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Roger Gwynn

When I graduated from university, I did not want to start any job just after that. My plan was to work as a voluntary worker in a different country. Fortunately, I was sent to Pakistan. It was Pakistan at that time. My work was with local volunteers in Pakistan. Whatever they were doing I was doing the same. At first, I was sent to West Pakistan and I was there only for a few days, approximately two weeks. Then I was sent to East Pakistan. I developed a very good relationship with the local volunteers there. They accepted me as their ‘brother’. They used to invite me to their houses, they let me stay in their houses as well. I enjoyed it a lot and I was there for nearly one year and was working with them. The works were mainly to maintain village roads, clean ponds, and distribute relief during natural disasters. After one year I came back to the UK. But I went back again to East Pakistan as I enjoyed it a lot. I passed another one and a half years working as a volunteer. All together I was there in East Pakistan for two and half years. Then I came back to the UK and my plan was to do teacher training and work as a teacher. There were different colleges to do teachers’ training and I had chosen Birmingham, St. Peter College. I knew that there were lots of Bengalis (East Pakistani at that time) in Birmingham and that the community was quite big.  It was the main reason to choose Birmingham.  After finishing my course, I started a job at a School in Birmingham. I rented a room at an East Pakistani Lodging House. The Landlord was a ‘Lascar’. He used to work on a ship. Then he settled in Birmingham and worked in a factory. His name was Arshod Ali and he was known as ‘Tendol’.  He used to work on a ship and his role was called ‘Tendol’.   Anyway, there were other lodgers and they used to work in different factories and businesses. This is how I started to be around and work with the Bangladeshi Community in Birmingham. I was a ‘mashtor’ which means Teacher. Within a few days people knew that there is an English mashtor living in Arshod Ali’s house. They knew their children can get support to learn English from this Mashtor. At that time, Bengali people did not bring their family in the UK. Few Bengali people started to bring their eldest sons to the UK so that they can work here in the UK and earn money for their families.  I started to teach a few boys at that time. Then I started to support in other areas as well like form fillings, translations, attending different offices, interpretations, support in general etc. This is how a friendly relationship developed with the community. It was 1969-70, I was working in a school in the local area and I was staying with the community as well. I was doing lots of work with lots of people. When the movement for independence started in East Pakistan and Bengali people started to be involved in Birmingham, I started to be involved as well. Aiyub government was removed. The new government came to power and there was a lot of uncertainty about if the new government would recognise and accept the rights of the Bengalis, and how the future of the Bengalis will be formed. There were lots of movement regarding this.  There were meetings in Birmingham, different groups were working. The majority of the people were supporting Sheikh Mujhib and the Awami League. Majority of the people wanted to have at least autonomy, if independence had not been achieved. I used to go to different meetings and listen to all the debates. There was a big cyclone at the end of 70 and thousands of people died in coastal areas. Yahya government was in power at that time but Yahya government was not supporting the people at that time. West Pakistani government was not arranging any relief initiative for the East Pakistanis. General people were not happy about this lack of initiative by the West and became angry about it. They realised that they have to take initiative for their future and not depend on the western side of the Pakistani government. Sheikh Mujib was articulating this to have control on their hand for their future. Then the March came with a big speech. We heard it from Birmingham. Then all of a sudden military crackdown on the 25th of March started. It created a lightening effect in the community. Touching and injustice were so much that people started to plan to do something about it. Everybody in Birmingham, and from other cities came together in Small Heath Park. People did not wait for invitations or call. There were few leaders on stage who updated the crowd to form an ‘Action Committee’ to stage protest, and campaign for the liberation war. On the other side, an initiative had been taken in London to create a fund called  ‘Bangladesh Fund.’ We also agreed to raise fund for this and this fund will be for the liberation of Bangladesh and newly formed country called Bangladesh. From then the movement got a new phase and the  ‘Action Committee’ started to be formed in different cities in the UK. I used to work at the Action Committee at the residence of Chairman’s house. Lots of people used to come and I used to attend as well. People wanted to know what is happening and to be updated. Procession preparation, placard writing, whatever was needed to stage protest meetings, campaign used to be done by the Action Committee. I was involved in the process. ‘Bidrohi Bangla’ was a newsletter that used to be published weekly. A group called ‘East Pakistan Liberation Front’ used to run this newsletter for a long time. It was underground and they kept it confidential at that time because lots of Pakistani people were around and if they knew about it, there could have been possible backlash because of that.  Few of them used to work in Pakistani bank and their job would have been at risk. Azizul Hoque Bhuiya was one of them. They used to bring this paper even before the declaration of war and independence. They raised the emergence of independence. Autonomy was not enough and they started to demand independence, to have their own country. When the March speech came out and the massacre happened on the 25th of March and the liberation war started, the ‘Bidrohi Bangla’ group the came to public and they joined in the Action Committee.

Question: Tell me a bit more about Jubok Shomity, Mukul Fouj if possible.

Answer: To strengthen the movement of the liberation war, our Birmingham Action Committee was working tirelessly. They used to arrange statements, letters the o press, call presconferences to get news and to publish news. Committee used to write letters to the leaders of different countries, make phone calls to them. Then the committee realised to engage young people. As part of this plan two platforms have been created called ‘Jubok Shomity’ and for younger young people called ‘Mukul Fouj’. The main key figure of Jubok Shomity was Dewan Alam Noor Raza. A nice gentleman and an ancestor of Hasan Raza. A significant key person for ‘Mukul Fouj’ was Johur Ali Mashtor, even though he did not take any formal position in ‘Mukul Fouj’ committee. He named after ‘Mukul Fouj’ and was a main inspiration for ‘Mukul Fouj’.

Question: We have noticed that you were involved in all the activism but you did not put yourself forward as you were a qualified teacher and doing community work. Just wondering how you became involved and Bangladesh became your country.

Answer: When I started to work as a voluntary worker in East Pakistan, I developed such a brilliant wonderful relationship with other volunteers there. They used to call me ‘Bhai’ (Brother), and I used to call them bhai. I used to stay with families, and wherever I stayed I was like a family member. From then I got the feeling that it is my country as well. I am becoming Bengali or already became Bengali. I was an adopted Bengali and was accepted as bhai. From that time I developed a relationship with Bangladesh which became like my soul or you can call it a blood relationship. When the movement started later, then there was no question or doubt. I would be part of it without any hesitation. Where my bhai’s are, I am there. If they survive, I will. That’s it.

Question: When Bangladesh became an independent country, a new Country. How did you feel? Did you go to Bangladesh?

Answer: When independence came, a new country came. That made a big solution but at the same time, lots of new questions started to raise. A new country needs to be built, and lots of losses needed to be recovered. I was working as office secretary of the Action Committee which came to an end as well. I was thinking about what to do. By this time I left my job at school as well to work for Action Committee full-time. When Action Committee came to an end, all of a sudden I found myself jobless. I spent some time thinking about my activism. I was thinking to go back to new Bangladesh and work as a volunteer over there the way I did during East Pakistan time. I went to Bangladesh and became engaged with lots of new initiatives. The country was not stable at that time as everything was new and all the organisations were developing from scratch again. I was a bit confused at the beginning. But I was with the same organisation that sent me as a volunteer before. They were arranging different initiatives to repair the houses that were damaged in rural areas. I was doing that for a while. Then I came into contact with ‘Gono Shastho Kendro’. The key person was Dr. Zafarullah who was working during the liberation war time by making and operating field hospitals in tents to support wounded freedom fighters. Just after the liberation war, he executed a plan at the Shahbag in Dhaka. He was planning this for a long time. He established a rural-based health service in Bangladesh very similar to the NHS in the UK. The idea was village people will pay a subscription monthly and whenever they are sick they can have the health services that they need. It had just started at that time. Dr. Zafarullah requested me to be involved and support the initiative. Dr. Zafarullah was explaining as he needs support in different areas of this project. I worked on different areas of the project for a few days. I was working for 3 years altogether. I found that I cannot work as a volunteer over there anymore and I came back to the UK. Then I became engaged with Bangladeshi Community again in Birmingham. I started to work as a teacher and in different types of Community work.

Questions: Just wondering if you got married, and developed a family?

Answer: No. I like voluntary work, being with people, supporting people who need more, and being useful to people. I never had an interest to save money. What should I do with the extra money? Lots of stress comes with extra money where to keep it? What to do? etc. I was happy with the money that I needed to be with people and work with people.  Being like this I couldn’t have a family and maintain children. I cannot feed them, provide education or make them happy. It is better not to have a family person like me. If this type of person have a family, they may face different types of problems. I have decided not to have family and create extra issues.

Question: Now Bangladesh is more than 50 years now. Bangladesh is doing well in different areas, you are getting older as well. Now, how do you feel about the journey you have made so far especially during 71, before, and after 71?

Answer: I have not got any complaints or frustration. The time I have spent in East Pakistan and Bangladesh, I am happy and feel proud about it. Probably I have not done enough for the people, but I have made lots of friends, brothers and sisters. I did not know them before, but they became my family members. This is a great achievement. Having brothers and sisters, family is a much bigger achievement than money. 

I could not do much for Bangladesh. When I went to Bangladesh after the liberation war then I was asking myself who am I? I am actually an outsider. I came from a different country. The sons of the soil know better than anybody else how to build the land and the country.

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