The Symphony of Our Times
Resistance against coming of Monem Khan on convocation
Bengal in general and East Bengal in Particular had maintained a glorious tradition of mutual tolerance and harmonious coexistence of different communities excepting for brief periods such as 1946-47, 1950 and 1964. Compared to the carnage that took place in India's Bihar and East and West Punjab respectably of India and Pakistan the communal riots in Bengal were of a relatively minor scale. Even then the severity of the barbaric riots of 1964 deeply hurt us, the youth.
We the youth of the 1960s especially young persons like us who were students of the St Gregory School run by American missionaries devoted to Roman Catholicism were products of a multi communal atmosphere. Christian missionary Brother James, Brother Piter, Brother Thomas, Brother Neville and Brother Fulgiens were our affectionate teachers. So, were dedicated Hindu teachers such as R B Saha, Nolini Ranjan Sarkar, P C Sarker, Satish Chandra Chakraborti, Sukhoda Ranjan Chowdhury, B G Chowdhury and others.
There were also Bengali Christian teachers such as Andreas Gomes and Julian Rozario. The Urdu and Islamiat teacher Moulovi 'Sir' Mostafizur Rahman was one of the few Muslim teachers. Among the students the majority were Muslims with a smaller number of Hindus and Bengali Christians. They were our close friends. Among them were son of Satish Chakkraborti, Manosh Ranjan and Barindra Rozario and Thomas Gomes. One year junior to us was Prodip Gupta, son of Justice Guha of the East Pakistan High Court.
After the riots he reluctantly left Dhaka in 1965 and continued his studies in Kolkata. He became an Advocate of the Kolkata High Court. So strong was his love and attraction for his native land that from 1972, he used to come to Dhaka every year and stay with close friends for a few days. Among these friends were his classmates Ataul Haque Jahangir, Zahed Latif (later Brigadier General), Shamsul Bari (later high official of the UNHCR) and Taslimur Rahman (later Secretary of the Government of Bangladesh), Helal Uddin Akbar (later a businessman) and others. While in Dhaka he often stayed with my class friend Salimullah of the old city. His visits to Dhaka gave us occasions to have lively and nostalgic get-togethers until his demise two years ago.
I was a child in 1946-47 when the communal riots in Kolkata took place. We lived in the Muslim majority area, Park Circus and therefore, experienced the horrors of riots in a lighter and distant manner. The dim memory of those frightful days reappeared in far greater magnitude in Dhaka in 1964 as I thought of the plight of our Hindu teachers and school friends.
Along with some of our courageous mates we visited our Hindu friends and teachers in their homes in old Dhaka and assured them of our best efforts to protect and help them. They were fortunate in that they escaped the savage blows of the riots. We the youth of the 60s dreamt of a harmonious and peaceful society containing different and diverse communities united in their endevours to achieve total and meaningful development. We promised to work for the realization of that dream.
The riots ended by the close of February and were followed by the botched-up convocation of the Dhaka University in March. As narrated earlier the students put-up a stiff resistance against the coming of Provincial Governor Abdul Monem Khan, the Chancellor of the University on the occasion. Clash between Police and the protesting students inside and outside the Pandal in Curzon Hall created a veritable pandemonium. The action of friend and classmate Aga Kohinoor Alam, a member of Chattra League was the trigger of sudden disorder and consequent chaos in the venue.
As already noted, in furian rage he threw a folding chair like a missile towards the dais where the unpopular Governor was seated. As described by Kamal Siddiqui's recollection of the event, students belonging to the leftist Chattra Union and Bengali autonomist Chattra League organized loud and violent agitation outside the Pandal and the adjacent Halls of residence of the Dhaka University such as Dhaka Hall and F. H Hall. Kamal remembers that a plan to set fire to the convocation Pandal was forbidden by the senior Chattra Union leader Kazi Zafar Ahmed (Kamal Siddiqui, In One Life, Dhaka, APPL, 2015).
Nevertheless, there were others who did not desist from efforts to disrupt the events. Thus the younger brother of class fellow Jahangir Mohammad Jashim, Alamgir Mohammad Kabir a student of B.Sc Soil Science destroyed the structure of a corner of the Pandal. Alamgir was a dedicated member of the Chattra League and replete with youthful rage against the dictatorial rule of Ayub Khan. He was punished by expulsion from the University. His father Dabiruddin Ahmed, the Chief Engineer of the University somehow kept his cool and bore the pain patiently.
Along with others his expulsion from the University was nullified by a High Court judgment against the University's action. Alamgir left the country in 1972 to settle in the United States where he died in 2015. Aga Kohinoor Alam and a few others were luckier. They had been photographed secretly by the Policemen in plain clothes. Despite all these damning evidence they were saved by lobbying of close friends who were leaders of the pro-government National Students Federation (NSF).
Prominent among them were Abul Hasnat (later Minister and Mayor of Dhaka) and Anwar Ansari Khan (later an Advocate of the Supreme Court). Fortunate Aga Kohinoor and some other participants in the convocation pandemonium thus escaped lightly.
Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelley, founder Chairman of Centre for Development Research (CDRB), and former
technocrat Cabinet Minister of Bangladesh, died on August 12, 2019. He contributed his writeups to the Daily Observer which are being
published regularly as "The Symphony of Our Times".