Edn in Bengal Past Nawabs & Future Leaders -Shaikhul Islam Imran
During the British period, the Muslim people in the Eastern Bengal were relegated to severe social degradation compared to that of the then Hindu community. The British Government had attached less importance to this region since their business and political activities centered mainly in three presidency towns — Kolkata, Madras and Chennai. In that situation, the benevolent Muslim Nawabs and Zamindars raised their voice and money for the benefit of the people in this region. Beside the political arena, they significantly contributed to the advancement of education. Here, some of the contributions of then Bengal Nawabs and Zamindars have been discussed in short.
Syed Nawab Ali Chowdhury
Syed Nawab Ali Chowdhury (1863 –1929) was born in Dhanbari, Tangail in East Bengal in a zamindar family. About two and half century before his birth, his great grandfather Shah Syed Khuda Bokhs settled in Dhanbari. In a very little age, he lost his parents. Then, he was brought by his maternal uncle, a noted Muslim zamindar in Natore, Khan Bahadur Muhammad Rashid Ali Khan Chowdhury. He was raised there and took his primary education. After completing his elementary education, he had got admitted into the Rajshahi Collegiate School of and then St. Xavier’s College of Kolkata, West Bengal, India.
He was a benevolent and outstanding socio-political figure in the undivided Bengal. Being a zamindar, he would always bring the problems and grievances of the neglected and distressed people of Bengal to the notice of the Government for remedy. His voice was always fiery for the benefit of tenants and peasants in the government. Nawab took the most vibrant initiative for the advancement of the East Bengali people which was much neglected area in the British regime. He was the first Muslim minister of undivided Bengal at the ministry of education.
Besides, Nawab Ali Chowdhury was a Member of the Eastern Bengal and Assam Legislative Council from 1906 to 1911, of the Bengal Legislative Council from 1912 to 1916 and of the Imperial Legislative Council of India from 1916 to 1920 in his glaring political career.
Foundation of University of Dhaka
Syed Nawab Ali Chowdhury had a significant contribution to the establishment of the University of Dhaka as he regularly advocated in both the provincial and central government.
Nawab Ali Chowdhury and Nawab Salimullah demanded the establishment of a university in Dhaka in the farewell ceremony of Lanchet Heir and reception of Charles Bailey, held on 29 August 1911. The two Nawabs with a committee of 19 people met with Lord Hardinge and explained that how Muslims have deprived because of reunification of Bengal in 1911 when the Lord was in Dhaka on January 31 of 1912. They convinced Mr. Hardinge but unfortunately the First World War broke out in 1914 and it severely affected the establishment of the university.
He was on Nathan Commission which was formed to prepare a complete scheme for the establishment the University of Dhaka. From 31st January of 1912 to the date of establishment of the University of Dhaka by Lord Hardinge, this long 9 years Nawab Salimullah repeatedly gave reminder simultaneously to both the provincial and central government to accelerate the establishment of the Dhaka University. Nawab Salimullah was among the most influential member of both the provincial and central government and which facilitates his advocacy in this regard. It was only Nawab Ali Chowdhury who piloted the Dhaka University Bill in the Imperial Legislative Council of India.
The dream came true and the Dhaka University came into being under the Central Government Act No. XVIII of 1920. But the very inception, the University faced severe financial crisis. The benevolent Nawab Chowdhury donated an amount of Tk. 35,000/-(Thirty-five thousand) which is now equivalent to over two crore taka. He had to mortgage a large portion of his property from Dhanbari zamindari estate at that time. In 1922 he had given a fund of Tk. 16,000/-(Sixteen thousand) which is now equivalent to over one crore of taka for awarding scholarships to the poor and meritorious students of the Islamic Studies and other departments of the University of Dhaka.
It is to be noted that Dhaka University authority has named to their newly-built senate building as “Nabab Nawab Ali Chowdhury Senate Bhaban” in recognition to the contribution in establishing the University.
Other Educational Activities
Nawab Salimullah had released a large amount of money and landed properties for the public welfare activities such as Orphanage, Eidgah field, Mosque, School, College, Madrassah, Playground, Hospital etc. By his efforts several hostels were established for the students of the different colleges of Dhaka and Mymensingh towns of East Bengal and Kolkata city of West Bengal. He had arranged a large amount of money and land properties from his Estate for the establishment of 38 (Thirty-eight) educational Institutions in the different places of the country.
Nawab Ali Chowdhury was its owner the famous newspaper “Mihir-Shudhakar”. He contributed in work of Muhammad Shahidullah, Reazuddin Ahmed al-Mashhadi, poet Md Mozammel Haque. He also wrote some books, among them Eid ul Azha (1890), Maulud Sharif (1903), Vernacular Education in Bengal (1900), Primary Education in Rural Areas (1906), Opinion on the Montague- Chelmsford Report (1918- 19) and, The Views on the Present Political Situation in India (1920) are highly famous.
Nawab Sir Khwaja Salimullah Bahadur
Nawab Sir Khwaja Salimullah Bahadur (1871–1915) was the fourth Nawab of Dhaka, the eldest son of Nawab Khwaja Ahsanullah, the third Nawab of Dhaka. His forefathers came to Bangla from the Kashmir region. He was born at the Ahsan Manzil Palace on 7 June 1871. Nawab Salimullah started his career in as a Deputy Magistrate in British Indian Civil Service in 1893 to 1895. After his father’s death in 1901, he became the Nawab and inherited his father’s estate. He was among the most influential leaders who facilitated the Bengal partition movement. Following the partition of Bengal in 1905, Nawab Salimullah presided over a meeting with the Muslim leaders from all over the East Bengal. In that program, held in Northbrook Hall, a political organization was formed called Mohammedan Provincial Union. He played a key role for the partition of Bengal that could lead the region into prosperity and hope. Nawab Salimullah also sponsored the famous Education Conference of 1906 at Shahbagh, Dhaka. After the partition of Bengal, number of students in schools and colleges increased by 35% but for the conspiracy of the Hindu elite of Kolkata, who collected taxes from the people of Bengal, partition of Bengal fell in 1911.
Education Conference of 1906
The Education Conference of 1906 was organized by the All India Muhammadan Educational Conference held at Dhaka, the capital of the then East Bengal and Assam Province. The organization was formed by Syed Ahmed Khan in 1886 with a view to promoting education among the disadvantaged Muslim people in the province.
After the partition of Bengal in 1905, the leaders of Aligarh Movement requested Nawab Salimullah to organize the 20th anniversary program of the All India Muhammadan Educational Conference at his own cost. Nawab accepted their request. The conference was held at the Nawab’s family-garden house in Shahbagh, Dhaka from 27th to 30th December, 1906. Thousands of Muslim leaders from all over India gathered in the conference.
In the last day of the program on 30th December, a political session was held and the issue of political party was resolved. In that programme All India Muslim League was formed to be the most influential Muslim political party till the independence in 1947.
The venue of the Education Conference of 1906 was known to be “Ishrat Manjil” a mansion of the Dhaka Nawab family. The mansion was later donated to the University of Dhaka. Today, the then “Ishrat Manjil” is known to be “Madhur Canteen” situated near the Central Mosque of Dhaka University.
Establishment of Dhaka University and BUET
Nawab Salimullah Bahadur was severely shocked at the re-unification of Bengal since the re-unification would go against the interest the Muslim people in the region. He demanded a University at Dhaka at a political function held in Curzon Hall in 1911. He seriously countered any question rejecting the demands of establishing a University at Dhaka.
Nawab Salimullah Bahadur along with Syed Nawab Ali Chowdhury and others went to Viceroy Lord Hardinge and submitted a list of demands for the interests of Muslims. He further advocated for the inclusion of Department of Islamic Studies to the proposed University.
Besides, the today’s Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) is rooted in 1876 when the government set up the “Dacca Survey School’ at a rented building at Nolgola (west of Salimullah Medical College) in the old part of Dhaka. The pioneer of the survey school was Nawab Khwaja Ahsanullah, father of Nawab Salimullah, who promised to give 1 lac 12 thousand rupees for the development of the school. But Nawab Ahsanullah died in 1901 but his son Nawab Salimullah continued the support for the development of the school. He released the whole amount of money to the school promised by the late father. That survey school is now University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). The University of Dhaka has named a hall after Nawab Salimullah Bahadur as “Salimullah Muslim Hall”.
Nawab Sir Khwaja Abdul Ghani
Khwaja Abdul Gani (1813–1896) was the second son of Khwaja Alimullah, who consolidated the Khwaja estates to become the first Nawab of the family recognized by the British Raj. He inherited the estate from his father including the French Kuthi at Kumartuli, the Shahbagh garden etc. He made the beautiful Ahsan Manjil. He was a multilingual person as he knew Urdu, his native tongue, Bengali, English, and Persian. He is known to be the patron of Urdu and Persian literature in Dhaka. He contributed to redecorate the Hosni Dalan, the Shi’ite centre in Dhaka, despite being a Sunni himself.
Khwaja Abdul Gani established a high school at Kumartuli in 1863 (which later became Khwaja Salimullah College, named after his grandson), and the Abdul Ghani High School in Jamurki, Tangail. He was among the proprietors of the newspaper Weekly Dhaka News, the first newspaper from Dhaka. Nawab Abdul Ghani patronised poets and singers. He used to organise competitions among them on the occasions of muharram and other festivals.
Beside the contribution in education, Khwaja Abdul Gani significantly extended his cooperation in development of Dhaka. He was a member of the Dhaka Municipality since its inception. He introduced gaslights to Dhaka streets. He made running water facilities which costs about Rs 250,000.00. Buckland Bund, the Zoological Garden, Victoria Park, the gardens at Dilkhusha and Shahbagh etc.
Nawab Khwaja Ahsanullah
Nawab Khwaja Ahsanullah (1846–1901) is the son of Nawab Khwaja Abdul Ghani, born in 1846. From the very young age, he learned Islamic education, Quran, Hadis, Fiqh including Urdu, Arabic and Persian language in addition. He was considered to be a gifted boy for his outstanding success in the field of knowledge. He started to handle the problems arising out of property mainly maintenance and inheritance by the age just after 20.
The pioneer Muslim Leader of Bengal Nawab Khwaja Ahsanullah started his career in British Indian Civil Service as a Deputy Magistrate in 1892 and served till 1895. He became Nawab just after his father died in 1901.
The deep rooted history of BUET (Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology) goes back to the year 1876 when the Bengal Government under British Raj established a survey school named ‘Dacca Survey School’ at a rented building at Nolgola (west of Salimullah Medical College) in the old part of Dhaka. This school later becomes the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.
This school offered a course of two years to train land surveyors in the very inception. Nawab Khwaja Ahsanullah made a great contribution in the school by contributing for the development of the college. After his death in 1901, the son of Khwaja Ahsanullah, Khwaja Salimullah released 112,000 rupees grant in 1902 in accordance with his father’s promise. As an acknowledgement of this contribution, the school was renamed to Ahsanullah School of Engineering. By 1908, the school offered offer diploma degrees and in 1921 the school moved to the present premise.
After the partition of India in 1947, the school was upgraded and started offering four year bachelor’s degree in 5 fields. In 1962, the Ahsanullah School of Engineering was upgraded to East Pakistan University of Engineering and Technology (EPUET) to offer facilities for the postgraduate studies and research. After independence in 1971, East Pakistan University of Engineering and Technology (EPUET) became Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) and till today the University stands as the best engineering institution in our country as well as among the best in South Asia. The contribution of Khwaja Ahsanullah and his son Khwaja Salimullah will cherish the people of this country.
Other philanthropic and educational activities-
Nawab Khwaja Ahsanullah was a benevolent Muslim leader of the Bengal and his voice was always higher for the benefit of the people. He was a glaring model of philanthropic activities. He was also said to be among most ardent and vibrant advocate for the Muslims. Nawab created lots of Mosques and Madrasahs including Madaripur Mosque and Madrasah (1886-87), and Begunbari Mosque. He rebuilt over 15 Mosques and Dargahs which has a good role in preaching Islamic education among the people in the region.
Besides, he contributed 50 thousand for the construction of Lady Dufferin Women’s Hospital (1888), Rs 80 thousand for the development of Comilla town (1898) and about Rs 1 lakh for Mitford Hospital etc.
Nawab Ahsanullah was a devoted educationist and litterateur. Among his works, a book of Urdu poems namely, “Kulliyat-e-Shaheen”, a diary titled “Tariq-e-Kandan-e-Kashmiriya” is famous. He was the main sponsor of an Urdu magazine namely “Ahsanul Qasas”, published in Dhaka.
In conclusion, it can be said that the contributions of these benevolent leaders will be cherished forever by the people of this region. Dhaka University and some other educational institutes need to change their mindset. Nowadays where research degrees are available no one is going to have taught courses. These age-old taught courses should be changed into research courses where necessary to sustain in the world of high competition. Bangladesh is looking forward to a time when another Nawab Salimullah will come to modernize the existing universities to transform them into the world’s top ranking universities.