I did so, I would have to leave the training center. They used to advice me a lot. They used to tell me: whatever sorrows you have, keep it to yourself. Once the training is over, there will be no problems. I worked for 15 years. After 1 or 2 years, I disclosed my brother's identity. Many people embraced me and cried. I don't know why they cried. But evidently, it was because of my brother, Afsar. If my brother had committed any crime he should have been tried. But if someone is killed his corpse must be returned to his family. Have they really killed my brother? The Zia government did not bother to send his corpse.
We were a very poor family. My father died when we were young. As the eldest in the family, Afsar looked after us. He used to send us some money, 100 or 150 takas, every month. We heard that he used to give money to poor people.
We were 5 brothers and 3 sisters. He was younger than us. (Mrs. Hafiza Begum, sister of Sgt. Afsar, accused in the 2nd October insurrection. Sheikh Shimul, Ghatail, Tangail.) Everybody loved him. I don't know what the government did with him. I want justice for my brother. On what charges was he killed? My mother is disoriented. For a long time, she does not realize what is going on around her.
(Mrs Jaigon Nesa Bewa-Age 101. Mother of Naik Sgt. Afsar, accused in the 2nd October uprising. Sheikh Shimul, Ghatail, Tangail.) Why did the government kill my son? Where is his corpse? Why didn't the government give it to me? I want it. They could've kept him in prison. I would've gone to see him. My heart would have been in peace if I had seen his corpse. I could not see his corpse.
About the uprising of 2nd October 1977. (Prof. Dr. Anwar Hossain, a prisoner in 1977. Younger brother of Col. Taher. Currently chairman, dept. of bio-chemistry and molecular biology, Dhaka University.) I was convicted in 1976 and spent the next 5 years in prison. I was in jail in 1977. It was a nightmare. Every night there would be 10/12 soldiers killed. I was kept in cell no. 20 which was just opposite the two condemned cells-8 and 6-where they keep prisoners who are to be sent to the gallows. Col. Taher was kept in the 8th cell. In the 6th cell those airmen who were condemned to death were kept, including their leader, Sgt. Afsar. When I came to know of it, I requested the jail authorities to allow me to go there. So, one day, during the day, when the cells are opened, I was taken there. I spent the whole day talking to Sgt. Afsar. In the evening I returned to my cell.
From the discussion I had with him, I could understand what happened on 2nd October 1977. I've forgotten a lot but I remember a little. He said that the 2nd October uprising was inspired by the insurrection of 7th November 1975. The 12-point charter of demands (raised on 7th November) was never met. One of the issues, he mentioned, was about salaries. There was a promise of pay hike that never materialized. This was the real reason for revolt.
He said they had contacts with senior Amry officers like (Lt- General) Mir Shawkat Ali, the 9th Div. commander. He had promised he would lead the insurrection. There was a Nayek from the Artillery. I've forgotten his name, he used to fire shells. He turned around his artillery piece at the 6th Bengal, where Zia had taken shelter. Then somebody came, saying that Mir Shawkat had joined the uprising and it was victorious. Therefore there was no need for the firing, as it would kill and harm, many. The Nayek was saying that if I had fired one more shell there would have been no need for Shawkat. The insurrection would have been successful without him. I heard such things there.
Sgt. Afsar was not scared. He was yet to be sentenced to death. But he knew it was coming. He repeatedly said that I led the insurrection so if anybody was to be hanged, it should be me. Many others who were being hanged were not involved. There were instances where people were hanged because of a mistake in names. I still remember the screams and the swearing that took place every night. They were cursing in the name of Allah that those should be punished who were slaughtering the innocent. There were others who were brave. They went there shouting slogans. We observed these incidents at that time.

Habildar Major Abdul Hai Majumder (Rtd.), a prisoner in Kushtia, 22nd East Bengal Regiment soldier.

In prison, we received news from different sources. My battalion was stationed in Bogra. I was the acting commander. One Chand Miah was the subedar major. I was the adjutant of 22nd East Bengal. He was killed along with many others. Many also lost their jobs. Their families do not know what happened to their corpses? What was their crime?
I was involved with Sector 7 (during the Liberation War). Md Ali Kamal, political prisoner in Rajshahi jail in '77, witness to the mass hangings. Ranibazar, Ghoramara, Rajshahi. After Zia came to power many political activists were thrown into prison. I was in a division (in the jail) alongwith MP, Abdul Jalil, MP from Chatmohor, Pabna, Shahbaji Bhai, Amjad Bhai from Pabna, leader of the Communist Party, Manjurul Bhai-there were many like them in detention in Rajshahi jail. When we were in prison the Bogra coup occurred. The next day we were told, some of them would be sent to Rajshahi jail. We were told that the hangman is coming and 26 people would be hanged.
At 8 o' clock the jailer alongwith a few others came to our division ward and said, I cannot request the common inmates, if you kindly cook some food for the people who will be hanged soon, I could serve them. Jalil said, Kamal you go. They will buy some food. We had a kitchen right in front of our division ward. There, we prepared some food for them by 11 p.m and fed them. Many of them were innocent. As proof I can say, by morning, we found that not all of the 26 were hanged, as day had broken. 10/11 (of that batch) survived the gallows. The next day, one of them was acquitted. The jail authorities said that a verbal or telephonic instruction was not enough to acquit a man who was given capital punishment. Only if they got a written order before the sentence was carried out, will he be acquitted. Later, that man survived. He said that he was on leave and without checking the documents he was sentenced to death. If he had been hanged on the first day, he would have been dead. The doctor there was a relative of mine. While he was writing the death certificate, he suffered a massive heart attack and died, a few days later. His name was Dr. Kabir. He was from Shibganj.

What happened to the missing soldiers of 1977, ultimately?

The graveyard where I'm standing now is the Hetem Khan graveyard in Rajshahi. It is one of the largest graveyards of Rajshahi. On 2nd October 1977, the soldiers who were missing or hanged or sent to firing squads were never seen again by their families. Their mothers may still be waiting for them. Their children may still be wondering what happened to their fathers. We found in our investigations that Armed Forces' personnel buried many people at night in the mass graveyards of Rajshahi. We can infer that they were the ill-fated men.
The writer is a journalis

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