In 1971, Shirin Banu Mitil was a thin girl with short hair, but had no shortage of spirit to liberate the country from the claws of Pakistan. She in her 20s disguised herself as a man to fight against the Pakistan army.
In independent Bangladesh, she worked to establish the rights of common people throughout until she left the world at the age of 65.
The freedom fighter died of cardiac arrest at the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases (NICVD) at 1:30am yesterday. She left behind her husband, two daughters, a son, daughter-in law and a host of friends and relatives to mourn her death.
She also left a legacy of bravery and commitment to the struggle for equality and social justice.
FIGHTER IN DISGUISE
Shirin Banu, daughter of Selina Banu, MP of the Jukta Front in 1954, was a second-year student of Bangla at Pabna Edward College and a leader of the Chhatra Union when the war broke out.
As youths and men were gearing up for the war following Bangabandhu's historic speech on March 7, she was figuring out how she could participate in the fight against the occupation forces.
One of her cousins said she could wear a shirt and pant like Pritilata Wadder, an anti-colonial revolutionary woman during the British period.
“I liked the idea of being disguised as a boy. My aunt was my guardian. I went to her wearing my cousin's clothes. She said, 'Come and stand in front of me'. As I did, she looked at me and said, 'You can go. You don't look like a girl,'” she told The Daily Star in an interview last year.
The Pakistan Army went to Pabna from Rajshahi on March 25, set up camps, declared curfew and arrested people indiscriminately in the next few days as independence was declared by Bangabandhu. As the army entered the Pabna DC office and other establishments, local people retaliated.
“I was at the forefront of the battle at Pabna Telephone Bhaban,” she said, adding that freedom fighters didn't have many arms and ammunition then, and so fought with koch (a fishing tool), kichen knives, sticks and spears.
In a fight on March 28, 36 Pakistani soldiers were killed. Shirin Banu was in charge of the control room of freedom fighters in a fight at Nagarbari on April 9.
“Besides, I arranged lodging and food for freedom fighters and took the wounded freedom fighters to hospital,” she said during the interview.
From March 30 till April 9, there was no Pakistan army in Pabna. As the Pakistani military entered Pabna on April 10, Shirin Banu along with other freedom fighters crossed the border to Kolkata.
There she had training at Gobra female camp. She mobilised public opinion in favour of the Liberation War. Returning home, Shirin Banu joined the war in sector-9 under the command of Maj Jalil, said her cousin Taslim Hasan Suman.
After the country's independence, Shirin Banu went to Russia. Following her return in 1980, she joined Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development in Comilla, moved to Dhaka in 1986 and worked on women's rights, said her son Tahsinur Rahman.
She was a member of the Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB), Forum for Secular Bangladesh and Trial of War Criminals of 1971 and Sector Commanders Forum (SCF), he added.
“Shirin is the pride of the nation. People in Pabna know her role in the Liberation War. She requires state honour as freedom fighter,” said Rabiul Islam Rabi, former president of the Chhatra Union and her associate in the battle field.
A Great Soul
Recalling Shirin's memory, her daughter-in-law Sabrina Sohani said she was a kind-hearted human being.
“After the whole day at office, she would directly go to the kitchen, prepare food and call out to us for snacks.
“She gave her children a lot of space so that they would become open-minded,” Sabrina told The Daily Star.
On Wednesday, the family had dinner at a restaurant. Returning to their Indira Road residence around 10:45pm, she fell sick. She was immediately rushed to the NICVD.
However, treatment did not work. Doctors declared her dead around 1:30am.
Her body will be taken to the Central Shaheed Minar and kept for an hour from 10:00am today for people to pay tribute, said Sabrina. Shirin Banu will be buried at her in-law's family graveyard at Katabil in Comilla sadar after Asr prayers today.
The CPB, SCF, Forum for Secular Bangladesh, Bangladesh Students' Union and Bangladesh Farmers' Association offered condolences to the bereaved family.