Shaheed Dhirendranath Datta is one of the real Royal Bengal Tigers ever to have graced the great land of Bengalis. This Bengali nationalist, often hailed as a great champion of the Bengali language initially within the Pakistani framework, was born on 2 November 1886 in Ramrail, in Brahmanbaria District of greater Comilla. Considered by many as 'Father of the idea of Bangladesh', which later materialized into reality under an able leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and company, Mr. Datta is a perfect embodiment of Bengali nationalism and secularism.
A valiant politician and philanthropist, he envisioned freedom of the Bengalis from living on the margin of Pakistani state to emerge as a proud, independent nation. On top of that, he personified secular humanism at its best and was loved equally by contemporary positive-thinking Bengali Hindus and Muslims.
His seminal amendment proposal on 23 February, 1948 in the Pakistan Constituent Assembly in Karachi, advocating for Bengali to be made one of the official languages of Pakistan, singularly nestles Dhirendranath Datta's place in the grand narrative of Bangladesh. Citing the numerical majority of Bengalis in the state of Pakistan, he put forward a motion to make Bengali one of the state languages.
Far from appreciating his legitimate demand, West Pakistani lawmakers as well as their Bengali bootlickers delivered political innuendos suggesting him as an enemy of the republic. Throughout the rest of his life, he as well as his pro-Bengali political colleagues had been considered a threat to the Pakistani establishment. Despite all insults and tortures he had to stomach for his nationalistic approach, he remained adamant and steadfast in his ideology until his martyrdom at the hands of barbarous Pakistani soldiers at Mainamati Cantonment. Hence, this beautiful land of Bengalis and like-hearted non-Bengalis was further purified with the sacred blood of this spirited patriot.
The contribution of Mr. Datta in turbo charging the spirit of Bengali nationalism is beyond description. He is certainly among those few Bengali daredevils who defied the red eyes of the West Pakistani ruling elite to launch an ethno-linguistic nationalism.
It is no wonder that the fructification of the movement he initiated on the very turf of enemies is today's Bangladesh. Referring to his unparallel contribution to the language movement, Prof. M. Waheeduzzaman Manik rightly said in an article, "… it is fair to suggest that there were many language activists who were in the vanguard of the formative phase of the language movement, and among those, however, Shaheed Dhirendranath Dutta's role was seminal by any measure in the process of jumpstarting our resistance against those anti-Bengali forces." (February 21, 2014, the Daily Star) Therefore, it behooves us Bengalis to give him a fair share of respect and honor that he undoubtedly merits.
Dhiren Babu's (as he is popularly known) greatness is not limited to his affiliation with language movement and subsequent glories. His is an illustrious political career starting as a Congress man. In response to Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das's call, he left lucrative profession of a lawyer for politics. Despite being a son of a Zamindar (landlord), he always proudly called him a descendant of woodcutters (as woodcutting had been their ancestral profession prior to gaining the Zamindari status from Tripura's royal authority).
He was, to put it simply, a real 'man of the people' and a combination of great human virtues. In this connection, leading Bangladeshi writer and journalist Syed Badrul Ahsan said, "Among Bengal's tales of heroism, Dhirendranath Dutta holds a secure perch. There were in him all those traits which go into the making of a man of strong intellectual and moral character. In him came together all those hallmarks of personality which went into the shaping of a leader. Wisdom and foresight were characteristics of Dutta's politics." (November 2, 2016, bdnews24.com) I daresay, one cannot agree with Mr. Ahsan's evaluation of Dhirendranath Datta more.
However, it is a great shame for us as a nation in not giving him enough credit that is long overdue. Not many members of young generations of Bengalis know much about him. In most cases, young people's knowledge of him is limited to a few pieces of information necessary to them to apply in competitive examinations. Unfortunately, enough has not been done yet to uphold his memories.
Establishment of an electronic library at Dhaka University's Jagannath Hall and a dormitory at Comilla University both after his name is a glorious exception, though. His grand-daughter Aroma Datta, nevertheless, is trying heart and soul to restore and enliven his memory in the history of the country he sacrificed so much for.
As a fellow Bengali and a Comillan, I would like to pay my homage to his departed on the occasion of his 131st birth anniversary today. Let me wrap up the memorial piece with Syed Badrul Ahsan's words on Dhiren Babu's sublime contribution: "And yet, in the larger perspective of history, Dhirendranath Dutta was destined to be our Moses on Mount Sinai, pointing out to us our Promised Land.
He turned out, through his compelling arguments on the day, to be a seer, a trailblazer as it were, in articulating the aspirations of the Bengali segment of Pakistan. February 1952 was to be his vindication. Where in February four years earlier his was a lone voice, four years on it was an entire nation that identified with Dutta's commitment to his ancestral land." (ibid)
The writer studied English literature at the University of Dhaka, he can be reached at [email protected]