Archive for the 'Bangladesh' Category

I got hired at a Bangladesh sweatshop. Meet my 9-year-old boss

Raveena Aulakh from Dhaka in The Toronto Star. Do click on the link and watch the video:

Some days are good for Meem, others she likes to forget as quickly as possible.

The first time I saw Meem, which was also my first day at work at a sweatshop, she was having a good day despite the wretched heat. She sat cross-legged on the concrete floor, a tiny, frail figure among piles of collars, cuffs and other parts of unstitched shirts.

She had a pair of cutters in her hands, much like eyebrow tweezers, and she was trimming threads from a navy collar. She cleared one collar after another of threads until the big pile, which had been bigger than her, was no more. It took her all morning and she didn’t look up much, did not join any conversation. When it was done, she took a few gulps of water from a scrunched bottle, walked around for a bit, her little hands rubbing her back, and went back to trimming threads — this time, from navy cuffs.

She did that from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., except for an hourlong lunch break. More:

‘My mother and I are married to the same man’: matrilineal marriage in Bangladesh

Abigail Haworth in The Observer:

As a child in rural Bangladesh, Orola Dalbot, 30, enjoyed growing up around her stepfather, Noten. Her father died when she was small, and her mother remarried soon after. Noten was handsome and energetic, with curly dark hair and a broad smile. “I thought my mother was lucky,” Orola says when we meet in the dusty, sun-baked courtyard of her family home in the central forest region of Modhupur. “I hoped I’d find a husband like him one day.” When she reached puberty, however, Orola learned the truth she least expected: she was already Noten’s wife.

Her wedding had taken place when she was three years old in a joint ceremony with her mother. Following tradition in the matrilineal Mandi tribe, an ethnic group of about two million people spread across hill regions of Bangladesh and India, mother and daughter had married the same man. “I wanted to escape when I found out,” says Orola. “I was shaking with disbelief.”

Disbelief was more or less my reaction a few days earlier when, by chance, I’d first heard about this marriage custom. I was visiting the remote Modhupur region to report a story about Mandi women fighting deforestation. My travelling companion was an eminent Bangladeshi environmentalist called Philip Gain, who had been studying the area for more than 20 years. More:

The most hated Bangladeshi, toppled from a shady empire

Sohel Rana is under arrest after the collapse of his factory building last week left nearly 400 people dead, but until now he has been a powerful figure, trailed by his own biker gang. Jim Yardley from Savar, Bangladesh, in NYT:

Barely 20 miles from the national capital, this gritty suburb is now a dusty, chaotic industrial center littered with factories that produce clothes for leading Western brands. Building codes are often unenforced, regulatory oversight is flimsy and the men wielding power often travel with armed guards.

And perhaps no one wielded power more brazenly than Sohel Rana. He traveled by motorcycle, as untouchable as a mafia don, trailed by his own biker gang. Local officials and the Bangladeshi news media say he was involved in illegal drugs and guns, but he also had a building, Rana Plaza, that housed five factories.

Upstairs, workers earned as little as $40 a month making clothes for retailers like J. C. Penney. Downstairs, Mr. Rana hosted local politicians, playing pool, drinking and, the officials say, indulging in drugs. More:

The war Bangladesh can never forget

Philip Hensher from Dhaka in The Independent:

Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka is a noisy, exciting city, full of energy and argument. The massive chaos of its constantly stationary traffic is often riven by protests, strikes, marches. These can be on any number of grievances. But this is a country driven by a national agony at its creation which has never been fully addressed. The protest now happening outside the national museum is of an unprecedented nature, and on an unprecedented scale.

Since 5 February, Bangladesh has been transfixed by this ongoing, immense protest. Hundreds of thousands have occupied Shahbagh Square in protest at a verdict passed by the International Crimes Tribunal on war crimes committed during the genocide which preceded the founding of the country in 1971. One of those found guilty, Abdul Kalam Azad, was sentenced to death. Another, however, Abdul Quader Mollah, the assistant secretary general of a Muslim party which collaborated with the genocidaires, the Jamaat–e-Islami, was given life imprisonment. The protests which followed, and are still continuing, are led by intelligent and liberal people; they are, however, calling with great urgency for the death penalty to be passed on Mollah and other convicted war criminals. More:

The Shahbag chance

In The Indian Express:

There is more to the crowds at Dhaka’s Shahbag square than meets the eye. Behind all its spontaneity, a political logic is at work that explains why Bangladesh’s political cauldron has been on the boil, regardless of the fact that Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League rules with a two-thirds majority.

As matters stand, the main opposition force, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, is boycotting Parliament, with its leader Khaleda Zia unrelenting on her position that she will not contest the next elections if Hasina were to head the caretaker government. The Awami League has amended the Constitution to virtually remove the concept of a caretaker government. Hasina is willing to replace her cabinet with technocrats, but not remove herself from the helm.

The near absence of the opposition in Parliament has allowed Hasina to hold complete sway over matters big and small. And from South Block’s point of view, India was quite pleased with the situation until the moment West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee provided an unforeseen twist to the script.

This context is important as one looks at the events at Shahbag Square, an unexpected, united expression of nationalist sentiment spearheaded by students revelling at the revival of a historical narrative that had almost been forgotten. The year 1971 marked the birth of Bangladesh, yes, but it was not seen as the signifier of a larger nationalist identity rooted in Bengali culture and a secular ethos. Through its tumultuous political evolution after 1971, Bangladesh swung from one extreme to the other and India, steeped in its own problems, remained distant until Islamic extremism assumed dangerous proportions. More:

Also in The Indian Express:

Young and angry at Shahbagh

Shahbagh Square is not Tahrir Square. It is not Ramlila Maidan either. For the thousands of youngsters who squeezed into every inch of space at Dhaka’s central roundabout, piercing the air with cries of “Fashi Chai, Fashi Chai (Let them hang)”, this was their own movement, their own moment. Many of them were born after Bangladesh’s tumultuous War of Liberation in 1971 and had grown up hearing stories of the struggle. But now, those stories had come alive and the youth had a role in them — of settling a 42-year-old unfinished agenda of creating “a secular, safe Bangladesh”.

It’s February 21 or ‘Ekushey February’ and the atmosphere at Shahbagh Square is charged. An estimated 5 million protesters have turned up at the roundabout. The day has its emotional significance. It was on this day 60 years ago, when Bangladesh was still part of Pakistan, that a number of students campaigning for the recognition of Bangla as one of the state languages were gunned down. More:

The price they pay for our cheap t-shirts

In The Independent:

Lying on a trolley in a corridor at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital, where feral cats chase under beds in search of scraps, 20-year-old Yero Akhter Ranu fears she may never be able to walk again. When fire swept through the factory where she earns 48 pence an hour sewing clothes for Western brands a week ago, she rushed to escape by the stairs but was stopped by an official. As the heat and smoke intensified, she ran to the second floor, broke a window and leapt, expecting not to survive. “I thought at least my dead body can be recovered and taken to my parents,” she told The Independent, as doctors at the government hospital treated her for spinal injuries.

A week after Bangladesh’s worst garment factory fire left at least 112 people dead, Western consumers are being asked to weigh what the true cost of a T-shirt is. Campaigners say that Bangladesh, the world’s second-largest producer of clothes, has secured this position only by offering workers the lowest wages in the world and having some of the worst safety regulations in the industry. Before last week’s disaster, more than 500 garment workers had died in fires and accidents since 2006, campaigners say.

“We think that the West can do more to help the workers of Bangladesh and improve the working conditions,” said Kalpona Akter, a labour rights activist with the Bangladesh Workers Solidarity Centre. More:

Women hurting women

In New York Times, Nicholas D Kristof weighs in on the Sheikh Hasina-Muhammad Yunus face-off and says women in power can be ‘every bit as contemptible as men’.

It would be nice to think that women who achieve power would want to help women at the bottom. But one continuing global drama underscores that women in power can be every bit as contemptible as men.

Sheikh Hasina, prime minister of Bangladesh, is mounting a scorched-earth offensive against Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bankand champion of the economic empowerment of women around the world. Yunus, 72, won a Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering work in microfinance, focused on helping women lift their families out of poverty. more

Made in Bangladesh: Unrest

Jim Yardley in NYT:

Ishwardi, Bangladesh — The air thickened with tear gas as police and paramilitary officers jogged into the Ishwardi Export Processing Zone firing rubber bullets and swinging cane poles. Panicked factory workers tried to flee. A seamstress crumpled to the ground, knocked unconscious by a shot in the head.

Dozens of people were bloodied and hospitalized. The officers were cracking down on protests at two garment factories inside this industrial area in western Bangladesh. But they were also protecting two ingredients of a manufacturing formula that has quietly made Bangladesh a leading apparel exporter to the United States and Europe: cheap labor and foreign investment.

Both were at stake on that March morning. Workers earning as little as $50 a month, less than the cost of one of the knit sweaters they stitched for European stores, were furious over a cut in wages. Their anger was directed at the Hong Kong and Chinese bosses of the two factories, turning a labor dispute into something potentially much larger.

“If any foreigner got injured or killed, it would damage the country’s image around the globe,” said a police supervisor, Akbar Hossein, who participated in the crackdown. “We all know the importance of these factories and this industry for Bangladesh.” More:

Jagdish C. Bose and how plants feel sensations akin to animals

Stefany Anne Golberg in The Smart Set:

In a room near Maida Vale, a journalist for The Nation wrote around 1914, an unfortunate creature is strapped to the table of an unlicensed vivisector. When the subject is pinched with a pair of forceps, it winces. It is so strapped that its electric shudder of pain pulls the long arm of a very delicate lever that actuates a tiny mirror. This casts a beam of light on the frieze at the other end of the room, and thus enormously exaggerates the tremor of the creature. A pinch near the right-hand tube sends the beam 7 or 8 feet to the right, and a stab near the other wire sends it as far to the left.

 “Thus,” the journalist concluded, “can science reveal the feelings of even so stolid a vegetable as the carrot.”

Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, the aforementioned carrot vivisector, was a serious man of science. Born in what is today Bangladesh in 1858, Bose was a quintessential polymath: physicist, biologist, botanist, archaeologist. He was the first person from the Indian subcontinent to receive a U.S. patent, and is considered one of the fathers of radio science, alongside such notables as Tesla, Marconi, and Popov. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1920, becoming the first Indian to be honored by the Royal Society in the field of science. It’s clear that Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose was a scientist of some weight. And, like many scientists of weight, he has become popularly known for his more controversial pursuits — in Bose’s case, his experiments in plant physiology.

Perhaps it was his work in radio waves and electricity that inspired Bose’s investigations into what we might call the invisible world. Bose strongly felt that physics could go far beyond what was apparent to the naked eye. Around 1900, Bose began his investigations into the secret world of plants. He found that all plants, and all parts of plants, have a sensitive nervous system not unlike that of animals, and that their responses to external stimuli could be measured and recorded. Some plant reactions can be seen easily in sensitive plants like the Mimosa, which, when irritated, will react with the sudden shedding or shrinking of its leaves. But when Bose attached his magnifying device to plants from which it was more difficult to witness a response, such as vegetables, he was astounded to discover that they, too, became excited when vexed. All around us, Bose realized, the plants are communicating. We just don’t notice it. More:

The lesser-known atrocities of the 1971 India-Pakistan-Bangladesh war

Batool Zehra in The Express Tribune:

History is always written by the victors, and in the case of the 1971 war, the dominant narrative has been that of atrocities committed against the Bengali population. But in her upcoming novel, Of Martyrs and Marigolds, Aquila Ismail dredges up the memories of her traumatic past in order to shine a light on the lesser-known atrocities of that conflict.

“My mother forgot how to speak Bengali after the trauma of 1971. It just went out of her head. She cannot speak it to this day,” says Aquila Ismail, as we sip tea in her sitting room on a winter’s evening in Karachi. One of the few Biharis who managed to flee Bangladesh after what is known in that country as the War of Liberation, Aquila now lives in the UAE. But over 250,000 of her fellow Biharis still live in squalid conditions in Bangladesh today, as a stateless minority.

While the atrocities of the Pakistan Army against the Bengali population during the war are well-documented, little is known about the plight of the Biharis who were left stranded when East Pakistan seceded in 1972, and what they suffered during and after the conflict. According to some estimates, 750,000 Biharis were left in Bangladesh in 1972, and not only did they face persecution at the hands of Bengalis, they were also disowned by Pakistan and became stateless overnight — in December 1971, while Pakistani army personnel and civilians were evacuated from Bangladesh, the Biharis were left behind. More:

Bangladesh army foils coup attempt

From The Daily Star, Dhaka:

The army has foiled a “coup attempt to overthrow the present democratic government”, an army spokesman said yesterday.

A band of religious fanatics, comprising mid-ranking officers and their retired colleagues, was involved in the failed putsch.

At the instigation of some non-resident Bangladeshis, they sought to “disrupt democracy by creating anarchy in the army, cashing in on the fanaticism of others”.

Brigadier General Muhammad Mashud Razzaq, director of Personnel Services Directorate, disclosed the information at an unprecedented press briefing at the Army Officers Club in Dhaka cantonment. He was accompanied on the dais by Lieutenant Colonel Muhammad Sazzad Siddique, acting judge advocate general of the army.

Also present were Lt Gen Md Mainul Islam, chief of general staff, and Brig Gen Ridwan-Al-Mahmud, director of Military Intelligence. More:

Bangladesh war: The article that changed history

Mark Dummett at BBC News:

On 13 June 1971, an article in the UK’s Sunday Times exposed the brutality of Pakistan’s suppression of the Bangladeshi uprising. It forced the reporter’s family into hiding and changed history.

Abdul Bari had run out of luck. Like thousands of other people in East Bengal, he had made the mistake – the fatal mistake – of running within sight of a Pakistani patrol. He was 24 years old, a slight man surrounded by soldiers. He was trembling because he was about to be shot.

So starts one of the most influential pieces of South Asian journalism of the past half century.

Written by Anthony Mascarenhas, a Pakistani reporter, and printed in the UK’s Sunday Times, it exposed for the first time the scale of the Pakistan army’s brutal campaign to suppress its breakaway eastern province in 1971.

Nobody knows exactly how many people were killed, but certainly a huge number of people lost their lives. Independent researchers think that between 300,000 and 500,000 died. The Bangladesh government puts the figure at three million. More:

There was an innocence in the celebrations forty years ago: Ruchir Joshi in The Telegraph

The Immigrant’s Table: The river culture of Bangladesh

Tim Carman in The Washington Post:

If I were to reduce the cuisine of Bangladesh to a single word — and isn’t a bottom-line reduction what you’re after when discussing the tangled colonial and cross-cultural influences of another nation’scooking? — it would have to be “rivers.”

Bangladesh is drowning in rivers and tributaries, not to mention lakes and floodplains, a country seemingly in danger of being washed into the Bay of Bengal. It is the fish from these fresh waters that have fed the East Bengali people of this nation — and the state before that (East Pakistan) and the nation before that (the British Indian Empire). No matter where the people of Bangladesh roam, Old World or New World, they never seem to lose their taste for those river fish. Small wonder: Fish constitutes more than 60 percent of the protein eaten in Bangladesh. There’s even an adage, “machte bhate Bangali,” that roughly translates to “fish and rice make a Bengali.” More:

New humility for the hegemon

India’s poor relations with its neighbours is hurting its global ambitions, says The Economist

NO ONE loves a huge neighbour. For all that, India’s relations with the countries that ring it are abysmal. Of the eight with which it shares a land or maritime boundary, only two can be said to be happy with India: tiny Maldives, where India has the only foreign embassy and dispenses much largesse, and Bhutan, which has a policy of being happy about everything. Among its other South Asian neighbours, the world’s biggest democracy is incredible mainly because of its amazing ability to generate wariness and resentment.

Until recently it operated a shoot-to-kill policy towards migrant workers and cattle rustlers along its long border with Bangladesh. Over the years it has meddled madly in Nepal’s internal affairs. In Myanmar India snuggles up to the country’s thuggish dictators, leaving the beleaguered opposition to wonder what happened to India’s championing of democracy. Relations with Sri Lanka are conflicted. It treats China with more respect, but feuds with it about its border. more

India and Bangladesh

Mahfuz Anam, editor and publisher of Daily Star, the largest circulated English daily in Bangladesh, in conversation with The Indian Express journalists:

Mahfuz Anam, editor and publisher of Daily Star, the largest circulated English daily in Bangladesh.

Shubhajit Roy: We have been watching the progress towards secularism in Bangladesh in the last two years. Is this making lasting changes in society?

Mahfuz Anam: Bangladesh is a Muslim majority country. So there is an overwhelming presence of the majority Muslim culture. But in our social interaction, religious tolerance among communities living together have been a historic phenomenon. The birth of Bangladesh has been based on the principles of democracy, secularism, nationalism. In Bangladesh, the entry of religion into politics, in my view, can be directly linked to the involvement of army in politics. This is the phenomenon in Pakistan too. When you have a coterie that has no base amongst people, they look for possible pockets of support and in Muslim-majority countries, unfortunately, Islam becomes a very easy tool for them to play with. We are practising Muslims as we were before and as tolerant of other religions as before. Form the 70s onwards, you had a global rise of Islam and Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East and other countries. This has had an impact in all Muslim-majority countries, from Indonesia to Malaysia, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. But throughout it all, whenever the people of Bangladesh have had a chance for free expression through elections, they have overwhelmingly voted for secular parties. So the religious party, the Jamafat-e-Islami, never got more than 3 to 8 per cent of the votes. This is not to say that religion hasnft had a rise or a growing impact on politics, but it was not a determining impact. Bangladesh today is veering closer to secular roots through the election of this government led by Sheikh Hasina. Mainstream politics is once again based on nationalism. .

Shekhar Gupta: This dramatic turnaround in Bangladesh is a story that has largely been ignored and unappreciated.

Mahfuz Anam: That provokes me to say what is really a very strong emotion in my heart. I wish the Indian media would give Bangladesh a little more attention. I strongly appeal to the Indian media to take more interest in Bangladesh. We are your neighbour, a very important neighbour and we can also become a troublesome neighbour. You encompass us, except for a little bit of Myanmar. We are almost in your belly; if we are an unstable society, it tells on your security. If the Bangladesh state is unable to respond to the peoplefs needs, the burden will be on this side of the border too. On the positive side, Bangladesh is roughly a six-billion-dollar market for India–formal or informal. Now if with a per capita income of close to four hundred dollars, Bangladesh can be a market to you of close to six billion dollars, then if our per capita income goes up to six hundred dollars, whose market is it going to be? So look at Bangladesh as your prospective market and give us the respect of a market that buys six billion worth of your goods. You are not even looking at it as an issue of self interest. Then there is the issue of security in the North East, and other insurgency issues. With a prosperous Bangladesh, with a secure Bangladesh, your whole security situation changes. India-Bangladesh becomes a model bilateral relationship which you can then flaunt with Nepal, even all over the world. More:

Memories of the Bangladesh war

Ian Jack in The Guardian:

Then, on 18 June 1971, the Sunday Times published a long piece of reportage that more than any other single piece of journalism changed how the world saw, and would remember, the conflict inside Bangladesh. The writer, Anthony Mascarenhas, had been flown from his home in Karachi to Dhaka by the Pakistan military to report on the army’s good work, but he returned with a different story, unpublishable by Mascarenhas’s newspaper or any other in Pakistan. Instead, he’d flown with it to London to meet the Sunday Times’s then editor, Harold Evans.

According to Evans’s autobiography, Mascarenhas told him that the army’s outrages against Bengalis far outweighed those of Bengalis against non-Bengalis. Hindus in particular were army targets. Senior officers had told him that they were seeking a “final solution”, determined “to cleanse east Pakistan once and for all of the threat of secession, even if it means killing 2 million people and ruling the province as a colony for 30 years.” His eyewitness testimony and sincerity were impressive. Once his wife and family had been evacuated from Pakistan – neither he nor they could ever go back – the paper ran the story across two pages under the headline: GENOCIDE. Indira Gandhi, then India’s prime minister, later told Evans that it had set her on a campaign of personal diplomacy that prepared the ground for armed intervention.

It was a courageous act of reporting, and it may have changed the world for the better; the US never offered more than lukewarm support for its ally, Pakistan, which was defeated in weeks.

Bose’s book, however, raises troubling questions about the report’s complete veracity – a massacre said to have killed 8,000 Hindus probably killed only 16 at most – as well as its effect. Soon after the war ended, a prediction (or threat) of 2 million dead had been elevated to the widely publicised fact of 3 million dead, which is still commonly accepted in India and Bangladesh. A truth about the Bangladesh war is that remarkably few scholars and historians have given it thorough, independent scrutiny. Bose’s research has taken her from the archives to interviews with elderly peasants in Bangladesh and retired army officers in Pakistan. Her findings are significant. More:

Inside Bangladesh’s madrasas

The Guardian’s Tahmima Anam entered their secretive world:

I’ve navigated a series of dark lanes and tiny roads to get to the Rehmat Ali madrasa in the Tejgaon neighbourhood of Dhaka, passing shops selling car batteries, ceramic tiles, thread, water pipes, exotic birds, mutton and mosquito nets. The school is at the end of a narrow alley where the stench of open drains and rotten food is overpowering. I am here because I want to see for myself what madrasa education is all about, and because there is an inherent contradiction, it seems to me, in the existence of a girls’ madrasa. If madrasas are really the orthodox institutions they are portrayed as being, what kind of students does a women’s madrasa hope to produce?

More than any other institution, the madrasa has come to stand for the possible radicalisation of a country such as Bangladesh. Ever since independence from Pakistan in 1971, Bangladesh has struggled with its religious identity. While Islam has prevailed in this region for many centuries, its role in public life has always been contested. Over the years, debates have raged, in parliament and on the streets, about the role Islam should play in political and daily life. In a rapidly changing geopolitical landscape, Bangladesh has remained safe in western eyes, a “moderate” Muslim nation, though there are regular forecasts of the scales being tipped. The suicide bombs that rocked Bangladesh in late 2005, and the grassroots power of the organisation responsible, the Jamaatul Mujahideen, stirred up a palpable sense of anxiety within the country. In 2009, the discovery of a stash of arms at the Green Crescent Madrasa in Bhola, funded by British Bangladeshis, reignited fears of Bangladesh’s role in the global rise of militant Islam. At the centre of this debate are the 6 million Bangladeshi students who attend madrasas.

Bangladesh has two kinds: private Quomi madrasas and state-sponsored Alia madrasas. There are an estimated 6,500 Quomi madrasas in the country, with almost 1.5 million students. More:

The Good Muslim

A review of Tahmima Anam‘s The Good Muslim in The Telegraph, London:

This novel is the second part of a projected trilogy that began with Anam’s acclaimed first novel, The Golden Age, but can also be appreciated without the earlier work, once you familiarise yourself with some basic facts about Bangladesh’s war of independence.

Anam’s incorporation of the back stories of a widow named Rehana Haque and her two adult children, a daughter Maya and a son Sohail, is not only light-handed, but also gives these main characters incredible solidity.

The book hinges on two homecomings to Dhaka: Sohail’s return from nine months of fighting in 1972, and Maya’s 1984 return from seven years as a “crusading” doctor in a northern village. There are brilliant mirror-scenes, such as each sibling’s awkward attendance at suburban parties where they feel alienated by everyone else’s frivolity. More:

Confessions of a South Asian pacifist

Basking in the hospitality of Pakistan, remembering the thrill of the liberation of Bangladesh, and trying to be a good guest of Sri Lanka. Mani Shankar Aiyar in Open:


I travel a great deal, but rarely for tourism as such. Almost all of my travel is people-oriented: meeting friends, making new ones, attending seminars and conferences, delivering speeches. What looking around I do tends to be incidental, not so much because I am not interested but because my journeys are usually fairly short and much of my time is taken up huddled for the purpose that brings me there. Far too many of my foreign trips are only airport-to-airport, with a hotel thrown in between.

This almost inevitably makes Pakistan my favourite destination—as I have more friends in Pakistan than enemies in India. So, I am always assured of an exceptionally warm welcome, and I bask in it. People are eager to talk and to listen. They want to ask why things are so wrong and suggest what might be done to set them right. Frankness is not overlaid with rancour. Bewilderment rather than hostility is what I encounter. The desire for peace is overwhelming, the road to get there foggy in the extreme. There is also a sense of helplessness over who can do what. Caught between military rule and mindless terrorism, Pakistan’s ordinary citizen feels disempowered; doing something about it lies in someone else’s hands. When things appear to be moving forward, there is relief; when there are setbacks and roadblocks, there is an aching desire to remove the hurdles, combined with painful recognition of the inability of the Pakistani in the street or mosque to influence, let alone determine, the outcome. More:


The Liberation War Museum in Dhaka

Huma Imtiaz in The Express Tribune {See photos at Huma Imtiaz’s blog]

As a Pakistani schooled in a sanitised version of history, the museum makes one cringe with revulsion. Skulls and bones recovered from a killing field in Mirpur, Dhaka, stare at you from a glass cupboard. A black and white image shows vultures picking at the bodies of those left for dead. In another image, a snake is stretched out on the back of a dead body — an unknown victim of the cyclone that battered East Pakistan in 1970, and led to increased feelings of alienation amongst East Pakistanis with the slow aid response from West Pakistan. Lewd sketches of women are among the graffiti found in a Pakistan Army camp.

My tour guide turns to me, “You tell me, how can we forgive or forget this?” Umm-e-Hani Shoily is a college student and, though this is her third visit to the museum, some of the images still fill her with horror.

Occupying a two-storeyed house, the Liberation War Museum documents the history of East Pakistan from the days of British Rule to 1971. Established in 1996 by the Liberation War Museum trust, a group of individuals focused on preserving and presenting history, the museum is funded by the Government of Bangladesh and donations from an NGO and individuals. Images of slain army officers, women and intellectuals dot the walls and a separate room is dedicated to notable personalities that led the war. Amena Khatun, an archivist and curator at the museum, says the place sees up to 150 visitors every day. The collection of pictures and mementos has been primarily given by private donors. “This is amazing, people feel the urge to preserve their belongings and their history,” says Khatun. More:

Liberation War Museum, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Is this the end for Muhammad Yunus?

In Foreign Policy:

The last hope for Muhammad Yunus, Bangladesh’s Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the path breaking microcredit institution Grameen Bank, rests with a hearing in the appellate division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh that on Tuesday was postponed for two weeks.

Last week, after three days of argument, a lower court, the High Court upheld the legality of an order given the previous week by the country’s central bank that required him to leave his post of managing director because he was over 60 years of age. Yunus is now 70, and the High Court held that Grameen Bank’s own staff regulations required employees to retire at 60, including him.

Yunus’s own lawyers reject that interpretation of the law and hope now to persuade the appellate division that the High Court decision was “entirely perverse,” “a total departure from all ordinary norms of practice,” and “a total denial of justice,” as they write in their appeal filing.

If the High Court decision stands, not only will Yunus be out of a job, it will also mean that at the time he received his Nobel prize in October 2006, he was illegally holding the position of managing director at the bank. Who knows what would be the legal status of decisions and agreements that Yunus made since 1990?

The charge that Yunus unlawfully stayed in his post is just one of the government’s many allegations.

Last week, Sajeeb Wazed, the prime minister’s son, who has also been appointed as her advisor, sent out an email setting out a series of allegations against the bank including “fraud,” “theft,” “tax evasion,” “draconian” methods of loan recovery and “embezzlement.” He admitted that the source of these allegations — which are forcefully denied by Grameen Bank — are government legal papers. More:

Bangladesh confronts atrocities of its independence era

Lydia Polgreen from Dhaka in The New York Times:

In the last days of the bloody war that created this nation out of the eastern half of Pakistan in 1971, a gang of men abducted Dr. Alim Chowdhury, an eye surgeon and independence activist, from his home. Three days later, his battered body was found in a mass grave, his eyes gouged from his head.

His killers, members of a pro-Pakistan militia, were never punished. Moulana Abdul Mannan, the man who confessed to orchestrating the killing, according to a government investigation, went on to become a cabinet minister and member of the Bangladesh Parliament. He died in 2006.

Now, 40 years after Bangladesh’s independence struggle — one of the last century’s most wrenching conflicts, whose death toll may have exceeded one million people — the government here is seeking to prosecute individuals accused of atrocities like the one against Dr. Chowdhury.

The effort has touched a raw political nerve here and illustrates a conundrum of international law: Can a country, particularly a young and poor one, fairly try its own citizens for crimes against humanity?

Many of those accused of atrocities are not only still alive, but are also among the leading members of two of the main opposition political parties and have enjoyed long stints in power. More:

Acid attacks: facing a heinous crime

From The Independent:

There have been more than 3,000 reported acid attacks in Bangladesh since 1999, according the Acid Survivors Foundation. The true number of victims is thought to be far higher, but the government doesn’t record official figures.

Between 78 per cent and 90 per cent of acid attacks in Bangladesh are perpetrated against women or girls, the vast majority of whom are under 25 years old.

Acid attacks happen all over the world, but they are notably prevalent in Bangladesh, Cambodia and India due to the cheap and easy availability of acid. In Dhaka a litre bottle of sulphuric acid can be bought for Tk. 15, about 13 pence.

The results of an acid attack can be heinous. It eats through skin and bone, leaving burns which permanently disfigure, maim and kill. The motivations for such attacks vary widely, but domestic violence, divorce and land disputes are among the most common. More:

Connectivity: The India-Bangladesh land bridge

Kanak Mani Dixit in Himal Southasian:

Can a formal bilateral communiqué be a ‘game changer’, foretell a ‘paradigm shift’, in a Southasian relationship? If India and Bangladesh manage to follow through on promises to open up their economies for transit and trade as set out in a memorandum of January 2010, a new era could dawn across the land borders of Southasia. The challenges are bureaucratic inertia in New Delhi and ultra-nationalist politics in Dhaka.

The political partition of the Subcontinent in 1947 did not have to lead to economic partition, but that is ultimately what happened. This did not take place right away, and many had believed that the borders of India and Pakistan’s eastern and western flanks were demarcations that would allow for the movement of people and commerce. It was as late as the India-Pakistan war of 1965 that the veins and capillaries of trade were strangulated. In the east, in what was to become Bangladesh just a few years later, the river ferries and barges that connected Kolkata with the deltaic region, and as far up as Assam, were terminated. The metre-gauge railway lines now stopped at the frontier, and through-traffic of buses and trucks came to a halt. The latest act of separation was for India to put up an elaborate barbed-wire fence along much of the 4000 km border, a project that is nearly complete. Today, what mainly passes under these wires are Bangladeshi migrants seeking survival in the faraway metropolises of India – and contraband.

This half-century of distancing between what was previously one continuous region has resulted in incalculable loss of economic vitality, most of it hidden under nationalist bombast. Bangladesh lost a huge market and source of investment, even as the heretofore natural movement of people in search of livelihood suddenly came to be termed ‘illegal migration’. Bangladeshis were wounded by the unilateral construction of the Farakka Barrage on the Ganga/Padma, a mere 10 km upstream from the border, which deepened the anti-Indian insularity of Dhaka’s new nationalist establishment. Forced to chart its own course, Bangladesh concentrated on developing its own soil and society, uniquely building mega-NGOs such as Proshika, BRAC and Grameen, developing a healthy domestic industrial sector such as in garment manufacture, and learning to deal with disastrous floods and cyclones. More:

Nobel prize-winner faces inquiry over aid money

Andrew Buncombe in The Independent:

Professor Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank

Nobel prize-winner Muhammad Yunus’s Grameen Bank is being investigated in Bangladesh, as the “banker to the poor” and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina clash yet again.

Last month, the bank, globally celebrated for revolutionising the world of microfinance and making credit available to millions of impoverished people, was accused in a Norwegian documentary film of getting tax benefits in the 1990s by moving around millions of dollars from Norway between different entities of the bank. After an inquiry by the authorities in Oslo, Grameen and its 70-year-old economist founder were cleared.

At the time, the Grameen Bank said the aid money was transferred for tax purposes to increase funds available to microborrowers and was loaned back to Grameen Bank the same day.

Norway’s Minister for International Development, Erik Solheim, said: “There is no indication that Norwegian funds have been used for unintended purposes or corrupt practices.”

The documentary’s claims were based on letters that Danish filmmaker Tom Heinemann discovered in aid agency Norad’s archives in Oslo. More:

‘Battle of the Begums’ in Bangladesh

Andrew Buncombe from Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, in The Independent:

Large parts of Bangladesh were brought to a halt yesterday as the result of a national strike triggered by the latest dispute between two female politicians whose rancour and antagonism stretches back almost two decades.

The strike was called by the opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP), headed by former prime minister Khaleda Zia, after she was evicted from a grace-and-favour house in the centre of the capital Dhaka. The BNP claims the strike was also to protest at the government’s creeping authoritarianism. The charges have been dismissed by Mrs Zia’s arch rival Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister and head of the Awami League (AL), who said the strike was selfish and did nothing to help ordinary people.

Amid the accusations and counter accusations analysts said the clash is just the latest in a series of confrontations between the two women, often labelled the Battling Begums. Begum is a term of respect for a Muslim woman and both women are in their mid-60s. More:

Politics of hate

In the Economist:

MORE than two years after the army aborted a dismal interregnum and released from jail the leaders of the country’s two rival political dynasties, the politics of hate and attrition grind away in Bangladesh. The thanks go mainly to the personal vendetta of the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, one of the two leaders, against the other, Khaleda Zia.

On November 13th Mrs Zia was evicted from her home of nearly 30 years in Dhaka’s cantonment area. The move triggered a hartal, a protest strike called by Mrs Zia’s opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Violence broke out between her supporters and those of Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League (AL). The country’s third political force, the army, has backed the High Court’s eviction order. Shrewdly, Sheikh Hasina has allocated the vast plot surrounding Mrs Zia’s home for housing for the families of 57 military officers killed in a mutiny early last year, soon after the AL swept to power. More:

A last-ditch strategy to save the tiger

Caroline Fraser at Yale Environment 360:

The tiger’s situation has grown desperate in a mere century. A hundred years ago, there were over 100,000 in the wild, with more than 40,000 in India alone. Currently, the total number of tigers worldwide is calculated at fewer than 3,500. Three subspecies — Javan, Bali, and Caspian tigers — vanished during the 20th century. A fourth, the South China tiger, has not been seen in the wild for more than 25 years and is assumed to have gone extinct during the 1990s.

Remaining populations — including 1,850 Bengal tigers and a few hundred each of the Siberian, Indochinese, Malayan, and Sumatran subspecies — are pressed into tiny, isolated protected areas comprising less than 7 percent of their former range. Found in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, and China, the Bengal tiger possesses the highest genetic variation, and is considered the key to the species’ survival.

Blocking tiger recovery efforts in India and elsewhere is the black market in the animal’s body parts. Although the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies cooperated with conservation efforts by removing tiger bone from their pharmacopeia in 1993, skins still sell for up to $35,000, and organs and body parts — bones, whiskers, eyeballs, penises, paws, claws — are snapped up as souvenirs or ingredients of traditional Asian medicine. Tiger is occasionally served at restaurants in Hanoi and Beijing, where rare dishes denote high status. In Russia, the uber-wealthy have acquired a taste for tiger pelts as home décor; in Sumatra, magic spells require tiger parts. More:

Indian superbug spurs global alarm

From BBC: A new superbug that is resistant to even the most powerful antibiotics has entered UK hospitals, experts warn. They say bacteria that make an enzyme called NDM-1 (New Delhi metallo-ß-lactamase-1) have travelled back with NHS patients who went abroad to countries like India and Pakistan for treatments such as cosmetic surgery.

Although there have only been about 50 cases identified in the UK so far, scientists fear it will go global. Tight surveillance and new drugs are needed says Lancet Infectious Diseases. More:

What is NDM-1?

New Delhi metallo-ß-lactamase-1, or NDM-1 for short, is a gene carried by bacteria that makes the strain resistant to carbapenem antibiotics. This is concerning because these antibiotics are some of the most powerful ones, used on hard-to-treat infections that evade other drugs. More

Click here for Lancet study

From Daily Mail: Dr David Livermore, director of antibiotic resistance monitoring at HPA, said resistance to one of the major groups of antibiotics, the carbapenems, is found throughout India.

‘This is important because carbapenems were often the last ‘good’ antibiotics active against bacteria that already were more resistant to more standard drugs.’

The first two patients confirmed to have been infected had traveled abroad shortly before they were admitted to hospital in the UK. One patient carrying the tainted bacteria was transferred to a Nottingham hospital at the end of last year after suffering a trauma injury in Pakistan. More:

We’ve only got ourselves to blame for the indestructible Indian superbug

From Daily Mail: Knowing what we know now, if we could go back in time we would have prescribed antibiotics sparingly and only when they were really needed.

If we had done that, we may not have been facing the prospect of superbugs for the next 100 years.

Instead, antibiotics have been massively overprescribed, thrown willy-nilly at patients by harassed and time-pressed doctors for a host of minor ailments – often coughs and colds that aren’t even caused by bacteria in the first place.

As Professor Enright says: ‘Every time you throw enough antibiotics at enough people, you encourage the evolution of drug-resistant mutants.’

This happens everywhere, from GP surgeries in Britain and the U.S. – where antibiotics are the medicine of choice for just about every minor childhood snuffle – to India, where antibiotics are available cheaply over the counter without a prescription. More:

Are you ready for a world without antibiotics?

In The Guardian: The era of antibiotics is coming to a close. In just a couple of generations, what once appeared to be miracle medicines have been beaten into ineffectiveness by the bacteria they were designed to knock out. Once, scientists hailed the end of infectious diseases. Now, the post-antibiotic apocalypse is within sight.

Hyperbole? Unfortunately not. The highly serious journal Lancet Infectious Diseases yesterday posed the question itself over a paper revealing the rapid spread of multi-drug-resistant bacteria. “Is this the end of antibiotics?” it asked.

Doctors and scientists have not been complacent, but the paper by Professor Tim Walsh and colleagues takes the anxiety to a new level.More:

Bangladesh’s moment may have arrived

As costs have risen in China, it is losing work to countries like Bangladesh for cheaper, labor-intensive goods. Vikas Bajaj in International herald Tribune:

Gazipur, Bangladesh — The eight-lane highway leading from the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, narrows repeatedly as it approaches this town about 30 miles north, eventually depositing cars onto a muddy, potholed lane bordered by mangroves and small shops.

But this is no mere rural backwater. It is the sort of place to which foreign manufacturers may increasingly turn, if the rising wage demands of factory workers in China prompt companies to seek new pools of cheap labor elsewhere.

Already, in factories behind steel gates and tall concrete walls, tens of thousands of workers, most of them women, spend their days stitching T-shirts, pants and sweaters for Wal-Mart, H&M, Zara and other Western retailers and brands. More: