Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh since mid-1996, has promoted a liberal democracy, peace and human rights and defends a secular state in a country where Islam is state religion. After two years in office she managed put an end to a 25 years old armed conflict with tribal insurgents in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Received the 1999 UNESCO peace prize.
MY HARD LESSONS FOR PEACE
I always loved my father and admired him more than anyone else in the world. In this I was not alone. He was the founding father of our nation, so beloved by his people that he got a special name, Bangabandhu, meaning the “Friend of Bengal”. After our Liberation War he returned home from prison in a foreign land to take charge of the country as Prime Minister. Only three and a half years later, in the early hours of 15 August 1975, some military men killed Bangabandhu at his residence in Dhaka. They also killed my mother, my younger brothers, two of them, along with their newly wed wives, and my youngest brother, who was ten. At that time my only sister and I were in Germany where my husband, a scientist, was doing a course. This is how she and I survived.
Every father leaves a legacy for his children. The legacy my father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, left for us was a deep love for our land and its people, a love never to be compromised, a firm belief in democracy and democratic values, commitment to secular ideals and, above all, love for peace. These are values not easy to pursue in a country where religion and the religious nature of the people, many of them poor and illiterate, have been exploited for long for political purposes and for personal advancement. And where military dictatorship and other forms of authoritarian rule have dislodged democracy time and again, and violence and conflict rather than peace got the upper hand repeatedly. When my father met his tragic end, I made up my mind to pursue his ideals, in the face of all odds.
Those who had killed Bangabandhu and seized power would not have spared my sister or me either, if they had a chance. We moved from country to country stalked by the fear of death all the time and could return to Bangladesh only six years later. We were not allowed, for quite some time, even to enter the house where my parents and others were killed, though the house was our own. I have been through the deepest trauma. I know what military rule, formal or veiled, means. I know how important democracy is, peace is, and the human rights are. I have learnt these lessons from life and can never forget them.
Bangladesh is a small country with a large population. A total 120 million or so live in an area of no more than 147,570 square kilometers. The country is very green and full of rivers, mighty and small, with hills and forests in the south and the south-east. We have a rich language and a rich culture. Poetry and music run in our blood. We love our land, language, and culture, and had to suffer, and pay a high price, for these. We love peace and our idea of peace is closely linked with these.
Peace is more than merely an absence of war, violence or conflict. If children die of hunger or malnutrition, if people do not have homes to live in, if the sick have to go without treatment, if people commit crime and are not punished, peace cannot be said to prevail. If the people do not have an opportunity to decide how they are going to be ruled and who are going to rule them, if they do not have freedom of thought and freedom of speech, if they are subject to the whims of the military or a dictator, there is no peace worth the name. Peace is pointless if the people are not free and happy. They must have every opportunity to lead, without hindrance, the kind of life they wish to.