Sufia Ahmed

Kris Manjapra

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Interview Participants
It is 23rd of October 2009. I am Iftekhar Iqbal sitting with Professor Sufia Ahmed at her residence in Gulshan, in Dhaka. Professor Ahmed, could you start with your date of birth and your early childhood?
SA
Most certainly. I was born in Dhaka though my family comes from Faridpur, but my father used to practice Law here.
SA
So I was born on November 20th 1932 in Dhaka, and my early education was started in Dhaka in St. Francis Xavier's School Convent which was then located in Lakhi Bazar.
II
Right, old Dhaka.
SA
It is a part of old Dhaka now. And after the age of 10, I was in Dhaka and I studied there.
SA
But then later my father, who was a lawyer, was made a public prosecutor in 1939, and in 1943 he was inducted as a District and Sessions Judge and he was transferred to Barisal. So naturally my education was interrupted and I went there and for a year I was registered with a school called Sadar Girls School. It is a quite famous school in Barisal, and I studied there for one year. And then soon after that, after one and half years, my father was transferred to Jessore, you see, in '44 I think. And those were the British days.
SA
He was transferred to Jessore and then he was a Sessions -- District and Sessions Judge there. There also I registered with a girls school called Momin Girls School.
II
Momin Girls High School, yeah.
SA
And then I studied for a few months but then the difficulty was because I had started my education in a convent, you know. These Bengali medium schools are sort of
II
Different, yeah.
SA
No, they were different and
II
Different environment
SA
Different environment and everything altogether, you know, my father -- my parents actually thought that I should go to an English-speaking school.
SA
So they thought of sending me to Loreto [Loreto Convent School] in Calcutta, but then my relatives advised that Calcutta is too crowded, and why don't you send her to Darjeeling. So I -- we tried to get a seat in Darjeeling and Shillong, Pine Mount School for girls but then finally I got a seat in Dow Hill Girls School in Kurseong. So I was there. I was there since --
II
It was in the year...?
SA
It was in the year 1944 actually.
II
Just before Partition.
SA
Just before Partition, and during the Partition I was there. In August '47, I was there.
II
Oh okay, in Darjeeling.
SA
In Darjeeling, in my school, and we -- the session used to start in March. We used to all go from Sealdah Station and come back in December, first week of December. So '47, I was there.
II
Ok, how did you know about the Partition in August?
SA
Well we saluted the Indian flag, and the Union Jack was taken down
SA
And all my, you know -- you see, the girls who studied there were mostly daughters of British officers and the Railway and other, you know, other departments, and there were a lot of Anglo-Indian girls. So those were my batch mates or, you know, schoolmates-- so they were mortified. They were very sad and all that, but then we came back in December, but during that time, it was, I mean, just before Partition, it was very difficult. We had relatives in Calcutta who used to come and visit me regularly because my father could not always leave and come, couldn't take leave and come and my mother also came once or twice.
SA
But it was so difficult because there were riots. And the mail was very irregular, and sending money; I mean, things were not as advanced as they are now, you see, technologically so it was very difficult for my parents. So what they decided was that I shouldn't go back after that. I should just stay in Pakistan, and that was East Pakistan in Barisal. He was still there as a District and Sessions Judge.
II
So you returned to Barisal.
SA
Barisal, returned to Barisal, and then my parents decided that I should sit for the matriculation examination. I was doing my Pre-Seniors then, so you know I --
II
Demoted a little bit.
SA
Well it was a complete change over, you see. So you wanted to ask me a question?
II
I... because, you know, in 1946, Calcutta, you were taking about riots [Calcutta Killing], that was devastating, but did you feel any of the heat in Darjeeling itself?
SA
We didn't feel the heat but my uncle who used to regularly visit me, my uncle, aunt and cousins, they couldn't come, they didn't want to. So that was the difference, you know, that sort of brought to my life, that was the sort of difference that I felt at that moment, that things were…
II
Did you develop any friendship with anyone in Darjeeling with any Indian and British friends who you thought --
SA
We had a lot of British friends, Parsis, English, but I don't have any contact with them now. I used to have, yes.
II
It's a long time.
SA
It's a long time back, and I remember the names of certain girls. There were very interesting, I mean, people whom I met there, but very few Indians, you know, very few Indians, and there were mostly daughters of British officers, and I developed a friendship with a family of three sisters, Ila Dasgupta, whose father was a, you know, a DFO, Divisional Forest Officer in Darjeeling. So they used to be there and Ila was my batchmate, classmate, so we were very friendly.
SA
There were other girls: Shirin Mehta, there was a girl called Shirin Mehta, whose father was a Parsi and mother was an English woman. So she was there -- divorced parents… she was there. Actually we were in the same...what should I say, what do you call that -- in the hostel. It's not hostel, we used to say something else so she used to --
II
Dormitory
SA
Dormitory. So she was next to me
SA
Her bed was next to me, and we were in the same dorm you see so we were friends.
II
Do you remember any of your teachers who had --
SA
Yes, Mrs. Siddons, Ms. --
II
British?
SA
British, mostly British.
SA
And the Principals were Mrs. Harley, Mrs. Philips -- Ms. Philips and Ms. Harley they were both, you know, and they didn't marry, and they were from Oxford.
II
Okay, so what were the focus -- I mean you were in the humanities -- I mean, kind of Arts or Sciences stream.
SA
Arts, I'm not Science.
II
Arts from the --
SA
Right from the beginning. And in those days the bifurcation did not start from the early -- early stage, you see. It started later.
II
Was there any particular textbook that you used to --
SA
Well English literature and things like that. And they used to teach us a smattering of Bengali. There was a lady, Bijoya Sengupta, who used to teach us Bengali. I call her "Ko Kho Go" and my Bengali obviously became very poor but though my parents from my early childhood encouraged me, because I went to an English medium school, they encouraged me to read Bengali books, particularly my father, Sarat Chandra... [Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay]
II
Your father, of course -- I was reading your short entry in Banglapedia on your father, Justice Muhammad Ibrahim, and I was fascinated because I didn't know that he was also involved, in a way, with the Buddhir Mukti Andolan.
SA
Yes, he was very much. He was Chairman of the Reception Committee.
II
Okay, can you tell us a little more about that? Because that was in the 30's, there was the..
SA
Yes, one of my students who did a PhD thesis on that. I supervised it, and he has done a thesis--Taufiq [Taufiqul Hayder]. Taufiq is, he is a Professor now in Islamic History.
II
Ok, okay. In Dhaka University?
SA
In Dhaka University.
II
Okay
SA
In Islamic History Department, and he did it and there -- you know, Abul Mansur Ahmed also mentions that, and he talks about my father. He was a sort of natural leader of the students in those days.
II
Yeah very organizing capacity.
SA
Yeah, he had that. From early childhood he had this tendency towards liberalism and, you know, secularism. So I was brought up sort of in a very liberal and secular atmosphere and that was it. I think we should stop here and you can start later, better have your tea.
So anyway Buddhir Mukti Andolan pore tar agei uni ekto eei chilen I am sorry I am speaking in
II
No it's ok ji...
SA
So before that he was involved with the Non-Cooperation Movement, and for a time he gave up his studies actually. He gave up his studies, and as I told you before, while we were talking, his grandfather was a Haji three times over -- his father, my grandfather.
SA
And he was not very happy with the idea that he had gone with the Congressites and Gandhi [Mohandas Gandhi] and others to join the Non-Cooperation Movement. So he said that either you give it up or I will stop your money and everything.
II
Okay, so what was his background?
SA
His background, he was --
II
He was a contemporary of the Faraizi Movement or maybe the
SA
Yeah, he was and so was my nana. But my nana obviously did not support the Faraizi Movement for different kind of you know educational thing, but my paternal grandfather I am sure had a lot of sort of respect or contacts with them. And he didn't support my father's leaving his studies and going and joining this Non-Cooperation Movement, so actually he stopped his allowances. And then my father gave up studies for two -- one and a half years. Then he was very keen on studying law.
SA
And he came across a very famous litterateur and lawyer, Naresh Chandra Sen [Naresh Chandra Sengupta], and he was the Dean of Law here.
II
In Dhaka University?
SA
In Dhaka University. And he took a great liking to my father because there were very few Muslim boys who had this kind of inclination to leave their studies and go and join these kinds of national movements and things like that.
SA
So he said, one day he called my father and he said "Ibrahim, why are you doing this? Why are you leaving your studies?" He said "I cannot continue because my father has stopped my allowances." So he said "well, what you do is you do your graduation and then you can become a part time lecturer, I will allow you to do that and continue your studies." So he did that.
II
Oh that's wonderful.
SA
And later on, of course, he -- my grandfather realized that they had compromised.
SA
But again his marriage to my mother, my grandfather did not like because my mother is very young. She was much younger than my father.
II
She was from Faridpur as well?
SA
She was from same family, second cousins, but her mother was from Barisal. She came from a zamindar family in Barisal, Goila.
SA
Because he was posted there, my grandfather. And somehow he sort of wanted to have a relationship with that family.
II
So after your father got graduation in Dhaka University then he joined...
SA
He joined the Masters course which he didn't complete. He did his B.L., you see. He did his B.L. and then he started practicing.
II
And --
SA
He didn't start practicing first in Dhaka. He started in Faridpur because, you know because of his...
II
Faridpur had a Collectorate and...
SA
Collectorate and District Court.
II
District Court, yeah.
SA
and he started his practice there because he felt comfortable, you know, the family was there and --
II
When did he find himself involved with the Buddhir Mukti Andolan?
SA
'25, after he finished his studies.
II
He was in Dhaka?
SA
He was in Dhaka.
II
Before going to Faridpur?
SA
He started living in Dhaka after two years of practicing in Faridpur
II
Okay.
SA
which he didn't like.
II
Then he came back to Dhaka?
SA
He came back to Dhaka.
II
And then he was involved in all sorts of movements and important things.
SA
In all sorts of movements and things like that.
SA
And you know his taste for sort of a public political life is evidenced by his, you know, starting or joining the Non-Cooperation Movement and then he became involved with this Buddhir Mukti Andolan.
SA
And for a time he did but later he probably -- I don't know why. At a later stage I don't see his name. He was probably too busy with his practice.
II
You said he was the organizing...
SA
He was the Chairman of the Reception Committee.
II
Of the Buddhir Mukti Andolan?
SA
Buddhir Mukti Andolan.
II
And at that time who was the President?
SA
He was -- Abul Hussain was the Secretary, and President, I forget now.
II
Yeah, yeah. I think it is well documented.
SA
Well documented and Taufiq knows more. He would be able to remember -- what's his name? Taufiq is there. He is a professor now.
II
Do you -- did you -- I mean, were there any occasions when your father would talk about his colleagues in the Buddhir Mukti Andolan?
SA
Yeah, he had great respect for Abul Fazal and this mathematician, what's his name?
II
Quazi Motahar Husain.
SA
Haan, he was their colleague. They all joined that movement. Even Dr. Shahidullah [Muhammad Shahidullah] was there.
II
Dr. Shahidullah.
SA
[coughs] Sorry. At his later stage of life I saw him very close to Dr. Shahidullah. He was very close to Dr. Shahidullah. He was very close to...
II
I was told that Dr. Shahidullah was also not very close at a later stage with the Buddhir Mukti Andolan. He --
SA
I think my father became more involved in his practice. In his practice and then he became the public prosecutor.
II
...I'm told also that the Buddhir Mukti Andolan itself was kind of getting weakened.
SA
Weakened because they were secular, and at that moment -- my father was very secular, as I had told you. His patron was Naresh Chandra Sengupta. I think from there it started that he didn't believe in religious conservatism or, you know, any communal sort of attitude he never had. So I think it started from there and then Buddhir Mukti Andolan he used to -- when I get these names now, who were involved with the movement, I find he was very friendly with them. He had regular contact with them, but he actually was not with the movement at a later stage. I don't find his name there.
II
Did you meet any of them?
SA
Yeah, Abul Fazal I've met. I met Quazi Motahar Husain.
II
You were young, very young?
SA
Yeah I met them.
II
They used to come to your house?
SA
In fact, Quazi Motahar Husain used to come to our house in Purana Paltan.
SA
And Dr. Shahidullah… in fact when I was doing my thesis, my father was Vice-Chancellor of Dhaka University from '56 to '58 after he retired from the High Court, so he asked Dr. Shahidullah to help me with my Bengali chapter, and he did write a letter to me and then, I don't know, I've just misplaced that letter.
II
Oh, that must be very valuable.
SA
Yes, he guided me that you do in this way.
SA
So they were very familiar, very familiar and his son his name was -- you know this Geeteara -- --
II
Safiya Choudhury. [Geeteara Safiya Choudhury]
SA
Her father, his son, was very close to my father when he was the Vice-Chancellor. He was like his uncle. So you know - Safiyyullah [A.F.M. Safiyyullah]. My father was always talking of Safiyyullah, so you know they were very close. So they were family friends. They were like family friends, you see. I used to see them in our house.
II
Ok wonderful, yeah. So when did you start thinking about doing some serious research in history? Did you - was there anyone who influenced you?
SA
Who?
II
Well, someone who influenced you to study history.
SA
Actually my father wanted -- I was the only child for seven years, so my father actually -- my photographs are there -- my father wanted me to do Law, become a barrister, because he was a lawyer and actually he had a plan to go abroad and do his Bar, but somehow he didn't because of this friction about his marriage and things like that, he didn't go.
SA
So he had that, you know, he had that -- what should I say? He had that fascination for being a barrister, so he wanted me to be a barrister. He wanted me to study Law. So actually when I did my masters I did a LLB course here. I did the LLB course, but then I went away to England. But when I came back I wanted to --
II
When did you go to England for --
SA
late '55, September.
II
For your studies.
SA
I got married, my husband and I
II
So you both went to --
SA
We got married in June. We went there in September.
II
Justice Ishtiaq Ahmed
SA
not Justice, Barrister.
II
Barrister Ishtiaq Ahmed, right. So you had a source who --
SA
Source?
II
A person to speak --
SA
Professor Harrison [John Harrison]
II
Harrison was your... so you were enrolled in M.Phil or...
SA
First in MA.
II
MA, yeah.
SA
I did my MA, then I did my PhD after a year
SA
I was transferred, and I did under him for... briefly when I was about to complete my thesis, I was under Professor Ballhatchet [Kenneth Ballhatchet].
II
Masters thesis?
SA
No, PhD, Doctoral thesis, I was with Professor Ballhatchet because Professor Harrison had gone on leave, sabbatical, to Allahabad so when I had my viva and things like that Professor Ballhatchet was with me.
SA
And actually when I went my father thought that I would do the Bar. I didn't want to. I said I would do my Masters in History and PhD and do the Bar simultaneously. When I went there I found that you cannot do two courses together. Actually I had no fascination for Law.
II
But your husband was doing Law?
SA
Haan, he did Law.
II
So together --
SA
He did his Bar from Lincoln's Inn -- he became a barrister from Lincoln's Inn -- and he took an M.Sc degree in Economics from London School of Economics.
II
Oh wonderful.
SA
Under Professor [unclear] [21:07]
II
Okay, but before you went to London you already had the experience of getting involved in the Language Movement.
SA
I was a second year student. I was a second year student.
II
You were a second year --
SA
Honors student
II
Honors student. In the department of --
SA
Islamic History
II
Islamic History and Culture.
SA
Culture -- Islamic History and Culture Department was founded in 1950.
II
Okay, so you were the second batch?
SA
No, I was the first batch.
II
First batch, oh wonderful.
SA
First batch, because you know when I did my Intermediate, my father was transferred to the High Court as a Judge to the Bench. He was elevated to the bench in 1949, so I was in a fix.
SA
So I was left with a cousin of mine, or my, my uncle, who was also a judge and his daughter was also my classmate. I stayed there. And when I did finish my test and classes there in Braja Mohan School - College.
II
BM College.
SA
BM College. And from there I came and did my, you know, sat for the exams in Eden College and did it from here.
SA
So what happened was in that year there were five girls who were listed among the first ten students, the five of us. And I got, you know, I got Letter -- you know, Honors is called Letter -- I got a letter in Islamic History and Culture, and I became, I was, I became eighth in order of merit. So, five of us were there, girls, it was really spectacular --
II
Yeah
SA
-- achievement for the girls. And so you know the department was opened and Professor ABM Habibullah was the founder, chairperson.
II
He was in History Department?
SA
Islamic History. He came from Calcutta. He came from Presidency College, and he started the department. Professor Halim [Abdul Halim] was there, from the History Department was there. I mean he was teaching us part time, and then he wanted me -- he wanted good students for his department. So the Vice-Chancellor was my father's friend, so he said that "Why not your daughter? She's got Letter in Islamic History and Culture."
SA
My intention was to do Honors in Political Science and take English and you know maybe Islamic History or History as a subsidiary... but then everything, you know, was changed, so I went into the Islamic History Department as one of the first students of the Honors batch, and that's it. And then this Language Movement started. I was a day scholar, and I had all my friends living in the hostel. It didn't have these halls then. There was a women's hostel, and I used to go and visit them, you know, after College. I used to take them, drop them and sometimes they used to have functions and I used to come and join them.
SA
And you had to be registered with the hall, so I was registered with the women's hall. Later on with SM Hall [Salimullah Muslim Hall], you know, when it became SM Hall.
II
Salimullah Hall
SA
Salimullah Hall. So there I had all these friends and they became involved in the movement and I also because, I will not mention the names, but there were some leaders who used to come to my place regularly and they also had told me that "You people should get involved in these kinds of things. Why don't you?"
SA
My father was liberal, he never said no. So when it all started on the day -- on this fateful day 21st of February, we all assembled under the, you know, this...
II
Banyan tree.
SA
Banyan tree.
II
In the Arts Faculty.
SA
The Arts Faculty which is now the outdoor of the Medical College. It's a pity I think that the Medical College -- I mean the University had to give up their, you know, their own buildings and structure to the Medical College.
II
As well as the --
SA
The Medical College is a necessity, I know, was a necessity, but they could have done with a makeshift arrangement, and they could have left the University intact.
SA
That was a great mistake I thought, and so because when my father --
II
at least that part of the street and --
SA
Everything, the whole complex. You see, I forgot to tell you that my father was a Law lecturer in Dhaka University from 1924 to 1943 'til he became a Sessions Judge.
II
Oh wow.
SA
There's a separate file.
II
So he was more like a teacher than a legal professional.
SA
Teacher there, yes. He was a teacher. One-hour lecture on Mohamedan Law. On holidays, I used to go with him in the car. I used to wait outside the car, a very beautiful car. It would be a very peaceful atmosphere. It was then that I began thinking about teaching. I thought that my father teaches, I'd saw all these students coming out.
SA
I grew a sort of a liking for the teaching profession. My father used to teach for one hour in the morning and then go to court.
II
He was very busy and active.
SA
Very active person. Very busy and active person. So anyway, so my ideas developed from there, you see, about my future career and profession and so I didn't study Law. My father was very disappointed.
SA
He was. I have written in the introduction of this book, he was very, very disappointed, but then, you know, he had to accept it. Then when I did my PhD he was overjoyed.
II
Yeah, he was still alive. He died probably in?
SA
'66.
II
Yeah, so when you were participating in the '52 Language Movement what -- I mean there were a lot of women, girls, students participating?
SA
Yes, I mean I was surprised on that day the whole area was full of people, and actually when we broke the Section 144 [Criminal Procedure Code], you know, that you cannot go out -- more than two persons cannot go out together -- so when they decided to break the law the first two or three batches, boys batches went, and they were... they had been tear-gassed and they were lathi-charged. Then they decided, the leaders -- I believe he died -- I am sorry I could not meet him, Gaziul Haque.
II
Gaziul Haque.
SA
He was there. He was presiding over the meeting, and they all decided -- the other leaders also -- they all decided that girls should be sent. Let's see what they do. So I was in the first batch. I, Dr. Safia Khatun, Shamsun Nahar, a lady who was in burqa. She was only girl in burqa and she was there with me, and there was a girl from Eden College - two girls from Eden College only.
II
The burqa didn't prevent her from --
SA
No, no she never went anywhere else. You know she was very..
II
Conservative, yeah.
SA
A little conservative. She went out. Nobody stopped her. I mean, she just went out --
II
Thank God the firing didn't take place at that moment.
SA
No at that moment you know we were tear-gassed and we were lathi-charged. Then we just couldn't move forward, and from the top story the boys were throwing brickbats on the police. So we were the victims of all that. So we went up to the SM Hall provost Dr. M.O. Gani's house and we couldn't go further
SA
Our intention was to go to the Local Assembly -- I mean the Provincial Assembly -- where the budget session was going on.
II
The Secretariat
SA
No, near this Iqballah [unclear- 29:13] and we wanted the MPs, members of the Sangsad, to tell the Central Government that we demanded that Bengali should be made the state language side by side with Urdu, if you want to make Urdu the state language and Urdu cannot be the only state language.
SA
So that was our intention, but we couldn't go further. We went to the, I mean, M.O. Gani's house, Dr. Gani's house, and there was this wire you know, kantar tarer bera, and we had to climb that. You know, through that we tore our saris and things, we injured ourselves. Already we were lathi-charged. And we went there was a tap for watering the garden. We took some water from there and we were resting there...
SA
to receive our treatment, you know, first aid, the firing started and people were rushing, you know, the I mean in the streets it was not only the students, the... public you know in general, they were also chanting slogans and they -- someone told us "Girls, don't go. Go back wherever you came from because they have started firing." You could hear the firing. Then we just went back. In any case any of us could have been the victims. So that's it.
II
What was your impression at that time about the whole fate of Pakistan? I mean, this movement, and how were you equating that with the new nation-state?
SA
New nation -- we thought that -- I could guess from, I was then a teenager and later in my early 20's I began to feel, because my father, my parents they used to feel that way, that this was a mistake and the West Pakistanis are trying to dominate us.
SA
Because the introduction of -- I mean their proposal to make Urdu the state language, that was evident you know. I mean, because we were in the majority. Why should they sort of put a ban on our language and introduce that, and Urdu is not a local language in West Pakistan. It was spoken by the refugees who are now called
II
Even Jinnah's [Muhammad Ali Jinnah] mother tongue was not Urdu
SA
No he was from --
II
It was surprising --
SA
He was from Gujarat.
II
that the ruling elite would --
SA
The ruling elite did that
SA
And they are called Muhajirs in Pakistan now. They are called Muhajirs. Sindhis don't like them. Punjabis don't like them, but at that time you know it was the people -- or what should I say? -- It was the -- what should I? -- people who were imbued with the ideas of the Aligarh Movement. They were dominating the political scene at the centre, like Liaquat Ali Khan and others who came from UP [United Provinces, or Uttar Pradesh]. The Muhajirs were dominating, and they did it. And so we felt that, you know, it started since then, this division or this rift started from '48 when people became conscious of this language thing, you know, and the Language Movement actually started from the 1948.
II
Yeah, with Shahidullah and all these people.
SA
Yes and it sort of erupted in 1952.. and this Nurul Amin government. I am sorry, but I used to know him personally I had great respect for him as a person, but he was a tool, I think. He had no say. He was a Muslim Leaguer so he had to sort of bow down to the wishes of the, you know, very powerful people at the centre, so that's it.
II
Yeah that's true. When did you finish your doctoral studies in London and...
SA
I started in '55 and... Masters and I did my Master for a year and then I did my PhD but I finished in 1960 June because my son was born there in… '58 December he was born there. And so my -- what should I say? -- my research was interrupted for about one year. And Professor Harrison was very good because in those days we went to study privately and my parents and my husband's family used to send money, but every month you had to tell them, to the State Bank because there was a lot of -- there was acute foreign exchange shortage in Pakistan in those days
SA
And every month money had to be sent by saying that "she is a regular student or he is a regular student and she is doing her research -- doing her work". So even when I was not, you know, really -- I stopped for six months actually, but then, even then I used to write and send mail and whatever I used to say and he used to mail back and talk over the phone that way. Six months I was away. Then after that he went on sabbatical and I was with Professor Ballhatchet. So my studies were interrupted by one and a half years.
II
Okay, was there any Bangladeshi or Indian students doing history at that time or
SA
Bangladeshi students. There was this language department regent -- what's his name? He was the Chairman of the Bangla Academy.
II
Right now?
SA
Right now.
II
Abul Kalam Manzur Morshed?
SA
No.
II
Syed Anwar Husain?
SA
Before that.
II
No, no before that.
SA
He was there and
II
Anisuzzaman?
SA
Anisuzzaman went later I think.
II
Okay, yeah.
SA
Profesor Salahuddin [AF Salahuddin Ahmed] went to it and the South Asia Conference. Professor Habibullah [ABM Habibullah] was there. So there were people who went, my teachers were there, but then the Bangladeshi students not really.
II
At that --
SA
At that particular moment I cannot remember.
SA
But there was this very famous - who is now very famous -- Indian historian. Her name is... I forget her name now, very famous historian. She was with the Jawaharlal -- JNU [Jawaharlal Nehru University] ancient history.
II
Romila Thapar?
SA
Romila Thapar, she was my batch mate.
II
Oh she was your contemporary?
SA
She was my contemporary.
II
Okay that's good.
SA
She did with Professor A.L. Basham, I did with Professor Harrison and later Ballhatchet and Professor C.H. Phillips was the chairperson at the time.
II
Okay, C.H. Phillips.
SA
Who later became the Director of SOAS [School of Oriental and African Studies]. Actually we started with them. C.H. Phillips was the chairperson of the department.
II
In your own thesis I mean in what circumstances led you to take or was there any particular advice from anyone to pick up the topic that you were in?
SA
Actually when I was looking for a subject then what happened was that before me Professor A.R. Mallick and then Latifa [Latifa Akand] who did her Masters, they researched on the Bengali Muslims. So I was advised by, you know, Professor Harrison and Professor CH Phillips who said "why don't you start here? It is a very momentous period, and why don't you start here?" and I stopped at 1912 because the papers were closed until then and so up to that point I --
II
And also that was the revocation of Partition [Partition of Bengal].
SA
Yes, up to that point I know it sort of suited me because that was the point where Partition was annulled, and the papers also were banned after that. So I had to stop there.
II
Yeah so, I mean, what was your, I mean, while you were doing the research was any of your friends, student friends whom you met and discussed your research, do you remember any of them who might have?
SA
There's Dr. Pansy Ghosh, Pansy Chaya Ghosh who did -- who actually covered my period, and she did on the Indian National Congress. We became very good friends. She was under Ballhatchet, and we were sort of consulting the same documents and papers with a different point of view actually. But this friendship lasted for a long, long time but she died. She died quite a long time back. She was there when my son was born also. We were very good friends there. So she was there, and there was Rukiya Rahman Kabir who did on Public Administration. She did Masters. So she was there and Latifa Akand was there still finishing so.
II
Latifa Akand was in Rajshahi University later on?
SA
No she first joined the Women's College in Purana Paltan and then she joined our department, Department of Islamic History and Culture. She retired from there.
II
Ok so your contemporary and --
SA
She is my contemporary, but she is senior to me by age, but then she was my colleague.
II
When did you start, I mean, I found you were presiding the Itihas Bangladesh -- Itihas Parishad?
SA
Bangladesh Itihas Parishad.
II
When did you start?
SA
Well actually it was founded by Professor Habibullah, who was a great Bengali, a real Bengali Nationalist, so he said that "why don't we start --
II
Professor Mohammad Habibullah.
SA
ABM, Abu Mohammad Habibullah.
SA
So he sort of thought about this and with some of his colleagues Ahmed -- Professor Ahmed Sharif in the Bengali Department, and then lot of other people Dr. Enamul Haq [Muhammad Enamul Haque] of the Bengali Department, senior, they all got together, and it was Professor Habibullah who was involved with the museum [Dhaka Museum]. He was Chairman of the Trustee Board and he was also the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and things like that, chairman of the department, very influential person.
SA
And to tell you the truth in my whole student career here in Dhaka, I have never met a teacher like him. He was not only a teacher, he could be your friend, your counselor, and everything and guide. So he was there. He said, "why don't we start a movement or sort of an association where we would research in Bengali or encourage people who believe in this?" So it was not only restricted to historians or academic people. Even housewives are members even now who are interested in history. So that's how it started in '66.
II
'66, was it before Bangladesh Itihas Samiti?
SA
Of course, of course it was, and then it was started before that and actually there was a move to merge these two together after Professor Habibullah passed away. And I and a few others resisted. Why can't we function together or side by side, and this was an earlier, you know, movement. Actually I should tell you this but I will not mention names but in one of the... not during the martial law, but during the party rule sort of regime, someone suggested that these should be merged.
II
In the 60's? Late 60's?
SA
No, no it was about five, ten -- within the last decade sometime. I cannot pin point the time. And a very powerful bureaucrat took it up and so it was almost decided that these would be merged. He was told that there were two sort of associations or platforms. It was unnecessary and it was not necessary to have two. We should merge it together. And there were people from the History Department who approached me also, but then… well I, you know, I couldn't say no, I couldn't say yes. I had to, you know, swallow everything and then this gentleman he said yes why not.
SA
So they started to do whatever they wanted to do and then I one day I met this gentleman somewhere I mean at a dinner party. He was related to me by marriage. I met him before but not as a very powerful bureaucrat, not as a very powerful bureaucrat. So I met him there and I told him that "I don't know whether I should tell you this but this is what it is. These are the facts. This association was founded by Professor Habibullah." He was also academically bent, that gentleman. He also held a PhD degree, so he immediately understood the thing. He said, "During my time it will not happen. I don't know what will happen later, but I can assure you madam it will not happen now." So there it is and it is still flourishing we are about more than 1000 members.
II
Probably more active than the --
SA
Much more and we have regular, you know, our conferences - we had it in Cox's Bazar because Professor Habibullah said it should spread out to the whole of Bangladesh, and we have membership from all over Bangladesh and it is not restricted as I told you to historians and academics. So the membership is open to all and I think it's a very flourishing sort of organization which is working very well. We have a quarterly you know sort of magazine [Itihas] coming out.
II
Journal?
SA
Not journal, not magazine, academic journal. In fact through writing in this journal many of them got confirmed. Many of the students our students got confirmed.
II
So it referred --
SA
So it was a very, I mean, the level was very good. The standard was very good.
II
You are editing these journals?
SA
We are editing. I am not the editor. I am the chairperson, and there are two editors, very eminent people, who edit.
II
But back in the '60s when this platform, Itihas Parishad, was formed and what -- were you sponsoring any certain kind of historical research in the contemporary context of political changes, movements?
SA
No, no. I never... Professor Habibullah was apolitical, I mean though he was very progressive --
II
Or rather I should say was there any particular trend that was developing and you were --
SA
No, no.
II
you found yourself to sponsor that?
SA
We do not sponsor any particular political ideas or ideology.
II
Then why would the Samiti [Bangladesh Itihas Samiti] emerge?
SA
I don't know.
II
Because, I mean, was this necessary?
SA
Well, they wanted their own influence, I suppose: Islamic History versus History. That must be the spirit. Otherwise I don't know why. And they always think they are superior. Maybe they suffer from some sort of complex which I don't -- we don't -- and Professor Habibullah was very, you know, firm about that. So we tried to uphold his -- whatever he thought was right.
II
That's logical.
SA
Now, like, we had these sector commanders last year here during our first yearly annual conference. We invited all the sector commanders and they spoke. We recorded them. We are trying to bring that out. That's it.
II
You are not necessarily confined in --
SA
No, I never invited nor did Professor Habibullah, never invite political personalities to our conferences.
SA
He tried to bring in eminent academicians, but then you know sometimes because they patronize, because they say, you know, "We will support you. We will give you this and that". Sometimes maybe two or three maybe education ministers or maybe the social welfare ministry head was invited… at a later stage, during my period also.
II
But that was formal.
SA
That was formal. We don't sell our ideas.
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