Famous Gandhian activist Jharna Dhara Chowdhury, who devoted her whole life to promoting peace, communal harmony and social justice, breathed her last yesterday.
She passed away in the capital’s Square Hospital at 6:40am of old-age complications, according to hospital sources. She was 81.
Jharna received the prestigious Padma Shri award (2013), Begum Rokeya Padak (2013), Gandhi Seva Puraskar (2010), Ekushey Padak (2015) and Jamnalal Bajaj Award (1998) for her outstanding contribution for the society.
The Daily Star awarded Jharna Dhara Chowdhury in 2016 to honour her lifelong devotion and commitment to the growth of Bangladesh.
An eminent social activist and secretary of the Gandhi Ashram Trust in Jayag, Noakhali, Bangladesh, Jharna Dhara Chowdhury was born on October 15, 1938 at Lakshmipur.
When she was eight, communal riots broke out between Muslims and Hindus, which forced her and her family to flee to Assam in India. Her house was burnt to ashes and many of her relatives were killed.
Though she came back to her village after the violence subsided, the communal riot left a deep scar in her heart.
The brutality of the riots shocked Mahatma Gandhi too, which led him to rush to the region and go barefoot around villages for about four months preaching the ideals of communal harmony and non-violence until the clashes finally came to an end.
Moved by Indian independence leader Gandhi’s principles, Jharna decided to follow his footsteps.
Although she never met Gandhi, her life was a saga of incessant experiments with the values that Mahatma stood for, and of assiduously following his philosophy.
In line with Gandhian belief that basic education is crucial in order to lift people out of poverty, she and her sister started a school for under-privileged children. She was 17 at the time.
Although they did not have prior experience or proper qualifications to run a school, their initiative was met with an overwhelming response. As they had no money to run the school, they would fast twice a week to save some money to buy books and other items for the children.
But the school had to be closed down within a few years, after which Jharna became a full-time social worker.
She had lived and worked in Dhaka, Chattogram, Cumilla and many other parts of the country. Like many Gandhian followers, she stayed single to focus fully on her work.
In 1990, Jharna took over the responsibility of running the Gandhi Ashram Trust in Jayag, Noakhali.
It has become a centre for various activities, including training programmes for rural women to boost their income, free education for poor children and schemes for poverty alleviation.
The Ashram works steadfastly to maintain peace and harmony between different communities.
Meanwhile, President of Bangladesh Puja Udjapon Parishad Milon Kanti Dutta and General Secretary Nirmal Kumar Chattarjee mourned her death.