In the midst of C-virus war when Bangladesh was struggling hard to minimize the damage of the global pandemic, the country has suffered a big blow with the demise of Prof. Anisuzzaman, the best known public intellectual who spent all his life in struggle against bigotry and communalism.
The news of his death came as a great to many in Bangladesh and India (where he was well known) and a pall of gloom descended everywhere.
A man of dignity, Anisuzzaman became the national conscience for his steadfast defence of freedom,democracy and secular understanding of social life that he believed in totality. The multifaceted contributions the professor made to his society will remain a shining beacon forever.
On April 27, the professor emeritus of Dhaka University was admitted to a Dhaka hospital after he reporting serious illness. He was later shifted to the Combined Military Hospital in Dhaka on orders of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as his condition was deteriorating . Anisuzzaman, 83, died on May 14 having tested Covid positive, and also suffered from kidney and lungs complications.As we all call him ‘Sir’, Anisuzzaman was a lighthouse in the Bangladesh society. He was often bracketed as ‘left intellectual’ for his involvement in the left politics in his early days, but Anisuzzaman had always proved himself a moderate thinker having unflinching faith in liberal democracy. He was a versatile genius, who taught nearly six decades in the country’s premier universities . He led an eventful life and turned himself as the guiding spirit in all the democratic and social movements, to build a society free from bigotry and fundamentalism.
The respected professor and scholar was a devoted writer and researcher with full of social commitments, a leader who inscribed his name in the world of language, literature and culture. He was one of the intellectuals who protested the determined move by the government of Field Marshall Auyb Khan to ban Tagore songs on radio and television in 1967. One of the very first publications on language movement: ‘Rastrabhasha: Ki o Keno’ was written by him.
During the Bangladesh’s War of Liberation, Anisuzzaman crossed over to India to take a leading role in supporting country’s government in exile, housed in Kolkata, in 1971. After Bangladesh emerged as an independent country at the end of the nine month-long war with the unconditional surrender of the 93,000 Pakistani soldiers to the joint India-Bangladesh Military Command, the professor took a new lead in supporting the spirit he upheld so dearly. He was a pivotal figure in translating the Bangladesh’s original Constitution in Bangla in 1972.
The highly respected scholar got himself involved in the nation building after the ravages of the marauding Pakistani troops who murdered scores of top secular intellectuals to make the new nation intellectually crippled. Anisuzzaman was one of the leading scholars who took the leadership in filling the prevailing void by leading one movement after another.
After the assassination of Bangladesh’s founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975, the new-born country faced yet another tragedy : the military and pseudo democratic rulers who held sway after 1975 tried their best to reverse the course of our history, trying their best to transform ‘secular liberal’ Bangladesh into a ‘new East Pakistan’, both politically and culturally. Anisuzzaman,along with other intellectuals, stood up to fight this evil effort on the strests, in the universities and whereever needed. He determinedly guided all those movements initiated by the country’s Freedom Fighters, writers and cultural activists to undo the conspiracy to retain and uphold the quintessential ‘Bengali spirit’ .
A great champion for the cause of secularism, he played a significant role in all democratic movements from the Bangla Language Movement of 1952 to the Liberation War in 1971, and for the restoration of democracy in the 1980s. A courageous man, he supported the Bangladesh’s landmark trial of war criminals, by appearing as a key witness before the International Crimes’ Tribunal.
The late National Professor has been laid to rest at Dhaka’s Azimpur graveyard amid an outpouring of grief on May 15. The ceremony was conducted in line with the guidelines for burial of COVID 19 patients. He was also given a guard of honour by a team of Bangladesh Police as his coffin was draped with the national flag.
A dedicated humanist, Anisuzzaman was the recipient of Ekushey Padak and Swadhinata Padak, two prestigious and the highest state awards, for his contribution to education and literature. He was the President of Bangla Academy till the last day of his life.
India has bestowed on him the country’s third-highest civilian honour – Padma Bhushan – for his distinguished service of high order in the field of Bangla literature and education.
Anisuzzaman was the true voice of justice and freedom, and was a loving personality for all those who approached him . He had the virtues of tolerance and commitment needed for a person believing in tolerance even though he was strong in beliefs.
Born in Kolkata in 1937, Anisuzzaman and his family migrated to Bangladesh, then East Pakistan, soon after the partition of the British India in 1947. He started his academic career as a lecturer at the Bangla department at Dhaka University,later joined the Chittagong University as a professor . A Visiting Fellow at the University of Paris, North Carolina State University and the University of Calcutta, he was also a Visiting Professor at the Visva-Bharati of India.
He was not only a committed educationist but also a tireless researcher. His pivotal research into the reflection of the Muslim mind in the nineteenth century Bangla literature and into pre-nineteenth century Bangla prose were pathbreaking. ‘Muslim Manash O Bangla Sahitya’- (1964)-, the book he authored on assessment of the Bengali Muslims in literature, is an outstanding contribution . Swaruper Sandhane (1976) was another important book, in which he discussed the state of Bangla literature during the age of the Charyapada. In his ‘Purono Bangla Gadya’ (1984), he shed light on literary conventions of Old Bangla prose before the 18th century.
‘Amar Ekattor’ (1997), his memoirs on Bangladesh liberation war, and ‘Kal Nirabadhi’ (2003), his autobiography, are the two of his most loved books. His writings on national identity and educational, religious, historical, and social reconstruction are considered a treasure trove by book lovers and academics.
Notable among his edited works are Rabindranath, Bangla Sahityer Itihas, Sardhashatavarse Rabindranath, and Culture and Thought.
The demise of Prof Anisuzzaman is a great national loss, a loss that Bangladesh may have to bear for many years . Indeed, he was a shining light in our education and cultural spheres. Personally, I owe to the great personality whom I knew,admired and respected. He made Bangladesh indebted to him .
Haroon Habib, a Bangladesh Liberation War veteran, is a writer, columnist and senior journalist.