It was a tiny square room on the first floor of Gausul Azam super market in the capital’s Nilkhet area. An ordinary, but well-furnished room, the walls displaying pictures of prominent people like Karl Marx, professor Nurul Islam, Anisur Rahman, Rehman Sobhan and so on. There were books everywhere, on the shelves, tables and even on the chairs.
This was the office of social welfare organisation ‘Banglar Pathshala’. The founder and chairman of the organisation, Ahmed Javed Chowdhury, also a private university teacher, recently talked to this author about his ‘Banglar Pathshala’.
“This is a social welfare organisation. Inspired by the liberation war of Bangladesh, the organisation aims to build a united nation free from all oppression,” Javed Hossain said.
The organisation arranges study circles on different academics and researchers. It also takes up activities, including teaching underprivileged children, giving them lessons on the constitution and arranging essay competitions, said Ahmed Javed Chowdhury.
Around 2007 or 2008, a maid working at Javed Hossain’s house would have to leave her son at home alone when coming to work. Then one day tragedy struck and the died in an accident. The death affected Javed deeply.
Since then Javed Hossain started spending time with the slum children during the weekends. Soon he realised this was not enough. Most of the children did not go to school. He started teaching them. The slum dwellers spared a room for him as they realised this importance of his efforts. Javed had a vision of a society based on equality, achieved through education. He talked to several friends about this dream. Some of them came forward to help him and Banglar Pathshala came into being.
“I was overwhelmed to see the slum dwellers’ big heart. Their houses may not be well furnished but they have beautiful hearts. That made me realise we, the middle-class, should work on improving our mindset,” said Javed Hossain Chowdhury.
It changed his view and made him expand the activities of the organisation. He officially registered the organisation in 2009 and named the school ‘Shakti Bidyalaya’.
He said, “It is much more than a mere school for these underprivileged people. It is an opportunity for them to achieve a better life, to merge with the mainstream .That’s why I named it Shakti (power) Bidyalaya.”
The school Shakti provides eggs and milk to the students and has Braille facilities for the visually impaired students. Shakti Bidyalaya has six such schools at various bus terminals and slums of Dhaka city. The schools are being funded by Shahid Khalek and Major Salek Bir Uttam Trust chairman Abdul Matin, Ittefaq editor Tasmima Hossain and businessman Shah Rezaul Hakim.
The organisation also aims to keep its curriculum in sync with the country’s socio-economic reality unlike many institutions educational which lean to the west in their research and studies, ignoring pioneers of the country. Banglar Pathshala believes people like professor Anisuzzaman, Rehman Sobhan, Nurul Islam and Anisur Rahman should be included in the syllabus prominently.
Bangla used in study circles
A large quarter of the underprivileged people in the country cannot read or write, even in their own language Bangla. On the other hand, Bangla is not valued much in the privileged section either. Bengali as a language of instruction is not very satisfactory in higher studies. Keeping that in mind, Banglar Pathshala organises study circles on local researchers and pundits. It has been organising a study circle on an eminent individual every year since May 2009.
The eminent intellectuals participate in the discussions that take place in 10 classes throughout the year. Each class is held in Bangla. All types of people including university students enroll in these classes. So far the course has been covered Akhtaruzzaman Elias, Sardar Fazlul Karim, professor Anisuzzaman, Anisur Rahman, Nurul Islam, and Rehman Sobhan.
Amartya Sen to visit Banglar Pathshala
The course on Nobel laureate Amartya Sen is set to begin on March. Ahmed Javed Chowdhury said, “The eminent economist has agreed to attend the inaugural class of the curriculum on 9 March. There will be 16 classes in total. Of these, 12 classes will be in Bangla. There will be 4 classes in English which will be attended by foreign discussants.”
* This report, originally published in Chhutir Dine, a supplement of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat