Sheikh Jamal was the second son of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Begum Fazilatunnessa Mujib. During the War of Liberation in 1971, with the rest of his family, he was placed under house arrest by the Pakistan occupation army. However, in early August 1971, he managed to escape from detention and link up with Bangladesh's freedom struggle. He was one of the commissioned officers of the first batch of the long course of the Bangladesh army during the war.
Childhood and youth
The second son of the greatest Bengali in history, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Sheikh Jamal was born on 28 April 1954 in Tungipara, Gopalganj. Like his siblings, he too was destined to grow up without the love and comforting presence ofhis father. The reason was obvious: for much of the time, Bangabandhu was a prisoner of the state because of his political beliefs. Besides, whenever he emerged free of prison, Bangabandhu set about leading anew the struggle for the emancipation of the Bengali nation.
Twelve days after Jamal's birth, Sheikh Mujib took the oath of office as minister of agriculture, cooperatives and rural development in the Jukto (United) Front government elected to office at the elections to the provincial assembly in March 1954. Despite his preoccupation with the new responsibilities placed on him, Sheikh Mujib was able to have his family moved from Tungipara to his official residence at Minto Road, Dhaka.
But it remains a travesty of history that the Governor General of Pakistan, through imposing Section 92a of the Government of India Act 1935 (Pakistan was yet to formulate its constitution), dismissed the Jukto Front government on 30 May 1954 and imposed emergency rule in East Bengal for an indefinite period. All the members of the cabinet headed by Sher-e-Bangla A.K. FazlulHuq, the Chief Minister, including Sheikh Mujib, were taken into custody.
In such a situation, the authorities decreed that Mujib's official residence at Minto Road would have to be vacated within a fortnight. Consequently, Begum Mujib was compelled to vacate the residence and find hired accommodation with her little children in Nazira Bazar (the Sultans' homes). The baby Jamal used to stare uncomprehendingly, indeed innocently, at his father at the jail gate on visits his mother made at the time to meet the imprisoned Sheikh Mujib.
At that phase of his political career, Sheikh Mujib was released from imprisonment on 23 December 1954. It was as if regular imprisonment had become part of his life. Though Mujib was all too often in prison, he looked forward to seeing his family members when they visited him. Under prison rules, the family could meet him after every 15 days. Ever the caring father, he kept himself informed on the health and education of his children. He was deeply concerned if one or some of his children did not come to the gates of the prison to see him.
The family of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman moved into their new home at Road 32 Dhanmondion 1 October 1961. Prior to shifting to the new home, the family had lived in Nazira Bazar, Armanitola, and back again in Nazira Bazar, then moving on to 15 Abdul Gani Road, 117 ShegunBagicha, 115 Siddheswari, and 76 ShegunBagicha, in that order. From their ShegunBagicha home, Sheikh Jamal and his siblings regularly went for morning walks at Ramna Park. On returning home from the park, all members of the family used to sit down to pore over the day's newspapers.
As always, Bangabandhu's focus (whenever he was out of prison as well as inside it) remained on politically-related news. On the other hand, Bangamata's attention went to social issues. Sheikh Kamal's interest was in news having to do with sports, while the eldest child of the family, today's Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, delved into the literature pages of the newspapers as well as reports pertaining to movies.
From an early age, Sheikh Jamal possessed a cheerful and lively personality. In his youth, in the manner of his all-rounder elder brother Sheikh Kamal, he turned into a sports enthusiast, demonstrating his mettle in such games as cricket, hockey and football, besides others.
Sheikh Jamal was associated with Abahani Club and other clubs, all the while keeping in touch with sporting events at home and abroad. Besides pursuing his studies, he trained to play the guitar at Chhayanaut. His reputation was clearly that of an individual in whom friendliness was a remarkable characteristic. In the company of his friends, he enjoyed dining out.
There were times when he enjoyed good movies and the theatre in town. His respect for elders was deep and abiding. An important facet of his personality was his devotion to reading. Books were his constant companion. He finished his school education at Residential Model School before going for his higher secondary education at Dhaka College.
Participation in Bangladesh Movement and Liberation War
It so happened that Sheikh Jamal and his friends were present at Dhaka Stadium to enjoy the cricket match between the Pakistani and West Indies teams on 1 March 1971 when news came in of the sudden postponement of the National Assembly session, earlier scheduled for 3 March, by President Yahya Khan. The ramifications of the decision began to be felt within minutes of the announcement and with his friends Sheikh Jamal joined the gathering public protests against the President's move.
Jamal was also present at the Race Course on 7 March when Bangabandhu delivered his famous and stirring message of freedom before a million-strong crowd. On that day, with Bengalis breaking out in revolt in the defence of freedom, Jamal and his friends made their way, at the end of Bangabandhu's address, to the family residence at 32 Dhanmondi.
In the early hours of 26 March 1971, soon after he had declared Bangladesh's independence, Bangabandhu was taken under arrest by the Pakistan army. Earlier, for his part, Bangabandhu's eldest son Sheikh Kamal had said farewell to his family late on 25 March as the Pakistan army launched Operation Searchlight and went off to link up with the coming War of Liberation. Begum Mujib, Sheikh Jamal and Sheikh Russel stayed back at 32 Dhanmondi. On 26 March, after Bangabandhu had been taken away by the army, the soldiers once again descended on the residence. However, before the army came back, the family's neighbour Dr Samad had his eldest son escort Begum Mujib, Sheikh Jamal and Sheikh Russel to their home for safety.
On the morning of 27 March, Bangabandhu's cousin MominulHaqKhoka moved the three individuals temporarily to the residence of Captain Q.B.M Rahman at Satmasjid Road. On 1 April, Bangabandhu's family, forced to seek safety from the army, found accommodation near the round-about leading to the main road at Khilgaon. However, when their identities became known in the area, the family moved within a week to the home of Begum Badrunnessa Ahmed on the main road near the Moghbazar round-about. It was while staying at this home that Bangabandhu's family came to know through a picture in the newspapers that the Father of the Nation had been taken to West Pakistan after his arrest.
Pakistani intelligence at one point made its way to that residence, the result of which was that Bangabandhu's family shifted within a few days to a house nearby. It was from this house in the evening on 12 May that the Pakistan army arrested the family and took them to House No. 26 on Road 9A (old Road 18) in Dhanmondi, where they were placed under guard by 15-20 Pakistani soldiers.
It remains part of the tortuous history of the family that prior to being taken under arrest by the Pakistan army, Begum Mujib and her children had to change residence as many as 19 times in the course of a month and a half.
Along with his family members, Sheikh Jamal was an avid listener of programmes on Swadhin Bangla Betar. The Pakistan army used to denigrate Swadhin Bangla Betar as Joi Bangla Betar. The entire family was ridiculed and ill-treated by the soldiers for tuning in to Swadhin Bangla Betar. They even held out the threat that if the family went on listening to the radio, Jamal would be taken to the cantonment and, bound hand-and-foot, would be subjected to torture.
For Sheikh Jamal, joining the War of Liberation in those crucial days of national history was a paramount objective he was determined to achieve. He began to devise the strategy by which he could escape confinement and make his way to the battlefield. There were times when he befriended some of the Pakistani guards, conversed with them, shared meals with them, even cleaned their ammunition for them, in the process learning from them all he needed to know about the weapons they possessed.
At one point, he obtained permission from the Pakistani soldiers to be allowed to take a stroll on the road outside the home on Road 18. On 5 August 1971, at around 9 in the morning, Sheikh Jamal was able to fool the soldiers and make good his escape. Making his way out of Dhaka, he reached Kalshi in India's Uttar Pradesh by way of Agartala and Calcutta. Once there, he linked up with the Mujib Bahini and along with 80 selected young men he underwent special military training for 21 days.
At the end of the training, Sheikh Jamal joined Sector 9 of the Liberation War. On the battlefield, the young Jamal soon turned into an inspiration for other freedom fighters waging war for national liberty. Jamal's objective, as that of every other freedom fighter, was the liberation of Bangladesh and the release from Pakistani incarceration of his father, President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. On 2 December 1971, a photograph in the London newspaper Guardian of the young Sheikh Jamal loading his semi-automatic machine gun inside a 10-kilometre area in Kaliganj, Satkhira, in the course of the war revealed the indomitable courage the son of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was possessed of as he struggled for his nation's freedom.
Even after the country was liberated on 16 December, Bangabandhu's family remained prisoners in their Dhanmondi confinement. Not until the next day, 17 December, was the family to regain its freedom through the cooperation of the Indian army and the surrender of the Pakistani soldiers who had kept them under guard. On 19 December, the two freedom fighter brothers Sheikh Kamal and Sheikh Jamal, attired in military uniforms, returned home to their family at Road 18 Dhanmondi.
Training at Sandhurst and joining army
President Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia arrived on an official visit to independent Bangladesh on 29 January 1974. Observing the keenness in Sheikh Jamal to undertake military training, Marshal Tito proposed that the young man be trained at the Yugoslav Military Academy. Consequently, in spring of that year, Sheikh Jamal joined the Yugoslav Military Academy as a cadet. But the absolutely different atmosphere he encountered there, basically in relation to the climate and difficulties with language did not produce a feeling in him that could be considered conducive to his continuation at the academy. In such circumstances, Marshal Tito advised that Sheikh Jamal be sent for military training to Britain's reputed Sandhurst school, where young British army officers were imparted primary military training. At the time, the commandant at Sandhurst was Major General Robert Ford.
In autumn 1974, fired by zeal to undertake training at Sandhurst, one of the most reputed military academies in the world, Sheikh Jamal arrived in London. Proceeding to Sandhurst, though, entailed first going through training at Britain's Army School of Language and Beaconsfield. On reaching London, Sheikh Jamal took up the job of a salesman at the well-known business chain Selfridges. His earnings at Selfridges enabled him to bear his expenses and at the same time have him prepare for his course at Sandhurst.
Standard Military Course-8 commenced at Sandhurst on 3 January 1975. The passing-out parade of cadets was held on 27 June of the same year. Of the cadets from abroad, three Bangladeshis obtained commissions on the occasion – Officer Cadets Sheikh Jamal, Alauddin Mohammad Abdul Wadud and Masudul Hasan. On 1 August 1975, Sheikh Jamal came by an opportunity to pursue a postgraduate course at Sandhurst, but because of his love for his mother, whom he was missing immeasurably, and because his two course mates were returning home to Bangladesh, he decided to go back home as well. It remained his intention, however, to take up the post-graduation course at Sandhurst after spending some time in Bangladesh.
On his return from Sandhurst, Second Lieutenant Sheikh Jamal was posted at 2nd East Bengal at Dhaka cantonment. He remained in that position for a period of close to a month and a half. Meanwhile, with the consent of the army establishment and in deference to the wishes of his family, he married his cousin (his paternal aunt's daughter) Parveen Rosy on 17 July 1975.
In his brief career in the army, Sheikh Jamal used to carry out his responsibilities through making his way to his workplace in an army vehicle. In little time he was able to earn the love and respect of officers and soldiers alike with his professionalism and sincerity.
Tragic end of a promising life
Sometime late in the evening on 14 August 1975, as a battalion duty officer, Sheikh Jamal visited the cantonment. He was told by NaikSubedarBurki, "Sir, it is late at night. Stay with the unit tonight." But Jamal's being with the unit on that night did not come to pass. He made his way back home to House 677, Road 32 Dhanmondi. By that time, the sinister forces of conspiracy had finalised their macabre plans of causing some of the most heinous assassinations in history. Darkness was about to descend on the country.
Having first assassinated Sheikh Kamal and then Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the killers murdered Sheikh Jamal, Sultana Khuki and Rosy Jamal in Bangamata Fazilatunnessa Mujib's bedroom on the first floor of the residence. Standing by the door of the room, it could well have been that Bangamata was trying to ensure the safety of the family. But life was put out of her at that very spot. When the dark deed was done, the killers had little Russel step across the bodies of his loved ones before he too was killed by these satanic merchants of death.
At the time Sheikh Jamal was assassinated on 15 August 1975, he was a second lieutenant in the Bangladesh Army. His death came about through the intrigue of a group of soldiers who to all intents and purposes had remained loyal to Pakistan and were therefore enemies of the state of Bangladesh. The illegitimate regime which commandeered the country on the day not only failed to bring Sheikh Jamal's murderers to trial but also rewarded them for their crime.
The notorious Indemnity Ordinance was promulgated to prevent a trial of the assassins of Bangabandhu and the members of his family. A number of the assassins were posted at various Bangladesh embassies abroad; two were elected to parliament through rigging at the ballot box. Worse, a political party was formed by the killers; and through patronisation by the regime at the time, one of the killers even took part in a presidential election as a candidate.
The constitution, democracy, even army regulations – nothing was sacrosanct as the politics of coups d'etat and conspiracies took hold of this independent state of Bangladesh, of a nation that was the fruit of the ceaseless struggle for national self-expression waged by the Father of the Nation, of a sovereign state arising out of the sacrifices of three million people and the travails of 200,000 of our mothers and sisters, a nation-state emerging through the supreme sacrifices of tens of thousands of valiant freedom fighters.
Sheikh Jamal sleeps, for all time, in the company of his beloved family members in Banani graveyard.
This morning, on the occasion of the birth anniversary of this brave fighter for freedom, the nation pays its deep homage to the memory of Lieutenant Sheikh Jamal. His sacrifice and the sacrifices of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family will not go in vain.
ABM Sarwer-E-Alom Sarker is the Assistant Press Secretary to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina