When Hena Das (born 1924) was barely 13, she joined the struggle for independence against then-undivided India’s British rulers. That was the beginning of a lifelong struggle against every form of injustice. Although best known for her pioneering work in the field of gender justice, she has also been deeply involved with the communist party, farmers’ rights, teachers’ rights, and labor rights. At a time when stepping out of the home was virtually prohibited to women, Hena was enunciating women’s empowerment and the rights of women.
Hena Das was born into a well-known and well-off zamindar (landlord) family in Sylhet, Bangladesh. Despite some opposition from her mother, she completed her bachelors, her bachelor of education and her masters with no great difficulty. Hena, politically active through school and college, was only 13 when she joined the anti-British-rule movement in the Indian subcontinent. In 1942, she joined the communist party of East Pakistan, and became involved in farmers’ and trade union movements. Given the political mise-en-scene, she had to work underground, but her resistance led to the abolition of the agricultural slavery system and the zamindari system. Hena’s deep involvement with human rights and dignity is reflected in her range of involvement: she worked for the Language Movement in 1952, designed to get Bangla recognized as a state language in Bangladesh’s fledgling struggle for independence from Pakistan. In 1960, she moved to Dhaka where, as a high school assistant teacher, she became deeply engaged with the teacher’s movement. A decade later, she formed the Bangladesh Mohila Parishad with other like-minded women. As one of the pioneers of the Bangladesh women’s movement, Hena has been working on awareness-building and empowerment of women for more than 60 years, founding many movements for women’s rights. She remains the driving force behind Bangla Monila Parishad, the largest women’s human rights organization in the country. Intensely focused and continuing to work at the grassroots, her greatest gift is her abiding faith in the ability of people to better themselves and the world around them. “I have been fighting all my life,” she says. “This society is not the society I dreamt of. We have won some battles. But there is much we have yet to achieve.”
Bangla Mohila Parishad
South Asia | Bangladesh