Some leading lights of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party are indignant at reports of a possible shifting of the remains of General Ziaur Rahman from the Jatiyo Sangsad complex. For its part, the government says it has come by an inventory of the original design for the complex as prepared by the American architect Louis I. Kahn in the early 1960s. The obvious purpose behind the government’s acquisition of the inventory cannot be missed: it would dearly like to have the parliament complex restored to what Kahn originally intended it to be.

That of course raises the grave question of what, if the government does mean to have its way, happens to the graves in the area. And it is not just Ziaur Rahman’s grave we speak of. There are seven others — of individuals such as Justice Abdus Sattar, Moulvi Tamizuddin Khan, Abul Mansur Ahmed, Mashiur Rahman Jadu Mia, Khan Abdus Sabur, Ataur Rahman Khan and Shah Azizur Rahman. You thus have the image of a parliament complex looking almost like a cemetery, something that it ought not to have been. Louis Kahn certainly did not plan it that way when Field Marshal Ayub Khan instructed him to design the structure of a future national assembly edifice for Pakistan. The entire area was supposed to have about it a serenity which comes with democracy, though the extent of democracy in operation under the Ayub regime has been open to question. Besides, do not forget that the very first step toward slicing off an area of the parliament complex for burials of public figures commenced during the period of the Ayub regime itself. When the speaker of the national assembly, Moulvi Tamizuddin Khan, died in 1963, he became the first individual to be laid to rest in the area.

Controversy has dogged some burials in Bangladesh. In November 1975, when the four national leaders — Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmad, M.Mansoor Ali, A.H.M. Quamruzzaman — were assassinated in Dhaka central jail, the demand quickly arose that they be buried in the mausoleum housing the remains of Sher-e-Bangla A.K. Fazlul Huq, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy and Khwaja Nazimuddin. Indeed, given their stature and place in history (read the story of the Mujibnagar government here), these illustrious men should have been interred within that complex. By the time news emerged of their murder in prison, Major General Khaled Musharraf had carried out a successful coup against the Moshtaq cabal at Bangabhaban. It was expected, therefore, that he and his colleagues would quickly concede the demand for a burial of the four leaders within the mausoleum. The mystery has never been solved as to what held Musharraf back from accepting what was certainly a popular demand.

Speaking of the mausoleum housing the bones of the three men, one is even now mystified around the issue of how Khwaja Nazimuddin qualified for burial beside Huq and Suhrawardy. Nazimuddin’s politics, both in pre-partition India and post-1947 Pakistan, was at a great remove from that of Huq and Suhrawardy. In precise terms, Nazimuddin’s political record was one of identification with the feudal classes, to a point where he demonstrated not the slightest sympathy for the cause of Bengalis. His pronouncements on the language issue between 1948 and 1952 testify to his distinctly anti-Bengali politics. And yet the improbable happened when he was laid to rest beside two men who remain tall in the Bengali imagination. The truth is plain: Nazimuddin has never belonged with Huq and Suhrawardy, not in politics, not in that mausoleum.

If Khwaja Nazimuddin’s grave has raised questions, those of Shah Azizur Rahman and Khan Abdus Sabur have been reasons for scandal. These two men, notorious for their collaborationist role in 1971, were fortunate in that the military regime of General Zia went out on a limb to rehabilitate them in Bangladesh’s politics. Their luck held when they died. Who could have foreseen in the early days of a free Bangladesh that Shah Aziz and Sabur would be graced with burial within the parliament complex of the very country they had desperately tried to abort with the assistance of the Pakistan occupation army only a few years previously? The irony is all. In a broader perspective, though, not one of the seven individuals buried in the parliament complex should have been interred there. The cemetery not only mars the architectural appeal of the Jatiyo Sangsad but also does them grave disservice in death. The noise and din all around is a far cry from the respectful silence we expect to experience in a graveyard.

The matter of General Zia’s grave is important, for his mammoth mausoleum at Chandrima Udyan has taken away from the beauty of a park that ought to have been there but now is not. In the aftermath of Zia’s assassination in May 1981, acting President Abdus Sattar and army chief General Ershad did incalculable damage to the aesthetic appeal of the park when they literally forced Zia’s grave to be dug there. It is not a pretty sight anywhere in the world for a grave to suddenly rise out of an expanse of green and a lake of clear flowing water. Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, for all the emotions associated with their assassinations, were not buried in the centre of the city of Washington. Lincoln was laid to rest in Springfield, Illinois; and Kennedy found his place of eternal rest in Arlington. For that matter, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, despite his paramount place in Pakistan’s history, was not buried in a park in the centre of Karachi.

Corrective steps need to be taken where a restoration of the essential architecture of the Jatiyo Sangsad complex is concerned. In a country where too many things have gone wrong or have been made to go wrong since liberation, the danger lies in an inability or reluctance to undo such wrong. No one knows where the bones of General M.A. Manzur lie buried. General Khaled Musharraf’s resting place is not known to citizens.

And surely the biggest tragedy for Bangladesh’s people is that a bunch of conspirators and murderers, in the false belief that the nation would turn its back on its founding father, quickly and nervously had Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman buried in his village Tungipara. That grave remains a shining instance of patriotic glory. With tens of thousands of people praying for the Father of the Nation at his grave the livelong year, the place has assumed the quality of a shrine — which only goes to prove that a grave deep in rural surroundings will draw the multitudes into paying homage to the one resting in it for all time, while one imposed on an urban populace in the centre of a city can cause not a little irritation.

If the graves in the Jatiyo Sangsad complex need to be relocated in the larger interest of a restoration of the aesthetic charm and architectural grandeur of the place, let the job be done. That will not detract from the respect for the dead which is part of our cultural and religious ethos. Let our parks and lakes and meadows not be converted, for narrow political and partisan purposes, into cemeteries.

Syed Badrul Ahsanis a columnist.

15 Responses to “A grave issue…”

  1. Jaffar Badauni

    “Bangladesh would have been far ahead a long time ago”? Clearly you don’t remember that Sheikh Mujib created essentially a one party system and shut down any newspapers critical of his government. His failed socialist economic experiments and mismanagement also created a famine in Bangladesh (Bangladesh Famine of 1974) in which 1.5 million people died. Sheikh Mujib gave us independence, but he was a terrible administrator. The truth is evident in the following: When Sheikh Mujib was assasinated, people were distributing sweets in the streets of Dhaka out of relief, when Zia was assasinated his funeral was one of the largest gatherings for a funeral in the world at that time. Why do you think BNP won the 1991 election after Ershad was deposed and not the Awamj League?

  2. Sukhamaya Bain

    I think the author of this article as well as some of the readers who expressed their opinion here have focused on the wrong things.

    It should not be really a matter of what Louis Kahn or Ayub Khan had in mind when the plan for the compound was drawn. It should be a matter of the respectability of the intuition, the parliament, that the compound has housed and would continue to house for at least decades to come. Thus, keeping or removing the graves should be a matter of the respectability of the parliament vs those of the individuals buried there.

    As for the grave of the Bangabandhu, the brutes that killed him actually unintentionally did a good thing by burying him next to the graves of his parents in Tungipara. For a truly respectable human mind, there is no better place to desire for being buried after death. The grave of the Bangabandhu in Tungipara has a great deal of serenity and magnanimity; and the nation should continue to maintain and improve that. Dhaka-based symbols to honor him can be done separately and without moving his grave from Tungipara.

  3. Khan

    I do not find any pain that these Pakistani lovers rest in a place created by Auyb Khan. I feel pain for BB lying outside the focus area. His grave should be moved in a beautiful area in Dhaka built by Bangla Desh and people who were his right and left hand should be buried in his left and right. If it is not possible then a giant statue of BB should be erected in Dhaka so that people can show their love and prayers for him. It can only be done in Hasinas period .

  4. Anwar A. Khan

    The author of this article has presented the truths only. I think the graveyards of those shyster politicians should be removed from the compound of our National Parliament to protect its architectural marvel and its beauteous landscape.

    The black-speckled Zia was a stage-managed hero by his wicked cronies. He usurped power forcefully driving away President Justice Sayeem from Banga Bhaban. I still remember what Sayeem said about how Zia slighted him when some of our friends (including me) met him after he was thrown out of Banga Bhaban. Zia’s skullduggeries knew no bounds. He was a stooge at the hands of the anti-liberation killer and criminal forces; he humiliated our national flag, our glorious liberation war, the country-Bangladesh, the supreme sacrifices of our 3 million of people, the spirit of our independence war and what not. He was a villain of the third rater. His place should be in the outfall at a far-off grime place.

    I thank Mr. Syed Badrul Ahsan very much for writing this piece

  5. M .R. Khan

    Today or tomorrow capital of bangladesh got to be shifted from present location dhaka poluted over populated serious traffic condition and safety concern to foreign nationals missions .local admintration moving slow as well .So if capital moved to madhupur bikrampur or faridpur then no point to remove the graves from sangsad bhaban area sale property to developers and build new modern city for capital axisting buildings give to suhrawardi hospital

  6. Sukhamaya Bain

    For the sanctity of the parliament complex, all the graves should be removed from there, as none of the individuals currently buried there were respectable enough. It is an absolute shame for Bangladesh that the graves of Shah Azizur Rahman and Khan Abdus Sabur are there. In spite of the politics of Bangladesh that elevates Ziaur Rahman to where he does not belong, Zia actually deserved a court martial in 1975 for his role in the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family. He also deserves to be in the dustbin of the history of Bangladesh for rehabilitating and empowering people who were not only against Bangladesh, but also supported and participated in heinous crimes against humanity on unarmed civilians of the nation in 1971. Zia’s grave in the national parliament complex of Bangladesh is a disgrace to that nation.

    • M.R.Khan

      wise thinking should be shift capital of bangladesh to another loation in a newly build modern city leave the present capital area to developers get money from sel to build new city

  7. Rubo

    The complete design at the Sher-e-Bangla Nagar by Louis Kahn is an architectural master piece and regarded very highly all over the world. If the Government decides to go ahead with the original plan they should remove all the graves from that area and re-bury them in places they deserve and according to their stature and contribution in
    our glorious history.

  8. Zafar

    Dear Badrul
    I agree with your, though it seems biased, 5 word judgement “let the job be done”
    While I was reading line by line, I was drawing a conclusion in my mind that you will come up with a demand,instead, that let the remains of our beloved Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman be given place in the parliament area so that the majority of elites, dignatories, persanolities can pay homage with high profile. I think you are also one of the deprived person who are not being able to pay respect to our beloved Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
    I hope this demand will be raised by all through you.

  9. golam arshad

    My distinguish brother Syed Badrul Ahsan: Touching primacy In “Grave Issue”.. in turn I recall, Alexander Pope’s profoundly sparkling poem, “Solitude” AND. ..”Thus let me LIVE, unseen, unknown; Thus unlamented let me die ; Steal from the World, and not a stone Tell where I lie. ” Gone to Grave, here, where and there, never mulls a HERO! And we all know,Heroes Lives for ever! Good job! Missed you at EDAS!

  10. Jaffar Badauni

    This article nothing but a nasty attack on General Ziaur Rahman and Khawaja Nazimuddin. Without Zia Bangladesh would not have market economics, a multiparty democracy, and would have been allied with socialist and communist countries during the cold war. Without Zia, Bangladesh would have resembled Myanmar or some African country now. Also, don’t forget that without Khawaja Nazimuddin’s family’s we wouldn’t have parts Dhaka University, a modern sewage system, Ramna park and other public amenities that were donated by or funded by his family. Bangladeshis need to stop focusing at the past, worrying about moving graves, and who is buried where, and focus on the future.

    • sundar

      and I must say without you Mr.Badauni our future would go unfocused. you can also rest assured that the nation will comply with your suggestion and none will bother where you are buried or not buried at all.

      • Jaffar Badauni

        Thanks for the thought, it is much appreciated. Although, please note that I will be buried, with much pomp, in a foreign country (US) where rule of law and freedom or speach are the norm and not in my native Bangladesh where the vast majority of people are struggling to make a loving and secure a future for their children while politicians and psuedo intellectuals talk about moving graves.

    • June Monir

      Mr Badauni I think you will also say Bangladesh should build a mausoleum of Mr Jinnah because without him Pakidtan would not have been created thereby east Pakistan and hence Bangkadesh! And America should have used its 7th fleet to stop Bangladesh liberation and save it for market economy! Such a twisted arguments! If Zia and Ershad was not taking power and running Bangladesh for such long time, Bangladesh would have been far better a long time ago. This government is raking us far ahead! So please let us not talk about murder Zia! Let us move his grave! He doesn’t belong there.

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