August has always been the rueful and elegiac month for the Bengali nation, as Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and almost all his family members were brutally assassinated on August 15 in 1975. Apart from the Bangabandhu family, a true hero also sacrificed his life on that day as the only one who acted on their leader’s call to try and save him. The only one, who despite impossible odds, answered the call of duty. The one man whose story, on a day for jackals, offers the nation some redemption. He is of course none other than Shaheed Brigadier General (posthumous) Jamil Uddin Ahmad, ‘Bir Uttam’, or as he is immortalised in the hearts and minds of Bangladeshis, Colonel Jamil.
The young, handsome Colonel Jamil was a rising star in the Bangladesh military. Not yet 40 but already serving as Director General of DGFI, he had only just taken up a new assignment as military secretary to the country’s president. Jamil was married to Anjuman Ara Jamil, who had a budding career as a singer on Bangladesh Betar. Later she became a Member of Parliament for Kushtia, Meherpur and Chuadanga. The couple had three daughters, and Bangabandhu would often enquire after Jamil’s young family. To be sure, he had everything to lose in stepping out on that day when treachery was afoot. But he did it anyway.
Leaving his three beloved daughters to their mother (who was also pregnant at the time with a fourth), the hero never came back as he embraced martyrdom - but his brave and beautiful daughters grew up even stronger, becoming vibrant examples of women’s empowerment in Bangladesh.
On the occasion of his 45th death anniversary at the National Mourning Day, three of the four daughters - Tehmina Enayet (Tonu), Afrozaa Jamil (Konka) and Sam Jamil (Shweta) - expressed the unconditional love and affection towards their heroic father - legendary martyr, Brigadier General Jamil Uddin Ahmed, together for the first time in a special conversation with UNB and Dhaka Courier.
The brave-heart army officer in the eyes of his daughter:
"Our father, Bir Uttam Brigadier General Jamil Uddin Ahmad was a career officer who got commissioned in the (then) Pakistan Army, and one of the few Bengali patriotic and intelligent officers in the military. He always performed his responsibilities in important and respected positions for both Pakistan and Bangladesh Defense Units, and his sense of patriotism and nationalism for Bangladesh was one of the strongest even during the Pakistan regime. During the 1971 Liberation War, we were confined as hostages in Pakistan with other Bengali military families. When the war was over and we were about to be repatriated, the Pakistan Army offered my father with higher rank and additional facilities as he was a senior officer of the Inter-service Intelligence, but he refused, saying, 'I want to go back to my country and serve'.
Upon our arrival in Bangladesh, he was invited by Bangabandhu to join as the Military Secretary to the President in 1973”, Jamil’s elder daughter Tehmina Enayet recalled the earlier days of Jamil’s excellence as an Army officer.
Further describing it thoroughly, his second daughter and renowned Bangladeshi artist - art curator Afrozaa Jamil Konka reminisced, “We returned to Bangladesh on October 17, 1973 - and our father directly went to meet Bangabandhu straight from the airport. Upon his return, our mother, Anjuman Ara Jamil asked him about the meeting and he informed us that Bangabandhu told him to join as his military secretary.”
“There was a reason behind that”, Konka continued - “Our father was a trained intelligence officer in his defence career and performed his responsibilities in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Forces Intelligence Unit (FIU). He was a skilled officer and completed many courses in his defence career, including a Radio course in New Jersey when I was born in 1963. There was no other intelligence officer as our father at that time, so Bangabandhu chose him wisely.”
“In the year of 1966, he was in the ISI office at Minto Road in Dhaka where he was the Second-in-Command. That time, many young Bengali officers were rooting for the independence of Bangladesh, but our father realised and made them realised that it was not the right time for any critical move which can backfire the effort to make Bangladesh an independent nation. During that time, Bangabandhu was convicted in the Agartala Conspiracy Case. To save the great leader from that case, our father burnt and buried all the files and evidence against Bangabandhu at the Ramna Park. As a result, Bangabandhu could not be charged in that case. Our father was called and questioned by the ISI chief and was even scheduled to face a ‘Court Martial’, however, that did not happen but this is just one of the many examples of his intelligence and bravery.”
“When we were in Lahore Cantonment, one day there was a blast of ammunitions and all officers took their families out of that place but our father was busy in a meeting at the Assembly Chamber. He could not cancel the meeting, We four (our mother and we three sisters) stayed at the cantonment for the entire day and one army officer, Haque uncle, came to rescue and shift us at the evening, scolding our father that “How can Jamil attend a meeting when his family is in danger?” but we remember this as a great example of his dignity to his profession.”
When he got promoted as the Director-General of DGFI (Directorate General of Forces Intelligence, formerly known as the Directorate of Forces Intelligence - DFI) in 1975, Bangabandhu and his family members were feeling the absence of our father in the family as he was very close to the great leader and all the family members. However, Bangabandhu said to him that “Jamil, the nation needs your brilliance and intelligence in DGFI. Don’t get disheartened - you are the apple of my eye, come and visit me daily for once and that would be enough. When he was the Military Secretary of Bangabandhu, he enforced a very tight security protocol in his Dhanmondi 32 residence and that was annoying to many, who expressed their unhappiness about the protocol and often used to say “Why Mr Colonel (Jamil) made rules such as we need to sign every time whenever we come here?” That was because our father was very caring about Bangabandhu. He often tried to convince Bangabandhu to move into the Ganabhaban which would have been more secure, however, Bangabandhu used to laugh about it saying “Who will kill me? All are my people and they love me”. But our father often used to say to our mother that Bangabandhu is not listening to him, and “It may end up with two bullets - one for Bangabandhu and the other for myself” - and he sensed it right. However, we have no regret for that and we are extremely proud of him.”
“The memories of our father are still very much vivid in my memories because I grew up always listening about him”, Sam Jamil expressed. “My mother, my sisters and all other family members always reminisced about him because he was a true hero - the brave heart. As my sisters said - there was not even one person in this world that have gone for Bangabandhu on that day. I have been living in the United States for the last 30 years, and whenever I shared my father’s story of his martyrdom, people say that they never heard of any sacrifices as my father did for Bangabandhu. The almighty sent him into this world to save Bangabandhu, something about which we are really proud of.”
The last memories:
Sensing the danger at the dawn of August 15, 1975 - Sheikh Mujib himself was quick to react. At first he telephoned the Rakkhi Bahini headquarters, but in the absence of their Chief Officer Brigadier Nur Zaman and Colonel Sabihuddin, he could not get through to any senior officer. He then called General Shafiullah, the Chief of the Army Staff, and Brigadier Mashorul Huq, his Military Secretary, asking them to send help immediately. The last call was made to the then Director-General of DGFI, Colonel (later Brigadier General) Jamil Uddin Ahmed.
Reminiscing the last moments with their father, the daughters of Shaheed Colonel Jamil shared what exactly happened on the day of August 15 in 1975.
“In the dawn of 15 August 1975, Bangabandhu called our father and informed him that he and his family members had been attacked and his home was surrounded. He asked him to come and save him straightaway. Our father responded quickly and rang senior officers, including Chief of Army Staff General Shafiullah, and told them to send in the troops. He also rang the Rakkhi Bahini, Presidential Guard Regiment (PGR) head towards Road 32 immediately.
Before he got into the car, our mother asked him one last time, "Do you really have to go?" he replied, "Are you crazy? Bangabandhu is in danger - how can I not go!" I served him a glass of cold water, he drank it with utmost pleasure and then told our mother - "Take good care of my daughters."
“I was 17 years old at that time”, Tehmina Enayet reminisced. That day Sam (then 5 years old) was not in our house, she was in my aunt’s home. So we two sisters along with our mother bid the last goodbye to our father, and we looked to his jeep until it faded away in the darkness of the night. I never really imagined that it would be the last time I would see him - nor that I predicted he would die like what happened after that. It’s very tough to express the numbness we were feeling at that time. Our parents did not know that we would be going to have another baby sister. So in his lifetime, my father only knew and adored his three daughters.
Childhood at the Ganabhaban: Sweet, fond memories
“Every daughter loves her father and vice-versa: and our father was our first love” - this one particular quote is enough to define the relationship between the daughters and their father, Colonel Jamil. Recalling their childhood at Ganabhaban, Tehmina Enayet described, “We started living in Ganabhaban once we came back from Pakistan in 1973. We used to live on the second floor. There was a beautiful lake inside the compound.”
Reminiscing memories with Bangabandhu, Sam Jamil shared - “I used to sneak in Ganabhaban during the afternoon meetings of Bangabandhu. One day my father noticed and told that to my mother, and I told him that I would not repeat that if I can see Bangabandhu for once, which he agreed. As promised he took me in front of the door of Bangabandhu’s office, however, he noticed me and talked to me, then called my father who after a while informed me that Bangabandhu permitted me to visit him every day.”
What were Colonel Jamil’s dreams about his daughters? Konka described - “He was very much passionate about our education. After accompanying Bangabandhu during his health check-up in Russia, he told my mother that he would send Tonu apa to Moscow to become a doctor which she also wanted to be; and he would send me to Paris to become an artist. He sensed my passion for arts when I used to make his shoulder and back as my canvas and draw images with my fingers. Those are the fond memories of our sisters during all those Sundays, in between our father and mother in the bed.”
“I used to mimic my father a lot. I used to accompany him when he used to service his car, and he had a passion for automobiles. At that early age, I got to know about cars and automobiles from him so he sensed that I would be an Engineer. I went into a different route, the world of photography - but the essence of adventure and heroism is in my blood”, Sam Jamil described.
“We sacrificed the biggest asset we had - our father, for our Bangabandhu and his family. After his martyrdom on August 15, 1971 - our mother raised us with a lot of sacrifices; and now, here we are. We thank our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, whom we call our apa, that she posthumously honoured our father with the position of Brigadier General and awarded with the 'Bir Uttam', Bangladesh's second-highest military decoration. He is and always will be the hero in history, the only man who sacrificed his life for the Father of the Nation” - the daughters remembered their father with respect and gratitude.
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