Interview with Dr. R S Dewan, the spokesperson of PCJSS

Picture: Dr. Ramendu Shekhar Dewan

The interview of Ramendu Shekhar Dewan was taken and transcribed by Mangal Kumar Chakma.

The PCJSS representative team comprising of Ushatan Talukder MP and also Vice-President of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) and Mangal Kumar Chakma, Information and Publicuty Secretary of the PCJSS while on an advocay mission in United Kindom (UK) on 18-25 June 2016 to conduct campaign for the implementation of the CHT Accord, paid a visit to Manchester and called on Dr. Ramendu Shekhar Dewan (Dr. R S Dewan), the spokesperson of PCJSS on Friday, 24 June. Manchester city is 200 miles away of London. Mr. Dewan lives in a government apartment in Salford of Manchester city. The PCJSS representative team, escorted by Subrata Chakma and Prabir Shankar Chakma in Subrata Chakma’s car, left Nantu Chakma’s apartment of Upminister at 9:00 am and reached Dr. Dewan’s apartment around 4:00 pm. After having discussion for two hours with him, the team left at 6:00 pm and returned to Nantu Chakma’s apartment at 10:00 pm.  
It is my pleasure to introduce that Subrata Chakma is an Engineer of InformationTechnology. At certain time, his father had served as a member of Shanti Bahini, an armed wing of PCJSS. Subrata Chakma along with family lives in Essex – an outskirt of London. Co-passenger Prabir Shankar Chakma, from Tabalchhari of Rangamati, is now a resident of UK. After completion of Civil Engineering Scholarship in Bulgaria, he settled in UK some 15/16 years back. In personal life, he is a celibacy.
Picture: The author Mangal Kumar Chakma with Dr. Ramendu Shekhar Dewan
The summer has just begun in UK vis-a-vis Europe. But the weather hardly ensures a guarantee. If it is sunny, soon it pours in heavy rains. So, one has to keep both umbrella and warm clothes, etc. under own possession. It was a fine sunny morning when we started from Nantu Babu’s flat. But as we were moving towards Manchester with Subrata’s skilled driving, so was the droppings of heavy rains. Especially, as we pass by Birmingham, the 2nd largest city of England, we came across the heavy rain fall. So, Subrata was driving with utmost care. Besides, Dr. Dewan cautioned Nantu Babu by cell phone to ask Subrata to drive carefully and slowly. Consequently, the team was a bit late in reaching Manchester.

Dr. Ramendu Shekhar Dewan who is better known as Dr. R S Dewan, is a true patriot and a man of struggle. He is one of the pioneers engaged in international campaign standing by side of the Jumma people struggling for their right to self-determination. It is through him, the international campaign for favour of rights of the Jumma people had its debut in UK and Europe the campaign of which spread throughout the globe and with participation of the young generation, the campaign gradually turned into one of the supplementary forces of struggle. In personal life, Dr. R S Dewan is a very honest, sincere and habituated with simple living. Despite living in UK, thousands of miles away from his own motherland, yet love and attraction of life for own land and people got lessened for not a single bit. He did not throw himself into stream of consumerist culture in western lifestyle by giving in his own comfort and lifestyle.

After completion of his PhD degree in Chemistry, instead of vying for the alluring jobs, he opted for a financially hard-some life with subsistence allowance given to the unemployed by the British-government and that way he fought for his country and people. As he had sacrificed himself on the altar of struggle for the Jumma nation, Dr. Dewan did not tie the wedding knot in his personal life. He leads a simple life in a two-room house allotted by the British government. He is a person accustomed to a solitary life. On receiving the arrival message of the PCJSS representative team, he gave his consent for an interview. Hence, meeting him and gaining an opportunity for interview can be considered as a rarity.

Dr. R S Dewan was born on 17 January 1932, in Khabongpojya village of present Khagrachhari Hill District. Father is Ramesh Chandra Dewan and mother is Chandra Mukhi Dewan. He is the sixth of four sons and three daughters of the parents. The dream of the parents was that when he grows up, he will one day make the name of the family bright. So, his parents used to call him Kulkusum. He has grown up to be so. His primary education began at Khabongpojya Government Primary School. He was very meritorious during his studenthood. He attained government scholarship right at standard-II in which he admitted. Chitto Kishore Chakma, one of the then educationist, struggling and progressive personalities of CHT, brought Dr. Dewan in his self-established and run Mohaprum Middle English School and got him admitted in Standard-III.

Picture: Dr. Ushatan Talukder with Ramendu Shekhar Dewan at his apartment with campaign documents

The architect of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS), Manabendra Narayan Larma and Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma’s father Chitta Kishore Chakma was the brother-in-law of R S Dewan. Krishna Kishore Chakma, a school inspector and a pioneer in the field of education in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, was elder brother of Dr. Dewan’s brother-in-law. The two brothers, Krishna Kishore Chakma and Chitta Kishore Chakma, started the work of spreading education among the backward people of the hills from this Mahaprum.  So, it would not be an exaggeration to call Mahaprum the birthplace of education in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Chitta Kishore Chakma was the headmaster of Mahaprum Middle English School at that time.

Dr. Dewan stood first and once again attained scholarship in Standard-VI from this Mahaprum Middle English School. He then admitted at Rangamati Government High School in the 7th grade and he passed the Matriculation Examination in science group in 1953 securing the first place in the first division group. At that time, his classmates were Nabin Kumar Tripura (Khagrachari), a well-known teacher of Khagrachhari High School, Konglachai Chowdhury (Khagrachari), Mrinal Kanti Chakma (Khabongpujya) and Dr. Subrata Chakma (Rangamati) etc.

After completed matriculation, he was admitted in the higher secondary class of Chittagong Government College and from that college he passed the higher secondary in the first division in the year 1955-56. Recalling the past, he informed that one of his friends had an attempt to harm his career at the eve of the HSC final examination, for an unknown reason. Just several days ahead of the examination, his friend informed him a false news of receiving a telegram containing death message of Dr. Dewan’s father. Consequently, as he had to rush to home, appearing in the scheduled examination could not have been possible. He had to appear his examination in the following year.

He then got admitted to Ahsan Ullah Engineering College in Dhaka. After studying at the institute for two years, he dropped out of engineering in 1957 before completing the course as he could not concentrate on the subject. In the same year, he took a job at the Kaptai Dam construction institute, UTAH Company. Due to his keen interest in education, he could not concentrate on the job. After working for a year, he quit his job and in 1958 he got admitted to Dhaka University with Chemistry (Honors). He completed his graduation with honours in 1961 and Masters Degree in 1962 in that university. The then noted student leader and at present President of Bangladesh Workers Party, Rashed Khan Menon was his batch mate.

After completion of studies, he worked under the renowned scientist Dr. Muhammed Qudrat-E-Khuda. It is learnt that he had been under surveillance of intelligence department for being involved in student politics. During that time, the intelligence agency alleged with Dr. Qudrat-E-Khuda against Dr. Dewan to have been involved in anti-state activities. Consequently, at certain phase, Dr. Kudrat-E-Khuda asked him to step down from his job. He vehemently protested and refused to step down. Also he completely refused the allegation of being involved in anti-state activities. He apprised Dr. Qudrat-E-Khuda that he would challenge against the allegation in the court of law. He recalled that some students from amongst the contemporary Jumma students had linkage with the intelligence agency as informers and he had a doubt that those students might have brought such allegation against him.

By then, he met with the then DIB Director (a Punjabi by ethnicity) and offered a challenge against the allegation brought forth. The officer treated him with harsh words and mannerism and intimidated him of various consequences. The dealing that the officer offered him was so tempered, as if, he would have killed Dr. Dewan.

He admitted that he got involved in politics during his studying days in Rangamati. While studying in Chittagong, he worked as General Secretary of Hill (Jumma) Students Association. He recalled that many of his teachers and followers including Chitta Kishore Chakma, Charu Bikash Chakma, Sudhangshu Shekhar Chakma, Sureshwar Chakma, Salil Roy inspired him to get involve in politics.

Picture: (from left) Mangal Kumar Chakma, Ushatan Talukder and Prabir Shankar Chakma with Dr. Ramendu Shekhar Dewan at the premises of the apartment.

Dr. Dewan recalled the Head Master of Mahaprum Middle English School, Chitto Kishore Chakma who would adore him very much. In one side, he was Dr. Dewan’s brother-in-law (sister’s husband) while a teacher, on the other side. It was he who inspired Dr. Dewan in politics and it was for that reason he would encourage Dr. Dewan to study well. He would advice Dr. Dewan to get involve in politics as to stand firmly against the oppression of Jumma people under the governance and exploitation of feudalists and the ruling class of different nationals. Dr. Dewan decided to complete his Honors-Masters and then to go to England wherein working would be advantageous. He assumed, by doing so, it would to be easy to work at international level and planned accordingly.

From Chitto Kishore Chakma, his teacher, Dr. Dewan lerant the lesson that he would need to employ hard labour for the country and nation. He added that from his teacher, he had been enlightened in many spheres in life. He was inspired to undergo the initiation that goes: “Serving the nation is one of the principal deeds of an individual.” Having gone through many books of the great personalities including that of Mahatma Gandhi and JawaharLal Nehru, he derived inspiration and vowed to go with politics.

Chitta Kishore Chakma advised him to study law. But he had more interest in science than studying law. So, he received higher education in organic chemistry. When he paid a visit to India in 1990s, he wrote his last letter to his teacher Chitto Kishore Chakma conveying his respect and informing him that having been inspired, he had been serving for the nation.

He set sail for England to study MPhil in Chemistry on 3 November 1967. He began his sudying MPhil in Queen Elizabeth College under London University. To maintain his educational expenses, he took a job under ‘Bush Boake Allen’ Company. One retired Lt. Col. Henry B Heath helped him get the job. By then the retired army officer was working with the company as Manager. During the World War-II, the army officer was deployed in CHT. He was awarded the title ‘Member of British Empire’ for his heroic role during World War-II.

Dr. Dewan recalled that during the World War-II, his brother Binode Lal Dewan and his brother-in-law (sister’s husband) Khagendra Lal Chakma were in services with the British army. After the war, Binode Lal Dewan was absorbed in a job under Burma Service. During the World War-II, the Jumma people had assisted the British army to a large extent. The British army received help from the Jumma people in hauling ration, ammunitions, explosives and various other consumable goods. Dr. Dewan made PCJSS representatives known that a British soldier had to manpack articles weighing 25 kg and with it he would have to travel 25 kilometers in a day. After learning identity of Dr. Dewn as an inhabitant of CHT, Lt. Col. Henry B Heath expressed his gratitude towards the Jumma people and as a gesture of gratitude, he arranged a job for Dr. Dewan under Bush Boake Allen Company. He served in the company for 6 years.

Dr. Dewan got admitted in MPhil post Masters Degree in Queens Elizabeth College under Dr. Terry A. Rohan in 1968. This took him 4 years to complete the course. During his studying MPhil, he had contacts with the Jumma people. By then, in 1974, while the then Member of Parliament M N Larma paid a visit to London to attend the Commonwealth Conference as a Parliamentary Rrepresentative of the government, contacted with Dr. Dewan and called upon him to wage international campaign for favor of the Jumma movement. Responding to his call, Dr. Dewan quited his job and plunged into the movement for all time.

Picture: (from left) Ushatan Talukder, Subrata Chakma and Prabir Shankar Chakma with Dr. Ramendu Shekhar Dewan

After completion of MPhil, he began PhD in Salford University. Alongside, he continued to carry out relentless campaign in favour of the Jumma movement for right to self-determination. The money that he received as salary during his service under Bush Boake Allen Company, in one hand, he maintained the educational expenses for PhD while bearing the expenses for the campaign. He recalled that in one end he had to concentrate for studies while doing campaign work for day and night, his health got declined to a considerable extent. On the othr side, the money he deposited got almost exhausted. Due to heavy pressure of campaign-work load, study for PhD preparation began to hamper.

Under this ciscumstance, having known the financial constraint, his Professor advised him to apply for Social benefit and to submit his thesis paper and complete his PhD by quickest possible time. Accordingly, Dr. Dewan completed his paper at the earliest and submitted the thesis. He obtained his PhD degree in 1980. His main research work was on Perfume and Flavor of Ginger, Cardamom (Elach), etc. Meanwhile, as per his appeal, the Brithish government granted Social Benefit for him. By then he would receive 6 pounds per week as Social Benefit. Now, he receives 138 pounds per week – he dded.

By then, after receiving Social Benefit, he could purchase needful extent of food. Consequently, his health began to recover gradually. Before this, he could not afford milk for want of money. He would stay half-fed with bread only. He has never smoked in life; nor has he ever taken liquor either, though being in western life. He does not watch cinema. He told that he has to pass life through austerity with a limited allowance.

By then he called upon the overseas Jumma people to organize a fund at international level for advocacy campaign. With exception to a few, most of the Jummas did not step forward; all remained busy with their own families – he added. Without exposing the name, Dr. Dewan mentioned that one gentleman asked him to give up campaign work and to go for a job. At that time, it would need 2500 to 3000 pounds in a year for international advocacy campaign. He urged in despair saying: the Jumma people were hesitant even sparing that sort of meagre amount for the great job. However, he admits that even though their contribution had been little, several Jummas came forward. In fact, it was none other than the British government, addressed the expenses of the campaign indirectly and saying so, he expressed his gratitude to the British people. Out of the amount of social benefit that he would get from the British government, he would save a sum with which he has been continuing to meet the expense of advocacy campaign as yet. 

Dr. Dewan brought out the names of international human rights organizations and individuals from who he had obtained assistance at global level. The first one that he had contacted was Anti-Slavery Society. Particularly, Mr. Peter Davis, one of the human rights activists of the organization helped him. Besides, he mentioned the organization named Quaker Peace Service (QPS) with special reference. It was on his request, a meeting was held at the London-based office of QPS on CHT. He also mentioned the names of Survival International and Amnesty International, which came forward in articulating the issue of CHT. As a part of advocacy campaign, from among the Jumma people, it was Dr. Dewan who had been the first to go to the United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner’s Headquarters in Geneva in 1984. He delivered a speech on human rights situation of CHT in the Session of Working Group on Indigenous Populations (WGIP) under Sub-Commission on Prevention of Disrimination and Protection of Minorities. By then, Ven. Aggavamsa Mahathera also participated in the meeting – he recalled.

Picture: Dr. Ramendu Shekhar Dewan

He would send report to Lord Avebury, Member of the House of Lords regularly. Lord Avebury also would carry out dissemination based on his report. Though he had contact allthrough 7/8 years, probably it was in 2008/2009, he had met Lord Avebury the first and last time – he added.  

Towards 70s and 80s, at the primary phase, when he had embarked upon advocacy campaign and had a contact with the British government, by then many in the government would ask for his accredition. Later on, PCJSS sent his credential as Spokesman of the organization. He informed that as a result of receiving the credential, it became easier and advantageous to carryout advocacy campaign throughout Europe including the UK. For this, he expressed his thanks and gratitude to PCJSS leadership, particularly, to Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma, the present President of PCJSS. He would receive directives through various eans from Mr. Larma regularly – he added. 

He told, although he had enormous interest in science but he could not fulfill his dream for having involved in the movement. He would cherish strong eagerness to research on various species lying with the treasure of natural plants in CHT. As part of his PhD thesis, he had choosen Perfume and Flavour of Ginger, Cardamom, etc. He would love to consider himself as an apprentice Scientist. He informed that it was he who had given the patent on Flavour of the raw onion. He also added that in his research, he had been able to segregate the flavor from the onion.

Recalling an event that had developed interest in Chemistry, he said that Bosundhara Dewan, one of his relatives during her childhood studies in Khagrachari had suffered from knee-joint pain and so much so that even she could not walk. Consequently, her going to school had become almost stop. By that time, Basundhara’s mother (called mother of Binetra) called in a ‘Boidyo,’ a local indigenous physician. The boidyo gave her a piece of root to her. The knee-joint pain of Basundhara Dewan got completely cured with application of the root. The root was collected from a plant locally called ‘Borona’ plant. From this Dr. Dewan had an idea that medicinal values are abundant in the jungle plants, which remain undiscovered. He would think of conducting scientific research that could serve the medical science and this had ignited his quench for studying Chemistry – he added.

He goes to library regularly for campaign’s sake. He employs his effort to know and collect information on international affairs including the situation of CHT as well as Bangladesh. He continued saying that based on the data and information he accumulates, he is still continuing advocacy campaign.  

As part of the austerity, he disconnected the electric service from his rooms. The money that he saves out of sacrificing electricity, is spent for the campaign work. When asked as to how he passes his days without electricity and heater in the land of winter, throwing counter question, he said: “If the PCJSS activists can endure coldness staying and moving in the jungle and hill streams, then why I would not be able to stay inside without electricity and heater?” He insisted saying that the cold can be endured, if warm is maintained around the head and chest. He wears warm cap, banyon, shirt, sweater, jacket and overcoat. If cold is felt more, he goes to library.

He is a good person and helpful to others. While saving some amount from the government allowance, he spends not only for the international advocacy campaign but also he helps out close relatives and distressed in bad weather. He comes first in any social initiative. In Paris, as the Jumma people had an initiative to construct a Buddhist temple, it was learnt that he had donated a sound amount.

He does not cook for him. He subjugates hunger by taking bread, raw vegetables and fruits. He maintained that raw vegetables and fruits are beneficial to health. He cited an illustration saying that the food value remains intact if it is taken raw and with it, health goes well. He takes mousur dal after getting it soaked in water. He opined that this process is healthy. He said that eating ripe banana with bark is very beneficial for health. If bark of ripe banana is eaten, then Bowel would get clear. If bowels get clear, cancer does not occur. According to him, bowels helps cancer get settled. Bark of a ripe banana clears the bowels, he said. He claimed that he is leading a hale and healthy life by taking the foodstuff raw. Owing to financial constraint, there is no chance to go for fish and meat – he said. Instead, he takes nuts sufficiently. He informed that the nuts that are choosen for the birds and animals, are very cheap and contains protein and food values. So, he buys the nuts fixed for birds and animals and eats them. This escalates the body energy, keeps the health well and it does not invite ailments.

Uptil now, he sends report and writes to 300 persons regularly, as part of the international campaign. He uses manual typewriter and sends the write-ups by post. The apartment granted to him by the government comprises two rooms and one kitchen. Both the rooms are cramped with the documents used in international advocacy campaign. Since he does not possess Almirah or recks, he keeps those papers carefully in orderly manner on the floor. He saves money from the government granted Social Benefit for campaign. He does his haircut by himself to save the money; he washes clothes, himself; and he mends clothes, himself. He goes to libray regularly for collection of information and data for preparation of reports. Maximum time gets consumed in typing. He has to do all those work by himself. There is none to help him out in doing those work. So, he passes most time of the day remaining awfully busy – he said. At the age touching 80, as of today, he is working silently for right of self-determination of the Jumma people relentlessly with firmness and without pause like a lively young man.

He became very happy to welcome the PCJSS representatives at his residence and expressed his gratitude repeatedly. He became too overwhelmed with emotion. He thanked with gratefulness to PCJSS and its work force for waging uncompromising struggle for right to self-determination of the Jumma people. He expressed his opinion saying that the movement of PCJSS is going along the right track. He opined with firmness saying that if the unity of Jumma people remains integrated and all can work together, the right of Jumma people will surely be attained. He also expressed his intention to hand over all the international advocacy documents stored with him to PCJSS. He cherishes a dream to establish a ‘Jumma National Library and Museum’ and for this he requested PCJSS to undertake necessary measure.