After the formation of the left-leaning, socialist Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD, National Socialist Party), or Jashod for short, on 31 October 1972 there were frequent clashes with the JRB, which they considered to be a concrete indicator of a police state . The party, led by Colonel Abu Taher, Major M. A. Jalil, A. S. M. Abdur Rab and Shahjahan Siraj (who hoisted the first Jatiyo Potaka, or Bangladesh Flag, in front of the Arts Faculty Building of Dhaka University during Muktijuddho), vehemently opposed the Awami League, organised a people's militia to topple the Sheikh Mujib-led government and organised strong anti-government agitation during 1974 and 1975. Jashod had a strong student following who opposed Mujibbad, as such the youths and students activists became the main target for JRB. In response Jashod penetrated in the ranks and files of the Bangladesh Army and established clandestine cells in the army under the rubric of Biplobi Gono Bahini (BGB, Revolutionary People’s Army) and Biplobi Gana Sena (Revolutionary People's Army).
[Colonel] Taher's military experience and his authority, drawn from his uncompromising attitude against the corrupted regime, explain the success of his movement. Though officially dismissed from his post, Taher maintained relations with his former brigade and could therefore organize clandestine revolutionary cells within the army. Civilians who had fought in the 11th sector that Taher had led, and upon whose revolutionary fibre he could rely, also joined the BGB's ranks. An interface was even set up to provide activists and develop networking between the Jashod and the army: this was the Biplobi Shoinik Shangstha (BSS, Revolutionary Military Associations), modelled upon the pre-1917 Russian Soviets. Yet, its main objective was to gather intelligence and to prepare a coup d’état.
Under these circumstances, Mujib's repressive measures were totally ineffective. Though an authoritarian leader, he persisted in neglecting the army, and this was precisely the root of the armed dissent he was facing. In fact, a structural reform of this institution and a redefinition of its relations with civil society were necessary to break the organic link between revolutionary parties and soldiers. This was all the more required after 1973, when the army confronted an additional internal tension, which would have even more decisive consequences on the civil-military delicate balance.
During 1973 politically motivated killing increased. Anthony Mascarenhas, who had famously written the 'Genocide' article during 1971 Muktijuddho, believes that by the end of 1973, over 2,000 politically motivated murders had taken place in Bangladesh. The victims included some members of Parliament and many of the murders were resulted of intra-party conflicts within Awami League.
Even the capital Dhaka was not immune to the violence. An unofficial curfew was introduced after midnight. Almost every rickshaw, taxi and private car was checked and searched by Rakkhi Bahini personnel.
The force which emerged to be a hero, turned into a villain.
Dark cloud of failure began to gather in the independent sky of Bangladesh. The rot was setting in from within.
Corruption and monopolisation of state contracts by the ruling party cliques became so rampant that an economy of nepotism, corruption and black market literally took over the economy. Political oppression on Siraj Sikder revealed the autocratic nature of the highly personalised government run by Bangabandhu.
The breaking out of JSD (Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal) from within the ranks of Awami League clearly revealed the breach within ruling party ranks.
Ahmed Hussain, journalist
Siraj Sikder and 30,000 other political workers were killed during Awami League's 1972-75 rule. Democracy was butchered with the Fourth Amendment. The [current] prime minister [Sheikh Hasina] should ask the people for forgiveness [for her dad's 'mistakes'].
Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, BNP acting secretary-general
On 9 February 1974, Jatiyo Sangsad (Bangladesh's parliament) passed the Special Powers Act (SPA), 1974, which under sections 2 and 3 empowered the government to detain an individual without charge if they deem it necessary to do so to prevent them from committing "prejudicial acts".
Under this Act a person could be kept in detention for indefinite period. The detainees only safeguard is that this is reviewable, initially after 120 days (i.e. 4 months), and thereafter every six months, by a government-constituted advisory board made up of two persons qualified to be high court judges, and one senior officer in the service of the Republic. The proceedings before the board are confidential and the detainee has no right to be represented by a lawyer or to examine the evidence on which his detention is based. Those that can afford a lawyer challenge their detention through habeas corpus petitions (i.e. the right of a prisoner to challenge the terms of his or her incarceration in court before a judge). For those without access to legal counsel, the only hope is that the government revokes the detention order on its own initiative or that the advisory board finds that there is insufficient cause for the detention.
These special measures were introduced to conduct more speedy trial and effective punishment for certain grave offences. It is still applicable today. Despite election promises, the Act has never been repealed and in fact, under the emergency rules in force after January 2007 (Emergency Power Rules, 2007, section 21), the types of acts for which a person could be held in preventive detention were substantially increased.
Successive governments have used the Special Power Act widely to suppress political opposition and participants in peaceful demonstrations, as well as against individuals engaged in personal disputes with people in positions of authority. Often, detentions have been based on mere allegations.
...From 1974 to March 1995, according to court records, of the 10,372 habeas corpus writs that were moved before the High Court Division of the Supreme Court to challenge detentions, only in less than 9% did the court find the detentions to be valid - an indication of the extent to which the Act has historically been misused. However, the executive seems to have taken little or no notice of the Supreme Court's repeated criticism of the law and its implementation. It has even ignored release orders, forcing the court to initiate contempt of court proceedings.
As long as the Special Power Act remains in force, it is likely to be utilised as a tool for arbitrary detention. Those who use it are protected by section 34, which states, "[N]o suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings shall lie against the Government or any person for anything in good faith done or intended to be done under this Act".
The existence of Special Power Act 1974 (SPA), under which a person can be kept in detention for indefinite period is an indication of bad 'Rule of Law' situation in the country.
Siraj Sikder was a valiant freedom fighter during 1971 Muktijuddho who established the leftist 'Purba Bangla Sarbahara Party' (Proletarian Party of East Bengal) on 3 June 1971 as a minor guerrilla faction and political platform for the deprived or 'have-nots' (sarbahara) classes.
At a liberated base area named Pearabagan in the southern part of the country, on 3 June 1971, Siraj Sikder founded a new party named 'Purba Banglar Sarbahara Party' by ideology of Marxism and Mao Tsetung Thought (not "Maoism", during the 1960s the followers of Mao-line used to identify their ideology as Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought). At the beginning of the war he went to Barisal and he declared that as a free living space and making it his base attempted to initiate his revolution throughout other places. The war he fought was of different ideology than who fought in the name of the Mukti Bahini. He fought to eradicate the economic suppression by state machinery irrelevant of their nationality.
Siraj was elected President of the party at its first congress on 14 January 1972. The following year he was again elected President of an alliance of eleven people's organisation called 'Purba Banglar Jatiya Mukti Front' (National Liberation Front of East Bengal). The party reached its peak in 1974. After independence it reorganised its guerrilla bands and identified the Mujib government as its new enemy. Siraj launched armed struggle against the government in different parts of the country with an object of establishing the supremacy and rule of the sarbaharas. Sometimes his party members broke open government warehouses to distribute food to the hungry.
However, after the Government of Bangladesh announced the first ever state of emergency in the history of Bangladesh to arrest all the terrorists and opposition leaders on 28 December 1974, Siraj Sikder went underground. He was arrested by intelligence agents four days later in Halishahar, Chittagong, and flown to Dhaka. He was killed the next day, on 2 January 1975, by police firing on his way from Dhaka airport to the JRB camp at Savar. The official explanation given at that time was that Siraj Shikdar was shot dead "while trying to escape".
However, according to his brother-in-law, Zackaria Chowdhury ('Zack'), Siraj Shikdar was escorted to Dhaka and taken to Gonobhaban to meet Sheikh Mujib. The Sheikh tried to win him over, but when Siraj refused to compromise Sheikh Mujib ordered the police to 'deal' with him. He was then driven handcuffed and blindfolded to the police control room on the disused Dhaka racecourse and then taken out at night on a lonely road and shot.
I was arrested on 29 December 1974 and taken to the top floor of the building where Siraj Sikder was incarcerated. That night I heard Siraj's agonised groans when he was being tortured. I heard later that Siraj was killed without being produced before any court on 2 January 1975, during the regime of the Awami League government.
Barrister Moudud Ahmed, a BNP leader and former Awami League member
He [Siraj Sikder] was tortured all day long and a rumor was spread that he was killed by Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini on his way to the camp at Savar on 2 January 1975. His hand was tied and it was impossible for him to even move. There were clear spots of bullets which indicated that he was shot from a short distance. So it cannot be called as a cross-fire though the government mentioned it as a cross-fire. But a Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini commander later denied that the murder of Siraj Sikder was not committed by his force. The actual fact behind the incident is still unknown.
Zack's wife and Siraj's sister Shamim also holds the same view. She maintains that the bullet wounds on Siraj's body clearly showed he had been shot from the front six times in the chest, probably with a sten gun. Her conviction was so strong that she even attempted to take Sheikh Mujib's life as revenge for her brother's controversial death.
Whatever the reason, it was openly talked about in Dhaka that Siraj Sikder had been liquidated on Mujib's instructions. Shamim herself was convinced that her brother had died by Mujib's hand. So this 19-year old girl decided to take revenge. "I got a revolver from the (Sharbohara) party and looked for an opportunity to kill this murderer" she told me. Shamim was banking on the fact that, as she was one of Bangladesh's best known sculptresses who had won the President's award for achievement the year before, she could get close enough to Mujib and shoot him.
She made several requests for an appointment with Mujib. Each time she was put off. Then she invited him to an exhibition at the Dhaka University's school of art. Mujib accepted the invitation but failed to turn up. "I was getting desperate" she recalls. "However much I tried I just couldn't get within shooting distance of him". She never did. Fate intervened to save Mujib. Shamim fell in love, got married to Zack and left the country with her husband.
Three weeks after his death, on 25 January 1975, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman questioned the leadership of Siraj Sikder as part of his speech.
Kothai aj Siraj Sikder? (Where is Siraj Sikder today?)
Sheikh Mujib's statement was interpreted as boasting in parliament and arose strong suspicion in some members of the intelligentsia that Sheikh Mujib had ordered the death of Siraj Sikder. His infamous rhetoric was repeated by his detractors as further proof that 'power had gone to his head'.
Much against the aspiration of the people, the newly created country’s leader failed to rise above the mere party interest and rebuild the country as promised as a Golden Bangla. Many opposition activists were killed. Bangladesh history may alway have to carry the burden of the murder of Siraj Sikder, a prominent leftist leader.
Until today no government, including Awami League opposition parties, has done anything for the trial of Siraj's mysterious killing. With the death of their influential leader, the Purba Banglar Sarbahara Party and Purba Banglar Jatiya Mukti Front faded in the late 1970s as a result of repression.
Siraj was not killed by any individual person. He was killed by the exploiting-looters and their accomplices.
It was Siraj Sikder who had first hoisted the national flag of independent Bangladesh. The contribution of freedom-fighter Siraj Sikder has been recorded in the history of the liberation war published by the government.
Shikha & Shuvra Sikder, Siraj's daughter and son, at a press conference at Jatiya Press Club in 2005
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