Surur Hoda (1928-2003)

Surur Hoda and friend at The Gandhi Foundation Summer School

Surur Hoda and friend at The Gandhi Foundation Summer School

For 25 years Surur Hoda was international secretary of the civil aviation section of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITWF). He was also chief executive of the London-based India Development Group (IDG) and the founder of the Gandhi Foundation. A democratic socialist — he formed the India Socialist Group in London in 1960 and was an active member of Socialist International — his work for the world’s rural poor was based on the precepts of Mahatma Gandhi, Fritz Schumacher and J P Narayan.

Surur was born near Chopra, in Bihar, India, the eldest son of a middle-class Muslim family. He attended Patna University, graduated as a railway engineer and joined the railwaymen’s union. His union activities made it prudent to move to London in 1962, where three years later he joined the ITWF as secretary for railways and civil aviation. Meanwhile, he had become active in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, forming lifelong friendships with Fenner Brockway, Philip Noel-Baker and David Ennals.

In the 1970S, when J P Narayan the socialist leader was jailed by the then Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi during her ‘emergency’, Noel-Baker chaired Surur’s Free JP campaign, which contributed to the effort to restore democracy in India.

By 1970, Surur had joined forces with his brother Mansur, who was with Schumacher’s Intermediate Technology Group. Together they formed the IDG, supported by Indian business and professional people in London, with the aim of equipping Indian villagers with simple technologies.

The birth of independent Bangladesh out of East Pakistan in 1971 led to many Bihari Pakistanis being stranded in the new state. Surur organised a delegation, headed by Ennals and Ben Whitaker, which contributed to nearly 200,000 folk returning to Pakistan. Surur and Ennals also worked to promote Tibetan self-determination and the restoration of Fiji’s democratic government.

After working with the ITWF civil aviation section, Surur headed its Asia/Pacific region. There he fought many cases of human and trade union rights violations.

In 1983 Surur created the Gandhi Foundation in Britain, to promote knowledge about Gandhi’s teaching and relate them to problems of violence, social injustice, environmental destruction and racial and cultural conflict. This, and the IDG, were the focus of his activities in the last 10 years.

His wife Elizabeth’s role in all of Surur’s work was invaluable, and his achievements owe her much. The help of their son Mark was also increasingly important. A man of great charm and warmth, inspired by the teachings and example of great men, Surur inspired his friends and colleagues. In 2000 he was awarded an OBE. He is survived by Elizabeth and Mark, and by his son Firoz and daughter Afshan from his first marriage.

George McRobie

Tributes to Surur Hoda

Richard Attenborough writes:

There would have been no Gandhi Foundation without Surur Hoda. The very concept was his and indeed the inspiration for its creation was his. During the 20 years of our existence there have been both successes and crises. He has always been steadfast believing passionately in the advocacy of all that Gandhiji stood for. Everyone here today will miss him greatly. We all owe him an incalculable gratitude. I knew Surur well, both as a colleague and friend and I shall miss him during the rest of my life.

Diana Schumacher writes:

It is difficult to express the sense of inestimable sorrow and loss all Surur’s friends have experienced at his untimely death in June this year just after his 75th birthday.

I met Surur Hoda together with Lord Ennals and Cecil Evans at the first meeting of the Gandhi Foundation in London in 1983. Subsequently I was asked to serve as a Trustee of both the Gandhi Foundation and the India Development Group (originally founded by Mansur and Surur Hoda together with George McRobie and my late father-in-law, Fritz Schumacher). To have known each of these remarkable men has been an exceptional privilege and in each case one is rnpted to quote M K Gandhi:

“When people walk their own truth with compassion there are no religious boundaries and nothing can impede change.”

Surur, as many of know, was a true Gandhian in spirit and in action — modest, compassionate, courageous, wise and forever championing the cause of the poor, the dispossessed and the marginalised. It was with great reluctance that he was persuaded to take over the Chairmanship of the Gandhi Foundation earlier this year, although through his illness he was unable to attend his first meeting as Chair in February.

Surur had persuaded me, as a guest of the India Development Group to give the first Mansur Hoda Memorial Lecture in New Delhi in January this year in memory of his brother Mansur who had died just over a year earlier. though in extreme pain himself through a back injury, Surur masterminded the entire 16 day visit, even accompanying myself and others to the Schumacher Institute of Appropriate Technology in Lucknow against the advice all his medics and colleagues. He was, however, unable to complete the rest our itinerary and after the main Lecture was over, I and others had to continue with the rest of the programme without Surur. However, it was typical his generosity of spirit that on my last day back in Delhi, on yet another cold grey evening, Surur had staged a farewell party and dinner at the hotel where I was staying and insisted on accompanying me to the airport at some unearthly hour of the morning. That was, poignantly, the last time I saw him, although we had several productive telephone conversations after his return to the UK.

On July 31st in Bristol at the latest meeting of the Board of Directors of the IDG, Dick Gupwell (Delegated Chair) made the following statement:

“The Board of Directors expresses its heartfelt appreciation for the vision, inspiration, Leadership, courage and tireless hard work given by M S Hoda over many years striving to uplift the conditions of the deprived rural population of India on basis of M K Gandhi and E F Schumacher. Expresses its determination to ntinue the work of M S Hoda in promoting the ideals of E F Schumacher with regard to rural development and appropriate technology in India and, thereby, preserve the legacy of its colleague and friend M S Hoda.”

Thank you, Surur, for your generosity of spirit and your spirit of self-sacrifice. We who remain must now all strive with renewed vigour to fulfil the universal vision of the social and environmental justice which your life exemplified at such cost to yourself and family.

Martin Polden writes:

I met Surur some 20 years ago when I became involved and participated in the formation of the original Trust. His energy and devotion to its inception and determination to guide the organisation through days of difficulty as well as those of impressive success, served, in turn to energise us all. He was ever, and so remains, a beacon of light whose life and work exemplified the instruction of the prophet Micah,

“to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with thy God”.

Godric Bader writes:

The immediate compassionate warmth that Surur brought always gave me the necessary support in my often difficult endeavours to pursue Gandhian Trusteeship principles in the growth and development of the Scott Bader Commonwealth. Gandhian Trusteeship purposes gave our Commonwealth foundation its basic building blocks, and to have had the understanding and support of the Gandhi Foundation through its leading light Surur was so valuable and inspiring over the years and continues to be, particularly now in these days of world crisis. Whilst we all sorely miss his bodily presence, his spirit and what he stood for will never be lost.

Arya Bhardwaj writes:

The void created by the sudden demise of dear friend Surur Hoda is an irreparable loss to all those who have had the good luck to come in contact with him during the long spell of his public life of more than half a century. I came in close contact with Surur from the time of the formation of the Gandhi Foundation, UK, but I knew him from 1974 when the JP-led movement for Total Revolution was at its peak and Surur was supporting it from Britain. Surur had been very close to JP ever since he became a socialist in his student days. He became a socialist youth leader in his native Bihar and had then risen at the national and international level when he joined the International Transport union. I was actively involved in the JP movement, being a Sarvodaya worker. During the Emergency when I was in jail, I used to listen on the BBC about the Free JP Campaign launched by Surur with the help of human rights activists like Michael Foot.

When The Gandhi Foundation started a Summer School in 1985, I had the good luck of attending as a resource person invited by Surur. On my visits his home became my home. Surur, Elizabeth and son Mark made me a part of their family during more than 20 visits to their home in Purley. It was here that I came to know Surur’s multifaceted qualities of head and heart. In one line if I have to sum up his life I would say that he was a man of Conscience. He would not leave any stone unturned in serving the cause of others, whether it was the question of Indo-Pak relations, the cause of industrial workers, of the Bihari Muslims discarded by both Pakistan and Bangladesh, of human rights and civil liberties, promoting communal harmony, international understanding, world peace and nonviolence.

Mark Hoda writes:

My family has taken great comfort from the number of tributes from friends and colleagues following Surur Hoda’s passing. Reading through the messages of condolence it is clear that he is remembered for his kindness and commitment to the various people, organisations and causes he worked for during his life. The sentiments expressed also very much reflect the feelings of his family.

I think one of the main reasons for this congruence of emotions is that the affection and commitment Surur showed members of his large family was also very present in his relationships with friends and colleagues.

Surur was born in Chopra, Bihar, India in 1928. As the eldest of six brothers and three sisters he took the responsibility placed on him to look after his siblings and their families very seriously throughout his life. However, he also relied heavily on their love, support and advice.

Settling in London in 1962, some of his family later followed him there, but he remained very close to his extended family which is spread all over the world. Surur led an extremely active life and travelled the world working tirelessly for a large number of organisations and causes. However, his family was extremely important to him and he always found time to be with them.

I have vivid memories from a very early age of always having uncles, aunts, cousins and other relations visiting our home and also visiting family members and friends in the UK and around the world. This left me in no doubt that for Surur and his family spending time together was one of the most important things in life.

This is why Surur’s passing has created a huge void in the lives of his family members. Being the eldest of his generation put him at the apex of the family. We have lost a dedicated husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle and with it an invaluable source of love, support and advice.

However, we are very conscious and comforted by the feeling that he touched many other people’s lives and that friends and colleagues with whom he worked will miss him greatly but also remember him with a lot of affection.

Cecil Evans writes:

The inspiration for setting up The Gandhi Foundation in 1983 and subsequently sustaining it was largely provided by Surur Hoda. Characteristically, he would claim that the support of many others was also important. His brother, Mansur, for example, was one of the early team until he had to return to India to pursue his interest in intermediate technology.

Richard Attenborough’s film, Gandhi, was, and still is, a constant source of inspiration and he agreed to serve as President. David Ennals, formerly a government minister, was our first Chairman. He had collaborated with Surur on efforts to help the Bihari refugees to return to Pakistan. Hoping to enlist the support of Quakers, Surur and Mansur approached me at Friends House.

Surur told me that friends in India had hoped that a Gandhi Foundation could be established here in the UK, similar to the Gandhi Peace Foundation in New Delhi. We hoped that Richard Attenborough’s film would succeed in capturing the imagination of the public, and particularly young people, for Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence. While this goal has not yet been realised, it has never been abandoned!

Surur worked tirelessly through summer schools, lectures and an annual inter-faith service to help make Gandhian ideals a reality. Our lives have indeed been enriched by his pioneering spirit and his friendship. The best tribute we can make to his memory is to continue to work for the objectives of peace, social justice and good inter-faith and community relations, which have been so integral a part of his active life.

Betty Clarke writes:

I was so sad to learn of the death of Surur Hoda, without whom The Gandhi Foundation would never have existed. It was his brainchild, and together with Cecil Evans they worked tirelessly to raise funds. Richard Attenborough became involved because of the depth of his feeling for Gandhi after making his famous film, and thanks to his generous donation of £5000, Surur and Cecil were able to engage me as very part-time secretary (with small ‘s’) and later as Treasurer. We had to beg the corner of a desk and an old typewriter from Kingsley Hall and then we were ‘in business’. I typed the Newsletter from Kathleen Jannaway’s hand written scripts, and together Surur and I photocopied them and posted them to our new members. Meanwhile Cecil was busy fundraising, particularly amongst his Quaker friends.

I worked with Surur for about 10 years, meeting him at least once a week and never, during all that time, saw him other than calm, sweet natured and considerate, although this hid a steely resolve never to accept failure. He was always full of faith and optimism that projects would turn out well.

His commitment to the Gandhi Foundation was shared by his many family commitments, by his active support for his local Labour party and for Gandhian projects in India together with his brother Mansur, who died over two years ago.

How much he is missed by his close family I cannot begin to imagine. He was my dear friend, and will never forget him.

Peter Cadogan writes:

Surur had a rare and special genius for people, for finding the right people to do things and then never interfering in the way they did them. He worked on trust, a great virtue long in decline. I long wondered how he did it, until one day, sitting in a small group of three or four people he told us. He told us the story of his childhood, of the big house he lived in with his grandmother, her sons, their wives and children, a classic extended family. The grandmother was guv’nor. She never gave orders, she simply said what was to be, and so it was. It was the rule of love. It was in that context that he grew up and how his remarkable character was formed. Then the grandmother died, and one by one the families went their separate ways and a great extended family slowly dissolved. But its memory and example did not dissolve, as Surur’s subsequent life and record are our witness.

3 Responses

  1. M. Surur Hoda was my father and a dear friend too. Many people have written so many good things about my late father. It is heartening to see that he is remembered so vivdly and affectionately by innumerable people all over the world for whom he dedicated his life and worked tirelessly for the ‘Labours’ causes. ITF was his passion, GANDHI was his ideal and J.P. Narayan, Fritz Schumacher and Phillip Noel Baker etc. were his role models.
    He worked and befriended with many renowned and excellent personalities of the world e.g. Willy Brandt-the Chancellor of Germany and Founder of the ‘Socialist International’, Harold Wilson-the Prime Minister of the Great Britain, Bertrand Russell, Richard Attenborough and many more and other business tycoons of their times.
    Gandhi Foundation, London, UK has done a great job in his memory by establishing a ‘Permanent Fund’ to carry on his work and legacies and the dreams that he lived for. His younger brother Mansour Hoda should also not be forgotten for he was a motivating factor to my father Surur Hoda throughout his life. His passing away two years earlier to Surur, had a fatal affect on Surur’s life and career. His beloved saister A.B. Mateena also passed away subsequently. And all these tolls, Surur could not bear and gave away his own life a year or two later. I closely knew Surur not because he was a father and I was borne out of him from his first marriage, but because he shared many things with me in confidence and opened his heart sometimes to me. He was such a lively and lovely soul. May God rest his soul in ‘Peace.’ Amen !.

  2. Dear Mark

    I do remember you and your great father who was loving to many of us at our young age. Now our children are grown up and like to send them to summer school to experience.
    aditya patnaik
    Orissa,India

  3. Surur Hoda (or Bare Abba) as I knew him was my surrogate grandfather (when in actual fact he was my granduncle). A figure with an huge amount of warmth and life about him, he always inspired awe in the younger generations of our family. It was only much later (after his passing) did I read about him and the great things he did for many people around the world. That was the kind of person he was- humble, down to earth, and selfless. Despite being a very respected member of our extended family and the patriarch of our ‘Hoda khandaan’ he was always a person you could approach, however old you were. I will always remember him as the head of our family in the UK, the man who mentored my father, and the the soul and life of family reunions. Family was very important to him. He, like so many of his brothers and sisters (2 of which are my grandmothers), was an extraordinary human being leaving a lasting impression in the memories of all the individuals he met.

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