Sri Binod Bihari: Young at 97
Sri Binod Bihari Chowdhury may be a man of small stature, but he is one of immense ambition. Even at the age of 97, nothing tires him out. He has fought against injustice and oppression throughout his entire life. The 10th of January 2007, he stepped on the 97th year of his life. Amongst numerous revolutionaries of Bangladesh of his time, he is the only one still alive and still thriving. Most have passed away naturally or met with fatal ends in the fight against injustice.
To commemorate his 97th birthday, Rafi Hossain and Zahidul Naim Zakaria from the desk of Star Insight visited him in Chittagong and had a lively conversation with him. Even though we talked to Sri Chowdhury from Dhaka over the phone, we could not manage to visit him immediately. But on a later date, unannounced and by surprise, we appeared at his doorstep one fine day in January. Although we found him enjoying his afternoon siesta, he got up at our arrival and engaged in a conversation very enthusiastically.
Star Insight: What are your views on the current political situation of our country?
Sri Binod Bihari Chowdhury: I am gravely worried about the current proceedings of the political parties but with the present caretaker government in control, things seem to have become more stable. I hope all the political parties will cooperate with each other under the supervision of the caretaker government so that a fair and hassle-free election is made possible.
SI: We know that, in 1948, you were elected as a candidate of Congress for the West Pakistan Law Commission. Can you explain that situation?
SBBC: India broke apart in 1947 due to religious divide. After that, in 1948, I was only 37 years old when I was elected as a member of Congress of West Pakistan. I devoted myself completely to the Nationalist movement of Bangladesh. This is when Dhirendronath Datta (martyred at the Liberation War of 1971) placed a formal appeal, for the first time in the Law Commission, to make Bangla the official language or the mother tongue of the country. We fought for the rights of the minority in the Parliament. We sacrificed the easy way to power because we wanted our rights to be established first. To make the state democratic, we rebelled against the prior system of election. There was one slogan which we sang regularly during these time, “One nation, one life... unity.” (In his words, it was “Ak jati, ak pran... ekota.”).
The bill of joint election was first passed in 1956, when Shahid Sarwardi was the Law Minister. Based on that bill, in 1970, a general election took place for the first time in Pakistan. In the course of events following the election, Bangladesh fought for and earned its independence in 1971 under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Paying respects to Mastarda
SI: At the tender age of 97, can you tell us why you have posed yourself again as a candidate in the upcoming election?
SBBC: Of course, I think I can be of use to the nation. Especially with the current politically unstable situation, I believe that it is urgent for me to become active again. Until my dying breath, I want to strive to see my principles and values established. I will always continue to work for the betterment of the nation. Even now, I can see the general people of our country being tortured, being subject to injustice; and so I decided I need to try harder and fight for the people who are suffering. Nothing will stand in my way; nobody will stop me and no unfair force will scare me and demean my struggle. I believe that a noble death is the best way to die. I am inspired by people like Khudiram and Bhagha Jotin, who I believe have died as noble men.
SI: How did you become associated with Mastarda Shurjo Sen?
SBBC: I met him when I was only a boy of sixteen in 1927. The comrades of Mastarda Shurjo Sen used to study at the same school where I used to study. Through them, I met him several times. When I showed interest to join his party, he always refused me. He said a scholar like me should not take part in politics. He said that their life was hard and dangerous, and there were many risks involved. But whenever I met him, I always showed my interest to join. I told him that I am aware of the uncertainty involved, but I still want to become a part of his group. On 18th April 1930, my fellow comrades and I raided the British camp and took over their armoury by force. Our motto was, “We will make the country live, even at the cost of our own lives.” We showed everyone how to seize power from cruel hands.
SI: You have fought so much for the country. You have been in jail several times and have suffered a lot in the process of your struggle, and you are still struggling. To what extent, do you think, your efforts lead to justice being realized? How much did the society actually change?
SBBC: Well, the dream that we had may not have been completely realized. The country as a whole may not have become what we imagined. But, in individual cases, on small scales scattered throughout the country, changes have come. Things have become better. If people like my comrades and I did not work for the country, if we did not devote ourselves completely as patriots, if we did not struggle then the situation of the country would be much worse. This is exactly why I have taken an attempt to become active again; by being elected I want to work for the nation again.
SI: Do you think you will be able to gather the required muscle-power and enough financial backing to win this election?
SBBC: I don't believe in such strategies. I don't want to spend endless amounts of money on election campaigns; I don't even have it! People who believe in me, who love me, my well-wishers will work for all the promotion required. I don't want to spend a single penny more than five lacs, which the government has set as the maximum limit for every party's campaign expenditure.
SI: Do you really think you can work properly at this stage of our life?
SBBC: Of course, I cannot work like I did in my youth. I have placed myself as a candidate as a sign of protest. I did so because I believe I can play a role. I may be too feeble to work in the field, but I can lead people who are in need of guidance. I believe people who trust my philosophies will vote for me.
SI: So, how do you pass your leisure time?
SBBC: I don't have any leisure time. Even at this age, I am swamped with work. And I love to teach. Still now, I teach students at my home. It's my passion. I teach English, and I really like the Daily Star Initiative through Star Insight to promote and spread the practice of English throughout Bangladesh.
I believe newspapers like The Daily Star and others of the same genre are contributing a lot to the freedom of expression. I believe that the pen is powerful. I urge all journalists to always speak the truth, even in any face of severe circumstance. I believe that the press and media are responsible to a large extent for revealing the truth that hides in the corners of the country and as a result, for the current improvements regarding the political situation in Bangladesh.
SI: Thank you so much for you time. We earnestly hope that your struggle against injustice will always continue.
SBBC: Thank you.
Photos: Zobaer Hossain Sikder
Sri Binod Bihari : A Career Overview
The aging revolutionary Sri Binod Bihari was born on the 10th of January 1911, in Boalkhali Thana of Chittagong district. His father, the Late Kamini Kumar Chowdhury, was a well-reputed lawyer. His attended Rangamati Board School in Fotikchori Thana of Chittagong District for primary education. From there, he went on to attending Coronation Uccho Biddalay, P C Sen Saroatoli Uccho Biddalay of Boalkhali, Chittagong College, and University of Calcutta for his secondary and higher studies. Sri Chowdhury Rai Bahadur was awarded a scholarship, after his brilliant performance in Secondary School Certificate examination in 1929. In 1934 and 1936, while a detainee at the Rajputnar Deuli Detention Camp of the British Raj, he completed his I.A and B.A examinations with first class distinction results. Later on, he completed his B.L degree as well.
As a teenager of only sixteen, when he joined the group of revolutionaries, Jugantor, he became a very close subordinate and follower of a number of revolutionaries. Namely, they were Mastarda Shurjo Sen (martyred by hanging), Tarkesshor Dostidar (martyred by hanging), Modhushudon Datta (martyred at war of Jalalabad), and Ramkrishno Biswas (martyred by hanging). This marked the beginning of his life as a revolutionary. He took active part in the Youth rebellion movement of Chittagong set in motion by Mastarda Shurjo Sen in 1930 from 18th April to 20th April. As a part of the rebellion, on the 18th of April, he overtook the police armory by force and after taking the British flag down, lifted the flag of the Indian government. He was under the command of Anonto Shingho and Gonesh Ghosh. As a result of the rebellion, Mastarda Shurjo Sen was given the title of President and a temporary state of emergency rebel government was declared. He was severely injured in the battle of Jalalabad, where he and other members of the rebellion faced the British Army under the leadership of Mastarda on the 22nd of April of the same year.
In the life pursuit of eradicating all subjugation and tyranny from the face of the general people, and in the journey for freedom of the people, Sri Chowdhury has had to face starvation and hibernation. He had to make himself a prisoner at his own home and sometimes behind actual bars. In 1930, after the Youth rebellion movement, the British government not only released a warrant for his arrest, but also declared a prize of 500 taka for his arrest-- either dead or alive. After going into hiding in 1930, three years passed peacefully; but the British forces captured him in 1933 and threw him in prison. After spending almost 5 years in Chittagong jail, Calcutta Presidency Jail, Deuli Detention Camp, and Bahrampur Jail he was released in 1938. But he was not released yet for good, he was on house arrest for another whole year. He gained freedom in 1939. But soon after, in 1941, he was recaptured and put back behind bars in Chittagong Jail, Hijli Bondi Shibir, Dhaka Jail, and in Khokshi Bondi Shibir. In the Pakistani rule of Aiyub Khan, he spent one year in prison again, from 1965 to 1966.
When he was a prisoner in British-Indian jail, Sri Chowdhury became a follower of the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and in 1939, after his release he joined the Indian Congress. While he was a member of the Foreign Congress from 1940 to 1946, he simultaneously became the General Director of the political party of Chittagong District Committee. After India broke up into parts in 1947 due to religious divide, he did not leave his motherland like a lot of other people; instead, he became one of the foundation leaders in the establishment of The National Pakistani Congress. In 1948, he was elected as the candidate of Congress in the Law Commission election. It was in the same year that Dhirendronath Datta (martyred in the Liberation War of 1971) placed a formal bill, for the first time in the Law Council, to make Bangla the official language of the country. This gave rise to the Bangali Jatiotabadi Andolon (Bengali Nationalistic Revolt) that led to the famous Language Movement of Bangladesh of 1952.
Sri Chowdhury became an avid participant of the event leading up to the movement and was actively engaged in spreading the news of the revolution. Needless to say, he was one of the most influential workers of the language movement of 1952. Under the leadership of Dhirendronath Datta, his aim was to make the language movement more rapid and to create a responsible government system for the nation. He was also a part of the Joint-Election movement.
Sri Binod Bihari with his wife
He joined the anti-autocratic rebellion in 1969 and was one of the many players in the planning of the Liberation War of 1971. After the country was liberated, he retired from active political duty in the free nation and became a leader in many social welfare and humanitarian movements.
Sri Chowdhury started his career in 1939, as the Assistant Editor of The Daily Pangojonno. In 1940, he also practiced as a lawyer in The Chittagong Court. But, as destiny had decided for him, he lastly chose teaching as his life-long career. Until the demise of Srimoti Neli Sengupto, leader of the Indian National Congress (spouse of nation-loved barrister Jatindro Mohan Sengupto), he continued in the post of Secretary.
Workaholic philanthropist Sri Chowdhury has been awarded much praise and respect for his work from institutions in the country and abroad. The government of Bangladesh has awarded him with the Shadhinota Podok for his epic role in the movement towards liberation.
The daily newspapers Bhorer Kagoj and Jonokontho have paid him respects by awarding him the title of being the nation's greatest child. He donated all financial benefits received from such ovations and awards to the University of Chittagong to arrange public speaking ceremonies in remembrance of political leader Mastarda Shurjo Sen.
Sri Chowdhury, a pride of the nation, is still engaged in the emancipation of helpless people from the face of torment, poverty, prejudice and disrespect and at the age of 97. He is still devoted to the construction of a free civil society, which is pious and inspired.
(R) thedailystar.net 2007