– SANDALS OF HATE –
On the first day of 1981, the Namaj-e-Janazas of two Bangladeshis who died in Palestine had just come to an end at the Baitul Mukarram National Mosque.
A middle-aged man rushed, sandal in right hand, and hit Ghulam Azam twice.
The first hit landed flat on Azam’s forehead, the second on the jaw.
The incident soon became part of Bangladesh’s contemporary history, one in which hatred for those who opposed its liberation remains preponderant.It became the talking point in the country’s media, mainly newspapers that dominated it then, says Khandaker Muniruzzaman, now the Acting Editor of Daily Sangbad and then a young journalist.Recently bdnews24.com contacted one of the many witnesses to the incident.“It happened in between 11am to 12pm. The janazas of two Bangladeshis who were killed in the war in Palestine were scheduled for that day. Baitul Mukarram’s south gate wasn’t built yet. The prayers took place yards away from the stairs of the mosque,” recalled the witness. “People from all walks of life attended the janazas. But two cars arrived and stopped in front of the mosque minutes before the prayers. And then Ghulam Azam stepped out from one of them.”
This was the first time Azam, who had left the country just before independence and returned in 1978, was attending a public event other than those organised by his party.
Journalist Muniruzzaman said, “This was his first public appearance after Ziaur Rahman brought him back. It was also a test of how the people would react to his presence.”
The man behind the shoe-attack on Azam shared his experience with bdnews24.com.
During the interview, the man, who had fought in the 1971 Liberation War and joined many student and labour movements, shared the tale of that day.
“Though he was available at all of his party programmes, this was the first time he was seen at a public event. This was not acceptable to anyone,” he said.
“We were shocked by the thought that this man who had fought against the independence of Bangladesh will say the prayers standing in the very same line with us. We were shocked to see him trying to mix with us in this society.”
“The janazas ended and Ghulam Azam started walking towards his car. I was 10-12 feet away from him, when i got this rush of blood. I picked up my sandal, rushed to him and hit him twice, on the forehead and in the jaw.”
“Then his acquaintances created a barrier to cover him and he drove away in the car.”
The freedom fighter said photographer Rashid Talukder, who was a staff photojournalist at Dainik Sangbad at the time, had managed to take only two pictures of the incident.
One of them was published on that newspaper the following day.
“After the incident, I started walking towards the Zero Point alone. Some people came in a car and tried to drag me into it forcibly. When I was trying to free myself, late JaSaD leader Kazi Aref Ahmed and his associates came to my rescue.”
Why did he hit Ghulam Azam with the sandal?
“Out of sheer hate. A man who opposed our independence, a traitor, whose orders led to numerous murders, how can he move freely in this country and live among us? I found this unacceptable.”
The freedom fighter said he was proud of what he did and would be happy if he is hanged now.
A former chief of Jamaat-e-Islami, arguably the largest Islamist organisation in this subcontinent, Azam is allegedly among the key people who pioneered anti-liberation efforts in 1971 colluding with the Pakistani military junta of that time.
He is widely perceived to have been among core group of right-wing supporters of the Pakistani Army, who came out strongly in support of a united Pakistan.
Ghulam Azam, then chief of Jamaat’s East Pakistan unit, was instrumental in setting up the infamous Peace Committee at the national level. The Razakars, an auxiliary force set up mainly to actively thwart the liberation forces, are said to have been mobilised through the Peace Committees across Bangladesh. Al Badr and Al-Shams were also among the most notorious vigilante militias.
Ghulam Azam’s nationality was cancelled after Bangladesh achieved independence. Trials of those who stood against independence and committed crimes against humanity started in the country. After the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family in August, 1975, they were released as the Army took over the power.
Azam stayed in London for seven years after 1971 and returned to Bangladesh in 1978 during BNP founder Ziaur Rahman’s rule. He got back his nationality following a court order in 1992.
Having led Jamaat for long, Azam retired from active politics in 1999.
Khandaker Muniruzzaman told bdnews24.com that they heard Azam was also beaten when he came to attend the janaza at the Baitul Mukarram National Mosque.
“Most of the newspapers at that time covered the news on the following day. The photo of him being beaten by sandal was published too. Different student organisations had also given media statements regarding the incident.”
The matter was also a prime issue for the column writers for some days, Muniruzzaman said.
15 July 2013