Tag Archive for 'Bangladesh'

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 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:

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:

The panic train

What began as an isolated communal conflict here in the remote state of Assam, a vicious if obscure fight over land and power between Muslims and the indigenous Bodo tribe, has unexpectedly set off widespread panic among northeastern migrants who had moved to more prosperous cities for a piece of India’s rising affluence.

A swirl of unfounded rumors, spread by text messages and social media, had warned of attacks by Muslims against northeastern migrants, prompting the panic and the exodus.[In NYT]

The Indian Express sent a reporter and a photographer on the train from Chennai to Guwahati, packed with migrants fleeing migrants from the northeast. It’s a 3,000 km journey and takes 52 hours:

The passengers speak about the string of rumours about an imminent attack on Assamese people. “It started off in Bangalore over SMSes and rumours that spread fast, but now there are talks about possible attacks in Chennai and other parts of Tamil Nadu around Eid on Monday. We are confident about the situation in the state, but for our family members who live hundreds of kilometres away, any rumour causes great concern,” says Mohan Bohra, an Assamese who works as a security guard at an IT company in Chennai.

Nishant Gogoi says that when he heard that a fellow Assamese in Bangalore had been attacked, he decided to pack his bags. “The construction company I work for and all the people I know in Chennai have assured me that I won’t face any problem. But honestly, I feel no one can ensure my safety if something untoward were to break out in Chennai. It is better to return after the tensions have completely subsided,” he says. More:

The 50-paise terror campaign

Saritha Rai in The Indian Express: Ironically for India’s tech hub, technology came to bite it in the back. SMS threats circulated in great waves. On social networks, doctored photos of bleeding limbs, bloody faces and videos with hazy faces made the rounds. Local television stations endlessly aired footage of the panic.

It is like nothing that tech-savvy and global Bangalore, India’s IT hub, has ever seen. The government, the police and railway officials were taken completely by surprise as thousands of Bangalore residents of north-eastern origin started thronging the ticket counters and platforms at the city’s railway stations, bus stations and even the airport. They all were frantic to take the first available means to return home. It was nothing short of an exodus. 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 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:

Why the Indian middle class is furious and why the Congress has only itself to blame

Shekhar Gupta in The Indian Express:

At least, two things about Anna Hazare’s movement are indisputable: its dominant anti-Congress impulse, and its distinctly middle-class character. It is evident that middle India has turned against the Congress. Of course, the Congress apologists will say that it doesn’t matter. That middle classes do not vote governments in or out, the poor in the villages do. Also, those voters in villages think differently. These Congressmen are wrong on both counts. Because it is a new India in a new, hyper-connected world. The size and the power of the middle class, after 20 years of reform, is enormously greater than the old-school Congress politician (which is how, funnily, you would now describe most of today’s younger Congressmen) would imagine. The Congressmen are also the least likely to acknowledge that the anger that they now face on the urban street is a calamity they have themselves worked so assiduously on inviting upon themselves.

In its seven years in power, the Congress shunned the urban middle classes so much it has even stopped being on talking terms with them. The party can be forgiven for reading the 2004 verdict wrong, believing that the poorest Indians, irritated by the BJP’s India Shining, voted the NDA out. But its refusal to read the 2009 verdict for its aspirational impulse was not merely poor political judgment. It also resulted from a cynical and intellectually lazy thought process. Inevitably, it developed into an auto-immune syndrome where the party has been busy preying on its own government and its own new vote-base among India’s growing aspirational classes. 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:

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:


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:

Disputed island in Bay of Bengal disappears into sea

From The Independent:

Map: The Telegraph, Kolkata

A low-lying island in a sprawling mangrove delta which has been disputed by India and Bangladesh for almost 30 years will be squabbled over no more. It has disappeared beneath the waves.

In what experts say is an alarming indication of the danger posed by rising sea levels brought about by global warming, New Moore Island has become totally submerged. “It is definitely because of global warming,” said Professor Sugata Hazra of Jadavpur University in Kolkata. “The sea level has been rising at twice the previous rate in the years between 2002 and 2009. The sea level is rising in accordance with rising temperatures.”

Known as New Moore Island in India, and South Talpatti in Bangladesh, the uninhabited outcrop in the Sundarbans delta region measured barely two miles in length and one-and-a-half miles in width. Yet the island had been angrily disputed by the two countries, almost ever since Bangladesh secured independence from Pakistan in 1971. More:

Bringing it all back home

Does the astonishing volume of global remittances redeem the moral ambiguities of migrant labour? In camps, hospitals, beauty parlours and under doormats, John Gravois watches the money move. From The National:

Down the glass-fronted row of exchange houses along Abu Dhabi’s Liwa Street – the city’s unofficial remittance district, where hundreds of security cameras monitor a long, intermittent border-fence of plexiglas teller windows – Maridel Estrelles walked briskly one recent afternoon carrying a glossy faux-leather handbag and, as usual, a wallet full of other people’s money. Trying to keep pace alongside her was a young Bangladeshi man in a spread-collared shirt named Zilani, who carried a small, scuffed laptop folio with flimsy turquoise piping. They were rushing to catch a taxi to the Musaffah Industrial District, 30 minutes away, hoping to arrive there ahead of the clattering buses bound home for the labour camps at sundown.

A wholesomely pretty, disarmingly charismatic Filipina, Estrelles was dressed in a modest acrylic sweater, pale blue jeans and sandals, which slapped the pavement in double time as she walked. Without breaking stride, she called out cheerily to a cluster of blue-jumpsuited Bangladeshi construction workers sitting tiredly on a kerb, who blinked before recognising her and waving back. “Customers,” she explained, before stepping into traffic on Hamdan Street. More:

India worries as China builds ports in South Asia

Vikas Bajaj in the New York Times:

Hambantota, Sri Lanka: For years, ships from other countries, laden with oil, machinery, clothes and cargo, sped past this small town near India as part of the world’s brisk trade with China.

Now, China is investing millions to turn this fishing hamlet into a booming new port, furthering an ambitious trading strategy in South Asia that is reshaping the region and forcing India to rethink relations with its neighbors.

As trade in the region grows more lucrative, China has been developing port facilities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, and it is planning to build railroad lines in Nepal. These projects, analysts say, are part of a concerted effort by Chinese leaders and companies to open and expand markets for their goods and services in a part of Asia that has lagged behind the rest of the continent in trade and economic development.

But these initiatives are irking India, whose government worries that China is expanding its sphere of regional influence by surrounding India with a “string of pearls” that could eventually undermine India’s pre-eminence and potentially rise to an economic and security threat. More:

How Ted Kennedy helped create Bangladesh

Ted Kennedy in Dhaka in 1972

Ted Kennedy in Dhaka in 1972

Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy:

In 1971, the government of Pakistan, with the support of the Nixon administration, sent troops into what was then called East Pakistan, in order to contain a secessionist movement. This created a massive refugee crisis as millions streamed across the border to India.

Although the situation got little coverage in the United States, Kennedy, who had a lifelong interest in refugee issues and was eyeing a run against Nixon, traveled to inspect the situation:

“On his return, he issued a scathing report to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Refugees. The report, “Crisis in South Asia,” spoke of “one of the most appalling tides of human misery in modern times.”

“Nothing is more clear, or more easily documented, than the systematic campaign of terror — and its genocidal consequences — launched by the Pakistani army on the night of March 25th,” he wrote.

“All of this has been officially sanctioned, ordered and implemented under martial law from Islamabad. America’s heavy support of Islamabad is nothing short of complicity in the human and political tragedy of East Bengal.” More:

[Photo: Ted Kennedy in Dhaka in 1972. From Flickr user faria! via Foreign Policy]

In Bangladesh, Ted Kennedy revered

From CNN:

ted_kennedyIt may have started as a politically prudent move by a Democratic senator eyeing the White House during a Republican regime. But Kennedy stood up to the Nixon administration in 1971 and alerted the world to the bloodshed that was engulfing then-East Pakistan.

“In 1971, there were very few leaders from the so-called free world who were paying any attention to what was going on in Bangladesh. And for Ted Kennedy to come forward and to personally visit, the impact was huge,” said Akku Chowdhury, founder and director of Bangladesh’s Liberation War Museum.

“And that’s one thing Bangladeshis have always remembered.”

At the time, the U.S. policy — directed by President Richard Nixon and his National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger — was to resolutely support Pakistan, from which Bangladesh was trying to secede. More:

[Photo: www.kennedy.state.gov]

When Michael Jackson came to Manikganj

In The Hoot, Nupur Basu on the satellite revolution and an unlikely visitor to Manikganj, near Bangladeshi capital Dhaka

In the year 2000 I was directing a documentary on the impact of satellite television in South Asia. The skies had opened up with the ‘dish’ technology over this region and, in turn, it had opened the floodgates for a new cultural universe.

Travelling across the region from the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) in Peshawar where Islamic groups had given a call to ban satellite television to the hills of Nepal where the government was fighting hard to have it’s own Nepalese channel so that Nepali children did not say that Rajiv Gandhi was their prime minister – the stories and reactions we were filming were truly revealing.


Climate change will lead to mass migration in 40 years

Seema Singh in Mint:

A report commissioned last year by the international activist group Greenpeace, titled Blue Alert: Climate Migrants in South Asia – Estimates and Solutions, has estimated that 50 million people in India and 75 million in Bangladesh will be rendered homeless by the turn of the century, with the bulk of Bangladeshis likely to seek shelter in India.

“We categorize the poor as the ones who will suffer most, but richer societies will potentially lose as well,” said geographer Alexander de Sherbinin at Columbia University’s Centre for International Earth Science Information Network in New York. Sherbinin has co-authored the report with researchers from the United Nations University and the humanitarian agency Care International. More:

Man-eaters rule in a land of widows

West Bengal’s villagers are increasingly the prey of tigers driven out of Bangladesh by flooding. Gethin Chamberlain in the Obserever:

In the remote village of Deulbari, everyone knows someone who has been attacked by a tiger. Until now, humans and tigers have coexisted uneasily in this outpost in the Sundarbans area of West Bengal, where 274 tigers were counted in the last census in 2004. This year has been different.

Approached through vivid green paddy fields dotted with pink water lilies, Deulbari is a village of roughly constructed houses, some with corrugated iron roofs, others just straw, bleached by the sun. It sits on the Indian shores of the mangrove forests that straddle the border between India and Bangladesh. After a cyclone last winter led to rising water levels and forced tigers from the Bangladeshi side over the border into India, the number of documented tiger attacks has soared. According to villagers, there have been 15 already this year, six of them fatal. The ranks of the tiger widows are swelling, and the horrifying tales are multiplying.


The idea of cities

In a cover story on urban areas around Southasia, Himal looks “at the idea of cities as an active collective impulse that is ever evolving.” Below, a sample:

Lahore: By Raza Rumi

I spent my early years in a Model Town colonial bungalow, which was originally the creation of a Hindu doctor who had to leave the city at Partition. This was an age when birds were an integral feature of Lahori skies, and the seasons played out their glory. As the name suggests, Model Town was an ‘ideal’ suburb, created during the Raj by the advanced citizenry on the idea of ‘cooperative urban life’. Established in 1922, Model Town was the fruition of advocate Diwan Khem Chand’s unshakeable belief in the values of self help, self responsibility and democracy, loosely the principles of cooperative societies. This was the reason why Model Town was established as, and still is, a ‘cooperative society’. What fewer people know is that these values of cooperation were first popularised by George Jacob Holyoake, a 19th-century English social reformer responsible for the cooperative movement. Incidentally, Holyoake was also infamous for the distinction of having invented the phrase ‘secularism’, for which he was the last citizen to be convicted for blasphemy in England.

Kabul: By Anne Feenstra

Kabul is a city of dramatic contrasts. In the streets, shiny black-windowed limousines drive immediately alongside scruffy pushcarts with wobbly wheels. On the sidewalks, one-legged beggars hold out hands to well-dressed business men in sharp, knitted suits and gleaming shoes. Perhaps little of this is particularly exceptional in urban areas around the world, including in Southasia. Perhaps more to the point in the Afghan context would be the contrast in the inner city between Western female diplomats being driven around in armoured vehicles, and the local ladies who are fully covered in azure burqas.

Galle: By Richard Boyle

Galle’s location at the southwestern tip of Sri Lanka, with only the Antarctic across more than 5000 miles of ocean, ensured the prominence of the port during the early history of navigation. Not surprisingly, it became the natural focal point at the southernmost part of the Silk Routes that connected Asia with the Mediterranean. Galle also provided a relatively equidistant location for Arab and Chinese ships to converge and trade, thus avoiding much longer voyages. It had a fine natural harbour protected to the southeast by an elevated headland and to the northwest by a flat peninsula, although there were submerged rocks and the harbour was not protected from the southwest monsoon.

Dhaka: By Zafar Sobhan

Dhaka today is utterly unrecognisable as the sleepy, charming, tranquil town it was even half a century ago. There is something thoroughly startling about this transmutation from a genteel and sedate town of tree-lined avenues, ponds, canals and spacious bungalows set amidst overgrown gardens – to this present incarnation as a dizzying metropolis of 12 million people, blaring automobiles and block after block of unpainted concrete apartments, as far as the eye can see. But the difference is more than merely in the physical transformation; it is also one of tone and feel. Dhaka today is a high-octane megacity, where life is fast and furious (except for the traffic, which remains slow and torpid), where anger and violence simmer beneath the surface.


Losing the ground beneath their feet

Climate change means that millions of people now face the risk of catastrophic flooding, but few more so than the char-dwellers of Bangladesh, clinging to tiny impermanent islands of sand in the Jamuna river. Tahmima Anam, whose debut novel A Golden Age charted the nation’s birth, returns to see what the future might hold for her homeland. From The Guardian:

Every six months, for the better part of my life, I have been making a seasonal journey to Bangladesh. I left Dhaka at the age of two, and I have always called it home, though the city my parents and I left in the 70s is unrecognisable, now a jumble of Lego-shaped buildings, barely a road or a tree between them. My visits home, which used to consist of lazy rickshaw rides around Dhanmondi Lake, are now spent waiting in the frozen car-seas of Dhaka traffic. And, of course, there are family visits and long lunches and my parents, who wait eagerly for me and shower me with affection, no matter how old I am, or how often I have disappointed them by refusing to move back.

But this time around, I am leaving the city and travelling to an island off the banks of the Jamuna river, to learn how people are adapting to a difficult environment. I was recently told by a journalist that, having written a novel about the birth of my country, perhaps I should now write about its death. Bangladesh is sinking under the weight of the rising seas, one of the first victims of our transforming climate. Already there are great swaths of land in the coastal belt that have surrendered to the tides.

The facts about climate change in Bangladesh are indeed grim. The country is a low-lying delta, meaning any slight shift in sea levels will cause the land to be slowly swallowed by the waters of the Bay of Bengal.


Steaming into Bangladesh

Take the Rocket, a steamer trip into the heart of Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, and soak up the assault on the senses. From The Times:

Dhaka Rocket Steamship

Dhaka Rocket Steamship

Rocket travel, elsewhere the preserve of ostentatious oligarchs, is really the only way to arrive in Old Dhaka.

However, in Bangladesh, to bag a seat at the sharp end of a 100-year-old paddle steamer it’s not prerequisite to first steal the birthright of the proletariat, and at less than £5 for the 24-hour journey from Mongla to Dhaka, going sub-orbital with Richard Branson seem distinctly overpriced.

After the kind of sleep that only a First Class cabin provides, an unforgiving nudge combined with the earnest thrashing of paddles acts as an early morning wake-up call.


We all know it’s wrong to judge by skin colour … so why do we do it?

The furore over L’Oréal’s ad featuring Beyoncé highlighted the cultural sensitivities around issues of race, beauty and success. Anushka Asthana in The Observer:

So, was that picture of Beyoncé, looking sultry and wide-eyed as she poses for a L’Oréal advert, doctored to make her skin look lighter? The company itself swears blind that it wasn’t.

But whatever the truth of the past week’s headlines, the whole episode has underlined that for millions of people, skin colour is still a contentious issue.

It matters in Bangladesh, where some elderly women still tell their granddaughters to avoid tea lest it make their faces darken; it matters in Kenya, where a friend bemoans the fact that the ‘beautiful’ (read pale) are always the ones who make it as television stars.


Questions from Southasia

Himal looks at the region and asks whether the concept of South Asia is even useful.

Image by Adam J West in Himal

Image by Adam J West in Himal

Has it been overtaken by ‘globalised’ time, or can it be an additional identity-marker that helps us to achieve political stability and progress? Is there any use for nostalgia about the pre-1947 ‘India’, and how would we have evolved differently in the aftermath of Partition and nation-statism? Can regionalism be a tool for economic growth and social justice in the poorest, most populated and adjacent parts of Pakistan, North India, Bangladesh and Nepal? Some say that the real divide is not that between India-Pakistan-Bangladesh, but rather between North Southasia and South Southasia.

Click here to read the views of 75 eminent Southasian thinkers in the latest issue of Himal:

The singing sensation from Bangladesh

Scroll down a couple of posts and you will find a story headlined “One man, one dance, and the Web’s most watched video.” It’s about a four-and-a-half minute video called Dancing, created by Matt Harding, that’s become a YouTube sensation. The music is set to a poem by Rabindranath Tagore, sung in Bengali by Palbasha Siddique,17, a native of Bangladesh now living in Minneapolis. Here’s more on Palbasha, the singing sensation, from the Minnealopis Star Tribune:

When Palbasha Siddique starts her senior year at Minneapolis’ Southwest High School, she’ll have quite a story to tell about what she did on her summer vacation.

“I was waiting for something like this to happen for a long time,” said Siddique, 17, a Bangladesh native who lives in northeast Minneapolis and can now be heard singing around the globe.

Siddique owns the ethereal voice heard in a new YouTube-buoyed video clip that, as they say in these Internet-trendy times, has gone viral. It’s called “Dancing” (or: “Where the Hell Is Matt?”), and it’s nothing but footage of one guy randomly dancing in the streets with people all over the world.

More here and here:

And scroll down if you haven’t seen the video:

Foreign Policy: The Failed States Index 2008

While the bulk of Failed States are located in Africa, South Asia doesn’t fare much better with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma, at #7, 9 and 12 (Bangladesh and Burma tied at #12) respectively, making the grade. Sri Lanka weighs in the annual list at #20, while Nepal figures at #23 and Bhutan, which just embarked on its road to democracy registering at 51 of the List’s 60 Failed States.

Both Pakistan and Bangladesh registered a fall from last year’s status, with Bangladesh featuring the worst fall of all Failed States, set off by postponed elections, deadlocked government and the continuance of emergency rule that has dragged on for 18 months (not to mention November’s devastating cyclone which left 1.5 million people homeless). Nearby Pakistan didn’t do much better with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

For the complete list and the whole story in Foreign Policy click here.

Indian hopes for a season of friendship

The visit of the Bangladesh army chief followed by the flagging of the Maitree Express is cause for optimism on both sides of the border, reports Jyoti Malhotra in Mint

If wishes were horses, India and Bangladesh could easily ride off into the sunset together.

So, when Bangladesh army chief Gen. Moeen U. Ahmed arrived in Delhi in late February, the first army chief from that country to visit India, army chief Gen. Deepak Kapoor gifted him with two stallions and four mares, handpicked from the army’s Remount Veterinary Corps. The six horses cost Rs3.6 crore (Rs1 crore each for the stallions and Rs40 lakh for each mare), but Indian officials are emphatic about the fact that its money well spent. “The fact that this Bangladesh army chief is a muktijoddha (freedom fighter) indicates that he is well disposed to India,’’ said a senior Indian government official, who did not wish to be identified.

[Pic: The Maitree Express on its maiden Kolkata-Dhaka run on April 13. Madhu Kapparath/Mint]

Previously on AW: London to Dhaka by train

London to Dhaka by train

Dean Nelson in The Times, uk:

RAIL enthusiasts with a sense of adventure and 23 days to spare will be able to travel by train from London to Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, when a new link opens later this year.

The 7,000-mile Trans-Asia railway will follow one of the old Silk Roads through Istanbul, Tehran, Lahore and Delhi.

It is already being described by train buffs as “the world’s greatest railway journey” and will be longer than the Trans-Siberian railway, which spans 5,772 miles.

Under a United Nations-sponsored scheme, Pakistan and Iran will link up their lines in the coming months to join the sub-continent’s track to that of Europe for the first time.


Kolkata to Dhaka by train

Mark Dummett of BBC was on board the Friendship Express. His report:

On the morning of the Bengali New Year, cameraman Abdullah Al-Muyid and I boarded the Friendship or Maitree Express in Dhaka – the first passenger train between India and Bangladesh in over 40 years.

It seems extraordinary that Bangladeshis and Indians have had to wait so long for this train. The two countries have officially been friends for years, and it has been possible for some time to take a bus, or a plane between the two. There was a genuine joy that sense has at last prevailed.

Click here for the BBC video report: