A few decades ago reading was so popular that it had taken on the form of a movement and young people were constantly busy forming reading circles, exchanging books and talking about them afterwards. With the onslaught of different forms of media entertainment, this has become a declining trend and only individual efforts such as Professor Abdullah Abu Sayeed's Biswa Sahitya Kendra, have tried to encourage the habit of reading.
Partha Sarathi Ghosh, G.M. Suhrawardy or Gazi Sarwar could have been any three of the thousands of
Partha, Suhrawardy and Sarowar with two youth organisers.
graduates or masters degree holders who have come out of Dhaka University two or three years ago to add to the job seeking millions of youth in our country. But, these three young friends had the dream to do 'something on their own' rather than send bundles of resumes to offices and getting prepared for a series of interviews. The trio began working with adolescent boys and girls from low-income families in the Tannery Road, Hazaribagh and Maneshwar Road of Jigatola area in Dhaka. Partha-Suhrawardy-Sarwar, the three musketeers found that a number of bright adolescent boys and girls from low income families in Jigatola, drop out from high school. Girls generally get married before attending high school. The families are poor and there are societal pressures to get girls married off early. Soon they enter the vicious cycle of early pregnancy and child birth, reproductive health problems, divorce and separation from the spouse. On the other hand, boys have to leave school to support their families mainly through various forms of menial labour. Some fall prey to drug addiction and other delinquent behaviour.
The Partha-Suhrawardy-Sarwar trio established at first a research organisation 'Participatory Research and Development (PRDS)' to conduct some small-scale research on issues like reproductive health of adolescent mothers or scenario of school drop-outs in the area. In addition, they found that the adolescent boys and girls themselves had initiated an organisation of their own in the area some years ago. The organisation was named 'Jubo Samaj er Alo (Light of the Young Community) and formed by children of rickshawpullers, van drivers families, tannery workers or small groceries. But the organisation was losing its relevance because there was no one to guide these children. It was Partha,Suhrawardy and Sarwar who decided to revive the organisation by initiating the 'Shikha Onirban (Unending Fire) Study Circle' movement.
“Our sole objective was to spread the fire of reading among these disadvantaged adolescents and young people,” says Partha. Sarwar adds: “Suppose, the child of a tannery worker or a van driver could not continue his or her study at secondary level owing to poverty or other social evils. We try to offer courses in the study circle so that they can read at least some classics from Bengali literature as well as from world literature in available Bengali translations.”
“Under the programme a 100 study circles have been so far completed since November 2009. Participants of the circles could finish reading 60 books in these circles. We could, in addition, successfully convert 15 participants to be volunteers of the study circle. Each of them have organised at least 10 study circles”, says G.M.Suhrawardy.
Till 2021 or the golden jubilee of our Liberation War, the prime target would be to make at least 100 volunteers of the study circle movement, successfully conduct 2000 study circles and enlist at least 5,000 adolescents and young men and women into the study circle movement informs Runni Akhter who is one such 'convert'. Her father is a tempo driver. She was an S.S.C. examinee when PRDS came to work in their locality. Today Runni is a first year student of honours in the Social Welfare Department of Eden College. Being the child of a poor father, Runni has so far been continuing her studies on her own income by working as a tutor to junior level students. PRDS cannot offer her any salary.
“It is true that PRDS cannot pay me. But, all the bhaiyas (Partha-Suhrawardy-Sarowar) are just like my own elder brothers. I feel so good here amidst the fragrance of so many. I can read a lot! So, I work here during my leisure. Actually, money is not all that you work for,” Runni says.
Shahnaz Akhtar, 18 or 19 years old says that she had given up studies three or four years ago. “And, I began waiting for a marriage as is the custom with low-income families like ours. After I have started come here with Runni, I change my mind and decided to study again.”
Arif Hassan, son of a construction worker, is now a first year student of HSC (Higher Secondary School Certificate). He has paid for his own education by tutoring others. He is now the co-supervisor of the Shikha Onirban study circle movement. “I can read so many books through subscribing only five takas!” says Arif. “This is why I enjoy coming here. I have seen writer Selina Hossain. I have also seen Barkat Sir (Economist Professor Abul Barkat). They come to share and exchange views with us in the study circles. I particularly enjoy reading books by Zafar Iqbal Sir on Liberation War themes,” he adds.
“This is why I don't care if I get any money here or not. And, I have also found that the greater the variety of books I read the easier it is for me to understand the content of my class curriculum,” Arif adds.
So, kudos to Partha-Suhrawardy-Sarwar who envision a future that is not about just making money, a sentiment shared by many graduates. Instead they are using their knowledge and goodwill to enlighten young people from underprivileged backgrounds by inspiring them to read. May the spark of 'Shikha Onirban spreads like fire.
(R) thedailystar.net 2010