About five years ago, Gayatri Chakravarty-Spivak, in an op-ed written for the New York Times, asked who was afraid of Shahidul Alam. The question and the article were prompted by the arrest of Alam, a Bangladeshi photographer of world renown, for his harsh criticism of the country's ruling polity. She proceeded to answer the question herself this way: Bangladesh is gradually sliding towards authoritarianism. Shahidul Alam is fighting for people's rights and the truth. That is his crime. Those in power are always afraid of the truth.

The same question could be asked about Professor Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank. Recently, a court in Dhaka ordered the 83-year-old Nobel laureate to jail for six months for violating the country's labor laws. Important voices from home and abroad protested the trial, calling it sham. The violations cited by the government are almost routine and should not have resulted in the jailing of the country's only Nobel laureate.

Recently, taking part in a TV talk show on a New York Bangla channel, I had the opportunity to ask the same question, though not in as many words, to Sam Daley-Harris. Like Yunus, he is a world leader in fighting poverty and a co-founder of Microcredit Summit. His book, Reclaiming Our Democracy, has been widely praised, including by Jimmy Carter, who called it a roadmap for changing the world. He joined me and a co-panelist from Washington via video.

Daley-Harris, a gregarious man with silvery hair, gave a wry smile. 'Why should one be surprised? In human history, people in power have always tried to silence those who are visionary and campaign for changing the status quo. Think of Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela. In the US, Martin Luther King Jr faced the same predicament. My 12 and 9-year-olds asked me the other day why Yunus was being jailed. I told them, visionaries everywhere face persecution.'

Many will argue that this is a pompous assumption. Yunus is no Gandhi or Mandela. He did not lead the freedom struggle of a country, nor did he lead a civil rights movement that shook our consciences and shamed those in power.

Fair point, but what he did is no less revolutionary.

Daley-Harris, who has known Yunus for over three decades, told us how the 'poor people's banker' revolutionized banking services even for those who, in the traditional sense, are not bankable.

'Yunus was once asked, What was the strategy he followed when fighting poverty? In response, Yunus said he followed no prescribed or predetermined strategy. I did exactly the opposite of what banks do, Yunus said. For example, banks always give loans to the rich. He gave loans to the poor. Banks prefer men; his loans mostly go to women. Banks prefer large loans; He offers small loans or microcredits. Banks demand collateral before agreeing to provide loans; He asks for no collateral. In most cases, Banks need to process lots of paper documents. He deals mostly with illiterate or less educated, hence no paperwork is required. You must go to the bank to receive a loan. In his case, the bank goes to those seeking a loan.'

This is exactly the revolution that Yunus pioneered, hence the moniker 'Banker of the poor'. The model he invented is now being replicated in about 30 countries worldwide, bringing benefits to millions. The whole world thanked him for his work and his innovative banking practices, for which he won a Nobel Prize.

'The only exception is Bangladesh, his own country, which, instead of congratulating him, is planning to send him to jail.'

There were both sarcasm and sadness in Sam's voice. I smiled to myself when I heard those rueful words. We are familiar with the Bangla saying that a yogi in his own village gets no alms. Why Yunus, the local yogi, should be any different?

There are many in Bangladesh, most of them well-meaning people, have expressed skepticism about Yunus's claim to fame. His critics ask, what has he done to deserve our plaudits? He may garner headlines in the foreign press or rub shoulders with the world's rich and famous. That is no reason for us to melt in gratitude. When it comes to his own country, he is hardly around to stand by us in times of crisis. In our struggle for democracy, he is mostly a silent and distant observer.

This criticism, oft repeated in Dhaka circles, may well be true and deserves critical scrutiny. But this should in no way negate his contributions. The simple fact that more than three million women, who are among the poorest in Bangladesh, have found a way to stand on their own two feet with microcredits received from Grameen is no mean achievement. He deserves our thanks for this.

Nor should one ignore the fact that about 100,000 beggars, thanks to interest-free loans from Grameen Bank, now have a means and have found a way out of their misery.

Nor should we not consider the 300 million trees that Grameen has helped plant to fight Bangladesh's climate emergency. I have read that in northern districts of Bangladesh, where drought is an expanding threat, Grameen is paying local women to take care of the saplings planted near their homes, an innovation unseen or unheard of anywhere else. Shouldn't we thank Grameen for that?

There is more. Grameen has allocated over 700 million taka for education scholarships, another 4,000 million taka for nursing scholarships, and more 130 million taka for loans to young entrepreneurs. Yunus has thus steered his bank in a direction that continues to benefit Bangladesh daily. There is little doubt that by helping its most neglected segments to become self-reliant and net contributors to the country's future, he is helping Bangladesh become better and stronger.

Sam reminded me of another major contribution of Grameen Bank. Through its Grameen Shakti initiative, it has installed 1.8 million solar home systems and hundreds of thousands of cookstoves and biogas plants. Thanks to green energy that Grameen Shakti generates, households not covered by the national electric grid now have light, giving more reading time to children and comfort to women to finish their daily chores. For sure such efforts deserve our appreciation.

Mahatma Gandhi said, if you want change, become an agent of change. That is exactly what Dr Yunus has become: a change agent. These successes are not his alone; they are Bangladesh's success story. What confounds me is why many in Bangladesh are unable or unwilling to own the success that the country and its people collectively have created.

I often give the example of a Bangladeshi taxi driver in New York who found a large wad of cash in his taxi's back seat and quickly returned it to its rightful owner. He soon became the talk of the town. Even the city mayor arranged a special celebratory event and offered him a symbolic key to the city hall. Now, several years later, no one remembers his name, but many still recall the story of an honest Bangladeshi taxi driver.

The success of Grameen Bank has made Dr Yunus a household name the world over, but each time someone says his name, it is inevitably followed by 'from Bangladesh'. When in 2013, the US Congress awarded him the Congressional Gold Medal for his leadership in fighting global poverty, the US government issued a bronze replica of the medal, featuring on one side his portrait, designed in the background of the traditional Bangladeshi jamdani. And on the reverse side, there is a lotus, Bangladesh's national flower, 'open in full bloom rising above the water and cradling the world in its petals.' Most strikingly, the globe sitting atop the lotus declares the following words, in Bangla, 'let us send poverty to the museum.'

That is our Yunus and his mantra, putting his country at the center of everything he does.

Sam Daley-Harris reminded me that only three people have so far been honored with the Nobel Prize, the Presidential Medal of Honor and the Congressional Gold Medal. 'Do you think these honors were bestowed upon him because of recommendations made by powerful people?' he asked.

Quite likely not.

'The world is grateful for what he has done and continues to do. The only exception is the country he comes from.'

More than 2000 years ago, the Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero said, Poor is the nation that has no heroes, but poorer still is the nation that, having heroes, fails to remember and honor them.

The old man did not know Bangladesh, but clearly his words ring true in today's Bangladesh.

The writer is a journalist and author based in New York.

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