Bangladesh repays Madhuda of Dhaka University Madhu’s Canteen with martyred intellectual recognition

‘The enemies failed to grasp that Madhusudan Dey’s exceptional personality was the source of the students’ confidence,’ Professor Anisuzzaman wrote

Moinul Hoque ChowdhuryRasel
Published : 24 March 2024, 09:21 PM
Updated : 24 March 2024, 09:21 PM

He was not a teacher, researcher, or artist - yet Madhusudan Dey's exceptional role as a restaurateur transcended conventional boundaries.

His establishment, Madhu’s Canteen, became a pivotal hub for political movements and a nurturing ground for activists and budding intellectuals.

At long last, Bangladesh has recognised him as one of the intellectuals who were martyred in the 1971 War of Independence from Pakistan.

Madhuda, as he was called affectionately by the students, was no ordinary restaurateur.

He ran the famous Madhu’s Canteen at Dhaka University, the heart of the country’s political movements.

He provided more than just sustenance; he offered support and inspiration to those at the forefront of Bangladesh’s fight for independence.

In the words of Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Huq, the role he played in Bangladesh’s struggle for independence made him “exceptional”.

After carrying out the genocide on innocent Bengalis on the dark night of Mar 25, 1971, the Pakistani forces picked up Madhusudan from his home the following morning before executing him.

His wife, a daughter, a son and daughter-in-law were also killed.

Fifty-three years after the massacre, on Sunday, the government placed his name among 118 martyred intellectuals on Sunday.

This brings the total list to 560 recognised martyred intellectuals, with Madhusudan's contributions to social services highlighted in the government gazette.

Professor Rafiqul Islam wrote in a commemorative book on him that besides politics, Madhu’s Canteen served as a crucible for cultural discourse, where notable figures began their journey to prominence.

Organisations like the Sangskritik Sangsad and the Natya Kendra began their journey through chitchats at the tea shop.

The likes of Shamsur Rahman, Hasan Hafizur Rahman, Alauddin Al-Azad, Syeed Atiqullah, Abu Zafar Obaidullah, Syed Shamsul Haque, Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury and Zahir Raihan also started their work here.

The recognition of Madhusudan as a martyred intellectual brought his son Arun Kumar Dey, who runs the canteen now.

This long-awaited recognition has brought a “different type of joy” to Madhusudan’s son, Arun Kumar Dey, who currently manages the canteen.

“I feel very happy today. A commemorative book on my father was published a long time ago. People still remember his contribution. Now the state recognition has heartened me,” he said.

Arun thanked Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for the recognition.


Throughout the nine-month war of 1971, the Pakistani forces and their collaborators systematically targeted Bengali intellectuals. This campaign intensified in mid-December of 1971, as defeat loomed for Pakistan, aiming to rob the emergent nation of its brightest minds.

The bodies, with signs of brutal torture, were found in the killing grounds of Mirpur and Rayerbazar after the intellectuals were picked up from their homes one by one.

The list of martyred intellectuals include literateurs, teachers, politicians, social workers, doctors, lawyers, writers, professionals, engineers, playwrights, journalists, artists and cultural workers.

Litterateurs, philosophers, scientists, artists, teachers, researchers, journalists, lawyers, physicians, engineers, architects, sculptors, government and non-government employees, politicians, social workers, cultural activists, musicians, and people involved in filmmaking, theatre and arts, who contributed to the birth of Bangladesh but were killed by the Pakistani forces or went missing between Mar 25, 1971, and Jan 31, 1972, will be called martyred intellectuals, according to the definition set by the government in 2021.

Madhusudan is the only exception.

But why?

“On special consideration.” was Minister Mozammel’s simple answer.

“His name has been included in the list considering his exceptional contribution to all the movements, including the Language Movement and those at the university, for the country’s independence,” he explained.

“You may describe him simply as a tea shop proprietor. You may ask how he can be called an intellectual. But he supported and inspired the leaders and activists for 23 years with his tea. This is why we’ve made an exception. We haven’t made any exception, except for Madhuda,” he detailed.


Shahriar Kabir, a member of the committee that verified the list, said contribution to independence was not limited to teachers, researchers or writers, people from other professions also played significant roles.

“We’re listing them by finding out their role through many sources. This is a continuous process,” he said.

“Dhaka University was the cradle of many movements, from the Language Movement to the Liberation War. Madhuda was not just only a businessman, he helped students and teachers in the movement in many ways. Many people like Madhuda had faced targeted killings for their contribution to independence.

“The country has somewhat repaid the debt by adding his name to the list of martyred intellectuals,” Shahriar said.

Dhaka University’s history Professor Syed Anwar Hossain thanked the Liberation War affairs ministry for its decision on Madhusudan.

“It’s an example of gratitude. Madhuda, a central character in Bangladesh’s struggle for freedom, served the intellectuals,” he said.

“His canteen is as old as Dhaka University. He was at Amtala first, then moved to the current place when the new Arts Building was constructed in 1965. Chhatra League and Chhatra Union held all their meetings there.

“Many ate in his canteen on credit. Some could not repay, but Madhuda was always there to provide. He wanted a livable country for all.”

Prof Anwar, who was a student of the university in 1971, said: “Madhuda’s name will be remembered as long as Dhaka University exists.”

Current student leaders also welcomed the decision.

Saddam Hussain, incumbent president of Bangladesh Chhatra League, said: “Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had recognised him [Madhusudan] long ago. Now our debt has somewhat been settled through the formal recognition by the government. It’s the duty of the current generation to uphold the spirit in light of which he inspired the student movements.”

Dipok Sil, president of Bangladesh Students’ Union, said: “The recognition of Madhuda as a martyred intellectual is a matter of joy and pride for us. It should have been given a long time ago.”


After Dhaka University was established in 1921, Aditya Chandra Dey launched a food business in the area.

When Aditya was paralysed, his son Madhusudan started running the business.

After Aditya’s death in 1939, Madhusudan got a small room to run his canteen from the Dhaka University authorities.

Besides selling food, Madhusudan conveyed the messages of the leaders of student movements from one to another.

His door was always open to the freedom-loving Bengali students and youths.

As time passed, the eatery became Madhu’s Canteen.


The Pakistani forces opened fire indiscriminately on students and other people at Jagannath Hall on Mar 25 night in 1971.

They attacked Madhusudan’s home in the Shibbari Residential Area the next morning.

His son Arun was a student of Class Five at the time.

Madhusudan, Madhusudan’s wife Jogmaya Dey, elder son Ranajit Kumar Dey and Ranajit’s wife Rina Rani Dey were killed in front of Arun.

“We woke up at the sound of gunfire, then bombing and tanks. We were awake throughout the night. We heard only the sound of gunfire and cries for help from the veranda,” Arun recalled the dreadful night.

“They shot my Boudi [sister-in-law] first when they came for my father. Then my elder brother. My sister Ranu was shot in the face and chest.”

Jogmaya was killed when she tried to stop the Pakistani soldiers from taking away Madhusudan.

“When the Khan Senas [soldiers of Pakistan’s ruler Yahya Khan] opened fire, Ma’s [mother’s] both hands were detached and her meat was all over the wall. Baba [father] was shot in his leg. He fell there, with Ma’s head in his lap. The Khan Senas then left,” said Arun.

The Pakistani soldiers then brought hall employees Shyamlal and Mohan Roy to take Madhusudan away.

“My half pants and shirt were drenched in blood. The floor turned into a pool of blood. I felt very thirsty and went to the next room to drink water. Then I saw them [soldiers] taking Baba to the Jagannath Hall field. They also brought Professor GC Dev [Govinda Chandra Dev] from his Bungalow,” Arun recalled.

“I asked Shyamlal and Mohan Roy about Baba after the war. They said the Pak soldiers shot my father dead that day.”

Madhuda Smriti Sangsad Prokashoni initiated the publication of ‘Madhuda: A commemorative book on martyr Madhusudan Dey’.

Professor Anisuzzaman wrote in the book’s preface: “Madhu’s love for the students and their respect for Madhu made the Pakistanis suspicious – ‘how can such a bond of affection develop amid business transactions; there must’ve been something suspicious.’”

“The enemies failed to grasp that Madhusudan Dey’s exceptional personality was the source of the students’ confidence,” Prof Anisuzzaman wrote.

Prof Rafiqul Islam wrote that the plans and preparations for the activities of Mar 11 in 1971 and Feb 21 in 1952 were done at Madhu’s Canteen.

Naturally, Madhusudan was marked by police and East Pakistan Rifles. They ransacked Madhu’s Canteen many times.

Now the canteen has a bust of Madhusudan by sculptor Toufiq Hossain Khan in front of it.

[Writing in English by Osham-ul-Sufian Talukder]