Home is where the heart is

7 Dec

Home is where the heart is

Personal Journey

Almost tiptoeing out of the house, early one summer morning, he took just a little suitcase and a side bag and left for the 7.30 am train that would take him to a destination only he was sure about. That was indeed a difficult move for a boy to be able to leave home almost against the wishes of his Dad who controlled not only a close-knit family but also the trains at the railway station. His father, besides being a caring organizer of whatever went on at home, was also the Station Master of Mariani, a vital link railway junction in North East Assam (India), particularly in the aftermath of World War II.  So it must have taken meticulous planning for this 16-year-old (high school graduate) to make all his travel plans in May 1947, without giving away any clues to his Dad.

But, why the secrecy? In fact, he found it not too difficult to slip away from everyone’s attention as all the focus that day was on his youngest sister who was born early that very morning, 27th May. Well, his Dad wasn’t eager at all for this promising young man to be going off to be, as he put it, ‘locked away in some monastic enterprise’. He wanted his son to be the proud inheritor and master of an exciting world that he would be privileged to organize for his first-born. There were three more boys born after him (and three girls too), but this was the prized one of the family and his Dad wanted to ensure he was groomed to take on an exciting career.

So, what were the boy’s plans? Jarlath’s heart was set on spending his life for the people he felt needed his expertise and his dedication. Like ascetic-minded men before his time, like Anthony of Padua° or Ignatius of Loyola°, he had no interest in a career in the world. He knew what he wanted and he was eager to follow his dream. He had spent his teenage years growing up with the Holy Cross Brothers, a teaching Order, in Bangladesh (formerly East Bengal in undivided India), and their life of commitment had seemed to suit his plans for a life of service.  After nearly forty-eight hours of traveling, connecting by train and by bus, he was finally able to present himself to the Superiors (Managers) of the CSC Order in Dhaka.  He was the first Indian/Asian to join the Order (CSC –Congregazione Di Santa Croce –Congregation/Order of the Holy Cross) that was founded in Canada. This ‘native’ status he had helped the Order to hand over charge to him (as Superior) when Bangladesh enforced restrictions on ‘foreign’ nationals as most of the Leaders/Superiors at the time were non-Bangladeshi.

After his training years, he moved up the ranks from supervisor and teacher to managerial positions. He spent many years teaching in Barisal, Chittagong° and Dhaka, and was for many years Principal of Saint Placid’s High School in Chittagong. He was also for a few years the Provincial Superior of the Brothers’ Order in Bangladesh. The Brothers and the Priests run separate Orders under the same title ‘CSC’.

But over all those years Jarlath never lost sight of his desire to serve where people needed him most. After many years in the teaching profession, and while at teaching, he started a few socio-educational movements and also got deeply involved in helping others with his advice, his counseling and his commitment. His expertise was also valued by the leading Scouting movements in the country, while Church organizations sought his advice in their developing plans. His many years in the education sector linked him up with students and parents who maintained healthy links with him, while his patient efforts at peace and justice initiatives, through BICPAJ and his presence on other committees, singled him out as a valuable ‘resource person’ on matters educational, social or religious.

Peace Initiatives

In 1983 he helped found BICPAJ [Bangladesh Inter-Religious Council for Peace and Justice]. This inter-faith and human-rights-oriented organization was established by a group of like-minded Muslims and Christians. He took the lead in this and was the central point of reference in all that the organization was and did.

BICPAJ, one of the oldest organizations of its kind anywhere in the world, is a religious non-profit NGO, which deals with justice and peace issues. The council also runs projects for youth and poor children. BICPAJ’s peace education centre has staff trained in conflict resolution, in social education and in women’s empowerment.  Training programs focus on young people, women and the ethnic tribal people of Bangladesh.  BICPAJ is not sponsored by or affiliated to any church, mosque or similar body. Though it runs an ‘open-membership’ policy, the Chair-Person and most of the members are Muslims, men and women.  The ideology is very much Bible-inspired and with Liberation Theology leanings.  BICPAJ also uses and promotes the philosophy of Gandhi’s Non-Violence and the thinking of people like Paulo Freire° and Martin Luther King°.

In trying to achieve its objectives, BICPAJ engages actively in the campaign for adult literacy, which it sees as the key to social development and human understanding.  BICPAJ runs 30 schools for adults in Dhaka city and in other places. It uses its own textbook, Jay Chai (What I Want), based on the methods of Paulo Freire.

The slogan of this organisation is ‘Peace and Justice’.  John P Hastings, a British pioneer, played a pivotal role in establishing this organization together with Brother Jarlath. Since 1951 John was involved in development activities in West Bengal (India), particularly for improving the life of the Santals. During the Bangladesh war of independence (1971), Hastings provided health services at the refugee camps in Salt Lake, Kolkata, where millions of Bangladeshis were sheltered. He saw a need for this organization in Bangladesh, and so set up a network to promote inter-religious friendship, which is what BICPAJ does today. Brother Jarlath as Secretary of BICPAJ was fully in tune with the drive of Hastings to fight illiteracy and to promote learning, peace and justice. In fact, besides promoting schools Hastings also wrote eight books for the courses conducted in these schools. ‘We try to make them think differently,’ wrote Brother Jarlath, ’and dream of a better future.’

Jarlath, who was born in Chittagong, spent more than 35 years of his life as a teacher and social expert in Bangla culture, which has won him the respect of ordinary people and of organizations.  He was the Secretary of BICPAJ for over 25-years, wrote and lectured on peace and human rights and was active in interfaith dialogue.

[NB: Brother Jarlath D’Souza CSC  passed away  in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in May 2015. For any info re Bro Jarlath contact  trukay@gmail.com]

Lectures and Media

Jarlath has written many books on the social settings in Bangladesh and has also written several poems. One of his books of Poems is, PHOENIX-LIKE, HOPE ARISES, published by BICPAJ in August 2007. In the poem, ‘Phoenix-Like’ he speaks poetically of the ease with which he could relate to noise as well as to peace, as both co-exist in a world that continues to ‘live’.

Jarlath was a member of the Association EATWOT [Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians] and contributed to their magazine/journal: Voices from the Third World. In the June 2009 Special volume (that had for its theme: Eco Crisis –Theological Visions) he wrote a thought-provoking article, ‘Water, Earth and Theology for another World’.

In 2010, on Nov 9th, Jarlath delivered a lecture as part of the prestigious ‘Nostra Aetate’ series on, ‘Toward a Theology of Indigenous Peoples of Bangladesh’ at Saint Edward’s University in the USA, at the invitation of his Order. Saint Edward’s is a liberal arts university in Austin, Texas in the Holy Cross tradition, with over 5000 students from diverse backgrounds. Reverend Edward Sorin, CSC, who also founded the famed Notre Dame University, named Saint Edward’s after his patron saint when he started the university on farm-lands south of Austin in 1878.

Jarlath was also involved in FOR [Fellowship of Reconciliation] and wrote for their publications or delivers lectures at their forums. The FOR organization have been working for peace, justice and non-violence, since 1915. He contributed to the ‘Holy Cross International Justice Office’ (based in Notre Dame, USA) which brought out reports and developments on peace and justice efforts of the Order worldwide.  He sent in thought-provoking contributions during the Iraq war.

In1992 Jarlath co-authored a book with Philip Gain, published by SHETU, on the Rohingyas. The

Rohingyas are an ethnic group who practice Islam and speak Rohingya, an Indo-European language,  closely related to Chittagong Bengali. The origin of this group of people is disputed with some saying they are indigenous to the state of Rakhine (or Arakan) in Burma and others contending that they are Muslim migrants who originated in Bangladesh, and migrated to Burma during the period of

British rule. The Rohingyas are linguistically related to the Indo-Aryan peoples of India and Bangladesh.  As of 2012, 800,000 Rohingyas live in Burma. According to the United Nations, they

are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. Many Rohingyas have fled to ghettos and refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh, and to areas along the Thai-Burma border. More than 100,000 Rohingyas in Burma continue to live in camps for internally displaced persons, forbidden by authorities from leaving.

In 1997 Jarlath, as the coordinator from BICPAJ, organized ‘Non-Violence Training for Buddhist Women’ in the Chittagong area, supported by BPFB (Peace Fellowship of Bangladesh). Nearly all the participants were Buddhist tribal women. The programme which focused on the disturbances in the Chittagong hill tracts offered strategies that could be used to cope with situations using non-violent means. Role Play and other practical methods were used to develop the communication skills of the participants who had mixed literacy levels. Methods used by Mahatma Gandhi°, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela° were highlighted. The entire programme was supported by the Women’s Support Group of IFOR (International Fellowship for Reconciliation) Netherlands and Caritas Bangladesh.

Jarlath was a ‘General’ Member [registered] of the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh and contributes articles to its journals and newsletters. In 2009, on 7th February, Jarlath attended the re-union of the OPA (Old Placidian Association) of Saint Placid’s School Chittagong (founded in 1853), and delivered a speech that recalled his experiences in the school as a student in the 40s and a headmaster in the 60s. He said, ’It makes me proud that the school has scaled newer heights of excellence in the last half-a-century’.

Epilogue

Jarlath continued to be the sort of ‘dark horse’ figure (often in the background) who would appear to influence more lives than one would imagine. He certainly left an impression on the many who came into contact with him through his Scouting days (especially when he was Chief Scout of Bangladesh) or when he spoke on peace and reconciliation at important meetings (in and outside Bangladesh), or when he spent all those years as Principal of Saint Placid’s School (Chittagong), or perhaps over the years he has led the BICPAJ movement (from Dhaka) almost single-handed. Or perhaps it is just his unassuming ‘spiritual’ charm that touches hearts ‘more than words can say’. Whatever it is, ‘Brother Jarlath’ as he was known, continued to exert a salutary influence (something that he himself was perhaps not aware of) on people’s lives and to energize the thinking of the many people, ordinary or learned, who interacted with him. For Jarlath ‘home’ was his ‘mission’, to be at the service of others wherever  he worked.

——————————

°Anthony of Padua (1195-1231): born of a rich, noble family in Lisbon, Portugal, who spent his life in Padua. He left to join the Franciscans against the wishes of his family.

°Chittagong, Dhaka and Barisal: cities/towns in Bangladesh.

°Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556):born to a rich & noble family, in Spain, who gave up a successful career in warfare to found the Order of the Jesuits that has influenced the Church and the world.

°Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948):Indian leader and freedom fighter, and pre-eminent exponent of Non Violence.

°Martin Luther King:(1929-1968):a humanitarian and a leader in the African-American Civil Rights movement in the USA.

°Nelson Mandela (1918-2013):South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, promoter of forgiveness and reconciliation.

°Paulo Freire:(1921-1997)Brazilian philosopher and educator ,leading advocate of ‘critical pedagogy’, best known for his influential work ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’.

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Comment on Brother Jarlath:

Brother Jarlath will always be referred as one of the best Principal of Saint Placid’s School. Chittagong. He knew where to call the shot and shaped his students and the school to the excellence.
He did not only pursuits the academic but made commendable efforts in the extra-curricular activities of School, for example, scouts, games, art, drama, magazine, sports, drill, kite flying , swimming, punching ball, gymnastics, library, literacy, school’s cooperative canteen, school saving bank etc.
And during his time we enjoyed the best of the best entertainment like magic show, cycle skill demonstrations, songs, playing the tune by accordions, Bangla magazine Nirjhor,
school students union etc.
The best part of his was he used to knew most of the students personally even their parents and used to keep close contact with them.
During my school at Saint Placid’s School I was his students in class 1X and X and then I could realize how meticulously he can teach his students so that they grow up to the best and make excellence only.
I pray for to the Lord to bless him, for all the efforts in the service of the Lord and humanity.
Afsar A Khan – 30.12.2015
1964- 1976 ( school period ) afsar_khan312@yahoo.com

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