About 70,000 Manipuris live in Kamalganj upazila in the district of Moulvibazar in Sylhet, and their literacy rate is now above 95%. The artisan behind this education revolution is Rasmoy Mohant Sir who has illuminated a backward upazila with almost single effort.
"The dream of many people in the region of going to college may not have been realised if he had not pursued his dream of education for all and established a college. The light of education has touched thousands," said Swapan Kumar Singh, a student of Rasmoy Mohant Sir, now an assistant professor at Habiganj Sheikh Hasina Medical College.
Kamalganj Upazila is home to 16 ethnic groups including Manipuri, Khasia and Garo, as well as about 80 ethnic groups related to tea gardens. Education was first and foremost needed to keep these ethnic groups, lagging in education, in the mainstream of society, which Rasmoy Mohant has done.
Even with outstanding results in secondary and higher secondary examinations, Rasmoy did not pursue lucrative jobs. Instead he taught voluntarily. He used to walk six kilometres along muddy roads every day to teach, and his love for society made him respected by all.
He was born in 1947 to a peasant family – Congress volunteers Bardakanta and Subhashini – at Ghoshpur in Kamalganj. He was a very talented student. In 1964, he got eighth position in the merit list of the matriculation examination from the Cumilla Board of Education. In 1966, he got 13th position in the merit list of the same education board in the HSC examination from Murari Chand (MC) College, Sylhet.
He got a Master's degree in Economics from the University of Chittagong in 1970. During the turbulent days of 1971, he moved to the refugee camp in India and started teaching there.
Returning to the independent country, without thinking about jobs, he thought it was necessary to increase the quality of education first for the development of the area, and focused on social reforms. He thought teaching was the best profession for this purpose.
After discussing with all the elders and youths of the area, he set up Shaheed Smriti Junior High School in Shankarpur village, a remote area of Shamsernagar Union in Kamalganj. But after the war, when people had no money in their pockets and no food at home, it was very challenging for them to keep the school running. Rasmoy Sir worked day and night, went from house to house and begged to keep the school running.
Most of the students would drop out after SSC as there was no college. Besides, due to the lack of a good communication system, the students of this area could not go to any distant college. So Rasmoy Mohant first initiated building a college there.
Rasmoy Mohant first initiated building a college there.
He went to Mohammad Ilyas, a local student leader of the 1952 language movement and organiser of the liberation war, with the proposal to build a college. Ilyas promised all kinds of help.
With great enthusiasm, he set out to build the college. He visited the area and met the people, young and old, and involved the masses in the construction of the college.
He got help from some old students who have passed university, including a current member of parliament of Maulvibazar-4 Md Abdus Shahid and present upazila chairman Professor Rafiqul Islam.
As Kamalganj Gono Mahavidyalaya was built with the help of the people, the locals gave the responsibility to Rasmoy Mohant as the principal of this college. After teaching during the day, Rasmoy Sir used to run from house to house at night to encourage meritorious students.
Before the war of independence, there were very few doctors, engineers, administrators, and teachers in this town from rich families.
With such an initiative, education began to spread even among the backward tea workers. Sudhakar Kairi, who is now a well-known gynaecologist, passed HSC in the first class. Rasmoy used to go to his house and inspire him.
Dr Sudhakar Kairi said, "I can't express the contribution of Sir [Rasmoy Mohant] in a few words. All the people of this area will remember his contribution forever."
In the past, there were hardly any SSC graduates among backward communities in the area, such as Shabdokar and ethnic groups in tea garden societies. They were even considered low cast and people did not want to mix with them.
As a result, Atma Unnayan Samiti (Self Development Samiti) was formed in 1995 to improve the social, mental and financial condition of this oppressed class. Many teachers such as Sultana Nahar, Abdur Razzak, Ahmad Siraj and others helped him in this work.
This talented teacher, who has been shining the light of lifelong learning, retired in 2008, but that was only on paper. He is still working for education in different ways, and his home has become an undeclared educational institution. He joined another college in 2017 at the request of the founders, but could not go there after a month and a half due to ill health. Currently, he spends time writing.
Rasmoy Mohant said there is no satisfaction or frustration with his life. What he did was out of a sense of responsibility.
"I believe the work is mine but the result is not mine. People will evaluate what the result is. I used to eat pulses and rice in my student life, and I still do that."
"There is no frustration with the fact that I have no house in the city or a car. I am a villager living in the village, and I have received the love of the people."
Talking about the barriers to becoming a teacher, he said, "We have all the obstacles in our country, but if we want to do good work, we have to overcome all these obstacles. You cannot stop. Some people will create new obstacles that need to be avoided tactically."
He has a strong point about coaching education, "Coaching is an obstacle to ensuring education for all."
He has never set up any coaching centre. "Sincere teachers are declining day by day and education is being commercialised. As a result, the coaching business is coming to the fore."
Rasmoy Mohant, a father of one son, said, "My daughter is happy with her husband. My son has finished his MBA but has not got a good job. As a parent, I didn't notice much. And, I cannot do what needs to be done to get a job nowadays."
Rasmoy Mohant is writing his autobiography, but in the meantime, 20 books written by him have been published.