Uday Sankar Das
Receiving the ‘Friends of Liberation War Honour’ in 2012 was a great honour as I do not know of any other country which has said ‘thank you’ in such a big way. However, receiving the ‘Citizenship of Bangladesh’ is a much greater honour as it is in respect of all the years I have worked in Bangladesh, not just 1971, and covers all kinds of work, paid or voluntary. However, I know I could not have been noticed without the wonderful colleagues and friends with whom I worked in all my work assignments over many years. So this recognition by the Bangladesh Government is dedicated to my many colleagues and friends.”
This was how Julian Henry Francis (as his name appears on his Bangladesh Citizenship Certificate) expressed his feelings to me on being conferred full citizenship of Bangladesh by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at a ceremony in her official residence Ganabhaban last Monday. Julian Francis becomes only the seventh foreign national to have received full citizenship of Bangladesh.
Julian Francis, as he is more popularly known (he is also Julian Bhai to many), has made Bangladesh his home ever since the 1980s when he first came to work for the Canadian organisation CUSO as an expert. Although he left after a few years, he knew his work was in Bangladesh. He came back in 1998 and has lived in Bangladesh ever since.
Julian initially worked for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. For about six years, he was Co-Director and Team Leader of the national poverty alleviation programme of the Bangladesh government, called ‘Adarsha Gram’.
From 2006 to 2012, Julian played a very important role in another such programme of the Bangladesh government, ‘Chars Livelihoods Programme’. This project was financially assisted by DFID’s UK Aid and AusAid.
But his love for Bangladesh goes back to 1971 during our Liberation War when he got involved with the relief operations of the UK-based charity organisation Oxfam, working as co-ordinator of their operations in the refugee camps scattered around West Bengal and other Indian states bordering Bangladesh.
Julian had been in Bihar working on a project of Oxfam as a volunteer. He was specialised in agriculture and helped set up wells and schools and advised the ‘Harijan’ community on crops. It was at that time, when he was on extension on his contract, that the Liberation War started. He was living in Gaya when he listened to parts of Bangabandhu’s speech of 7th March that was broadcast by BBC.
Oxfam set up its headquarters for the huge relief operations in Kolkata and Julian moved over as the co-ordinator and set up his team there. It was at that time that I came to know this young Englishman who worked so tirelessly day and night in this gigantic task of refugee relief operations.
I accidentally bumped into Brother Raymond, an ex-principal of my Alma Mater, St. Placid’s School, Chittagong in Kolkata in mid-1971. After enquiring about me and my family, he took me to Kenilworth Hotel, where Oxfam’s office was located.
Brother Raymond (he was then known as Raymond Cournoyer, having left the priesthood and was Regional Director, Oxfam, eastern India) introduced me to Julian and I became a member of the relief team from the next day.
Within a month, Julian called me to the office and entrusted me with a much bigger responsibility. My new assignment was to visit all the Oxfam-operated refugee camps bordering West Bengal, reviewing and assessing the work and then report back.
After visiting the camps for six days a week, I used to write reports every Thursday to be despatched to Oxfam’s headquarters in Oxford. Julian used to see the reports, sometimes making amendments.
More often than not, he seemed to be satisfied. Being a refugee myself, this assignment was a big challenge to me and I found it quite rewarding mentally. Julian was always there as a motivator and an inspiration
As for Julian, his love for charity and development work came from his family.
He was born in a noble and aristocratic family in England. His father, William Francis, was Secretary, Science Research Council, and retired in 1970. He was awarded a CBE by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
His mother, Ursula, admits Julian, was a great influence on him. Julian was brought up in post-World War II England and he saw his mother working to raise money for Oxfam’s aid efforts. Julian and his friends would wash neighbours’ cars and the money they collected was sent to charity.
Julian had links with our part of the world through his ancestors and it is no wonder that he fell in love with the land and its people. One of his ancestors, Henry James Matthew, was a chaplain in various cantonments in India and his last position was as Bishop of Lahore in the 1890s. Another was a businessman and philanthropist in Burma (now Myanmar) in the 1920s and 1930s.
But his real inspiration came from his mother. Julian recalled that when she got into Cambridge University, her uncle, who did business in Yangon, sent her on a trip to Burma. Being a student of geography, she also had an interest in human geography and kept detailed journals. This is how Julian learnt to care for and love people.
One of the biggest tasks accomplished by Oxfam in 1971 was the publication of “The Testimony of Sixty on the Crisis in Bengal”. This was Oxfam’s effort to shock the world’s leaders into opening their eyes and waking up to the growing tragedy.
These were eye-witness accounts of the tragedy, statements and articles written by famous persons, such as Mother Teresa and Senator Edward Kennedy and well-known journalists such as Anthony Mascarenhas, John Pilger, Nicolas Tomalin, Clare Hollingworth and Martin Woollacott.
Again, only a week after it was published in October 1971, Senator Edward Kennedy brought “The Testimony of Sixty” to the attention of the US Senate, and it was published in full on October 28, 1971 in the Congressional Record. Julian played a pivotal role in the compilation of this historic document. He worked hard to collect some of these statements and wrote one himself as well.
Julian and his family also kept ties with Bengal in their personal lives. Just before I was returning to Bangladesh after overseeing the smooth repatriation of refugees to their homeland in 1972, it was time to say goodbye to Julian in Kolkata. After thanking him for all his help and inspiration, I told him about my personal ambition to go to the UK for higher studies.
Julian offered to help me as much as he could but he attached a condition to it. And that was, I had to be present at his wedding in Kolkata due to be held on 4th May that year. It was while he was on his assignment in Gaya that he met his future wife Sushmita. Her father’s family came from Kamarkhara, Munshiganj. Yet another Bangladesh connection.
I did attend Julian’s wedding in Kolkata and was introduced to his wife, who I addressed as ‘Sushmita Boudi’. She was quite happy being called ‘Boudi’. Julian has two sons, Neil, 43, and Rohin, 37. Rohin, who is a cardiologist, followed in his father’s footsteps and got married to a Bengali girl and they now live in London.
By any account, Julian is a remarkable person. He seems to be more Bangladeshi than many of us. He has made Bangladesh his home and wishes to continue his work for the people, for whom he has got the highest of regards, in the days to come. His amiable nature has made it so easy for many to become his friends and once you are a friend of Julian, you are a friend forever.
His becoming a full citizen of Bangladesh, which was long overdue, has made many people happy and we are sure that he will spend his days in Bangladesh with the people he loves and cares for.We wish Julian Francis good health and success and fulfilment in all his endeavours in Bangladesh.
The writer is a senior journalist, political commentator and sports journalist