Martyrs’ Memorial Girls’ High School, Doihari Village, Swarupkathi Police Station, Pirojpur District, Bangladesh
(Shahid Smriti Madhyamik Balika Bidyaloi)
Sachi G. Dastidar
On a much-awaited visit to a remote corner of southern coastal deltaic Bangladesh, SriRamKathi village of BhimKathi area of Pirojpur District New York’s (U.S.A.) Probini Foundation delegates Executive Secretary Shuvo G. Dastidar and this writer met folks of the area to discuss a possible school construction at the Pranab Ashram. The 175 mile distance from Bangladesh capital Dhaka takes a day’s journey either by river boat or by bus crossing many river ferries, although journey by boat or steamer is certainly a pleasurable-yet-unhurried way to travel.
In 2007 as soon as we reached the SriRamKathi Pranab Ashram it seemed celebration began. Boys and girls and their parents were already waiting for us. Welcome began by saying Namaskar or Greetings with folded hands, women ululating and others blowing conch. With announcements from the head (Hindu) monk via ashram’s loudspeakers streams of local residents started to pour in. Words of mouth spread like wild fire. We joined rest of the crowd in singing, playing, chatting, and offering Hindu prayers in a Muslim-majority land. Some in the crowd took Shuvo for a walk in the village, while others took me for walk, chat and tea. Both Shuvo and I took a look at the possible site for a new school building that the locals were pleading with Probini for help. (Probini has built the school building named Probini Bhavan [Building].) Some people imagine more powers in us than actually we possess. One distraught poor oppressed Hindu father came to us seeking justice for her daughter. His daughter, first graduate of the family, was kidnapped in midday, abused then murdered by drowning by a Muslim gang. And the local administration was reluctant to punish the killers. In desperation he thought we foreigners could be his “last straw” for justice. There were others who shared their pleasure and pain. Soon dark fell. Some headed home, others moved indoors for further briefing. In darkness entered a group of newcomers accompanied by Monk Sunil, a swami, or ordained Hindu monk. Guests took off their shoes and went straight to touch my feet to show their respect and affection. Swami introduced them as a group of people from a nearby school desperately needing help. Swami said “They need help badly. The school was wiped out after a storm a few months back. Their school has no roof. School’s dorm has been wiped out, and kids are sleeping in rooms without any roof. Older Brother, please help them. If it delays our school project, so be it. They need urgent help.” We said, “Probini doesn’t help without a firsthand report, and we have no time to visit their school.” Students and teachers started begging and crying to take us to their school. Changing our plan next morning we took a boat ride to that coastal island, one of the most beautiful places that I have ever visited. Some of the structures were completely gone. Headmaster Nirmal Chandra Dhali, a Hindu, who lived in the school dorm with rest of the resident girls had organized a meeting with founder of the school, Mr. Sikdar, a Hindu minority, and many other important personalities in hours notice. During Bangladesh Liberation Movement in 1971 on the school site 136 Hindus were corralled by the Army of Islamic Republic of Pakistan and its Bengali Islamist allies then shot or hacked them to death, including Mr. Sikdar’s father, a headmaster. Thus he gave the name Martyr’s Memorial in memory of his father and other’s killed when he founded the school. There were several individuals killed who could not be identified as they were brought from other islands. Their Hindu families may also have been killed.
The monk at nearby SriRamKathi Pranab Ashram in his attitude of self-sacrifice said, “If you can, please help them first. We can wait. Their need is urgent and immediate” That’s what Probini did.
Over a decade mostly-minority students have done very well in nationwide exams. Now it has been upgraded to a higher level able to teach junior college-level courses.
Funds for building the dorm (hostel) came from the following: Probini Foundation Members in the U.S.; The Late Ronald E. Moehle; St. Francis College of Brooklyn; Dorothy Phelan in memory of her parents Mary & Thomas; Mrs. Baby Chowdhury; Ms. Vanitha Venugopal; in Memory of Tulshi Sengupta of New Jersey; Drs. Eloise Linger and Ernst Harsch; in memory of Ranu Banerji by daughter Mita; in Memory of Comilla-born (1908) Mrs. Jyotirmoye Sen by nephew Pratip Dasgupta; and Drs Sabyasachi Ghosh and Shefali Sengupta Dastidar.
Here are some pictures from Martyrs’ Memorial Girls’ High School.
Heading off from SriRamKathi to Doihari
Beginning of Boat Journey
Shuvo on the boat with Hosts
BhimKathi Ghat (bathing and boat landing area)
Headmaster Dhali, facing camera, leading the Boat
Going under a Footbridge Connecting two Delta Islands
Friends who Came to take the Guests to Doihari Village
Enjoying the Scenery
Headmaster Dhali welcoming Guests at the Doihari Boat Landing
Welcome by Students to the School
Welcome by Students
Students and Monks at one of the Surviving Structures
Roofless (blown away by Hurricane) Girl's Dorm Room
Roofless (jute-sack covered) Girl's Dorm Room
Remains of a Classroom
Saying Goodbye to Visitors returning to SriRamKathi
Building Under Construction
Building under Construction with Supervision from Headmaster Dhali (on rooftop)
Memorial with Names of Hindu Mass Murder Victim
School Students with Probini Tablet on Back
Probini Tablet with Donors' Names
New School Building
Some of the Names of Individuals Murdered by Pakistan Army and Bengali Islamists
Entrance to the School
PROBINI GIRLS' DORM (PROBINI CHHATRI NIBASH)
Some of the comments via the Internet:
April 7, 2018
Thanks so much. Very moving but impressive. Pl carry on with your noble mission!
April 15, 2018
Cool, and congrats!
April 15, 2018