Volume 2 Issue 30 | March 29 , 2008 |


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From Sylhet

Sirajunnesa's Social Politics

SHE was born on 27 November, 1910 at the village of Bali Dighir Par under Rajnagar upazila of Moulvibazar district. Her father Zaminder Dewan Abdul Karim Chowdhury was a generous man and a patron of education. Sirajunnesa Chowdhury had a great interest in getting educated, but as a girl of a conservative Muslim family, she did not get much opportunity at the time. Nevertheless, she learnt Arabic, Urdu, Persian and English and Bangla from tutors

Sirajunnesa Chowdhury was married to a bureaucrat, Abdur Rashid Chowdhury, a man hailing from the famous zaminder family of Durgapasha of Sunamganj. After his retirement, Abdur Rashid started doing politics and established a weekly named The Jugabhery during the then British regime. Some years ago the newspaper was turned into a daily. Sirajunnesa did not put her energies into looking after the family. Rather, she worked on improving the condition of women.

At the death of her husband in 1944, Sirajunnesa Chowdhury had to start working and taking up big responsibilities. Soon, she took over the duties of managing the huge zamindar house, the tea gardens and so on. She took over as Managing Director of the Rashid Enterprise and Hamdard Tea Company while she became Motwalli of Rashidabad Tea Estate and Sirajnagar Tea gardens, both under the Waqf estate. Sirajunnesa Chowdhury also shouldered the responsibilities of the Secretary of Durgapasha Abdur Rashid High School committee at their village. She was also an active member of Madan Mohan College, Sylhet Mohila College, Quazi Jalal Uddin Girls High School in Sylhet city. She also served as an active member of the Sylhet TB Association and Dhaka Women's association.

She was not only involved in social work, but she also delved into politics. She became a commissioner of the Sylhet Pourashava, Chittagong Divisional Council and a member of the Pakistan National Assembly. She was quite vocal in the assembly and would touch on many delicate issues.

Also well known as Begum Rashid throughout the Sylhet region, she formed the Rashid Foundation and extended assistance to a lot of people in getting an education in the post-partition period.

When the then Pakistan government took a decision to stop agricultural subsidies in 1950-1951, which would hurt the growing tea industry, she came out with a big protest. She organized a greater forum and showed that the then Bank of India and Comilla Union Bank and others had been providing subsidies to the tea sector. Thus she compelled the authorities to start up the Pakistan Krishi Bank which arranged loans for the tea industry. The tea sector was saved for awhile.

Sirajunnesa also played a laudable role in 1971. She arranged shelters for freedom fighters during the war. She hid a lot of people at her Sirajnagar tea garden. At her request, her son Humayun Rashid Chowdhury got out of the Pakistan Foreign Service and became the first Bangladesh ambassador to India.

The great lady contributed much to politics, social work and trade, until her death on 24 June of 1974 at the age of 64.

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