3 November 1975 – The assassination of our leaders

Anwar A. Khan
Thursday, November 9th, 2017

The four national leaders who were killed inside Dhaka Central Jail on November 3, 1975.


We experienced major losses to deadly assassins in the twentieth century. If we explore history milestones and events that shaped our country’s history, we find that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the supremo of our national struggle for creating Bangladesh and his true and competent lieutenants were four national leaders of the country: Tajuddin Ahmad, Syed Nazrul Islam, A H M Kamaruzzaman and M Mansur Ali. These patriotic leaders were brutally killed in the Dhaka Central Jail in the wee hours of November 3, 1975. A ‘hunter-killer’ squad was formed by Khandakar Mushtaq Ahmed to achieve his killing mission. He was a hunter hawk and had that look, that he was a smooth operator. He, calmly sitting on a swivel chair, lorded over the gruesome scene of murders in a room filled with killer soldiers and that brought an end to the lives of four national leaders with gun bullets and bayonet charges. The dead bodies lied scattered inside the room. Tragic ends.  We never got one call. That’s the world we live in, and we just shake it off, and move on to the next horror story without whining like a bunch of babies. Their assassinations led to the collapse of the order in force and ushered in a black chapter in our history. They laid down their precious lives and to them, the underlying factors, nationalism and patriotism and sovereignty, remain in constant. These assassinations were acts with far-reaching repercussions and ramifications and these ghoulish happenings represented the culmination, crystallization and resolution of opposition to the henchmen’s nefarious activities to reclaim the values and spirits of our glorious Liberation War in 1971.


Robert G. Ingersoll has reminded us: “These heroes are dead. They died for liberty – they died for us. They are at rest. They sleep in the land they made free, under the flag they rendered stainless, and under the solemn pines, the sad hemlocks, the tearful willows, and the embracing vines. They sleep beneath the shadows of the clouds, careless alike of sunshine or of storm, each in the windowless Place of Rest. Earth may run red with other wars – they are at peace. In the midst of battle, in the roar of conflict, they found the serenity of death. I have one sentiment for people living and dead: cheers for the living; tears for the dead.” In fact, those fallen heroes were magnetic and charismatic figures, which led to their reputation of being great orators in line with the spirit of Bangabandhu’s philosophy to garner support from the mass people for liberation of Bangladesh from the Pakistani rulers in 1971. The four national leaders were icons of the battle for Bangladesh’s independence from the Pakistani rulers, democracy for the country, and stand with patriotic spirits who have shaped the Bangladesh’s events. Their warmth, humility and simple ways endeared them to one and all. They had a special love for the country and its people. Like Bangabandhu, they taught us to dream big and made us believe that dreams can come true and establishment of Bangladesh is a burning example of this truth. They are like our teachers and mentors which are immeasurable. They will remain in our hearts. More than this, they were the finest human beings of our times. They were towering and multifaceted personalities apart from being true statesmen.


We are pained because of their brutal murder. They were the favourite political leaders whose personalities were so amiable that they were liked by each one of us. After 41 years, it is indeed difficult to believe that they are no more among us. Humanist at heart, their humility, simplicity, infectious positive spirit, who reached out to the powerful and the powerless with the same amplitude changed the contours of the desks of Cabinet of Ministers led by Bangabandhu and they deserve title of the “People’s Politicians.” Nation will always be in debt for their contributions. Their deaths have caused an irreparable loss to the nation. They discharged their responsibilities to perfection and to the admiration of all. They were rooted to the ground and were humble even when they occupied the top posts in the country. They are the most respected political leaders in Bangladesh’s history. Years of their struggles brought plenty of highs for the country. Their murders are a great loss to humanity. The enemies thought that the dust has settled to a great degree and news has died off on the case. That the party set up by those patriotic, public-spirited men, the enemies also thought that their assassination will cease to exist as a serious political force. But it was a miscalculation that recoils on its makers or for those mischievous culprits. It is proved that the names of those golden sons will live on, as will the spirit of the party organisation.


For a moment, we can remember that they had no personal stupidity, stubbornness, vanity and incompetence in leading the nation towards making Bangladesh in absence of Bangabandhu in 1971. We wish the suffering families god speed, as we have seen such a long line of the over years. And we hope we learn something from it to teach the younger folks about not making big mistakes in life. Those noble souls were not meant to be ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water.’ The truth is more prosaic. They are the golden sons and true patriots of this land for whom one can be proud of. In the history of Bangladesh, only a few people had endeared themselves to the young and old, to the poor and the rich, to the educated and the unlettered, and to the people belonging to different classes. They were Bangladesh’s favourite sons and our favourite people. According to Awami League :”3rd November is that fearsome-horrible day. ….. The few events which have ever halted Bangladesh from achieving her covetable pathways, this was one such incidents happened in this very day on 1975.” For us a very sad day is 3rd November. Those slain heroes of our independence struggle were symbols of Independence, even today; they are still hailed as heroes and Banmgladesh’s principal founding pillars. They had represented a revolutionary time, with the dignity and self-respect to stand up and fight to win equality for all oppressed people; while also being an outstanding role model, someone who sought to bring about positive social services; something they would take to new heights. If you ever wondered who were the movers and shakers, both past and present, of Bangladesh’s independence, and then we all should salute them.


Jail Killing Day on 3rd November, 1975 is a black spot on the history of our nation. The four Liberation War heroes were killed in captivity by some Army officers under the leadership of a ruffian and sang-froid Mustaq. Former President Zillur Rahman said, “The anti-liberation forces killed the four national leaders on November 3 after they had killed Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on August 15 in 1975.”  “The day has been a black episode for the nation,” he further added. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, “November 3 is a black day in the history of humanity and democracy. The conspirators killed the national leaders to delete the name of Awami League from Bangladesh and create a vacuum in the leadership of Bangalees.”


Though long 41 years have passed, the family members of the assassinated national leaders are yet to get justice as the case is pending in the Supreme Court following government’s appeal against a High Court verdict on the case. Noted journalist Syed Badrul Ahsan has correctly spelt out in his article: “15 AUGUST–7 NOVEMBER 1975”- ”It was a bizarre moment for the country, medieval in its dark dimensions. The war that was won in 1971 would, in effect, be lost through the murders of 1975.” It is also relevant to remember what Rowshan Akhter, daughter of slain liberation war hero Kamruzzaman has said : “If you consider the High Court verdict where it upheld the death sentence of only one person and acquitted the rest, the question that comes is how one single person can carry out such a huge conspiracy. The judgment is not even a farce; it is a shame for the entire country.”


Their death is truly a loss to mankind which sorely needs the living light of those ideals of love and tolerance for which they strove and died. In our hour of deep sorrow Bangladesh is proud to have given to the world men of their imperishable renown and we are confident that their example will be a source of inspiration and strength in the fulfilment of their destiny… Bangladesh, indeed the world, will not see the like of them again, perhaps, for centuries. Dr. Rupak Bhattacharjee has aptly said : “The brutal killing of four nationalist leaders in captivity constitutes one of the darkest chapters of Bangladesh’s turbulent political history.”Jail Killing Day is one of the darkest episodes of our nation. The nation lost few of the best of our leaders on that day. Yet after all these years, we still haven’t done anything to bring the culprits to justice. Shame on us.” Their death is also world loss. They were great and noble leaders. The utmost we can do now is to try and carry on and live up to the principles which they taught us. Our one consolation in this hour of unparalleled grief is that their lives of truth, tolerance and love towards their fellows may inspire our country to save itself by following their noble examples. My heart is so full that I am unable to find words. They exceptionally personified the Princes of Love and Patriotism whose loss affects all humanity.


Their lives ended in assassination. They are dead; but they live in each patriot’s breast. We remember them with saddened heart. “Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, and no future” Elie Wiesel has correctly pointed out.  I hope the fighting spirit of heroism which was inscribed by the four national fighters and heroes who have fallen before us continues flowing on earth of Bangladesh. And I hope that my blood has also inherited the fighting spirit, so I can only say: I am proud of my Bangladesh; and I am proud of my national liberation war heroes, living and dead.  I wish to quote a few lines from Moina Michael’s poem:


“We cherish too, the Poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies.”


It is not the time to speak as it is an occasion of mourning. Let us weep. Let the nation weep and wipe off from its soul the stain of the innocent blood of the greatest men the world has ever produced. We must follow the path shown by them. They were born in Bangladesh with a specific mission, either to do or die. They did a lot and in the end they laid down their lives for what they wished to do. Let us now accomplish the sacred task that has been left undone by them. Let us learn from the lips of death the lessons of life. Let us live truly while we live, live for what is true and good and lasting. And let the memory of our dead help us to do this. For, they are not wholly separated from us, if we remain loyal to them. In spirit they are with us. And we may think of them as silent, invisible, but real presences in our households.




August 15:

A bloody coup d’etat leads to the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and most of his family members, minister Abdur Rab Serniabat and his family, Sheikh Fazlul Haq Moni and his wife.


Khondkar Moshtaque Ahmed, commerce minister in Bangabandhu’s cabinet and the man behind the conspiracy, is installed as President by the assassin-majors and colonels.


August 22:

The usurper regime places Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmad, A.H.M. Quamruzzaman and M. Mansur Ali under arrest.


August 24:

Major General Ziaur Rahman is appointed army chief of staff in succession to Major General K.M. Shafiullah.


September 26:

The regime decrees an indemnity ordinance which prevents any questioning in any court of law of the killings of August 15. The ordinance would subsequently be made part of the fifth amendment to the Constitution by the Zia regime.


November 3:

Brigadier Khaled Musharraf, together with Col Khondokar Najmul Huda, Col Shafaat Jamil and Major A.T.M. Haider, launches a coup d’etat, forcing the assassins of Bangabandhu into exile in Bangkok. General Ziaur Rahman is placed under house arrest;


Prior to leaving the country, the assassins enter Dhaka Central Jail in the nocturnal hours and murder the four imprisoned national leaders;


Khaled Musharraf is promoted to the rank of major general and takes over as the new chief of army staff.


November 6:

Khondokar Moshtaque is removed from the presidency and replaced by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Abu Sadat Mohammad Sayem.


November 7:

Musharraf’s coup collapses as troops loyal to General Zia and Col Abu Taher converge on Dhaka cantonment. Musharraf, Huda and Haider are murdered in cold blood. Zia retakes charge as army chief of staff.

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