Connecting Regions of Asia.

Prof Anisuzzaman : Light House of Bangladesh’s Unfinished Revolution


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. 

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