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Bangladesh mourns academic, liberal icon

Dr. Anisuzzaman embodied the spirit that led to independence — non-sectarianism, social equality and justice

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Bangladesh mourns academic, liberal icon

Besides his brilliance as an educator, writer and academic, Dr. Anisuzzaman became one of Bangladesh’s most celebrated liberal and cultural icons thanks to his prominent roles in all cultural and democratic movements. (Image: Facebook)

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People in Bangladesh are mourning the death of Dr. Anisuzzaman, a highly revered and celebrated academic, writer, educator and liberal icon.

He died at a hospital in capital Dhaka on May 14 at the age of 83. He had been suffering from various ailments including kidney and lung infections. He had also tested positive for Covid-19, family sources said.

Anisuzzaman was a guardian and guide of the nation, said Father Tapan De Rozario, a Catholic priest and associate professor in the world religions and culture department of the University of Dhaka.

“His life was a blessing for us all and he has been closely associated with life and advancement of the nation through his outstanding works. He was a great admirer and follower of liberalism and harmony throughout his life,” Father De Rozario told UCA News.

Despite his celebrity status, he was simple and polite, and he staunchly supported equal rights and justice for all faiths and ethnicities, the priest said. “He was like a guiding ship in the ocean and we have gained so much through him,” he added.

Benedict Alo D’Rozario, president of Catholic charity federation Caritas Asia, described Anisuzzaman as a “lighthouse and conscience” and “the best teacher” of the nation.

“He embodied the spirit that led to the independence of Bangladesh — non-sectarianism, social equality and justice — and he lived with those principles throughout his life and works. He embraced religious and cultural pluralism and denounced all forms of radicalism,” D’Rozario told UCA News.

“He was a great personality with a rare combination of scholarship, courage, simplicity and humanity. His demise is a great loss and he leaves a vacuum that cannot be filled.”

A life full of greatness

Anisuzzaman was born in a Muslim family in Basirhat of Bengal province of British India in 1937. His family moved to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) after the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan.

He obtained a doctorate from the University of Dhaka in 1962 with his thesis “Muslim Thinking in Bengali Literature During British Era” (1757-1918), which is considered a masterpiece.

He taught in the Bengali department of the University of Dhaka from 1959-69 and 1985-2003 and at the University of Chittagong from 1969-85.

He was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Chicago from 1964-65 and his research topic was “Cultural History of Bengal in the Nineteenth Century.”

He was a visiting fellow of the University of Paris, North Carolina State University, University of Calcutta and Visva-Bharati of India. He was also involved with research projects of the United Nations University.

Anisuzzaman authored and translated more than 100 books in Bengali and English, and his research books are regarded as seminal pieces for Bengali language and literature.

Swaruper Sandhane (In Search of Identity); Muslim Manash O Bangla Sahitya (Muslim Thinking and Bengali Literature); Banglai Nari: Sahitye O Samaje (Bengali Women: In Literature and Society); Creativity, Reality and Identity; Cultural Pluralism; and Identity, Religion and Recent History are among his famous works.

His extraordinary contributions brought him national and international accolades.

He received the Bangla Academy Award for research in 1970 and the Ekushey Padak award for education in 1983. He received an honorary doctorate from Rabindra Bharati University of India in 2005 and a prestigious medal of honor from the University of Calcutta in 2008. He was awarded the Swadhinata Padak, Bangladesh’s highest civilian award, and Padma Bhusan, the third highest civilian award by India’s government.

Bangladesh’s government designated him honorary national professor in 2018.

Besides his brilliance as an educator, writer and academic, he became one of Bangladesh’s most celebrated liberal and cultural icons thanks to his prominent roles in all cultural and democratic movements.

He took part in the 1952 Bangla language movement, 1969 political mass upsurge and 1971 War of Independence from Pakistan. He was chairman of the committee for the Bengali version of Bangladesh’s first constitution in 1972 as well as a member of the country’s first Planning Commission and Education Commission.

Anisuzzaman was among the celebrated guests and speakers during an interfaith gathering in Dhaka during Pope Francis’ visit to Bangladesh in 2017.

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