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Bangamata Sheikh Fazilatunnesa - a True Companion of Bangabandhu

  • Professor Dr. Abdul Mannan Choudhury
  • 8th August, 2021 12:45:25 AM
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Bangamata Sheikh Fazilatunnesa - a True Companion of Bangabandhu

Today is 8 August. On this day in 1930 A.D, a child was born to Sheikh Zahurul Huq and Hosneara Begum at Tungipara village of Gopalganj sub-division of the then Faridpur District. The baby girl was named Renu because she resembles very much of pollens of a flower. She was given a proper name too, but the proper name Fazilatunnesa was known to few of the family members or to outsiders before she emerged as the friend, philosopher and guide of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman - the Father of the Nation and the greatest Bengalee of all time. Renu along with her another sister lost their father at the age of three. Therefore, it was necessary to find husbands for them and escape the legality of the law of inheritance in Muslim Law. Renu and Sheikh Mujib entered into wed-lock when none knew the meaning of marriage or conjugal life. Sheikh Mujib stated in his the Unfinished Memoirs about their marriage as under:

“When I got married I must have been around thirteen years old. After Renu’s father died, her grandfather called my father and said, ‘You will have to marry off your eldest son to one of my granddaughters. This is because I intend to bequeath all my property to my two granddaughters.’ Renu’s grandfather was my father’s uncle and I had to marry her because of my father’s command. The marriage ceremony was confined to an official registration. All I could gather about the event was that I had been married off. I was not able to comprehend the implication of the act. Renu herself was three years old then. When she was five years old, her mother died. All that was left for her in this world was her grandfather. He, too, died when she was only seven. When he died, she came to live with us. She was raised with my siblings. Her eldest sister was married off to one of my cousins.’’ In 1942 Mujib and Renu’s marriage ceremony was held publicity with the usual rituals.

Renu had little formal education but she was taught 3r’s at home and religious knowledge by house tutors. Of course, during her adulthood, she was perfectly self-educated which we can glimpse from her wisdom of naming the youngest son as Russel after Bertrand Russell. Renu spent most of her early life at the village and stayed separated from her husband who was much devoted to politics of Students League and politics of Muslim League. Only in 1946, she went to Calcutta to give company to her husband who was reluctantly sitting for the BA examination. She came to Dhaka (Dacca) for the first time in 1954, when Sheikh Mujib was the Awami League Secretary General and a minister in the United Front ministry. The unluckiest part of her Dhaka life restarted when she had to spend all her savings for maintenance of the family. That got expanded when Mujib as a minister was arrested time and time again for his politics for people. Then, she was to shoulder the onerous task of running the family, educate her children and hiring lawyers to fight legal battles. Renu decided to have a permanent abode and she had it by 1962, although from 1954 onward she cohabited with her husband and children till the horrible night of 15 August when the barbarous killers assassinated her, her husband, the male children as well as only disabled brother-in-law at Road number 32 of Dhanmondi Residential Area.

Beginning from 1954, the self-educated and self-depended girl was practically the most important guide of Sheikh Mujib. It is commented by many including her eldest daughter and present PM of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina that Mujib could end up by becoming governor of East Pakistan or Prime Minister of Pakistan but could never turn into Father of the Nation, architect of Bangalee Nationalism or the greatest Bangalee of all times had there been no presence of Renu or Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib in the family as wife of Mujib. Mujib received her guidance earnestly. This is reflected in his decision to abandon angling. Mujib was fond of angling which killed lot of his valuable times and deprived his followers from receiving his political attention. This is just one example that his self-educated wife used to provide. Many more examples could be cited including that of the onerous decision to launch Six Point Program or to attend or not to attend the roundtable conference on parole, exchange the substance of speech at Ramna Race Course on 7th March 1971 deemed to be the first declaration of independence or the decision to hoist Bangladesh flag on her house. In all such critical juncture of his life Bangabandhu was immensely guided by his wise and prudent wife.

Perhaps the toughest decision of Sheikh Mujib was the launching of the Six Point Program for the emancipation of the Bengalee. He was hesitant but while he received the consent of Renu he went straight to face the galore without hesitation.

Bangabandhu spent a total of 4682 days in the Jail. Counting it from 1948, this period was roughly 54 per cent of Mujib’s political life in Pakistan. During this period of 23 years, Begum Mujib took care of her children and moulded them to be human beings and humane. She perfectly took care of her father-in-law and mother-in-law, sister-in-laws and only brother-in-law and host of other extended family members. During the jail life of Sheikh Mujib, she looked after the party interest too and financed the party and its supporting organs even by selling her ornaments, furniture or the corns of her parental landed properties. Even, during the Agartala conspiracy case, she did not hide herself but moved secretly wearing ‘burka’ to organize the 11-Point Program. The party leaders and workers at the grassroots level were not deprived of her advice and funding. She even stopped the disintegration of the party at the national level by denouncing the dissenting senior leaders. She was identified after her assassination as a devoted wife, lovable daughter-in-law or as an efficient mother and a celebrated sister-in-law but none depicted her as a successful politician. In essence she was a very foresighted politician without any designation. In fact, if we analyze her political role impartially, we will end up by saying that she was the de-jurio advisor of her husband and de facto advisor of the Awami League, Student League or the Labour Front as well the Mujib Bahini during the Liberation War even at the cost of her life.  She used to channelize vital and critical information to fighters at the sectors and at the fields and helped in harbouring arms and ammunition to wipe out the enemies. Taken all these together, she has been adorned with the title of Bangamata which we think is very appropriate because, if a couple believes in the same ideology of establishing a nation and if they are successful and the male is deemed as the Father of the Nation the female counterpart is bound to be addressed as Bangamata. Many of us endowed her with this little. I myself have published an anthology on her to commemorate her life and work. Dhaka University appears to be the pioneer in establishing hall of residence in the name of Fazilatunnesa followed by some three or four other universities who named their female students halls of residue after Sheikh Fazilattunnesa. We must thank them and specially the honourable Prime Minister of Bangladesh Deshratna Sheikh Hasina for her valiant act of naming a university after the name of Fazilatunnesa. Bangabandhu Memorial Trust must also be thanked for establishing a specialized hospital and nursing college after her name in partnership with Malaysian Hospital Chain KPJ Hearth Care. However, we need to repay her debt adequately because she was the driving force behind the Father of the Nation and made all out sacrifices for the emergence of Bangladesh and its well-being.

Recently, the government has introduced a Padak or Award in the name of Bangamata for women only, but it must have been ‘open for both males and females because, Bangamata is Bangamata to every male and female of this country. I think, this should be given serious thought before announcing the award.

Sheikh Fazilatunnesa was apparently a wretched lady but her contributions in all walks of her husband’s journey rightly testify that she is not that unlucky because she has become part and parcel of our history at the age of only 45. Her premature death along with the premature demises of valuable lives has saved the nation and county from premeditated disintegration.

The writer is the President of Bangamata Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib Parishad and the current Vice Chancellor of World University of Bangladesh