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Prof Anisuzzaman: The demise of a profound scholar, pre-eminent academic

  • Published at 05:39 pm May 14th, 2020
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File photo of Professor Dr Anisuzzaman Collected

Test of samples taken from the body showed he was infected with Covid-19 

Bangladesh has lost one of its most pre-eminent educators in the passing of National Professor Anisuzzaman.

The writer and professor emeritus of Bangla Department at the Dhaka University breathed his last at the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in Dhaka on Thursday.

Test of samples taken from his body came back as Covid-19 positive, his son Ananda Zaman told the media.

The 83-year-old was admitted to the Universal Cardiac Hospital in Dhaka on April 27 with several complications before he was moved to the CMH on May 2.

President Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed their deep shock at the death of Professor Anisuzzaman. In separate messages, they conveyed their sympathies to the bereaved family.

Describing him as a ‘luminary of Bangla Literature’, the president remembered his contributions to shaping Bangladesh educational policies.

“His death is an irreparable loss to the nation,” said Hamid.

The prime minister said that the nation had lost a valiant freedom fighter and a luminary in the education sector.

“Bangladesh will remember his invaluable contributions to the field of education and different democratic movements, including the War of Liberation,” she said in her message.

Recalling memories of her days at the Dhaka University as a student, Hasina said, “I was in the tutorial group of sir.”

Prof Anisuzzaman also taught at the Chittagong University between 1965 and 1985 before returning to Dhaka University. He was also known for playing an active role in the movements against fundamentalism and fanaticism.

Born in 1937 in Calcutta, Prof Anisuzzaman was a recipient of the Bangla Academy award for research in 1970 and the Ekushey Padak, the second-highest civilian award in Bangladesh, for his contributions to education in 1983.

The Rabindra Bharati also conferred on him an honorary DLitt in 2005 and the University of Calcutta honoured him with the Sarojini Basu Medal in 2008.

In 2018, he was made a National Professor.

Anisuzzaman participated in the 1952 Language Movement, the 1969 mass upsurge and the 1971 Liberation War. He was a member of the Planning Commission of the wartime government.

Following Bangladesh’s independence, he served as a member of the country’s first National Education Commission.

He later served as the president of the Bangla Academy. He was also elected a fellow of the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. He was a member of the board of trustees of the think-tank, Centre for Policy Dialogue.

CPD Chairman Rehman Sobhan said Anisuzzaman’s death is a ‘great personal and national loss.’

“Anis and I have been friends and colleagues since 1957; that is 63 years. We had joined Dhaka University together and we’ve known each other ever since,” he told the Dhaka Tribune on Thursday.

The eminent economist said he can think of very few people left in the country who played such an important role in the emergence of Bangladesh and in the building of the country to where it is today.

“He was a genuine scholar — a real person who made major contributions to our literature. He was a true patriot ... he actually came close to representing the four principles of the constitution. If I can speak of any person, I can say that was Anis. He was, of course, an important figure in the drafting of the Bangla version of the constitution,” added Sobhan.

Describing Anisuzzaman as an exceptional human being, he said, “He was a person with great modesty along with being a great scholar and a public figure. He was enormously a decent person, who was always wanting to be helpful. He was a teacher and had helped generations of students. He will be deeply missed.”

Political scientist Rounaq Jahan said that apart from an exceptional teacher and outstanding scholar, Anisuzzaman was also a political and social activist.

“Also a wonderful human being. It will be very much difficult to find another person who will combine so many qualities. There are many people who could be just exceptional scholars and wonderful teachers, but they may not, at the same time, be social and political activists. But he was all of that. On top of this, he was a very superior and civilised human being,” she said.

Anisuzzaman never spoke ill of anybody and was loved by everyone, Jahan said before adding: “I cannot think of another person like Anis bhai. His loss would be irreversible.”

In his early research on the issue of identity, Anisuzzaman brought a new perspective on Bengali Muslims’ identity, according to her.

“He has also done some pioneering research going through archives in the British Museum and published a volume of letters of factory workers. And he could write equally well both in English and Bangla. He was one of our very much spectacular human beings and used to be on the forefront of every movement related to our secular ideas. He was active in the movement fanned by Jahanara Imam demanding punishment of war criminals,” added Jahan.

Anisuzzaman’s schooling started at Calcutta’s Park Circus High School, where he studied until his family moved to Khulna after the 1947 Partition.

After he had studied for a year at Khulna Zilla School, his family moved to Dhaka.

Anisuzzaman passed his Matriculation in 1951 from the then Priyanath High School (now Nawabpur Government High School).

After clearing the Intermediate exams from Jagannath College, he enrolled in the Bangla Department of Dhaka University.

He completed his Bachelors’ degree in 1956 and Masters’ with a first-class the following year.

In 1958, he received a Bangla Academy research scholarship and also started his PhD program, which he completed in 1962 when he was 25 years old.

He was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Chicago during 1964-65, a Commonwealth Academic Staff fellow at the University of London in 1974-75 and was associated with research projects of the United Nations University in 1978-83.

Anisuzzaman was a visiting fellow at the University of Paris in 1994 and North Carolina State University in 1995 and a visiting professor at Viswa Bharati in 2008-09.

In 2008, the Dhaka University academic council named the veteran litterateur as a lifetime Professor Emeritus of its Bangla department.

Anisuzzaman authored many books in Bangla and English, among which are Muslim Manash O Bangla Sahitya, Swaruper Sandhane, Purono Bangla Gadya, Bangali Nari: Sahitye O Samaje, Kal Nirabadhi, Ihajagatikata O Anyanya, Factory Correspondence and other Bengali documents in the India Office Library and Records, Creativity, Reality and Identity, Cultural Pluralism and Identity, Religion and Recent History.

“I always wanted to be a teacher. Being a teacher, I have achieved more than I deserved. I wanted to be an ultimate learner. I tried to learn as much as I could. There were unexpected turns occasionally, but those were nothing compared to the affection that I have received. I have no regrets in my life,” Anisuzzaman wrote in an article celebrating his 80th birthday.

A host of prominent people in Bangladesh condoled his death, including Chief Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain, Law Commission Chairman Justice ABM Khairul Haque, Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Haque, Road Transport Minister Obaidul Quader, Law Minister Anisul Huq, Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal, Agriculture Minister Abdur Razzaque, Education Minister Dipu Moni, Gano Forum President Kamal Hossain,Workers’ Party of Bangladesh President Rashed Khan Menon, Dhaka University Vice-Chancellor M Akhtaruzzaman and Sher-e-Bangla Agriculture University VC Kamal Uddin Ahamed.

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