imperfect | world | 2010

Archive for March, 2006

Wednesday
Mar 29,2006

Monira Rahman

Here is a bit of news you may have missed. The German section of Amnesty International have recognised the work of the Acid Survivor’s Foundation and its executive director, Monira Rahman, with its Annual Human Rights Award. In the pics you will also spot Irene Khan, the General Secretary of Amnesty International - and also of Bangladeshi origin!

Last year’s acid tally according to the ASF was 267 victims (178 women and 89 men. figures include 53 children under 18). Causes were :

  • dispute about land, property, or money: 46 percent
  • crimes related to rejection or refusal of love, sex or marriage: 15 percent
  • marital disputes: 12 percent
  • disputes within the family: 10 percent
  • dowry disputes: 5 percent

Above figures and full story HERE.

Last year Matiur Rahman, editor of Prothom Alo, was honoured by the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation for his role in highligting the issue of acid throwing and setting up a victim fund.

Tuesday
Mar 28,2006

The liberal and the conservative libertarian view of immigration is that it is good for society. Immigrants fill the demand for particular categories of jobs, they work hard and contribute to wealth creation. It was a view I encountered in a slightly unexpected setting: a taxi ride in Cambridge, UK. The conversation with the driver went like this:

Taxi Driver: So where are you from?
me: Scotland, mate.
Taxi Driver: (Laughs) No I mean originally.
me: Oh I see. Originally from Bangladesh. And you? (knowing well that he is a local chap)
Taxi Driver: (Laughs) So you must be a millionaire then?
me: em..What? Sorry I don’t follow…
Taxi Driver: All you Bangladeshis come over here with twenty pounds in your pockets and then you become millionaires….

I twigged what he meant. He was referring to the phenomenal success of Bangladeshi owned restaurants in the UK.  I was astonished by this summary of Bangladeshis. I was still under the impression that Bangladesh is exclusively associated with floods or the George Harrison concert but here was a view where Bangladesh is associated with wealth and, more importantly, wealth creation. For a second I got nervous.   Was his a liberal/libertarian view or was his comment tinged with xenophobia? Was he begrudging the success of Bangladeshi entrepreneurs ? I tested him:

me: So, do you like curries?
Taxi Driver: I love ‘em mate. Been to all the curry houses in the area. Know the owners of….

He reeled off a long list and asked whether I knew some of these formidable restaurateurs..He counted some as his friends. As we discussed restaurants and as I bemoaned the bastardization of the curry in the UK, I tested him further. Tell me, I said, what else do you know about Bangladesh. His answer was not totally unexpected: “Well there’s that bird Fariah Alam.” He even got her name right…I suppose that is only to be expected, as I do believe Fariah has received more headline news coverage in the UK than any other Bangladeshi woman ever!  So there you have it. The new image we are projecting here in the UK is that we are successful entrepreneurs and we have a b-list celebrity who bonks top football officials. I gave the chap a huge tip and wished he was a PR consultant for the Bangladesh High Commission here. Believe me, I would rather project this image than one associated with fundamentalism, bombs and carnage.

Sunday
Mar 26,2006

It is only correct for a blog focussing on Bangladesh to talk about Pakistan today. On 25 March in 1971 the Pakistani generals gave the orders to start massacring bengali people under an operation code named “Search Light.” Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared independence from Pakistan on the 26th. And even as the blood fest got underway, Pakistanis did not realise the significance of what they were doing. And indeed to this day, there is confusion and denial in the minds of Pakistanis about what happened today thirty five years ago. So this is my own little effort to re-jig memories. Today, Bangladesh’s independence day, should be remembered by Pakistanis as their greatest democratic interlude. This day more than half the Pakistani “nation” voted with its feet and said no to the nonsense of nationhood based simply on religion. Bangladeshis said no to a totalizing vision, to totalitarianism and oppression, and they said yes to democracy and freedom. They split from Pakistan and made nonsense of the two-nation theory. It was I guess the single most democratic event Pakistan has ever witnessed in all its years of existence.

Of course history takes strange turns: The military remain ascendant in Pakistan (will history never impart any lessons??). Those who defeated them - Bangladeshi veterans of that struggle - are neglected. Some of those who collaborated with the Pakistani army are enjoying state power in Bangladesh. And of course certain ideals held aloft on that independence day, not so many years ago, are almost forgotten.

Wednesday
Mar 22,2006

Rana at Baitul Mukkaram

Next time you go for jummah prayers to Baitul Mukkaram (Dhaka’s landmark mosque) take a look around at the stalls around there and at the stadium. This is Rana. You will see him there. He sells all *types* of VCD at his stall. I asked him whether the recent intended crackdown on p*rn*gr*phy troubles him (announced by Information minister M Shamsul Islam). ( Pls excuse the asterisks: if i write the whole word, google picks it up and I get the wrong kind of visitor to this site!) Not in the least, he tells me. Sometimes he has to lie low because the police have to flex their muscles etc but “things always blow over.” The last time he had to lie low for a bit was about six months ago. He sells triple x, double x and a new genre, well to me at least:- Rana calls it “ganer modhe khola mela,” which roughly translated means “songs with open stuff” - that is risque dhallywood music videos interspliced with european hardcore stuff.

Taking a look at the titles you suddenly realise you don’t get them in Gulshan video stores. I asked him what the quality is like. He assured me that he would give me top quality stuff. I bought four video CDs. Two turned out to be blank CDs. One had a virus file as well as the intact VCD files. Only one of the four CDs was playable - it was a “ganer modhe khola mela” one. Not bad for 120 takas?! I was a bit saddened that my copy of Sayed Shamsul Alam’s “Damn Care” was a blank - it looks like a real dhallywood classic with buxom Moiuri look-alikes brandishing knives dripping with blood.

Read my earlier brief post questioning Hayekian interpretations of this phenomenon of intersplicing p*rn*, and Dhallywood in general.

Tuesday
Mar 21,2006

I was in Joburg about a year ago. And my visit to the consitutional court was wonderful and special. Today, lots of special events were held there and all over South Africa in commemoration of South Africa’s human rights day. The day is in remembrance of the Sharpeville massacre of 1960 when apartheid forces gunned down people demanding basic human rights. The legacy of the anti-apartheid struggle should be an inspiration to all progressive people. That struggle held aloft the values of human dignity, equality and freedom.

Tuesday
Mar 21,2006

Syed Rabani is his name. He is a Bangladeshi and he is on death row in Texas - awaiting execution. What did he do? When did he end up there? What happened to him? Is anyone doing anything about him?

I must have missed this story somewhere along the way. If anyone has any information, please post a comment or send me an email. All that I have is a name on a long Amnesty International list.

Monday
Mar 20,2006

Seera Myal is doing her bit to highlight this deeply hidden but surprisingly common issue . I personally know one victim myself….The UK government is currently injecting some energy in bringing to light these human rights abuses through their Forced Marriage Unit. The Home and Foreign and Commonwealth Office jointly launched a publicity campaign last week. They make clear that:

Forced marriage affects children, teenagers and adults from all races and religions, including Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs. And it is not solely an issue facing Asian communities. We deal with cases in the Middle East, Western Balkans and Africa.

They have a case study on their website involving Bangladeshis. Here it is:

M, aged 23, wanted to marry a Bangladeshi man whom she had met whilst he was visiting family in the UK. Her family objected and M was regularly beaten. Her family wanted her to marry a cousin in Bangladesh.

On 10 July 2002, M went to Bangladesh and married her boyfrien a few days later. After the marriage, she contacted her family who then managed to trace her in Bangladesh. They convinced her to go to their home village as it was traditional for a girl to return to her parents and then be returned to her husband in an honourable way. However, once she went with them, they locked her up in a house. She was told she would not be allowed to leave until she divorced her husband and married the person they had chosen for her.

M’s husband found her and took legal action in a magistrate’s court to try to obtain her release. He heard that M had been subjected to physical abuse, was unwell and not receiving medical treatment. M’s family threatened to kill her husband if she told the court that she was being held against her will. M therefore said that she did not want to go with her husband.

M’s husband did not give up. He contacted the Forced Marriage Unit. We liaised with the British High Commission in Dhaka, who contacted a local Non Government Organisation (NGO) that helps with many cases of forced marriage. The NGO and its lawyers submitted a Habeas Corpus petition to court, demanding M’s release. The lawyer requested that the court allow her husband to speak to her privately. The judge agreed and M had a chance to speak to her husband who persuaded her that her only chance was to speak up in court and to say that she wanted to go with him. She found the courage to do this and the judge had no option but to release her. M’s lawyer insisted on a police escort to Dhaka where M and her husband were taken to the High Commission. They have since returned to the UK together.

Sunday
Mar 19,2006

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association’s (BGMEA) vice-president, Shahadat Hossain Chowdhury Arun, has finally come clean and admitted that child labour recruitment has increased in the last two years. The BGMEA have been resting on their laurels for some time, and spinning outdated stats from an ILO program conducted in the nineties which showed that child labour in the industry was going down. That project started in 1994 when 53 kids working in the garment industry appealed directly to the International Labour Organisation and to UNICEF to highlight their plight. The BGMEA described it like this:

On 4 July 1995 Bangladesh created history by signing a MoU on elimination of child labor from the garment sector. It was the culmination of long and arduous negotiations with ILO and Unicef and concentrated effort of BGMEA. BGMEA takes pride in declaring the garment sector of Bangladesh child labor free since 1 November 1996.

Nothing was ever further from the truth. That statement is patent and bombastic nonsense, and never reflected reality. The new project of the International Labour Organisaiton and the South Asian Enterprise Develpment Fund will be a five-year program to address “child labour, mid-management development and productivity improvement issues in the garments and knitwear sectors.”

Friday
Mar 17,2006

Stop the War Coalition Logo

People in atleast 242 cities around the world will be voicing their protest at the US led war in Iraq tomorrow (18th March). In Dhaka a demonstration will be held on 20th March, and is being organised by the Communist Party of Bangladesh.

Wednesday
Mar 15,2006

The Clean Clothes Campaign, an organisation devoted to bringing about change in developing country sweatshops, is calling for an International Action Day for Workers Health & Safety in Bangladesh on April 11th - the first anniversary of the dreadful Spectrum-Shahriyar factory collapse.

More information and suggested activites can be obtained HERE

84 dead and counting

Wednesday
Mar 15,2006

When I posted a blog about the KTS factory fire in Chittagong of 23rd February, 54 people had died. Now the figure stands at 84. Most of them women, and as young as 12 and 13. The National Labour Committee in the US have identified several Los Angeles based companies which purchased garments from KTS. They are asking concerned people to write to the LA based companies highlighting the moderate and reasonable demands of the injured workers and the families of the dead, and also to ask for compensaiton for those affected. Here is an extract from the letter:

These workers did not have to die. They died because main emergency exit was illegally locked, stairways were cluttered with boxes of garments, there was no fire safety equipment, and there had never once been a fire drill at the KTS Textiles factory.There were also numerous other violations at KTS Textiles. Workers reporting forced overtime, including 19-hour all-night shifts and seven-day work weeks; payment of below-subsistence level wages of just seven to 14 cents an hour; denial of legal maternity rights; physical abuse and beatings, and total suppression of the internationally recognized worker rights to freedom of association, the right to organize and bargain collectively.

Tuesday
Mar 14,2006

Arif in Dhaka

Arif loves the ringtones on his Nokia. One of the first things he asked me when we met was if I could transfer some fancy ringtones from my Motorolla RAZR to his phone. Sadly I couldn’t. Not only was it not technically feasible but he did not have a sim at the time. His Nokia is his pride and joy. He purchased it in Jordan. It is the only good memory he holds of Jordan despite the trouble he got into with it. The other recollections are of beatings and jail.

(more…)

Thursday
Mar 9,2006

US State Department Report on Human Rights in Bangladesh 2005 (pdf). Interesting reading!

Thursday
Mar 9,2006

Locked fire exits at garment factories create death traps for Bangladesh’s garment workers (see my post on KTS). But faulty and non-functional fire alarms can be just as deadly. Late monday night a burst light bulb set off the alarm at Sayem Fashions, Gazipur. About two thousand workers tried to exist the 7-storey building and, in the ensuing stampede, three women died and thirty got injured.

So what do you do to lessen the risks at these factories where regulations concerning fire exits are constantly ignored and flouted. Well the Bangladesh Garment Makers and Exporters Association’s latest idea is this: they are going to shoot video footage of dodgy health and safety of conditions in factories in order to take punitive action. Their prime concern, quite rightly, is locked exits. But get this: if you are found to have locked exits you get fined 10,000 takas for your first offence. That is less than a hundred pounds for an offence which could potentially claim scores of lives. A pittance! You can just imagine the factory owners trembling at the prospect of paying that amount can’t you? Mind you, these owners are so staggeringly stingy they don’t even employ people to clean the workers’ toilets properly and regularly for what would only be a few takas a day. So 10,000 takas rising to 50,000 for the second offence and expulsion from the association for the third could make them think twice….Well, we wait to see the fines applied and the owners named and shamed from next week.

All over Dhaka the most dilapidated buildings house these garment factories. They are obvious and in your face. It is surreal that video footage is thought to be required to take action against such conditions. But there you are. In a strange way, if these videos ever become public property they will be a powerful indictment of the industry’s working conditions and of the cruel negligence and insensitivity of the owners, the industry body, the government, the foreign buyers and, yes, consumers.