The Flame will go on
Aasha Mehreen Amin
When people like Hena Das pass away, the sadness is felt by everyone, even those who never even met her. For individuals who dedicate themselves completely to serve humanity, they are not just people but legends, guardian angels and the much-needed visionaries of a society that needs all the help it can get.
Often it is hard to recognise them when they are alive for most of us are too busy in our selfish pursuits and subjective definitions of survival. Many of us want to do good things but just don't know how to keep focus, how to extricate ourselves from worldly attractions. Hena Das started focussing on what she wanted to do at the age of 13 when she joined the struggle for independence against then-undivided India's British rulers. Trying to establish justice in the form of fighting for the rights of the ordinary man and woman, seemed to be an obsession for Hena Das. A pure communist who married a communist leader, she was the central committee member of the Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB) and never missed an opportunity to take part in any movement for the cause of equality and justice. She was a central figure in the Language Movement and the War of Liberation. A dedicated teacher, she worked to establish the rights of teachers and was also a member of the first education commission headed by Dr. Qudrat-e-Khuda. She organised female tea garden workers to form trade unions to fight for their rights in the early fifties.
But her most significant and talked about role was that of a pioneer of the women's movement. As the vice-president of the first committee of Mahila Parishad she was it's president for eight years after the death of Sufia Kamal.
Women in our country are far from being emancipated; they are still victims of parochial customs and traditions, religious misinterpretation and medieval barbarism. Every day the newspapers give us an update on just how far the repression of women can go, with religious edicts to flog a woman senseless for alleged looseness and demented husbands setting fire to their wives to play out some sick, sadistic game. Yes there is still a long way to go and we continue to be the most vulnerable in human society.
But we are survivors and most of all, fighters. We have laws now to put away these sadists and perverts, we have more men now who support equal rights and we have a society that is more open to females being educated, to women working, being financially independent and being at the helm of government. All this did not just happen. It started with Begum Rokeya and she left that spirit of fighting injustice, to others who continued to bear the torch. Mahila Parishad has always been a sincere upholder of that legacy, giving women a voice that had never been heard before, bringing them together from the furthest corners of the country to continue the movement. After Begum Sufia Kamal it was Hena Das and then Ayesha Khanam that led Mahila Parishad in its continued struggle to get policy makers and governments to listen to that collective voice for justice and to make changes in the way the state treats and views half of the country's population.
Hena Das inspired her colleagues and many prominent figures such as Agni Kannya Matia Chowdhury, now our Agriculture Minister, who says that she was inspired politically by the legendary Das.
It is unfortunate but true that individuals with such integrity, unfailing determination and an unbridled passion to fight for the cause of justice have become more and more a rarity. But Hena Das's teachings of life will continue to be taught to inspire and ignite the fire that urges us to take the un-trodden, sometimes unpopular path as long as it is the right one. She truly remained a teacher for she taught us the most important lesson in life: how to be human.
(R) thedailystar.net 2009