Bangamata, the Unsung Lady Who Backs Bangabandhu Her Whole Life


Published on August 7, 2021
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The person who devoted her whole life with the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was none but Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib. Their marriage was fixed when Mujib was 13 and Begum Fazilatunnesa just three. As his paternal cousin Fazilatunnesa also known as Renu in the family, lost her father then, their paternal grandfather Sheikh Abdul Hamid had commanded his son Sheikh Lutfur Rahman to marry his son Sheikh Mujib to her. In 1938, Sheikh Mujib tied the knot with Fazilatunnesa with family rituals. The pair subsequently became the happy parents of two daughters, Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana, and three sons, Sheikh Kamal, Sheikh Jamal and Sheikh Russel. Renu was the best friend of Sheikh Mujib in his well and woes. There was nothing in this world that these two friends could not share.

Conjugal Life Spent at Jail Gate

Bangabandhu served a total of 4,682 days in prison - almost thirteen years of his life. He was involved in politics from his early life. So, the chapter on confinement started from his school life. In the British period, he was imprisoned for seven days and the rest 4,657 days were in the Pakistan regime. In the 23 years of Pakistani rule, he was sent to jail 18 times for almost 13 years.

Before 1971, he was imprisoned in Dhaka Jail and Cantonment for 12 years. At that time, Begum Fazilatunnesa Mujib used to meet Bangabandhu in jail regularly. They had to meet in front of an IB officer and a deputy jailer. Not only that, the process was so painful that Bangabandhu mentioned it as farce in his ‘The Prison Diaries’.

Remembering those memories, Bangabandhu wrote: “One IB staff and a deputy jailer were present during the meeting time with relatives… There are a lot of conversations between husband and wife, but there is no scope. I thoughts at times to ask my wife not to come. I told my wife not to come to Dhaka from 1949 to 1952 because she was taking care of our two children.”

Imprisoned Life of Bangabandhu & Struggle of Renu

Sheikh Mujib was arrested on March 11, 1948, for the first time in the Pakistan period while enforcing a general strike demanding Bangla as the state language. On April 19, 1949, he was arrested for the second time because of his involvement with the rights of fourth grade staff in Dhaka University. The university also expelled him for his role. According to the first chapter of the Secret Documents of Intelligence Branch on Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the then chief minister Khawaja Nazimuddin and Dhaka University authorities sent Fazlul Quader Chowdhury to ask Sheikh Mujib to compromise and seek an apology. But Sheikh Mujib rejected the proposal.

The intelligence report also said that Mujib’s father Sheikh Lutfur Rahman also met me on June 7 and 11 in 1949. Abdur Rab Sernibat, the husband of his younger sister, also met him on June 22 at the prison gate. And, Mujib finally walked out of jail on June 26.

Then, on the last day of that year, he was arrested again. This time, Fazilatunnessa Mujib lived in the village with their two children. So, he forbade her to meet him. In 1950, he had to appear in a court in Gopalganj. He thought he got the chance to meet his family. But when he arrived in Gopalganj, he heard the news that his family moved Dhaka to meet him last night. Mujib wrote: “After we got down at Patgati ferry ghat in the Modhumati river, I came to know that my mother, father, Renu along with my children went to Dhaka to meet me. I came in one ship and they went in another ship. The two ships met one another in the river. But only we could not meet. It has been one year I haven’t seen them. I felt down.”

While the hearings were going on in Gopalganj court, Renu with her family got several chances to meet Sheikh Mujib in the custody. There was a heart-touching story like Mujib mentioned: “On information, my father, mother and Renu came to see me… Kamal did not come to me by any means but only looked at him from far. Maybe he thought who the person is?” In another meeting, Sheikh Mujib remembered, “Hasu [Sheikh Hasina] cannot but remain with me all the time. She starts crying nowadays during departure. Kamal too now comes to me. He also calls me ‘Abba’ [father] as Hasu does.”

While getting a personal moment, Renu asked her husband: “There is no objection that you [Sheikh Mujib] are staying in jail, but please take care of your health. I am feeling upset to see your condition.”

The history of February 21 was made when Bangabandhu was in prison. Bangabandhu and his colleague Mohiuddin Ahmed started fasting in Faridpur jail. Salam, Barkat and others laid their lives for the sake of Bangla. On one hand, Muslim League was losing its popularity while Awami League was gaining people’s faith and Bangabandhu was becoming the torchbearer of the party and the people. After his release on February 27, Sheikh Mujib spent few days at home. Regarding the family memories, he wrote: “One morning Renu and I were sitting on the bed and talking, while Hasu and Kamal were playing. Hasu, from time to time, comes to me and calls me by saying ‘abba’, ‘abba’. Kamal only looks. At one point, Kamal said to Hasina, ‘Hasu Apa (sister), Hasu Apa, can I also call your father abba?’ Renu and I both listened. I got up from the bed slowly and took him in my arms and said, ‘I am your abba too.’ Kamal usually did not want to come to me. I realized he couldn't stand it anymore. Even your son can forget you if he doesn’t see you for a long time!”

On April 26, 1952, Bangabandhu took the responsibility of acting General Secretary of Awami League. When he was elected as General Secretary in 1953, he visited the whole of Bangladesh to organize the party. On May 14, 1953, detectives confiscated a letter of Bangabandhu sent to Renu on May 5. He wrote: “Dear Renu, today I got your news of giving birth to a baby boy. Thank you so much. I am very busy, will get on next train. Evers Your Mujib.” But whether the letter was delivered to Renu remained unknown.

Even after winning a landslide victory in the United Front election in 1954, Bangabandhu became the youngest member of the cabinet. But the central government rejected the cabinet and arrested Mujib. Then Bangabandhu asked his wife to go village and take care of his children. From an intelligence report, on June 21, Begum Fazilatunnessa met her husband with three children for the first time. They talked for 20 minutes. Then she met him on July 20 with his mother Sayra Khatun and on August 25 with her three children. The duration of every meeting was 20 minutes and in front of an officer. Bangabandhu got released on December 18, 1954.

Then he got a chance to stay with his family for nearly four years. But in 1958, the Martial Law was issued, Sheikh Mujib was arrested again on October 12. And again, Renu started to visit jail. Thus, she returned to her previous routine for meeting her husband on October 30 with their four children, November 28, December 6 with Sheikh Jamal, December 17, December 21 in 1958, and January 6, 1959, with Sheikh Kamal.

Later in 1959, she also visited to see her husband on January 12, January 27, February 12, February 26 and March 12. During the last meet on March 12, Bangabandhu suggested she hire a low-cost house and sell the jeep. Thus, she met him 22 times at jail before his release on December 17, 1959.

After Bangabandhu was released on December 17, the military government kept surveillance of his activity. In that situation, Bangabandhu joined Alfa Insurance to puzzle the government. His office was at Gulistan and he secretly used it as the centre of his political activity. He and his family realized that this freed life would not sustain for long. So, they were looking for a shelter to stay. Then they started living in the under-constructing house number 677 in Dhanmondi 32 number road which then became the centre point of materializing the dreams of the Bengali nation. Following his release, Bangabandhu became adamant to establish a separate independent Bangladesh state, As a student movement erupted demanding the release of Suhrawardy in February 1962, Bangabandhu was arrested again on February 7. However, he walked out of the jail on June 18. During that time, MA Wazed Mia, VP of Dhaka University’s Fazlul Haque Hall, was in Dhaka Central Jail for his involvement in the education movement. According to his ‘Some Events regarding Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib and Bangladesh’ book, his family members met Bangabandhu’s wife Fazilatunnessa and his daughter Sheikh Hasina at the jail gate then the two families went to meet Wazed Mia and Bangabandhu.

Six Point Programme and Awami League President Sheikh Mujib

In his 4,682 days of imprisonment, the horrifying chapter started in 1966. He was elected as the president of the Awami League then. As he was continuing a countrywide campaign for the historic Six-Point Programme, the charter of Bengali nation’s freedom, he was arrested from his house on May 8 on allegation of involving in subversive activities. Then he was indicted in the Agartala Conspiracy Case that sparked massive protests across the country forcing the Pakistani government to release him from the conspiracy case on February 22 in 1969. The following day, a massive rally at the Racecourse Maidan (Suhrawardy Udayn) braced him as ‘Bangabandhu (Friend of Bengali).

During this two years and eight months imprisonment, Begum Fazilatunnesa Mujib visited Central Jail and Cantonment to meet Bangabandhu many times. Sheikh Hasina’s husband Dr MA Wazed Mia was also enlisted for meeting Bangabandhu.

After Bangabandhu started writing his Prison Diaries on June 2, 1966, Begum Fazilatunnesa met him on June 9. Bangabandhu wrote: “Jamader Saheb came and told me, ‘You have an interview, Your Mrs has come with children’. What’s the matter about the sudden meeting! They do not allow to meet within 15 days… The youngest child screamed shouting ‘Abba, Abba’ as usual…” It was the first time Bangabandhu mentioned Sheikh Russel. “The second time, the 18-month kid Russel smiled only after he saw his father… He thought the prison was the house of his father… The youngest daughter has just one demand – she wants to stay with me and see how I live here… Hasina want to go to Khulna as her college was closed then… The physical condition of Jamal was bad as his throat swelled.”

That was the condition of how Begum Fazilatunnesa managed her family when her husband was struggling and being sent to prisons now and then for the sake of the Bengali nation.

On July 26, Fazilatunnesa met Bangabandhu to talk about the wedding proposal of their eldest daughter Sheikh Hasina. He wrote about her visit on September 7, “Renu came to meet me. Rehana had a fever, so she hadn’t come. Russell came here with a fever. We got a wedding proposal for Hasina… She refuses to get married now because I am in prison now and she wants to complete her BA.”

And then on January 11 in 1967 a day before Eid, Renu met Bangabandhu with their children. She informed him that they would neither take new dresses for Eid nor observe it. And then she managed to meet Bangabandhu the next day with special permission. She also went to meet Bangabandhu with family members on March 17 to celebrate the birthday of her husband. In the following meetings with Renu, Bangabandhu asked her about the family condition. But the devoted and brave wife of Bangabandhu, Renu, “If the financial crisis is acute, we will give our own house to-let and we will hire a small one.” In another meeting with his family members, Bangabandhu said to his children, “I have spent the whole life either outside or in jail, your mother run everything for the family.”

Guiding Awami League In Absence of Bangabandhu

Begum Mujib did not only maintain her family in absence of her husband but also served Awami League with her prudent guideline in deciding the party’s action plan. Before the fall of General Ayub Khan following his 10 years of tyranny, the Pakistan government wanted to release Sheikh Mujib on parole, but the Awami League leaders were divided on the issue. One group was in favour of his conditional release while the other opposed it. At that critical moment, Fazilatunnesa Mujib gave the decision that Bangabandhu would not accept the offer to be released on parole; he must return to the people as a free man. Her decision was accepted by everybody in the party, forcing Ayub Khan to release Bangabandhu.

Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib also played a game-changer role during the crucial talks between Bangabandhu and Yahya Khan following the victory of the Awami League in the 1970 general election. No significant progress was coming in the dialogues as the military rulers were not at all willing to handover power to Bangabandhu. Instead of taking preparation to handover the power, the Pakistani military rulers started hatching conspiracy with Bhutto. Bangabandhu. Realizing the motives of Pakistani authority, Bangabandhu had plan A and plan B. Plan A was to gain maximum for the people of then East Pakistan by taking the power of Pakistan through the peaceful settlement. He wanted a peaceful settlement as he was aware of the brutality of the Pakistani military. During that crucial moment of Bangladesh and its people, Fazilatunnesa Mujib gave a clear decision. She told Bangabandhu, “You have no option other than pursuing independence of Bangladesh.” Convinced by the idea of Begum Mujib and his party leaders, Bangabandhu made the historic call of independence in his historic March 7 speech. Bangabandhu was inspired by his beloved friend and wife Renu for the historic speech. She told Bangabandhu, “Say [in the speech] whatever you feel right in light of your experiences in the last 23 years.”

Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib was an integral part of every political development towards the birth of Bangladesh. Her husband Bangabandhu, on one side, organized and led the whole nation for its independence throughout his life, and she, on the other side, dedicated her whole life to support Bangabandhu relentlessly with her prudent advice and idea in well and woes and took the responsibility of the family and encouraging him as his best friend. Her struggle even continued after the independence of Bangladesh to support Bangabandhu for nation-building activities. This best friend of Bangabandhu even did not leave each other during the night of the nation on August 15 in 1975. When the killers were bringing Fazilatunnesa Mujib and others down after killing Bangabandhu on the stairs of their house, his wife broke down in tears. She shouted, "I will not go, kill me here." Later, the assailants also killed everyone including Bangamata Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib.