Beside her job as a lawyer, Jinat Sohana Chowdhury in Chattogram has taken upon herself a task having far-reaching social impact – motivating madrasa students against militancy and awakening patriotism in them.
With an aim of containing the spread of militancy in society, she has been organising the Anti-Militancy Alem Ulama Student Conference in Qawmi and other madrasas of the port city and different upazilas in the district for the last one decade.
At the student conferences, madrasa students render the national anthem, chant "Joy Bangla" slogans and hear stories of the Liberation War. They take an oath not to get involved in the politics of violence.
Sohana Chowdhury has faced many challenges in organising such programmes. She has been threatened with death. But she will not give up and continue organising the programmes with indomitable courage and the assistance of some creative people.
Although educational institutions have been closed for about a year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, her student conferences have not stopped.
During the pandemic, the Anti-Militancy Alem Ulama Student Conference has been held on a digital platform. Representatives of various sections of the society, including eminent scholars of the country, have taken part in the programmes. The conference was last held on 3 March.
Sohana's humanitarian work has expanded, even during the difficult times of the pandemic. In Chattogram, she built a 100-bed novel coronavirus isolation centre in 10 days with the assistance of some youths. The centre has provided free treatment to 800 patients, so far, during the pandemic.
Sohana said more than one lakh students from hundreds of Qawmi and other madrasas in Chattogram have heard the history of the Liberation War through the student conferences.
"Where there was an unwritten ban on the performance of the national anthem in madrasas, at the conferences, the students render the national anthem and chant the Joy Bangla slogan. Heroic freedom fighters, academics, officials of different levels of administration, eminent scholars, and ulemas of the country take part in the conferences with an aim to eradicate militancy," she added.
She said the huge number of madrassa students are also partners in the country's development progress.
"If they join the mainstream, Bangladesh will go a long way. If the madrasa students are educated in religious and moral education as well as information technology, they will be able to secure their position in society and contribute to the economic progress of the country. We want to enlighten the backward students who are trapped in a web of ignorance, superstition and religious bigotry," she continued.
Sohana Chowdhury, who is also a lawyer of the Supreme Court, said, "Religion-based politics is practised in the country. A vested quarter in society drives students towards militancy by brainwashing them. The main aim of this conference is to stop the misinterpretation of the holy religion of Islam. Although the conferences are being organised targeting only the madrasa students in Chattogram division, later they will be introduced in schools, colleges and universities."
President of Muktijuddher Bijay Mela Parishad freedom fighter Mohammad Yunus said, "Year after year, a reactionary group has deprived madrasa students of knowing the exact history of the Liberation War. Through the efforts of Jinat Sohana, the madrasa students of Chattogram district are getting the scope to know the exact history behind the creation of Bangladesh. I applaud her initiative and consider her as a worthy successor of the freedom fighters.
Teachers and students of different madrasas see her activity positively. They say the initiative will play a positive role in building a society free from superstition, drugs and militancy. The new generation will get to know the spirit of the Liberation War.
Md Jamal Uddin, a lecturer of Arabic Department of Jamia Amhadia Sunnia Kamil Madrasa in Chattogram, told The Business Standard, "The anti-militancy conferences have been held at our madrasa six times when 7,000 students of the madrasa performed the national anthem in unison. Various inconsistencies of the society, including drugs, have been highlighted during each programme. Due to such initiatives, the students have been getting a moral education."
Miraj Mahmud, a second-year student of Baitush Sharaf Madrasa, said the national anthem was not performed in the madrasa before. "We are learning about the history of the Liberation War because of the anti-militancy conference," he added.
Asked why she initiated the conference, Sohana said, "The country's prime minister came to power in 2008 and announced militancy would be eradicated from the country. As a woman, the announcement to rid the country of militancy inspired me immensely. To be a part of this initiative of the prime minister, I have been working continuously under the direction of Suchinta Bangladesh Chairman Mohammad A Arafat."
Sohana, also coordinator of the Chattogram divisional unit of Suchinta Bangladesh, said educational institutions are the birthplace of moral education. Students need to make sure they return home safely. Everyone needs to work to ensure that no student is sexually harassed.
Born in Raozan upazila in Chattogram, Sohana grew up in the port city.
Sohana said, "Everyone will work for the development of the country from their respective positions. The working environment of women has been created. It will be easier to work if you see women as human beings and not as women."
Sohana is working as an additional public prosecutor in the Chattogram court. In 2015, she was elected an executive member of the Chittagong District Bar Association. She is also working as a member of the Sexual Harassment Committee at Chittagong University. She is now involved, for the third time in a row, as a private prison inspector.