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Bangladesh : Jharna Dhara Chowdhury

Her legacy is every life she has touched


by Anwar A. Khan

Social worker jobs allow one to help and make a notable difference in the everyday lives of people and communities. A social worker strives to improve not only the wellbeing, but also the quality of life of couples, communities, individual persons and families. They do this by using a number of techniques including direct practice, policy planning, community development programmes, and research and crisis intervention.

This career is all about the right of humans and social justice, helping people, families, communities and groups to help themselves through helping them to develop their abilities, potential and resources.

Jharna Dhara Chowdhury
An octogenarian eminent social activist and secretary of the Gandhi Ashram Trust in Jayag, Noakhali, Bangladesh, JharnaDhara Chowdhury passed away on 27th June 2019 in Dhaka. Born on October 15, 1938 at Lakshmipur, Bangladesh, she devoted her whole life to promoting peace, communal harmony and social justice.She was deeply influenced by Gandhian principles of non-violence and communal harmony.

Those people in social work know that social work is so much more than just a job. It is a passion and many reflect on it as a calling. JaharnaDhara was grateful to be in the social work field that so closely allowed her to live with her values through her day to day work.

One of the most amazing things about social work is being present in people’s lives during moments that are generally not shared with others. It is truly humbling and most definitely a privilege for Chowdhury. It is a good reminder when times are tough that staying compassionate and putting people first might be making more of a difference than one will ever know.

Focused on the wellbeing of individual people, she was always veryactive within this field providing services in order to relieve suffering in communities.Jaharna’s other areas of work include schools as well as communities as a whole dealing with issues that range from housing and rehabilitation to child care and the elderly.

In recognition of her work, JharnaDhara Chowdhury was honoured with Padma Shri by the Indian Government in 2013. India’s acting High Commissioner to Bangladesh BishwadipDey paid his respects to this eminent Gandhiansocial worker who passed away in Dhaka at the age of 80. He also laid a flower wreath and wrote a condolence message for the departed soul. She was awarded Jamnalal Bajaj award in 1998. She also received many other prestigious awards like Begum RokeyaPadak, Gandhi SevaPuraskar and EkusheyPadak.
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The Gandhi Ashram Trust in Jayag, Noakhali conducts skill enhancing training programme for women to boost their income and provides free education for poor children. And she was the driving force behind all such commendable services.

JharnaDhara Chowdhury devoted her whole life to promoting peace, communal harmony and social justice in Bangladesh.

This prominent social activist was born on October 15, 1938 at Laxmipur, Bangladesh. At the age of eight, JharnaDhara fled to Assam in India with her family as communal riots broke out between Muslims and Hindus in the Indian sub-continent during the British regime. In the riot, her house was burnt to ashes and many of her relatives were killed. She, however, returned to her village after the violence ended.

Jharna was moved by Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals of non-violence, self-reliance and community work, and decided to follow in his footsteps.

When she was 17 years old, Jharna along with her sister began a school for the under-privileged children. They would fast twice a week to save some money to buy books and other items for the children because they had no money to run the school.

But the school had to be closed down within a few years, after which JharnaDhara became a full-time social worker. She lived and worked in Dhaka, Chittagong, Comilla and many other places 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, Bangladesh. She also travelled frequently around villages in the Noakhali region to improve the lives of Dalits, who are at the bottom of the centuries-old Hindu caste system.

She was a proven leader in social work. It is important to recognise the contributions of those who strove for societal progress before us. The extremely prolific social worker advocated helped establish the necessary momentum for societal progress and has positively affected the lives of millions of people around Bangladesh.

She was a lifelong social worker with a tremendous positive impact.She has advocated for people of all races, nationalities, and ethnicities, and worked until her death.

She said, “We have to improve life, not just for those who have the most skills and those who know how to manipulate the system, but also for those who often have so much to give but never get the opportunity.”She never cared about to get the credit. What she cared about was the cause and the cause of justice, the cause of equality, the cause of opportunity, and freedom’s cause.”

She was born to the world of Bangladesh to see her life’s work as one of connection, forging partnerships both within and across the under-privileged people to create the visionary and engaged leadership that is critical to ensuring that all fulfill their highest potential.

“Every human is our brother or sister, and every human’s burden is our own. Where poverty exists, all are poorer. Where hate flourishes, all are corrupted. Where injustice reins, all are unequal” – she strongly believes in this core principle.

Social workers in this helping profession generally are not looking for fame or fortune. They work diligently in their communities to right social wrongs with little recognition. She acknowledged that her work in the area of social and economic justice is motivated by her mentor great Gandhiji. M.K. Gandhi was her favorite passage and serves as the framework for her desire to do more for people of all religions.

Serving as both advocates and agents of social change, humanism, and people’s liberation, she embraced a Bangladesh-centred philosophical and conceptual framework which firmly connects her to and within the Bangladesh world community. While occupying the space of humankind progenitors, we command a view which affords us simultaneous vantage points emanating both inward and outward from the genesis of Bangladesh’s and into the future of civilisation.

Social work is a profession that has seen many female pioneers across the world makes lasting changes over the years.Perhaps the most famous and decorated female social worker in our country is JharnaDhara Chowdhury.

She like women identified their passions through their experience as social workers, moving on to historic accomplishments in academia, policy, professionalisation and peace. Dalai Lama has aptly said, “It is not enough to be compassionate. You must act” and JharnaDhara acted righteously to uplift the most ordinary people to the honourable place by dint of her tireless dedicated services.

Action begins with a desire. Naturally, heartfelt compassion leads to action. The vulnerable and disadvantaged in this world need more than pity—they need to see love operate selflessly and sacrificially.

Great Helen Keller’s words are pertinent here, “All social workers are created equal. And all social workers are created different. Together, the differences form a harmony singing a well-orchestrated melody. The beauty is in the harmony.”

It is much easier to forget your personal woes when you are serving the needs of those around you. For social workers, the needs can be overwhelming. But regardless of the results, the career rewards are intangible. And for Chowdhury, payoffs were impalpable.

Social workers dare to speak what has not yet been said. They dare to challenge the powerful and intimidating. They might sometimes fail to protect the innocent and vulnerable, but they refuse to stay silent.The world can seem like a big, scary place for children, troubled teens, abused women, and homeless individuals. A safer, more protective home begins with one person, in one home.JharnaDhara Chowdhury was such a simulating character.

JharnaDharaspent her entire life trying to make life easier and better for underprivileged people. Her stories are sure to give you the inspiration that you need to see the amazing rewards that go along with dedicating her life to such selfless work and to make it through her indefatigable struggles.

Preserving rights, strengthening voices this is the social worker’s call to improve the society we live in by helping to meet the needs of all. She always strived to empower those who once had no voice
By showing them their options and allowing them to make their own choice.Through her advocacy, service delivery and education, she has opened doors of access and opportunity, particularly to those in great need. And we hope their lives will flourish because she has planted a seed.

The quality of life of hundreds of thousands is improved when her people work as a team. Preserving rights, strengthening voices — happens when social workers are on the scene.Social workers are dedicated advocates who are always ready to fight for human, civil, women’s, children’s, crime victims’ and seniors’ rights. Whether we work with families, communities, groups or individuals one by one, the commitment of social workers like JharnaDhara can never be undone.

And in the field of aging social workers can be found working everywhere with caregivers, elder abuse victims, in senior centers and in home care.Whether at a government agency or as one of the partners in the community out there, the love for the people and social work is what we all share.

So, we must honor all social workers especially JharnaDhara Chowdhury who have chosen to serve across the country, especially in the greater Noakhali District. Social work matters and that’s the power of social work!

Today we continue to confront many of the same social problems that have plagued our ancestors, while religious intolerance and discrimination remain stifling, painful, and cumulative. She like social workers engaged in practice has helped us to better understand society and its response to people of all religions. Their work also has provided a model for practice and service delivery. Many social workers are building on the work that our pioneers began. Their work is valuable and important, but it is not enough.

Like our JharnaDhara who has committed herself to this area challenges the larger social work profession to confront the hegemony of systemic oppression as it exists on all levels. The profession’s ability to respond to the problems that continue to face Bangladesh’s people and other people of all religions will be a testimony to our pioneers’ legacy.

Chowdhury has served the poor communities, defined social work practice, developed programming, and originated benevolent works to uplift individuals and families. As we remember Bangladesh’s social work history, let us not forget her contributions in the social upliftment field. She might be laurelled as the "Angel of the Battlefield” for her outstanding social work services in Bangladesh.
To our social work friends—thank you for all you do day in and day out. We know it can often be challenging and there are almost never enough hours in the day to get everything done. We hope you know that you are making a difference and on days,hopefully, you will feel a renewed spirit.

-The End –

The writer is a senior citizen of Bangladesh, writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and international affairs

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