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Abdul Aziz 2.png
Honorary Titles Member Of Parliament
All Nicknames REIMOO
Place of birth Porbander
Country of birth India
Date of Birth 1912/10/06
Date of Death 1990/04/29
Place of Death COLOMBO
Name of institution of highest education achieved B Com. Bombay University
Place of longest stay COLOMBO
Profession or occupation carried out for the longest period in life: Trade Unionist, Politician
Family tree click here
Full name Hirbai Gulamhussein Remtulla
Full name Gulamhussein Remtulla
Full name Janabai Ajani
Full name Anver Aziz
Full name Ashraf Aziz
Full name Laila Hashwani
Full name Zaiboon Alibhai Patell

Abdul Aziz Gulamhusein Remtulla’s life in Ceylon exemplifies the frequent tendency of the Khoja migrants to engage in the civic life of their new home to “pay back” to that society.

The son of a successful Gwadar-born merchant, who made his home in Colombo of the 1930’s, Abdul Aziz, as he came to be known in Sri Lanka, went on to devote more than 50 years to the plight of migrant tea-plantation workers who had been grossly exploited, first by the colonial plantation owners and later by Sri Lankan. During this time, as a trade unionist and politician, Abdul Aziz Bhai became the voice of conscience for successive post-independence governments, earning a reputation as a fearless fighter and yet being a polite and cultured human being, creating political alliances for his cause. Abdul Aziz Bhai died in 1990 and it is a testament to his towering stature in Sri Lankan society that the President, Prime Minster Andy politicians of all stripes were in attendance at his funeral. In fact, the government also issued a special commemorative stamp in honour of his contribution to that beautiful but troubled nation.

Abdul Aziz was born in Porbandar, Kathiawar in 1914 - the story is told that his mother had lost all her previous children at birth and by local custom, she “left” Abdulaziz on the roadside and later picked him as if he was a “foundling” i.e not her own child, so as to beat the curse of losing her "own" children - whatever it was, Abdul Aziz survived and went on study at the best high schools in Karachi and later at Bombay University. He was soon part of Gandhiji’s freedom struggle, going on to be elected in 1935, to the Executive Committee of Bombay Students Movement. However, he was constantly being harassed by the colonial police and had to flee for Ceylon after graduation.

Initially joining the family import/export business, he was soon back into politics of the local Indian Association where he became President. He was soon drawn towards

of the mostly Indian tea plantation workers. Abdul Aziz became the voice of these most downtrodden sector of the Sri Lankan society. 

For organising the workers, he was a thorn for the British authorities and was so despised by the owners,he was arrested and charged with sedition. It is said that he avoided a stacked plantation owners jury by cleverly insisting on Tamil-speakers Naturally, the Tamil jury acquitted this fighter of their own rights.

As soon as the British departed, local communal forces took power in Sri Lankan and all of them failed the helpless Indian migrants. Abdul Aziz fought their unpopular cause with the newly empowered parochial governments - fighting against their disenfranchisement; lack of protection under the labour laws; lack of education for their children and against the constant threat of deportation back to India. Abdul Aziz was the President of the Ceylon Workers Congress until 1945 and formed the more left-wing Democratic Workers Congress, which was quite unpopular with the local elites.

In 1949, he was elected as a Member of Parliament but lost the seat when the Indian workers were disenfranchised. Later, in 1970, he appointed to the Parliament by Prime Minister Bandaranaike. Thorough skilful manoeuvring of the coalition politics of the multi-ethnic Sri Lanka, I he consistently raised the worker's concerns, although most of the time, his voice was drowned in cacophony of the fight between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils, Muslims, Christians etc.

Later, he campaigned for the rights of all working Sri Lankans and rose up in the ranks of progressive international organisations becoming the vice-president of the Afro-Asian Solidarity Organisation (AAPSO) based in Cairo. In the days of the super-power rivalry and growth of the non-aligned movement, Abdul Aziz bhai was a fiery speaker for peace and solidarity frequently travelling to international forums where he met world leaders including Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Zulfikar Bhutto, UN Secretary-General U Thant, Chinese Premier Chou en-Lai etc.

Abdul Aziz Bhai’s life illustrates the possibility of those with privileges to use their good fortune for those less fortunate. As an eldest son of a wealthy Colombo merchant family, he could have easily settled into a comfortable life as one of Sri Lanka's post-colonial elites and even secured a non-contentious political role but instead, he chose to use his education and personal wealth for the difficult and dangerous fight against injustice. That his extended family supported his choice also deserves to be appluaded.

Abdul Aziz Bhai and others in public service globally (See Amir Habib Jamal of Tanzania) or Issa Gulamhussein Shivji ) illustrate the best tradition of the Khoja to engage in "sewa" to effect social change and promote greater common good.

By I.I.Dewji, Editor, Khojawiki.org



Complied from information in the book "Abdul Aziz 75 Birthday Facilitation Volume & provided by Ashraf Bhai Abdul Aziz Remu,Colombo 2017. IID/2017