By Nadeem Qadir
November 14, 2014
November 12: My great mother Hasna Hena Qadir’s 15th death anniversary. Remembering her and visiting her grave not only saddened me, but had me wondering why she had to die so young, why she had to live most of her life struggling in so many ways.
She was only about 30 years old when she became a widow in 1971 after her husband, Lt Col M Abdul Qadir, was killed by the Pakistani occupation army. She was pregnant with her third child and had dreams of how she would welcome the newborn. He was Naweed Qadir, born on April 28, 1971 – just 10 days after Col Qadir was added to the list of martyrs.
Her struggle to safeguard her children began on April 17, 1971. “Don’t touch my children” she told the Pakistani captain who was trying to take me away hours after arresting my father. The courage and love that sentence carried was just the beginning of her life of unexpected shocks, a life of bringing up her three children almost alone, and ensuring that they had a decent education for a good career.
Hasna Hena was a mother who refused to remarry to ensure a better life for her three children. She trained herself in many ways to find a job to support her family. Living alone in her residence with her three children, as she would not take anybody’s sympathy, she provided a life just as when Col Qadir was alive.
Once she needed a lot of cash for paying some taxes, and I remember how she went off to Baitul Mukarram market to sell one of her most precious gold chains. I was with her and I promised myself I would make one for her when I grew up. I did present her with something, but it was not as beautiful as the chain she had sold off for us.
When many families of martyrs moved from door to door for government assistance, Hasna Hena stood out. She did not beg for anything and had only sought what was legally hers – a piece of land in the Defence Officers’ Housing Society in exchange for the plot lost in Karachi DOHS in Pakistan.
She did not get that, and she did not make a fuss about it. Her crime was that she already owned the house in Dhaka Cantonment left behind by her husband, and thus she was not entitled to a plot. Thus, she fought on, but did not bow down.
Despite financial constraints sometimes, she provided her three children with the best education possible in this country. “You study hard and be a good, respected human being, then all my struggles will be meaningful,” she often told her three children.
When she suddenly passed away in 1999, Hasna Hena had accomplished her duty in this cruel world. All her three children were settled.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the then army chief Gen M Mustafiz ur Rahman offered condolences on her death. It was a big consolation for me that these dignitaries at least recognised the struggle she went through.
My favourite journalist, Afshan Chowdhury, wrote in the Dhaka Courier after my mother passed away, in its November 19, 1999 issue: “For women in general, life is tough. For a widow, it is even tougher, but she [Hena] battled on. There is no space for pity or even despair, but the fact is she alone knew how difficult that war was.”
“Many widows also resent the focus on the departed ones, as well as the total neglect of those who are left to struggle with the debris of life left behind. In this age of romanticising and worshipping the dead, the living has almost no place. And war widows have filled such gaps without any protest,” he wrote.
Yes, my mother was a war widow, and a post-independence warrior. In death, she too is a martyr, a Shaheed. There are many like her, who are even worse off, dealing with starvation, and facing a cruel world.
I related these stories to highlight that the government has very rightfully given the honour of freedom fighters to the war women. I congratulate the government for this great gesture. It costs nothing to honour others. It was late, but it was finally done. They can now walk with their heads held high.
I think it is time to honour war widows as freedom fighters too. They survived and gave their children the best they could, who subsequently gave the nation a new generation of citizens who are working for a better Bangladesh. Let this not remain unheard.