A tribute to Professor Choudhury

by Nehal Karim

Serajul Islam ChoudhuryProfessor emeritus Serajul Islam Choudhury, who is popularly known as SIC to his students and admirers, turns 80 today. A celebrated personality with rare qualities, he is a progressive social thinker, writer, critic, an active supporter of socialism and, above all, a first-rate scholar of Bangla and English literature in our country.
Brought up and educated in Kolkata and Dhaka, he completed his post- graduation in English literature from the University of Dhaka in 1956 and obtained his PhD in the same subject from the University of Leicester, UK, in 1968. Since the mid-1950s he started writing about a variety of socio-cultural issues for different leading journals and dailies of the country. His first book was published in 1964. He has published an enormous number of books and articles on different issues relating to politics, society and culture, and they have been published from both Bangladesh and Paschim Bangla, India. The major theme of his writings is the nature of exploitation of the general masses in socio-cultural-political and economic areas. He powerfully explained how the oppressed were organised in different times to resist the unrealistic schemes of the exploitative forces. Moreover, he has stressed the class character of the intellectuals and its effects upon their created world. Also, he has pointed out how the language, literature and culture of the Bengali stood witness to their courage and unconquerable will. Moreover, he has been promoting socialism consistently through his writings and speeches.
spe01He is a man with a wide vision, who wants to change the present social system through mobilising the opinion of the oppressed class. He has received many prestigious awards including the Ekushey Padak (February 21 Language Day Medal) in 1996 and was invited to deliver a number of commemorative lectures, including the first ‘Dr Ahmed Sharif Commemorative Lecture’ on February 13, 2001. Throughout his life, he has been deeply involved in efforts towards alleviating different socio-cultural crises of national importance. On the eve of independence war, when the whole country was prepared for the struggle, the Writers Action Committee, on March 22, 1971, arranged a discussion meeting on ‘Bangla in the Future’ at the Bangla Academy premises under the presidentship of Professor Dr ABM Habibullah. On the topic in question, three separate papers were presented by Dr Serajul Islam Choudhury, Dr Momtazur Rahman Tarafder and Dr Ahmed Sharif. The main theme of those papers was the expected socio-cultural and economic structure of ‘Independent Bangladesh’. Indeed, it was a very courageous move at that time!
On May 15, 1977, a two-day National Convention of Bangladesh Lekhak Shibir (Writers Guild) was held under the presidentship of Dr Ahmed Sharif. Here Dr Serajul Islam Choudhury read out the main paper on ‘Social Responsibilities of a Writer’, where he described the social roles which the writers could play in building the nation. In 2000, the government of Bangladesh made a plan to build a conference hall at the Osmani Udayn (park), and the scheme required the felling of 11,000 trees. Obviously, cutting such a big number of trees would create environmental hazards and, above all, it would ruin such a precious green spot of the city dwellers. Here, again under the dynamic leadership of Dr Choudhury, a movement called ‘Gachh Rakkha Andolan’ (Tree Saving Movement) was organised. People from all walks of life took part in this movement and it got wide support from all quarters of the country. Finally, the government had to yield to the public demand and change the construction site of the auditorium.
Later on, at the beginning of 2001, again Dr Choudhury, along with other anti-establishment progressive forces, stood against the construction of a commercial building at the courtyard of Lalon Shah’s shrine. The movement was named ‘Lalon Akhra Rakkha Committee’ (Lalon Shrine Protection Committee). Because of this movement, ultimately, the Government had to turn back. This is Dr Serajul Islam Choudhury who has always opposed unfair social interferences, resisted the unrealistic schemes of the establishment and stood beside the oppressed for a better future.
Even at the age of 80, the leading scholar of our time is still guiding us. And the country as a whole needs this personality very much in guiding our society in the coming days. We wish the scholar a very happy birthday, healthy and long active life to guide this nation with his innovative thoughts and ideas for building a prosperous Bangladesh.

Nehal Karim, PhD, teaches sociology at the University of Dhaka.

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