It takes a special kind of compassion to be the friend of an entire nation. For Himangshu Mohan Chowdhury, retired IAS officer, it came in the form of the Bangladesh liberation war of 1971 when as a sub-divisional officer (SDO), he gave food and shelter to 2.5 lakh Bangladeshis who came to Tripura to escape the conflict.
Chowdhury remembers thousands of injured men, women and children seeking refuge in Sonamura on the India-Bangladesh border. Some had lost a limb and others had lost a few family members. Chowdhury was faced with the task of creating a safer environment for these evacuees despite intermittent shelling and attacks from Pakistan.
More than 40 years later, Bangladesh has recognised the efforts of Chowdhury and has acknowledged him as an “outstanding friend of Bangladesh”. Dr Dipu Moni, Bangladesh foreign minister, has invited Chowdhury to Bangladesh on March 24 to award him under the aegis of the National Committee to Honour Foreign Friends of the Bangladesh Liberation War.
“I take great pleasure in conveying to you that upon recommendation of the National Committee, the Government of Bangladesh has decided to formally recognise your contribution and to express gratitude on behalf of the people of Bangladesh.”
A visibly elated Chowdhury, who now lives in Greater Noida, says that it is one of the biggest honour of his life. “During the war, for many months, the evacuees kept coming into Sonamura and we set up tents and temporary kitchens for them. The Indian government helped with the funds,” he says.
When the war ended, the Indian government awarded Chowdhury with a Padma Shri “in recognition of exemplary and distinguished public service”.