imperfect | world | 2010

Archive for the ‘Asia’ Category

Sep 12,2007

Estrada life imprisonment

Life imprisonment for corrupt ex-President: “This is the last chance for the state to show that we can do it, that we can charge, prosecute and convict a public official regardless of his stature”

Read here.

Aug 6,2007


They still wake before dawn in desert dormitories that pack a dozen men or more to a room. They still pour concrete and tie steel rods in temperatures that top 110 degrees. They still spend years away from families in India and Pakistan to earn about $1 an hour. They remain bonded to employers under terms that critics liken to indentured servitude.

Read and view more pics here.

Feb 24,2007

The bihari issue in bangladesh is not likely to feature in this caretarker administrations sights. Indeed it hasn’t featured in the sights of any government.

Last year it was noticeable from the press releases and statements of the UNHCR that there was a disjuncture between the approach of the foreign ministry ( = it is an issue for Pakistan) and that of Khaleda’s office ( = we are already integrating biharis). But really nothing was being done. So much time has passed and it is incredible that we can’t resolve this issue. Feelings run high at the very mention of the name. I was talking to an outwardly sane chap only the other day and when I mentioned this as a possible documentary project, he started telling me stories about how the bihairs would fling bengali children in the air and bayonet them during the war….end of conversation.

Yet there are so many examples to draw upon. The South African TRC, problematic though it was, has useful lessons.The Cambodians have started the process. And this week, Timor and Indonesia have got down to it. I have to say the joint Indonesia-East Timor Commission of Truth and Friendship looks even more problematic than the South African TRC. In fact it looks seriously flawed. That should not be reason to not bother with things in bangladesh. Everything is open to contestation, to bargaining and to negotiation. And so the various stakeholders really need to gear themselves up to deal with the issue. Certainly the bihari issue is located within the pro-liberation and anti-liberation cat-calling that goes on but surely, given the conjuncture, there is no better time to deal with it than now?


Dec 14,2006

Hammer and Sickle

It was an adventure this morning for sure. My brave taxi driver was scolded mercilessly for breaking the bandh by a bunch of CPM lumpens comrades. They made me get out of the yellow ambassador taxi, and I then walked most of the way to my destination. It was the best thing that could have happened of course. I have some great shots of Kolkata now. Thanks guys!

The news stations here in Kolkata have been quite critical of the bandh. The level of aggressive questioning in Indian tv is quite something to watch. One could not imagine anything of the sort in Bangladesh. Journos there have a hard time, and the kind of questioning I witnessed today would be like signing your own death warrant.
We wrap up here on the 17th, and leave for Dhaka. From the frying pan into the ….

Kolkata, India

  • Filed under: Asia
Dec 11,2006

Folks, Makes a nice change to arrive in a city where the airport is not named after a dictator….but instead after Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose ( ok ok we all know his anti-imperialist flirtations with dodgy types but…) Makes a change also to see the hammer and sickle here and there…well, ok…. everywhere. A wish for a better future if nothing else.  Yes this place has all the charm Dhaka should possess but does not. I speak of the charm a western eye finds in dilapidated colonial buildings and a street artery/architecture redolent of the roads/avenues of Europe. This place reeks of all the baggage we inherit when we encounter the romanticised Raj. Partly. And then there is Mamata Bannerjee . She is on a hunger strike here in the city, and what a show too. David Blane you are no match…
More on that later…..

Dec 7,2006

South Korea protest

Many, many thanks to the anonymous reader who sent me this inspiring link about a demo by migrant workers in South Korea against the government’s Employment Permit System. It describes a demo which took place some years ago or around December 7th this year - I can’t work it out! Anyway, the article refers to a Ms Jalal of Bangladesh who performed a song at the demo (is that her in the pic below?) :

One of the undisputed highlights of the rally was the performance of WAW (We Are Warriors, breaking the borders): a traditional song from Bangladesh modified with a song against EPS, and employer arbitrariness and demanding the struggle for a better life. The song was created as a expression dance by Ms Jallal from Bangladesh - really great it was.

The Employment Permit System Act came into effect in August (2004), giving the Ministry of Labour a legislative structure to control and monitor migrant workers for the first time. The Act allows migrant workers with visas to work for a maximum of three years, and gives some protection of basic rights. However, undocumented workers who have stayed longer than four years are liable to immediate detention pending deportation. Employers face large fines if they employ undocumented workers.

There are around two hundred thousand undocumented workers not registered with the authorities, many of whom are unemployed. They provide cheap labour, often in dangerous conditions. ( Culled from Amnesty International).

Ms Jalal


Dec 6,2006

And so I am off to Kolkata. I have been saying the word over and over to myself as I tend to do when I am excited about a place I am visiting. I am experiencing something akin to sensory overload as I think about Kolkata and all that it means to me. As is always the case in such scenarios, I am disengaged from what Kolkata really is. I was there last as a five year old child. And this disencumberance from real experience is interesting for it allows me to create my expectations based around all the bits of history I am fond of and my cultural inheritance. Romantic stuff to be sure.

And now Kolkata, and I am going to sound like a real pseud I warn you, keeps bringing me back to Amitav Ghosh. And in particular his book The Glass Palace. I have found my own little angle in there about diasporic experience - those of you who are regular readers will know that I am doing a project about the bangladeshi diaspora. I can’t think of any other author who has managed to reveal so much about diasporic experience (pls let me know if you do), and in this book with the backdrop of empire and freedom - from the old Raj in Burma to the contemporary United States. If you want to flick through the book before you decide to read it, read the section (12-4) where Rajkumar loses his mother on a boat to Chittagong. That passage brings home the essential diasporic experience - the desire to survive and to create one’s destiny.

Nov 2,2006

A couple of quick links for you as I seem not to have any time to write anything:

Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, where I will be landing next week, seems to be like a terrorist hang out/summer camp if you read this BBC story.

I was Singaporean director Tan Pin Pin’s first DVD sales customer at Objectifs films last week in Singapore. She was in the office when I popped in and hey presto I got the first DVD out of the box and Pin signed it too. Please order this fantastic film for xmas. Details HERE. If you remember I wrote it about it very briefly here. Most exicitingly I might get involved in her new project - Invisible Singapore.

Lately, as part of my migrant labour project, I have been keenly following the activities and pronouncements of Dr Ali Bin Abdullah Al Kaabi the Harvard trained minister of labour of Abu Dhabi. And in this news report this man is redefining the rights of labour by changing the words a little. He says:

“The foreigners working in the UAE are temporary workers and do not represent migrant labour”

Foreigners comprise 90 percent of the UAE workforce……Does the learned and honourable minister mean immigrant labour? Whether migrant or immigrant…..both categories have internationally recognised rights. Temporary workers, erm….do not.

Oct 16,2006

Yes Dr Yunus you may have got that gong but start worrying - your Grameen phone business has competition. According to certain american publications, North Koreans are buying old phones in Bangkok, sending them to Bangladesh in diplomatic pouches  and selling them on in the streets. Yes American journalism knows no boundaries. When it comes to reds under the beds or mullahs in the attic, it will plumb unheard of depths.

Richard Lloyd Parry the Asia Editor of The Times (London) has been blogging and writing about the short-sightedness of American foreign policy re North Korea and the “inane guff” being spewed by CNN:

The only solution is the one which the South Korean government has promoted all along (and which the US government supported until the advent of George Bush): engagement, a long, patient process of drawing the country out of its shell and enabling North Koreans to see what a dreadful - but not hopeless mess - their leaders have got them into. That’s not going to happen under George Bush, under whose presidency manageable situation in Korea has got out of control. In a sense, the government in Pyongyang is only going to change if the governmennt in Washington changes first.

I follow his blog avidly. He writes brilliantly and about many and varied things. Often quirky. Sometimes tragic. Essential reading really.

There, P, I never thought I would ever say all that about a News International journalist.

Filial Ambitions

Oct 9,2006

So the two great general secretaries have been catching up with each other:

bhuiyan and jalil
Jalil: So if that despot’s son, Kim Jong Il, can explode a nuclear bomb despite the isolation, the biting sanctions, and the total impoverishment of North Korea - why can’t you sort out the power sector?

Bhuiyan: Ssssshhh! Please don’t give Tarek any ambitions along those lines…..

East Timor and Bangladesh

Sep 6,2006

I am going to indulge myself today and reminisce about the old days and talk about personal things. About 14 years ago I set up the Oxford university East Timor society with the encouragement of my East Timorese mate, Joao Boavida. (Joao -where the f… are you?) Noam Chomsky even agreed to be our patron when we approached him at a presentation he was giving. Anyway, a couple of weeks back I was introduced to a certain Wing Commander of the Bangladesh airforce. All he talked about was East Timor or Timor-Leste ( its official name) and its many connections with Bangladesh. Everything from portugese traders to present day Bangladeshi entrepreneurs making a living out there to the shared experience of genocide at the hands of a state bent on imposing its will.

My airforce contact has some amazing shots of Timor-Leste from the sky ( he was a copter pilot with the UN peace keeping force) and equally amazing tales to tell - some of which I shall recount here another day. He even argued, though a little unconvincingly, that the people there look like us Bengalis (how unfortunate that would be…). To prove his point he apparently persuaded a group of East Timorese women to wear saris, and took a snap of them. He now challenges bengali friends and colleagues to tell the group apart from bengali women, and he insists that that those taking the test don’t manage to detect any difference!

I am co-producing a documentary film ( more on this later too!) and it is apt that I should be re-connecting with East Timor. It was a documentary about the massacre in Dili by the Indonesian forces in the early nineties which made me realise the power of film making. As always I am looking to my south african mates to point the way ahead, and I have already received essential tips from them. For which, thanks. As always.

Sep 1,2006

Ziauddin Sardar

Ziauddin Sardar is a leading british muslim intellectual and is the author of Desperately Seeking Paradise (amongst others). The above book is a must read for anyone wanting a synopsis and analysis of the major trends in Islam. In the book, Sardar engagingly recounts his journey through many muslim societies trying to get to grips with different approaches and philosophies, and critiquing them along the way. I could not put the book down, and though i had difficulty with his critique of secularism, I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to all and sundry. There was a channel 4 docu pretty much based on the book - but his intellect and charm are much more evident in the book.

The above book actually starts off with his stint in the Tablighi movement - where he ends up running away with a young (white) girl and takes her home to his parents! Now, Sardar has new light to shed on the Tablighi movement. He says that the character of the movement is changing. More than that, the change has come about through infiltration and is anything but benign. I want to quote at length and hope that the New Statesman chaps, where the article appears, won’t mind. The relevance to Bangladesh is that each year the movement has its biggest gathering in Tongi - just a few miles from Dhaka - with followers attending from all over the world.

Conventionally, the Tablighis are seen as an unchanging, conservative, benign, global network of simple preachers. This, I think, is a serious mistake. Organisations do not remain static. Simply because Tablighi Jamaat has followed exactly the same course for decades, no one thinks it can change. It has. Drastically.

To begin with, there is not one but two Tablighi Jamaats. A breakaway group emerged in the mid-1990s and added a seventh point to the Jamaat’s programme: jihad in Pakistan and abroad. In October 1995, a group of Tablighi soldiers from the Pakistani army were involved in a plot to overthrow Benazir Bhutto, the then prime minister. The plot was discovered; and Bhutto purged the army, sending a string of Tablighi officers into early retirement. But the new faction, for all intents and purposes quite indistinguishable from the old one, went on to establish its headquarters in the northern Punjab town of Taxila, from where it advocates active involvement in politics and jihad.

But even the old Jamaat is not what it used to be. It has been infiltrated by groups such as Lashkar-e-Toiba, the banned organisation responsible for sectarian violence in Pakistan. Office-holders in Lashkar-e-Toiba, and other militant organisations such as Harkat-ul-Ansar, openly boast that they recruit their volunteers from the Tablighi Jamaat. This doesn’t surprise me. An unquestioning mind, which is what the Tablighi tends to produce, can easily be redirected towards nefarious ends.

Aug 13,2006

Difficult, dirty and dangerous is what 3D stands for - in case you were thinking that it was some kind of digital stuff…

Illegal immigrant workers in Korea number upto 180,000 and include Bangladeshis. Abuse and exploitation is commonplace, and new legislation may curb some of these excesses but at the same time create other problems.

John (not his real name) came to Korea from Bangladesh six years ago. Today, he works at a small textile mill in Ssangmun-dong in northern Seoul. He works 14 hours a day, seven days a week.

“My workload is much larger compared with regular Korean workers,” he told The Korea Herald. “The troubling thing is that I get paid far less than them as well.

Read the article HERE. This story echoes the news which broke earlier this year about the trafficking and exploitation of Bangladeshi and other workers in Jordan.

Aug 4,2006

Takashimaya, Singapore

Takashimaya Department store display earlier today.
As Singapore approaches its 41st birthday next week I was extremely pleased to see a fantastic new film about Singapore on the flight over from Dhaka yesterday. One of the things I like about SAA is that it features films other than just blocbusters. Its in-flight entertainment has everything from indie and art movies to the latest Tom Cruise nonsense.

Singapore Gaga is a beautiful film, and dare i use that cliche, multi-layered. It really is. Any one who has been to Singapore and spent any time in it or thought about this enigmatic place will find something of interest in this 52 minute film. And if you have not, Tan Pin Pin’s film will nevertheless send you into a contemplative mood. A film of great artistic merit and an antidote to the kinds of commercial/partriotic government nation building exercises underway to celebrate Singapore’s 41 years. Read more about it here.