“Your bullets will pierce my heart first, before they hit any student” — these were the last words which Rajshahi University’s former proctor Prof Shamsuzzoha told the Pakistani forces before being shot. He later succumbed to his injuries at a hospital.
The story dates back to February 15, 1969, when the students of Rajshahi University blocked roads, including the highway to Dhaka, in protest against the custodial killing of Sergeant Zahurul Haque, an accused in the Agartala Conspiracy case.
Two days later then Pakistani police used force to disperse the protesters, in which some students sustained injuries. The same day, the local administration imposed prohibitory orders on thr Dhaka-Rajshahi highway near the university.
But the next day when the protesting students violated the prohibitory orders, the Pakistani Army was called out to bring the situation under control.
As the Pakistani forces were about to shoot the students, Prof Shamsuzzoha rushed to the university gate and urged the soldiers not to open fire. “Don’t fire. They are students, they are our children. They will leave this place now.”
But when the tension grew, the Pakistani forces fired on Shamsuzzoha. The professor later died of bullet injuries at a hospital. His death bolstered the anti-Ayub mass movement and eventually led to the downfall of the dictator.
Some 52 years on, Zoha Day is yet to be designated as National Teachers’ Day.
Rajshahi University administration, teachers and students, however, observe February 18 as Teachers’ Day.
Former vice-chancellor of Rajshahi University Prof Abdul Khaleque told UNB, “On this day in 1969, the students were trying to march towards Rajshahi city violating Section 144 to protest against the killing of Sergeant Zahurul Haque.
“We tried to confine them to the varsity campus but the Pakistani Army fired on us. Zoha sir fell down. They soon arrested others.”
Addressing a seminar, titled ‘Dr Zoha: A Discussion on the Relationship between Teachers and Students’, organised by the Rajshahi University Journalist Association (RUJA) on Wednesday, then student leader Ruhul Amin Pramanik said, “1969 was a groundbreaking year. Prof Shamsuzzoha sacrificed his life for the students.”
Ruhul reiterated his demand for designating the day as Teachers’ and Students’ day.
Rajshahi University proctor Professor Lutfor Rahman agreed. “It was a very rare case where a teacher sacrificed his life for his students. We demand the day be observed as National Teachers’ Day.”