The Symphony of Our Times
Reporting anti-Ayub movement at DU
Two reports with a difference that I wrote for the Observer were linked to coeducational life in the university. During the 1950s, a relatively few girl students enjoyed greater freedom of movement and association with male students than their sisters and mothers in the conservative society. Some of them such as Nadera Chowdhury (later Kibria) and Rowshan Ara Bachchu took leading part in the 1952 language movement. Artist and social activist Zaharat Ara and Munira Khan were among the prominent coeds at that time.
During the 1960s, the number of girl students increased manifolds. They were modern and free and more at ease in the company of their male counterparts. It was generally the practice that the girls stand in the corridors waiting for the teachers to enter the classroom. The boys were already in and sat on their seats keeping the first rows vacant for the girls to come later and occupy the front seats. However, during even he early 1960s, some courageous class friends such as Ayesha Chowdhury, Zakia and Sayeda Umme Sufia (later my wife) boldly broke the convention and took their seats in the last benches in a subsidiary class of history.
Later, Gias Uddin Ahmed who became a martyr in the glorious war of liberation in 1971 was visibly unruffled by the brave conduct of our female classmates. Today in 2015, this may appear to be no strange happening as girls and boys move around mixing freely on the campus. Times were not so easy in our days. If a boy wanted to speak with a girl in the university, he had to go upstairs and wait in the specious verandah of the arts building where the girls' common room was located. He then gave a chit with the name of the girl he wanted to see to Adam Ali, the common room bearer.
Then the girl used to come out on the verandah and talk to the boy in full view of teachers and students who passed by. It needed a lot of courage for them to do it. They maintained a more than safe distance between themselves. Thus one day when our class friends Mahbub Talukder and Nilufer were speaking in the verandah, a fellow student, Syedur, remarked jokingly, 'a three ton truck could easily pass between the two of them'!
My report in the Observer was about a notice by the proctor, Dr Wadudur Rahman. Quoting an obscure old university circular about the procedure that the male student must follow if he wanted to talk to a female student in the university during their off period. I was informed of the notice stuck on a board in front of the girls' common room. It said, 'according to the relevant circular issued by the registrar's office any male student desiring to see a female student must first apply in writing to the proctor seeking permission to do so.
After obtaining the proctor's permission they could speak with each other maintaining a decent distance between them'. Amused and excited, I immediately had the notice photographed and with it filed my critically mirthful report. The next day it was published prominently in the Observer and created quite a stir among the students and the reading public. The following day, the proctor's office withdrew the notice and nothing more was heard about it.
The other report about coed activities was regarding a spirited girl who slapped a boy, a fellow student, for his abusive language while addressing her. Whatever relations they had evidently soured and the angry girl slapped the offending boy in broad day-light in full view of a stunned audience. I filed this report without photographs and names for obvious reasons. The assembled students all supported the girl and the boy quietly walked away with his head bowed. My report on the incident amused the senior sub-editor in-charge and he humorously captioned it 'Coed Wins'.
One of the distinctive activities of the Observer during that period was to articulate and assert the cause of Bangla literature and Bengali culture. In January 1962, news editor ABM Musa (Musa bhai) gave me the assignment to prepare an investigative report on the Shaheed Minar to commemorate the martyrs of the language movement of 1952.
He also wanted me to find out why it could not be completed according to the original architectural plan; I kept myself busy for one whole month interviewing the political and administrative leaders and architects and engineers concerned of the early and late 1950s. As a result, I could prepare a comprehensive report on the original plan and subsequent deviation in the construction of the Shaheed Minar. I was incomparably elated and satisfied when my report was published with due importance on the front page of the Observer of February 21, 1962.
1961 and 1962 were marked by the beginnings and intensification of the student movements against the military dictatorship of field marshal Ayub Khan and the notorious education commission report prepared by Ayub's education secretary Sharif. We, the university reporters, tirelessly covered the spirited agitation and demonstrations by the students. We were proud of fearlessly reporting the moving history of that resistance. Some of us also took active parts in the movements as student leaders. Student politics and journalism created a strange mix of dual personality.
During 1962, our agitations against the education commission report resulted in boycotting the classes for quite a few months. Our ceaseless strikes and demonstrations finally resulted in clashes with the police and martyrdom of students.
Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelley, founder Chairman of Centre for Development Research (CDRB), and former technocrat Cabinet Minister of Bangladesh, died on August 12 last. He contributed his writeups to the Daily Observer which are being published regularly as "The Symphony of Our Times".