Breaking free from the shackles of West Pakistan's exploitation, an independent Bangladesh was waking up like a phoenix rising from the ashes. Today we are celebrating fifty years of that freedom. But Hosne Ara still does not know if her husband is alive or dead.
On 31 July 1971, her husband, Latafat Hossain Joardar, was captured and taken away by the Pakistani military forces.
He never returned.
"We first heard that the military had taken him to Dhaka or Karachi. Some said that he would come back. I have waited a long time with tears in my eyes. But he never came back. I was left alone and helpless with my two young sons and an unborn child," Hosne Ara told The Business Standard, sitting in her Mohammadpur residence.
Her university teacher's son, brother-in-law and a writer from Dhaka were sitting right beside her and listening to her reminisce.
Latafat Hossain Joardar's house was in the Jhenaidah district. In 1971, he was the principal of Darshana College, Chuadanga.
He was the local president of the 'Sangram Committee' formed at the behest of Bangabandhu on the eve of the War of Independence.
As an organiser of the liberation war, he did not cross the border over to India, although he had the opportunity to safely do so during the horrific war.
He did not leave his homeland. Instead, he gave courage to his college students and local freedom fighters. He was not found after being captured by Pakistani forces in 1971.
In 1993, the Bangladesh government recognised him as a martyred intellectual.
The life struggle of Hosne Ara
Hosne Ara was born and raised in Dhaka in erstwhile East Pakistan in a joint family with 11 siblings. Her father was a government official. She had a childhood dream of becoming an engineer, but the course of her life changed after her results of the intermediate examination. She found that she had scored exceptionally high in all subjects including obtaining the highest marks in Bangla in the whole of East Pakistan.
"Good results sometimes can do you harm. I was on cloud nine. I felt that I have become Rabindranath. I buried my dream to be an engineer and said yes to Bangla literature," said Hosne Ara, who is now in her seventies.
Hosne Ara enrolled in the University of Dhaka as a student of the Bangla Department in the 1960s where her teachers were the likes of Munir Chowdhury, Anwar Pasha and Rafiqul Islam. It was a turbulent time in Dhaka with protests against the exploitation of the West Pakistan regime.
At the end of the first year, she met Latafat Hossain Joardar, a student of the English department, in front of Madhur Canteen on her way back to the department from the university library.
Latafat, who came to Dhaka University to do his master's after graduation from KC College, Jhenaidah, was very conscious politically. He had even been imprisoned for protesting against the then Hamidur Rahman Education Policy while he was the VP of KC College Student Sangsad.
"I liked him as soon as I met him. He was handsome and a good speaker. We used to meet every day and talk," said Hosne Ara.
Their relationship continued to evolve. Then one afternoon in 1966, she returned home from university and told her mother that she wanted to marry Latafat. Her mother informed her father.
Although a little hesitant at first, her father Rafiq Ahmed handed over his eldest daughter Hosne Ara to an unemployed graduate Latafat. However, due to a lack of courage, Latafat could not tell his family anything about the marriage at that time.
After getting married, Latafat started teaching English at a college in Kapasia, Gazipur with a salary of Tk250 per month. He then came back to Dhaka and joined the then Australasia Bank (now Rupali Bank) and went to Lahore for training.
"I was born to fight and survive. I got married while I was studying and had a child. My husband was abroad. Yet I never once thought that I would give up my studies. I continued taking care of my family, child and pursuing education alone," said Hosne Ara.
Latafat returned to the country in 1969 after training and was posted in Brahmanbaria. Hosne Ara also graduated from the university by then.
"I used to read the newspaper regularly. Wherever I saw the notice of appointment of teachers for English and Bangla, I would send two applications. One for me, the other for my husband. I applied for 35 colleges all over Bangladesh and we were called by 26.
At last, we joined Kalsakathi College in Barisal – my husband as the principal and me as the lecturer of the Bangla department," said Ara.
On 12 November 1970, the southern part of the country was hit by one of the most devastating cyclones in the country's history which killed around half a million people. At that time, Latafat and Hosne Ara were living in an old zamindar's house near Kalsakathi College in Bakerganj, Barisal.
"We were on the second floor. The tidal water rose almost as high. My husband brought many people into the house to give them shelter. He asked me to cook khichuri for them. I gave my sarees to the women who were soaking wet in the water. A baby was also born in our house on that disastrous night," Hosne Ara remembered.
The couple moved to Darshana College in the then Kushtia district in February 1971. They started living in the principal's quarters of that college.
On 7 March 1971, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman gave his historic speech and called for the formation of Sangram Parishad across the country. Latafat Hossain Joardar, as the principal of Darshana College, responded to that call.
"In Darshana, he participated in Awami League politics again. He became the chairman of the local Sangram Parishad. The whole country was in turmoil then. The freedom fighters used to come to our house. We used to give them food and drinks."
After the war began, in late April 1971, Hosne Ara's father-in-law visited Darshana and took her to Jhenaidah. Latafat Hossain remained in Darshana to keep organising the freedom fighters. He used to visit his wife and children from time to time.
"We had to hide in paddy fields and jute fields with our children when Pakistani soldiers used to come to the village. I was very afraid. At that time, many people were going to India as refugees. One day, I asked my husband to go to India with me. He said, 'I can go to India with you, but who will organise the freedom fighters here? I cannot leave my students,'" Hosne Ara recalled.
"I became very angry because he was more concerned about the freedom fighters than his children," she added.
On 31 July 1971, Latafat travelled to Darshana from Jhenaidah with his brother-in-law Alamgir Hossain after having lunch with his wife.
"In the afternoon that day, he met two of his colleagues. The next morning, they decided to leave Darshana. But a student of his, named Chandu, came and said that a major of the Pakistani army had asked to meet him.
Chandu was a member of the local Peace Committee (Razakar). Dulabhai (sister's husband) told him that he would go after taking his meal. But Chandu insisted he go immediately. So, he left with his student without eating anything," Alamgir Hossain told The Business Standard.
The two teachers of Darshana College left the house taking Alamgir with them. He then returned to Jhenaidah walking a long distance and informed Hosne Ara that the military had abducted Latafat.
After that, no trace of him was found. Hosne Ara started her journey of deep grief.
It has been 50 years since the country became independent but Hosne Ara still does not know whether her husband Latafat Hossain is alive or dead.
Hosne Ara was at her father-in-law's house in Jhenaidah during the war. After the independence, she returned to Dhaka on 10 January 1972. On that day Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman also returned to Dhaka after his long imprisonment in Pakistan. On January 25, her youngest child was born.
A few days after returning to Dhaka, she reunited with her parents who had fled to their village home in Cumilla during the war. Hosne Ara, who once lived a prosperous life, struggled financially to bring up her three children. However, she did not seek any financial assistance from anybody, instead she started to look for a job again.
"My father used to give me Tk2 when I went to the office. I used to visit different offices leaving my children at home. At last, I got a job at the New Model Degree College in Shukrabad with a salary of Tk125," Hosne Ara said.
"One day I went to Dhanmondi 32 to meet Bangabandhu. The guards told me that he would go to an office in Ramna in the afternoon," she continued.
"I went there and saw a lot of people waiting to meet him. I bowed my head when I saw him. When I entered the room, he said, 'What do you need?' I replied, 'I am a graduate of Bangla, I lost my husband in the war.'"
He did not ask too many questions. He asked if I needed a job. When I said yes, he called his principal secretary Rob Chowdhury and wrote in my application. 'Place her somewhere,' he said. Then Rob Chowdhury called me to the next room and asked me to meet him three days later," she further added.
A rehabilitation centre for the 'biranganas' was opened at Dhanmondi Road No-3. Pregnant women were mainly treated there. Hosne Ara got a job as an interpreter with a Tk500 salary. After working there for some time, she was appointed as the personal assistant to the chairman of the centre."
"After a year, I was appointed as a programme officer at the Women Rehabilitation and Welfare Foundation. I retired from the organisation in 2004 as an additional director," she said.
In 1988, Hosne Ara decided that she would seek help from the government for her children.
"I went to the Abandoned Property Management Board (APNB) and told them I wanted land or a flat. I visited that office many times from 1988 to 1993. Officers there told me that my husband was not a freedom fighter. So, I collected a certificate from Jhenaidah. Then they said he was not an intellectual. Then I went to the Secretary of Defence," she added.
Although Latafat Hossain Joarddar went missing during the war of independence, he remained unrecognised for many years.
The name of Latafat Hossain Joardar, son of Khilafat Hossain Joardar of Jhenaidah, came upon the list as a martyred intellectual after 20 years due to the dedicated efforts of the struggling woman Hosne Ara. His serial number is 157 in the Gazette.
In 1993, Hosne Ara received an allowance and a piece of land from the government. However, she did not take the allowance as the children were beyond schooling age. The government gave him a 3-katha land in Mirpur. However, the land was in the possession of a local. She rescued the land after many years with much struggle.
Hosne Ara was inflicted by painful memories when telling the story of her husband's sacrifice and her struggle to The Business Standard. There were tears in her eyes.
She had lost so many things in her life but never gave up her fight. She handled her family, children and job alone. As a skilled sailor of life, the wife of a martyred intellectual continues to move forward.