imperfect | world | 2010

Archive for September, 2006

Sep 30,2006

Ershad in noose

Here is a depiction of Ershad found on the walls of the Garmment Worker’s United Forum! Sorry about the quality - the old N91 is to blame. Not even Karl Jeff’s professional efforts can beat this one I reckon….

If you have any good ones yourself of the old dictator, send them my way. I am amassing a collection for my bedroom walls. I know…I am a sad git.

Theatre in Bangladesh

  • Filed under: Art
Sep 29,2006

Shafi Ahmed of Jahangirnagar University has written an interesting review of the state of theatre in Bangladesh over the last three years or so in the 2006 edition of The World of Theatre. He discusses, amongst other things, theatre as a tool of protest and theatre as an expression of resistance. He also touches on the great diversity of plays being performed - many of which are of overseas origin. Shakespeare, Moliere, Ibsen, Miller and Brecht are all there…

This is how he ends his short review - with a tilt at the fundamentalists:

All said and done, Bangladesh theatre still suffers from (the lack of) any standard patronage either by the government and local councils or from private foundations and the corporate sector. A city which has a population of 10 million has only three public auditoriums worthy to be mentioned. Theatre in bangladesh is far from becoming ‘professional’ in the practical sense of the term. Young talented artists of all fields, namely acting, set design, music, light and dance often feel allured to join the electronic media, which is financially and publicity-wise far more rewarding. But in spite of all the odds, theare marches ahead with a spirit which cannot be subdued by the problems of funds, and space or by the chorus of the fundamentalists.

Nizami tells porkies

Sep 28,2006

Maulana Motiur Rahman Nizami, chief beardo and minister for industries, told a gathering of ambassadors a bit of a porky. ( A porky, by the way, is brit slang for a fib. I clarify this just in case you were wondering if this is a meat related story. It is not….) He declared that Bangladesh is a land of religious harmony and tolerance. Yes imagine that. And such a statement in the month of ramadan too. You are not supposed to tell fibs this month…

I am thinking of sending him a copy of Mohammed Rafi’s excellent new book: Can We Get Along: An Account of Communal Relationship in Bangladesh. Rafi looks at the elections of 2001, when this present government came in, and examines in great detail the communal violence observed throughout the country including rape and murder.

Did 3 million die in 1971?

Sep 27,2006

Here is Mofidul Hoque’s take on it - emailed to me a couple of days ago. MH is the curator of the Liberation War Museum in Dhaka.

I prefer the sliding figure used by Imperial War Museum, London. As far as I remember they quoted the number as 2-3 million, which I think is a better way to put the number. In a country where you cannot figure out the exact number of dead when cyclone hits or a launch capsizes how can you track the number of people killed in a nine-month long killing spree of a civilian population by one of the most organised killing machine of the world?

Do you know one aspect of Bengal reality? There are professional divers who work for the launch owners. After a launch disaster they are employed to go to the river, dive deep and cut the belly open of any dead body they come across under the water. They do it so that the dead will not float and casualty figure will remain low and the owner can feel better. Pakistan Army did most of the killing along riverside so that the flowing water will carry the dead. They also covered the dead in many mass graves. It is our duty to uncover those dead.

We may not have exact figure of the dead but we have quite exact numbers regarding the displacement of population. 10 million people had to seek refuge in 968 camps in India. One can have all the names from the record if one likes to dig deeper. Among this 10 million there were a large number of casualties especially of children and old people. There were two waves of cholera epidemic in the camps. In many cases families buried their dead but retained the ration card with them for obvious reasons. So you need different kind of researchs if you like to go for the figures. But you can guess about the dead in the camps. One should add that figure in the 3 million.

In Cambodia it is said that 1.7 million people were killed by the Khmer Rouge. Many people quote the figure of 3 million. But I found very few people questioning the figure. When the number of 3 million dead in Bangladesh came up in the days after the victory there were different agencies trying to guess the number of people killed. As far as I remember a Swiss agency upheld this figure which found broad acceptance. Of course it is a guess work but I think it is not far from truth, keeping in mind that almost every family in Bangladesh suffered. Nevertheless, will go for the IWM approach.

Anwar Hossain in Amsterdam

Sep 25,2006
Anwar Hossain is holding an exhibition at the World Trade Centre, Amsterdam from tomorrow for a couple of weeks. Those of you who are not aware of his work - he is one of Bangldesh’s foremost photographers. He is also a noted cinematographer. And fortunately for me he is the cameraman for the film I am co-producing! ( More on this later). So if you happen to be in Amsterdam tomorrow, come along and say hi. We will both be there. Here is one of his photos which I absolutely adore.

Anwar Hossain

Distant and unseen

  • Filed under: Floods
Sep 24,2006

Many are feared to have died in the rains. Some reports say that over a thousand fishermen are missing. However if you were in Dhaka yesterday, you wouldn’t have noticed much hue and cry about it. It seems to me like the country has become blase about these calamities. Yesterday, Prothom Alo did not see fit to lead with this story preferring instead the Bush-Musharraf double-act. The Daily Star also gave chief prominence to another story - about the training of police or the lack of it rather….In the UK, where i live, such a disaster, if local, would fill the whole front page. There are very few pictures of what is going on - press photographers and television cameramen, I guess, prefer the safety of towns. There is almost nothing about what shelter, relief and food is being organised.

What I find strange is that there is no great sense of urgency to do anything. No ministerial appearances, no appeals, no phone-in numbers for concerned people, no major headlines in the papers, no CNN-like over the top coverage of what is going on. I remember Grameen Trust being proactive after the Tsunami crisis. I believe they even launched an sms service where you could send in some money from your phone. I guess Grameen favours big high profile projects….

However I can’t help thinking that if those missing or dead were from the metropolis - Dhaka - we would have heard a lot more and seen a lot more activity on the rescue and other fronts. There is a real and palpable difference between how rural and urban issues get noticed.

Things I saw in Dhaka

Sep 21,2006

Yesterday. You remember my post about the innovative use of sms for finding water levels free of arsenic by sms? Well how about this use of texting technology: for calling the fire brigade in an emergency! Presumably they phone you back and get the details? Or perhaps they use gsm positioning and locate you and whizz down and hose you down?

sms for fire brigade

And as the caretaker government is about to take over - yes it is a curiosity in world politics this caretaker thing - blogs about Bangladesh will be in a frenzy I am sure. I have decided to concentrate on fashion issues and leave the serious stuff to the boys over at DP. To kick off, how about this geezer’s election poster? I mean is that a wacky shirt or is that a wacky shirt? Psychedelic man. And the tie is no less worthy of mention. And that blazer/suit jacket - oversized by about 3 sizes? What do you reckon? And notice the insets of Zia and Khaleda - compare their respective sizes with that of Mr T in the top left corner?

BNP election poster (Bangladesh)

My mate is MD of Nandan. I am not really name dropping. I have never got a discount off the bastard…nevermind. Anyway, I still patronise the place and here are some tasty mutton heads for your delectation:

mutton heads

Sep 16,2006

The NDI recently organised a multinational delegation to assess the political environment in Bangladesh ahead of the January 2007 elections. Their report is now published (links to pdf file). It is not a particularly perceptive report but gives a good and competent summary of the present circumstances. And what I found most interesting is that in several places it discusses intra-party conflict, that is violence and intimidation etc within a party. Equally importantly, this report also raises the issue of exploitation of youth for political purposes.

So here are some extracts. First the sad bits:

The political parties are locked in their own internal and external conflicts and, in the eyes of many, appear estranged from the real-world challenges and needs of the 140 million people of Bangladesh.

The delegation found that many individuals blame the current impasse on the inability of senio rpolitical leaders to enter into discussions and to reach necessary compromises. The oft-voiced complaint was that elections were about political ambition and not the future of the country and the public welfare.

The delegation also received reports of incidences of intimidation and violence against women and religious and ethnic minorities. These reports are of particular concern to the delegation. If left unaddressed, such actions may undermine the reputation of Bangladesh as a tolerant society.

The funny bits.

The report here reads like a comedy script. And the last line reveals what the delegation thought of Aziz - incompetent and a serious problem.

The delegation was deeply concerned to hear from a broad cross-section of parties, civil society,media and independent observers of a widespread lack of confidence in the Election Commissionand, specifically, the Chief Election Commissioner. When the delegates raised the issue with the Commissioner, he did not acknowledge that a problem existed and later reported to the media that the delegation had been misinformed. The delegation has identified a perception of incompetence and bias as a serious problem that requires being addressed.

The absurd bits:

National and local authorities, the police agencies, the military forces, the political parties and civil society should discuss and devise strategies to curb the rampant violence that threatens to destabilize not just the electoral process but also society, itself.

You wot mate? These are the very chaps who are doing the rampant violent stuff!

…….. the leaders of two major party coalitions have a higher obligation to strengthen democratic practice and to improve parliamentary governance.

Sadly there is little chance of them realising this……

Caption Competition

Sep 15,2006

More mayhem and injuries and more photo-opps for Joy just as I predicted! A few days ago he was watching over Saber. And now it is Asaduzzaman Noor’s turn.

Send me some captions for this photo below.
Noor and Joy

Joy: Noor bhai, amma is most pleased with your performance. Both on the stage and the streets.
Noor: Stuff that, mate. Can I be flown to Singapore too like Saber?

Bangladeshi Sex links

  • Filed under: sex
Sep 15,2006

The International Herald Tribune today reports the comments of a foregin aid agency chief: Bangladeshis don’t talk much about sex and this could help spread HIV/AIDS.

The New Nation reports that upto 18.2 percent of students of colleges and universities use sex workers -female, male and transvestites. 64.7 percent dont use condoms. And lonely housewives with husbands working abroad are suffering from sexual diseases acquired through extra marital relationships. This article also has more information about rickshaw drivers and truck drivers - I have posted about these professions before HERE.

Are members of the female sex fit for political office and indeed is it religiously sanctioned in an Islamic state? Shah Abdul Halim engages in the usual obscure Hadith searching, and lo and behold comes up with an affirmative answer. Hasina and Khaleda will breathe easy.

Climate Change & Bangladesh

  • Filed under: Asides
Sep 15,2006

Sabihuddin Ahmed on the dire consequences of climate change for Bangladesh.

Sep 14,2006

Interesting leader in the Indie today:

The world’s top designers are showing their latest collections in New York this week, with couture pieces priced at thousands of dollars. But within weeks, cheaper versions of the same trends will be available in high street shops the length and breadth of Britain. Never have the fashion-conscious had it so good, especially those who need to count their pennies.

Gap gets a good write up:

The new cut-price fashion stores should look to the example of Gap to see why, far from jeopardising their bottom line, it would be in their interest to look more closely at the conditions in which their “instant” fashion garments are produced. Although Gap had rocketed to global fame, it had become associated more with the scandal of sweatshops than with the celebrities who endorsed it. Sales fell, as a new generation of more ethically aware customers saw the Gap logo as a badge of shame rather than honour. So the company changed its policies. It pushed its suppliers to pay their workers a living, rather than just the legal minimum, wage. And it worked with, rather than against, trades unions on collective bargaining and factory inspections. Gap’s fortunes have now been revived - and the price of its clothes remains low. After all, the difference between the cost of labour - which is counted in a few pence - for a T-shirt that sells for £8, leaves a generous margin for adjusting workers’ pay and still plenty left over for the intermediaries.

Sep 13,2006

The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission was both problematic and inspirational. Its reverberations continue down the years.  A couple of weeks ago an extraordinary act of repentance took place when the former hated law and order minister of the apartheid regime, Adrian Vlok, publicly washed the feet of a former liberation fighter - the Reverend Frank Chikane. Today I read that Vlok has encouraged other former apartheid security police agents to come forward and seek atonement.

What chance is there for a similar forum for reconciliation in Bangladesh? The splits of 1971 and 1975 are tradegies of national proportions but
they can be accommodated within a mature and functioning democracy. Without this the political forces in the country are unlikely to reach a durable and permanent solution to the problems affecting Bangladeshi democracy.  Reconciliation is both a goal and a process. The process would reinforce the norms and institutions for peace and democracy and create mechanisms that can find a way out of the incredibly futile and violent nature of current politics in the country.

But in the meantime,  enjoy the show.

Hasina wins!

Sep 12,2006

Oh yes she does by over 75,000 when I tried. Try it yourself HERE.