Sad passing of wife Syeda Zohra Tajuddin 'Lily' (nee Khatun)

Last updated: 10 October 2017 From the section Tajuddin Ahmad

Awami League leader following 1975 assassinations

Syeda Zohra Tajuddin, or Lily as she was fondly known, was a senior presidium member of Awami League. She organised, united and led the party after the troublesome 1975 changeover. She held the helm during this turbulent time following the assassination of Sheikh Mujib, her husband and the other leading Awami League leaders.

Zohra, now a single mother with four young children, led the party from the front as its convenor on 12 July 1977 and reorganised the largest political party in the country. She worked tirelessly and visited every part of Bangladesh to organise and inspire the party and its followers. During this period Zohra's father suddenly passed away while in good health, compounding her tragedy.

Zohra put aside her sadness and carried on leading the party successfully. She handed it over to Sheikh Mujib's eldest daughter Sheikh Hasina after she returned to Bangladesh few years later.

The Tajuddins, if you recall, have always been a family to whom the cause of Bangladesh, the heritage it has always been heir too, has been an integral part of life. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, it fell upon Zohra Tajuddin to keep the Awami League together, given especially the fissiparous tendencies within it that threatened to drill holes in its centre. Again, there were the rightist forces, encouraged and championed by a military regime, that went out of its way to push the party into the woods. Zohra Tajuddin, consistent and principled and unflagging in determination, kept the secular banner aloft in an increasingly darkening land

Syed Badrul Ahsan

Sidelined and silenced - just like her husband





The sidelining of Zohra Tajuddin quite closed the doors to the immense opportunities that might have come the Awami League's way had she remained an active part of the party collective leadership. That she was ignored, in the way Tajuddin Ahmad was ignored in a country that he did so much to liberate from Pakistan, remains one of the sadder stories of Bengali collective life. The Awami League has never been inclined to show these two Tajuddins the honour and gratitude that they have always deserved. The state, for its part, has remained silent. Tajuddin Ahmad is remembered in November, not in his individual capacity but as part of the collective leadership which fought and died for Bangladesh. That is about all.

Syed Badrul Ahsan

Die four days after Bijoy Dibosh and four days before her 81st birthday

Zohra had been suffering from various old age complications for a while and suffered a hip fracture after a fall in November 2013. She was initially treated at Dhaka's United Hospital and then later admitted to a hospital in Delhi, India, where she underwent surgery. She returned to Bangladesh and was having regular consultation with doctors at United Hospital.

Zohra was admitted to hospital on 18 December 2013 and moved to Intensive Care Unit (ICU) the following day as her condition worsened. Sadly, she passed away on Friday 20 December 2013 - four days after Bangladesh celebrated Bijoy Dibosh (Victory Day) - in the morning while undergoing treatment. She was 80 years old. It was her 81st birthday four days later.

As news of her death spread in the morning, deep shock descended on party leaders and activists. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina rushed to see her for the last time at the hospital, accompanied by her sister Sheikh Rehana, Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed and Sajeeda Chowdhury. President Abdul Hamid also expressed his deep sadness at her passing.

Her death is an irreparable loss not only to the party but also to the whole nation. And I lost someone close to me.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina emotional response to losing Syeda Zohra Ahmad

Zohra's first namaz-e-janaza (funeral prayer) was held at Azad Masjid in Dhaka's Gulshan area. Her body was later kept in front of the party office at Bangabandhu Avenue for everyone to pay their last respects to her where a second namaz-e-janaza was held. Sheikh Hasina placed a wreath at her coffin, draped with the national flag.

Two further funeral prayers took place in the family village of Dardoria in Kapasia thana of Gazipur district which were attended by hundreds of well-wishers.

Zohra Apa had spearheaded the party after the assassination of Bangabandhu. She dreamt of a liberal Bangladesh.

Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed while taking part in the first namaz-e-Janaza

Zohra was buried two days later after awaiting the arrival of her son Sohel Taj from his residence in USA. She was laid to rest at Banani Graveyard beside her husband Tajuddin. A police team accorded her Guard of Honour.

Along with her family members, the then Finance Minister A. M. A. Muhith, Deputy Speaker Shawkat Ali and senior members of the Awami League party attended the funeral.

There was stoicism in Syeda Zohra Tajuddin. Even when she suffered greatly, when grief painted her life and that of her family in all the thick dark hues of pain, she made it a point to let her emotions stay within the confines of her private world. No one has ever reported seeing her shed tears in public at the murder of her illustrious husband. Yet everyone senses the tears that must have flowed when the eerie news came in of assassins murdering Tajuddin Ahmad, along with three other illustrious men of Mujibnagar, in the putative security of prison. As the years passed, after 3 November 1975, she brought up a family of three daughters and a son in near silence, in quiet dignity that is the hallmark of men and women of fortitude.

That was the stoic in Zohra Tajuddin. She would see her husband, already ensconced in history as the man who formed the first ever government composed of Bengalis and administered by Bengalis and which government presided over an arduous War of Liberation for Bengali liberty, done to death at the young age of 50. She would survive him by decades, before passing into the ages days before rounding off eighty years of a life lived in great excitement and profound pain.

For Zohra Tajuddin, beyond grief, it was the need to restore politics to its pedestal that mattered after 1975. It was this calling that called up the feisty in her. When tragedy caused by successive usurpers of authority threatened to rend a historically powerful Awami League asunder, it was her grit and determination that instilled new hope in party activists suddenly bereft of first-tier leadership. Her problem, as she moved to reassure the votaries of Awami League politics that all would be well, was in ensuring that the party did not fall apart in the aftermath of tragedy. There were the factions that cropped up within the party; there was a large section of the party leadership that had either associated itself with the murderous Moshtaque regime or, later, shed principles in favour of opportunism by linking up with the military dictatorship that kept the nation in its grip between November 1975 and May 1981. Those who did not desert the organization wallowed in despair.

In that dark phase of Bangladesh's history, Zohra Tajuddin kept hope kindled in the Awami League, indeed among Bengalis across the spectrum, through her uncompromising belief that the party had to move out of despair into a fresh new spirit of bold enterprise. If the party could survive the repression let loose by Ayub Khan in the 1960s, if it did not flinch from its objectives in 1971, it could very well have a rebirth of glory. She kept the home fires burning, long enough for Sheikh Hasina to come home from exile in 1981 and take charge. And then she moved, or was moved, into the sidelines. To what extent the nation was deprived of committed, forward-looking, liberal leadership through her absence in the centre of things will be debated long and hard.

Any tribute to Syeda Zohra Tajuddin must recall the courage she demonstrated before the Pakistan occupation army once it became known that Tajuddin Ahmad had moved out of Dhaka in March 1971 and into exile. Her shock at discovering that a close family acquaintance would not let her and her children take shelter in his home after the crackdown pushed her into uncertainty. She would not cave in to fate, though. A note reassured her that her husband was safe in Calcutta, to which place she moved with her children. She did not complain when Tajuddin Ahmad made it known that it was the country that came before the family, a promise he kept till victory arrived on a December day. On the day the assassins took Tajuddin Ahmad away to prison in August 1975, she asked him when he expected to be back. Perhaps never, he responded as he went down the stairs. He never returned home alive. It was his bullet-riddled, bayoneted corpse she next saw, before the earth closed in on him.

And now she joins him, in union which promises to approximate the life she shared with him, rather briefly, in the moments of mortality.

With her passing ends an era steeped in idealism and bold leadership. The nation salutes her.

Syed Badrul Ahsan (21 December 2013)

Children's effort

Coming soon, Inshallah...

Children are sometimes great chroniclers of the lives of their parents. And into that pattern fall the daughters of Tajuddin Ahmad, the first prime minister of Bangladesh, indeed the architect of the first-ever sovereign Bengali government in history. Where it should have been the state of Bangladesh to remember, every hour of the day, Tajuddin Ahmad and the three compatriots who died with him in prison on a sinister November night years ago, it is Tajuddin's children who have consistently gone out on a limb to uphold and disseminate the legacy of their father to the people of Bangladesh.

The children of Tajuddin Ahmad do us proud. They enlighten us, through their love for their father and for the country, why historical truth matters, now and always

Syed Badrul Ahsan, Executive Editor of The Daily Star newspaper (Bangladesh)

"Tajuddin Ahmad: Nishongo Sharothi" (Tajuddin Ahmad: An Unsung Hero) documentary

On 25 March 2007 – on the eve of Bangladesh's 36th year as an independent nation, and the day Tajuddin Ahmad left his family to lead the war - Simeen Hussain 'Rimi' collaborated with famed Bengali filmmaker and author Tanvir Mokammel to create a biopic of Tajuddin Ahmad, "Tajuddin Ahmad: Nishongo Sharothi" (Tajuddin Ahmad: An Unsung Hero). The 100-minute long documentary traces Tajuddin's remarkable life from his humble upbringing in Dardoria, to his meteoric rise on the political scene to finally his tragic killing in Dhaka Central Jail.

It features tales by family and friends and rare photographs of Tajuddin and family.

Simeen produced the documentary while Tanvir provided scripting and direction. Tanvir is a national and international award winning director who has made many renowned films and documentaries on the 1971 Sangram including 'Smriti Ekattor' (Remembrance of '71, 1991), a documentary on the massacre of Bengalis in 1971, 'Nadir Naam Modhumati' (The River Named Modhumati, 1995),a feature film which received three national awards for best story, best dialogue and best song and shown in Tri-Continental Film Festival, Nantes,France, '1971' (2011), a mega-documentary on the liberation war, and 'Jibondhuli' (The Drummer, 2014), a feature film which received Script Award from Hubert Bals Fund, Rotterdam Film Festival and a grant from the Ministry of Information, Government of Bangladesh. Tanvir is also the director of Bangladesh Film Institute (BFI).

Other members of the "Tajuddin Ahmad: Nishongo Sharothi" production team include Anwar Hossain (photography), Mahadeb Shi (editing), Syed Shabab Ali Arzoo (music) and Nahid Masud (sound).

Commentary is by Chittralekha Guha, a television, stage and film actress who was awarded Bangladesh National Film Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film '71 Er Maa Jononi (Mother of '71) released in 2014.

Now that Simeen Hussain Rimi has, with the history-driven Tanvir Mokammel, emerged with a biopic on Tajuddin Ahmad, a certain new intensity has come into the job of retrieving the late leader from the shadows and offering his legacy anew to a nation that might well have been blown off course had he not been around to take charge.

'Tajuddin Ahmed: Nishongo Sharothi (Tajuddin Ahmad: An Unsung Hero)' is in broad measure the tale of a man who consciously abjured the limelight.

Syed Badrul Ahsan

'An Unsung Hero' recaptures the quiet legend of the man that was Tajuddin Ahmad. It is a warning that airbrushing him, or individuals like him, out of history is inevitably fraught with danger. Tajuddin was the one man who led the nation, through danger, to freedom. But danger lurked once again when he and Bangabondhu fell out in 1974. It assumed a darker, sinister shape in the nocturnal hours of 3 November 1975.