Monowara Begum (born 1953), one of the 1971 Bangladesh war of liberation's best-known freedom-fighters, today battles on various beachheads and is active in advocacy work as well. The mutilated postwar economy saw Monowara get down to building the Bangladesh of a collective dream. She has worked for more than three decades, both within the government system and through the Mohila Muktijodha Samiti (women freedom-fighters' cooperative), to make the government system accountable to the greater good.
Monowara was politically active even at school, when Borisal (in south-central Bangladesh) was the epicenter of political activity in then East Pakistan. When political activists and students banded together to form the Borisal Sangram Parishad, Monowara joined the Parishad, and the war for independence from Pakistan, in 1971. She was forced to go underground in the dense Sundarban jungles, where she trained in active combat and fought on different fronts. Simultaneously, Monowara continued spurring on the concept of freedom to people. "To participate in a war against injustice is a holy thing," she says. "Women can fight in the battlefield if they are trained." The war left Bangladesh's people and economy in a shambles. Monowara worked from within the government system, through the National Social Welfare Board, the National Nutrition Council, the Committee for Protection from Violence against Women and Children, and other organizations. She joined the government cooperative department in 1983, and still works there. She enjoys her work, and believes that good people can do a lot functioning within the system. Never one to work within the strict mandates of her job, Monowara organized women freedom-fighters and formed Mohila Muktijodha Samiti in the late 1980s. She initiated income-generating activities for women, set up mass education schools, provided health services for the economically disadvantaged, and established, through Mohila Muktijodha Samiti, a school for the disabled. Monowara's work is an affirmation that, in the most adverse of conditions, the much-derided government machinery can still be made to work for the greater good.
Mohila Muktijodha Samiti