Abul Hasnat Jaffor Ullah, a Remarkable Free-Thinker

Published on Friday, August 23, 2013

I felt deeply sad learning this morning that Dr. A. H. Jaffor Ullah died last night while in a coma. I got the news from Dr. Avijit Roy via his postings in the mukto-mona Bangla blog, in the mukto-mona forum, and on his Facebook page. After learning that he was a personal friend of mine, Dr. Roy, the founder and moderator of mukto-mona, asked me if I could write a piece on Dr. Ullah in the mukto-mona English blog.

I am much obliged to keep Dr. Roy's request.

Dr. Ullah was born in 1948. Thus, he was just about 65 years old at his death. In the modern developed world, that is too young to die. His untimely death is indeed a matter of profound sorrow for not only his family and friends, but also for a lot of people who knew him through his contributions to science as well as to human rights.

I met Dr. Ullah sometime in 1995 when I was doing a summer teaching job at Tulane University. In the summer of 1996, we used to meet quite often. At that time, I was a researcher at the USDA Southern Regional Research Center, away from my regular faculty position at Xavier University, and Dr. Ullah was a senior researcher there. He was actually one of the very few scientists with a GS-15 rank in that big research center. GS (General Schedule) is the predominant pay scale within the US Civil Service, with the highest rank being GS-15. This outstanding position for him was due to his extraordinary accomplishments in enzyme research and discovery.

Both the USDA Southern Regional Research Center and Xavier University are located in New Orleans, Louisiana. During my stay in that city (1995-1997), his family and my family visited each other. I still remember my family being hosted by the Ullah family at the Thanksgiving Day dinner in 1996. He and his family were a cultured bunch, with literary, linguistic and musical talents and activities. They talked in what is considered as standard Bangla by many.

Most of my interactions with Dr. Ullah involved sociopolitical issues. He was the editor of a monthly magazine called Bangla Barta, which he used to send for free to his friends and acquaintances. I was a contributor for that magazine. Internet was in its infancy at the time, and the magazine was all in hard copies.

I do have a few copies of Bangla Barta, and here are some titles of editorial articles written by Dr. Ullah: 1) Farakka Dam or Death Trap, 2) Private Universities in Bangladesh, 3) PM's Trip to the US, 4) Central Bank Should Stay Out of the Stock Market.

We also used to exchange ideas about articles in the then new internet newspaper, News from Bangladesh, where he was a key player, and I was a pretty frequent contributor. His consistent theme was for a secular Bangladesh.

Some  collections of his essays, promoting secular humanity, can be found at the following links:

Mukto-Mona BlogDr. Jaffor Ullah's recent blog posts

Mukto-Mona Old site: Dr. Jaffor Ullah's past writeups in Mukto-mona archive

Jaffor Ullah's Bangla writeups: ড. এ.এইচ. জাফর উল্লাহর বাংলা লেখা

Jaffor Ullah in Other sites:



Many of his  op-eds were published in mainstream papers in Bangladesh (The Daily Star, Bangladesh Observer,  News from Bangladesh and other newspapers/magazines).

My face to face contacts with Dr. Ullah for almost three years were like looking at him through a small window. Of course, in the bigger picture, he was a prolific writer on a vast array of sociopolitical issues over a number of decades. To name a few subjects of his writings, they include the Bangla language movement, causes of the break-up of Pakistan, crimes against humanity committed by the Pakistani military and their collaborators in 1971, the disgrace of cowardly assassinations of the national leaders and their families in Bangladesh, endemic corruption and political impasse in Bangladesh, Islamic fanaticism and terrorism in Bangladesh and Pakistan, Hindu fanaticism in India, threats on secularism by ultra-right Christians in the USA, freedom of thoughts and expressions.

Through all his sociopolitical writings, Dr. Ullah tried to promote human decency, human dignity, human rights, and rational thoughts – all essential ingredients for a just, honorable and peaceful world.

The death of Dr. Ullah is indeed a great loss for the secular voices that originated from Bangladesh. I salute Dr. Ullah for his contributions to rational discourses on human right issues of the Indian subcontinent and of the world.

======================== About the Writer: Sukhamaya Bain is a US citizen who was born in a place that is a part of today's Bangladesh. He earned a Ph.D. degree in Chemistry in 1987, and currently works for the US federal government, evaluating chemistry. While being a scientist by profession, he believes that societal justice is vital for the well-being of mankind. Thus, he occasionally writes on sociopolitical issues.

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