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Friday, January 6, 2012
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Samson: a patriot apart

L-R: Arnold Memorial Dispensary, a charitable venture of Samson H Chowdhury's father EH Chowdhury. Samson H Chowdhury in a family picture. Samson H Chowdhury, the late chairman of Square Group, in another family picture.

By the time the war broke out in East Pakistan in March 1971, Samson H Chowdhury had become a successful businessman.

"He was by heart a true Bangalee. As a result, Samson was on the hit list prepared by the local collaborators," reminisced Dennis Dilip Datta, a retired development and church activist.

"One of his gatekeepers in his Pabna residence requested him to go into hiding as the collaborators were planning to kill. He listened and left Pabna with his family for his village home. The collaborators burnt his residence in town and village homes to ashes, forcing him to leave for Dhaka," Datta said.

The 70-year-old man had followed Samson, who breathed his last yesterday, like a shadow for the last 40 years, working for the development of the churches in Bangladesh and building a close link with the family.

He said Samson was in British Navy during the Second World War, and the honorary general secretary of the National Council of Churches, which is the part of the World Council of Churches, during the Liberation War in 1971.

"He did a tremendous job during the nine-month war. The World Council of Churches sent a ship full of food items for the people of East Pakistan. He diverted the ship to Salt Lake as he realised that the Pakistani armies would take control of the ship."

Thousands of Bangalees took refuge in Salt Lake in Kolkata and its other parts to avoid genocide in the hands of the occupation armies.

Datta said Samson's youngest son Anjan Chowdhury left home and joined the freedom fighters, becoming the youngest freedom fighter of the country. His middle son Tapan Chowdhury stayed inside the country and kept close contacts with the freedom fighters and helped them with food and medicine.

Datta recalled the place where Lab Aid Hospital in the capital city is located now was a guest house of the church mission in Bangladesh during the war. "Many journalists boarded the guest house as their movement would have been restricted if they had chosen to stay in the Intercontinental Hotel controlled by the army."

"Samson Chowdhury secretly met many foreign journalists and provided them with the real picture of the war," Datta told The Daily Star yesterday.

Soon after the war, Samson set up Christian Commission for Development in Bangladesh, a consortium of donors that took up various projects to rehabilitate people affected by the war.

"He went to Narsingdi and helped weavers with money and machines to rehabilitate them. It was a huge programme. He also took up a fishing project in Moheshkhali in Cox's Bazar to rehabilitate fishermen. He spent $12 million for an agriculture project in Rajshahi."

Samson was also the chairman of Koinonia, a social welfare organisation that provides services in areas of education, health and microfinance.

Samson raised the Bangladesh's flag in Sathia when the part of the country was liberated. "During personal conversation he termed the moment as the most memorable one of his life," recalled Datta.

He said when Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman urged the rich to surrender their ration cards, Samson was the first businessman to do so.

Datta said Samson had no enemies although his company became one of the biggest conglomerates in the country. "He always told me to keep the opponents in good humour."

Samson was a philanthropist and throughout his illustrious life, he spent billions of taka for the poor. "He started from scratch and never stopped working and became the country's best known businessman," Datta said.

He said: "Once in mid 1990s his wife told him: 'you have worked a lot and now you should stop'. He responded saying: 'Look, now I care for the country. I want to create jobs for people."

Samson's Square Group now employs more than 33,000 people.

Datta said Samson also cared for his employees. "All of his employees get a good lunch everyday. They get regular salaries, bonuses and perks. Labour strikes never took place in his factories."

"Honesty and integrity was the main motto of his life. Out and out, he was an honest and clean man. He was the highest taxpayer in the country."

"He always respected the laws of the country. He had been always straight forward. He was never afraid of speaking the truth even to the face of president or other powerful people. He was a man of prayer."

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