Deedar Comprehensive Village Cooperative Society (also known as Deedar Sarbik Gram Unnayan Samabay Somity) was founded in 1960 in the Balarampur village on the outskirts of Cumilla.
The cooperative society established by Mohammad Yeasin has contributed greatly to improving the socio-economic background of the people in the area, especially of Balarampur and the adjacent village Kashinathpur.
Starting with nine annas (a former monetary unit equals to one sixteenth of a rupee), the co-operative society now has assets worth Tk20 crore – including schools, deep tube wells, co-operative markets, community centres, car garages, micro-credit projects etc – according to the current president of the society Md Abu Taher.
The society began its journey with nine people but has around 1,500 members now. More than a quarter of the members are aged between 7 – 18 as the co-operative society aims to encourage the habit of savings among the youngsters.
The society members can get 20% yearly profit from the society by depositing a maximum of Tk20,000. Many of the society members' children's marriage expenses are covered by the interest of the savings.
A walk down the memory lane
When this correspondent approached the current administration of the Deedar Comprehensive Village Cooperative Society to learn more about how the society was formed, they were happy to reminisce.
The journey of the society started with the hand of a visionary tea stall proprietor Mohammad Yeasin. Yeasin was a member of the law enforcement but for taking part in a protest from 1955 – 1957, he was sentenced to jail for six months and lost his job.
After serving his time, he came back to Balarampur village and opened a tea stall by keeping 10 decimal lands mortgaged for Tk200. In the village, he witnessed extreme poverty around him and felt deeply troubled.
Around the same time, Akhtar Hameed Khan was working on establishing the Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development (Bard), which was finally founded in 1959 to empower underprivileged people and is considered as one of the most innovative and influential programmes in rural development in the developing world.
Yeasin, alongside running his tea stall, bought six rickshaws in 1959 but he was unsure about how to proceed. So, he approached Akhtar Hameed Khan. Khan said he could not offer any money but he could certainly offer advice.
Akhtar Hameed Khan advised Mohammad Yeasin to set up a cooperative society and on 9 October 1960, a meeting was arranged at Balarampur joined by 200 villagers of both Balarampur and the adjacent Kashinathpur. Khan addressed the audiences and gave them an overview of the work method, transparency, and purpose of the cooperative society.
Despite the encouraging speech, the villagers were still unsure if they wanted to be a part of this. Then, Yeasin promised that he would pay anyone who contributed back by selling furniture from his shop if their money was not used properly.
Even then, only eight rickshaw pullers came forward – each contributing one anna along with Yeasin himself, amounting to nine annas (some 56 paisa), and with that, the co-operative society kicked off.
Every week, the members gave one anna each and eventually in 1961, two more rickshaws were purchased with the society money. Society used to buy rickshaws for the regular contributors. Days elapsed and the society's savings grew and so did the number of rickshaws. By 1968, the society had 130 rickshaws.
Around 1964 – 65, the co-operative society started a new venture with bricks. In 1964, the society also took a Tk50,000 loan. A year later during the annual meeting with the society members, Akhtar Hamid Khan advised the co-operative society to dig deep tube wells.
In 1967, the society dug three deep tube wells but a group started opposing the idea. The group later also opposed the idea of using fertilisers and pesticides.
Despite the criticism and hostility, some 75 farmers of Deedar Cooperative Society started experimental rice cultivation. On the condition of giving eight maunds of rice and straws to the owner of every 40 decimals of land, the work began.
This endeavour proved to be a massive success for society. On average, some 77 maunds of rice were produced on every 100 decimals of land, which was almost unthinkable back then.
In 1968, the society built a junior school and gradually, more establishments sprouted with the society's money. Trucks and Tractors were bought and farms were established. Society did not have to slow down ever since.
Nurul Islam, a resident of Kashinathpur village, has been a member of the society since 1978.
"The society has helped both Kashinathpur and Balarampur find their footing. Almost everyone in the two villages is now solvent and adequately educated. The co-operative society played a great role in the agricultural revolution in the entire country and not only Cumilla," he added.
On 9 October 1999, Dr Akhtar Hamid Khan died in the United States. Eight days later on 17 October, Mohammad Yeasin also breathed his last.
Awards won in recognition
The Deedar Comprehensive Village Cooperative Society has won several awards for its positive social and economic impacts, including the prestigious Independence Award (also known as Swadhinata Padak), the highest state award given by the government of Bangladesh, under the category of Rural Development in 1984.
The society also won the Ramon Magsaysay Award, also referred to as the "Nobel of the East" in 1988. In 1990, the cooperative society won National Agriculture Awards and recently on 6 November this year, the society bagged the National Cooperative Award.
The co-operative society has also been visited by brilliant individuals, from both home and abroad, over the years. The current prime minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina visited the co-operative society in 1989 and the same year, chairperson of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) Begum Khaleda Zia visited the society.
However, to expand the businesses further, the society needs to build more multi-storied buildings, said Md Abu Taher, current president of the Deedar Comprehensive Cooperative Society. But he said the society does not have enough savings to do that right now.
"The society does have a market but to expand, we need government assistance," he added.
Mohammad Kamrul Hasan, deputy commissioner, Cumilla, said, "The local administration will help the co-operative society any way it can if the authorities of the Deedar Comprehensive Cooperative Society write to us."