Space For Rent

Space For Rent

Clandestine killings in the Bangladesh Army
Publish Date : 2014-01-19,  Publish Time : 19:29,  View Count : 8
Anwar Kabir
Across this area there were many mass graves. Eye-witnesses recall those horrific days. There were no other major incidents then. The people of Rajshahi whispered about it, as they seethed in suppressed anger, but they never dared to talk about it publicly. We found Mohammad Selim, an eye-witness of those times. We also found Mr. Abul Hossain, a senior journalist. They will tell you about those terrible times. We hope that there will be a neutral investigation to find out who are lying here. There are other graveyards in Rajshahi, too, where we will go later.
Abut Hossain Fakir, journalist, eye-witness to the mass graves of 1977, Hetem Khan Graveyard, Rajshahi.
I was a staff reporter with the Dainik Barta, then. Early in the day, we got wind of the planned mass-hangings in Rajshahi jail later that night. Naturally, we were tense. As the night progressed, we kept our vigil. We heard that the corpses would not be returned to their families so I was curious to find out where they would be buried. Army personnel came to this place and dug a hole and stacked the bodies, one on top of the other. We do not know their crime. But the corpses were not returned to their families. We do not know, whether they were Hindus or Muslims. None of the corpses had a janaza. I will not call it a grave. It is a mass-grave where they were dumped. Every time I come here, I feel sad. My heart becomes heavy.
In 1977 when Zia came to power Army personnel were buried here. They dug the graves in the day time and buried them at night.
---What was your profession then?
----I was a goldsmith.
---Where do you live?
----How long have you known this graveyard? From childhood?
- Yes
---- Did you come here, before?
--- Yes, many times. We used to play here.
--- You must have seen what happened in 1977.
--- Yes. At night we had come out of our houses to have some palm juice. One of our friends, who is dead now, he was on the tree; we were on the ground, below. We saw an Army truck coming. We hid ourselves. Our friend was on the tree. We saw then carrying corpses in cots and throwing them inside the graves.
--- Did they have coffin cloth on them?
--- No. They were wearing Army uniforms.
--- And the people who carried the corpses? Were they wearing Army uniform, too?
--- Yes.
--- How many people were buried?
--- 200/250.
--- In how many days?
--- 2/3 days. Not many days.
--- How many were buried every day?
---We saw one vehicle. I don't know if there were others.
---Was it a jeep?
---No. It was a big vehicle.
---What makes you think they were Army personnel?
--- They were in uniform.
--- How long did they spend here?
--- 2/3 hours.
--- They left by the same vehicle?
--- Yes.
--- Did they come again?
--- May be.
--- In the day time? Were there any guards?
---No, but there were policemen around.
--What about common people who came here. Didn't they see it?
--No. They saw but they could not understand. Because at that time, villagers were not buried here. Only 'unclaimed' corpses were buried here. So people were scared to come here.
--So you saw Army personnel being buried amidst unclaimed corpses. They were in uniform.
--What did you see? Was there any blood?
-Yes. We saw blood on the roads. When they were unloaded from the vehicle.
- They were not bathed or prayed for?
- No.
- They put bamboo spikes and dumped the corpses.
- How many in each grave?
- Two or three.
- How many graves were there?
- 200/250. On this side. There and there.
It used to happen late at night. Vehicles used to come-trucks. (Marzina Hasan. Eye-witness to the '77 mass graves. Resident of Hetem Khan neighborhood, Rajshahi.) They used to dump 3-4 people in each grave. They did not allow people to go out there. They used to say-go inside-don't come out. Not one day. This happened, day after day. We know this was happening. But we couldn't talk about it.
- What kind of vehicle?
- Army vehicle. Trucks. Convoy of trucks.
- How many of them?
- A driver and five or seven persons. Everybody knows.

Gravedigger. I found handcuffs a number of times-when I went to dig the grave. (Sopura Stadium Graveyard, Rajshahi)

I'm a freedom fighter. (Mahtabuddin, Editor, the Weekly Gonokabar. Eye-witness to the '77 mass graves. Chairman, Rajshahi Liberation War Research Center; Shopura Stadium Graveyard, Rajshahi.) Many of the Armed Forces' personnel who were hanged following the upsurge in October 1977 were buried in different graveyards of Rajshahi, following their execution in prison. Before they were executed the grapevine had it that there were many prisoners in jail and they will be executed. It was surprising, as there was martial law and curfew throughout the night. There was discontent but no public expression of it. There are many graveyards in Rajshahi: Mohesbhathan, Gourhanga, Hetem Khan, Sophura, Tikapare, etc. They were buried there.
I've seen some of them. Hetem Khan is one of them. There is a mass grave there. There were incidents of hanging for many days. Shopura graveyard was also a mass grave site. There was a pond here. Around it there were many mass graves, particularly on the West. Local people confirmed that these were mass graves of Army personnel. And I had seen the mass graves of Tikapara.
Many knew about it but were afraid to talk about it. People saw it but did not dare to speak about it, publicly.
The Shopura graveyard is an old graveyard but people rarely used it. It was kind of abandoned. Because there were few people around and considering its proximity to the Army headquarters, it was chosen for burying huge number of dead soldiers. Dumping really, 3/4 or 5 bodies dumped inside one grave. It was reported that people discovered handcuffs on skeletons, even whiskey bottles, while digging. Gourhanga Graveyard, Rajshahi, My name is Jamshed Ali. I live near the graveyard. In 1977 (Eye-witness of the '77 mass graves. Gorhanga Graveyard, Rajshahi) we used to see people being dumped into mass graves. I was a student then.

(Tikapara Graveyard, Rajshahi.)
Han Ali Huq Shrine. Shantinagar (Tikapara) Rajshahi.
I'm now in Rajshahi's Tikapara Graveyard. On 30th September an abortive uprising occurred at 22nd Bengal Regiment, Bogra. Many soldiers were sent to the firing squad. Nobody knows what happened to their dead bodies. We carried out a through investigation into it and found that hundreds were dumped into four graveyards of Rajshahi. The graveyards are: Tikapara, Hetem Khan, Mohishbathan and Gorhanga. Corpses of Army personnel were buried by other Army personnel deep at night. People watched all this from a far. This was whispered in the small town of Rajshahi but nobody dared say anything loudly. We have found some eye-witnesses of the time: Khurshid Alam, Zahur Chowdhury, (Tikapara Graveyards, Rajshahi) Ward Commissioner Amjad Bangali, Alhaj Sorifudding Chowdhury- freedom fighter.
I'm Chowdhury Mohammad Khurshed Bin Alam, general secretary of the Journalists' Association of Rajshahi (Chowdhury Md Khurshid Bin Alam (Journalist), eye witness to the '77 mass graveyards, resident of the graveyard neighborhood, Tikapara Graveyard, Rajshahi,) and general secretary of the Rajshahi Press Club. In October 1977 a national football competition was being held in Rajshahi, where teams from different districts, universities and services were participating. As far as I remember, it was 18th October 1977; Dhaka University was pitted against Bangladesh Army. We came down at 10:30. A captain, who was the manager of the Army team, came there and said that the Army team would not be able to play today. We were curious to find out-why? I live near the Tikapara Graveyard's gate. I saw them preparing to participate till 9 o'clock, the night before. On hearing the news I went to the Rajshahi Press Club, where I was vice-president. When I came back, at around 12 mid-night, I saw an Army truck in front of my house. 5/6 people were guarding it. But they were wearing plain dresses. They had white shorts, white vests and white keds, on them. Then it suddenly occurred to me: Have the execution of the mutineersofd30th September and October 2 been carried out? I looked inside the graveyard and saw some people under this tree. It was not so big in those days. It was a small one. There were four people with lights wearing the same white dresses. (Tikapara Graveyard, Rajshahi). The people guarding the truck asked me-why did you stand? Where do you live? I showed them my house.
And they asked me to go inside. I went inside and changed my dress. I put on a high-heeled keds, vest and a wrapper to cover my head. I went out from the back of my house and came near the graveyard to nearly 20-25 yards (meters) of the place, where they were. They were digging graves and this continued till Fazar (early morning) Azan (call to prayers). Some people in Army uniform were carrying corpses wrapped in blankets. They were throwing the corpses in the grave. When they were throwing the bodies into the grave I counted the corpses. There were 12.When the prayer call was heard some people came out of their houses (to pray). There was some curiosity about the unusual scene and some people were standing and talking about it. The Army personnel asked them to leave. Eight of the graves were full. The others were empty.

(Zahur Hossain Chowdhury, Eye witness to the mass graves of 1977. A local resident of Tikapara Graveyard, Rajshahi) There were a series of graveyards here. Many saw them. There was no fencing around the graveyard. It was open. There were no trees, either.
Amjad Bangali, former ward commissioner; Ward no 25. Eye witness to the 1977 mass graves. Tikapara Graveyard, Rajshahi.) We used to spend our nights at the Han Ali Shrine. One night we suddenly saw some Army personnel come and dig graves here. Because we were living here for our safety we were told not to talk about it with anybody.
In 1977 among the 22nd Bengal Regiment in Bogra (Al-Haj Sharifuddin, freedom fighter; eye-witness to the mass graves of 1977. Tikapara Graveyard, Rajshahi) the mutiny or the failed mutiny made me very sad. We used to spend our nights at this shrine. There were many people including the khadem (caretaker) that night. His name was Bangali Anju. We used to discuss about religion. One night there was suddenly the heavy noise of vehicles and Bangali Anju over-ethusiastically went through the bushes and told us to wait while he checked out the scene. He then told us: it is a big thing. The Army has come. He told us not to go anywhere and remain quite. We, then, observed from a distance, bodies being dumped into graves. They stayed the whole night and left in the morning. We went there in the morning and saw the mass graves. I didn't know that my dear 22nd Bengal's men were buried here. I remember Subedar Chandh Miah, Lalu-my comrade in 1971. He fought with Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir. He was so brave that he become a legend. I do not know whether Lalu's corpse is also here. My conscience bites. I do not know where he is buried.
I was a kid then.
- What did you see?
- I saw mass-graves.
- How?
- I saw with my own eyes.
- How many were buried, here?
- Many, Many.
- Hundreds.
- Yes, hundreds of them.
-What's your name?
- Abu Baker. I was a businessman then.
- What did you see?
- In the middle of the night I saw 20/30 vehicles. People who were around -some were in plain clothes, others in uniform. Blood was falling from the stretchers they carried. They carried the stretchers into the graveyard. They were burying the corpse. Many corpses.
- They are many eye-witnesses to it. Many people had seen it. In this small district town people discussed it. But nobody knows who were buried? Who were the unfortunate soldiers? They were buried behind the monument. Nobody knows where the corpses came from? Whether it was Bogra cantonment or Rajshahi cantonment? Many believe that they came from Rajshahi jail, while others believe it came from Bogra cantonment or Bogra jail. Because so many corpses were there the topic was discussed by everybody here.
We will try to know the facts from another eye-witness.
- What's your name?
- Md Kafiluddin.
- What did you do then?
- I was going to office at 6 in the morning. I worked for the Sericulture Board.
- What was your job?
- I was working with the (farmers') associations.
- What did you see in the morning?
- I saw a crowd here. I looked inside and saw graves and graves. Four of five people in a grave. Serial graves.
- What were they discussing?
- That the Army had come and buried these people at night.
All these people had seen the mass graves themselves.
Our investigations show that the mass graves of 1977 were found in Rajshahi's Mohisbathan, Comilla's Tiker-Char; Bogra's Majhirabazar and Dhaka's Azimpur graveyard. Besides, many bodies were taken by helicopter and dumped into the sea.Nobody knows who was burried where. Whether they were involved in any crime or they were falsely implicated. Although nobody knows their identity and only an investigation commission can find out who was burried where.
The writer is a journalist.

Editor : Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury
Published by the Editor on behalf of the Observer Ltd. from Globe Printers, 24/A, New Eskaton Road, Ramna, Dhaka. Editorial, News and Commercial Offices : Aziz Bhaban (2nd floor), 93, Motijheel C/A, Dhaka-1000. Phone :9586651-58. Fax: 9586659-60, Advertisemnet: 9513663, E-mail: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]