Atrocious August: The Unseen 15th and Seen 21st

Bappy Rahman

21 August, 2018 12:00 AM printer

Atrocious August: The Unseen 15th and Seen 21st

Bappy Rahman

A prosecution witness, Mohammad Mosaddek Billah, principal of a Gazipur-based madrasa told before a court that one of the convicted Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami (Huji) leaders had described the grenades as “breakfast for Sheikh Hasina”. Hours before the attack, he went to a house and found the demonic extremists-Mufti Hannan and others taking out some round-shaped things from bags. As he enquired about those things, one of them replied that those things are prepared for Sheikh Hasina’s breakfast. “In the evening that day, I learned from people and the media that a grenade attack had been carried out on Bangabandhu Avenue and I finally realised what that breakfast really meant,” he testified.

Dear reader, I wrote the sentences above about the state-sponsored grenade attack on 21 August 2004. August is the cruellest and indeed the most tragic month. On August 15, 1975, the Father of the Nation along with most of his family members was assassinated by a section of disgruntled and ambitious army personnel. His two daughters Sheikh Hasina, now prime minister, and Sheikh Rehana escaped the bloodbath as they were abroad.

Almost exactly thirty years later, On August 21, 2004, a little before 5.30 in the evening, there was a grenade attack on Sheikh Hasina. Awami League President Sheikh Hasina had been speaking at an anti-terrorism rally on Bangabandhu Avenue. As Sheikh Hasina finished her speech, a total of thirteen grenades were thrown into the crowd from the rooftops of nearby buildings, killing at least sixteen people on the spot, later the death toll reached twenty-four. The attack left twenty four dead and more than three hundred injured. Among the dead were Sheikh Hasina’s bodyguard, Mahbubur Rahman and Awami League Women’s Affairs Secretary Ivy Rahman, who died from her injuries three days later. Grenades were being exploded in all corners at that time. It is clear that the attacks targeted Awami League president Sheikh Hasina. Political leaders and activists had built human walls surrounding Sheikh Hasina to protect her. Though Sheikh Hasina had been able to narrowly escape the death, she was injured in the attack. In order to succeed in their devious endeavour to make another bloody day in August, the consecutive thirteen grenade charges were not enough, the assassins wanted to make sure that Sheikh Hasina was not spared under any circumstances by shooting a number of shots to her car as well.

The bloodied August 21 grenade attack haunts many of the victims who survived the carnage still today. The ulterior motive of 21 August grenade attack was to impede the country’s independence, democracy, peace and the wheel of development. The target was to create a leadership vacuum in Bangladesh. The main objectives of the attack were to destroy the Liberation War spirit and give the culture of killing, conspiracy, militancy, terrorism, corruption and misrule a permanent shape. Although the heinous crime generated widespread criticisms and concerns, the then government led by BNP-Jamaat not only failed to their due role in bringing the perpetrators to book, but in fact, attempted nakedly to divert the investigation with vested interests, with allegations of evidence tampering and coaching dummy defendants. The then government had created a scope for the attackers to flee and many evidences were destroyed apart from staging ‘Joj Mia’ drama. At one stage, when Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officials prepared 'Memo of Evidence' for the permission of submitting charge-sheet into this case, involving ‘Joj Mia’ as the main accused, the then state minister for home affairs questioned the CID officials about the credibility of their investigation and stopped filing of the charge sheet and ordered for further investigation into the matter. It was later revealed through investigation that many of BNP-Jamaat alliance leaders were directly involved.

The news media reported that all the attacks had used such similar grenades as the ARGES 48, which incidentally the Bangladeshi army also uses. These grenades have been used in the Afghanistan war as well as on the Indian Parliament attack in December 2001. Besides the type of explosives, a distinctive pattern can be discerned in all the then terror attacks in Bangladesh. First, there is a commonality in the locations. The bomb attacks have always aimed at causing huge casualties by targeting crowded places like cinema halls, cultural gatherings, and especially political rallies of Awami League. Second, a common thread unites these targets - the allegation that they are by their very nature, ‘un-islamic.’ Moreover, people from different walks of life but with a common secular orientation have been targeted that time. These attacks can thus be distinguished from criminal acts of violence because of the nature of targets selected. The targeted ones have ranged from common people, to high-profile personalities such as the British High Commissioner, Awami League leaders including Sheikh Hasina. Awami League lawmakers Ahsanullah Master and former finance minister Shah AMS Kibria were murdered in Gazipur in 2004 and in Habiganj in 2005 respectively. Given the category of people being targeted, it has not gone amiss or unnoticed that neither any BNP leaders nor other alliance party leaders have ever been the targets of such attacks. Furthermore, each time a blast has occurred, it has been a common practice for the BNP to suggest that it was orchestrated by the Awami League to deliberately sully the image of Bangladesh. Likewise, even when Sheikh Hasina was attacked as a Prime Minister, opposition leader Begum Khaleda had accused the government of deliberately maligning the image of Bangladesh.

After the assassination of Bangabandhu, Sheikh Hasina was not allowed to return to Bangladesh until after she was elected to lead the Awami League in 16 February 1981 and arrived on 17 May 1981. Upon her return, she became completely dedicated to changing the country from one of violence to one dedicated to democracy. Before her interference, elections were often rigged, voting was not guaranteed or even counted properly, and the country was so volatile that those who opposed the government were often jailed, exiled, or even murdered. Through this amazingly strong woman’s dedication, Bangladesh has significantly improved becoming less violent, more democratic, and allowing more civil liberties than ever before. Women have been given a voice in politics thanks to her interest in women and children’s rights. This leader is a survivor in all senses of the word, and she continues to strive for a better life for her and her fellow Bangladeshis as current Prime Minister. But she has survived at least nineteen attempts on her life, the worst being on August 21 in 2004.

Sheikh Hasina has brought light in Bangladesh with her outstanding contribution and dedication, as she always loves common people as well as democracy. Stability has been restored in the country owing to the dynamic and charismatic leadership of Sheikh Hasina. Sheikh Hasina is really like a lighthouse for Bangladesh.

(The writer acknowledges with gratitude the different sources of information.)   


The writer is a Chinese Government PhD Fellow and Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration, Jagannath University, Dhaka