In the early 1950s, the annual literary conferences provided major platform for liberal people to come together and Sufia Kamal played an active role in organising such conferences in Comilla, Chitttagong and Dhaka.
In 1954 Sufia Kamal established the 'Wari Women Samity' and was elected first President of the Samity. The following year she led the first women gherao resistance on the streets of Dhaka because of the price hike of commodities. In 1956 Sufia also participated in a Shahitya Sammelan in Delhi, India.
After the birth of Pakistan three pioneer children organisations were formed in Bengal in mid-50s: 'Mukul Fauj', 'Khela Ghar', and 'Kachi-Kanchar Mela'. The latter, Kachi-Kanchar Mela, was established by Sufia Kamal at her resident in Tarabagh on 5 October 1956. The main architect of the organisation was Rokonuzzaman Khan, popularly known by his pseudonym 'Dadabhai' (elder brother), who used to edit the children page 'Kachi-Kanchar Ashor' in the Daily Ittefaq newspaper of Tofazzal Hossain Manik Miah.
Rokonuzzaman was aptly supported by Professor Ajit Kumar Guha, Dr Abdullah Al-Muti Sharafuddin, who became popularly known for writings science stories for the children, Professor Anisuzzaman, who became Professor Emeritus of Dhaka University, and Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin, a pioneer in fine art in the country. All of them were advisors at the initial stage of budding children organisation and provided their cooperation and guidance.
Being an editor of the children page of Kachi-Kanchar Ashar and Muffazal, page editor of Daily Ittefaq, Rokonuzzaman Khan began his journey with handful members of the Ashar to build up a pioneer children organisation against the backdrop of economic and cultural exploitation by Punjabi dominated military-politico elite of Pakistan regime. He tried to imbibe in children a sense of values and tradition of Bengalis and patriotism for the country.
Mohammad Amjad Hossain, a retired diplomat and former Joint Director and lifelong member of Kachi-Kanchar Mela
For her part, Sufia Kamal travelled to different districts and sub-divisions branches of the Mela in a caravan accompanied by Prof. Guha, Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin, and poet Jasimuddin to promote the good work of the organisation and inspire like-minded people. Mid 50s and 60s was heyday of the movement of the children organisations. Today, Kachi-Kanchar Mela is the largest children organisation in the country. It has three service branches comprising Upadesta Parishad (Advisory Board), Shathi Parishad (Associate Board) and Karmi Parishad (Workers' Board). Poet Mahboob Talukdar was the first convener of the Karmi Parishad followed by Khandakar Ibrahim Khaled, former Deputy Governor of Bangladesh Bank.
Following the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 Mukul Fauj died a natural death as it was seen to be following the basic philosophy of Pakistan. Khela Ghar was divided into two groups. Only Kachi-Kanchar Mela maintained its status as an unified children organisation.
The organisation worked hard to maintain its independent status in the face of sustained pressure to be affiliated with a political party. It has its own building - probably the only children organisation in Bangladesh who can boast such claim - located at Segun Bagicha area of Dhaka. The marshy land was given by the government of President Ziaur Rahman in 1980 and the foundation of the building was created initially with the financial assistance from NORAD (Norway Development Assistance). In 1995 an auditorium accommodating 320 people was added and the then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Justice Habibur Rahman inaugurated the building. Later, two further floors were added to the building through the financial assistance of the Japanese Embassy in Dhaka to make it into a 3-storey building.
Rokonuzzaman Khan promoted good relationship between Norway and Bangladesh by taking a group of Bengali children to Norway after a group of children from Norway visited Bangladesh as friends of Kachi-Kanchar Mela. Thus a good link had been established between the two nations separated by thousand of miles.
Begum Sufia remained closely associated with the organisation for over 40 years until her sad demise in 1999.
Kachi-Kanchar Mela expands with an awareness of the existing social reality.
The Central Kachi-Kanchar Mela is the only children organisation that promotes traditional Bengali culture. I can say proudly that this is the single children organisation in Bangladesh whose children have bagged many international awards in paintings by participating in exhibitions held in New Delhi, Tokyo, Seoul, Ankara and London.
On the occasion of completion of golden jubilee of the Central Mela on 5 October 2006 the Central Kachi-Kanchar Mela held a two-day cultural programme on 15-16 December 2006 which included a children’s parade, exchanging perspectives on the Liberation War and performances by children from its branches of Khagrachhori, Srimongal, Moulvibazar, Ullapara, Shirajganj, Kushtia, Manikgonj. And eleven eminent personalities, including Dr Anisuzzaman, Nirmal Kanti Das Gupta, Mohammad Amjad Hossain (this writer), Lyricist Faiz Ahmed, artist Hashem Khan, Shamusuzzaman Khan, present Director-General of Bangla Academy, Mohammad Kutubuddin, Mir Zahir Hossain, Dr Ali Asgar, Dr Zafar Iqbal and Professor Shafiul Alam were honoured while posthumous awards were given to Rokonuzzaman Khan aka Dadabhai, Begum Sufia Kamal, Tofazzal Hossain Manik Mia, Dr Abdullah Al-Muti Sharafuddin, Mohammed Nasiruddin ,MA Wadud, Barrister Abdul Haque, Luthful Haider Chowdhury, Hasan Jaan, Professor Ajit Kumar Guha and Shukhendu Chakrabarty. The Norwegian and Japanese embassy received award in the organisation category for assisting Central Kachi-Kanchar Mela.
...The Central Kachi-Kanchar Mela has the best library one could think of to cater to the needs of the children. It has more than five thousands books covering a wide range of subjects, both Bangla and English. Recently the library has been reorganised in line with library science with expertise knowledge of experienced librarian of Dhaka University.
I wish on its birthday Central Kachi-Kanchar Mela grows from strength to strength.
In 1957 and 1958 Sufia Kamal published her collection of poems 'Mon-O-Jiban' and 'Shanti-O-Prathana' respectively. The next year Sufia received the BAFA award from Bulbul Lalitkala Academy.
In 1960 Sufia established the Begum Rokeya Shakhawat Smriti Committee and proposed naming of Dhaka University's first women's hostel after Begum Rokeya.
In 1961, during the birth centenary of Rabindranath Tagore, the Government of Pakistan tried to scuttle the celebration as they considered Tagore ideologically alien to Pakistan. This was resisted by the Bengali nationalist forces and they formed National Committee to celebrate the centenary with Sufia Kamal at the helm. The members felt that they needed to create a new and progressive organisation which would nurture Bengali culture and its rich musical heritage. This gave birth to Chhayanaut that same year. Amongst the founding members was Sufia Kamali who was elected as the founder President of the organisation.
When in 1967 the government banned the broadcasting of Tagore poetry on the government-controlled Radio Pakistan, this move was strongly opposed by Bengali students and intelligentsia alike including Sufia Kamal.
On Pahela Baishakh (first day of the Bangla year) in 1963 the Chhayanaut Sangeet Vidyayatan (Chhayanaut Music School) was established. Initially the school offered courses in Tagore and Nazrul songs, classical and instrumental music. Dance and folk music courses were later included. The following year, under the guidance of Sanjida Khatun, Pahela Baishakh was celebrated with a grand musical soiree at Ramna Botomul.
Today, Chhayanaut is one of the leading music schools in the country. Its headquarter is the Chhayanaut Sangskritik Bhaban (Chhayanaut Cultural Centre) in Dhanmondi area of Dhaka. The construction of the Bhaban were completed in 2000 and was funded by well wishers and public donation and money generated from cultural programmes. It did not get any financial assistance from the government nor any foreign aid. Artist and widow of Shah ASM Kibria, Asma Kibria inaugurated the building.
Over the years, the musical programme has attained mass popularity to the extent that it has become synonymous with Pahela Baishakh celebration to many urbanites.
In addition to observing birth and death anniversaries of Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam, the school also celebrates seasonal festivals such as Pahela Falgun (Spring Festival), Borsha Baran (Ushering the rainy season) and Sharadiyo Utshab (Autumn Festival).
In 1961 Sufia Kamal received the prestigious Tamgha-e-Imtiaz award from Pakistan government.
In 1965 Sufia was elected president of both Nari Kalyan Sangstha and Soviet-Pakistan Maitry Samity. The following year Sufia travelled to Soviet Union to join International Women's Day festivals in Moscow. She wrote about her experience in a travelogue titled 'Soviet-e-Dinguli' (My days in the Soviet Union).
Sufia Kamal was a brave woman. She was not scared of standing up during times of crisis and fighting for people's rights. Whenever the authority imposed any black law curtailing civil liberty, she was at the forefront of the protest.
In the 1960s Sufia was at the forefront of the anti-Ayub Khan movement, which turned into a mass uprising in 1969.
Once General Ayub Khan, the military ruler of Pakistan, at a meeting with social elites of Dhaka, commented that ordinary people are like beasts and as such, not fit to be given franchise. Sufia Kamal at once stood up and remarked, "If the people are beasts then as the President of the Republic, you are the king of the beasts."
In 1969 Sufia was elected Chairperson of Mahila Sangram Committee.
But 1969 was also the year when the Anti-Ayub movement had reached its peak. Sufia took active part in the mass uprising against President Ayub and renounced her Tamgha-e-Imtiaz.
In 1970 Sufia received the prestigious Soviet Lenin Padak. That same year she established the Mahila Parishad and became its President. She remained its President till her death and inspired women all over the country to come forward to uphold their rights. In 1970, Sufia was also elected president of Samaj Unnayan Sangstha.
However, in November 1970 East Pakistan was hit by the worst cyclone recorded in history - The Bhola Cyclone. Over half a million people died in the cyclone. For her part Sufia worked as a relief worker and did her utmost to help the needy.
Today, the Mahila Parishad is the largest women organisation in Bangladesh with thousands of volunteers working under its umbrella.
Sufia Kamal led the women's rally during the Non-cooperation Movement in March.
During the whole nine months of Sangram (Liberation War of Bangladesh) in 1971, Sufia Kamal was confined to her residence in Dhanmondi by the Pakistan Army. Nevertheless, she helped the muktijuddhas (freedom fighters) with medicine and other supplies from her house despite continuous threats from the Pakistani military forces.
When news of the 'killings' of Sufia Kamal and Dr Nilima Ibrahim by Pak Army after the crack down on 25 March 1971 was broadcast on Akashbani, a radio station of the Indian state West Bengal, it drew criticism internationally and countries across the world put diplomatic pressure on the then Pakistani military government for clarification. The Pakistani government was forced to broadcast an interview of the poet on radio only to prove that Sufia Kamal was still alive.
Among the many harrowing moments during those nine months, Sufia Kamal recalls how she told eminent writer Shahidullah Kaiser to go into hiding when he came to her house on 7 December 1971. He refused. That same day Sufia received a telephone call from Dr. Fazle Rabbi advising her the same thing http://www.thedailystar.net/op-ed/politics/i-would-rather-die-sign-any-false-statement-1242298. A week later both men were taken by the Pak Army. Subsequently they were found dead along with countless other Bengali intellectuals.
Sufia also refused to sign a statement of the then Yahya government which denied any such event. The statement, entitled "In 1971 no massacre took place in Bangladesh", was bought to her house by Zillur Rahman, then regional director of Radio East Pakistan. But an angry Sufia refused to sign it even if it meant the loss of her and her family life, and proudly proclaimed "I would rather die than put my signature on a false statement" http://www.thedailystar.net/op-ed/politics/i-would-rather-die-sign-any-false-statement-1242298 .
I was confined in my house during the whole liberation war. Nobody was able to come to my house on 26, 27, 28th March due to military presence in front of my house. One night Pakistani army came to the residence of Wing Commander Hamidullah, which was close to my house. Immediately after I heard that Pakistani army arrested Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and seized the belongings of his house.
At the beginning of April, I heard liberation war had started. I tried to gather news about the war in many ways. Pakistani army kept strong watch on my house by setting up a permanent camp in front of it. Everybody used to visit my house through the back door. Pakistani army started arresting people from the month of April. An unknown silence gripped the whole Dhaka city. Borhan Uddin Khan Jahangir, now a professor of Dhaka University, came to my house through back door. He told me, "They (army) are torturing the women. Where can we keep them?" Though I couldn't go out but we tried to make arrangements to keep some girls in a safer place. In May, Shahadat Chowdhuy, now editor of the 'Weekly Bichitra', Jewel and Rumi came to my house. Rumi used to call me mother. He hugged me and said, "Ma, I will go to the war." I told Rumi's mother Jahanara Imam that his son wanted to join the war. She replied, "Since he wants to, let him go."
In the month of May, many families around my house left Dhaka in search of a safer place. They gave me their ration cards and I collected food from shops with those cards. Prof. Giasuddin and Shahidullah Kaiser would come to my house through the back door and take the food for the freedom fighters.
Pakistani army continued their atrocities in the month of June. I made an arrangement to send Lulu and Tulu, my two daughters, to Agartola. I was not getting any information about them. One evening, a rickshaw puller came to my house and gave me a small letter. It said, "They have safely crossed the border". I was relieved.
I started going out from July. I would go to the hospital with food and medicine for the injured people. At that time there was an acute crisis of food and medicine in the hospital. I used to give those food and medicine to certain rickshaw pullers at Science Laboratory. They would take the food and medicine to the freedom fighters.
I was able to establish closer contact with the freedom fighters in August. As Pakistani army kept their strong watch on me, I would try to help the freedom fighters in different ways ignoring the risks.
Many freedom fighters were caught in the hand of Pakistani army in August. They arrested Shaheed Altaf Mahmud and some of his relative and artist Abul Barak Alvi. Shafi Imam Rumi, Masud Sadek Chullu and Jewel were also arrested. After four days Alvi was released from concentration camp and came to my house. He had marks of atrocious tortures all over his body. I became emotional and hugged Alvi tightly. But Altaf Mahmud, Jewel and Rumi never came back.
The rest of the three months I heard only the news of freedom fighters taking control of many parts. I spent the whole October in anxiety.
In the month of November we came to know that Al-Badar and Razakars were killing many people. Pakistani army increased their vigilant on my house. On 15 November I heard a sad news from Chittagong that Pakistani army killed Kahar Chowdhury, my son-in-law. They killed him because they were very angry with me.
At the beginning of December, I heard that many parts of the country were freed from the grip of Pakistani army. After hearing these news, I had mixed feelings. I was excited and at the same time filled with sorrow. We were getting freedom at the cost of bloodshed of so many people. On 13 December freedom fighters began to gather at my resident.
On 15 December Pakistani forces fled from many parts of the city and took shelter inside the cantonment. Pakistani army encircled the house of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman till the morning of 16 December.
On 16 December Dr. Dora was shot dead while passing a house of Dhanmondi where Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana and Mujib's wife Fazilatunnesa were kept under house arrest for the nine months. I rushed to her house after hearing the news. After few hours we received information that Pakistani occupation forces would surrender at the then Racecourse Maidan at 3 pm. I was filled with emotions. Thousands of people took to the streets after hearing the news. Freedom fighters shot blank shots in the sky to celebrate the freedom.
Sufia Kamal recorded the horrific details of 1971 in her manuscript 'Ekatturer Diary' (1971 Diary). In independent Bangladesh, Sufia joined hands with Jahanara Imam, mother of shaheed (martyr) guerrilla freedom fighter Rumi, and called for the trial of the war criminals of 1971.
Sufia Kamal also inaugurated the first television programme of independent Bangladesh.
In 1972 Sufia published her collection of poems Mor Jaduder Shamadhi Pore (Where My Darlings Lie Buried) and visited Bulgaria, West Germany, and Soviet Union as President of Mahila Parishad.
Sufia Kamal was the founding chairperson of many organisations including Bangladesh Women's Rehabilitation Board, formed right after liberation, Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, and Dustha Punarbasan Sangstha (Organisation for the Rehabilitation of the Destitute). She was the president of Bangladesh Protibondhi Foundation, a foundation for the treatment, education and rehabilitation of the people with disabilities, and Nari Kalyan Sangstha.
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