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How was Sheikh Hasina’s life in Delhi for six and a quarter years?

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Arafat Hossain
Arafat Hossain
Arafat Hossain, a freelance multi-platform journalist based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, has covered the Rohingya refugee crisis, human rights violations, and elections. He was jointly awarded the 22nd Human Rights Press Awards for coverage of the Rohingya refugee crisis for Agence France-Presse news agency along with other AFP journalists. His reporting for The Guardian uncovered working conditions and abuses of workers in the Bangladeshi garment factories. At the United Nations, he is interested in covering the implementation of SDGs, international refugee crises and human rights abuses in his region. ​

Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan in 1971 through the Great War of Liberation. Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman took over as the Prime Minister of independent Bangladesh. He later became the President of the country in 1975. But less than four years after the country’s independence, on the morning of 15 August 1975, a group of members of the Bangladesh Army staged a military coup and killed Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family at his Dhanmondi 32 residence.

However, two members of Sheikh Mujib’s family, his two daughters Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana, survived the brutal killing. On that day, written in red letters in the history of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina and her younger sister Sheikh Rehana were in Brussels, Belgium, at the residence of Ambassador Sanaul Haque. Sheikh Hasina was accompanied by her husband Wazed Mia and two children, Sajib Wazed Joy and Saima Wazed Putul.

News of the assassination of Bangabandhu and his family reached the family of the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina from Bonn, the capital of West Germany. Humayun Rashid Chowdhury called Sanaul Haque’s house and told him the sad news. Later, Sheikh Hasina moved from Brussels to the residence of Ambassador Chowdhury in the forest. From there, they were reassured by the BBC, Voice of America and other radio stations about the latest developments in Bangladesh.

Sheikh Hasina with father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman; Image Source: Bangladesh Awami League

Ambassador Humayun Rashid Chowdhury started secret activities from 16th August 1975; whether the two surviving daughters of Bangabandhu could be given political asylum in any country. When the matter was brought to the notice of the higher authorities of Delhi, they took the matter very seriously, and two days later they said that preparations should be made to send Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana to Delhi soon. Indian officials further said that the whole matter should be done very secretly and expeditiously, and that Sheikh Hasina should be sent directly to Delhi on an Air India plane.

Thus Sheikh Hasina left Frankfurt for Delhi on the afternoon of 24 August, and arrived in Delhi very early on 25 August. This was the beginning of Sheikh Hasina’s life of four and a half years in Delhi.

Accommodation

Sheikh Hasina was first kept in a ‘safe house’ at 56 Ring Road. They were later evacuated to a house in the Defence Colony, where they were given three suggestions. First, they should not go out of the house; Second, they should not reveal their true identities to anyone there; Third, do not keep in touch with anyone in Delhi.

Decades later, on September 4, an Indian government official took Sheikh Hasina to Indira Gandhi’s official residence, 1 Safdarjung Road. Ten more days later, they were taken to a flat in the C block of Pandara Park. The flat had three bedrooms and some furniture. A black-and-white television set is also provided to watch the news. At that time, Doordarshan was broadcast on Indian television for only two hours. However, no telephone connection was given to their house at that time.

They spent their days in a tight security zone . There was a strict security cordon around the house. Indian security officials feared Sheikh Hasina’s safety. So the security forces as well as the detectives were watching there.

Sheikh Hasina in front of Sheikh Rehana’s house in London (1970); Image Source: Prothom Alo 

Wazed Mia’s job

Sheikh Hasina’s husband Wazed Mia was working as a nuclear scientist in West Germany. He did not sit idly by even during his exile in India after the assassination of Bangabandhu. He took a job at the Atomic Energy Commission of New Delhi and continued working there till 1982.

The child’s education

Sheikh Hasina’s son Sajeeb Wazed Joy went to several boarding schools in India. These included Kodaikanal International School in Palani Hills, Tamil Nadu and St. Joseph’s College, Nainital. He studied computer science at the University of Bangalore, and later transferred to the University of Texas at Arlington, USA.

Relationship with Pranab Mukherjee

When Sheikh Hasina first arrived in Delhi, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi told Pranab Mukherjee, “You are their guardian in Delhi from now on.” In fact, Pranab Mukherjee was the real guardian of Sheikh Hasina.

Pranab Mukherjee considered Sheikh Hasina as his eldest daughter. Hasina’s son Joy had a good relationship with her son Abhijit and Pranab Mukherjee’s daughter Sharmistha had a good relationship with Sheikh Rehana.

Pranab Mukherjee considered Sheikh Hasina his eldest daughter; Image Source: Focus Bangla

Meanwhile, Pranab Mukherjee’s wife Shuvra Mukherjee also developed a close relationship with Sheikh Hasina. Sheikh Hasina used to call her ‘Boudi’. The relationship was so cordial that when Shuvra Mukherjee died in 2015, Sheikh Hasina left for Delhi without heeding the protocol.

Pranab Mukherjee came to Bangladesh in 2013 as his first foreign trip after becoming the President of India. Sheikh Hasina respected him so much that she wanted to cook and feed him with her own hands. 

Communication with ordinary people

Sheikh Hasina has not been able to come close to many ordinary people in six and a quarter years of Delhi bus. The main reason behind this was his safety. So it was not possible for her to meet too many people except a handful of journalists, politicians and bureaucrats.

One of the lucky ones to meet her at that time was DK Basu, a well-known face in the Delhi football circle and president of the Hindustan Football Club. He visited Sheikh Hasina’s house in Pandara Park more than once.

According to Basu, one of the academics of Dhaka University was behind his first visit to Sheikh Hasina’s house. On that day, he discussed with Sheikh Hasina about the situation in Bangladesh at that time and Bengali literature. Sheikh Hasina is a big fan of Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry. So he gifted Sheikh Hasina innumerable books written by Bengali writers. Basu was impressed by Sheikh Hasina’s sincere, humble manner. 

Delhi’s Park Street Road is now Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Road; Image Source: DW / Rajib Chakraborty

Involvement in politics

Surprising but true, Sheikh Hasina was away from politics most of the time on the Delhi bus. Probably a factor as to why they’re doing so poorly in India. Therefore, no matter how deplorable the political situation of her country was, Sheikh Hasina could not take part in any visible political activity despite the wishes of the Government of India.

However, senior Awami League leaders regularly visited Sheikh Hasina’s house and tried to persuade her to take over the leadership of the Awami League. Especially in 1989, the Awami League leaders repeatedly tried to bring Sheikh Hasina back to Bangladesh so that she could help them in the election campaign. But due to the then President of Bangladesh Ziaur Rahman, none of the remaining members of Sheikh Mujib’s family could enter Bangladesh. Even then, in 1981, in the absence of Sheikh Hasina, he was unanimously elected President of the Bangladesh Awami League.

It is worth mentioning that in those days in Delhi, eminent journalist AL Khatib used to work as an assistant to Sheikh Hasina. He is the ‘Who killed Mujib?’ The author of the book, which is considered to be one of the most important documents related to the murder of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family.

Mental state

In the four and a half years she spent in Delhi, Sheikh Hasina was very upset mentally. It was very difficult for Sheikh Hasina to accept what happened to the lion’s share of her family on 15 August 1975. The memory of that day was haunting him like a horror.

Even the slightest mention of August 15 was a big trigger for Sheikh Hasina. Therefore, her husband Wazed Mia used to request all those who came to see her not to raise any issue regarding August 15 in front of her.

May 16 is Sheikh Hasina’s Homecoming Day; Image Source: Jugantor

Last word

The special significance of Sheikh Hasina’s four-and-a-half years in Delhi is that she has used that time to harden her mind and prepare to return to the country to take the helm of the Awami League.

We will never have a chance to know what Sheikh Hasina would have done if she had been able to return to Bangladesh after losing almost all of her family in 1975, and what the post-75 history of Bangladesh would have been like.

However, it can be said that on May 16, 1971, she returned to his homeland Bangladesh as a mentally strong, determined person, and later took the helm of Bangladesh.

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Arafat Hossain
Arafat Hossain
Arafat Hossain, a freelance multi-platform journalist based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, has covered the Rohingya refugee crisis, human rights violations, and elections. He was jointly awarded the 22nd Human Rights Press Awards for coverage of the Rohingya refugee crisis for Agence France-Presse news agency along with other AFP journalists. His reporting for The Guardian uncovered working conditions and abuses of workers in the Bangladeshi garment factories. At the United Nations, he is interested in covering the implementation of SDGs, international refugee crises and human rights abuses in his region. ​
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