Arsonists on Thursday torched four indigenous homes and a school run by UNICEF in the troubled Baghaichari upazila of Rangamati hill district. Read here.
“The EU calls upon the government of Bangladesh to swiftly and thoroughly follow up with an independent investigation of this incident and of the allegations that the armed forces were involved,” EU’s chief Catherine Ashton said. Read the article.
….lets dwell on its legacy for a moment. I am not keen on rituals and I am wondering whether 21st February has become some kind of moribund ritual. And I am thinking that the resounding recognition given to this day by the international community ( International Mother Language Day) is not being lived up to.
Let me start with a little anecdote. I am the researcher and co-producer of a documentary on the urdu-speakers of Bangladesh (Swapnabhumi - The Promised Land). Its been well received so far and is shortly to hit the international festival circuit. I am currently working with the Bihari community to have this documentary shown in all the camps in bangladesh where they presently live in segregation. They had chalked in February as the start date for these shows but then community leaders felt that February was too sensitive a month to hold such a showing. The mainstream Bengali community had no problem showing the docmentary at a Film Festival yesterday but the biharis thought it would be asking for trouble and decided to postpone the showings until next month. I was disappointed by their decision - a decision born out of fear and 2nd class status -Â but I did not push it. I don’t live in one of those god-forsaken camps. I accepted it with regret and a feeling of the distance still left to go….
There is a moment in our documentary where a Bengali poets laments the fact that there are so many talented urdu poets in Bangladesh yet Bengalis don’t know anything about them. And that their language is derided.
Is this the legacy then of 21 February? Is this the measure of our inclusiveness? Of course urdu holds a particular problem for Bengalis given that the tyrants of Pakistan wanted to shove this nawabi language down our throats. But the legacy of 21 February falters elsewhere as well.
Its alliance and celebration of a particular nationalist narrative has had particular implications for those who are Bangladeshi but are not Bengali. You can sum it up in one word - exclusion. The Chittagong Hill Tracts is a festering example of what exclusion from a nation amounts to. The monoculturalism in the CHT goes far beyond just language.
Why can’t the martydom Bengalis witnessed on 21 February 1952 not infuse them with sufficient indignation to deal with these areas of shameful silence? Yes its a rhetorical question. And yes we all know the real answer. However, lets demistify it just in case you regularly get off on this banal ritual and feel great about it. Language policy is always a calculated issue in the hands of a political elite or a state. We know from our contexts - whether you are in Europe, Asia, America or Africa - that a language policy can be spun as something which promotes national integration and social cohestion. We also know that it can be a tool to suppress and marginalise. What is Bangladesh doing 56 years after the lessons of that fateful day?
The Jumma Peoples Network, UK are organising a silent demonstration outside the Bangladesh High Commission on 25 October between 10am and 11am. They are supported by Awami League, Survival International and others.
The protest seeks to register
in the Chittagoing Hill Tracts area in recent days. See the Word Document Here which is a letter to the chief adviser of the caretaker government.
Here is a Press Release from the Bangladesh Foundation:
Bangladesh -The Way Forward seminar at the House of Lords
A high profile seminar on Bangladesh titledâ€™ Bangladesh: The Way Forwardâ€™ was held today (Monday 11 June) at â€˜Moses Roomâ€™ in the Houses of Lords, organised by the International Bangladesh Foundation and chaired by Lord Avebury, the Vice Chair of All Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group. The seminar was attended by dozens of MPs, MEPs, Peers, representatives of human rights organisations, academics and members of overseas diplomatic missions based in London.
Syeda Muna Tasneem, Counsellor of the Bangladesh High Commission, gave an overview of the Caretaker Governmentâ€™s reform plans, and was followed by Sultan Shariff of the Awami League, Cllr. Ayesha Chowdhury for the BNP, and Cllr Ayub Korom Ali of the GanoForum.
Other main contributors were Jeremy Corbyn MP, Baroness Pola Uddin, Robert Evans MEP, Jean Lambert MEP, Abbas Faiz of Amnesty International, Salim Malik of Ahmadiyya Muslim community, Professor Mustaq Khan of University of London, Dr Gareth Price of Chatham House, Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch, Dr David Lewis of London School of Economics, Rosie Cave of Safer World, Maggie Bowden of Liberation, and Prasanta Barua, who spoke for the minority groups.
Almost all the speakers were in favour of the anti graft operation run by the Caretaker Government, but concern was expressed about innocent people being caught up in the wave of arrests. There was concern that defendants were being held too long before trial, and that in some cases there was evidence of torture or ill-treatment in custody.
There was general agreement that the ultimate deadline of the end of 2008 for the elections should be maintained, and that if the roadmap to be published in July showed that an earlier date was feasible, the timetable should be accelerated.
The meeting was cautiously pleased to note that the commission to decide on land claims in the CHT was being activated, and hoped that particularly close attention would be paid to allegations about human rights violations of indigenous people.Â
Lord Avebury while expressing his concern said, â€œI was glad to hear that the body of Cholesh Ritchil, the indigenous leader who was arrested on March 18 and died in custody the same day, has been exhumed with a view to conducting an autopsy. I had asked the Bangladesh government to conduct a full investigation into his death, and I understand that the exhumation will lead to a judicial inquiryâ€.
Concerns were expressed about the continued threat of terrorism, since the bomb blasts at the beginning of last month, and the accompanying threats against the Ahmadiyya Muslim community.
Speakers at the seminar also said that the Caretaker government must respect human rights, provide legal aid, and ensure no torture is taking place
Lord Avebury in his concluding remarks said, â€œThe caretaker government has formidable tasks in their hand, which may need substantial help from the international community. The government has already asked for assistance in the immediate task of preparing the electoral register, and we look forward to hearing what response there has been, and what progress there has been on the promised roadmap. If there are other resources needed, we need to know how we can helpâ€.
The blanket acceptance the present military backed caretaker government has enjoyed is fraying at the edges. The uprooting of small shops and other so-called “illegal occupiers” in the drive against corruption has left a lot of people disgruntled. The total suspension of political activity, as I wrote earlier, is also troubling.Â Unaccountability and arbitrary behaviour is not going to do the current dispensation any favours. In this context, news from the CHT - a special area in every way - needs careful consideration. And this morning, an email flew in from CHT News with some disturbing news. I quote in full.
Appeal for your kind action
Recently, using the state of the emergency, the military forces have increased their suppressive actions against the indigenous Jumma people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Particularly the joint forces led by army have been arresting PCJSS (Parbartya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti) and PCP (Hill Students’ Council) activists charging them in connection with terrorist activities. To materialise their allegation, the joint forces have been showing arm recovery from arrestees’ possession putting their (army) arm and lodging false arm case against them. On the other, though the government is conducting drive to capture the corrupt politicians and godfathers, but arrest of PCJSS leaders is fully politically motivated as because there is no such allegation and even case against the arrested PCJSS leaders. As prevailing emergency in the country, the Jumma people could not organise protests against these suppressive actions. For instances-
If you live in New York and have not seen Tanvir Mokammel’s documentary “Teardrops of Karnaphuli” - you can catch it at the 2007 Arab and South Asian Film Festival. The CHT is a big blot on Bangladesh’s human rights landscape. And this documentary is particularly noteworthy because of the way it understands landscape as social history. Watch it please if you can.
You will soon be able to buy this DVD online….watch this space. If you belong to an NGO or Human rights forum or environmental network, and you wish to show this documentary, please get in touch.
The headline news in today’s Daily Telegraph (London) is the rape and abuse of children by UN peace keeping troops in Sudan. The problem started almost two years ago, and was noted in a UNICEF report. The Sudanese government has been gathering evidence presumably as part of its challenge to the UN, and apparently has footage of Bangladeshi UN workers having sex with three young girls. The Sudan Tribune reprints the article and even carries a picture purportedly of Bangladeshi troops in Juba.
I wonder how the story will unfold. Whatever the outcome, one thing for sure is that newspapers should avoid the kind of hyperbole employed by a certain Lt Col Nazrul Islam in an article last year for the Daily Star. Not only is it totally over the top BUT IT IGNORES all that has been going on over the years in Bangladesh itself - namely in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Anyway, let me quote you the colonel’s words:
It is widely acclaimed that the most outstanding national achievement in independent Bangladesh is the name and fame earned for the country by the peacekeepers of Bangladesh Armed Forces. Despite negative publicity for the country as a whole, the indomitable valour, firm commitment, exemplary leadership, outstanding competence, unflinching patriotism, and superb discipline shown by the Bangladeshi peacekeepers have earned plaudits for the country.
It is also now also widely acknowledged that we are well-trained and highly professional armed forces, and that we are armed forces of a democracy, one that leads in pursuit of democratic values. Our quest for excellence and determination for upholding the ideals of peace and security will remain ever unflinching. …..blah blah blah
visit the Teardrops of Karnaphuli web site. You will need broadband to download the beautiful song “Karnaphuli.”
If you have seen the docu, please let me know your thoughts.
Just before elections, politicians change and they become all things to all people. So I was not suprised to read that Khaleda Zia last week promised to “solve all problems of the Chittagong Hill Tracts if voted to office again.” And how is she going to do this given the historic and irrevocable injustices perpetrated in this area? By developing tourist towns of course. Yes, pick yourself off the floor. You read correctly - all we need are tourist towns. Just think of the trade in crafts and trinkets and eateries. And oh yes something else. According to the same newspaper report, she has inagurated a project which will create a statue of Ziaur Rahman! What a cracker of an idea eh? A statue of her husband to help the tourist trade and to solve the problems of the CHT.
Myth building centred upon violent events requires physical sites. There is one in Dhanmondi. Now there is going to be another in Chittagong by the looks of it. And the quiet violence all around the CHT will remain as it is ….quiet.
Bangladesh has recently been elected to serve on the new UN body called the Human Rights Council. The newly formed United Nations Human Rights Council (replacing the the UN Human Rights Commission) has already come under a lot of flak. Observers say that a name change is all that has happened and the new body will be as bureaucratic and as useless as the one it has replaced, and that countries with a long track record of human rights abuses such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China etc do not deserve to be on the agency but nevertheless have been elected to serve in it. (Israel and the USA - two countries with unparalleled experience of abusing human rights - have remained off the body feigning their usual sniffy contempt and disdain…so you can see there is a lot of aggro about the whole issue).
Bangladesh’s human rights record, as we all know, isn’t exactly rosy. If you need a reminder of the present situation go to the “Docs” section of this blog and download a report or two. Arguably one of the least talked about human rights abuse cases is what is going in the Chittagoing Hill Tracts. Last week a session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was held in New York. Ina Hume presented a collective statement on behalf of the Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Orgnaisations, Jumma Peoples Network International, Taungya, Tribal Welfare Assocication, and Adivasi Parishad on Human Rights in Bangladesh.
Some points raised by the statement:
Monica Ali’s new book is inspired by her home in the Portugese Algarve. She say’s her success with “Brick Lane” has given her time for “truthiness” - “something that’s a good story, that “feels” right, but doesn’t correspond to reality.”
And the reality of life in the Rohingya refugee camps in the south of Bangladesh does not correspond with that which is acceptable. 21,000 people face deteriorating sanitation, health and education conditions.
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The Travelling Film South Asia festival hit the road at the end of last month. Featuring documentaries, this festival has become a real eye-opener encouraging political/social expression in this medium.
One docu that was produced last yearÂ is Tanvir Mokammel’s excellent but painful “Teardrops of Karnaphuli” (made 2005). Through the words of the inhabitants of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), both “hill people” and recently arrived bengalis, Tanvir eloquently tells the devastating story of dam construction in the area, the displacement of people and the resulting impoverishment of local inhabitants. The film focusses on how the Bangladeshi government then started settling people from the late 70s from outside the area, and how this laid the basis for protracted instability and human rights violations.
Here is a snippet of a conversation Tanvir has with Basundhara Dewan, widow of a pioneer painter of the CHT area, Chunilal Dewan:
In childhood we studied with Bengalis in school. We never quarelled. We never uttered who was a Muslim or a Bengali. There was no question then who was a Chakma or a Bengali. We lived in harmony. Water came and people became poor. Rehabilitation wasn’t properly done. Some received. Some did not. Those who received - the settlers came and occupied what they had received. Lots of violence began. Without feuding and fighting someone’s land can’t be occupied. Our lives became troubled.
Interestingly, for my South African mates, the festival includes a documentary from South Africa, called “Dirty Laundry,” exploring the issue of indian identity in post-apartheid South Africa. Give me a shout if you have any info about it.
I am in Glencoe, Scotland with my family (pic above of my kid in front of Buchaille Etive Mor). An easter treat after weeks of incarceration at home…What allowed me to do this was the knowledge that the scottish mountains are pretty much well covered by the mobile phone network. I could take calls if there was an emergency at home (my parents are both very unwell) even if I was at the top of a mountain… And so I couldn’t help thinking about how the local and foreign media cover Grameen’s mobile telephone initiatives in the rural areas of Bangladesh. They cover it uniformly as a great success story helping to alleviate property and ushering in a new prosperous dawn for rural women . Undoubtedly Grameen is bringing about significant change with the opportunities it creates and its many programmes. However it is the unjustified, unrealistic and uncritical assessments which claim that poverty is just about to be swept away with microcredit or indeed grameen’s lending for mobile phone programmes that irritate me. The structural factors contributing to poverty are hidden in such simplistic discourses.
I wonder what Grameen are doing to bring their mobile phone network to the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). How come their considerable lobbying power is not able to overcome the government’s refusal to allow mobile coverage in the area? If mobile phones are now considered a basic necessity to promote development, what about introducing them in that area? Surely this area more than any other in Bangladesh needs it?? Or maybe it is a different issue we are dealing with here. Maybe it is one about security. Or maybe it is about
concealing events news management - like for example what happened a few days ago when violence broke out between settlers and indigenous people leaving people seriously injured and missing?