Walking the talk: Bangladeshi man, 100, channels Ramadan spirit for COVID-19 relief

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Dabirul Islam Choudhury sits in his garden in St. Albans, England, where he walks to raise funds for COVID-19 relief. (Photo courtesy: Dabirul Islam Choudhury)
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Young Dabir Chacha, right, with friends. (Photo courtesy: Dabirul Islam Choudhury)
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Updated 23 May 2020

Walking the talk: Bangladeshi man, 100, channels Ramadan spirit for COVID-19 relief

  • Choudhury is raising funds for coronavirus victims in the UK
  • Undertook similar initiative in 1971 and 1973 for war and famine relief in Bangladesh

LONDON: Dabirul Islam Choudhury, a centenarian living in the UK, remembers beating everyone at track events in college in Sylhet, Bangladesh, in the 1940s. In one long race, he said he came first, second and third when most of his competitors collapsed or gave up. He was told by the organizer to stop running, and he could just walk to complete the race. But that was not how he did things. “It is my habit to run,” he said.

Today he continues the race and refuses to stop, inspired by another centenarian, Captain Tom Moore, who in April pledged to walk 100 lengths of his garden to raise funds for the UK’s National Health Service.
Dabir Chacha, as he is called by those who know him, set a fundraising target of £1,000 for COVID-19 victims and walked laps of his yard while fasting during the month of Ramadan.

He has raised more than £150,000 for COVID-19 aid to Bangladeshi and Muslim communities in the UK and abroad. That, too, in just 17 days.

Dabir Chacha was born in Assam when it was still part of the British Raj and he witnessed the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, after which the state became a part of India, while his district, Sylhet, joined East Pakistan.

At the time of partition, he was studying at the prestigious Murari Chand College (MCC) in Sylhet. Six-foot-tall, Dabir Chacha led the MCC’s football team.

“I cried for the Hindu students who now had to go to India. They were brilliant students,” he told Arab News.

In 1957, he won a scholarship in the UK to study English literature at King’s College. He knows many plays of Shakespeare by heart, recites poems in Bengali, Urdu, Farsi, English, and is a prolific writer of poetry himself.

In the 1960s, Dabir Chacha started helping people from migrant communities in England — with immigration paperwork, in setting up bank accounts or finding places to stay. He settled in St. Albans and worked for communities in his area: Luton, Bedford, Bletchley and Milton Keynes.

What he is doing today is not out of the ordinary for him. In 1971 and 1973 he raised funds in the UK for war and famine relief in Bangladesh.

“Wherever I would go, I would somehow become a leader because I knew a few languages. This was god-gifted, and my experience in captaining in sports in college also helped me,” he said.

Today he is an iconic figure of the Bangladeshi community in the UK.

The funds he has raised will go the Ramadan Family Commitment (RFC), a charity set up by Channel S in the UK that calls itself the “voice of British Bangladeshis across the world.” The RFC is affiliated with Bangladeshi organizations and other charities such as Islamic Relief and Muslim Aid.

The UK is home to more than 4 million people of South Asian descent. Bangladeshis in the UK form 0.7 percent of the population and about half of them live in London. They have been hit hard by the pandemic.

Earlier this month, a report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) made waves when it released data on the economic and physical vulnerability of black, Asian and minority ethnic people in the UK to COVID-19. The report found that Bangladeshi men are four times as likely as white British men to have jobs in shut-down industries. Household savings, according to the report, are also lower than average among the group.

Since the virus outbreak, according to IFS, Bangladeshi hospital fatalities have been twice those of the white British population, and Bangladeshis are more than 60 percent more likely to have a long-term health condition that makes them particularly vulnerable to infection.

In this context, relief efforts by people such as Dabir Choudhury are significant for the community.

When asked if he would stop his efforts after Ramadan, Dabir replied, “No, I will never stop. I have to help.”

“We were all outraged,” says Arab owner of store at center of US protest firestorm

Updated 48 min 32 sec ago

“We were all outraged,” says Arab owner of store at center of US protest firestorm

  • Troops can go in ’very quickly,’ Trump says

CHICAGO: The firestorm of protest, arson and looting that has consumed the US for five days began at the counter of an Arab American grocery store.

Staff working for Mahmoud Abumayyaleh, the owner of Cup Foods, called Minneapolis police after George Floyd, 46, twice tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill to make a purchase.

Officers who arrested Floyd held him to the ground with a knee on his neck, as he pleaded that he could not breathe. He lost consciousness and died later in hospital. One officer has been charged with third-degree murder and further charges are expected.

“What took place outside … was not in our hands,” Abumayyaleh told US TV. “The murder and execution was something done by the police, and it was an abuse of power. The police brutality needs to stop.”

Abumayyaleh said he knew Floyd as a customer, and as someone who was always pleasant. He did not find out until the following morning that the man had died. “We were all outraged,” he said, and Floyd “may not have even known that the bill was counterfeit.”

The store owner and his sons, Samir, Adam and Mahmoud, have gone into hiding in the face of a wave of threats against them on social media. They took down their store’s Facebook page and its landline phone has been disconnected.

Minneapolis has more than 50 Arab- and Muslim-owned stores mostly north of where the incident occurred, all operating under statewide COVID-19 restrictions. Arab store owners said they feared speaking out publicly about the incident.

An unidentified man who answered the phone at one Arab-owned store told Arab News that both the killing of Floyd and vandalism against businesses “is wrong.”

Since Floyd died last Tuesday, protesters have vandalized, looted and burned down more than 200 stores in Minneapolis. On Friday and Saturday, the violence spread to New York, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Houston, Atlanta and Charlotte North Carolina.

In Minnesota, protesters maintained a daily vigil in front of the Cup Foods store at 3759 Chicago Avenue, painting walls and the street with murals and graffiti in memory of Floyd. After four nights of confrontations in the city, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz activated the state’s national guard on Saturday for the first time since the Second World War.

US President Donald Trump said troops could be deployed if local authorities requested their help. “We could have our military there very quickly,” he said.