By Gwynne Dyer
The murders happened 45 years ago, and what remains of the family has been seeking vengeance ever since. One of the killers was caught a week ago – and he was hanged at one minute past midnight on Sunday morning. Justice long delayed, but swift enough when it came.
Abdul Majed, then a young officer in the Bengal Lancers, an elite unit in the Bangladesh Army, was a member of the military team that assassinated the ‘Father of the Nation’, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in 1975.
They slaughtered almost all of his family, too: his wife, three sons (the youngest was 10), two daughters-in-law, and all the servants in the presidential mansion – twenty persons in all. Mujibur Rahman, who led the struggle for independence from Pakistan, had turned out to be a poor choice as president, but it still seemed excessive to murder almost everybody he loved too.
The only survivors of Mujib’s family were his two daughters, Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana, who were in Europe and missed the massacre. But the murderers had done what the army wanted, and they were not punished.
Indeed, for twenty years they were looked after very well. Abdul Majed was given a series of senior jobs in the civil service after he retired from the army, ending up as director of the National Savings Directorate.
And then the roof fell in. Democracy returned, and in the 1996 election the Awami League won the election. Its leader was Mujibur Rahman’s elder daughter, Sheik Hasina, who promptly became prime minister. Half the conspirators, including Abdul Majed, fled the country at once; five others were arrested and held for trial.
It was a long wait. There was a trial in 1998 in which all the murderers were found guilty. After all, they had all acknowledged their deeds, indeed boasted about them. So they were all sentenced to death.
But first there was a series of appeals, and then Sheikh Hasina lost the next election and everything stalled for a while, and then she won again in 2009. The Supreme Court confirmed the death sentences, and the five men in prison in Bangladesh were finally hanged in January 2010, thirty-five years after the crime.
But the six who were abroad, including Abdul Majed, were still safe – until a week ago, when Abdul Majed left Calcutta in India, where he had been hiding for 22 years, and returned to Bangladesh. Secretly, he may have thought, but he immediately visited his family, and there was undoubtedly somebody watching them.
He was arrested in a rickshaw in Dhaka last Tuesday (7 April). One quick appeal for presidential clemency, instantly rejected, and he was at the end of a rope by early on Sunday morning. Case closed.
Nothing can justify what the murderers did, and their decision to slaughter his entire family is incomprehensible. They were ruthless young men on the make, not far-sighted patriots, and the immediate aftermath of their crime was just a string of military dictators who did the country no favours at all. But it all ended pretty well.
The politics of Bangladesh remains turbulent and sometimes ugly, but as a country it is a success story. It is very crowded and poor in resources – Henry Kissinger once called it a ‘basket case’ – but its population is under control and it has the fastest-growing economy in Asia. Its GDP per capita has already overtaken Pakistan’s and it’s about to overtake India’s.
Not bad for a basket case.