Sheikh Fazilatunnesa’s 90th Birth Anniversary
Remembering Bangamata with reverence
"Behind the achievements of every great man there's a great woman".
The phrase isn't just a widely used general saying but comes with a straight forward literal meaning. But the underlying meaning is that great women behind illustrious men are often ignored or taken for granted.
Today we mark the 90th birth anniversary of one such great woman, who had been a formidable driving force behind the achievements of our Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. We are talking about Bangabandhu's better half Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib. On one hand she was a wife and a mother while on the other she had long remained an unsung hero for championing the Bangladesh's cause and inspiring our Father of the Nation to go for relentless struggle to liberate the country. Few of us are aware of what a significant role she had played in Bangabandhu's political career besides presenting peace and happiness to him as a wife and to his family as a mother.
Since the turbulent days of our Language Movement in 1952 to right throughout the entire decade of explosive sixties', the Bangamata, as in the likes of Bangabandhu, stood firm and uncompromising in the struggle for our independence.
While the Father of The Nation had been repeatedly put behind bars, Fazilatunnesa Mujib took hold of the family-caring, nurturing and bringing up the children. The iron lady also played a crucial role in keeping the Awami League organised when Bangabandhu was arrested by Pakistan rulers. During hard times, she encouraged and frequently advised the leaders and party men on how to proceed in adverse times.
One particular incident will give us a clear insight about her courage, fearlessness and bold character as a self-respecting lady.
During the Agartala Conspiracy case, Bangabandhu was placed in custody at the cantonment and was being tried on charge of sedition by the Pakistani Junta. There was an uprising by the masses in 1969 for withdrawing the conspiracy case and let Bangabandhu and other captives set free. In order to tackle the situation, the then army dictator Ayub Khan proposed a round table discussion.
It was anticipated that Bangabandhu would go to West Pakistan for the round table conference on parole. There was also pressure from notable politicians like Ataur Rahman Khan, Abul Mansur Ahmed, Tofazzal Hossain, and others to sit in the meeting. But Mrs. Mujib, who was very much a housewife, vehemently opposed her husband's release on parole.
She remained firm and steadfast on her decision and ultimately her husband complied and refused to attend the conference on parole. Ayub Khan finally succumbed and set Bangabandhu's unconditional release dropping the so-called Agartala conspiracy case. Historical facts indicate that this incident paved the path for the release of all the captives and revival of one man one vote system. These had only become possible for the bold stance taken by Fazilatunnesa Mujib. As a wife she would have been happy to see her husband free in any manner. But as a self-esteemed wife of a peoples leader she wanted her husband's head remain high and his image to his people is untarnished.
Begum Mujib was also known for her immense patience, simplistic lifestyle and sharp memory for recalling any event of the past. Had it been not for her judicious and careful record-keeping - the widely sold "Unfinished Memoirs", the incomplete biography of Bangabandhu, would not have ever come into light.
The tale, as it has been described: In the early hours of 26 March, 1971, the Pakistani occupation army attacked the Road 32 home of the undisputed leader, arrested and took him to West Pakistan. The next day the house was raided again and was looted. The raiders took away whatever they could find. Before moving out to a safer place at Road 18, Dhanmondi, Begum Mujib stowed away the notebooks, including the manuscript of his autobiography, diaries and travelogues in an almirah in the dressing room attached to the bedroom. These manuscripts escaped the attention of the marauding Pakistani soldiers. However, thanks to the worn-out, discoloured look of the almirah.
Later, during the days of captivity by Pakistan occupation army during the War of Liberation in 1971, Begum Mujib sent her eldest daughter Sheikh Hasina to collect the notebooks. Sheikh Hasina, on the pretext of collecting textbooks for her siblings, stealthily brought the precious notebooks, which were subsequently hidden in a chicken coop that belonged to a relative in Arambagh in the capital.
Bangabandhu's handwritten notebooks survived another assault when on August 15, 1975 the Father of the Nation was murdered along with his family members and the house was ransacked. Sheikh Hasina and her younger sister Sheikh Rehana escaped the tragedy, as they were abroad at the time. Sheikh Hasina returned to the country being elected President of Awami League on May 17, 1981. She set foot on her father's house at Rd 32, Dhanmondi six years later.
The first thing she did was to recover the notebooks. However, credit goes to Bangamata for preserving those priceless notebooks in the long run that now became a best selling biography to know about the meteoric rise of a leader, his unswerving commitment to people and his avowed stand for politics of ethics and moral courage.
Beyond the boundaries of a responsible wife and mother, Fazilatunnesa Mujib also contributed the nation directly from a different position. Following country's independence in 1971, her role in building international relationships becomes apparent in her intimacy with the late Indian Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi. Moreover, she accompanied Bangabandhu when different world leaders visited Bangladesh and when he travelled abroad.
We profoundly remember this great soul and offer our heartfelt thanks for her invaluable contribution to Bangladesh. If Bangabandhu was not born Bangladesh would not have liberated. If Bangamata was not in the life of Bangabandhu we would not have the Father of the Nation. Pity that she had to succumb to death too early and that too in the hands of some ruthless and derailed army men - a cruel and untimely death she never deserved.
It was many years after her death that we realized who Fazilatunnesa Mujib was. Now revered as Bangamata she is the apparently magical force at the centre of a newborn nation, who'd kept her family and people all invisibly spinning in the powerful orbit around her. The nation will remember and respect her along with the Father of the Nation.
May Allah bless Bangamata in Heaven.