Here is a delicately written Economist article which pulls the rug from under nobel laureate Yunus’ feet. You remember the Danone thing where the good Professor, always a man for stunts,Â invited the great Zinedine Zidane to Bangladesh? The article deals with the business model inherent in that set up and compares it to other approaches,Â namely a book by Paul Polak.Â And the article sticks the boot in….but oh ever so subtly.Â Some excerpts:
In his new book, Mr Yunus describes how Grameen and Danone agreed on a joint venture to sell nutritious food to the poor. It is a wholesome tale of French businessmen finding meaning in their lives, and Bangladeshi children enjoying something better than rice gruel to eat. But Mr Yunus also smothers the story in molasses, making claims about the originality and profundity of the enterprise that are simply too rich to take.
And the absurdity of Yunus’ hyperbole is collapsed like a house of cards:
However tasty and nutritious the yogurt they eat, the poor will not consume their way out of poverty. To escape, they must find a way to make more money. This simple truth is repeated by Paul Polak, the founder of International Development Enterprises (IDE), in â€œOut of Povertyâ€, his wise and engaging new book.
I bet you didn’t know that the Lonely Planet travel guide series is owned by the BBC? Yes it is, and the BBC is one of 28 UK companies with dealings in Burma. Gone are the days when progressives the world over would praise the World Service for saving lives. Now the BBC is slave to financial concerns. The call to boycott Lonely Planet comes from the Trade Union Congress, Tourism Concern, New Internationalist and The Burma Campaign UK. They argue, quite rightly, that a travel guide on Burma “helps give legitimacy to the brutal regime, as do the tourists who use it to visit Burma.”
The Burmese seem not be fussed. They are more upset by the sagging breasts of Rambo. Come again, you say? Yes. They have taken offence at Sylvester Stallone’s
man-breasts physique and lunatic demeanour in a film where he kicks Burmese ass. Perhaps they would have been happier if his breasts were firm and his appearance more comely? Here is a still from the film:
….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?
This interview with Harinder Baweja was done before the extension of her visa (due to expire tomorrow) by the Indian government. She is confined to a safe house and she does not how long the extension is for. She was awarded the Prix Simone de Beauvoir by the French government for her writing but was not allowed to receive the award from French President Nicolas Sarkozy when he visited India last month. Here is an excerpt from the interview.
Do you think you have become a political pawn?
I think so. And I am not a political person. I am a writer. I donâ€™t do politics. I just love to live in Kolkata because my language is Bengali. And I love Bengal. I am writer who writes in Bengali not in English. I want to be with my readers, with my Bengali friends. And my relatives from Bangladesh can come to see me in Kolkata. So I feel at home in Kolkata. I donâ€™t want to do any politics. I donâ€™t want to be used for political purposes. I begged many times not to use me for any political purposes. I am a simple human being. I write for humanity and human rights. I want to live on my own and also write whatever I believe in. So I am not harmful for society, I want to do good for it. I want to write about womenâ€™s rights and freedom so that they can get self-esteem, strength. There are so many women who love my writing. So itâ€™s important for them and me. Also I can find meaning in my life if I could live here peacefully. I was living here peacefully until I was used for political purpose.
The 10th International Short and Independent Film Festival has got underway in Dhaka. An excellent collection of films is being shown over the next week or so. And of course it features our own Swapnabhumi - The Promised Land. The festival’s goal is this:
The festival welcomes films of artistic merit and creative expression with a commitment to social and cultural harmony, secularism, sustainable ecology and the rights of women, children and minority communities.
Go to Events for schedule, venue, name of film etc. And if you do go and see Swapnabhumi be sure to give me your views on it.
I wonder what kind of representation they got. I wonder what kind of defence they could afford. I wonder why, given the huge workforce Bangladesh has working abroad,Â there is no agency/organisation which fights their corner. Did anyone contact “Fair Trials International” on their behalf? I wonder is it too late?
Here we are in Dean Street, Soho ( where else??) to buy a bit of kit, innit? No sadly, my handsome visage is not in the picture.
Did you read with glee that the beach at Cox’s Bazaar and the forests of the Sunderbans have been voted the top two natural wonders of the world. Yep, so did I. But I also read with trepidation that the army is engaged in 15 beautification projects? Oh dear.
Right wing Tory MPs and anti-tax and anti-immigration campaigners in the UK have got a new thing to moan aboutÂ - the costs associated with translation services!Â The police alone use translation services costing about Â£21 million across Wales and England. And the total cost is a staggering Â£100m a year.Â But there is great news for Sylheti people - you apparently speak an “obscure language” according to this article! Don’t be offended! It simply means you guys are even more in demand than other language specialists! So forget about becoming chefs. Alter your CV to become a language expert. The pickings are good - at the moment at least!
I have had to search hard but Abdul Kader Mollah is irrefutable proof of the benefits the last BNP government brought to ordinary employees in certain state enterprises. Mr Mollah, a sales assistant drawing less than $70USD a month, nevertheless managed to amass a fortune totalling at least $66 million dollars (according to his own conservative reckoning) thanks to the auspices of the BNP’s Collective Bargaining Agent and others. Click the link above to read about Mollah and his successful colleagues. Yes, yes - it was not just a solitary success story! At least 80 percent of Titas Gas’ 2800 employees came up trumps too. What finer testimony to the stewardship of industries by the last Khaleda Zia government can there be?
Is it any wonder that the middle classes are fed up with the present government? Price hikes and an end to such benevolent industrial enterprises? The High Court should immediately halt the present government’s investigations into these activities given that these matters happened many years ago ( as in Hasina’s graft cases). Let Mollah flourish!
I leave it to you dear reader - which is the less palatable news? That bird flu is running rampant in the country or that the equally deadly Hasina might be let off on a technicality? The most bizarre ruling has just been passed by the High Court. Apparently Hasina cannot be tried for alleged crimes which took place several years ago and committed before this caretaker government took over. Tried, that is, under emergency regulations (with no bail etc). Interestingly of course when it comes to the punishment of others for similarly old or older crimes,Â the Awami League are most eager for the current emergency government to go ahead and pursue them. It is her party, for example, which is baying for blood for those who committed crimes in 1971 and later.
You will notice that the same article makes reference to Khaleda denying corruption. I ask you, dear reader, was there ever any corruption in the country in the first place? I am sure if you asked the High Court in its current mood they will deny it existed.
Mention Uzbekistan to me and I conjure up romantic visions of a fabled city called Samarkand, and of the great and vibrant trade route or Silk Road and all the great intrigues and powerplays down the centuries from Alexander the Great to Tamurlane to the Great Game to….er Islom Karimov. Who he you ask? Well firstly he is a mate of George Bush. So if you are thinking that Karimov must then be a tinpot dictator who boils people to death and presides over a country which uses child labour for cotton production, you would be right.
So what has all this to do with Bangladesh? Well from July, several European and U.S. firms will not buy Bangladeshi garments if they are made with cotton from Uzbekistan. This Uzbek cotton is bad news for an industry already under a variety of pressures - a lot of it self-inflicted of course. President Karimov recently wrote a book with a very catchy title - “Uzbek people will never depend on anyone.” This is a somewhat surprising title as Uzbekistan is very much dependent on trade. Therefore they are sparing no effort and have sent out their deputy minister for foreign economic relations and trade and investment Nasriddin Najimov to reassure cotton importing nations that all this child labour stuff is a load of old codswallop and that the country can’t be held responsibleÂ if Uzbek children love to play in cotton fields picking cotton. Its a traditional child’s pastime apparently.
And talking of children, Karimov’s daughter - Gulnara Karimova - has just been appointed a minister! Now which country does that remind you of?? She is a real go-getter it seems having accumulated vast amounts of wealth in the country’s energy industry. Not only that she is also multi-talented. She appears on state tv in her music videos. Going by the name Googoosha, you can see her perform a delightful ditty here on Youtube.
Former communist party leader and latterly Gono Forum general secretary Saifuddin Ahmed Manik died today after a long battle with cancer. In the last two years I saw him several times in Singapore and Dhaka. He defied the usual image of a chemotherapy patient. He was always exuberant and jocular. Having undergone a six month course of chemotherapy myself, I was simply bowled over by how utterly dismissive Manik bhai was about the day to day awfulness of it. He was a picture of tenacity. But this disease is equally tenacious and in the end Manik bhai succumbed. I shan’t write a political obituary here. Others are better qualified to do that. Instead I wish my comrade farewell. Peace to you Manik bhai.