August 15, 1975 is etched in Bangladesh's memory as one of the darkest nights in the history of this country. On this day, the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was brutally assassinated, along with most of his family members, by a sect of disgruntled army personnel. Known as Bangladesh's founding father and the architect of the 1971 liberation war, his murder set the stage for decades of military rule.
August marks the month of mourning in Bangladesh, as we mourn the death of our leader, we mourn the injustice and remember the atrocity of the heinous 1975 crime. Not only did they murder our founding father, the bloodbath also took the lives of his wife Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib, sons Sheikh Kamal, Sheikh Jamal and Sheikh Russel, daughters-in-law Sultana Kamal and Rosy Jamal, as well as sixteen more who were close to Bangabandhu.
The only two that survived the massacre were his two daughters – Sheikh Hasina, now prime minister, and Sheikh Rehana. After returning to Bangladesh after a long exile, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina set up the Bangabandhu Memorial Trust on April 11, 1994 to commemorate her father's sacrifice.
After almost twenty years since the Trust was set up, PM Sheikh Hasina continues to take an active role as chairperson, undertaking several initiatives that include the setting up and restoration of the Bangabandhu Memorial Museum, funding research work on our country's history, setting up a specialised hospital as well funding scholarships for the underprivileged.
The Dhaka Tribune caught up with Sheikh Hafizur Rahman, member secretary of the Bangabandhu Memorial Trust to find out more about the Trust's beginnings, discussed its undertakings and found out more about the revered Bangabandhu Memorial Museum.
What led to the formation of the Bangabandhu Memorial Trust? After remaining in exile for a long time, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina returned to Bangladesh on May 17, 1981. From that very day, she had been contemplating the idea of forming a Trust. Back then, her political engagements led her to travel to different regions around the country where she came across many young men and women who were struggling to be able to afford an education. Using her personal finances, she took the initiative to fund many of their education. In order to be able to do more for underprivileged students she decided to form a Trust. Moreover, after the assassination of the Father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, no one really had the correct, factual account of the country's history – even children's textbooks carried incorrect narratives. As a result many weren't aware of the true history of our nation's birth and growth. The Trust was formed to fund and aid researchers in their quest to study and analyse our nation's past, allowing them to educate and inform the common man of how the birth of Bangladesh actually took place. On April 11, 1994, the Trust was formed with the first meeting taking place the very next day on April 12. On September 6, 1994, Bangabandhu's family home at Dhanmondi 32 was handed over to the Trust to be turned into a museum for the general public. The house was in the name of Bangabandhu's wife, Sheikh Fazilatunnesa. The home was then supposed to be passed down to only living immediate family members Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana, but they made changes in the documents to hand over ownership to the Trust.
Who handled the restoration of the museum? Currently the museum has a committee that looks after it. In the very beginning, the committee chief was Prof AF Salauddin Ahmed, a history professor from Dhaka University. After his death, Hashem Khan took over as chief of the Bangabandhu Museum. As for the entire idea of how it should be set up – that was done entirely by Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana. There used to be a time when she single-handedly set up different parts of the house, all by herself. After opening the museum for the public, in the primary stages of the museum's set up, an architectural firm, a few engineers as well as a journalist worked on it together.
Personally, which part of the museum is your favourite? His bedroom, the dining room downstairs, every part where Bangabandhu lived is very precious to us. For me, all the living spaces where Bangabandhu dwelled holds a special place because I have memories there too.
Over the years, how has the museum changed? The restoration began with baby steps, with all the work being done manually. Over the years the Trust has extended the museum's space by purchasing land behind the house to be able to expand the museum. Now, the newly acquired space serves as the main display for exhibits.
Why did Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina choose to turn her family home into a museum? Both Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana felt that Bangabandhu wasn't just their father, but was also the father of the nation, in the true sense of the phrase. That's why they decided to share a part of his life, his history, with the countrymen, handing over the property to the trust and thereby, the public. What's interesting to note is that when they gave away that home – they really didn't have a permanent residence of their own. When Sheikh Hasina first came to Bangladesh on May 17, 1981, she lived with relatives first, and later with her husband M A Wazed Miah. Both she and her husband lived in small government quarters as he worked for the Bangladesh commission. The only permanent address residence she had back then was the Dhanmondi 32 home, but she decided to hand that over to the Trust for the sake of establishing the museum in honour of her father.
What are some of the biggest projects undertaken by the trust? Right now the museum is the biggest project, after which the student scholarship program, the Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib Memorial KPJ Specialized Hospital along with the program that handles financial funding for the underprivileged.
Who's brainchild was the Sheikh Fazilatunnesa hospital? It was entirely Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana's. The land where the hospital and nursing institute has been set up was their mother's property. They had a special reason for launching this hospital – it's a specialised hospital that deals with maternal health, children's health as well as autism. Previously, under the Trust's directive, we provided free medical care to the underprivileged. At that time I came across many women and men who had never even been to a doctor! When we asked if they had ever received any medical care, the majority of them said “no.” This hospital was made mainly for these people. Currently, the government funds 70 percent of the hospitals while the Trust funds 30 percent. In this hospital, at least 30 percent of patients get free medical care.
What are the Trust's future plans? Most of the Trust's projects are funded by public contributions because of which, for now, we can only focus on the projects at hand. We do have plans to set up a university, but that is once we can find adequate funding.
Do you have any special message for today's youth? August 15 is national mourning day. The assassination of the Father of the Nation was planned to backtrack us by a 100 years. Today, the social decay we experience is the result of that attack. For our youth, I have one message: we need to know our country's history, we need to know the history of our independence and that's the only way we can really learn about our ourselves. Only then can we find true pride in our nation.
Such were those days, such are these....
The rattle in the crib titters as the baby slowly lets go of it's hand
The mantle's grim and tethers on strongly to time fixed in sand
Music is still instilled in all of us like it used to be
The grandkids are a gem, each as unique as the other with spirits free
Although the violin strings have become rusty and I'm out of practice
And the piano's echoes haunt the empty space within me, I react with ease.
Knowing that this is our time to cherish every moment we have with our family
Knowing that we remember all the love you gave us and hold on to your memories for eternity
Raising kids, having them live a life of constant chaos was half the struggle
Becoming a wife and making a home through constant changes was a juggle
But your voice was always there at the back of my head saying:
"It's not your choice you need to lead and be stoic and in all your glory be slaying
All that's wrong, unjust, cruel and immoral... To preach peace
Fear not 'cause you'll not be alone or scared or have anyone but your strength to please."
We know our brothers were the ones who trained in combat and were supposed to govern
But after you all left we became stone-hearted soldiers and of a golden Bangladesh yearn.
Sheikh Pragya Joyeeta Rahman