Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina takes a walk down the memory lane, remembering how she developed the habit of reading newspapers, influenced by her father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and how newspapers became an essential part of her day-to-day life
After waking up in the morning, we all used to gather, one by one, at my mother’s bedroom. With a cup of tea in everyone’s hand and newspapers scattered on the bed… everyone read a news item one after another, and others listened to it sincerely and gave their opinions on it.
Sometimes, debates continued on what was written in the newspapers or what messages the papers wanted to give. All gave opinions as per their respective thoughts. In this way, the morning’s tea party and newspaper reading gained momentum.
Our days would start in this way. It would continue for at least three hours. My father got ready to go out. We also got ready to go to school. My father was very punctual in going to his office. We learnt the lesson of punctuality from him.
Noticing our newspaper reading and the different opinions we gave, one day my father asked: “Tell me, who read which news items more attentively?”
We were surprised. Nobody could tell a word. Kamal, Jamal, Rehana, Khoka uncle, Jeny and I – we were all there. Even little Russell was also among us. He did not read, but was busy snatching away the newspaper.
Perceiving that we could not say anything, my father himself said who was interested in which news. We were surprised. How attentive my father was!
My mother read mostly the inside small news items, particularly those on social issues. She also observed what happened where. Kamal read sports news the most. Jamal did the same. I was busy with literature pages and cinema news. So, everyone was interested in particular issues.
From her early age, Rehana had special attention to newspapers. Sitting in the veranda and putting her on his lap, my father used to take tea and read newspapers. When Rehana saw newspapers, she wanted to take it – she had such an attitude that she herself would read it. And then, when we came to our Dhanmondi residence, she started reading newspapers with us. When she grew up a little, she developed a habit of reading newspapers sincerely. She used to read every news item – whether it was cinema news or others. There were many stories, poems and quizzes in the page for young readers – Rehana read all those attentively.
Rehana now lives in London, but she reads the newspapers of the country regularly, online. She not only reads newspapers, but also sends me messages instantly once she finds any news of people’s sufferings, asking me to help someone or take steps and questioning why the incident took place there.
For example, it was an incident that took place during the coronavirus pandemic. A beggar saved money through begging to build his house, but he donated his money for the treatment of Covid-19 patients. The news of such a generosity jolted Rehana’s mind very much. She informed me of the matter immediately. We have built a house for him [the beggar]. This way, we have so far been able to stand by many people only for the generous human values of my younger sister, for her habit of newspaper reading. Staying abroad, she always thinks about the welfare of the country’s people. Collecting news from newspaper pages, she serves the people.
Kamal and I passed our childhood days in the village home of Tungipara. At that time, it took two nights and a day to go to Tungipara from Dhaka. That means, if we boarded on a steamer in the evening of a day, we had to pass the next day on the steamer and then it reached Patgati station late at night. And from there, it took two to two-and-a-half hours to reach Tungipara by boat.
That’s why newspapers did not reach that area regularly. That time, we could not learn what was called newspaper reading. But one newspaper used to come to our house. We observed that adults had a huge interest in reading it.
We came to Dhaka in 1954, when there were ups and downs in politics. We did not get the company of my father. He was elected as a member of the provincial assembly. He had become a minister too. As he was very busy, he used to return home at the dead of the night, when we were already asleep. In the morning, Kamal and I went to school. Sometimes, when my father returned home to take lunch, we met him. This little time was very precious for us. Even if we got father’s affection and love for a smaller time, it was a big gain for us.
He sacrificed his life for the people of Bengal. He dedicated the whole time in his life for the welfare of the deprived people of Bengal.
Then he was detained in jail. When our father was free [out of jail], we hardly got his company due to the crowd of people. And when he was detained in jail, we met him for only one hour in every 15 days. That was our life!
My mother used to relieve all of our sorrows with her affection and love. And my grandparents and uncle Sheikh Abu Naser used to meet all of our demands. He brought us everything we needed. And my father’s cousin, Khoka uncle, used to stay with us always. Khoka uncle extended cooperation for every work – from taking us to school to going to lawyers’ residences regarding the cases filed by the Pakistani government against my father.
My mother liked to read. My grandfather used to keep various types of newspapers in the house. “The Unfinished Memoirs” written by my father contained the information of my grandfather’s buying and reading of newspapers. From then, my father made his habit of newspaper reading. And we learnt to read newspapers from him.
My father had intense personal affiliation with newspapers. When my father was studying in Kolkata, he was involved with the publication of a newspaper at that time. Mr Hashem supervised the newspaper, and Tofazzal Hossain Manik Miah served as its editor. My father was involved with the publicity of the newspaper.
Two newspapers, named Millat and Ittehad, were also published. My father was also involved with those newspapers. In 1957, my father got involved with another newspaper named Natun Din. Poet Lutfar Rahman Zulfiqar was its editor.
After the creation of Pakistan, the Ittefaq newspaper was published with the financial assistance of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy. Tofazzal Hossain Manik Miah was the editor of the newspaper. My father was also involved with the newspaper and worked for it.
In 1957, after getting the charge of Awami League general secretary, my father resigned from the cabinet. He stepped down from the post of the minister to concentrate on organizational activities to build it as a stronger organization. In 1958, Ayub Khan imposed Martial Law. My father was arrested. On December 17, 1960, he got released.
After getting released, he started a job at Alfa Insurance Company, as there was a ban on his doing politics at that time. Even he had to inform the police station and intelligence agency if he needed to go out of Dhaka.
But the period had brought a great chance for us to get our father close to us. Waking up at dawn, we used to go for morning walks with my father. At that time, we lived at a residence at Segunbagicha. Ramna Park was being constructed during that period. We used to go to the park on foot from House No 76 in Segunbagicha. There was a small zoo. Several deer, peacocks, birds and some animals were there.
After returning home, my father used to sit with newspapers and take a cup of tea. My mother and father used to read newspapers together. They used to discuss different issues.
A children’s page named “Kachikachar Asar” was published in the Ittefaq every week. There, one named Jalal Ahmed used to write articles under the title “Japaner Chithi” [Letter from Japan]. There was a puzzle section too. Sometimes, I used to reply [to questions] in the puzzle section. Sometimes I could reply correctly.
At that time, newspapers had pages for literature. It was our regular task to read the newspaper sitting in the veranda and having a cup of tea. My mother used to read the newspaper very meticulously. After taking lunch, my mother used to sit with newspapers and letters from the post-box.
The Begum newspaper was subscribed for our residence regularly. Reapers, National Geography, Life, and Readers Digest – some are weekly, some monthly and quarterly newspapers – were also kept there. Literary newspaper Samakal was also kept at the residence. My mother liked it very much. Write-ups in the Begum and the Samakal were favourites of my mother.
At that time, my father started publishing a weekly named Banglar Bani. A machine was set up after taking a place in Segunbagicha. Banglar Bani was published from there. Brother Moni was studying at Dhaka University. He was given the charge of the newspaper.
My father was arrested again in 1962. At that time, we shifted to the Dhanmondi residence. When my father was captive in jail, newspapers were the only way to get information from the outside. But those newspapers were censored before delivering.
If you have read “Prison Diaries” written by my father, you can realize my father’s interest in reading newspapers during his captivity. It revealed how important the newspapers were in a prisoner’s life, particularly if he is a political prisoner. However, my father had not faced any hassle in getting information from the outside, because he easily got information from those who worked inside the jail or stayed captive.
When my mother went to meet him, she apprised him of the country’s political situation. And she conveyed my father’s directives to the party leaders and workers. Particularly, all the credits of the movement, which was built up following the announcement of Six-Point [Six-Point Demand], went to my mother. She had a very sharp memory.
I also know how much helpful companion newspapers are during captivity. I used to buy four newspapers with my own money when I was in jail during the 2007-08 period. But it was not possible to take newspapers of my own choice. The then government gave names of four newspapers and I took those. At least, I could get some news.
My father, Bangladesh president and Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was killed brutally with the bullets shot by the assailants on August 15, 1975. At the same time, 18 of my family members, including my mother and three brothers, were also killed.
My younger sister Sheikh Rehana and I were abroad at that time. Though we were spending our life as refugees after losing all our near and dear ones, we used to collect newspapers and went through those regularly.
In 1980, I went to London from New Delhi and stayed with Rehana for a few days. We used to take to schools and then take back home some 8-10 schoolchildren in the area where we were residing, and for that we got £1 per child as wages. With that amount, I usually made the first spending by buying a newspaper.
On my way home from school, I used to buy newspaper, bread and other essential items. If I could not take even a single newspaper in my hand at that time, it seemed to me as though the whole day was dull.
I always thought of my father and mother. They had taught me to think about the well-being of the country’s people and thus created dutifulness towards the people. They had also taught us high thinking and simple living and created awareness among us on humanity and dutifulness. Since I was groomed with that ideology, I have been able to accomplish an important task of serving the nation. I have been able to undertake plans and thus implement those in running the country through giving priority to human welfare. And the people of Bangladesh are getting its benefits.
Criticisms and discussions will remain in political life, but if anyone works with honesty and integrity and can take decisions with his or her self-confidence, then its good results will surely reach the people.
Mass media could create awareness in society, and after forming the government, I gave all the government newspapers to the private sector.
But those who were against nationalization or were very much critical of it, again made criticisms when I went for the privatization, even waged movement and staged hunger-strike too.
I often think why they had started making criticisms against my father after enjoying all the facilities as the jobs of the journalists, representing the newspapers which could exist in the war-ravaged country, were nationalized and they had started getting their salaries from the government.
On the other hand, when I left all of those media with the private sector, then they resorted to all means – waged movement, made criticisms, staged hunger-strike – as I privatized the government newspapers. Why? I know no one will answer this.
When the Awami League formed government in 1996, there were only a number of newspapers in Bangladesh, and those were also controlled from a special place. There were the state-run radio and television. But there was no radio and television in the private sector.
Through my own initiatives, I opened up the private sector. In this regard, I had two targets — one was to create employment and the other was to flourish our culture — incorporating modern, technology-based culture and art with the current era so that modernism could flourish and the people at the grassroots level could enjoy its benefits.
In our election manifesto of 2008, we had pledged to build a digital Bangladesh, and digital devices are now making a special contribution to our daily life, especially when it helps us to tackle the novel coronavirus pandemic. For this, we could maintain our economic activities by taking timely steps. We opened up the mobile phones in the private sector in 1996 and for this, the mobile phones are now in everyone’s hands.
Bangladesh’s cinema industry started its journey with the hands of my father, and there is a huge scope for entertaining the mass people by making this industry modern and technology-based. Besides, this industry could play a role in the overall development and also in poverty alleviation.
We are now going through an abnormal situation due to the worldwide novel coronavirus pandemic. I am hopeful that this black cloud will go away soon and a new bright sun will rise. I wish that the lives of all become successful, beautiful. May all stay healthy and this is my desire.
This article was originally published by Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS). It is the revised version of a previous piece written by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina