• Thursday, Dec 02, 2021
  • Last Update : 01:15 am

A leader is born

  • Published at 12:10 am March 17th, 2021
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman delivering a fiery speech at a rally denouncing Ayub Khan’s autocratic rule after the release of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy from prison, September 10, 1962 Collected

This is the first instalment of a 10-part series on the life and work of our founding father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman

The 1920s are widely known as the Roaring Twenties or the Jazz Age. As in many other countries, the decade was one of ferment and upheaval in British India and gave birth to Mahatma Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement. 

At that juncture in history, a child was born in a remote village of Gopalganj, who would grow up to be one of the most consequential figures in the entire sub-continent. Just 50 years later, this child would lead a population of 75 million people towards freedom in an independent Bangladesh. 

“I was born in Tungipara village of Gopalganj subdivision in Faridpur district. Ours was the last union carved out of the southern part of the district. The Modhumati River flows past it. This river separated Faridpur from Khulna district,” Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman writes in his “Unfinished Memoirs.”

Tungipara and indeed all of India, then under British rule, was not very developed. Even just travelling from Gopalganj to nearby Faridpur was an arduous task that required almost a full day of toil, and an estimated 18 million people lost their lives to influenza in India from 1918-1920. In this remote village in a neglected region, Bangabandhu spent most of his childhood.

He was the third child among four daughters and two sons of Sheikh Lutfar Rahman and Sayera Khatun. Sheikh Lutfar was a government employee at a Gopalganj civil court. 

Growing up was not without adversity for the young Bangabandhu, but he had the support of his parents. He suffered from physical difficulties early in his life, leading his parents to call him “Khoka” (little boy) out of affection.

Bangabandhu’s parents played a key role in his early education, as he was initially taught at home. His parents kept three tutors for him:  Maulvi Sahib for teaching Islam, Pandit Sakhawat Ullah Patwari for general education and Kazi Abdul Hamid as a mentor.

Kazi Abdul Hamid was an inspiration to Bangabandhu, directing the young leader’s work ethic towards helping the disadvantaged.

In “Unfinished Memoirs,” Bangabandhu wrote: “My tutor established the Muslim Welfare Association, a society to help poor students in Gopalganj. He enlisted our help to collect alms from all over the Muslim part of town for this cause. We used to go from door to door every Friday for this. He would then sell the rice and, with the money collected, help students buy books and meet examination and other expenses.  

“He would also search all over town to find houses where these boys could stay, paying for their lodging by tutoring the children in the families. I had to do a lot of work for him. But he died suddenly of tuberculosis. I then took over the society and looked after it for a long time,” he added.

Before his mentor’s death, Bangabandhu began studying at the ME School, founded by his grandfather’s youngest brother Khan Saheb Abdul Rashid. After completing the third grade, he transferred to Gopalganj Public School and then to a local missionary school.

“As a child I was very naughty. I used to play a lot and sing, and was proficient in brotochari, a kind of folk dance,” he wrote in his “Unfinished Memoirs.”

When Bangabandhu was in the seventh grade in 1934, his education was interrupted by an eye surgery. In the four-year break from studies, when the Swadeshi Movement was spreading, he was very keen to attend meetings in the evening.

After his mentor’s death, Bangabandhu, while leading the Muslim Welfare Association, began showing his tendency to fight for the downtrodden regardless of the consequences.

 “Another Muslim teacher used to keep track of the money collected. He became the president and I the general secretary of the society. If any Muslim refused to help us, we would join forces to make him pay his share. In some cases, we resorted to having such people's houses pelted with stones at night. My father often punished me for following this policy. However, he would not prevent me from working for the society itself,” Bangabandhu wrote.

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