Tweets from Projonmo Square—-four hours in the Tahrir of Dhaka, amidst a people’s revolution

Projonmo Square, around 150,000 protesters have been demonstrating here since February 6th without any recess.

Just walked into the #Shahbagh Square; people from all walks of life have gathered here since the past three days to stage their protest.

I was absolutely flabbergasted, overwhelmed and shocked by the huge crowd that lay ahead of me. Within a minute after I had entered, I was looking at virtually thousands of faces; faces emanating a jubilant feature you normally associate with patriotism and a vision for a better world.

Yet in those faces which had come from all sorts of diverse social backgrounds—-I saw a welcome to anyone willing to join them in this fight to serve the history. I had a momentary glimpse into the future of all ordinary, middle-class, patriotic Bangladeshis like me. I saw an insight into the glorious future that awaited my country, and the huge role that I can play in order to become a part of its history.

What a crowd! #Shahbagh, the Tahrir of Dhaka

Trust me when I say this: never before in my life have I felt a love for my country so subtle yet so overwhelming. At that point in time, even if someone had told me that my country required me to jump in the deepest crevices of the Atlantic Ocean, I would have taken the leap valiantly. It was a feeling that transcends almost all other subtleties in the universe. It was a discovery. A new discovery of patriotism.

Candle-light protests at night

Wherever I look, I find hope. Hope for a country where its nascent generations are as patriotic as the one that liberated it from the hyenas who once upon a time enslaved the masses.

For forty 42 years our land has waited; waited patiently for a blood and passion.

In 1971, in one of the bloodiest civil wars in history, Bangladesh won its independence from Pakistan at a cost of 30 million lives and the rape of around 2 million women (In fact, the war is described as one of the few in history where the Pakistani army used rape of Bengali women as a powerful tactic to not only intimidate the people, but also to subsequently create a society filled with bitter truths.). During the war, a group of Bengalis and Biharis (immigrants from Pakistan into Bangladesh), in an attempt to please their Pakistani masters, collaborated with the Pakistani Army and participated in the mass genocide and rape undertaken by the military regime. The main Bangladeshi political party that betrayed their own people to form a paramilitary group with the army was the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing Shibir.

The people’s revolution on the second day.

For forty years, none of those collaborators at the top had been handed down a death sentence. And moreover, they are now occupying powerful and wealthy positions in our society. How ironic for a nation! #Shahbagh

But today after all these 42 years, the soil of our land has once again cried the cry of freedom and justice. And it only took one verdict.

On 5th February, 2013 when Kader Mollah———infamously known as Mirpurer Koshai (the Butcher of Mirpur) for mass-slaughtering around 400 unarmed, innocent Bangladeshis and raping many young women in his area during the war; some with his own hands and others by direct orders to his disciples—-came out of the International Criminal Tribunal with a verdict of guilty and a lifetime imprisonment, the general public became more enraged than ever before to see the criminal’s smiling face and victory sign flashing out of all media outlets.

A huge candle-light vigil, with the map of Bangladesh illuminated in the center.

For 400 murders, a person gets a life sentence? Really?

And so the online community of Bangladesh, extremely angered with the judge not giving a death sentence to the accused, called for peaceful protests and demonstrations in the gigantic crossroads of Shahbagh, a bustling part of Dhaka which is almost always clogged with speedy traffic.

Although initially led by the Bangladeshi Blogger and Facebook Activists’ Group, the protest was soon joined in by thousands of ordinary people from all walks of life who were discontented with the tribunal’s verdict.

It took barely a night for Shahbagh to become the center of the people’s revolution, and to represent a new call for justice and rule of law. Traffic was halted for at least a kilometer all around Shahbagh and security was tightened throughout the area.

But the most important part about the protests was the people’s unity. Students, teachers, clerics, liberals, leftists, right-wings, people regardless of their political and religious affiliations appeared hand in hand to lead a new uprising against the traitors, mass-murderers and rapists of 1971. Everyone promised to keep political speech out of everything, and asserted that the sole purpose of occupying Shahbagh was to ignite the spirit of 1971 into all the people of the country.

A revolution for the people by the people. Fourth consecutive day of the protests

It’s 2013. And our generation has now engulfed into a new war of liberation: ensuring justice for the souls who were murdered, raped and betrayed by these war criminals.

2013, 42 years after 1971, brought on a new war. A war that we, the new generation are entitled to fight.

On the third successive day of the protest, when I joined the crowd and chanted “Ekattorer haatiyaar gorje uthhuk arrekbar” (Let the weapons of 1971 be loaded once again this year) at the top of my voice, I knew that for the first time in my life, our land and our generation had a glorious future.

And I felt confident that this was where I wanted to be. That this was the city, this land of the 160 million and this vibrant vicinity was where I wanted to write the golden pages of my autobiography.

And after that day, time and again, I have strolled all the way from my home in Green Road to Shahbagh Square, recently renamed Projonmo Square (the Generation’s Square) in light of the recent events, simply to chant slogans and be a part of the crowd. I will do it tomorrow again, the day after as well, and also the day after that as long as the revolution exists and our demands for a death sentence for the mass murderers of 1971 are not met.

The entire country has but one verdict: the traitors must all be hanged for their mass-killings and rape during 1971.

I will be there as long as the blood underneath my body is hot and flowing through my veins. As long as my people, my nation does not get the justice it deserves.

I will chant ‘Joy Bangla’ (Long Live Bangladesh!) with my sore throat and never get exhausted because I have a feeling that this was what I always wanted to be a part of.

I will not stop, the blood of 30 million people that courses through me will not cease because I know that we are all united as a nation regardless of our religious or political divisions.

In 2013, although I am not in a battle-field, I am the freedom fighter. The new freedom fighter vying for the long-lost justice.

I might just be a speck of light in the huge crowd of #Shahbagh, but I know I am contributing towards sth far greater than any of us can ever dream about: towards building our great nation….

Joy Bangla!

 

 

 

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Cursed be the land that gave birth to you Bishwajit. Cursed be the existence which scapegoated you. Cursed be the universe that stayed silent at your murder.

I am sure this wasn’t the first time such a barbaric act happened in Bangladesh. I am sure this wasn’t the first time you have been terrified beyond your wits by what is happening outside your comfortable, air-conditioned bedroom; or the first time you were moved by watching the headlines of the Bangladeshi media outlets.

But what I am sure about is the fact that the culprits will get away once again.

A very ‘random’ blockade scene in Bangladesh

On December 9, 2012, Bangladesh had a fierce country-wide blockade imposed by the opposition party of the Parliament, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), along with its alliance Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s most powerful Islamic fundamentalist party whose central leaders are all in jail due to war-crimes. The event was as usual as it always is—–opposition activists burned vehicles and tires, engaged themselves in extremely rough scuffles with law enforcers that culminated in many of their activists being taken into police custody, and street-fights broke out between the mercenaries of the opposition and the ruling party’s endorsed thugs from each of their respective student wings. However, the next day all the media outlets flashed only one headline.

On Monday, December 10, 2012, when the rest of the world celebrated the Global Human Rights Day, the front page covers of all newspapers were adorned with a man being hacked to death by none other than the hooligans of the ruling party’s student wing, Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL). The television news channels had a field day with their camera crews showing BCL activists beating and stabbing a man to death whom they accused of being an opposition goon possessing cocktail bombs; and as all this was happening the police present around the BCL men simply watched silently as the man was being beaten up while the newspaper reporters were watching and filming the scene in action.

The ruling party’s BCL thugs beating the innocent Bishwajit to death

But apparently, the guy in question being hacked to death was not an opposition party goon. Rather, he was a normal tailor who was going to his shop from home to work hard and meet his ends in urban Dhaka.

In cases such as this, the government would deliberately jump to conclusions that the man beaten to death was actually a sponsored mercenary of the opposition who was vandalizing vehicles and looting shops and thus deserved a ‘repercussion’ for his gruesome act. On the other hand the opposition parties, in a desperate attempt to stir up public sentiments in their favor, would seize the opportunity to claim that the man who was demonstrating peacefully against the fascist government was a devoted patriot from their group. But only this time, neither of the parties could play the incident in their favor.

The reason behind this is the fact that the man was a 24-year old Hindu by the name of Bishwajit Das. While the BCL men were killing him, he was heard screaming repeatedly that he couldn’t be an activist from the Islamist opposition because of his religion. And that they could test this physically right at that time if they wanted to. But the more secular BCL group, which was busy with its prey, hardly listened to him.

They left him unconscious while the media-personnel took all they required; and the police, with its sticks and batons to beat up trouble-makers, still stood watching like the rest of the passers-by. Locales from the area rushed the unconscious Bishwajit to the nearest hospital where the doctors immediately pronounced him dead.

All the BCL goons who were involved in the act were pinpointed by the media outlets which carried out an in-depth analysis of each of the murderers. Apparently, all the men involved were top leaders from Jagannath University’s BCL, which is famous for its violence and infighting among different factions and also with rival student wings. Their crime records were already famous all over the country, but this time only were they newly highlighted.

The bigger photo shows the murderers (a red circle and several red dots) at the front row of the ruling party’s subsequent procession; while the smaller one shows one of the killers enjoying the birthday party that took place a few hours after the murder was committed.

More ironically, on the very same day that they killed Bishwajit, the murderers were normal enough to attend the birthday party of the unit President of Jagannath University’s BCL where the media captured them having a great time as if nothing had happened during the day. The next day, the government responded by saying, despite the fact that each of them were incumbent activists of BCL, that the killers had no affiliation whatsoever with the ruling party. And that they were rather pawns planted by the opposition to create anarchy in Dhaka so that it would eventually culminate in a new political disorder to stop the trial of the war-criminals.

In a world which is changing every single day, we modern Bangladeshis are part of a generation which substituted a weird sort of nationalism based on our language, liberation war and ethnic identity to one where every one of us is a global citizen. We are part of a movement of socially-aware citizens of the world who dress up in the same way regardless of whether they are in America, Bangladesh or Lebanon; listen to the same pop music despite barriers in language and culture; and think of the same levels of human rights and freedom of expression all over the globe. An incident like the killing of Bishwajit underscores the extent to which impunity has spread throughout our society. It tells us how we are entering into a world where the government gives pompous talks of protecting civilians and ensuring security, equal opportunities and stability for all but fails to stop its unruly activists from committing murders of innocent civilians in broad daylight. We are rapidly transcending into a new society which stays silent at times of repression and injustice, and shrugs away its shoulders to say that nothing has happened as long as individual interests remain unaffected.

Meanwhile, several Hindu fundamentalist groups of neighboring India have decided to stand up and call the killing of Bishwajit an ethnic cleansing against Hindus in Bangladesh. But unfortunately what these groups fail to realize is that, it was not a Hindu that was killed. It was an innocent human being just like us; a typical, cricket-loving Bangladeshi who worked hard to earn his bread amidst immense hardship but was murdered in front of the entire world.

As long as a revolution built on the strongest principles of justice, equality and human rights is not established; as long as a process that ensures law and order protecting all ordinary citizens from these killers who have been created by political leaders to further agenda through dirty politics is not created, more and more Bishwajits will continue to be scapegoated. Although we do not acknowledge it, the next Bishwajit could very likely be one from among us. We could be the next ordinary citizen of the country to become the victim of Bangladesh’s barbaric politics.

At the time of this writing, at least eight of the killers—including Mahfuzur Rahman Nahid, the BCL leader who led the heinous act—- have been arrested by the police. However, in a society where the people decide to remain silent against barbaric crimes like the killing of Bishwajit, incidents like this will happen. The fact that this happened in the month of December, the month when Bangladesh achieved victory from Pakistan after a bloody liberation war in 1971, directly underscores the extent to which we are far away from the Bangladesh 30 million people gave up their lives for.

Facebook profile of the murderer Nahid; how could this cold-blooded killer be a normal person just like the rest of us?

 

 

WHY BANGLADESH WON’T ACCEPT ANY MORE ROHINGYAS

Although the issue has come into a new limelight with President Obama’s visit to Myanmar, no one really needs any introduction to the topic. Pictures of Rohingya men and women have been flooding the international newspapers since the sectarian clashes began in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. And fingers have not only been pointed at the Myanmar government for its failure in protecting its minorities, but also at Myanmar’s neighbor Bangladesh.

The Bangladesh government has firmly refused to allow any more Rohingya influx into the country. And has, instead, followed a neutral diplomatic stance by refusing to condemn either of the two sides. International condemnation, particularly in Pakistan of which Bangladesh was once a part, have on the other hand been tremendous. Everyone has criticized the already impoverished state for its silence and refusal to accommodate people in dire need.

Indonesians protest against Myanmar

But the local public opinion on the issue have been divided.

Although the official count of Rohingyas who are housed in UN refugee camps in the border city of Cox’s Bazaar is around 30,000, the real count is at least 200,000. Most of these Rohingyas work in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh’s most economically-important tourist city. A good many of them marry among the Bengali communities and become settled. The luckiest ones even succeed in getting a Bangladeshi passport, which acts as their gateway to the oil-wealthy economies of the Middle-East where the country sends millions of workers every year.

But all these refugees have to be clothed, fed and educated by the state. In a country where people struggle to meet their daily needs, the government has a very good reason not to take any more burdens. And so to preempt any more influx of Rohingyas in search of hope in Bangladesh, the government has even reduced access to Rohingya refugee-camps for international and local NGOs; making sure that all humanitarian aid were delivered by the army and border guards only. Recently, in an extremely embarrassing feat, a Turkish lawmaker, while on holiday in Cox’s Bazaar during the eve of Eid-ul-Azha, was arrested by the police for trying to distribute meat of the sacrifice among the Rohingya refugees.

But the most important reality of the problem was generated in a spat of sectarian attacks by Muslim mobs on Buddhist communities in Cox’s Bazaar.

A Rohingya refugee, who has fled the sectarian tensions in Myanmar, pleading with the Bangladesh Border Guards to grant him into the gates of Bangladesh

After a Buddhist teenager of Cox’s Bazaar tagged a controversial Islamophobic photo on facebook right after the mayhem of Innocence of Muslims, mobs of Islamists, within a few hours, gathered with bamboos and sticks, and attacked Buddhist temples and homes in Ramu, Ukhia and several other regions of Cox’s Bazaar. Speculators have confirmed that the attack was more planned than anyone could have imagined. People were brought in through trucks and buses from all over the district, where diverse religions have never had a problem, and within a span of a few hours the Buddhists were rendered homeless.

Everything was done in a planned, coordinated manner. Several centuries-old Buddhist statues have been destroyed for good and the police’s role have been called into question. Many have accused the local politicians of being a part of the blasphemy. Fingers have been pointed at DGFI and NSI—-Bangladesh’s two most notorious intelligence agencies——since it was impossible to carry out such an attack on minorities without their foreknowledge.

It all ended with the Awami League, the liberal, secular, left-wing ruling party, and the BNP, the centre-right, conservative, Islamist-secular, opposition party throwing accusations at each other.

But one thing was clear: Rohingyas were involved in vast numbers. Whoever planned the attack, carried out the arson by recruiting them from the UN refugee camps.

Jamaat-i-Islami, Bangladesh’s most problematic Islamic fundamentalist party, has firmly denied any accusations of having a role in the attack on minorities. Although there is a pervasive belief that the conservative, pro-Pakistani Islamist group was involved in the assault, its members have refused all charges of using any stateless Rohingyas to advance their political agendas.

Meanwhile, the atmosphere in the capital city has been untouched by the Rohingya issue. The centre of all political activism, art, culture and policy-making, Dhaka has gone on as if nothing has happened. One of the most liberal cities of South Asia, Dhaka and its economic ambitions have embraced its stance on the Rohingyas more positively than outsiders can think.

Although there have been mass-demonstrations by intellectuals, freedom fighters and human rights organizations after the attack on Buddhists, the people here are more busy with calling for a permanent end to child marriage and for scraping the new bill on Hindu laws that discriminate against Hindu widows. In a city where religion is becoming less important everyday; where feminists are chanting slogans of rescinding the use of Sharia in property inheritance; and where an ever-increasing proportion of the people are echoing calls for a removal of the phrase “Complete faith and trust in the Almighty Allah” used in the country’s constitution; the Rohingyas aren’t a topic that people want to think about.

Bangladesh’s economic ties with Myanmar have also been an issue. As the neighbor embraces a liberal economy after its democratic transition, Bangladeshi capitalists and businessmen have targeted Burma as a new potential market for enormous growth. Talks are already underway to set up Bangladeshi power-stations in Myanmar so that the energy-starved nation can meet its huge power demand in the rapidly boosting up industrial sector. Any disruption of the diplomatic and trade ties between the two countries would ultimately harm Bangladesh’s expanding business prospects in the region, and would rather benefit its mightier neighbor India.

So questions on all social networks by Bangladeshis have been similar. Don’t people lose lives on a daily basis in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Palestine? No one cares about them, so why all this targeting Bangladesh for something it played no part in? Why suddenly this we-muslims-need-to-save-our-brothers-and-sisters-in-Myanmar-from-Aung-Sun-Suu-Kyi type of thing? Aren’t our tax money low enough already for a huge population like ours?

The Nobel Laureate Suu Kyi’s silence on the issue has also been condemned all over the globe

However, many have raised a voice for the Rohingyas as well. Editorial columns and opinion on leading media outlets have condemned the violence and criticized the Bangladeshi government for its lack of an international response over the issue. Some have reminded the country that during the liberation war of 1971, when the Pakistani army and Jamaat-i-Islami were persecuting and raping as much as possible to create ‘a breed of better Muslims’, the neighboring India, seeing a positive political opportunity of a divided-Pakistan, granted refugee status to 2 million people who fled the violence into West Bengal.

But the situation in this case is different. If more Rohingyas are allowed refugee status in Bangladesh, it is quite unlikely that they will ever return to Myanmar again when the Burmese government accepts them back; thus further burdening the Bangladesh economy.

In an age of high economic ambitions, capitalism and materialism in South Asia’s one of the most populous and rapidly-developing countries, this is how the pervasive belief about Rohingyas is prevalent. Any government in power would have closed off its borders in a situation such as this. In fact many analysts now think that the Bangladeshi government made the perfect decision during the conflict. Not only did it stop violence from escalating within its own borders, but also kept international pressure and awareness abuzz on the Myanmar government, which has followed a system of ethnic cleansing and persecution of the Rohingyas since the early 1970s.

Right after the liberation war devastated Bangladesh and pushed it back by at least five decades, the nascent country, despite all its hurdles, gave refugee status to the thousands of Rohingyas who fled the Burmese military’s sectarian war against the Muslim communities. But after three decades, there is a popular feeling that it’s now time for Suu Kyi and her men-in-uniform to take back the people whom they have wronged in their own lands just because they were Muslims and not from the same faith as the majority of the people. As much as there is a call for Pakistan to take back its huge number of refugees in Bangladesh who have been rendered stateless during the 1971 war, there is also a call for the Myanmar government to stop further burdening the economic potentials of a country desperately in search of social prosperity and interfaith harmony.

How Hurricane Sandy affected Bangladesh!

Yeah yeah, you read the title right. Hurricane Sandy may have ransacked the East Coast of the United States, but its effects have been widespread and felt as far away as Bangladesh.

Hurricane Sandy and its devastation

But here in Bangladesh most of the people are actually happy that the United States has had a violent death toll due to a natural catastrophe. And the reasons are as varied as the number of individuals who have given a thought to the issue.

One facebook friend put up this status:

ঘূর্ণি ঝড়ে ইউসএ র অবস্থা দেখে বেশ ভাল লাগছে! প্রাকৃতিক দুর্যোগ মানে নাকি ওরা বাংলাদেশকেই চেনে! জলোচ্ছাসের ঝাপটায় ভেসে গেছে ওদের আধুনিকতার প্রযুক্তি। এই দুর্যোগেও ওদের জনগনকে খারাপ কাজ করা থেকে বিরত থাকতে অনুরোধ করতে হয়। আমরা ওদের চেয়ে অনেক উন্নত জাতি!

which in English translates into:

I am pretty happy to see what’s happening to the US due to the hurricane! And all this time the world thought Bangladesh was the only country most victimized by natural disasters. The cyclone has swept away their ultra-modern technological prowess. But even amidst this disaster I must endeavor them to keep away from the dirtiness of their hearts. If you consider the dirtiness, we as a nation are much better than them!

While the status does echo a public sentiment against the Americans here in the East, it also designates that the East has had its fair share of natural disasters, and thus it is time for America and the West to have them as well. Cyclones are a part of growing up in a delta country like Bangladesh. Although it has been at least five years since the last time we have had a major hurricane or anything in the capital city, the coastal areas are a frequent victim of similar dangerous natural disasters. Every year, the flood water kills dozens of impoverished coastal residents, and erases the livelihood of hundreds who are directly dependant on the natural waters of rivers and lakes for food and living. And thus for us, cyclones have been a part of our growing up process.

Images of the world-famous New York subway completely submerged, cars stuck in deep waters, buildings ransacked all over New Jersey, and people fleeing for their lives——it’s been all over on the newspapers, international media outlets and local news. And thus my mom wasn’t left out of the tide either. She, however, had a different take on the issue. According to her, “It served America right. Such a war-mongering nation. Killing and raping Muslims all over the world. This is only a trailer of God’s wrath for America. Soon the entire film will be showcased.”

While anti-American sentiments have been all the rage in the Islamic world in the post-9/11 era; and have been cemented with the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq; and elevated with the ongoing talks of a new war against Iran, which is treated as an elder brother in the sub-continent because of the fact that Islam was brought to the region by the Persian Sufis and saints; statements such as those from my mother aren’t a very abnormal one. Rather, after the release of Innocence of Muslims in the United States, this rage has been further heightened to new levels (and resulted in a blockade of youtube) and so now the political parties of the sub-continent are also politicizing this popular feeling. A Pakistani railway minister even went as far as announcing a huge monetary reward for the Pakistani Taliban if they successfully executed Sam Bacile, the maker of Innocence of Muslims. In Bangladesh however, since the government firmly follows a neutral diplomacy due to the founding father, Sheikh Mujib’s idea of turning Bangladesh into the Switzerland of the East, although there was a widespread condemnation of the movie, behavior towards America have been quite moderate in comparison to the countries of the Middle-East and other parts of South Asia.

The facebook friend who put up the happy status due to Sandy, however, was not met with assertion from the people on his friends’ list. The Bangladeshi expats in America condemned his views, and one of them even went as far as telling him that ‘life in America was beautiful, but the same could not be said for Bangladesh”. And another asked him to be a human being; after all, despite our racial and religious differences we are all human beings. It is unsure whether the friend had a change in viewpoint about hurricane Sandy and America, but regardless of everything, the issue created quite a public debate in this part of the world.

Anti-American memes on social networks are as popular as anti-Muslim ones

America got what it deserved– that isn’t actually the dominant opinion here, but a lot of loud voices like to draw attention to America’s brutalities in Iraq, Japan, Pakistan, Somalia, Palestine, Vietnam and Afghanistan; and many even went as far as reminding the people of Abeer al Janabi, a 14 year old Iraqi girl who was gang-raped by US soldiers in front of her family and later on murdered and burned along with the family in their home. Several people have also recalled the Afghan girl who was mass-raped by US marines to such an extent that her genitals had become mutilated beyond repair, and the doctors could simply watch while she bled to death.

The public at the end of the day is torn between being humane and vengeful when it comes to America. An idea that is increasingly becoming evident in the progressive circles of modern-day’s politically-conscious Bangladeshi citizens.

Bangladesh ranked 11th happiest country

A facebook friend recently put up this extremely inspiring and well-put status:

 

Determination – The young women who starts at daybreak to reach the garments factory where she works to support her family.

 

Resilience – The young boy who starts selling newspaper at the stroke of dawn to pay for the medical expenses of his ailing mother.

 

Vision – The City Corporation worker who does odd jobs all day long so that he can build a better future for his son.

 

Indulgence – The pampered ‘Daddy’s Princess’ whose biggest worry is to look better than her friend.

Wasted – The arrogant rich brat whose life revolves from one hangout to the next.
Misguided – The self-made millionaire who is leaving all the wealth to his children but precious few values.
Stories of inspiration and moral decay running parallel in this city of ours.

Bangladesh, the 11th Happiest Country in the World; ahead of Pakistan, India and even the USA in happiness

For those of us who were brought up and have lived in new Dhaka during the economic boon, parallelism and contradictions in our society have been integral parts of our lives. In a country the size of Scotland, but a population of at least 160 million people, we live in a vastly unequal culture and society. According to Al-Jazeera English, 30 million people in Bangladesh make up the middle-income bracket, a number higher than those of the wealthier European states of Norway and Sweden, yet the country remains largely an underdeveloped state. Roughly 30% of the population live under the international poverty line, with around 3.5 million of them being children according to the UN, while 38% of the overall populace remains illiterate.
Life here is undoubtedly difficult for most of us. But although ‘living’ is the only keyword, we believe in little pleasures and happiness. With the traditional subcontinental familial and religious values we are desperately conservative about our culture and customs. And this is why despite all our hurdles everyday Bangladesh has been placed 11th out of 151 countries in the World’s Happiest Countries list by the Happy Planet Index 2012.
In sharp contrast to this placement is a list compiled by another survey of the World’s Most Unlivable Cities. Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, ranks first on that list because of widespread social inequality, lack of resources, a faltering justice system and political turbulence. But as it turns out none of those materialistic values impede a nation that wants to be happy. The happiness index was based on three criteria: life-expectancy, well-being and ecological footprint. Costa Rica has been declared number one, followed by Vietnam and Colombia. The countries which have hit the bottom of the list constitute mainly the sub-Saharan ones.
What is more important on this list is the fact that materialistic values do not always constitute a happy nation. Spiritual and mental satisfaction, socialism and family-life are also imperative to be happy; and as the countless homeless people all across Bangladesh demonstrate through this list, a nation can still be happy despite being terribly bereft of resources. This aspect of happiness is strongly ingrained in the Bengali culture, in the Bangladeshi experience where familial and religious duties–regardless of which religion or ethnicity you belong to—- are integral constituents.
After all, where in the world will you find a nation that is terribly in love with its language? That has given up and will always be ready to give up lives when its language or land is denigrated and oppressed? Where in the world will you find a nation where secularism and equality of all religions is so much appreciated, where all religions, ethnicities and tribes live and socialize with each other harmoniously? Where will you find a country that is immersed in its music, folklore and traditional dance? Where will you find a nation that stays
awake all night to see its national cricket team win or lose matches and then celebrate any win or a good fight as if they have won the entire World Cup?
There are definitely a good many reasons that make Bangladesh different from the rest of the world. It is true that we are an underdeveloped, extremely unequal and exploited nation but even amidst our poisonous capitalistic system, we are a happy species.

Eccentricities in a Bangladeshi Gaa’ye Holud

Gaa’ye holud is an essential part of Bangladeshi marriage traditions. It is the first of the 4/3-day long celebrations carried out to celebrate the unity of two families through marriage. On this occasion, traditionally bride and bridegrooms used to be rubbed on the face with mustard paste by all sorts of people—sometimes on the same day and sometimes on separate days—–but in the past one decade or so, as Bangladesh became increasingly globalized and make up, gold, facebook photos and expensive imported dresses from Pakistan and India rapidly made it impossible to rub mustard paste on the faces of the bride and her groom, gaa’ye holuds began to use mustard paste as decoration items only. Nowadays it is more about wearing good clothes, going to the beauty salon and the DJ playing hard and fast dance beats to which everyone would dance around. At least that’s the picture in the urban cities now.

Photo credit: nudratowens.com

 

Although an indispensable part of the traditional 4-day long Bengali marriage ceremony, gaa’ye holud, in my opinion, is an event most ceremonies can easily do without. In fact, before the latest one I attended whose tales would soon ensue, I can’t even properly recall the last time I went to a gaa’ye holud invitation. To me, as an observer, the event seemed to waste a lot of money, time and other resources for no good reason at all, and the material side of me always sighed to think of all the expenditure going on behind the scenes of a lavish gaaye holud. And there was the philosophy of personal beliefs as well. Around two and a half years back when I turned into an Islamic fundamentalist——-courtesy of the Islamophobic blog-networks———and increasingly shifted towards a more pan-Islamic school of thought and belief system (although I do suffer from intermittent bouts of agnosticism and atheism as well), I began to find the style of dancing and singing in a gaa’ye holud absolutely abhorrent. And with these foundations for a thought-process, my penchant for skipping all sorts of gaa’ye holud grew in an unprecedented manner.

But the latest one was from a series of occasions I could have never refused. It happened to be a classmate-since-class-four’s elder brother’s holud, and my family and I were specifically invited by none other than the mother of the bridegroom herself. It was virtually impossible to escape this one unless and until there was a darn good reason to do so. And hence I had to accede to the request.

But since my mom couldn’t go because of her last minute health-constraints I was left alone. I put on some ironed cotton trousers and punjabi, showered with my new Moroccan rosewater flavored liquid soap and after climbing through an hour-long traffic in a route which would have taken me 20 minutes to reach my destination in anywhere other than the city of Dhaka on a normal Wednesday evening, I finally landed myself in Trust Milonayton on Mohakhali.

Now there’s absolutely no reason to suppose that this was going to be an occasion where the lazy Bengalis will finally decide to be punctual. So although the event was scheduled to be at 7:30 pm, when I entered the grandiloquent hall at around 8:30 pm, there was but a score of people sitting and whiling away their time. I slid myself through the slightly opened façade and was glared at by the cameraman when I almost tripped on his gargantuan wires. That’s nothing new though. I have this thing for slipping whenever I try to walk properly. I raised a hand and punched the air around me to show my disregard for the man’s glare. In a further effort to boost up my lost confidence, I even heaved up my chest and poised my breasts outwards in a malicious attempt to imitate the Bollywood actor Salman Khan. But in return I was met by more stares. And then immediately, just before that Salman Khan-ish feeling decided to leave me, I felt the need to set up a new facebook status through my phone: Letzz rockzz peoplezzz. Fromzz Salzzzmanzzz Khanzz.

Feeling weird, I strode on and scoured the place for anyone I knew. Unfortunately, there was none.

But fortunately, there was an unknown, gorgeous-looking girl sitting just in front the sofa I had taken refuge in; and like me she seemed to be all alone as well. My heart skipped a beat when she turned around and our gazes met, and I could perceive her beautiful multicolored sari draped elegantly over her maroon blouse, hiding her presumptuously poised out breasts in a manner too provocative and too feminine to lower my gaze.

দূর হতে আমি তারে সাধিবো
গোপনে বিরহ ডরে বাধিবো………………...

Kill me woman! Kill me! I thought to myself as she turned backwards again to see the people entering through the red carpet.

I chuckled as I noticed her lavishly made up face and the henna-designed hands. I wondered whether it would be deemed too inappropriate in a public place like that to start a nice little chat with her.

Preoccupied with this dilemma, and wondering whether I possessed enough charisma to charm up an unfamiliar girl, I suddenly noticed a middle-aged woman with her two young (and severely attractive!) post-teenage daughters approach my sofa. The woman sat beside my seat and shifted towards me with a forgive-me smile.

“Ami ki shore jaabo?” Complemented by a smile, in the most pleasant-hearing shuddho Bengali accent I possessed, I asked her whether I should change seats.

“It will be good for us,” the lady smiled back and then looked at her daughters. I changed seats and had to appease my back for shelter in a more uncomfortable chair. Weird. Aren’t these the same ladies calling for equal rights for both men and women? What kind of man would’ve asked the lady or her daughters to shift seats for the men’s convenience when there were many other seats available?

#Such-an-unequal-country!

And it was at that point when the lazy, fat and gluttonous Bengalis found food. A food corner had popped up and was offering the first of the two course meal of the event to the guests. I, being the typical food-loving Bengali, found the smell of jilapis and pakoras wafting through the hall as irresistible as the ladies around me. Very soon I had had stomached around 10 pakoras with chutney and a few incredibly tasty jilapis to counter the sour taste. I also took a plate of chotpoti from the fuchka-chotpoti corner. And then finally, when I had decided that it was enough, I finished off with a few glasses of hot coffee.

It was a further half-an-hour before the bride and her groom arrived. The DJ made a point of stopping all other sounds to play the song Ajib Aur Shaan Shahenshah as loudly as possibleto make the entrance sound as grand as that of Akbar in the Indian film Jodhaa-Akbar. But by then, my heart had skipped beats for several times as more and more beautiful young ladies filed onto the red carpet and took seats around me. I went to deposit my vacant chotpoti plate back to the food corner and then met my friend and host for the evening.

“Aaare doctor sahib. How do you do?”

As we hug slightly and look at each other, my friend has something to say.

“Let me show you an `angle`.” He whispered to my ears over the roar of the music.

“`Angle`?” I asked back, perplexed.

“Yes; an `angle`. The girl in the red sari, standing directly opposite to me over there on the food corner,” he used his eyes to indicate, “I have had a crush on that cousin since class five. Don’t point. Do you like her?”

I turned around 360 degrees to look at the hapless-looking, massively-foundationed and a-conspicuously-dark-shade-of-mascara-wearing girl. “Well. Pretty workable.” And then, as an afterthought I added, “You should see Vina Arsara*. The only girl I ever felt physically attracted to. She used to turn me on; trust me.”

“Oh you know what? I have a pretty-looking friend on facebook with that name.”

“Dude there could be a million other Vina Arsaras on facebook….”

“Yeah but she had a few mutual friends with me. So I guess she is the one.”

“Still it’s a pleasure to behold her. All the boys in Maths class used to run after her when the class ended. And she ran away from all of them.” This culminated in somewhat of a laughter. Even the people around us who were standing with prying ears smirked at our girl-watching conversation. But what exactly do you expect two adolescent males who have known each other for most of their lives to talk about in a place swarming with beautiful girls if not about the opposite sex and their fantasies?

“Oh come on,” my friend brought me back to my senses. “I will show you another `angle`. This cousin is at the bottom of my list though.”

As we walk he suddenly points to another absolutely ravishing, wealthily-dressed girl.

“Holy shit!” The words poured out from my mouth before I could stop them. “Dude, this one really, really is a bubbling piece of hot shit.”

My friend on the other hand grimaced a wide-toothed smile. On his face it was clearly written ‘I told you so’.

After all the ogling was over, when we had both become heavily sinned, and when I was confused whether gaa’ye holud should be renamed as girl-watching or not, it was time for dinner. Morog-polau complemented with Shammi Kebab and khashir rezala. I took a seat at an almost empty table, with only a few weird-looking people sitting around lazily.

But as soon as the waiter had arrived, everyone was filled with a vigor that multiplied by many folds as each plate began to be piled up with the multitude of items.

A middle-aged lady and one of her acquaintances was sitting across from me. On the other side of the woman was probably her maid servant. She piled up her servant’s plate with food and then after some time, all of a sudden, probably thinking that it was beneath her to sit with her servant for the victuals, she got up leaving her plate untouched. It was pretty obvious from the manner she left after thinking it through for sometime that she was affected by problems of class and castes in her decision. And my reasoning behind her eccentric demeanor was further substantiated by how she materialized minutes later at the table out of nowhere and then, instead of resuming her position, she tried to shower both her servant and the acquaintance she had left behind with food from the table. In her mind maybe, she knew that she had behaved unjustly. And thus out of that feeling of guilt, she was trying to make repercussions by being overly kind and entertaining to her servant who had been left behind feeling small and undignified at the mistress’ behavior.

I wondered how I would have behaved if I had been in the woman’s shoes. Surely I don’t mind sharing the same table with our servants or driver in a wedding party. But I reconsidered my mom; I was absolutely sure, given the high level of sobriety and demeanor she maintains, that my mom would have never sat on the same table with her helpers.

It’s a weird world indeed. The formation of Pakistan during the 1947 partition and Bangladesh during the 1971 war stemmed out precisely from class difference. Pakistan was formed to get rid of the Zamindar and landlord-based caste system. And then Bangladesh was shaped because of the class difference and discrimination between East Pakistan and West Pakistan. But today in the modern-day parties of urbanized Dhaka, the issue has largely been scraped away from everyone’s mind.

When I returned back home my mom summoned me to her room.

“What the—?” she stopped in mid-speech as she looked at me.

“Yes?” I wondered how I had disapproved her now.

“Please don’t tell me you wore this simple-looking punjabi to the holud. Please don’t.”

“Well mom. I must disappoint you on that. Because this is the one I wore.”

My mom was ready to erupt. “Why is it that you have to earn my disapproval for your weird style of clothing during every single occasion? Can you never put on something decent?”

“Well you know, don’t you? Half the time I don’t even look at what I have put on. But this punjabi looks okay. Maybe a bit mismatched but workable nevertheless….”

“What’s wrong with you? Don’t you get provided enough to buy you a gorgeous punjabi? And I thought you have your own savings now. I am sure your host did not even look at you once throughout the holud. You are so un-presentable.”

“On the contrary I actually had quite a great time. And anyways, my friend wouldn’t have been my friend if he chose people through their outlook. So please: stop.”

With that I impudently left her room. I got undressed and switched off my bedroom lights to get some sleep. Reclining on my bed, I reflected back on the events of the evening.

So yes, if I am to end this write-up in the traditional SAT essay style, I should probably conclude that that was one fucking eccentric evening!

But then again, my life itself is an eccentric one. So I don’t really think I ought to complain about eccentricities in a Bangladeshi gaa’ye holud.

 

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*Names in this article have been changed in order to protect people’s privacy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And……….. its Food, Monsoon & Ramadan all at once in Dhaka

It’s raining cats and dogs at around 12:30 in the afternoon

As August opens up and the world settles down to  calculate and fret over its profits and losses for the first seven months of 2012, here in Dhaka Monsoon is blazing with its full force. While it is the Ramadan season, it is also that time of the year when rain is ubiquitous throughout all the regions of Bangladesh, and there has to be a flood or two in this land of rivers so that the residents can at least commemorate the season with the death tolls. If it is sunny and the Dhaka glare is switched on throughout the  day, it has to rain throughout the night and the next day as well. The dark clouds are always looming ahead, and with the state of pavements in this extremely  overcrowded city, puddles and splashes on the roads are anything but a novelty. And add all that to the extremely fast-paced lifestyle that most of us Dhakaites lead, I am sure none of the pedestrians on the streets will be able to boast of a day without having had their expensive shoes mud-ridden and made unusable for the next few days. And if you are, by any chance, a Bata-slipper lover for the daily chores like me, I am afraid your feet will never be able to spend a day without getting themselves devastatingly dirty.

Unless of course if you prefer to spend the days indoors.

But then again, the season is absolutely impresionante (I am working on my Spanish you see?) if you want to curl up with a good book in your room. That’s precisely what I am doing nowadays. You can sit back inside your home and enjoy the sounds of the wind howling and raging a war against the Thai-aluminum glassed windows in your background. And comfortably gulp down all sorts of fiction or something else that is good to read.

The days and nights  are extremely windy. But even with all the monsoon and rain, night-time brings on socialization for the city’s huge and overworked populace. Although all wedding ceremonies are shunned away in this season, being Ramadan & Monsoon at the same time, almost every Thursday—the weekday before Friday, which is the public holiday here———- is celebrated with parties and gatherings of friends and family, and good food is always on the table! But before good food, it is the fruit cocktails and squashes that dominate every home nowadays. And although everyone knows Bangladesh as the land of natural disasters and poverty, food is something that is more or less cheap and abundant everywhere. The lowland delta region is extremely arable and thus able to produce a plethora of different fruits. A day on the streets of Dhaka is enough to substantiate my aforementioned claim because as you read this, the city is repleted with street vendors and stalls selling fresh seasonal fruits(and definitely not the frozen ones) such as mangoes, pineapples, jack-fruits etc. So a cold glass of a fruit splash is offered to every guest coming into a house.

Evening-parties however, bring on different varieties of food. For those of you who don’t know, we Bangladeshis are food-loving  gluttons. Our cuisine is an eclectic concoction of South Asian, Middle-Eastern and British influences. It all has to do with the history here in this part of the world. Traditionally although the Bengali food is mainly rice and fish (with Hilsha being treated as the king of fishes), due to the fact that Bengal was ruled by the Mughals (Muslim Emperors from the Middle-East) and Afghans for a time, and by the British colonialists later on, the food culture is largely diverse and widely reminiscent of our multicultural past. And of course you have all the gourmet Chinese and Mexican restaurants flooding the streets of the major cities as well.

Help yourself to Shik Kabab and Paratha people!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But most importantly, with all the religious salvation and piety involved in this season, the time is also ripe for us Dhakaites to stop fretting around over our extremely busy lifestyles and to start donating  for charity through Zakat.  Around the country scores of people are being deprived of the blessings of life. Countless are starving to death even in this blessed Ramadan season. And it is up to us to share our wealth and privileges with all those who can’t put food to their  mouths neither during  Sehri nor during Iftar.  It is imperative in order for us to be able to create a healthy society that we start coming out of our public and private spheres and start addressing the injustice and poverty that is ubiquitous throughout the many regions of Bangladesh.

The English Language & Cultural Imperialism

A rare photo of the end of British Colonialism of India in 1947

They call it cultural imperialism.

When the British colonialists finally managed to take control of the entire subcontinent back in 1757, they soon realized that it was never going to be easy for them here. They were forced to confront to a nation that was united, regardless of religious and ethnic differences, and knew that somehow this unity had to be destroyed. By creating a division they speculated that the huge nation could be transcended to a high level of mistrust and jealousy. One religion had to be turned against another. One tribal group and its leaders had to be forced to fight against another. Alliances had to be broken and discrimination introduced.

And so the first thing they decided to do was take away the people’s most important tool of unity: language.

Before the British colonization, the main language of the subcontinent under Mughal rule was Farsi—the language brought to the region by the Persian Sufis and saints, Mughal and Afghan rulers. Both Hindi and Urdu are renditions of Farsi, while Bengali is an evolved form of Sanskreet, another prominent language of the highly diverse Indian culture. During the pre-British era, Farsi was the main language of instruction. Although all other languages were equally appreciated and encouraged by the many communities of the diverse sub-continental culture, it was Farsi that was spoken in courts and offices; it was Farsi that the books in schools and colleges were written in; and it was Farsi in which art and literature achieved a modern dimension in Asia and the Muslim world in particular. The British realized this premonition of unity, and thus decided that the subcontinent must produce a new breed of intellectuals and thinkers. And all these educated people had to be learned in English. They foretold that the only way British imperialism will be indelible in this region is by making the people ‘pukka brown sahibs’— brown South Asians talking and thinking in English and trying to sport both an Anglicized accent and behavior.

And so they abolished all the educational offices and reformed them. Built them all anew with new institutions based on English imperialist policies and designs.

This was precisely the way the Native Americans had lost their languages to European colonial settlers. The way the Aborigines and other native tribes like Maoris of the Australian continent had had their languages stolen, eradicated, wiped out and robbed out of them by the English settlers.

Years later, almost 70 years after the British left the subcontinent, robbing it off of all its riches and creating enormous sectarian divide and ethnic discrimination, their imperialist policies are still omnipresent in the region. English is treated as the language of the middle and upper class. While Bengali, Urdu, Hindi and other native languages have been pushed backwards to make them second languages. English no longer belongs to the British imperialists only anymore. From America to India to Australia—all these countries have been Anglicized from head to toe.

Thus posing a cultural theft. A robbery. A treacherous malice. A new means of imperialism.

While one might argue that in this increasingly globalized world, Anglicization was necessary—-and if it was with the loss of the native tongue then so be it—it must be worth mentioning, that native tongue is what creates an identity; a culture dating back to thousands of years. English has to be taught in schools and colleges, but not with the expense of the native tongue.

The fact that the British imperialist policies are still ubiquitous in Asia under cover was realized by none other than the Chinese government. In 2010, according to Olinda Hassan, a Bangladeshi-American blogger, the General Administration of Press and Publication in China banned the use of English in Chinese media such as books, papers and on the web. The government explained this move by saying that the use of English and the English-Chinese combination was rapidly deteriorating the ‘purity’ of the Chinese language and violently upsetting the nation’s traditional cultural values. However it must also be noted that the Chinese government also lowered the age for compulsory English from 11 to 9 in 2001 and has left that policy unchanged as increasing numbers of Chinese students go abroad for educational degrees. English to them is regarded as a means of personal achievement and the language of necessity; to be used in offices and global markets and to profit out as responsible global citizens.

But in the subcontinent, English is deemed as the language that makes everyone an aristocrat. Being able to speak fluent or broken English in public means that you are an educated, literate and important citizen. No further qualification is required to attract stares and points, and the public will be enthralled by what you have to say. Unfortunately, this sort of behavior is exactly what the British rulers wanted and predicted.

It must be noted that in the increasingly multicultural, largely globalized society that we dwell in, English is a very important tool for success. According to many scientists, being multilingual actually enhances the capabilities of your brain by opening up more synapses and thus increasing the proportion of workable brain. But it should be impressed upon the fact that English must not be used as another tool of cultural imperialism the British colonialists imposed upon the subcontinent. The English newspapers, periodicals and publication for teenagers should not be filled with reviews of British and American music, movies and books every single day while the local produce is left for only the lower and underprivileged classes to explore. Foreign productions should be treated as international produce, and no matter how much we try, foreign art and culture can never be ours.

I am sure the British colonialists are laughing from their graves. The once highly patronized subcontinental languages have now largely been replaced with English as the language of the upper and middle classes. The traditional languages have been dumped for the poor working classes and all English-speakers have been made superior. And all this has been achieved through cultural imperialism!

Heroes of Gaza III——–Lauren Booth’s Gaza Diaries

This is the last of the series of three articles chronicled by Lauren Booth during her recent visit to Gaza. Although this is probably the end of the chronicles, no matter who you are, where you are or what you are doing, I strongly urge you to keep the people of Gaza in your prayers. Every drop of human blood deserves better than what the world has been able to provide for the Palestinians. Try to think of yourself in the shoes of those people in Gaza who are suffering endlessly due to the absence of a permanent solution in the region. You could easily have been in their positions—-born in desolation and poverty in one of the UN refugee camps after having your patriarchal land overtaken just because you belonged to a different sect or religion. Thanks again to My Bit For Change for sharing Lauren Booth’s enlightening experiences in the Gaza strip.

For those of you who have yet to read the first two parts of Lauren Booth’s chronicles, here they are: Heroes of Gaza I & Heroes of Gaza II .

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Photo taken in Italy

Let’s resist for Gaza in order to save humanity!

Thanks to a Manchester Masjid’s fund raising in the UK, the children now have shoes footballs, table tennis kits, new tracksuits for the boys and the father. The girls have a new abaya each. The mothers are given tapestry and sewing materials to teach the girls the beloved Palestinian artistry of sewing. The family has a hot meal during our visit and is provided with wood for cooking in the coming weeks. Israel’s illegal witholding of essential supplies such as enough gas, oil and the components to maintain the utility works here means that Gaza is being pushed back to the time before electricity existed.When the power is cut, families must cook using gas from canisters. When the gas runs out – and right now, even the smallest gas ration means an eight to ten hour wait – families scavenge for twigs and light fires inside their apartments to try and cook what food they can afford to buy. It is becoming the norm for children to miss meals entirely. In this Beit Hanoun family, I ask the youngest boy of four, what his dream is, what he wants to be; “ I want to eat’ he says. “Somehow. Somehow.” This makes all the family laugh.

Next stop, Jaffa Street, Gaza city. The smart home of Mohammed Ajur, 25. He is a handsome young man with the sweet smile of faith (emaan) on his lips. He happily greets his friend who has brought me to meet him and myself and we are seated in the family salon. Mohammed was in his uncle’s home when a rocket hit during what Israel proudly calls operation Cast Lead. He woke up in hospital in Egypt having been in a coma for four days. His family were around him weeping.

What happened?’ he asked.

Habibi, you have lost both your legs’ he is told. His eyes shine with light and he smiles (smiles!) at the memory.

What did you say?’ I ask. Although by his contentment I already know the answer.

‘I said “Thanks be to God’ he replies.

I was so grateful to Allah for saving my eyes and my hands and giving me so many chances to continue my life in a good way. Many, many others in Gaza lost their sight and their hands from the attacks. Alhamdulillah, I have those. Alhamdulillah!’

Mohammed has since completed his university degree in sports education.

He laughs at this ‘yes I know sports education right! But I can do anything and I will succeed in this life, with God’s blessing, inshaAllah. My life is only beginning. I am now looking for a wife. There is so much I have to do now and I will!

He is the kind of man that makes you smile just being around him. On the middle of the table between us is a stunning urn, in copper glaze with rose workings and Arabic lettering across it. I admire it. ‘I made it’ he says shyly. He is also a talented artisan. ‘Do you like this jug?’ He asks me. I do. ‘Take it’ he says. I offer to pay but he refuses to sell it to me. It is a gift. Because I came to see him.

One final visit must be made this evening to a man whose livelihood mattered so much to my dear friend Vittorio Arrigoni; a fisherman. This father of six is in his late forties and hasn’t fished for two months. He explains that under the Oslo accord it was agreed that Gaza fisherman could sail up to 25miles from their coastline in order to fish. But Israel never honored this agreement. At first their naval forces forced the fisherman back to just six miles from the coast, then in recent years, to just three miles from the shore. There are no fish in this depth any longer due to over fishing and pollution. So, this fisherman took his boat, within his rights, to six miles and began to fish. The Israelis – as is a daily occurence for fishermen – attacked. At gunpoint he was told to strip naked and jump into the freezing February water where he was made to say for some time. Then still naked and humiliated he was handcuffed and taken to Ashdod for questioning. In the meantime the navy shot his boat so full of holes it is too damaged to repair. The livelihoods of four brothers and their thirty plus dependants – destroyed. Thanks to the same UK Masjid for donating the money to keep these families fed for the next month. After that, what will happen to them? Who knows?

As I type these words Israeli fighter jets are buzzing overhead jangling my nerves. They can be flying just for that effect or to launch yet another deadly attack on Gaza. It is 6am. The time when children are having breakfast and getting ready for school. Besides the night, this is the hour most favoured by Israel to inflict emotional terrorism on the population here. Driving through Gaza and seeing the queues of gas and petrol, I mentally titled my writing today as – Gaza’s suffering. But now the title has changed to ‘Gaza’s heroes’.

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Follow Lauren Booth on twitter. Here is a link to her blogs as well.

Heroes of Gaza II —-Lauren Booth’s Gaza Diaries

This is the second part of Lauren Booth‘s chronicles in Gaza. For the uninitiated, the first part has been published already. Again, thanks a lot to My Bit for Change for sharing this. The last part of the series of three will be published the next day.

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I, a stranger here in Beit Hanoun, walk down this road at dusk. Every window with a face in offers me ‘Salam.’ The doorway of the sole shop has a family sitting in it, I wave.

Assalamu Alaykum’, they shout at me – cheerily. Yes cheerily, I feel the lump in my throat that I carry inside forming again. “Peace’ they offer to the stranger in their midst, as they bathe me in smiles of instant friendship. On the corner two young guys come over and greet me as if I am a long lost cousin. There welcome is so warm that I wonder for a moment if we have met on a previous visit to Gaza.

“Okay’ says the tallest brother, after introducing himself.
‘Nice to meet you now you come to our home to spend the evening, First tea, then you stay with us. Yalla come!’..

I laugh..

‘Why you laugh?’ asks the other boy in his late teens or early twenties.

‘We don’t joking – you come for tea now, really, Fadal.’

These boys are brimming with life. Their eyes have energy and hope in them that is utterly at odds with the grim landscape they live in. They are heroes of Gaza, the next generation of hope, the ones who will not be broken.

We can’t take tea with them and are eventually allowed to leave only with sincere promises to return to their home as soon as possible.

We have come to visit, amongst this needy populace, a family in dire need.

Through a broken wooden gate, behind a crumbling stone wall, my friend Yassir, silent and grim faced, points me into a cement building that has no right to be standing. It was once a PLO prison. Now it is ‘home’ to a family of one father, his two wives and their seventeen children. Before the second intifada the father used to work in Israel and he had enough money for his growing family. After the blockade, it stopped. So he worked as taxi driver. And that income was just enough to get by on for his growing family. Then the siege came. Food prices have shot up to parity with those in European nations whilst incomes here are Third World low. His car began to have small problems which he couldn’t afford to repair, which led to worse ones which killed it. I pass its rotting carcass and enter a large unplastered room with a cement floor. There is no furniture, no pictures, no adornments of any kind. Besides, two plastic chairs, the freezing space is utterly empty except for a small TV, on a crate in one corner. Children with hollow eyes, mill about, expressionless, wide eyed at the surprise visit of so many unknown faces. They look (and are) shell shocked.

One of the wives makes an attempt to smile. The husband in his shame at the poverty of his family mutters ‘salam’ and looks at the ground. Their sixteen year old son has a limp, I ask what the matter is, ‘has he hurt himself playing?’.

His trouser leg is pulled up and a large plaster ripped off revealing a fresh ten inch wound with stitches. His ankle is also bandaged. Two years earlier the boy (then 14) had been collecting rubble in the wasteland, once orchards that Israel has now stolen as its ‘buffer zone.’ His job was to sell the rock for whatever he could, to scavenge then, in the hope of some money for the hungry family. An Israeli sniper at a long distant shot him in his leg, shattering the bone. He has finally after years had the pins put in his shin. It is likely he will limp for the rest of his life.

A smaller boy of around ten is brought over. His dirty tracksuit bottoms are pulled above the knee to reveal strange white patches. White phosphorous, the napalm of the 21st century was blown across this area when Israel rained it, by the ton, onto one of the most densely populated cities in the world.

Another son of around seven, shoeless and silent clings to his father’s legs.
This boy’ he tells me, ‘has developed mental problems since the attack in 2009. The soldiers came many times into our home and wake the children up, shouting. Now he doesn’t talk and doesn’t act normally. Doctors can’t help him.

Cooking is being done in the kitchen i.e. an empty cement space with a fridge that is empty except for four cauliflowers of questionable age. Due to the ‘cuts’ – twelve hour electricity blackouts – no family can chill or freeze food anymore. Fridges are just storage cupboards in Gaza. There is nothing else in the room except on the dirty floor, a single, ancient electric ring on which, now, a pan of chips is cooking. Chips that are enough for perhaps three children in the UK would here feed a family of 20.

It is Salah (prayer) time. The smaller of the wives takes me to another empty room. This one is called a bedroom because it has blankets in it. She lays out a prayer mat for me.

As I pray, I can see my own home, my own happy, educated, well fed, daughters. All the luxuries of London flood my sight and tears come. Besides me the mother makes her prayer. Behind me one of her daughters hold a torch on me as the room has no lights and no electricity anyway. It’s not the poverty that gets me it’s the evil of humanity that pours agony on almost two million Gazans, year in year out for 63 years. It is so much worse here than when I came four years ago, that words can barely describe the new cruelties Israel has designed to torture the people in this vast concentration camp.

Habeebiti’ says the mother beside me. ‘Please don’t cry.’

Her concern for me makes me sob even more. I can’t speak with the weight of my grief. ‘Oh God’, I think to myself. ‘Don’t let her be kind to me, please, I can’t take it’.

But she is. Of course she is. She is Palestinian.

‘My dear, why do you cry? Are you alright?

I…I..hate this for you...’ is all I manage to utter.

She looks into my eyes. Mother to mother.

What? Don’t cry for us, it’s okay, you can stop now, shhh’.

Then, she says the words that almost break me, words that make me feel so humble. I fear, I may never stop crying. Tears that begin as frustration and sadness -become tears of love and respect.

We are so happy. We are Muslims, we know this is our test and we must be patient. We are happy, really sister, we are. Allah will reward us if we can just be patient’.

These are the exact words I have heard in EVERY home I have entered in Gaza at this terrible time.

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