Today is September 17, the `Education Day'. This year the day is being observed with the theme: 'In support of humanity, human rights & human resource development'. The day reminds us of the killings of school student Babul, domestic worker Waziullah, bus conductor Golam Mustafa and repression on many others who raised their voices of protest against discrimination and deprivation in education in favour of the people-friendly education policy in 1962. The movement is popularly known as '62 Education Movement' which culminated on September 17, 1962.
BACKGROUND OF THE MOVEMENT: To trace the background of '62 education movement, it is very much relevant to mention that since the establishment Pakistan, anarchy in education sector was a common feature as the central government of Pakistan followed a policy of disparity towards East Pakistan where 56 per cent of the people lived. Number of educational institutions began to decrease and the dropout rate increased within a short time. Prior to partition of the Subcontinent, East Pakistan was much ahead of the then western part of Pakistan. In 1947-48, the number of primary schools in East Pakistan was 29633, which came down to 26000 within a span of five years in 1954-55. The Pakistan Army Chief Ayub Khan, who hatched a conspiracy with the Governor General Eskander Mirza to topple the coalition civilian government headed by Prime Minister Firoz Khan Noon, declared martial law for the first time in the Subcontinent. Martial law was promulgated on October 07 of 1958. But within less than three weeks, Eskandar Mirza was removed and Ayub Khan became the self-proclaimed president of Pakistan and Chief Martial Law Administrator.
After two months, on December 30, the government announced formation of a committee headed by the Education Secretary and Ayub's one-time teacher at Aligarh University, S. M. Sharif. In the 11 member-commission, four educationists were from East Pakistan. They were Dr. Momtaj Uddin Ahmed, Vice Chancellor, Rajshahi University; Abdul Haque, president of Dhaka Secondary Education Board; Professor Atowar Rahman from Dhaka University; and Dr. Abdur Rashid from Dhaka Engineering College. The commission submitted its interim report on August 26, 1959.
FACTORS WHICH IGNITED THE MOVEMENT: Some of the proposals of Sharif Commission Report, which was published in 1962, sparked students' agitation in East Pakistan. These included: (1) the concept of free primary compulsory education is an utopia; (2) to introduce a Lingua Franca for Pakistan, Roman Script should be introduced and for that Arabic should be given priority; (3) Urdu should be made the language of the people of Pakistan; (4) education should not be made available at minimum cost and at a 'cheap price'; (5) there is reason to see it at par with investment both in industry and education; (6) 2-year degree course should be extended to three years for improvement of quality of higher education.
STUDENTS' REACTION AGAINST THE REPORT: Students reacted sharply to the proposals. They clearly pointed out that the door of education has been closed to the poor and low-income people. Action committees and sub-committees were formed in many institutions to protest the introduction of English as compulsory in H.S.C. level, and extension of the degree course from two to three years. The agitation programme was started by the students of Dhaka College. One handicapped student of degree class, M.I. Chowdhury, initiated it. Higher Secondary School Certificate examinees who considered the new functional English courses at the H.S.C. level extra burden also participated in it. Sporadic strikes and abstention from classes by students continued. Students of medical school and National Medical institutions also joined the movement.
The students' movement took a new turn on August 10 when students assembled at a meeting in the college canteen of Dhaka College. Quazi Faruque Ahmed, General Secretary of Dhaka College Students Union, convened and presided over the meeting. There was no link with the central leadership of student's organisations prior to this meeting. That meeting established the link. The meeting announced a programme of general strike of students throughout the province on August 15. Students responded enthusiastically to the programme. As a follow-up, a sit-down action programme before the Secretariat was also announced.
Series of meetings were held in between August 15 and September 10 at the historic Amtola in Dhaka University Campus. Students in huge numbers from the schools and colleges attended. The previously formed "Degrees Students' Forum" was renamed as "East Pakistan Students' Forum" with two joint conveners, Quazi Faruque Ahmed from East Pakistan Students' Union (EPSU) and Abdullah Wares Imam from East Pakistant Students' League (EPSL). On September 10, a meeting was held at the Dhaka University Cafeteria where almost all the colleges of the city were represented. Dhaka University Central Students Union (DUCSU) General Secretary Enayetur Rahman, Dhaka College Students' Union General Secretary Quazi Faruque Ahmed, Jagannath College Students' Union Vice-President Abdullah Wares Imam, Eden College Students' Union Vice-President Matia Chowdhury, Quide Azam College Students' Union General Secretary Nurul Arefin Khan, Tolaram College Students' Union General Secretary Abdul Aziz Baghmar, among others, were present. The meeting withdrew the previously announced sit-down strike before the Secretariat but announced a fresh action programme of hartal or total strike on September 17.
INCIDENT OF SEPTEMBER 17: Students started picketing from early morning on the day. The Mercedes Benz car of the Provincial Minister Hasan Askari was set on fire by the students. Some jeeps were also set ablaze. In the morning, a contingent of police, led by Surgent Hafiz, chased prospective demonstrators from Sadarghat to Nawabpur Railway crossing. By 9-00 a.m., Dhaka University campus was packed up with students from the schools and colleges of Dhaka City. It was virtually unmanageable to hold a meeting at that time. Suddenly, news got spread that the police fired at Nawabpur Road and a good number of people, including students, were injured. It was scheduled earlier that a procession would be brought out at 10 a.m. But hearing the news of firing, a huge procession was brought out led by Sirajul Alam Khan, Mohiuddin Ahmed, Rashed Khan Menon, Haider Akbar Khan Rono, Ayub Reza Chowdhury and Reza Ali. The procession entered Abdul Gani Road crossing at High Court when police fired at the back of the procession. Babul, a student of Nobo Kumar High School, was killed, while bus conductor Golam Mostofa, domestic worker Waziullah and many others were seriously injured. Waziullah later died in the hospital. The firing at Abdul Gani Road infuriated the processionists who not only included students but also workers and employees of different mills and factories, rickshaw-pullers and boatmen from across the Buriganga river.
It is said that the 1952 Language Movement cultivated the spirit of nationalism and the 1962 Education Movement inculcated as well as infused progressive contents in movements.
A STUDENT-ALL MOVEMENT: Two characteristics of the 1962 Education Movement deserve special mention: firstly, the movement was initiated by the students alone without any outside influence or support. Secondly, the central student leaders could not foresee that such a huge movement was possible based on academic issues and problems faced by the students. The movement calmed down eventually when Opposition Leader H. S. Suhrawardy came over to Dhaka from Karachi during the last leg of the movement. He met East Pakistan Governor Golam Faruk and persuaded him to defer implementation of the Sharif Commission Report.
The '62 education movement provides the lesson that consequences of confrontational attitude in policy decision results in paying heavy price for it. The process of consultation, providing scope for ventilating one's opinion, and accommodating divergent views ultimately pays. True, the procedure of implementation of the education policy of the incumbent government is not free of flaws. Nevertheless, those who are involved in and concerned with education, appreciate the education vision of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Let us take the vow to uphold the theme of the Education Day.
Prof. Quazi Faruque Ahmed was an organiser of '62 education movement and a member of National Education Policy Committee.
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