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     Volume 4 Issue 26 | December 24, 2004 |

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In Retrospect

Working in Tangail

A Sub-divisional Officer's Account

M. Azizul Jalil

We returned from Oxford after completion of the two-year C.S.P. training period in July 1960. In August 1960, I went to Tangail as an SDO. (Sub-divisional Officer). It was a large Sub-Division in Mymensingh District with a population of about 1.2 million. The Dhaka-Tangail road was being resurfaced with concrete at that time and it was with some difficulty that my wife and I reached Tangail from Dhaka by road. We stayed in the Dak Bungalow for a couple of days, as my predecessor was yet to vacate the official residence. Tangail had no electricity or running water. We had official pankha pullers who would pull the large bamboo fans wrapped in cloth for our comfort. After a few days, we moved to a large bungalow with a confidential office attached to it. It was the custom during the British days that the Treasury, the SDO's bunglalow and the SDO's court would be located next to each other. I was also the ex-officer chairman of the Municipality and the office was almost opposite the residence.

Tangail was a large Sub-division in a low-lying area. I had an old, official army Jeep for touring and often used boats for internal travels. During my time, we had a major flood when I had to go by boat from my verandah to the court. I had to go quite often to Mymensingh town via the beautiful Madhupur Forest to attend various meetings, particularly the meetings of the District Council of which the SDO was a member. We had to cross by ferry at Kalihati and the other at Pungli on our way. As per tradition we held a large mela (fair) in the winter during which I had electricity in my house from a generator in the form of two electric bulbs hanging on wires, one in the office, and another in the bed room. I started a municipal children's park, bus stand, and a small kindergarten school.

In matter of law and order, the SDO's were required to be quite strict. Tangail had a reputation for criminal activities, particularly murders. One day as I was working until late evening in the confidential office in the Bungalow, Sudhansu Shekhar (Congress M.L.A. ) came to see me. He was a fine social worker and came to consult me for a meeting in Dhaka related to a few institutions with which he was associated. He left me after about 15 minutes and went probably about 200 yards and had just gone past the bus stand near where he was shot by a sawed gun from behind with heavy bore cartridge. I think I heard the shot (it was a winter evening and dark about 7.30 pm). I called the Sub-divisional Police Officer who immediately sealed the town and put armed police on patrol on the streets. Shudanshu Shekhar was brought to the hospital where the doctor in charge needed help with the major surgery to take out the bullet and repair the damaged abdominal area. With the help of the Deputy Commissioner, Mymensingh I was able to bring a senior surgeon within two hours (at around mid-night). I went to make the arrangements in the hospital, its security and also to have the dying declaration of the victim recorded in my presence by my second officer who was a first-class magistrate.

Sudhansu Shekhar named a person who was a clerk in the District Court who had come to Tangail that afternoon. He had land disputes in the village with Sudhanshu and had the motive and the opportunity. Sudhansu Shekhar died in the morning as the surgeon had predicted. The cries of his wife and relations haunted me long after his tragic death.

Tangail had famous muslim zamindar families of Karatia, Tangail and Dilduar. Wajed Ali Khan Panni of Karatia was a generous person who patronised the education of Muslims. He established a high school and the Karatia College and made arrangements for board and lodging for poor students. As S.D.O., I was the President of the college and the school and took a lot of interest in their maintenance and development.

I visited all the eight far-flung Thana Headquarters of Tangail, including Bhuapur and Nagarbari, where I visited the home of the Maharaja of Santosh. What impressed me at both the places was the small Thana hospitals maintained by the old District Boards. They were under licensed doctors (L.M.F.) who were not medical graduates. These doctors provided medical and even surgical services under most adverse conditions. It appeared that the hospital and clinics were in better condition before partition and in the latter period started to deteriorate rapidly due to neglect by the District Boards and Councils and lack of local patronage. Principal Ibrahim Khan, a member of the Pakistan National Assembly took great interest in the sub-division's developments and in the Bhuapur College that he helped to establish. These were self-less workers and in spite of their seniority and high position, always kept in touch with their localities and cooperated with the S.D.O's. I still have with me a handwritten letter I received from him after the Tangail floods in 1960.

No account of Tangail would be complete without mentioning Rai Bahadur Ranada Prasad Shaha who hailed from Mirzapur, a few miles from Tangail town. He had been a government supplier during the Second World War and did very well with his jute bailing presses in Narayanganj after partition. He established and set up the Kumudini Hospital and the Bharateswari Girls Home, and both were free of charge for poor people. As SDO, I visited these institutions and Ranada Shaha several times. I was very impressed by the high standard of service, equipment and buildings, cleanliness, the qualified staff, and their dedication. Unfortunately, the life of such a generous person was not spared by the Pakistan Army during 1971 yet his unique contribution to the nation, lives on.

In 1961, I was transferred as S.D.O. Chandpur, which was an attractive assignment for many reasons.

(The author is a former civil servant and a retired member of the World Bank Staff.)


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