Dr Ahmed Sharif – and social responsibilities
Editor's note: Dr. Ahmed Sharif, the prominent figure of free thought of Bangladesh died on February 24, 1999. Uncompromising till death, Dr. Sharif rose above all religious and parochial outlooks towards life. For his brave utterances against communalism and superstitions, autocracy and fascism, his life came under threat many times. But He did not care. Dr. Sharif influenced many youths during his life-time, and his residence in Dhaka University area was always a favorite place for the youths for weekly discussions on issues ranging from the ideal way of child rearing to modern theories of literature and philosophy through a rational outlook. Dr. Sharif donated his corneas to two blind men - Hafez Khairul Alam Khokan from Madaripur and Sakir Hossain of Dhaka. His body was handed over to the Bangladesh Medical College authorities for dissection and study by the students. This was done in accordance with his last wishes.
At this very time of distress of Bangladesh, we remember consummate rational humanist, prominent "Mukto-Mona" and an outspoken scholar Dr. Sharif.
Dr Ahmed Sharif along with Dr Kudrat-e-Khuda, Dr Kazi Motahar Hossain, Poet Sufia Kamal, Painter Zainul Abedin, Poet Sikandar Abu Zafar, Prof Munir Chowdhury, Poet Hasan Hafizur Rahman and others vehemently opposed boycott of Tagore songs in the national media,.... writes Dr Nehal Karim
A most misunderstood personality in our times was Dr. Ahmed Sharif. He was a towering scholar, researcher of Bengali literature and a forerunner of free thought movements in Bangladesh. A man with a deep sense of dignity, a true nonconformist and an atheist, a former Chairman and Professor of the Bengali Department, University of Dhaka, Sharif died on February 24, 1999.
Dr. Ahmed Sharif who came from Patiya, Chittagong, did his Masters and Ph.D. degrees in Bengali literature from the University of Dhaka, in the years 1944 and 1967 respectively. From 1945 to 1949, he taught at Laksham Nawab Faizunnessa College and later on at Feni College. From July 1949 to December 1950 he worked as Program Assistant at the Dhaka Centre of Radio Pakistan. Finally, on December 18, 1950, he joined as Research Assistant in the Bengali Department, University of Dhaka and retired as Chairman and Professor in 1983. During his teaching life in the university he was elected a member of the Senate, Syndicate, President of the Teachers Association and the University Teachers Club. Even today, Dr. Sharif has the distinction of being the only person to be elected Dean of the Faculty of Arts for three consecutive terms. After his retirement from Dhaka University, he was offered the position of the first Kazi Nazrul Islam Professor at the University of Chittagong, where he served for two years from 1984 to 1986.
Ahmed Sharif was the recipient of many honours and awards for his outstanding contributions in the field of medieval Bengali literature and contemporary socio-cultural-political essays. In his lifetime, he was the lone authority on ancient and medieval Bengali literature, the discussions of which he enriched with many original contributions. He was the author of more than a hundred research publications in the form of books on history, philosophy, socio-cultural and contemporary political issues. He edited with long introductions 46 manuscripts of ancient and medieval Bengali literature and a number of others were in joint collaboration. Sub-continental scholars believe that the two volumes of his Bangalee O Bangla Shahitya (Men and Literature of Bengal), published between 1978 and 1983, are masterpieces. It may be mentioned here that during his lifetime he wrote more than 34611 pages in total and all his handwritten pages stand at 13844 pages in print. Never did he care for appreciation or publicity for his scholarly works. During his lifetime a bulk of sycophants and a large section of the so-called liberal democrats and secular intellectuals of the country continuously denied his scholarly contribution and suppressed his free thoughts. Even after his death they are doing the same, but no one has ever questioned his intellectual honesty.
However, many believe that one of Sharif's major achievements was that, he unlike many of his contemporary scholars and academicians, had been able to draw the hatred and enmity of reactionary forces by a bold expression of his own views. The late scholar was universally regarded for his ability to say "no" to various material temptations; his dignity and self respect never permitted him to be submissive to power. Among his Dhaka University colleagues he was just an impractical man, a cynic seized with radical ideas who was never "clever" enough to work for his own mundane interests as he never took any undue advantage of his scholarship position and influence to become wealthy, famous and powerful. The educated but ignorant people of Bangladesh are not aware of this misunderstood and controversial person who played a vital role in provoking our thoughts in order to create a sense of awareness in us.
The following paper clippings on different national issues hint at his sense of responsibility and love for the people.
o The Bengali Department of Dhaka University arranged a meeting on the occasion of Language Day. The meeting was presided over by Dr. Ahmed Sharif, where a unanimous decision was taken against the Education Commission proposal for introduction and implementation of Roman alphabets in the Bengali language (Ittefaq: February 27, 1959).
o In 1963, the "Interim East Bengal Government" (in brief- Apurba Sangsad) was formed after the successful movement against the education policy of the then government and this "Apurba Sangsad" was the first organization which propagated very secretly for "Independent Bangladesh". Poet Sufia Kamal and Abdul Aziz Bagmar were the President and Secretary respectively and Dr. Ahmed Sharif was one of the Advisers.
In this connection, Justice Muhammad Habibur Rahman has written that on October 1, 1965, Dr. Ahmed Sharif prepared a secret document for Apurba Sangsad (Asthaee Purba Bangla Sarker - Interim Government of East Bengal) and the document was known as Manifesto of the Sangsad, the title was: Ittihasher Dharay Bangalee (Historical Trends of Bengalees). Here he pointed out the causes and ways for "Independent Bangladesh"; he also suggested ways for socio-economic, political and cultural freedom for the Bengalees.
Sharif proposed the name of the then East Pakistan as "Bangladesh" and chose Rabindranath Tagore's "Sonar Bangla" as the national anthem (Prothom Alo, February 04, 2000.
o Dr. Ahmed Sharif along with Dr. Kudrat-e-Khuda, Dr. Kazi Motahar Hossain, Poet Sufia Kamal, Painter Zainul Abedin, Poet Sikandar Abu Zafar, Prof. Munir Chowdhury, Poet Hasan Hafizur Rahman and others vehemently opposed boycott of Tagore songs in the national media (Dainik Pakistan: 25, 1967)
o Against the misuse of crores of rupees for the celebration of "Decade of Reforms" of President Ayub Khan, Dr. Ahmed Sharif read out the main paper and Novelist Hassan Azizul Haq, Journalist Safder Mir of the then West Pakistan were the discussants at the poetry session of Afro-Asian Countries, held at the Engineers Institute, Dhaka (Dainik Pakistan: November 30, 1968).
o A protest meeting and post-meeting procession were arranged at Bangla Academy to protest the interference and attack by the Pakistan government on the thoughts and rights of East Pakistan's writers, artists and cultural activists. Dr. Ahmed Sharif, along with poet Sufia Kamal, painter Zainul Abedin, poet Sikandar Abu Zafar, Prof. Munir Chowdhuiy, journalist Ranesh Das Gupta and Shahidullah Kaisar spoke on the occasion. The meeting was presided over by Dr. Muhammad Enamul Haq (Dainik Pakistan: January 15, 1969).
o Dr. Ahmed Sharif along with Mr. Abul Hashim, Dr. Muhammed Enamul Haq, poet Jashimuddin, poet Sufia Kamal, Prof. Muneir Chowdhury and Prof. Mufazzal Haider Chowdhury, the seven top intellectuals of (the then) East Pakistan demanded that the central government rename East Bengal as "Bangla" because of the cancellation of one unit system in West Pakistan. In this regard, Dr. Ahmed Sharif said, 'Our identity is "Bangla" and we are using "Bangla" as our name in our poetry, literature, thoughts, speeches and every sphere of life' (Writers Rights Protection Committee, 1969).
o The East Pakistan Student's League organised a seminar on "Traditional and Ever Lasting Bangla" which was presided over by Mr. Abul Hashim of Islamic Academy, while the discussants were Ataur Rahman Khan, Dr. Ahmed Sharif, poet Jahanara Arzoo and Kazi Latifa Haq. Here Dr. Ahmed Sharif in his speech publicly demanded that East Pakistan must be known as "Bangladesh" (Daily Sangbad: December 25, 1969).
o At the meeting of the Writer Rights Preservation Committee, Dr. Abmed Sharif in his presidential speech said that the curtain of conspiracy to suppress the cultural activities (of East Bengal) has been opened because of the different committees constituted by the Central Government for reviewing arts and literature of East Bengal (Purbadesh: February 11, 1970)
o Due to political turmoil and to overcome the situation, 128 teachers of Dhaka University in a joint statement appealed to the President of Pakistan to convene the National Assembly to save the people and country from a possible severe civil war. The prominent signatories were: Prof. Abdur Razzak, Dr. M.N. Huda, Dr. M. Innas li, Dr. Muzaffar Ahmed Chowdhury and Dr. Mofizullah Kabir, Prof. Munir Chowdhury and Dr. Ahmed Sharif (Ittefaq: March 4, 1971).
o The Writers' Guild, which was established by the Central Government of Pakistan for controlling the writers' thoughts of East Pakistan, and the writers of this wing ultimately revolted against the government and came out to the forefront and began to support the leadership of the liberation movement. On March 5, 1971, all the cultural activists and intellectuals went to "Shahid Minar" (Martyrs' Memorial) and took a solemn oath under the leadership of Dr. Ahmed Sharif to the effect that "even at the cost of our life we will continue our struggle for the rights of East Bengal and through our writings we will inspire the struggling people. For the success of the movement, our writings will act as bayonets and bullets. Forgetting the differences of the past, we will be united with the general masses and proceed forward for the success of the struggle" (Rafiqul Islam: Ekattorer Osohojog Andolon-0-BuddUibira, 1982)
o For an independent and sovereign state, the Writers Action Committee arranged a meeting under the presidentship of Dr. Abmed Sharif and the meeting appealed to NAP leader Maulana Bhasani, Awami League leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and other political leaders of East Pakistan to be united in the greater interest of the people (Dainik Pakistan: March 15, 1971).
o At the press conference of the emergence of Mukti Juddha Chetona Bikash Kendra (Centre for Awakening the War of Liberation Idea) Dr. Ahmed Sharif said that without united effort no one can survive and due to the activities of the Razakars (Pakistani collaborators) people are in danger. Therefore, people should be united against the anti-liberation forces (Sangbad: August 24, 1985)
o On February 6, Muktadhara awarded Dr. Ahmed Sharif with Muktadhara Literary Award and on this occasion Dr. Ahmed Sharif said there wouldn't be any sin in the society if the number of atheist are increased, by which tolerance will increase in the society. (Banglar Bani: February 7, 1989)
o As president of the Swadesh Chinta Sangha Dr. Ahmed Sharif condemned the government for banning Dr. Taslima Nasreen's book "Lajja" (Shame). (Ittefaq: October 14, 1993)
o On the occasion of the 21st death anniversary of Charu Majumder, a seminar was organized on "Naxalite Movement and Charu Majumder". Dr. Ahmed Sharif commented that NGOs are not allowing our people to be self-reliant. Economic emancipation won't come until we change the social system. (Bangla Bazar Patrika: July 26, 1993)
In his last days, Ahmed Sharif lived a secluded life to avoid the wrath of a section of people who thought his views were too dangerous for the establishment. During his lifetime, he was very much controversial and was a misunderstood personality among his contemporaries in the country. He was controversial because of his outspoken views against the establishment, intellectuals and political leaders, and above all against a religious and parochial outlook.
Dr. Tajul Islam Hashmi has written, ". . . he could have become vice-chancellor of several universities of this country, both during pre and post Bangladesh periods.. He could have been an ambassador, an ever present leader of delegations sent abroad by the governments of pre and post Bangladesh to represent the culture and literature (and what not!) of the region". Dr. Hashimi further wrote that Sharif could even have become Chairman of the University Grants Commission or the Public Service Commission or at least a National Professor for his knowledge and very rich contributions to the field of Bengali language, literature and culture, both as a dedicated researcher and active writer Alas! None of these positions came to our Sharif Sir. Despite having such rare qualities he had to retire in 1983. Neither the Bengali Department nor the university took any serious initiative to have him continue in service. "Possibly he knew the art of antagonizing powerful people and different government agencies" (Weekly Holiday, March 3, 1999). Moreover, his strong sense of dignity and self-respect did not permit him to be submissive to power. During the period 1986-96, three vice-chancellors were successively in office at Dhaka University. They had been his close associates for decades. But during their tenure in office, they deliberately denied him the honour of Emeritus Professor, though his name as Emeritus Professor was on the agenda of the University's Academic Council for several years but never was the issue discussed or raised during his lifetime. (Abridged)
The writer is the professor of Department of Sociology, Dhaka University
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