Celebrating Dhaka University Day
The DU Experience: Lessons Beyond the Classrooms
While doing my MBA from one of the leading business schools of the US, I came across the book, “Things they don't teach at Harvard.” As the interesting title suggests, the book is an insightful reading on issues that have a significant effect on the performance of a manager but which hardly get discussed in the formal ambience of a classroom of even one of the most well respected business schools of the world. Being a graduate of DU, and in a rather opposite direction, I was musing as to some of the things I learned only because I happened to spend my undergraduate years at DU. As DU celebrated its 87th founding anniversary on 1 July, it is an appropriate occasion to pay my tribute to an institution from which I have learned so much in such a short time. Things, I still believe only DU can teach best and things which learned outside the classroom. In fact, the learning outside the class in DU has had a more profound and lasting impact on my life than what was taught within the confines of the four walls of classrooms.
The most enlightening experience of DU is the diverse group of talented people one has the opportunity to come across in the Campus. By talent, I do not mean academic talent only, but rather talent in its widest form a meritorious student, an articulate public speaker, a gifted artist, a brilliant dramatist, a skilled debater, a creative sculpturist, a committed idealist, a young politician, a rising playwright, a romantic poet, name any, DU has it all. The socialisation and interaction with this diverse group of people gives exposure to the multi-layered Bangladeshi society comprising multifarious groups, which no other institution of the country can offer. By being active outside the classrooms, one can make the most of this unparalled opportunity and build friendships and networks with many interesting and talented people, the dividend of which is a lifetime return.
The rebellious spirit and the idealist zeal of the youth can have no better place for its birth and growth than DU. The Aporajeyo Bangla resides in the heart and soul of every DU inhabitant and if history is of any consequence time and again the DU community has defied the odds and defeated the reactionary forces whenever our Bengali identity has been challenged. Whether the Language Movement, or the War of Liberation, or the struggle for Democracy the DU acted as the bastion of the fundamental rights of the Bangladeshis. The best part of it is that every time the movement has been more spontaneous as opposed to being orchestrated, simply intuitive as opposed to being calculated, purely selfless as opposed to being self-serving. DU implants the seeds of courage and spirit of boldness in the minds of students as does none. The sheer purity of thoughts and commitment to ideals that propels the DU community to think the unthinkable and do the impossible can be found nowhere else in Bangladesh. No wonder sometimes jokingly we are referred to as “The Cantonment of the Civilians.”
There are things in life that no book or a teacher can teach - the teachings of sacrifice for a cause greater than the sacrifice itself, the teachings of defiance when compliance is the norms the teachings of rebellion when subjugation is the prevailing law, the teachings of questioning when answers are not to be questioned, the teachings of standing up even when everyone else has settled down, the teachings of being the embodiment of values as opposed to being the personification of an agenda. DU teaches you all, if you know how to smell the air of freedom that fills the space of DU and if you are willing to be part of the crowd that continually invents its identity in response to the demands and challenges that the nation continually faces in its journey through the passage of time. The individuality of the person and uprightness of the values that shape up in the formative years of self-identification can have no better place of moorings than in the fiercely independent and actively conscientious environment of DU.
One of the common complaints against the DU is the presence of armed cadres, outsiders, political activists, etc. From my own experience, I can tell that by having the opportunity of knowing them, I have come to appreciate better the political, economic, and social factors, which led to the creation and presence of these categories of people in the campus. In the process, I have developed a better understanding of the underlying forces that shape the fabric of our society whether for good or for worse. DU has taught me the art of making smart choices without being a follower of the Theory of Exclusivity whereby by marginalising others, one makes himself/herself no less marginalised. Many of the armed cadres that I met during the student years had a story to be told or a voice to be heard that society had very little room for accommodation. Some of them were otherwise good human beings who adopted this life-style more out of compulsion than out of choice, more out of insecurity than out of aggression. This is not a justification on behalf of the group of people I have mentioned, but only emphasising the importance of knowing people better.
As a part of understanding the problems and solutions better. Trust me, as you move on in the life beyond campus, you get to realise more the inherent value instilled in these exercises.
The cultural domain of DU has embedded in it the true heart and soul of a Bangladeshi that resonates throughout the year and in every occasion as we rekindle ourselves with our national identity. Whether the Mongol Jatra in Pohela Baishakh or the poetry recitation sessions in the open or the dramas in the footsteps of the Shaheed Minar or the music concerts in the campus the arteries and veins of the Bangladeshi culture runs through every nook and corner of the sprawling DU campus. It is like the Bangladeshi Renaissance revisiting us again and again through the songs of the seasons and dances of the nature in many forms and shades. It is an inexplicable feeling of joy and fulfillment no matter what you do joining the colourful procession, singing and dancing in the rain, cheering the actors of street dramas, buying the paintings from the Chobir Haat, wearing the seasonal costumes, reading the graffiti, doing the mural, or simply taking a silent walk through the boulevards. No other place offers such a plethora of cultural experience within such a limited geography.
We live in a complex society where we are regularly faced with inconsistencies and aberrations that often defy our common sense and perplex our intelligence. From preaching something while not practicing the same; to sacrificing self-respect at the altar of the goddess of sycophancy, from espousing idealism while living life through opportunism, from asking for struggle and sacrifice while carving one's own life based on convenience there is no end to knowing how we as a nation have many a times undermined our collective moral standards for the sake of individual gains. Amidst this complex urban society, DU offers a breath of fresh air by unleashing the forces of simplicity and honesty that can rise above petty interests and narrow definitions provided by the people to whom we to look upon as the standard bearers of our moral leadership. Look what DU did in the early nineties when the national leaders in their endless pursuit of self-optimisation were undermining the common democratic aspirations of the ordinary people. When almost every powerful group caved in and played into the hands of the autocratic regime politicians, bureaucrats, technocrats the DU students stood firm and led the nation to a defiant victory in the fight for democracy. The leadership of the youth put into shame the avarice and cowardice of the old.
The students defied their national leaders and forged a unity that ultimately saw the fall of an autocrat who otherwise managed to carve out smart deals and effectively sold luring baits to the politicians who were letting down the democratic aspirations of the people. DU never shied away from doing what is right even if it meant breaking the norms by defying the ranks and files of people who failed to effectively lead. From here comes the lesson to stand firm and resolute in pursuit of causes, which the heart believes in and the faith subscribes to no matter what the externalities dictate. The lessons learned? If the cause is based on strong principles and the mission is driven by firm ideals then victory is only a question of time no matter how powerful and cunning your opponents are. When the autocratic regime finally crumbled and people from all strata rejoiced in the streets of Dhaka the DU student community basked in glory. To be part of that defiant, victorious, and jubilant crowd was a life-time experience that nothing else can come close to.
As we stand in the middle of 2008, the country is going through a critical juncture where hope and fear are alternating their roles every day. Just as we aspire for a truly functional democratic state that delivers, equally worried are we by the prospects of going back to the dark days of confrontational politics and dysfunctional democracy that hurts more than it helps the common people. The DU led the country to democracy and what we all hoped would be the dawning of a new era of sound democratic practices and equitable economic opportunities for the people of Bangladesh.
We have achieved neither due to the miserable failure of political leadership and endless bickering of those who were supposed to be the voice of sanity. Hopes and dreams have eluded us for far too long even when we have remained strong in our core convictions in the inherent goodness of having a democratic society.
Let's hope that the spirit of DU that has inspired the nation to progress even when everything else seems to have regressed embolden us again to take the mantle of peoples' power in our own hand and to do what we do best under any and every circumstances - to challenge the unchallenged, to rise when we are not raised, to persevere when doubts loom, to deliver when others shiver, to achieve even when expectations deceive. Let the spirit of DU live forever in our hearts and outlive the gloom and desperations that cloud the horizon. Let the enlightenment of the mind and strength of our convictions make it happen if it is not to happen otherwise. May God be with us.
The writer is Professor,
Institute of Business Administration,
University of Dhaka
Looking back at the history of DU
Star Campus Desk
The University of Dhaka, commonly referred to as Dhaka University or just DU, is the oldest university in Bangladesh. With more than 32,000 students and 1,300 teachers, the University of Dhaka is the largest public university in the country. It is the only university in Bangladesh to have been listed in AsiaWeek's listing of top 100 Universities in Asia, and was ranked 64th.
The university was created with the motive of achieving an outstanding record of academic achievement and within a short span of time, it came to be known as the 'Oxford of the East'. The university contributed to the emergence of a generation of leaders who distinguished themselves in different occupations in East Bengal. Until the Partition of Bengal in 1947, it maintained its unique character of being one of the few residential institutions of higher learning in Asia. In 1947, it assumed academic authority over all educational institutions above the secondary level falling within East Bengal. In the process, it became a teaching-cum-affiliating institution. This transformation, coupled with its unprecedented growth in the years that followed, put strains beyond reckoning on its human as well as material resources.
In 1926 University of Dhaka invited Rabindranath Tagor to join a conference named The meaning of Art. He came to Dhaka and visited Carzon Hall on 10 February.
The university demonstrated an inherent strength in its activities during its eventful and often critical existence of over 80 years. Today, it provides about 70% of the trained human resources of Bangladesh engaged in education, science and technology, administration, diplomacy, mass communication, politics, trade and commerce, and industrial enterprises in all sectors. Students and teachers of this university have played a major role in shaping the history of Bangladesh.
Established in 1921 under the Dacca University Act 1920 of the Indian Legislative Council, it is modelled after British universities. Academic activities started on July 1, 1921 with 3 faculties, 12 teaching departments, 60 teachers, 847 students and 3 residential halls.
It is believed that a combination of political, social and economic compulsions persuaded the government of India to establish a university at Dhaka 'as a splendid imperial compensation' to Muslims for the annulment of the partition of Bengal. The first Vice-Chancellor of the university, Dr. P J Hartog, a former academic registrar of the University of London for 17 years and a member of the University of Calcutta Commission, described this phenomenon as the 'political origin' of the institution.
It was suggested for the university to have a spectacular site of about 243 acres (0.98 km²) forming part of the new civil station created at Ramna for the government of Eastern Bengal and Assam. The site housed Curzon Hall, Dacca College, the new government house, the secretariat, the government press, a number of houses for officers, and other minor buildings. In due course, all this land with buildings and other properties was made over to the university in a permanent lease at a nominal rent of Rs 1,000 a year. After the committee report was published in 1913, the Secretary of State approved it in December 1913. Then with the emergence of First World War, acute financial stringency led the government to keep the decision in abeyance. This caused misgivings in the minds of some leaders. When Nawab Syed Nawab Ali Choudhury raised the issue in the Indian Legislative Council on March 7, 1917, Shankaran Nair, the government spokesman, reaffirmed the government pledge to establish the university.
The Governor General of India appointed Dr. PJ Hartog as the first vice-chancellor for a term of 5 years beginning December 1, 1920. He assumed office on December 10, 1920.Hartog put the university on a firm footing in his 5-year tenure of dedicated service.The advancement of the young university in the direction of academic excellence diligently marked by Hartog was carried forward by able successors such as Prof Harry Langley, AF Rahman, Dr. RC Majumdar, Dr. Mahmood Hasan and others.
From its inception, the University of Dhaka has been a place for many great scholars and scientists. From 1926 - 1945 renowned physicist Satyendra Nath Bose served as a professor. It was during this period that he published his famous papers in collaboration with Albert Einstein, most notably defining Bose-Einstein condensate.
The university was witness to another historical event in 1971, as it was in the campus of Dhaka University that the original Flag of Bangladesh was unfurled for the first time, at a time of national crisis with the Bangladesh Liberation War looming closer. The University saw its share of the genocide initiated by Pakistani dictatorship in 1971, as many students and professors were killed in Operation Searchlight by the Pakistan Army.
The Partition of Bengal in 1947 considerably altered the character of Dhaka University. The East Bengal Educational Ordinance of 1947 added an affiliating character to its residential-cum-teaching model by calling upon it to assume the responsibilities of affiliation and supervision of 55 colleges, which were previously under the University of Calcutta. The university was relieved of this responsibility in 1992 when the National University was created to take over this task.
In 1952, during the Bengali Language Movement effort, police killed some students agitating for a place of honour for their mother tongue. The government responded by replacing the Dacca University Act 1920 by an ordinance in 1961, totally depriving the university of its autonomy and democratic traditions. Termed a 'black law', the ordinance created a suffocating atmosphere in the university. The atmosphere of terror and oppression created in the whole country by successive military regimes led to mass upsurge, and ultimately, to the War of Liberation waged by Bengalis in 1971. Teachers and students of the university were in the forefront of this war and paid a heavy price in blood.
The War of Liberation severely crippled Dhaka University's academics when a large number of its distinguished teachers and a considerable number of its students and employees were killed. The teachers, who were killed, include Dr. GC Dev, Dr. ANM Muniruzzaman, Santosh C Bhattacharya, Dr. Jyotirmoy Guha Thakurta, AN Munir Chowdhury, Mofazzal Haider Chowdhury, Dr. Abul Khair, Dr. Serajul Hoque Khan, Rashidul Hasan, Anwar Pasha, Dr. Fazlur Rahman, Giasuddin Ahmed, Dr. Faizul Mohi, Abdul Muktadir, Sarafat Ali, Sadat Ali, AR Khan Khadim, and Anudippayan Bhattachariya. The university's chief medical officer, Dr. Mohammad Mortuza, and a teacher of the University Laboratory School, Mohammad Sadeq were also killed.
(R) thedailystar.net 2008