Sheikh Qudratullah’s fight against the British indigo traders in song and story

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Sheikh Qudratullah is one of the ancestors of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. In southern Bengal of the eighteenth century, the Sheikh family was engaged in business and zamindari. Sheikh Qudratullah and Sheikh Ekramullah were two brothers. Both had prosperity from business and farming and were in the leadership position in the society of that time. There is a folk song in southern Bengal about a successful resistance against the colonial British power led by Sheikh Qudratullah. Adha Paisa Jorimanar Golpo (The story of a half paisa fine) is a book beautifully illustrated for children basing on that song, published by Shilalipi in December 2020.

After the British East India Company defeated Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah at the Battle of Plassey and gradually took over the whole of India, they began unprecedented plundering of Bengal. One of the many exploitations of Bengal and its people was the forcing of its farmers to cultivate indigo throughout the country, which gave rise to many indigo revolts as well. During this early period of British occupation and forced indigo cultivation by Bengali farmers, Sheikh Qudratullah’s trade of agricultural goods was running between Tungipara of Gopalganj and Calcutta.

In their boat journey with rice, jute, mustard seeds and other goods along with the Madhumati river, the boatmen and laborers were attacked, arrested and engaged in forced labor for indigo cultivation by the English officers at Neelkuthis. Mr. Rine set up such a Neelkuthi at Alaipur in Khulna and started his forced indigo cultivation in that area. Traders found it hard to pass by his Neelkuthi without being seized by his men and investing free labour in his indigo fields. So, Bengali farmers and traders were very worried and angry against them. Often there happened attacks and counterattacks between the English officers and Bangalis.

One such fight between Sheikh Qudratullah’s people and the English indigo trader Rine went to court. In the trial Rine was convicted of unfairness and was ordered by the court to pay fine to Sheikh Qudratullah as per his demand for compensation. Qudratullah asked for a paltry fine of half paisa by which Mr Rine felt extremely insulted. Rine requested him to ask for as much money as he wished instead of that paltry amount because it would lower his self-esteem in the eyes of his friends in the English community. But Quodu Sheikh, as he was popularly called, was adamant not to ask for more than that meager fine. He said he was used to weighing money on scales, not to counting it. He wanted to have a revenge on the oppressive and plundering English men and he was satisfied with his being able to inflict an insult to the English mentality of superiority.

This whole incident has been described in The Unfinished Memoirs of Bangabandhu. This has been orally narrated by the old men and women and sung by folk poets in the areas of Khulna and Faridpur. The folk song rewritten by Khaleq bin Zainuddin has been printed in this children’s story book. Bangabandhu’s family tree has also been provided in the book. Adha Paisa Jorimanar Golpo has been dedicated to the famous Artist Shahabuddin Ahmed, one of the platoon commanders in the glorious liberation war of Bangladesh. Its illustrations are done by Artist Mosharraf Hossain.

Adha Paisa Jorimanar Golpo will not only give children the pleasure of reading stories, but will also enrich them with a sense of history replete with struggles, high morality, and the greatness of minds of our ancestors. It as well provides a window to have a glance of the mind of Bangabandhu rooted deep in our legacy and undauntedly projected into the certainty of freedom in future.

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