On the night that you were arrested, on the night when in fact West Pakistan was about to invade where they’d been talking with you for sometime disguising their intentions and then they invaded, now at 8 o’clock you were at home on the night you were arrested and you got a warning, I believe, by phone that the army was on the way. Why did you decide to stay and be arrested?
You see, there is a most interesting story on this point. That evening, my house was surrounded by commandos and they wanted to kill me if I came out of the house, giving the names of my own people and saying that Mujib Rahman has been killed by the extremists of Bangladesh. Then they decided to take action by telling the world that we are negotiating with Mujibur Rahman but the extremists killed Mujibur Rahman and that Yahya Khan has no alternative but to take action against that. That was their first idea. I know they are brutes, uncivilised. They will kill my whole people. They will make a massacre. I thought it is better I die and at least save my people who love me so much.
You could have gone to Calcutta perhaps.
I could have gone to any place if I was ready to go, but how I can leave my people? I am a leader of the nation. I can fight and die, but I asked my people to resist.
You were right of course because this is what in the past nine months made you such a symbol for people to believe in. They think of you now as almost a God.
I don’t say that, but I say that they love me. I love them and I wanted to save their lives. But those brutes arrested me, destroyed my house, destroyed my village home where my old parents are living. My father was 90 years of age, my mother was 80 years of age. They were living in my village house, my ancestral house in the interior of the village. They sent the army, drove my father and mother from the house and burned the house in front of them. So they had no shelter. This way they have burned everything. I thought if they get me at least they will not kill my unfortunate people. But I know, my party is sufficiently strong enough. I have organised a party and the people who are behind it will fight it out. I told them, you must fight every inch. I told them it might be my last order until and unless you get emancipation. You continue fighting.
How did they actually arrest you? It was 1:30 in the morning wasn’t it? What happened?
They machine-gunned my house first.
Where were you when they arrived?
I was sitting in my bedroom—this is my bedroom. They started machine-gunning from that side. Some machine-guns were on this side and from that side they started firing on the windows.
This was all destroyed?
All destroyed. I was with my family and a bullet entered my bedroom. My six-year old child was sleeping on the bed. My wife was here with two children.
Where did the Pakistani troops come in?
All sides and they started shooting through the window. Then I told my wife to sit here with my two children. I went out leaving my wife.
What did she say?
Not a word. I only kissed her a farewell kiss. I opened the door and came out and I told them to stop shooting. I said, “Stop shooting, I’m here. Why are you shooting, what for?” Then they started rushing from all sides, these military persons with bayonets to charge me. One officer was here. He caught hold of me like this. “Don’t kill him,” he said.
Just one officer stopped them?
Yes. Then they took me, dragged me from here and started giving me blows from the back on my legs and with the back of their guns started pushing me here and there. The officer caught me but still they were pushing and dragging me down. “Don’t drag me,” I said. “Wait, allow me to bring my pipe and tobacco or get it from my wife; I require my pipe.” Then I came up again and saw my wife standing with my two children. They brought the pipe for me and a small suitcase. I went away. I could see fire from all sides burning everywhere. They took me from here.
As you left your home at 32, Dhanmandi, did you think you would ever see it again?
I didn’t, I thought this was the last, but if I die as a leader with my head up, at least they will not be ashamed; but if I surrender to them, my nation, the people of my country cannot show their face to the world. It is better that I die keeping the prestige of my people.
You once said, ‘’You cannot kill someone who is ready to die,’’ didn’t you?
I told them that a man who is ready to die, nobody can kill him. You can kill a man physically, but can you kill a man’s soul? You can’t. It’s my faith. I’m a Mussalman and a Mussalman dies only once, not twice, I’m a human being. I love humanity. I’m a leader of this nation, and my people love me and I love them. There is nothing I expect from them now. They have given everything for me because I was ready to give everything for them. I want to make them free. I have no objection to die. I want to see them happy. I become emotional when I feel the love and affection my people gave me.
Did the Pakistanis loot everything from your house?
Yes, my whole house, even the beds, almirahs, clothes, everything. All has been taken by them. There is nothing you see.
That was not taken by the builders, but by the Pakistanis?
Yes, the Pakistani troops. I don’t mind about them having taken my almirahs, furniture, clothes, my children’s clothes, but I only mind that they have taken my life’s history. I had my diaries for 35 years of my political life. I had a wonderful library. They have taken every book of mine and some valuable documents. Everything has been taken by the Pakistan Army.
Again the question comes, once again. Why, why did they take everything?
I don’t know. They are not human beings, they are criminals, they are fanatics, inhuman, uncivilised creatures. Forget about this whole thing of mine. I don’t mind it. Think about them killing a two-year old child, a five-year old child, womenfolk. They have killed all innocent people. People who had no hearths or homes. I have shown you how they brunt the poor quarters. These were absolutely hungry people who used to live in these small places. Their homes were burning. People rushed from their homes, they couldn’t live there. They were machine-gunned from all sides and killed in thousands.
You mean they forced them out of their homes and when they came out in the open they were gunned down?
Yes, gunned down.
They didn’t know whom they were doing it to?
They just did it to anybody?
Anybody. Their idea was that everyone was a Sheikh Mujib follower, so everyone should be killed.
When you see human beings do something like that, do you feel that human beings are basically good, or does that make you feel that the human nature is basically bad?
There is good and bad everywhere. I’ve seen many human beings with human qualities, but I think the soldiers of West Pakistan are not human beings, they are worse than animals. People may have animal qualities, but people cannot be worse than animals. But these people are worse than animals, because an animal would kill a man attacking it, but not torture it. But they killed my people torturing them for 5 days, 7 days, 15 days.
What about your trial?
They made it a court-martial with five military officers and all civil officers.
What did they charge you with?
Treason, war against the Pakistan Government, against the armed forces, wanting to make Bengal independent and what not. Twelve charges out of which for six charges the punishment is hanging.
And did you have a defence?
The government was giving defence first but when I saw the situation and the position I thought, “No use defending me, because this is a mock trial. It is a farce.” Then I got up in the court and said, “Mr Judge, kindly ask the defence lawyers to go away because you know it is a camera trial. I am a civilian. I’m not a military person and they are giving me court-martial. Mr Yahya Khan is not only the President but also the Chief Martial Law Administrator. He is the confirming authority. He is the convening authority of this court.”
So at the end, you mean, he can decide anything?
He can decide anything.
Did you carry on going to the court or did you stop?
I had to. I was a prisoner.
You didn’t have much freedom of choice I suppose. Did they ever reach an official verdict?
After the court finished the proceeding of December 4, immediately Mr Yahya Khan called on all the judges, that means the Lt Colonels and Brigadiers, to Rawalpindi to dictate the judgment. There they decided to hang me.
And, indeed, I believe that you discovered that in the next cell to you they were digging a grave.
Yes, just near my cell they dug a grave. I saw that.
You knew they were doing that?
Yes, I’ve seen it with my own eyes, and I said, “I know, this is my grave perhaps. All right, I’m ready.’’
Did they say, “Yes, this is your grave’’?
No, they would not say that.
What did they say?
They said, ‘’No, no, no, no. We are making some arrangement that if we have some bombing then you can take shelter.’’
And at that moment what were your thoughts? Had you thought you were about to die all the nine months?
I knew all the nine months that any day I can die. Because they are uncivilised.
And how did you face up to that? Did you pray?
I could face it for my conviction, for my principle, for my 75 million people who love me as their brother, their father, their leader.
And when you see them digging a grave and you think of everything you will have to leave behind you, do you think of your country or, for instance, of your wife and children first?
I feel for my country and my people and then my family. I love my people more. I suffered for my people and you have seen how my people love me.
But if you were the leader of a country like Bangladesh, fighting for independence, you have to love your people first, your family second.
Yes, I love my people first. I know that a human being has to die one day, either today, tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. Therefore, every human should die like a courageous man.
And who saved you from that grave?
I think God, the Almighty God saved me.
Did the jailer move you at one point? Did he move you away when Yahya Khan came to collect you to kill you, as I read in one account?
They created a situation in the jail and mobilised some prisoners in the jail to attack me early in the morning and kill me. The officer who was in charge of me took a liking to me, I think. Perhaps he knew that Yahya Khan’s days were numbered, and at 3 o’clock at night he took me out of the jail and kept me in his bungalow for two days without any military guards. After two days, he took me from there to another deserted area in a colony. There he kept me for four, five or six days. Nobody knew where I was except some poor officers.
I wonder what has happened to them!
I don’t know. I don’t think they can do anything to them. But I wish them good luck.
And even when Yahya Khan was handing over to Mr Bhutto, I gather he again suggested that you should be hanged. Is that right?
Absolutely right. That is the most interesting story that Mr Bhutto told me. When Yahya Khan wanted to surrender power to Mr Bhutto, he said, “Mr Bhutto, I’ve created the greatest blunder of not killing Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.”
He said that?
Yes. He went on, ‘’Now, kindly allow me, before banding over power, to kill Mujibur Rahman giving anti-date, back-date-hanging now and then hand over power.” But Mr Bhutto refused.
Did Mr Bhutto tell you what he said?
What did Bhutto say?
Bhutto said that, ‘’I can’t allow it because then there will be a serious reaction. One lakh twenty thousand armed forces and civilians have been arrested in Bengal and are in the hands of allied forces of Bangladesh and Indian Army and about five or ten lakhs of non-Bengali population are in Bangladesh. If you kill Mujibur Rahman now and I take over power, not a single soul will come from Bangladesh to West Pakistan again and there will be reaction in West Pakistan and my position will be precarious.’’ I am very grateful to Mr Bhutto. There’s no doubt about that.
If you came face to face with Yahya Khan today, what would you say?
He’s a criminal. I don’t like to see his photo even. He has killed 3 million people of Bangladesh through his soldiers.
Mr Bhutto has him under house arrest. What should Mr Bhutto do, do you think?
You know what has happened in Bengal? I will tell you. Three million people have been killed, including children, women, intellectuals, peasants, workers, students. At least 25 percent to 30 percent of houses are burned and looted in Bangladesh. All the food go-downs have been destroyed.
And how do you know that the number was as high as three million?
Before my coming, my people had started collecting the information. I have messages coming from all areas where I have a base. We have not finally concluded, it might be more, but definitely it will not be less than three million.
And this was just pointless killing? They just dragged people out of their house?
Yes, these were just peaceful people living in their houses in a village. They don’t know anything of the world. The armed forces went there and started shooting them like birds.
Why, why, why?
I don’t know. I can’t understand it. It’s never happened in the world. Never in the history of the world has something like this happened.
And it was Muslims killing Muslims?
They proclaim to be Muslims. How the Muslims have killed Muslim girls. We tried to rescue thousands. Many of them are still in our camps. Their husbands have been killed, fathers have been killed. In front of the father and mother they have raped daughters, in front of the son they’ve raped the mother. You can’t think of this. I cannot stop my tears.
How these people can claim to be Mussalmans. They are worse than animals. I have a friend, one of the top leaders of my Party, Mr Mushir Rahman. He was ex-minister of the government of Bangladesh. He was killed, tortured. They tortured him for 24 days, cut one hand first, then the left hand, then his ears, then his legs. 24 days! The poor man.
And this is only one case I’m telling you. Many leaders, many workers, many intellectuals, many government officials, were taken from custody and killed after being tortured for 7 days, 10 days and then killed. This inhuman torture I have never heard of in history. Even the animal, even the tiger, will kill a man but never like this.
You can read the transcript of the full interview online on The Daily Star’s website.