imperfect | world | 2010

Archive for December, 2007

Imperfect World 2008

Dec 31,2007

Honourable / Respected / Dear citizen of the world,

the point of living and of being an optimist, is to be foolish enough to believe the best is yet to come…here’s cheers to take the lead from Peter Ustinov and be fools in 2008!…if we wish to that is!!! Warmest greetings for the season and for 2008!

(Thanks P and N!)

2007 - A bad year for dynasties

Dec 29,2007

Bangladesh did it haphazardly. Pakistan did it violently. And Nepal did it democratically.

In July of this year, there came the stunning news that Sheikh Hasina had been arrested. The writing was on the wall for some time but no one could believe it when it actually happened - especially not Hasina herself! She always thought that her status as daughter of Mujib conferred some special status  above and beyond that due to a politician or even a party leader. And she repeatedly reminded people of that relationship in her own hectoring, finger-wagging style. The powers of state were supposed to be hers by birthright and then suddenly and incredibly, she was at the mercy of those powers! Before the CTG took over and during Khaleda’s tenure in 2006, Hasina was busy preparing her son to take on the job. After each deadly clash on the streets, her son Joy ( who would stay at home during the demonstrations behind mummy’s apron), would visit the wounded in hospital. Yes it was a farcical as that. Read HERE and HERE.   But with her arrest, the annointed son has not had the spine to show up in Dhaka and protest in person. He prefers blogging in the US and has launched a toothless petition on the web seeking his mother’s release and which has garnered something like 800 signatures (many obviously fake- I put in two names myself!) over all these months .

And not long after, in september, came the arrest of Khaleda Zia. And before that her dear son Tarek was arrested. Ah Tarek. I doubt if there has ever been a “politician” so bereft of a sense of proportion and so unable to appreciate the role history had handed his family. Uncouth and uneducated, she and her son Tarek are finding out the hard way. “Zia is the idea, Khaleda is the present, Tarek is the future.” Last year that slogan looked menacingly possible but now Tarek’s chances of becoming the future are as good as George Bush’s chances of becoming a Hafiz.

And  this week’s awful news of the killing of Bhutto. Two brothers and father…all dead. That is the tally. They are blaming the nebulous Al Qaeda ….as it says you must on the song sheet. Musharraf’s anti-democratic politics had nothing to do with it of course! US stooge status has brought further ruin to this failing state of Pakistan, a process that started in 1947.

And this week too the Nepali political parties have decided to boot out the monarchy. I say democratically above but I am not forgetting the ten years of bloodshed between 1996 and 2006. Nearly 15,000 people died in that conflict - mostly non-combatants. The Maoists walked out of the interim government and demanded that the monarchy end. And it looks like it will.

But getting rid of these dynasties, though significant, pales in comparison to the other upheavals these countries are likely to witness in the near future. Brace yourselves.

The chain of exploitation

  • Filed under: labour
Dec 27,2007

Not only does child labour exist in the Bangladeshi garment industry ( as we discussed in our documentary Bostrobalikara: Garment Girls of Bangladesh), it seems the garment industry also sources cotton from Uzbekistan where child labour is rife in the cotton industry. Now the pressure is on for Bangladesh to find an alternative source of cotton.

The Environmental Justice website above makes reference to the emptying of schools for the purpose of cotton picking. In our documentary we point out that what child labour does is effectively to displace an adult. And in the displacing of an adult, a family is denied an adult income. That of course has a knock-on effect on the ability of that family to educate a child. It becomes a vicious circle perpetuating poverty and inequality.

Inspector Clouseau in Dhaka

  • Filed under: Art
Dec 26,2007

Ah yes the bumbling and incompetent Inspector Clouseau must have been in charge of the precious bits and pieces at Zia Airport the other day when the nation’s heritage was under the care of Air France. Two priceless pieces have gone walkies. And the rest have been returned to the national museum as the powers that be finally resolved to not send the stuff to the Guimet in Paris. As I said in an earlier post, this whole thing at the Guimet lacked process even apparently the final decision to send them according to the New Nation.

And amazingly, Ayub Quadri, the education and cultural adviser to the inappropriately named “caretaker” government, is mulling resignation. I guess he is hoping Monsieur Clouseau will find the priceless Vishnu artefacts and save his skin.

Meanwhile I reckon Inspector Clouseau’s spokesman has started the damage limitation exercise at the French embassy in Dhaka. They reckon the whole thing was “highly suspicious.” Mon dieu! Yes it gets better. And they are effectively blaming those people who objected to the exhibition for the theft! This is a quote from their press release :

”… could also be the result of a conspiracy by a very small nexus of people to embarass France and Bangladesh.”

And the fallout in France? Well the concern is overwhelming it seems from my preliminary searches in newspapers such as Le Monde, Liberation etc. Not a damn thing. I even looked at L’humanite…a paper I always bought on my dirty weekends in Paris…but there also, NOTHING.

December 16th

Dec 16,2007

Victory Day in Bangladesh and Reconciliation Day in South Africa.

And as I am currently located in Glasgow, here is a fitting prayer for this day from Scotland:

Then let us pray that come it may,
As come it will for a’ that.
That sense and worth o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that an’ a’ that,
It’s coming yet for a’ that,
That man to man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.

Dec 15,2007

We are human; We want human rights.

That is the thundering title of a play by a theatre group working with the intersex (hijra) community of Bangladesh. The play was written and directed by Subhas Biswas Shuvo and performed by Rongberong theatre group. The objective was to create greater awareness of the marginilisation this community faces in mainstream society. READ MORE HERE. You will note the presence of heavyweight politician A Noor (noted in the text of the report). Yet in what capacity was he there? I hope as a human being, as an actor and as a politician (and not Hasina underling).

A friend of mine - a film editor - wants to do a short doc on this community. He is collecting information currently. Any help from any experts out there would be greatly appreciated. Get in touch with me.

Our subject matter overlaps a little. I have started finding out about prostitution in the context of rickshaw drivers and their lives. A very brave woman film-maker and I are hoping to explore and see if we can get anywhere with this subject. Its not a ride in the park this. He he..I couldn’t resist the pun there. She ( and I will reveal her name shortly) has already made some headway in getting herself accepted by the rickshaw drivers. I am impressed by the small NGOs and activists who are doing the hard slog, unrecognised and poorly supported. Anyway, here is an interesting article about the sustainability of prostitution by Md. Khairul Alam.

….In some countries, including Bangladesh, presence of prostitution and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is systematically denied, being considered a taboo by the majority of the society. There is no official record of the prevalence of residence base & fleeting sex workers in Bangladesh. Lack of any reliable records of the underground sex industry makes the data shaky. Sex workers in Bangladesh are suffering from unavailability of medical services and knowledge about STIs. Social stigmatization stops these resource-deprived women from seeking proper medical care.

War Criminal Frenzy

Dec 14,2007

As Bangladesh’s Victory Day approaches, I have been getting a stream of reminders and emails about war criminals. Yes we are such a cheery lot aren’t we. No end of year celebrations for us but instead we focus on fundamentalists, their beards and what not. I mean it. Suddenly in late 2007, there seem to be a myriad organisations both inside and outside Bangladesh which have made this issue their central focus. And whenever I see an email from Ansar Ahmed Ullah, I know immediately there will be some call to hang this razakar or that, or some other blood curdling plea. He is actually a very nice chap if you meet him, and so these emails sit rather uncomfortably with the image I have of him.

He organised a meeting a couple of days ago at the Brady Centre, Londonistan. Various people from various outfits were invited including Jeremy Seabrook (journalist and writer of a book on Bangladesh which exposed the growth of fundamentalism), Gita Sahgal ( Head of the Gender Unit, Amnesty International and previously a leading campaigner against fundies) and Martin Bright, Political Editor of the New Statesman and the man who exposed the British governments dilly-dallying with fundies. But do all these high-profile anti-fundie campaigners approve of the leaflets that Ansar sends out? Here is a portion of his latest leaflet …Its like something out of a macabre december panto show.


And what kind of politics calls for the hanging of people and the banning of those who opposed the liberation war from political life? To me this kind of politics smacks of….ehm the same sort of thing the fundies engage in …authoritarianism. It is also brutal and undemocratic. This is not the way to seek justice for the victims of 1971. This is not the way to combat fundamentalism.

But the most perplexing thing for me is why now? Why are there so many organisations making the same noise now? Is it to portray Bangladesh in a particular light for particular purposes and to serve particular ends?

Tanvir Mokammel on Youtube

Dec 10,2007

So here is an interview I conducted with Tanvir bhai to highlight some of the themes of our documentary on the bihari community. It features in the DVD of “Swapnabhumi The Promised Land.”

INTERVIEW (youtube)

Banksy back in the West Bank

  • Filed under: Art
Dec 4,2007

Banksy in Palestine

The great Banksy is back in Palestine. And through his PR people he says he wants more tourists in Bethlehem….Interesting…i thought there was a boycott of Israel amongst progressive minded people….? But I think a change of tac is probably a good thing.

Dec 3,2007

I often have occasion to use Western Union to send money. The rates for Bangladesh are very reasonable compared to many other countries. And today, I learnt with surprise that they are not charging fees for money transfers to Bangladesh. At first I thought this must be some sort of marketing ploy. The assistant then enlightened me that it was because of the recent disaster.  And although I suspect they still make a little on the exchange rate it is a nice gesture nevertheless. I wonder how long it will run..

Various bit and pieces

Dec 2,2007

1. If you remember I wrote about the non-existence of palliative care in Bangladesh. Well, here’s how things stand in South Africa. My friend Natalya Dinat talks about her experience.

2. My eight year old son has been ploughing through Phillip Pullman’s books. (I never encouraged him to read the Harry Potter tripe. A S Byatt’s dismissal of Rowling’s work is something I endorse fully!) The American catholics have been getting their knickers in a twist about The Golden Compass ( an adaptation of Pullman’s work). But its useful to hark back and remember what the current Archbishop of Canterbury said about Pullman’s books. HE WELCOMED INTEREST IN IT. READ HERE.

3. Hana Makhmalbaf - younger sister of Samira - has just won an award for a film on Afghanistan “Buddha collapsed out of shame.” She is still just a teenager! I suspect the Taleban will be as livid as the American catholics. Her sister Samira’s film “The Blackboards” easily rates in my top ten favourite films. And I do believe Samira herself was impossibly young when she won the Cannes’ jury award for that. Dr Kamal Hossain, as UN special raporteur on Afghanistan, apparently helped their dad Mohsen with his film about Afghanistan - Kandahar. Dr Kamal Hossain also features in our documentary, Swapnabhumi, about the urdu-speakers of Bangladesh. It is a key moment in the film, and the limitations of Bangladeshi nationalism are laid bare in a few words.
4. And here is a review by Annu Jalais of our documentary.