It was the courage and love my husband, Martyr A.K.M Iqbal Azad had for serving people that led me into politics. In his early years in Titumir College, my husband started his political journey with Titumir Chattra League. Rising through the ranks as an active social worker and businessman, my husband became a well-loved, honest and influential leader in his constituency of Brahmanbaria-2 Sarail. He soon became the Joint Secretary of Awami League there and served in that role for years to come. With the blessings of our party leader, our Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, my husband was a strong M.P. candidate and was to secure his first party nomination for the general elections of 2013. Unfortunately, public popularity and honesty come at a price and we paid dearly for it. On October 21st, 2012 Iqbal Azad faced his assassination through the hands of crooked, corrupted men who feared the shutting down of the illegal activities with his rise. People of Brahmanbaria lost a great leader they deeply loved. My husband and I were partners in life in every aspect - business, family and his political career. My father-in-law, Mr. Abdul Khaleque’s influence was very strong in Sarail as a decorated freedom fighter. He was an elected Chairman for 15 years. Building mass fame and popularity, my father-in-law was assassinated in 1974. He was an aide of the Father of The Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Shocked to hear this news, Bangabandhu had sent his helicopter to fly him to Dhaka to save his life, but unfortunately my father in law lost his life. Ten years after, my brother-in-law was murdered in the same way and after 20 years, the murder of my husband occurred. When he was murdered we all were in a shock and I was in a state of trauma for months. All the tragedies and sacrifices of my family forged my will to get into politics and make a difference. My mother-in-law always encouraged me to join politics because she wanted to see her son’s shadows in me. She always prayed that her husband and son’s dream for the people of Bangladesh, get accomplished through me. I saw how hard and honestly they worked for the people, that inspired me a lot. People in our constituency want me to work for them because they valued my husband and his family. After that I was inspired to work for them.
Every person has their own dreams and desires and with those dreams I started my journey. I had roots in Awami League (AL) as my uncle was the Deputy Leader of the national parliament in ‘79. He was the jute minister in the AL cabinet after independence. Since I was a child, I have seen how my parents had helped him during elections. I heard many stories from my mother about how people used to spend hours behind the campaign, supporting him. My mother cooked, and my father explained how the election would be run. I heard about how people used to travel long distances to attend the elections and how my father would direct them. I knew about all of these from a very young age. I felt that it must be fun to help people, to offer them food, that there must be great contentment in lending a helping hand, but I had never imagined that one day I would have to use this knowledge. As I made my announcement to get involved in politics, I received a heartwarming mass acceptance from the people of Brahmanbaria and that reflected in the success of my political career. My hard work and determination was soon rewarded by our leader. I was made the joint conveyor of AL in Sarail. I was made a member of the district AL and I realized that this is the type of platform I want to work in. Although my husband was murdered by perpetrators who were a part of the local Awami League, they were all convicted and expelled from the party. I felt like that a change should be brought to Awami League with the ones who remained. We didn’t have a committee back then. I used to go to different districts and organize various types of programs. I used to attend cultural programs, thinking that through them I could hold on to the people of Awami League. I used to encourage and take the respected local leaders to take on more leadership and even take them to these programs saying “let’s go, there’s this program, that program, you must go, you must support the locals” and even take them to most of these myself.
I have a passion for working with young children and during all my visits I would make sure I spend some time with them wherever I went. You could also find me getting children things to play with, and I was delighted to do these for them. These young children are the ones who would brighten the future. I feel that if we don’t adore them, encourage them, guide them, and make them understand, then how will any change come forth? What is “ideal politics” to us? To inspire people and provide useful advice, for which the country would step forward.
Our Father of The Nation had a vision that the people of our land would go abroad and make us proud. That’s when I thought if we don’t teach these kids what the ideal politics of our Bangabandhu is, then how will it happen? The country is advancing with such speed, if we don’t spread this information, who will? That’s why I was determined to continue to share news and to campaign.
When I didn’t have a post, I just thought about my husband. The way he did things for our country, for the people, I also decided to move forward in the same manner. My passion for my people and the fruit of my labour came when I was given the Nomination from Awami League in the 2013 General Elections, for the greater good, I withdrew my nomination to support our coalition with Jatiya Party. The trust put in me then by our leader had spurred me to work even harder and tirelessly for the next five years and in 2019 was rewarded by becoming a Member of Parliament representing my people for the 11th National Parliament. That sums up how and why I joined politics.
2. How do you manage to balance your professional and family life?
I maintain them the same way as most women in our country. Our Honorable Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, has provided us a dignified platform to work in, for which women in our society are respected today. Just like a career-oriented female would finish her household chores, guide children with their work, prepare everyone’s food, and come home after completing her work at the office, I maintain my life the same way. The life of an M.P. is a challenging one as it's difficult to have any fixed hour of work. After finishing work hours, it is quite common to have people waiting at our homes to seek advice and counsel, it is a 24 hour job and I am blessed to have an amazing family that is understanding and supportive of the demands of the job.
3. If not a political leader, what would your alternate career path be?
A full time house-wife and part time social worker for most of my early life. After the passing of my husband if I hadn’t joined politics, I would have been a full-time social worker. We had set up a foundation named “Iqbal Azad Srity Foundation”, where I used to work, and still am a part of. Maybe I would have spent the rest of my life serving people in this manner.
4. Do you wish for your children to follow your footsteps into the political career?
So far it is only me. Growing up we have allowed our children to follow their own career choices and they will follow their own destiny. My two children have been brought up in a political environment all their lives and are well versed in it. My son was elected as Vice President in his University Student body in Toronto for 3 consecutive terms and the 1st Bangladeshi ever to take that position as well. For 3 years he has also sat on the board for the Canadian Federation of Students, the national student body of Canada, working closely with the office of the education Minister there. My daughter and my son both play an active role helping me manage my backend and we will see what their destiny holds. As of this very moment, there are no such plans.
5. What do you think is the current position of Women in Bangladesh Politics?
Since Bangladesh gained independence, all females in this country should be able to take vast steps ahead. Our Father Of the Nation said that if women are to be empowered, they have to be made financially independent. Our Honorable Prime Minister once said that even if a woman earns 10 taka, that person is respected in our society. In order to have a good earning, I would urge girls to get education and not to depend on other people’s income, like women were expected years ago. Nowadays, women want to stand on their feet and no matter what obstacle or situation they’re in. Bangladeshi women really are finding ways to make a living, to be able to support their family. These days, both men and women of the family are working, and both of their dreams are being fulfilled. The families are now being able to afford to go to places and do things that they couldn’t imagine before. These show how much our country has had advancements and all of this is possible because of our Honorable leader, Sheikh Hasina who forged a way forward for women.
6. In the current situation what would you advise the upcoming youth to engage in for a brighter future? For those who are enthusiastic about exploring a career in politics, what are the different options available and how can they prepare for it?
Be the change you want to see. I am very pleased with those who are taking the initiative to join politics. I see a lot of bright talent locally and from abroad getting involved but we need all bright minds to get in and help us develop the country further. I hope those who are coming back to Bangladesh after completing their studies, if they care to join the politics of Bangladesh, we won’t be able to imagine how much they can bring changes in the future. I would suggest you join various student bodies, volunteer to do social work and get in touch with your local public representatives to explore the prospects.
7. What do you think, in which political sector young people will be interested? Which will encourage those young people to do politics?
Technology wasn’t so advanced during our student days. Nowadays, it is so advanced that it can easily fulfill people’s demands. The world is in our palms now. We can know everything, understand everything, whenever we want. Since the next generation is being able to gain everything they wish so easily, they are showing increasing interest in various sectors. They are adamant to do something for the country, for the people. I think technology is the future and I can see most people interested in careers which link technology to politics, be it research, social work or healthy public policy debates.
8. What is your opinion on Digitalization of Bangladesh?
We are very excited that the country has improved so much. Less than a decade ago we couldn’t imagine all the tech facilities we currently have. Banking, shopping, trading, etc. all kinds of facilities are thriving now with the realization of the Digital Bangladesh vision. I had gone abroad and met members of parliament of several countries. They all asked me the same question: how our country advanced to such an extent in such a short period of time. I had to repeatedly say that it was because of our Honorable leader, Sheikh Hasina. She loves her people and labors away for them, and also provides opportunities for people of every walk of life. They instantly called it “Hasina’s Government”, and I agreed, it was all possible because of her, and only she can bring more and better changes in the future.
9. Out of all the projects you have worked on which one is the most close to your heart?
Social service, there is nothing better than that. To stand beside people, lending them a helping hand, solving their problems, all of this is very fulfilling. To know that I could minimize people’s sorrow, provide solutions and be a changemaker to improve their situations is very satisfying.
10. What words of wisdom or what message would you most want to instill in girls and young women today?
It is our duty to empower women. I want women to succeed and hold a respectable position in society. I want increasing numbers of women to earn a living. Women are now thriving almost just as much as men in the grand scheme of the country. This is especially because when women are given a project to work on, they take the responsibility with the mentality that there’s no quitting, and no option but to succeed. So I would like to tell women to gain knowledge and education and to keep working hard. Nowadays, the rate of literacy has gone up and whatever is required to gain education, they are all being provided by our leader. And to make it even easier, she is providing free tiffin and uniforms in schools. I have even heard that she is now providing school furniture for free as well. Why is she doing all of these? It is to educate the society. I would urge girls to gain education and enter politics to give something back to society. This is what I hope for women to achieve.