Bangamata remained a key source of encouragement, strength and courage for Bangabandhu throughout his life and endless hardship
Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, who was like a mentor to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in 1946 warned the young leader not to neglect his wife as “she was a precious gift from God.”
Today marks the 91st birth anniversary of Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib Renu. On this day in 1930, Bangamata Fazilatunnesa Mujib was born to a noble Muslim family in Tungipara village of the then-Gopalganj sub-division of Faridpur.
Bangamata and Bangabandhu would become the happy parents of two daughters - Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana - and three sons - Sheikh Kamal, Sheikh Jamal, and Sheikh Russel.
The couple started their life together as children and tragically died on the same day, assassinated with other members of their family on August 15, 1975.
Regarding their early married life, Bangabandhu in “The Unfinished Memoirs” wrote: “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 elder 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. Renu herself was three years old then; she was raised with my siblings,” he added.
Bangamata remained a key source of encouragement, strength and courage for Bangabandhu throughout his life and endless hardship. She was not only a witness to the major events of Bangabandhu's life but also his closest confidante.
A bridge to the imprisoned Bangabandhu
Bangabandhu spent a major part of his life behind bars for his political activism. During such difficulties, Fazilatunnesa Mujib took care of the family single-handedly and acted as a bridge between the Awami League and the incarcerated Bangabandhu.
“Whenever Bangabandhu was imprisoned, Bangamata looked after both her own family and the Awami League family (party). Bangamata used to save money in small amounts and spent it to look after two families,” eminent academic Prof AAMS Arefin Siddique said.
She was under house arrest imposed on her and her family by Pakistani military intelligence until December 17, 1971, the day following the liberation of the country.
Courageous and possessed of infallible ethics, Bangamata told the Pakistani soldiers that she would pay a monthly rent during her house arrest. She never missed making a payment.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on several occasions said Bangamata had helped Bangabandhu from behind the scenes, and he could only become the great leader he did because she was beside him.
Sheikh Hasina also said her father used to speak to her mother before making any major political decisions, as he valued her advice extremely highly.
"My mother always encouraged him [Bangabandhu] to do politics for the people of this country. She never held him back. She never looked out for her own interests."
Bangamata played a key role during the Agartala conspiracy case. Despite pressure from various quarters, she sent a message to the imprisoned Bangabandhu warning him not to accept the proposal to leave jail on parole to attend the Round Table Conference in Rawalpindi in early 1969.
Bangabandhu rejected the parole offer and the Pakistan government was later forced to free him unconditionally.
During that time, Bangamata boldly told Bangabandhu: “If you accept parole, there is no need for you to come to my house.”
During the movement in support of the Six-Point demand, Bangabandhu was in jail and several meetings were held at Dhanmondi 32. Some leaders called for eight points instead of six, but Bangamata stood firm.
“Before going to jail, he told me only about six points, so there will be no additional points,” she told the leaders.
Humility and humour
Bangamata as a woman and wife led a very simple life. She only wore a precious katan saree when then-Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi visited Bangladesh on an official tour after independence.
At the time, Fazilatunnesa Mujib also carried her “Paner Bata” like a typical Bengali woman and Bangabandhu joked: “You didn’t forget to carry that here, on this occasion!”
Regarding Bangamata at home, Sheikh Hasina said: “Everyone obeyed our mother. In our house, her word was the last word.”
What is unknown to many is that Bangamata also had a great sense of humor.
In a conversation with Dr Nilima Ibrahimm, Bangamata once said: “You people made your brother as Bangabandhu and made me Bangamata. Why not Bangabandhobi? Am I too old for that?”
Following the Liberation War, Bangamata also played a key role in taking care of the Birangana women.
Furthermore, she played a key role in the construction of Bangabandhu Bhaban at Dhanmondi Road 32, now Bangabandhu Museum. The Bangabandhu family acquired the land during the period of the Suhrawardy government in the 1950s, and she even took part in the physical construction of the house with her children to save on labour costs.
On the occasion of Bangamata Fazilunnesa Mujib’s birthday, the Awami League and its associated bodies will arrange a detailed program today.
President Md Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina have delivered separate messages to mark this day.
"Bangamata Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib is a pride of the Bangalee nation and a source of inspiration for womenfolk. She became Bangamata because of her sacrifice, compassion, cooperation and prudence," said President Abdul Hamid in his message.
In her message, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said Bangamata played a unique role in bringing motivation, strength and courage for Bangabandhu to guide the struggle of independence and Liberation War towards its right direction side by side carrying out family responsibilities.
Bangamata made a strong contribution to the six-point movement and 11-Point movement, she added.
She had a remarkable role behind the political success of Bangabandhu, said the prime minister.
She said the nation has genuinely bestowed Bangamata title on Fazilatunnesa Mujib because of her unparalleled sacrifice, cooperation and prudence.