District Officer's Story
At a meeting close to the Indian border, I was to introduce the minister and the GK Project Director was to speak next to give the technical details. Instead, by mistake I directly called upon the Foreign Minister to speak. The high officials of EPWAPDA Headquarters from Dhaka who had come were very annoyed. When I mentioned the problem to Peerzada, a distinguised lawyer, he told the WAPDA officials and the Pressmen that the Director's speech should be considered to have been delivered and reported in the press.
There were still some Neelkuthis of the nineteenth century in Meherpur sub-division belonging to the European indigo planters. We visited one such a couple of times- a magnificent building with floors of green mosaic and marble, shaded by lots of large trees. Indigo (Neel) was a leguminous plant cultivated in the area, from which a blue dye was extracted. It was required for the growing cloth industry in England. The East India Company had allowed foreign planters to own land. They were thus able to force the peasants to cultivate indigo, threatening to increase rent otherwise. The peasants, who did not get due price, were reluctant to produce indigo. The planters, often with the connivance of Company Officials, would cruelly punish the peasants. Indigo cultivation in Bengal was synonymous with oppression and coercion. An English civil servant in Bengal once remarked, "Not a chest of indigo reached England without being stained with human blood". After the Indigo Mutiny of the peasants in Bengal in 1859-62, many of the planters moved to Bihar.
With the able assistance of Professor Zakaria, then Vice-Principal of the Kushtia College, we started the Kushtia Girl's College in the town in a rented building for which there was a crying need. Zakaria became the Principal of the college and devoted his time and energy to it. The college committee members raised funds. I remember that Afiluddin, a Kushtia born Industrialist, had donated taka fifty thousand for the College. Altaf Hossain, the eminent Bangali editor of the Karachi Dawn and then the Minister of Information in the Ayub Government, came on a visit. I took him to the local Press Club, where he spent some time discussing the working conditions of the journalists.
In 1967, during a Deputy Commissioners' conference in the Governor's House in Dhaka, the Military Secretary to the Governor called me at our house and said that Governor Monem Khan wanted to see me that evening. I found Monem Khan alone in the room. He complimented me for the excellent development work and revenue collection in Kushtia. Monem Khan then pointed out that he was not only the Governor, but also the Head of the Muslim League party. He had received reports that I often tended to forget it. Monem Khan said that his party may not return to power in the 1970 elections. As permanent civil servants, we may have to serve under the government of a different party. He did not expect that we compromise our service standards and principles. His only request was that when he visited Kushtia, I would ensure peace and order in his public meetings by making adequate police and other arrangements.
Monem Khan had the reputation of being a tough and partisan Governor and a sychophant of Ayub Khan. Consequently, the reasonableness of his demands and the soft manners, compared to some of my previous encounters with him, amazed me. I came out of the meeting assuring him that the law and order were the responsibility of the Deputy Commissioner and that I meant to carry out my duties. What actually happened to Monem Khan in 1970 -71 and his fate, both politically and personally, is well known and is now history.
Let me conclude by saying that Kushtia, considered by many as a small and not so important district assignment, rewarded me with a rich and a most satisfying experience.
Azizul Jalil, a former civil servant and a retired member of the World Bank Staff, writes from Washington.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005