Why Bangladesh commemorates 3 November as ‘Jail Killing Day’

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Why Bangladesh commemorates 3 November as ‘Jail Killing Day’

Bangladesh gained its independence from Pakistan through a brutal liberation war in 1971. The reason behind that was the pro-independence front decisively overcame a political struggle to envision an inclusive secular progressive independent country.

The progressive quarter was politically led by the Awami League organization, whereby firebrand Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, already popular as Bangabandhu (friend of Bengalis), was providing both ideological and strategic leadership for years. Mujib was accompanied by a dynamic team of companions, who combined formed the top-tier of the Awami League leadership – namely Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmad, M. Mansur Ali, and AHM Kamaruzzaman. These four politicians were instrumental in providing strategic wartime leadership.

After the unfolding of the hard-earned independence, Mujib started leading the government with aim of rebuilding the war-torn country and establishing an inclusive governance process. But the gridlock came from the quarters which has been gained from Pakistan era colonial system. These quarters are till date known as “pro-Pakistan” or “anti-liberation” forces; essentially the segment which opposed Bangladesh’s independence, who wanted a feudal theocratic regressive society.

A battle of ideology and vision

In a short period, on 15 August 1975, a group of military officers backed by the anti-liberation forces, assassinated Mujib, essentially forging a coup. Bangladesh then entered a phase of political chaos marked by coup, counter-coup and blood-bath. The pro-Pakistan forces extra-constitutionally assumed power, and launched a campaign to obliterate all the progressive values of the liberation war of 1971.

Their first step was simple: eliminate the leadership that could challenge their legitimacy. They went for the senior Awami League leaders, the four Mujib allies –  Nazrul, Tajuddin, Mansur Ali, and Kamaruzzaman. They were immediately imprisoned. On 3 November 1975, the four leaders were assassinated while in custody at Dhaka Central Jail.

The killings of Mujib along with Nazrul, Tajuddin, Mansur Ali and Kamaruzzaman crippled a new struggling country. Since then, 3 November is commemorated as the ‘Jail Killing Day’ in Bangladesh.

Pen portraits of the ‘four leaders’ of Bangladesh

Tajuddin Ahmed

Tajuddin Ahmed was an activist for Bengali language rights, a statesman and a lead-strategist of Bangladesh’s independence movement. He was Bangladesh’s prime minister of the wartime government in 1971, popularly known as Mujibnagar Government. His main role was to connect different stakeholders of the liberation war, which included the freedom fighters, humanitarian organizations and diplomatic corp. After independence, he was given the crucial portfolio of finance and planning in the new government.

Syed Nazrul Islam

Syed Nazrul Islam was a student activist during British colonial rule, thereafter became a leading politician protesting against the military regimes of the newly formed Pakistan. In 1971, he was the acting president in the wartime Mujibnagar Government. After independence of Bangladesh, he took up different key roles. He was appointed minister of industries, the deputy leader in parliament and later appointed as the vice president. He was also a member of the committee entrusted to draft the constitution of Bangladesh.

M Mansur Ali

M Mansur Ali was a grassroot politician, who also was ranked as a ‘Captain’ because of the military training he received. He was imprisoned by Pakistani military junta several times due to his political activism. He was the finance minister in the Mujibnagar Government, and played vital role in organizing the liberation war. After independence, he became the minister for communication, and then the minister for home affairs and communication in the new government. He became the prime minister in 1975.

AHM Qamaruzzaman

AHM Qamaruzzaman was a political activist and an enlisted lawyer. He played a vital role in the struggle for the independence of Bangladesh in 1971. He was the minister of relief and rehabilitation in the wartime Mujibnagar Government. He was a member of the cabinet of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman during 1972 to 1974. In 1974, he served as the president of the Awami League political party. In 1975, he became the minister of industries.

The killing site   

In 1975, there were two sprees of assassination in Bangladesh. The first was on 15 August 1975 whereby the then-president Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, along with his family members, was killed by some rogue army officers backed by the pro-Pakistan quartet.

The perpetrators and the vested group assumed power and enforced martial law after the assassination-coup. One of the political backers, Khondakar Mushtaq unconstitutionally proclaimed himself as the new president.

Mushtaq formed a new cabinet. The four senior leaders – Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmad, M Mansur Ali, and AHM Kamaruzzaman refused to join the new unconstitutional cabinet.

Within days of the 15 August assassination-coup, the four senior leaders were arrested, as political prisoners. Around midnight of 3 November 1975, assassins in black uniform stormed inside Dhaka Central Jail where Nazrul, Tajuddin, Mansur Ali and Kamaruzzaman were held. After entering the jail premises, these assassins dragged the four leaders from their cells to a room.

As soon as the leaders were brought, the assassins opened fire. Later they bayonet charged ensuring death. This was the second assassination spree.

Why the killing was a planned one

The two 1975 assassination sprees of the top political leadership ought to be seen as part of the same thread. The aim was simple: deprive Bangladesh of a progressive resilient future. After Mujib’s assassination, the plotters identified the four political leaders as legitimate threat who could reunite the progressive forces and mount a challenge.

Nazrul, Tajuddin, Mansur Ali and Kamaruzzaman stuck to their deep commitment to Bangladesh’s founding values: Bengali identity, secularism, social justice, and democracy. They straight up opposed the coup-backed illegitimate government.

The plotters believed that with the elimination of Awami League’s leadership, no one would be left to mobilize the people and organize a resistance. The killing was a very calculated act, an act of revenge on the part of the anti-liberation forces of 1971.