Bangladesh PM recounts horrors of family massacre, having to live secretly in Delhi

"They tried to kill me, several times", recalls Sheikh Hasina

File photo
File photo


Published: Sun 4 Sep 2022, 11:42 AM

Last updated: Sun 4 Sep 2022, 11:44 AM

On the eve of her four-day visit to India, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina revealed that she was once a secret resident of Delhi's upscale Pandara Road, where she lived with her children under an assumed identity in an attempt to escape the attention of those who assassinated her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman.

Nearly five decades later, Hasina, in a television interview with ANI, opened up about the piercing trauma that has haunted her for decades.

The massacre

Hasina recounted the fast-paced events of July 30 1975, when she had left Bangladesh to join her nuclear scientist husband in Germany. Family members had come to the airport to see Hasina and her sister off in a happy farewell; Hasina had no inkling that it would turn out to be the last time she ever saw her parents alive.

"Because my husband lived abroad, I used to live with my parents", she recounted, on one of the darkest chapters in Bangladesh's history. "Everybody was there that day: my father, mother, my three brothers, my two newly-wedded sisters-in-law — everyone. They had come to the airport to see us off. And we met father, mother. That was the last day, you know."

A fortnight later, on the morning of August 15, Hasina received devastating news. Her father, legendary statesman Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, had been killed. The horrors were compounded further when she received news of the summary execution of more members of her family.

"It was really unbelievable that a Bengali could do it. And we still didn't know how, or what had really happened. We just knew there was a coup, and that my father was assassinated, but not that all our family members were assassinated too," Hasina said, fighting back tears.

India was one of the first countries to extend help, she recalled.

"Mrs Indira Gandhi immediately sent security and shelter, as did Marshal Tito in Yugoslavia. We decided to come back to Delhi because we thought that we could go back to our country from there. And then we'd be able to know how many members of our family are still alive," the Bangladesh Prime Minister said.

Five decades later

Five decades have passed, but the pain still reflects in Hasina's voice. "It was a very difficult time," she said.

Asked if she felt that she too was a possible target, Hasina said the people who had attacked her father had also carried out attacks at the houses of other relatives, and killed some of her kin. "Almost 18 members of my family were killed", she said.

The conspirators had a clear aim: nobody from Bangabandhu's family should ever come back to power.

"My younger brother was only 10 years old, but they did not spare him either", Hasina recounted. "When we returned to Delhi, I met Prime Minister Mrs Gandhi, and she made all the arrangements for us, including a job for my husband and this Pandara Road house. We stayed there."

Having lost her parents, Hasina was forced to hide her identity. "It it is so painful to not be able to use your own name, your own identity", said Hasina. "For security reasons, they didn't let us."

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and other members of his family were killed in cold blood on August 15, 1975 by senior army officers, plunging Bangladesh into political chaos and resulting in a military regime that ran the country for a number of years, thereby suspending the democratic process.

For the next six years, till 1981, Hasina lived in Delhi under a different name and an assumed identity. However, several people back in Bangladesh wanted her to lead the Awami League party just as her father did.

"I definitely wanted to come back to my country. But taking the responsibility of such a big party is something I never thought about," she said. However, Hasina travelled to many different countries during this time and even addressed a public meeting in London's York Hall on August 16 1980, demanding punishment for her father's killers.

Through the campaign, Hasina roped in many eminent people. "On one hand we lost everybody, and on the other hand I couldn't even ask for justice. Justice was denied to me. So that was the situation that time. Then I returned to Delhi once again, towards the end of 1980 or 1981," she said.

However, by this point there was another important development in Bangladesh.

"Awami League had a conference, at which point they, in my absence, had declared me the president of the party," recalled Hasina, who eventually moved to Bangladesh and reached the top position in the country's political arena.

"They tried to kill me, several times, but I survived. Even though there was a grenade attack in broad daylight. I don't know how I survived.

Our party leaders and workers just covered me, made human shields so they received all the splinters... but I was totally safe. Then there was open fire in my meeting, which I also survived. They had placed a huge bomb in my meeting place.

Somehow it was discovered by just a simple man. So I survived. I don't know... you can ask God, Allah. Allah is helping me perhaps; maybe Allah has given me some job to do," she said.


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