He was always very caring not only towards the fellow party men but also towards newsmen. The white bearded, 68-year-old man never forgot to ask about their wellbeing whenever he attended any party programme. He was especially popular because he entertained them with homemade dry ginger, and eventually became well-known as “Ada Chacha” (ginger uncle).
After his tragic death in the August 21, 2004 grenade attack, his memories and family have gradually become almost forgotten to all – except for the journalists who, at least once a year, enquire after his family.
Ada Chacha’s name was Rafiqul Islam and he was an ordinary but extremely dedicated Awami League activist and grassroots-level leader who embraced a tragic death on August 21, 2004, along with two dozen of his party fellows, in the grenade attack on an Awami League rally on Bangabandhu Avenue.
The then opposition leader Sheikh Hasina, who was the prime target of the terrorists and narrowly escaped death, also used to be entertained by Ada Chacha’s chewing ginger. Hasina used to look after his family until she became the prime minister in 2009.
After that the scenario has gradually changed, and now Rafiqul’s children have no expectations from the party, though their father had been devoted to it beyond any personal interest or political gains. He loved the party more than anything or anybody.
Rafiqul, one of the few hardcore well-wishers of the Awami League, had never missed a rally or any other programmes of the party’s Dhaka City unit. Yet neither he nor his family received any recognition from the party.
Originally from Comilla, Rafiqul first came to the capital during the 1952 Language Movement and never returned.
Now, the family members of the then adviser to the Dhaka City unit expect nothing as no one from the party has even bothered to think about them over the last 10 years, causing them to lead a life full of frustrations.
“When the Awami League was in opposition, the leaders used to inquire about us. But as soon as the party assumed power, everything has changed within it, but not our situation,” Rafiqul’s son Majharul Islam Mamun told the Dhaka Tribune at their house at Sipahibagh.
These Dhaka Tribune reporters were surprised to see the house of the dedicated leader – a tin-shed, one-storey house on four kathas of land with seven rooms where 17 members of Rafiqul’s family have been living in terrible conditions. Of his eight children, five reside in the house with their families as they found hope among themselves to live in this busy city.
Some children were studying in the front room of the house as Rafiqul’s eldest daughter Mahbuba Begum has to tutor the children of the area to earn a living for the family. There were some torn clothes hanging from ropes, revealing the dire state of the family after the departure of their father.
Asked how they were doing, Mamun said: “Thank you for asking me. The party leaders do not even bother to ask us this.”
“We all siblings are living in this cramped space. You came to see us today and will meet us again after 12 months. Only journalists bother to look in on us,” said Mahbuba, who has yet to marry since she has to take care of her siblings.
In the first three years after the Awami League assumed power in 2009, the family members attended the party’s iftar events on their own initiative. They stopped going to such programmes after realising that the party members did not care about them at all.
“We are with the party as our father was, but we are deprived of everything,” said Mamun, who is now forest and environment secretary of the local unit of the Awami League.
According to the family, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina provided financial assistance to some of the victims’ families last year but Ada Chacha’s family was not one of those.
With regard to financial support, the party is clearing a Tk10 lakh loan which Rafiqul had taken after mortgaging his house with a bank.
“The leader [Hasina] might recall us. She has sympathy towards us but the people around her are not interested in communicating with us. Therefore, her messages do not reach us,” Mamun said.
The family thought their fate would change since Rafiqul had been a devoted Awami League leader. But nothing changed when he was alive. After his death, things got worse.
“The August 21 incident made a huge impact on the Awami League’s way to assuming office, but the party did not evaluate the victims properly. We are not even invited to attend the August 21 anniversary programmes, but we do attend those anyway,” Mamun said.
Ada Chacha left five sons and three daughters. Among the eight, eldest son, Saidul Islam Chanchal, runs his father’s business of bicycle parts at Bangshal. Son Robiul Islam is unemployed and Ziaur Rahman Biplob lives in Italy while Rezaul Islam Pollob now works in the accounts section of Desh TV.
Rafiqul’s daughter Mahmuda Begum lives in Italy with her husband while Fahmida Begum lives at Goran in the capital.
Mamun said: “I used to run a cable TV business in the area. But in 2001, Awami League activists, in collusion with some BNP leaders, took over the business.
“It is my business, but now they pay me Tk20,000 to Tk25,000 every month which I spend on the family. My sister Mahbuba contributes to the family by tutoring children.”
Mamun added that the family was looking forward to cooperation from the party, but would not beg.
“We do not want to disturb anyone by seeking assistance,” Mamun’s brother Chanchal said.