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Following the independence of Bangladesh in 16 December 1971, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman returned to Bangladesh, via London and Delhi, with a pomp on 10 January 1972.

But this euphoria would not last long. Four years later, with the country still unable to recover from the destruction caused by Swadhinata Juddho (Liberation War) and growing discontent over Sheikh Mujib's self-appointment as President and creation of one party movement, he was massacred at his home in Dhaka along with 21 members of his family and close associates. This killing spree took part in 15 August 1975 and was allegedly carried out by ex-Mujib army officials.

The char netas (four leaders) who worked closely with Sheikh Mujib and who set up the Mujibnagar government, the first government of independent Bangladesh, were captured and also killed in Dhaka Central Jail three months later in 3 November 1975.

Bangladesh in turmoil after 1971 Independence

Facing the disastrous aftermath of the 1970 Bhola Cyclone, the 1971 Muktijuddho, and then the 1974 famine where over 1.5 million people were killed, Prime Minister Sheikh Mujib set about restoring public order by discharging more power and control over to himself.

The Jathir Pitha (Father of the Nation) had a demi-god status during the 1960s and early 1970s. He was able to rouse mass sentiment for a nationalist revolution. However, rebuilding a war-torn nation in the aftermath of continuous natural disasters would prove a more challenging task.

Matters were compounded by internal conflict within the problem-ridden new state. If 1973 was the year of violence, 1974 was the year of famine. As thousands of people died, the prime minister's party, the Awami League, disintegrated into warring factions. To impose order, Sheikh Mujib took some drastic decision like creating the Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini.

  • Sheikh Mujibur Rahman ()

Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini (JRB) - from law enforcers to Sheikh Mujib's private army

Sheikh Mujib's hatred for all things military

Sheikh Mujib had an understandable hatred for all things military. He had suffered grievously at the hands of Pakistan's two military dictators, Field Marshall Ayub Khan and General Yahya Khan. Ayub had arrested Sheikh Mujib on 7 October 1958, the day he seized power. During the next 10-and-half-years of Ayub's dictatorship Sheikh Mujib had been jailed for long periods in solitary confinement. Then in 1968, while once more in detention for political activity, he was made the principle accused in the notorious Agartala Conspiracy trial in Dhaka. The charge conspiring with India for the secession of East Pakistan. It was a capital offence and Mujib only escaped the gallows because a countryside upsurge against Ayub in 1968 forced him to drop the charges and bring Mujib to the conference table.

While a prisoner of General Yahya Khan in 1971 during the Bangladesh independence struggle, Sheikh Mujib had had an even closer brush with death. According to Sheikh Mujib, he had been tried by a military court and found guilty of treason and sedition. He was to be executed on 15 December 1971, a day before Pakistan surrendered to Bangladesh in Dhaka. Fortunately for him the ceasefire was ordered that night and he was smuggled away to safety by the prison jailor.

Sheikh Mujib carried his hatred of the army with him to the grave. This attitude was shared by his ministers and other senior Awami Leaguers who had also escaped death at the hands of the Pakistan army in 1971.

To their [senior Awami Leaguers] basic hostility of things military was added, after independence, the fear that the Bangladesh army might try to supplant them. This anxiety was grounded in the fact that the Bengali military men had been in the thick of the fighting during the independence movement while the Awami Leaguers stayed safely in Calcutta out of the line of fire. As such it would have been understandable if the army men with the other freedom fighters had insisted on positions of influence in the new state. The army as an institution at least did not make this demand. It was content to let Mujib rule and in the first two years of independence gave him loyalty and support.

Anthony Mascarenhas, journalist who wrote the groundbreaking 'Genocide' article in 1971 & author of "Bangladesh: A Legacy of Blood" (1986)

Mujib and his ministers, however, from the very start deliberately emasculated [made efforts to weaken] the role of the Defence Forces. Before he was one month in office Mujib took the first step in this direction by signing a 25 year Treaty of Friendship and Mutual Assistance with India. The Indian army had helped to create Bangladesh and it was to India that Mujib now looked to protect it from external aggression. The treaty thus obviated the need for an effective fighting force and the country’s defence establishment was reduced to a police-keeping and largely ceremonial role.

I don't want to create another monster like the one we had in Pakistan.

Sheikh Mujib told Anthony Mascarenhas in February 1974 that he was against a powerful military force

Nevertheless, in independent Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Mujib took initiatives to establish military academies for building skilled and ideal armed forces in the country. He inaugurated the Military Academy in Comilla Cantonment in 1974. However, with the administration of the country at its infancy and his personal dislike for all things military, Sheikh Mujib remained reluctant to dispense too much power to the army and maintained a cautious approach throughout his reign.

When you play with gentlemen, you play like a gentleman. But when you play with bastards, make sure you play like a bigger bastard. Otherwise you will lose. Don't forget I have had good teachers.

Sheikh Mujib allegedly remarked to Anthony Mascarenhas during a poker game on a night train from the Grand Canyon to Los Angeles

Creation of JRB

In early 1972, the government announced the formation of an elite paramilitary force named the Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini (National Defence Force), or JRB for short. The Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini Order, 1972 (President's Order no. 21 of 1972) was promulgated on 7 March 1972 - on the first anniversary of Sheikh Mujib's famous Ebarer Sangram speech - with a retroactive effect from 1 February 1972.

The idea for the JRB is believed to have resulted from a discussion between the top leaders of Mujib Bahini (also known as Bangladesh Liberation Force or BLF) and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The leaders made Sheikh Mujib realise that the fruit of the labour during the independence war could be undone by anti-revolutionary forces within the young volatile nation. It was a view also shared by Tajuddin Ahmad. He advised Sheikh Mujib that the 100,000 trained and armed common people that had participated as muktijuddhas (freedom fighters) during the Swadhinata Juddho (Independence War) should come under national service and a paramilitary force should be formed for them. The police number was also at its lowest, with many becoming shaheeds (martyrs) during the war, and unable to provide adequate protection from 'miscreants' who outnumbered them during attacks. Smuggling of raw material, machineries and factory goods across the border into India also became 'a headache' for the new government. Sheikh Mujib was also aware of the growing threat of coup from the military. To combat these, Sheikh Mujib formed the new elite force with the help of Prime Minister Mansur Ali to provide security for the people after initially rejecting the idea. The task force was formed without any consultation in the cabinet.

It is alleged that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had first expressed his desire to form such a force to Colonel Sarwar as early as 20 January 1972 - ten days after his arrival in Bangladesh.

Officially the JRB was the national militia tasked with recovering arms from the civilians. However, in practice, it behaved like a private army and acted as an armament to protect the Sheikh Mujibur Rahman-regime from military coup and other armed challenges.

So about 110,000 government certified freedom fighters, at the very outset of the independence, felt ignored and excluded from the reconstruction of the new country. Though Sheikh Mujib offered the freedom fighters to join the armed forces, only 8,000 turned up - mostly young Mujib Bahini members and other loyal cadres - and they were absorbed in the Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini.

In effect, (the Jatiya Rakkhi Bahini became) his private army to which privileges and hard-to-get commodities were lavishly given.

Country Studies

The Jatiya Rakki Bahini Order 1972 (President's Order No. 21 of 1972)...lacked the basic framework of law within which a peacekeeping force could develop into an institution. The law provided that it would be employed to assist the civil authority in the maintenance of internal security and would also assist the armed forces when called upon by the government to do so, that its superintendence would vest in the government and that it would be administered, commanded and controlled by its Director (later designated as Director General) in accordance with the rules to be made as required by Article 17 of the Order and instructions to be issued by the government from time to time. Any officer of the Raksi Bahini while performing any function could, without a warrant, arrest any person whom he reasonably suspected of having committed a cognizable offence under any law, search any person, place, vehicle or vessel and seize anything found in the possession thereof in respect of which or by means of which he had reason to believe an offence punishable under any law had been committed.

Banglapedia - Rakki Bahini

Indian link

Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini was actively deployed just after the Indian Army left Bangladesh on 17 March 1972. The force was trained and brought up by Indian Major General Sujan Singh Uban from Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) as per the request of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. General Uban, a recruit of CIA in the 60s, had also trained the Mujib Bahini in India during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War and accompanied Sheikh Moni to Bangladesh.

The basic training of the force was not provided by the Bangladesh Army but instead given in India, by Indian Army. Any additional special training were also provided by India in the Indian Military Academy of Dehradun. The JRB troops were armed with Indian assault rifles, heavy machine guns, steel helmet, and leather boots. Jeeps and trucks were imported from India and their olive green-coloured uniform was similar to that of the Border Security Force 66 of the Indian Army.

The JRB was led by Brigadier A. M. S. Nuruzzaman who was appointed as the Director General while Major Anwarul Alam Shahid (Training), Lieutenant Colonel Abul Hasan Khan (Administration), Lieutenant Colonel Sarwar (Operations), Lieutenant Colonel Sabihuddin (Signals) and Lieutenant Colonel Azizul Islam (Zonal Head Quarter of Chittagong) were his five deputies.

  • Sujan Singh (S. S.) Uban ()
  • A. M. S. Nuruzzaman ()

The JRB's secretiveness, the presence of Indian officers in its midst, the similarity of its uniform to another country's military dress created "utter confusion" which was further confounded by the sudden introduction of the one-party system. Allegation of it being India-led conspiracy had dogged the JRB from its inception in 1972 to it's eventual collapse three years later.

The Bangladesh military has been incensed by the poor treatment it had received from the Indians during the civil war. It felt that the Indian Army deprived it of victory by intervening in the conflict, [and] it resented the expropriation of captured Pakistani military equipment by the Indian Army and saw the JRB (Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini) as Indian-inspired force to ensure Indian domination of the post liberation Bangladesh.

J.K. Chopra, author of "Bangladesh as a New Nation" (2000)

Growing menace

It is not true that the Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini did not do anything good. Initially they recovered a large quantity of arms and smuggled goods and restrained the hoarders and black marketeers. However, within a very short period of time JRB became much more than another law-enforcing agency - it started to "represent Awami League's armed branch" and was being used for political purposes.

Acting like storm troopers the members of the Bahini would often surround a whole village combing for arms and "miscreants". In the process, they tended to commit serious excesses with no regulation to control their conduct or to make them accountable to authorities. They were also accused of torturing people for obtaining their confessions apart from resorting to looting and extortion.

Banglapedia - Rakki Bahini

The raising of a new paramilitary force, JRB having exclusive allegiance to Sheikh Mujib proved morally and politically disastrous. JRB became the target of anti-Mujib campaign.

JRB seemed to work as official goons for strike - breaking, chasing out slumdwellers from Dhaka, searching for rice hoardings in the countryside and fighting the underground guerrillas. They used brutal methods. Working at the behest of the Mujib regime, JRB was used against both political opponents and the army as a warning to them not to think of a coup.

Joseph Benjamin, author of "Democratic Process, Foreign Policy and Human Rights in South Asia" (2010)

At the height of its influence in 1975 JRB was 25,000 member strong and plans were put in place for it to grow to an astronomical 130,000 by the end of 1980 - that's more than the number of muktijuddhas who fought in the Swadhinata Juddho. These troops would have been distributed to every district under the authority of the 60 District Governors. To finance this force, Sheikh Mujib used the major part of the 13% of public expenditures allocated to defence, and recruitment of new soldiers in the army was almost stopped. When the Rakkhi Bahini was raised to 25,000 men with basic military training and modern automatic weapons, the discontent amongst some army men turned into antagonism. All these discrimination created rift between the two forces.

Bangladesh Army, which was formed through a war against an army of occupation with some true patriots in 21 November 1971, found themselves as an orphan.

While the Jatiyo Rokkhi Bahini was being enlarged, Bangladesh Army was just watching that. There was no T.O.E. (Table of Organization and Establishment). Military personnel did not have sufficient arms. Most of them had no uniforms, boots, helmets etc. In winter they had to guard the border in slippers.

Major General Manzoor, a freedom fighter who escaped from Pakistan, defying the Army to join the liberation war told [Anthony] Mascarenhas that sometimes military personnel were killed by National Defence Force (JRB) blaming them as collaborators [razakars].

Wikipedia - Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini

Eminent personalities such as Professor Ghulam Murshid compared it with Gestapo, while journalist Anthony Mascarenhas said that there were a few differences between Hitler's Nazis and Sheikh Mujib's Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini.

The Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini, which roughly translated means National Security Force, was an elite para-military force whose members had to take oaths of personal loyalty to Mujib. Despite its high-sounding name, it was a sort of private army of bully boys not far removed from Nazi Brown Shirts.

... Its officers were mainly political cadres and it was freely used to crush opponets and critics of Mujib and the Awami League. In time it completely terrorized people.

Anthony Mascarenhas' damning verdict on JRB

JRB was designed to purge radical elements both within and outside of the party, and eventually to become the sole 'monopolizer' of legitimate violence in Bangladesh.

...An interesting comparison can be made between the JRB and the Federal Security Force that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto created in Pakistan at the same time.

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It was one of the fundamental mistakes he [Sheikh Mujib] made in his three and half years in the helm.

It has been said that Castro told him not to run an independent country with the help of officials experienced in running a colonial administration. He advised an overhaul in the administration during the Non-Aligned Summit in Algiers, in 1973, where the two met for the first and the last time. But Mujib didn't listen to that suggestion.

Ataus Samad, journalist

Indemnity for JRB

In 1974, members of the paramilitary Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini were granted immunity from prosecution and other legal proceedings by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

On May 1974 a 17-year-old teenager had 'disappeared' after four days of torture by JRB. The Supreme Court of Bangladesh castigated the JRB for 'operating outside the law' and functioning without any rules of procedure or code of conduct. However, rather controversially, Sheikh Mujib stripped the Supreme Court of intervening in such cases by amending the Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini Order of 1972 on 6 May 1974.

Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini (Amendment) Act, 1974

Article-2 says,

"8A. Notwithstanding anything contained in, the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 (V of 1898), or in any other law for the time being in force, any officers may, while performing any function under article 8, without warrant -
a) Arrest any person whom he reasonably suspects of having committed a cognizable fence under any law;
b) Search any person, place, vehicle or vessel, and seize anything found in the possession of such person or in such place, vehicle or vessel in respect of which or any means of which he has reason to believe an offence punishable under any law has been committed."

Article 3 says,

"No suit, prosecution, or other legal proceedings shall be against any member of the Bahini for anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done in pursuance of this order or rule made there under."

According to these provisions anybody can be arrested by the JRB at will and they would remain immune from any judicial supervision as long as their activities were carried out in "good faith".

This indemnity refrained the Judiciary Division from taking any legal actions. This was a boost to their [JRB] desperate actions.

Wikipedia - Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini

Because of the organisational weakness in the Bahini's hierarchical authority and its fast deteriorating public image, an increasing number of desertions from the force were taking place. In order to restore discipline in the force the government further amended in the original Order (Jatiya Rakki Bahini (Amendment) Ordinance 1975). The articles defined a large number of major and minor offences for which the officers and the Rakkis could be tried in special courts or summary courts.

Banglapedia - Rakki Bahini

Mujib was a better rhetorician than administrator, and had only limited success in dealing with these challenges. By 1973, frustrations with his inept leadership were being vented in public protests. Attempting to retain control of the fragile and violent nation, Mujib, the once-beloved Bangabandhu, created the Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini, a shadowy paramilitary force responsible directly to him. Violence begat violence, with more than 2,000 politically motivated murders occurring in 1973 alone. Among the victims were several members of Parliament. In May 1974, after the country's Supreme Court reprimanded the Rakkhi Bahini for having tortured and killed a 17-year-old boy, Mujib stripped the court of its powers to pass judgment over his personal terror force.

Alex Counts, author of "Small Loans, Big Dreams: How Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and Microfinance are changing the world" (2008)