Bangamata Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib: An Iconic Lady
Syed Faruk Hossain
In the history of Bangladesh, Bangamata Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib was the most influential and inspiring woman in our freedom struggle. She was a rare person in the world.This virtuous woman inspired Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on his way to becoming the father of the nation. He was Sheikh Mujib’s friend, counsellor, supporter and helper. Bangamata Begum Sheikh Fazilatunnessa Mujib is a rare personality who sacrificed herself for the Bengali nation. He played a role as a catalyst in the development of Bangladesh. He played an important role during the imprisonment of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman or in critical moments of the nation.
Even though he was not the leader of the party, he gave bold and pragmatic decisions when the central leaders of Awami League were indecisive in the absence of Bangabandhu. It would have been impossible for Bangabandhu to achieve monumental success in politics if she had not been with him. Begum Mujib was born on August 8, 1930 in Tungipara. He lost his parents at the age of five and was raised by his future mother-in-law. She married to Sheikh Mujib in 1939 at the age of eleven. In the words of Bangabandhu “…though we were married at a young age, we were married in 1942.” Bangabandhu was in jail for about 13 years of his 33-year married life. Free married life is only 20 years. Their bond remained unbreakable until his death on August 15, 1975. Comparing the political careers of Sheikh Fazilatunnessa and Winnie Mandela (1936-2018), some similarities will be observed. Both were worthy spouses of two legendary political leaders of the world. Begum Mujib did not write his autobiography. If written, it would be a unique document of our freedom struggle. However, I got the unfinished autobiography of the father of the nation, which in my opinion is the best history of the liberation war, but because of Begum Mujib. Bangabandhu wrote in his book ‘Unfinished Autobiography’, “… my wife sat in the jail one day and said, sit down, write your life story. My wife’s nickname is Renu. I was also bought a few books and submitted them to Jailgate. Jail authorities as usual checked the ledger and gave me the number. Renu begged me to sit at the jail gate for one more day. So I started writing today”. Begum Mujib’s personal contribution to the nation and her love for the Bengali people who became her mother became possible.
Her dedication to the nation was so glorious that “Bangamata” is a fitting epithet for her. Simple living, patience-curiosity and compassion for others should not only be considered as a housewife but her sacrifice for the nation was significant as the spouse of Sheikh Mujib, the greatest son of Bengal. She was the ideal mother and side of a political leader determined to face all crises. Fazilatunnecha Mujib became the ‘Bhabhi’ of Bangabandhu’s millions of supporters in the sixties. Bangabandhu had to spend 3053 days in jail, due to which the responsibility of managing the day-to-day political activities fell on his shoulders and he did so most successfully as a competent worker. He never came out of his house for processions or exposed himself to crowds in public. Instead, he became one of the downtrodden masses of his country and formed an informal secret network of Bangabandhu’s followers to discuss political issues, even solving personal problems of leaders and workers. On March 26, 1972, at the Women’s Sports Association function at the Azimpur Girls’ School in the capital, Bangabandhu spoke about his personal life and said to recognize the contribution of women: “In my life, I have seen that even if I step forward in front of bullets, my wife never stops me. I have also seen that many times I spent 10/11 years of my life in jail.
He has never opened his mouth and protested against me. Then I feel that many obstacles would have come to me in life. I found that even when I went to jail, I could not give a penny to my children. His bounty is sufficient in my struggle. Men’s names are written in history. Women’s names are not often written in history. That’s why I said something personal to you today. So that my male brothers, when they become leaders in any kind of struggle or leaders of the country, should remember that their women also have enough gifts and their place should be given to them.” Due to politics, there has been one blow after another in the family life. But Begum Mujib never broke down or told Mujib “You quit politics.” Begum Mujib ran the family alone. Money, saree, jewelries, house, car never bothered Bangabandhu for anything. When Bangabandhu left the ministry and became the general secretary of the Awami League, he had to leave all the privileges of the ministry. Begum Mujib also accepted the family’s deprivation with a smile. He was one of the sources of inspiration for Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to become a writer.
He spoke slowly and listened very patiently to others, being kind to the children in the family. She truly became the mother of many and eventually the mother of nations. He had special sympathy for the poor. He would help them when needed. He used to help workers coming from remote areas of the country. He also gave alms to the poor on various festivals and paid for their children’s education. If the activists were sick, he would help them for treatment. She helped helpless workers by selling the only fridge in the house. He cooked khichuri and gave it to his children to eat with pickles instead of selling it at home. Even in such situations, the workers helped them when they were in danger. Begum Mujib had to take care of the families of political workers who were imprisoned for a long time, even if they were not directly connected with party politics. He used to advise the workers from his own experience in difficult times. He maintained close contact with the workers and had experience in managing them. He even donated the funds collected by selling ornaments to the team’s work.
Indeed, his political acumen reached such a point that in times of crisis. In 1966, when Bangabandhu was in prison, Begum Fazilatunnecha Mujib was seen very active. He interacted with the political workers and inspired them to continue the movement by investigating their activities at every level of the movement. Begum Mujib devoted her liberation war days to galvanizing the Bengali movement for the release of Bangabandhu, under house arrest by the Pakistani military junta during the Liberation War in 1971. Begum Mujib encouraged everyone to fight against the Pakistani military junta. He did not express his concern or frustration but advised Awami League leaders and workers to be patient during the party’s problems. During the nine months of the liberation war of 1971, he was trying to give necessary information and support to the freedom fighters even though he spent his life as a prisoner. After independence, Sheikh Fazilatunnessa played an important role in building international relations.
He was close to the then Prime Minister of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi. Furthermore, he always accompanied Bangabandhu when various world leaders visited Bangladesh. After independence, Bangamata worked for the country alongside Bangabandhu in rebuilding the war-torn Bangladesh. She stood by women abused by the Pakistani occupation army, rehabilitated them into society and arranged marriages for girls from poor families. He was always a supporter of Bangabandhu in everything. Never thought otherwise. Begum Mujib’s memory was very sharp. He could remember all the political events. That’s why Bangabandhu called him ‘a living diary of a lifetime’.
During the riots in 1946, Begum Mujib did not prevent her husband from going to the riot-hit area even though she was ill herself. At that time, Begum Mujib wrote to her husband, ‘You were born not only to be my husband, but to work for the country. Country work is your greatest work. You go to work with confidence. don’t worry about me leave my burden on Allah.’ Before his historic speech on March 7, Bangabandhu received various suggestions and opinions from his party members as well on what to say and what not to say. These created a kind of confusion and stress in his mind.
Begum Mujib, however, understood him more than anyone else, so lovingly told her husband: ‘Say whatever is on your mind. Your words will determine the fate of thousands of people. Whatever you want to say, say it from your heart. It was practically worked as a magic to declare the independence of Bangladesh avoiding charges of separatism. Begum Mujib became known to the world as a fellow warrior who stood by Bangabandhu’s struggle to awaken the exploited and oppressed people to the spirit of liberation despite keeping her husband and family well.
Bangamata is a shining star in the history of Bangladesh’s independence due to her intelligence, foresight and impressive assessment of politics and well-thought-out decisions. In the words of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, he was by her side until the last moment of her life. When the assassins killed my father, he did not want to be spared. He said, “When you kill him, kill me.” This is how he gave his life. He left with everyone!’
The Writer is Registrar, Bangamata Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib Science and Technology University. Jamalpur