231Published on September 14, 2021
As she turns 66 on Monday, Sheikh Rehana looks back at a life with a Shakespearian ending: “All’s Well That Ends Well.”
When her father the great Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was gunned down with almost the whole family, the teenage Rehana wished she had died.
“How could I live with so much pain!” she told years later, lamenting especially for her mother and youngest brother Russel.
“They were not in politics, so why were they killed?” she fumed in anger, crying for justice and punishment for the killers of 1975.
But Rehana, who survived the bloody coup because she was in Germany with her sister turned round to marry and raise a family in far-off London– all the while the ultimate confidante of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina but never a contender for the spoils of office.
Rehana is an ideal sister, a selfless source of support for her elder sister, Hasina, both on a mission to fulfil Bangabandhu’s goal. The two sisters are bonded by birth and the pain they have gone through, according to the accounts of a number of noted historians.
Hasina says her younger sister is much like their mother – organised and disciplined – unlike herself, in self-admission, “the laziest of all” as a teenager.
Rehana, adorably called “Chhoto Apa” (younger sister) by the members of the Awami League, has been a lifelong companion of Hasina, navigating the choppy waters of Bangladesh’s politics with its legacy of blood and chaos.
Rehana misses life in her ancestral Tungipara village — nature, the family get-togethers et al.
Her reflection features in the docudrama “Hasina: A Daughter’s Tale”.
“Father would come back home from his morning walk to our house on Road 32. He would sit on an easy chair in the veranda, and we would gather around him. Sipping tea, munching on toast biscuits, reading the newspapers and then off to schools or colleges. That was the environment we grew up in. We still carry that with us.”
Together, Hasina and Rehana carried forward the legacy of 1971 that a dark web of conspiracy tried to burn down to ashes.
When Rehana looks back at one of the most tragic events of global politics, the assassination of the Father of the Nation and his family on Aug 15, 1975, her tough exterior often gives way.
Had she not flown to Belgium along with her sister before the coup, she would have suffered the same fate as her father, mother, and brothers. Her regret: “I should have stayed back to die and one of my brothers should have gone to Belgium and survived.”
An avid reader like Bangabandhu, Rehana recalls Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” where two republican sisters were knitting and remembering their tormentors and keeping a tally. When the last one was killed, they said, “32”.
Life has never been easy for sisters Hasina and Rehana since Aug 15, 1975.
While on the previous night they were enjoying a party in a diplomat’s house in Belgium, the same man refused them a lift in the car to carry them to the airport after news of the coup broke out.
That nightmarish turn of their life haunts them even today. Though they finally forced their way back to the country and reclaimed their political space in Bangladesh through a long, unrelenting struggle, conspiracies and threats continue to dodge them.
On Aug 21, 2004, the whole world turned to television to get updates on a gruesome event like they did on Aug 15, 1975.
Rehana was insistent on going with Hasina, then the opposition leader, to join a rally in Dhaka. Hasina declined her request.
“I stormed off to my room in a huff. In the meantime, some guests came to see her. She said, “Have some tea with them. I will be back soon. While we were speaking, the television was on. I saw the news and rushed downstairs. In the meantime, I heard that she had been killed.
“Soon after, her car drove in as I was standing there. She was covered in blood. Her saree, face, body, eyes… blood everywhere. I gently wiped her face with my saree and helped her into the house.”
Hasina has survived 19 assassination attempts, mostly busted before the guns were out. Since Rehana is her constant companion, she suffers the same threat as her sister.
That is the price of steadfastness to the cause of upholding the Bangabandhu legacy.
While treachery and torture chased her on the way, she never gave up on her commitment to helping their children to become the best.
Rehana is a proud mother.
Her daughter Tulip Rizwana Siddiq is a British politician serving as the Member of Parliament for Hampstead and Kilburn since 2015. Her speech at the British Parliament narrating, received global acclamation.
Rehana’s son Radwan Mujib Siddiq, a London School of Economics graduate, edits the country’s first policy-based magazine WhiteBoard, and is widely credited with bringing youths closer to history through a wide array of creative projects such as “Mujib” graphic novel, “Hasina: A Daughter’s Tale”, and Joy Bangla Concert. Her other daughter Azmina Siddiq works with an international think-tank.
The legacy of Bangabandhu that the assassins wanted to wipe out has risen from the ashes with Hasina and Rehana playing the phoenix. It is an inspiring tale of daughters carrying forward the mantle with their children.
Writer: Coordinator at Centre for Research and Information (CRI)