Spending some time in Dhaka central jail
I stepped into Dhaka Central Jail on 25th of Baisakh, 1417. I reached the main gate of the jail after taking the road from Chankharpool. During the 1970 elections, I often used to visit this part of town, going from house to house, campaigning on fatherâs behalf. In 1954 our family had moved to Dhaka and from that year onwards we used to take this route regularly. I would come to visit father in jail along with Kamal and little Jamal. I would hold on to my motherâs hand as we entered the prison. We were allowed to visit him twice a month. This wasnât the first time that father had been jailed. In 1948 he was incarcerated on quite a few occasions. From 1948 to 1952 he had to spend three whole years in prison without a break. Later, he would be put behind bars again in 1958, 1962, 1964, 1966, and 1971.
I was entering that same prison once more. We reached the gate. The door was opened for us. The car went in. Begum Sajeda Chowdhury was with me in the car. We got down. The inspector general of prison welcomed us. The jail superintendent, the jailer and other officials were also present. Our home minister, Sahara Khatun, the home secretary and some other people were there too.
I kept thinking of Rehana. I was supposed to have brought her along with me. I had thought up the idea of the two of us visiting the jail together. I was feeling depressed at the thought of coming here today without her. The place we had got down from the car was where father used to walk on his way from the cell. We would look for him on the walkway eagerly as he came towards us. Today I was walking on that very road!
A platform had been built there. We put some flowers on it. A sculpture of my father by Shamim Sikder had been set up on a pillar there. There are six pillars in this structure and the sculpture was placed on the one in the middle. The rest had water spouting up from them. It gave the impression of an overflowing fountain.
The platform was canopied by a mango tree. Yellow birds would light on this tree once upon a time. The chirping of the birds would make up for the feeling of loneliness one would feel in prison. They were companions of men who had to lead solitary lives. We went to see the house where father had been incarcerated. It was a building with a tin roof. It had very small windows. It was surrounded by high walls. Those walls would even block the wind blowing freely outside. There was a bed insideâvery small both in terms of length and breadth. My father was six feet tall and so I wondered how he managed to sleep on that small bed day after day. The room had a small table and next to it was a wooden chair. We could also see some small cooking utensils and a tea cup. A few other things had been kept on the table. A wall next to it had a sign saying âPharmacyâ. I went there and saw a hole inside, presumably meant to be the lavatory. Next to it was a space, probably for performing ablutions. A little further away was the place for taking a bath. There was a cistern to store water for that purpose. Next to it was the kitchen of the unit. In it was an oven made of clay raised on a stand, which you would have to operate with firewood. I could not hold back my tears when I came to this place. He had to spend day after day and year after year in solitary confinement in this unit, enduring the pangs that come with loneliness. It was difficult for anyone to even conceive of such a fate. Â The sabeda fruit tree that my father had planted had now become quite big. He had also planted a kamini tree. The tree was still there. It was full in bloom. These flowers would be strewn everywhere. And the fragrance would be all over the place.
In 1966 father had been arrested because he had been spearheading the 6-point movement demanding autonomy for Bengalis. He had been imprisoned in this jailhouse yet again. One after another, cases were filed against him. In this lonely cell his only diversions were reading books and gardening. He had appealed for a tape recorder so that he could listen to music but his request was not granted. The Ayub-Monem Khan government was bent on torturing him in every possible way. At one point in 1968, he was taken away from Dhaka Central Jail. While he was in prison he was taken away from here to Dhaka cantonment and was shown re-arrested. On 19 July, they began proceedings against him in the Agartola Conspiracy case. For almost six months till the trial had started we had no news of him and knew nothing about the state of his health or where he was being confined.
Anyone visiting this jail and looking at the conditions here will be able to understand the extent of the hardship he had to endure and the way he had staked his life, suffering day after day, to carry on the struggle for the rights of Bengalis. He had loved the people of Bengal with all his heart. He had fought for the political, economic and cultural freedom of our people. He could never reconcile himself to the sufferings of our impoverished people. That is why the only thing he dreamt of was to find the path that would lead his people away from hunger and poverty. His profound love for his country inspired him to carry on. He found the strength to sustain him and overcome all adversity because his goal was to change the lot of his countrymen.
Every time we used to go to jail to visit father it would seem that we would be sadder than he was when we left him. Jamal was a small boy then and would refuse to leave father behind. Later, when Rehana would come along with us, she too would act the same way and would not at all want to leave him. Because Kamal and I were older we would not demonstrate our sadness so overtly like our younger siblings. All the fathers of our acquaintance would take their children to school, go out shopping with them, and tell stories or play with them; only we were deprived of our fatherâs love, affection and care. When Russell was a little boy nothing would induce him to leave father behind in jail. He would insist on taking father back home with him. Father would try to convince him that this was his home and he was supposed to live in it. He would say to Russell: âGo to your own house with your motherâ. But would the child ever listen to him? He would throw fits and start crying. When we came home he would keep asking mother about father. Mother used to tell him: âI am your father; call me âdadâ.
We went next to the place where our four national leaders were murdered. We walked to that place. Fatherâs close political associates Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmed, M. Monsur Ali and Qamruzaman were brutally murdered on 3 November 1975, while in captivity. This must be the first recorded instance in the history of a civilised nation of such murders of prisoners in custody by people who had forced their way inside the prison. The murderers had come inside the jail with their weapons and had killed these four leaders one after the other. Here too I placed some floral wreaths on the platform that had been built. Busts of these leaders had been erected on four pillars. These pillars had been built within a fountain. The bars of the prison rooms here still bore bullet marks. However, the marks left by the bullets that had hit the walls had been plastered over a long time back. No traces of them could be found any longer. With us were Mr. Tajuddinâs two daughters Rimi and Mimi, Mr. Mansur Aliâs son Mohammed Nasim, and Mr, Quamruzamanâs son Liton, who is the present mayor of Rajshahi city.
The father of the nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the first president of independent Bangladesh as well as the president of the Bangladesh Awami League. Syed Nazrul Islam was the vice-president of the country as well as the vice-president of the party. Mr. Tajuddin was the first prime minister of Bangladesh and the partyâs general secretary. Captain Mansur Ali and Qamruzaman were members of the central committee of the Awami League as well as ministers of the cabinet. They followed Bangabondhuâs directives and directed the war of liberation and the struggle for independence. They had taken part in every movement and endured torture and imprisonment along the way. They displayed great resourcefulness and skills in taking over the helms of the liberation struggle till victory was achieved. The assassins could never accept the victory that was the outcome of the liberation movement. That is why they systematically murdered the father of the nation, Bangobondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and almost all his family members on August 15 and these four national leaders on November 3. The hirelings of the forces that had been defeated in the liberation war tried to take revenge in this manner. The nation will hate these goons and conspirators forever.
On our way back from this part of the prison we visited the womenâs ward. Sajeda Chowdhury, Matia Chowdhury and Dipti had come with me on this visit. Many had been kept as political prisoners here. I had some of them accompany me as I visited this ward. I met the prison guards who had been on duty in the sub-jail where I had been confined earlier. We then came to the main gate. We were made to sit in the room where we would get to meet father.
I was married to Dr. M. A. Wajed on 17 November, 1967. A few days later my mother got the permission to come and visit my father here along with us. My father wove two garlands for Dr. Wajed and me from the flowers he had gathered from the prison. Those were the first garlands father would present us. This was how he handed over his daughter to her husband in this very room! And this was the place I was being made to sit again this day!
I made an announcement to the effect that 1000 prisoners would be released in an amnesty. I then went to another room after leaving this one. This was the room where we would get to meet father all the time. But it looked very different now. I found the table that I used to see in the past in our visits in the next room. It had round legs. They were still holding the table up! In our childhood we would swing our legs as we sat on that table. Jamal was an infant then and he would start playing as soon as he would be put down on the table. When Rehana came to our parents she would claim my motherâs lap. But she too had played on that table in our visits here! This was because father had been made a prisoner again and again. And then it was Russellâs turn to take over motherâs lap. He was our beloved youngest brother and he too would play on this table in time. The verandah with the tin roof at the back of this unit was in the state that we had seen it many years ago. That is where we waited eagerly for the moment father would show up. This was because we had to wait for a long time. We would often have to stand outside the jail gate. When permission was finally granted, we would go inside and take our seats. Once we had sat down, they would go to fetch father. We were allowed to meet him only for half an hour. This was the maximum time permitted for our meetings. My mother would take some tea along with some snacks that she had made. Two very high ranking officials of a detective agency would be present in the visiting room. Their task was probably to report to those at the top the exchanges that took place between us.
I stayed in the prison from five in the evening to 7pm. I directed the prison authorities to serve a big dinner for all prisoners that night. The thought that was occurring to me again and again in my visit here was how much the people of Bengal loved my father. He would give up all comforts and all that could have brought him peace and embraced sorrow and hardship for only one reasonâto attain freedom and to ensure independence for the people of Bengal. Â He would never give a thought to his own life. My mother followed him all his life as if she was his shadowâshe made no demands and wanted nothing. How much of her husband would she get? Year after year he would spend in jail. And when he was outside it he would be fully involved in movements and struggles. My mother took on her shoulders all the responsibility of bringing up the children and of managing the house. She did everything she could to help him achieve the goals he had set for himself.
I kept remembering my grandparents. They would come to this prison to visit their son. My father was very fortunate to have such parents. My grandmother was a great woman. She would contribute in every possible way to everything my father did. She inspired and encouraged him since she knew her son was striving to help the people of the country. She was proud that her son was doing his best for the betterment of the impoverished people of the country. My grandparents never prevented their son from doing what he wanted to do; on the contrary, they encouraged him and assisted him. Could the man have been able to sacrifice so much and achieve as much as he did if he did not have their blessings? Certainly not! The entire family had to make sacrifices for the freedom of the people of the country and for the welfare of its people. This is why we were able to achieve freedom.
Now everyone is savouring freedom, but does everyone remember the kind of sacrifices many people made and the hardships they underwent so that we could be free?
â Translated by Professor Fakrul Alam
Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister of Bangladesh