Remembering Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury
By Eshadi Sharif
As Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury passed away, I watched the whole nation come together in mourning. His passing struck up conversations among news outlets of his controversies and contributions.
As a common bystander, I have had many conversations with my peers dissecting the problems we find in any society, whether it is proper healthcare or finding the root cause of inequality. In today’s age, such heated conversations over keyboard and screens are not uncommon, but the question of how to change the fabric of society and culture to make it fitting for everyone has always remained unanswered.
Watching and learning about Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury, freedom fighter and winner of the Independence Award (1977), taught me one crucial lesson: knowledge must be combined with action. Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury had a deep understanding of the sufferings of people and how their tribulations were not their own, but of the entire nation. He was not someone to see a problem and say that he wished someone fixed it. Instead, he dedicated his life to become the change.
He represented a selflessness that kept him moving towards development of healthcare and the nation till his last breath. Wherever he saw a problem, his focus was not narrowed to the issue but branched to find the larger picture. In an interview, when asked about what the key to development was, his answer was straightforward: “This cannot be handled without women. Women are the key to development.” He continued by mentioning how a country’s development relies on the fate of the poor. If the poor have a better life, it would mean that the country would do better as well.
The doctor did not only help women access training in the medical field, he also broke many of the conservative taboos of the time, encouraging women to use bicycles to deliver paramedic services. Women, who are normally tied to becoming homemakers, could follow their aspirations and use their skills to help people.
His words and ideas did not remain as great thoughts, he worked towards change. For people of low income, healthcare had always been at the bottom of the barrel when it came to priorities. People who put themselves at risk the most, facing ailments and injuries often, had to choose between rice and healthcare.
Gonoshasthaya Kendra was one of the ways Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury decided to tackle the problem of inequality in healthcare. Gonoshasthaya Kendra was an example of the doctor’s ideas and beliefs which lead to the introduction of rural healthcare insurance plans, paramedics, and affordable medication for people of low income.
It may come to many people’s surprise that Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury did not want to become a doctor early in his life, as he revealed in an interview. He mentioned how his mother told him to become a good doctor and return to the country to help the common people.
For an individual who resisted the idea of the occupation at first, to embrace the bigger goal, he remains as an example of the way motivation can turn into change.
I once heard that people stop living not after they die, but after they lose their spark. We are all born with that spark, the dream to do something big and outstanding, making us worthy to be written about in history books. Along the way, life dampens that fire for the majority. However, Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury is someone who nurtured his spark, and has never let it die. Even after he is gone, his drive still lives on in his works and contributions, and hopefully – us.