Altaf Hossain's Sense of Responsibility
“I feel that it is my duty to look after the students of my village. Any student, regardless of what class they are in. If they cannot attend due to poverty or the negligence of their guardians; I try my level best to help them. Most of the parents of the students in rural areas are not aware of the merits of education. I do whatever I can to convince those parents otherwise.” - Altaf Hossain
Altaf Hossain, father of 3 was born in 1945 at the village of Mollikpur under the Kaliganh upazila in the district of Jhenidah. He finished his primary schooling at Chaprail Primary School in 1957. He received his Matriculation degree from Raigram High School in 1963. He started teaching 2 students in his village back in 1958 and was made to retire on the 13th of November 2003. Altaf now teaches students in his spare time and is also a member of the American based Bangladesh Reading Association in Dhanmondi, Dhaka. His sons, Moniruzzaman is the G. M. of Lanka Bangla Bank in Dhaka, the 2nd one is a District Adjutant of Ansar VDP in Rangamati and the youngest one is a student of Honors in Philosophy in Dhaka College.
Altaf Hossain told Star Insight, that his father was a very poor man, and someone who didn't quite know about the opportunities an education could offer. Altaf now realizes and relates to what the students from poor families might go through.
Altaf takes classes at Mahtab Uddin Degree College, Chaprail College, Naldanga Bhusan Model Secondary School, Mobarak Ali Secondary School, Salimunnessa Secondary Girls' School and several other schools in the district of Jhenidah. He visited Dhaka's Nabab Habibullah Secondary School back in 2009 and took classes there. The headmaster of the school was so impressed that he gave Altaf two books as gifts.
Every morning Altaf wakes up to read the daily newspaper with breakfast. After which he goes to nearby primary and secondary schools to take classes in case a teacher is on leave. If a student is absent in any of his classes, he visits the student's house and asks about the reason for their absence. If needed, he buys books and stationery for the students who can't afford to buy their own. He also tries to convince the parents of the students about how important education is.
Altaf also reads the daily newspaper to look for articles about students whose education is in risk due to financial problems. He tracks down the students, even if they are in different districts. After finding the student, he speaks with their guardians and offers financial assistance whenever he can. He keeps in touch with the poverty stricken parents and gives them as much help as he can, like buying kerosene lamps so that the students can study in the evenings.
Altaf is very fond of mathematics, every year he urges the students to join the math festival. He also visits each institution and collects students for participating in the math festival, and then he accompanies the students and bears bus fare.
In his free time, Altaf visits Dhaka, Narshindi, Narail, Jessore and many educational institutions in Jhenidah. He visited Kachalong Degree College in Rangamati on the 14 August 2011 and taught a few classes there. Currently he stays in Dhaka.
Anath Bholanath, a student of the Satbaria Secondary School in the district of Jesore under the Keshobpur upazila said that he has no parents, that he funds his studies by pulling a rickshaw van. A story on this was published in the Prothom Alo on the 17th of April, 2007. After reading the story, Altaf rushed to the school and gave him some money and told Anath to contact him if he required any more assistance.
Jesmin Khatun, a student of Bejpara Secondary School under the Kaliganj upazila in the district of Jhenidah said, “When I was in class nine, Altaf Hossain - a man with a heart of gold gave me a set of books and some much needed financial assistance.”
His oldest son, Moniruzzaman – the G. M. of Lanka Bangla bank said, “My father might not own much but he is a man who has a great heart, he is very fond of spreading the gift of knowledge, he is very sympathetic to the poor and helpless students and he spends most of the money from his pension on the destitute students.
Rashed Sattar Taru, Principal of Shaheed Nur Ali College said, “Altaf Hossain is an educationalist, who often visits my college and takes class, he also takes special care of the students from poor families.”
Rezaul Islam, the headmaster of Naldanga Bhushan Pilot Secondary School under the Kaliganj upazila said, “Altaf's heart goes out to the poor students. Sometimes he goes to the houses of the students who do not attend school regularly and helps them in any way he can.”
Saidur Rahman, a District Education Officer of the Secondary Education Office in Jhenidah said, “The students of our institutions would have a lot to gain if there were more teachers who were as sincere, caring and interested as Altaf Hossain.”
The Towering Figure of Rural Development
Rabindranath Tagore- a legendary persona in Bengali literature. His poetry as well as his novels, short stories, and essays are very widely read, and the songs he composed echo around the world. Above all, he had his deepest love for crops, soil and for advanced farming techniques and farmer-friendly concepts which would facilitate farmers. On 25th of Baishakh, the world celebrated this great man's 150th birth anniversary. I went to Sriniketan, situated beside Santiniketan in West Bengal's Birbhum. This is the place from where Rabindranath started his plans for rural and agricultural development; a place where, he thought about developing the livelihood status of the rural community, their education and their health.
Shilaidaha, Patisar and Shahzadpur- all these places are situated in Bangladesh, three reminiscent places of Rabindranath Tagore. These places inspire us to rediscover Rabindranath Tagore- a man who had a deep affection for farming and farmers; a man who dreamt of a developed farming community, which will eliminate primitive agro-concepts and will turn towards advancement. If you visit Birbhum of West Bengal, you'll understand the enlightened philosophy Tagore had, which only derived from the roots, from the marginal farming community.
The treasures of Rabindranath which cover a large part of West Bengal's Birbhum, is really a rare example. The most illuminated place here is known as Sriniketan. His glorious deeds, activities and initiatives really strike a modern mind – how was all this successfully done in the past?
To decorate the rural life with the basic needs, Rabindranath started his venture of development. He dreamt that farming, cooperative, education, health – all these development tools will walk hand in hand. All these will back each other up. Director of the Visva-Bharati Agro-Economic Research Centre, Professor Dr. Debashish Sarker conducted in-depth research on Tagore's concept on farming, rural development and society. I interviewed him to learn more.
“If you survey the 32 villages in Birbhum where Sriniketan is working, all these villages experienced radical development. Rabindranath gave his effort in several different agro-sectors like, poultry, beekeeping, dairy and even duckery- and you can guess all this happened long ago!” said Mr. Sarker.
Nobody ever thought of duckery during that time. Besides, during the directorship of Leonard Knight Elmhirst, from Sriniketan, bulls were given to many villages for cross-breeding. Previously, there was no summer cultivation. Rabindranath said, “Soil can give you a lot. And, you should nurse the soil in the right method.” Afterwards, summer cultivation also began in Birbhum. Now, Birbhum produces vegetable, sugarcane and mustard – all this diversification didn't exist here in Birbhum, in the arid landscape as its better known. You'd be very surprised to learn that a fruit-processing unit has been set up here, as well. Jam, jelly and achaar were also produced here.
Interviewing Dr. Amit Hajra, Head
of the Rural Extension Centre of
Even today, the power of his concepts on economics is very Significant. Since 1954, Department of Agro-Economy of Visva-Bharati incepted from the agro-development concepts of Rabindranath Tagore. I spoke with the Research Associate, Kalishankar Chattergee and Jeevan Kumar regarding the influence of Tagore's works over the agro-economic sector in the region.
I asked Mr. Chattergee if Rabindranath was a supporter of the rural banking system. “On a small scale, the banks existed in the villages, since the age of Rabindranath. Those banks were formed, having the cooperative structure,” replied Mr. Chattergee.
We can find the concepts of Rabindranath influence the credit structure and the diverse sectors of agro-economy in India, even today. Still, Rabindranath is regarded as the frontiersman of the marginal farming community of West Bengal.
Rabindranath certainly had his concepts on the agricultural credit system. He knew farmers never had any resources. He thought in a 'big way'. But the plan didn't see the fruits of its labor as the farmers didn't have their own capital. Later, the government initiated the 'Kisan Credit Card'. Two things were added - crop insurance, for which government of India has formed a separate agency, which monitors the subject.
Rabindranath was a remarkable pro-active society-oriented intellectual persona, suggests the extensive research of Suchibrata Sen, the retired professor of the department of history from Visva-Bharati.
The year 1905 is especially significant for the history of Bengal – the Banga-Bhanga (Division of Bengal) movement was on course; the agriculture bank in Patisar was established; and, during Rabindranath's speech at the Kolkata University, he referred to the malaria outbreak, saying, “The cry of the rural community as they suffer severely from malaria is what is meant by seeing the actuality or reality.” The black features and illiteracy at the rural regions saddened the mind of the great poet. From within these societal plagues, Rabindranath wanted to relive his agricultural philosophy or the rural concepts in the philosophies he always nurtured.
“How did 'agriculture' get into Rabindranath's beliefs? How did he think about developing the rural people and what made him think of the rural construction?” I asked Mr. Sen. He answered my question through a verse.
“Conscience is built from the ways of life...”
“Rabindranath was born in a Kolkata based Zamindar family. Naturally, he wasn't supposed to have any idea about agriculture and rural essence.”
“When he visited Patisar, Shilaidaha and Berhampore and became very close to the rural people, his concepts came into reality and that was the start. However, since Rabindranath had a very special and unique talent, he converted this concept and had realistically applied it. First, he used it in Patisar and Berhampore and later he established Sriniketan which turned out to be an effective model for rural development”, added Mr. Sen.
With the initiative taken by Rabindranath, in 1929, the poor Shaotal communities were allocated 200-bigha land of Visva-Bharati. Shaotal village in Balipara still resembles the era of Rabindranath.
I was walking across the locality of Balipara, a place of Shaotal community. Still, this locality has the flavour of the past. I came to Kalishayar from Balipara. Before the establishment of Sriniketan, these regions belonged to the landlords. The works of Sriniketan followed two principles – one is Palli Charcha (Rural Practice) and the other is Agricultural Development and Extension. There are many examples of rural practices of which education and health are the ones to be significantly noted.
I thought of having a closer look at the Siksha-Charcha Centre. It was established in 1937. Rabindranath Tagore was the founder. There was also a Primary Teachers' Training Institute. I spoke with Dr. Maloy Sarker from the training institute.
“Do you think the idea of primary education has spread amongst the local people?”
“Why not? Teachers are guided by ideologies and diverse trainings from the centre. And, they are distributing the knowledge in the villages. And, Rabindranath's ideal is being reflected in the villages.”
Rabindranath's works are still utilized in forming rural organizations and inspiring the youth community. Anandamoyi Samiti is still standing firm – the hundred-year old clay-house in Sriniketan's Mahidapur. Documents prove, in 1934, Rabindranath himself was the Chairman of this association. The secretary was his son, Rathindranath Tagore. The senior-most officer of today's Anandamoyi Samiti, Haradhon Saha, during his childhood, saw Rabindranath visiting this building on regular occasions. I had the greatest privilege to interview him.
“Rabindranath Tagore visited this place in 1922. In 1925, he operated development activities in five villages- Shorul, Raypur, Wallpara, Adityapur, and Ballavpur. I saw Rabindranath during my childhood.”
“Where did you see him?”
“First, I saw him during the 'Halkorshon' festival. I was eight years old then. He was already aged with his long white beard.”
Sheikh Alaol Chandra Mondol worked with the village welfare department of Visva-Bharati. He worked mainly to inspire the youth and has done research on Rabindranath's diverse activities on social development. He has observed the fruitful activities of the poet since he's been in Sriniketan for a long time.
“The implementation part of the rural development concept of Rabindranath started from Mahidapur. Following his activities, the Mahidapur Social Welfare Association was established. They're still involved in reconstructing the villages here.”
Though we don't hear much about Sriniketan, but we can't deny, this place is still alive like the days of Elmhirst when he was the Director. Work still goes on like the old days. I found evidence of diverse activities from the rural extension centre of Visva-Bharati. I spoke with the head of this centre, Professor Dr. Amit Hajra.
“The concepts with which Rabindranath took off on his mission in 1922, we still follow. From an ideological perspective or as a model, it is still similar to that we have seen in the past”, said Mr. Hajra.
My visit to Sriniketan will always remind me of what makes a man the greatest of all time. Rabindranath Tagore lives forever in the hearts of millions of Bengalis not only because of his creative literature but also for his development deeds. He didn't just float on imagination. He was an active and development-minded personality. With leadership and skills, he established Sriniketan. Many dreams were embedded there. I'll conclude this article with a speech of Rabindranath Tagore which he gave in 1908, shared his immense hope he always had, during the event of Pabna Bengal Congress Provincial Conference-
“Our work will definitely and gradually lift up our country towards development. There will be a time when our grandchildren will take up the pride of our country, branding it as a beautiful one - a country full of crops and flora…our serene motherland. And our nation will undergo an ostentatious progress- this is all what we have done, filled up by our very own thoughts, endeavours and souls, full of joyous harmony with great roaring deeds of novel, unrelenting and sanguine travelers- who always bore hope in their minds.”
I convey my deepest reverence to Rabindranath Tagore, the frontiersman of Bengal, the hero of social development on his 150th birth anniversary.