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Tonmoy Ahmed:.Pictures speak, some pictures carry special meaning, some become symbols of time and history. The picture of Sheikh Russel holding Bangladesh’s flag says it all. The youngest son of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Bangamata Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib has become an eternal symbol of childhood in Bangladesh, where children grow up with liveliness on one side and obstacles from daily life on the other side. Russell symbolises the same childhood we have left behind.
Little Russel grew up at a time when the Bengali were in the middle of their turning point in history – the struggle for liberation. He was born on Oct 18, 1964, in the early hours of the autumn at house No. 677 on road No. 32 in Dhaka’s Dhanmondi. When Russel came to the life of his Hasu Apa (Sheikh Hasina), Bangabandhu was busy in Chattogram organising the anti-Ayub Khan movement.
The political situation was getting volatile gradually across the country. Bangabandhu was busy preparing the freedom-loving nation fully for the ultimate fight for liberation. Little Russel grew up like a darling doll to his sisters Hasina, Sheikh Rehana and brothers Sheikh Kamal and Sheikh Jamal. He used to sway the long hair of her elder sister Hasina, play around the house and feed the pet pigeons with Rehana, sometimes peek in the kitchen and see what his mother was doing.
AT JAIL GATES AT THE AGE OF ONE AND A HALF YEARS
It was 1966. Bangabandhu placed the Six Point Programme at a meeting of the opposition in Lahore on Feb 5 and 6. Meanwhile, he was elected president of the Awami League, a promotion from the general secretary’s post. A mass upsurge began across the country for social and economic freedom. Students, ordinary people, workers, and farmers – all took to the street. Bangabandhu kept going around every corner of the country that frightened the Pakistani exploiters. As a result, he was arrested on the night of May 8. Russel was only one and a half years old. Bangamata took him to see Bangabandhu at Dhaka Central Jail. Little Russel refused to leave his father after the visit. It was the time he was told that prison was his father’s home. In the absence of his father, Russel, deprived of patriarchal affection, began to call his mother ‘father’. What a miserable childhood! Bangabandhu wrote in detail about the memory of child Russel in his book ‘Prison Diary’.
The Pakistani authorities indicted Bangabandhu in the infamous Agartala Conspiracy Case on Jan 3 in 1969 to endanger his life. Bangabandhu was shown arrested in the case on Jan 18. So protests erupted across the country forcing the Pakistani government to withdraw the case and release him on Feb 22 in 1969. He was given the title of Bangabandhu on Feb 23 at a large rally at Suhrawardy Udyan as he appeared to be the sole voice of 70 million Bengalis. Russel, about four and a half years old at that time, did not want to leave his father. Eventually he learned some slogans by attending regular political meetings at home and marches on the streets.
CONFINED AT THE AGE OF SIX AND A HALF YEARS
When Bangabandhu was busy in political meetings, little Russel occasionally peeked at his beloved father, fearing Bangabandhu would be lost. Bangabandhu had a very hectic schedule in campaigning for the national election. People gave their whole mandate to the Awami League and its boat symbol in the 1970 elections. But the Pakistanis started hatching conspiracies. On March 7 in 1971, Bangabandhu declared the strategy for the Liberation War at Suhrawardy Udyan. The Bengali accepted him as the father of an independent nation. When the Pakistani junta attacked the Bengali in their sleep on the night of March 25, Bangabandhu declared independence formally through wireless. He was later arrested and imprisoned in West Pakistan.
Russel’s brothers Kamal and Jamal joined the battlefield. Bangamata, a pregnant Hasina, Rehana and Russel were all detained at a house on Dhanmondi road No. 18. When warplanes flew in the sky, little Russel used to put cotton in his ears. Hasina has written in detail about this experience in her book ‘Amader Chotto Russel Shona’. Growing up in the turbulent atmosphere of the liberation movement and the War of Independence, Russel wanted to be a patriotic army officer.
AWARENESS THAT GROWS SUBCONSCIOUSLY
The role of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in exploiting the Bengali is very despicable. Even after his defeat in the 1970 elections, he could not accept the victory of the Bengali. He became a symbol of the exploitation of Bengali. Even little Russel sensed his notorious attitude although he might not have understood much politics at that age. But after listening to various slogans and discussions, he determined that the word ‘Bhutto’ is a negative word, it is the name of a bloodthirsty exploiter.
Little Russel liked to catch bullet ants. Once a large bullet ant bit him and his fingers swelled. He named the ant ‘Bhutto’. He subconsciously accepted Bhutto as the invasive power.
When he went to Tungipara after independence, he used to ask Bangamata to buy clothes for the village children. Bangamata had to buy clothes for them at his request. He used to play dummy war games with them and line them up for parades. Then he distributed chocolates among the children at the end of the game. The sense of leadership was also sprouting in his subconscious mind.
When little Russel went on a trip abroad with his father and Rehana, the world leaders were fascinated by the personality of this child wearing a prince coat. Bangabandhu visited Japan in October 1973 when Russel was only 9. His lively but moderate smile, confident look, handshake style – all had the impression of a future leader. Again, when he sat on the bench of the University Laboratory School, he became very close to his classmates. He also shared the tiffin he took from home with his friends. Like most Bengali children, he was less interested in eating rice. However, when the people working in the kitchen sat down to eat, he would sit down to eat with them with a plate coloured with red flowers.
SYMBOL OF BENGALI CHILDHOOD
Russel was born and grew up in an environment of anti-authoritarian movement, the formulation of the Bengali’s charter of liberation Six Point Programme, the mass upsurge of 1969, the Liberation War of 1971 and the efforts to rebuild the country after independence. His childhood witnessed the most critical times during the birth of an independent nation. He would have appeared as a famous humanitarian world leader, or perhaps a patriotic army officer, or a bright pioneer of modern Bangladesh – if his consciousness and such personality at his tender age got the chance to flourish.
But on Aug 15, 1975, everything fell apart. Bullets fired by barbaric assassins ended the life of Russel, a few months from his 11th birthday, along with most members of the family. What his fault was! What harm he caused! He had to die prematurely just because he was the son of Bangabandhu! After the assassins killed everyone else, one of them told Russel that he would take the child to his mother, and then shot Russel in the head. There is no example of such brutality in world history. The group of hyenas wanted to erase the last blood of Bangabandhu from the heart of Bangladesh. But Bangabandhu’s two daughters Hasina and Rehana survived because they were abroad.
The memory of Russel still burns bright in the minds of the people of Bangladesh. In happiness and sorrow – Russel has today become a reflection of the lively childhood of every Bengali.
He was stopped as a child but became the symbol of the eternal childhood of the Bengali. In the process of building an indomitable Bangladesh, every child shall be inspired by the life of Russel.
AND NOT A SINGLE CHILD SHALL BE VICTIM OF BARBARISM
To prevent violence against children, Bangladesh has decided to mark Oct 18, the birthday of Russel, as a national day. It is the responsibility of all of us to work to create awareness so that no other dream is shattered so prematurely by barbarism and not a single child becomes a victim of atrocities.
Tonmoy Ahmedis the coordinator of the ALBD Web Team at the Centre for Research and Information.is the coordinator of the ALBD Web Team at the Centre for Research and Information.