The unacknowledged Good Samaritan and ‘Sufi Scientist’ of rural India

Meet Dr Munkir Hossain, a scholar on a mission to empower the girl child and create religious harmony, hopes that one day India will be led by scholars. A Sufi, who fasts almost throughout the year

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Kolkata: If you were to cross him on your way to Birbhum, famous for its terracotta work, you probably wouldn’t give him a second glance. If you saw him tilling the farm land you’ll only see a regular farmer busy at his work. A frail figure in a checked lungi (waist cloth) is a common sight in our country. What is not common though are the achievements of our students from rural India and that too as scientists of international repute.

Yes, of course we have our much admired A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who made his way from a village to achieve great heights as a scientist and went on to become one of India’s most loved and respected Presidents.

Dr Munkir Hossain, the person described above, has been a post doctorate research scholar at various national and international institutes. After schooling from his maternal village at Bhimpur he went to Burdwan University where he did his master’s in Chemistry and followed it up with a PhD and later did post doctorate studies from the prestigious IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Bombay.

Who is Dr Munkir?

“I was born in Khutkail village but there was no school there. Luckily my brother was born soon after my birth so my parents left me at my maternal grandparents’ house in Bhimpur which is just across the Pagla river. There was a primary school too. If that had not happened I would have remained illiterate,” chuckles the scientist as he recalls the fond memories of childhood days.

He credits his teachers at the village school for instilling in him the values he has and the thirst for knowledge that took him to far flung places and universities such as Taiwan and Japan.

Dr Munkir has over 55 research articles published in national as well as international science journals of great repute.

He is revered by all those who know him or have heard of him. The Vice Chancellor of Aliah University and former Professor, Department of Chemistry at Jadavpur University in Kolkata, Md Ali recalls the days at Burdwan University when he had enrolled for his MSc while Dr Munkir was doing his PhD there, “As an academician from such modest background Dr Munkir has definitely been an inspiration for others. I come from a village myself and seeing Dr Munkir do his PhD at that time seemed like a huge achievement in itself. I used to admire his sincerity and his simplicity. He led a simple life and used to be dressed in very simple attire, wearing the modest chappal (bathroom slippers) to class. He had no political leaning nor do I think he discussed religion. Though my interactions with him were very limited.”

After retirement in 2016 as a senior research scholar Dr Munkir opted to come back to his village.

scientist farmer dr munkir hossain west bengal scholar Birbhum
Dr Munkir Hossain with BSM’s Samirul Islam

After retirement, bought lands and providing free education for girls

At 67, he has given away all his earnings for the education of poor children on a 60 bighas (acres) plot of land that he bought in Bhimpur.

Dr Munkir had started his venture with the aim to empower the girl child. But he ran short of money. His objective is to spread secular knowledge and create scholars who will provide honest leadership.

“Out of the 26 students from our first batch which appeared for the WB Board’s Madhyamik examination this year, 25 secured first division. Five of them scored between 90 to 100 percent and six students scored between 80 to 90 percent,” shares the scientist like a father proud of his children’s achievements.

“His achievements as a scholar are unparalleled yet he lives in oblivion. He does not even own a mobile phone. He spent his money getting his brother’s daughters married and with the rest he bought a plot of land to promote education. He is a Sufi scholar, a Saadhak,” says Samirul Islam, Assistant Professor at Shyampur Siddheswari Mahavidyalaya and President of Bangla Sanskriti Mancha.

Future plan: A maternity hospital

That’s not all. Dr. Munkir also wants to set up a Maatri Sadan (Mother and Child care) hospital that will have women administrators and hopefully women doctors as well. The institute at present provides free education from school till the post graduate level besides free hostel facilities. It occupies 37 bighas. The remaining 23 bighas of the plot will be used for the Maatri Sadan.

“Let’s not forget that our mother is our first teacher. It is on her lap that we get to hear stories and tales of good and bad, right and wrong. Habits formed during childhood last long. It lays the foundation for a healthy outlook and consequently a healthy society. As of now only girls from the local village are getting education here because we don’t have hostel facility for them. I’m hopeful that soon, like the boys who come from far off places, they too will be able to get quality education and hostel facility with wholesome food free of cost,” he shares with conviction.

The scholar reminds us that society is an extension of our family. “We need to improve social values. We are losing our heritage and culture. Even the villages are not free from such degradation. My intention is not just to give my country educated individuals but youth who can rise above vices like corruption and greed for money or power,” says the man who chose to remain unmarried so that he would be free to serve society.

Epitome of simple living and high thinking

For his own sustenance he takes farmland on lease from the villagers and cultivates onion and vegetables and also grows mangoes. “I was born in a very poor family. We barely could manage one meal a day. So I’m a light eater and hunger does not bother me. But I don’t want other children to be deprived. The only way to get out of poverty is through education,” says the scientist in answer to how he manages to lead such a frugal life.

All his life he owned only two sets of pants and shirts and has toured across the globe in them.

The man himself fasts for 360 days a year, hasn’t skipped his prayers since the time his primary school teachers taught him how to pray and sleeps at the mosque. He is critical of such religious preachers who spread hate and create rift between communities. He stresses on the importance of secular knowledge combined with spiritual knowledge to tide over all the ills plaguing our society today.

“What we see around us today is a result of ignorance. I hope more people come forward and join hands with others to create a society that is not just secular but one that thrives on peace and prosperity,” says the scientist turned social activist with a conviction that’s difficult to ignore.

Taking a cue from Tagore’s Ekla Chalo Re, which Dr Munkir quoted, the indomitable spirit of the scientist is persistent in its resolve to serve the society. He has joined hands with Bangla Sanskriti Mancha that works for the welfare of downtrodden and has been closely associated with the relief work during the lockdown and cyclone Amphan, to provide the relief works to the affected people.

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