Death of Nora Shariff, the ‘Emerald of Bengal’


Portrait by Lipi Halder

By Shelley Marsden

AN IRISH woman who played a key role in the Bangladesh Liberation Struggle in 1971 has died at her South London home, aged 73.

Law graduate Nora Shariff (nee Murray), who passed away on Friday, had been suffering from cancer. She left behind her husband Sultan Shariff and two daughters Razia and Fouzia Shariff.

Fluent in Bangla, Nora was one of a number of non-Bengali campaigners who fought for the rights of Bengalis during the Bangladesh Independence Struggle (in 2012 she received a Liberation War Honour award from the Bangladesh Government).

She distributed leaflets and organised campaigns and meetings out of her London flat, where Bengali activists would make placards for demonstrations. It was during this time, in 1967, that she met and married Bengali man Sultan Shariff.

Following the 1970 general election in Pakistan and Awami League’s victory, she camped outside the Pakistan High Commission in the UK for several days and nights demanding transfer of power, and she was directly involved in releasing political leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, after he was imprisoned by the Pakistani Army.

In an interview about her first visit to the country, she had said, “I spent over three years there (in the early years soon after the independence) and was very happy. I had a job with the University of Dhaka as a lecturer in the law department. I was leading a reasonably normal life. My youngest daughter, Fauzia, was even born there.”

Until her death, Nora continued to be extremely active within the UK-Bangalesh community.

Charlie Sen, a London-based filmmaker, the creator of short film Nora – Emerald of Bengal, said:  “Set during the Bangladesh Independence Day anniversary commemoration in East London, ‘Nora’ follows this incredible young Irish woman whose courage lead her to play a major role in the country’s liberation struggle, from Britain; formed through a love affair with another land, language, and the man she would marry. She was an important woman and we hope her legacy will continue.”

A television programme celebrating Nora’s contribution aired on Bangla TV last Saturday following news of her death. TV Presenter Syeda Choudhury said: “She was an amazing woman in a lot of ways. First of all, she knew how to speak Bengali. She was involved in the 1971 Bangladesh Independence War, and contributed a lot to the nation.

“She was always helpful and charming. She was once a guest on my TV show; the topic was Friends of Bangladesh and she said some wonderful thing about Bangladesh, about how our culture is so rich, about the love we have in the country and community. She actually showed us how much richness Bangladesh had.”

Poet Shamim Azad remembers her down-to-earth attitude: “Whoever went to her, she would always help. As a woman, she would always come to help in that cause, and so will always remain an inspiration to us forever.”





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