- Assigned to report on the great movement of refugees in Bengal following the partition of India and Pakistan, Chowdhury introduced a humanized style of writing in the Bengali press and established his newspaper as a champion of the cause of the refugees.
- As a Parliamentary Reporter, he chronicled the rapid expansion of government bureaus, the corruption, inflation and the loss of pride in official morality with concern for the reason as well as the fact.
- In 1956, he began a weekly column entitled Nepathya Darshan, or “Scenes Behind the Curtain,” which gave the angry and dissatisfied Bengali intellectuals and poor men alike their first effective means of voicing legitimate grievances, exposing more than 250 cases of abuse of power in high levels of government.
- The RMAF Board of Trustees recognizes “his scrupulous and probing investigative reporting in protection of individual rights and community interests.”
AMITABHA CHOWDHURY has been in the vanguard of a new journalism in the Bengali press. He sees the modern Indian intellectual as the heir to an ethical system and a philosophical culture, who, whether he is a politician or government official, is judged by his honesty, self-sacrifice and the urge he shows to public service. It is to this tradition that AMITABHA CHOWDHURY has courageously responded.
Now Assistant Editor of Jugantar, an influential Calcutta daily newspaper in Bengali, his crusading sensitivity to the problems of his fellowmen was demonstrated soon after he joined the staff 12 years ago. Assigned to report on the great movement of refugees in Bengal following the partition of India and Pakistan, he introduced a humanized style of writing in the Bengali press and established his newspaper as a champion of the cause of the refugees.
As a Parliamentary Reporter, he next chronicled the actions of officials and the political forces that influence them. The rapid expansion of government bureaus, the corruption, inflation and the loss of pride in official morality all were portrayed with concern for the reason as well as the fact. He was dismayed to find that much of the press, reared in a tradition of protest against foreign rule, was largely apathetic to this drama of what leaders of Bengal were making of India’s independence.
Taking up the challenge in 1956, he began a weekly column entitled Nepathya Darshan, or “Scenes Behind the Curtain,” which gave the angry and dissatisfied Bengali intellectuals and poor men alike their first effective means of voicing legitimate grievances. Instilling hope in an atmosphere of deepening frustration, he meticulously documented and exposed more than 250 cases of abuse of power in high levels of government. The result was the dismissal, demotion or initiation of legal action against some 50 delinquent officials. The column also aroused constructive public debate of social maladies by its examination in depth of causes and possible remedies.
An Indian leader in the use of this journalistic skill, his reporting bespeaks a deep concern for human welfare. With uncompromising integrity and rare boldness he has upheld high ethical standards for his profession as a guardian of the public conscience.
In electing AMITABHA CHOWDHURY to receive the 1961 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism and Literature, the Board of Trustees recognizes his scrupulous and probing investigative reporting in protection of individual rights and community interests.
It is not merely an award or honor that you have chosen to bestow on me. I have really been asked to accept a task, a task to live up to such estimations that Ramon Magsaysay had of an honest man. Friends, at this moment I have a deep, somber feeling within me, as if I am entering a temple, as the Hindus do, to be initiated. It is therefore more than overwhelming, I feel caught by my heartstrings, as I am led to approach one of the purest, noblest and highest initiations of my life?an initiation into the ideals of this great man.
As I stand before you in this assembly today I also realize with deep humility that my function here is that of an instrument, an instrument which is being used to demonstrate the basic unity of two great traditions. History sometimes chooses very common examples to demonstrate in a flash that which is not always perceived?the great and basic unity of human ideals. I am thus perhaps required by destiny to represent the unity of two ideals pursued in two different countries, one by man individually through his heroic life, and another by a group of men through generations of their fearless writings.
Looking behind our contemporary success and high ethical standard of journalism, one would find the noble history of men who suffered the uttermost for the cause of human liberty. Therefore, in bestowing this honor on me I have no doubt that you have actually honored this tradition which is my proud inheritance.
It is almost half a century back that Rabindranath Tagore won for India the first international recognition in literature. He was able to instill a confidence among writers in national languages, as in a different way did your great martyr, Jos? Rizal, who lived and worked in about the same period as that of Tagore. However, for the other branch, that is Bengali journalism, a continuous struggle and enterprise for nearly half a century more was necessary to keep pace with the excellent performance of Bengali literature. During these years journalism in the national language has championed the cause of the common man, his liberty and his right to live a decent life. It has been the vehicle of expression of a powerful and at the same time a reflective intelligentsia. From the winning of the Nobel Prize by Tagore it is now nearly half a century later that through your generous country our enterprise is being internationally recognized. For many of us it is a matter of great happiness that you recognized our efforts in the national language press and honored it in the same year when the birth centenary of one of the greatest products of Indian literary genius is being observed.
I am also grateful to you for having chosen an Asian language for this unique distinction. That you have focused attention of the whole world on the languages of the masses of Asia has been deeply appreciated by my countrymen as well as by many other fellow Asian journalists. This I should say was the most predominant sentiment that emerged from the thousands of congratulatory messages received by me, and I, on their request, convey their congratulations to you for this most invigorating inspiration that you have instilled in us, the journalists of the language press in Asia. I sincerely believe that the future of the masses and the success of their democratic desire will largely depend on the growth of powerful newspapers written in the mother tongues of the masses. Such newspapers can be pillars of democracy in this continent able to carry messages for and from the remotest of villages and minds.
To my colleagues and fellow journalists I would say that we have a battle to win against the coalition of social iniquities. The present experiments of democracy will falter and the freedom earned with the blood of martyrs will be lost if we fail to declare a war against the seething corruption that is around us, the oppressive bureaucracy and the inflictions that are daily being imposed on the poor and voiceless multitudes of this continent. For this war, we have a weapon. That which has the lightness of the winds and the force of a thunderbolt, a pen.
One part of this huge mass and mind was once illuminated by a man who was and still is for them a living faith. He lived and struggled for and to a large extent was able to achieve the same ideals which, in the case of the very best of newspapers, is still an aim to aspire for.
It is not so much therefore for the citation, nor even for the award, but for the opportunity of having a medal which carries the imprint of this noble man that I have waited so eagerly. Give this to me to keep closest to my heart so that it will never falter for fear or for favor. May the destiny of history lead me and you and all ever nearer to the ideals of the man who lived humbly and died immortal.
AMITABHA CHOWDHURY was born on November 11, 1927 at Calcutta, India. The only child of Sisir K. Chowdhury, who died when his son was four months old, and Priti Rani Chowdhury, he attended elementary classes at Chandranath High School and matriculated in 1944 from Dutta High School in Netrokona, Mymensingh, East Bengal. His undergraduate work was taken in Calcutta in succession at A. M. College, St. Xaviers College and Ashutosh College, where he received, in 1948, a Bachelor of Arts degree in English (Honors), Economics and Mathematics. Married in 1959, his wife, Neepa, is an accomplished painter.
Soon after college Mr. CHOWDHURY joined Jugantar, the influential Bengali-language daily with a circulation of over 72,000 and the sister paper of the English-language Amrita Bazar Patrika of Calcutta. Continuing his graduate studies at Calcutta University while working as a staff reporter, he received, in 1952, a Master of Arts degree in Modern Indian Languages. Meanwhile, his vivid feature stories telling with insight and compassion the human tragedy of the mass migration of refugees following partition of India and Pakistan were setting the pattern for a new reportorial style in the Bengali press.
Later given charge of parliamentary reporting after a period as art critic, his simple and popular presentation of complicated legislative business was also followed by his colleagues and is now a common feature of modern Bengali journalism.
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