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?

 

 

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The Tale of the Immortals——a flash-fiction about soldiers in a battlefield

US army officials withdrawing from Iraq after a bloody invasion that slaughtered thousands of civilians and troops and resulted in a new source of instability and sectarian war in one of the world’s most culturally rich ancient civilizations

As dawn approached and the sun’s silky rays gradually tainted the blankets of the night, I remained hidden under my cover along with the rest of my soldiers.“They are firing again,” I heard the soldier beside me agonized.Hours have passed since we were ambushed by the enemy tankers. In the darkness of the night our foes have shelled our base and reduced our camps to rubble.

Most of us had been slaughtered by the gun-shots and bombs, and the ones alive had been mutilated beyond repair. Our radio waves have been intercepted by the enemy; thus hindering any communication with the mainland for help.

“It’s time lieutenant,” one of my bravest warriors told me from his cover.

“What do you mean?” I asked him, appalled.

“Death shall be my beginning sir. My life is for my motherland only.”

“Officer, I order you—-“

But looking at his eyes, proud and resolute, I knew it was in vain. He raised his hands for a final salute.

Exposed, with the little amount of ammo he possessed, he started firing randomly at enemy soldiers. It didn’t take him long to collapse in an ambush.

“I don’t want to die sir,” one of the younger soldiers moaned. All of us were out of ammo already. There was no question of fighting back.

“Shut up for heaven’s sake!”

“I miss my mom, dad and my girl. I promised to marry her after my enlistment was over.”

I noticed his glistening eyes. This is what recruiting 19-year olds for battle gives you. I made a mental note of complaining about this whining kid to my superiors if I escaped alive today.

I recalled I had a family too. It’s been years since I last saw my children and their mother. I missed home, my mom’s cooking and my father’s commands. Before Japan had entered into the war to consolidate our beloved empire’s power over the east, I used to be a husband, father and son.

But I brushed away those thoughts. Everything now was as distant as the night’s vastness.

I knew death was imminent. But the question was, how? Would it be better to cowardly let it come to us, or should we proudly embrace it with our courage?

I saw the young soldier scribbling okasan, the Japanese word for mother, on the soil. It was at that moment when I decided that the time had come.

“Lads. It’s time,” I told my soldiers gravely. “But remember, we are dying like soldiers. We are not giving up; rather, we are sacrificing ourselves for our motherland.”

I could discern from the tension around me that, although concisely, I had articulated my point. Everyone gathered up whatever they had. Bamboos, broken rifles, gun, everything.

And I decided to lead them from the front on the run to death.

“Bon Sai!”

With a tumultuous roar, we advanced along the enemy lines, ready to face death.

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.

Innocence of Muslims—what the world refuses to see

In 1953 when the United States, realizing the modern Persian nation’s enormous geopolitical and natural wealth, overthrew the democratic government of Iran in a coup’d’etat to install the more favorable Shah as the autocrat of the ancient nation, the phenomenon gave rise to a new form of Islamic society that is largely founded on the principles of anti-American sentiments. While the despotic Shah of Iran ruled with an iron-fist and mutilated, tortured and killed all his opposition in countless concentration cells all over Iran, it was America towards whom countries of the Islamic World lay the blame on.

As the previously democratic Iran became increasingly hostile to the Americans under the Shah rule it was this belligerence, this failure of the American foreign policy that culminated in the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini, the religious leader who, after he was banished by the Shah due to his more radical

Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran

views, led the popular uprising in Iran in the year 1979. While the Islamic Revolution ousted the Shah, forcing him to flee to Cairo and then to his patron—-the United States—–following the uprising, Khomeini took the helm and turned Iran into an Islamic Republic alienated from both its neighbors and the West.

In the same year, a group of Islamic fundamentalist students stormed into the US embassy of Tehran and gave rise to the event the entire world knows as the Iranian hostage crisis, where the students held 52 US officials hostage for a total of 444 days, although females and African-Americans were all released within the first month. Having only a taciturn approval from Khomeini, the reasoning of the students behind the attack was that the embassy was conspiring again to overthrow the new regime. Jimmy Carter, the then president of the United States, later on received a Nobel Prize for Peace for the rescue mission, where he successfully rescued the Americans without having the US army invade Iran. Ever since that event, the US have had no diplomatic ties with Iran whatsoever, and have sheltered all political prisoners of the Shah’s regime whom the nascent Islamic Republic had tried to prosecute.

It was this incident that the events unfolding in the Islamic world in recent days brought to my mind over the amateur youtube clip ‘Innocence of Muslims’. While the media outlets are busy showing the world a few thousand Middle-Easterners, North Africans, South-East Asians and South Asians chanting renowned slogans like ‘Death to America’ and burning US and Israeli flags, what the world does not see about the incident are the reasons behind the hostility the people of Islamic nations feel towards the US.

These protests against the United States are definitely not just over the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’, as the media outlets have been doing their best to portray. Rather, they are the result of years of injustice and oppression caused by the rulers of the most powerful nation on earth. For decades, the US have supported the dictatorial and monarchal regimes of almost all of these countries. They have counted on all these autocratic rulers starting from the Saudi King to the pharaoh of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, to suppress all forms of dissent and crush down anything that interferes with American or Israeli interests in the region. Even seeking reconciliations with the anti-American Libyan dictator Gaddafi before his fall, America provided all forms of military and intelligence support to the dictators while in return the rulers successfully stepped down on all forms of dissent and demonstrations.

But it was with the Arab Spring that America was forced to realize that people in all these countries cannot be suppressed any more. As American allies fell down in one uprising after another, people simply needed a trigger to protest and demonstrate against the ‘bully of the earth’. And it was this trigger of the gun that the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ provided.

While questions as to who funded the $100 000 for the making of the amateur film by the Egyptian-American film-maker remained largely enigmatic, with several fingers being pointed at both the state of Israel—-which is renowned for spreading anti-Islamic and anti-Arab propaganda all over the world—— and Christian fundamentalist groups in the US, last Friday after the end of the regular noon prayers the Muslim World erupted in a blaze of fire and revolt as people engaged in violent protestations in front of the US embassies in the region. Most of these protesters, make no mistake, have hardly watched the 13-minute long youtube trailer but with the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the ongoing rhetoric going on about an invasion of Iran, people do not need to think twice about how malicious Americans are when it comes to the Muslim World. While the vast resources of the oil-rich Islamic countries are maintained and consumed largely by countries like America, the rulers and politicians of these states sit on their oil-money and make people believe anything about Israel and the United States. But what amazed most of these people is America’s disregard for removing the film from youtube under the pretext of  ‘freedom and liberty of expression’ guaranteed by the United States constitution to every single American citizen. If America really wanted to ensure freedom of speech and thought, it could start out by stopping its witch-hunt against Wikileaks and Julian Assange.

Rumor has it, however, that the film-producer is a rogue Coptic Egyptian-American, named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, who had powerful backers from Israel and Christian fundamentalist groups in California, including the famed American pastor Terry Jones who received worldwide recognition after beginning the rite of burning copies of Qur’an to commemorate 9/11 every year. Coptic Christians in Egypt have always been among the most discriminated minority groups during the dictatorial era. But during the Arab Spring, both Coptic members and Muslims showed their love for Egypt by uniting under one banner in Tahrir Square, where Christians and Muslims guarded each other against sniper attacks by the regime during each other’s prayer times. The actors and other film-crew of the movie however claim that they were duped. The director had allegedly fooled them into thinking that this was a movie about an ancient Egyptian hero and all their dialogues had been dubbed in his studio in English and Arabic to its current form.

Bangladeshi Islamist parties burn US and Israeli flags over the anti-Islam film released in the US. The country’s Prime Minister violently condemned the film’s release on Sunday, and vowed not to allow it to propagate within Bangladeshi territories.

There is no denying that what ensued in Benghazi, Khartoum, Sana’a and Cairo after news of the film reached the mainstream media is as reprehensible as the film itself. But the big question is, what sort of bigotry and intolerance inspires people to make films like these? And by allowing these films to propagate while American drones assassinate countless civilians and alleged militants in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan in the name of ‘War on Terror’ and ‘establishing peace’, what better reaction do the Americans expect than crazies invading their embassies and killing their diplomats?

It is futile for America to hope to build bridges with these extremely volatile, pivotal parts of the world simply by sending donations and interest-free loans of worth billions of dollars; NATO air-strikes to kill off murderous dictators like Gaddafi; or by sending its Secretary of State or the President himself to deliver pompous speeches at schools and universities. While American funded Israeli air-strikes murder innocent Palestinians in their beds and their drones kill peace-loving Muslims continuously in eight different Islamic nations, the United States should do best to ensconce and inure themselves to more of such violent demonstrations in the foreseeable future if more triggers like that of Innocence of Muslims are pulled.

Bangladeshis demonstrate and chant anti-American slogans in front of the National Mosque of Dhaka after the Friday prayers

As an ending note I should add a recent quote I heard on the Al-Jazeera documentary Permission to Engage, which traced the rehabilitation of an Iraq war veteran of the United States army who tried to commit suicide after his unit slaughtered cars full of innocent civilians, including two children whom the personnel rescued alive from the remnants of the dead bodies left behind from the attack. It is simply one tiny example of how American foreign policy has affected the countries of the Muslim world, thus alienating and antagonizing America in this region.

“I went to Iraq to free the good Iraqis from the bad Iraqis. I wanted to kill as many terrorists as possible. But when I went there I found that there were no real terrorists. We were the ones terrorizing the people there continuously. Every single day. Every week. In every weather.”

———Permission to Engage. Watch the entire documentary here.

Amidst The Crowd, Thou Shall Be Haunted

Lord, said David, since you do not need us,
why did you create these two worlds?

Reality replied: O prisoner of time,
I was a secret treasure of kindness and generosity,
and I wished this treasure to be known,
so I created a mirror: its shining face, the heart;
its darkened back, the world;
The back would please you if you’ve never seen the face.


Cruel. Unjust. Lifeless. Pitiless. Vindictive. Callous.

I was assaulted by all of the above phrases as I listened to Rasel’s story. His is the story of an average Bangladeshi’s life. The story of hope, nightmares and the struggle to live on. The story of deceit, shattered dreams and spasms of never-ending darkness.

At thirteen years old, Rasel is the only breadwinner of his family of five. With his parents sick and jobless, it has been up to him for quite some time as the eldest son to try and manage some money in order to feed himself and the rest of his folks. On good days he earns around 100 taka ($1.25) by picking up scrap, reusable materials from the streets of Dhaka for sale at the recycling factories. In addition, his younger siblings—Rubina and Rashed—– roam around Dhanmondi Lake and beg from the couples in the open couples’ retreats, thereby adding a meager amount to the household income. Together they add up whatever they can; and spend out of what they have been provided with.

On days at a stretch they go without lunch just so that the entire family can have a moderate dinner at night. Bengali families are always closely-knit, and a person no matter how selfish or jealous a nature he sports, will always have to feed his entire clan before he puts something into his own mouth. Begging and picking up waste materials full-time to maximize the amount of income, Rasel and his siblings are hardly allowed any reprieve from the glaring Dhaka sun. It is evident from each of their brown, tanned skins and malnourished bodies that the only shelter they have been provided is under the scorching tropical daylight.

Ironic really. The wealthy need to visit the sunny beaches and expensive resorts in order to get themselves a boastful tan. But here for Rasel and his siblings, a sun-tan is something that comes with existence.

Has anyone ever produced a mirror out of mud and straw?
Yet cleaned away the mud and straw,
so that a mirror might be revealed.

Until the juice ferments a while in the cask,
it isn’t wine. If you wish your heart to be bright,
you must do a little work.

Rife with endemic starvation and poverty, Rasel’s family represents one of many poor class families struggling hard to find a place in the gold mine of Dhaka. And Rasel is one of the 3 million children in Bangladesh who live under the international poverty line.

“And you don’t attend the charity school nearby?” I ask him all of a sudden amidst our conversation. Somehow I already know the answer.

Rasel grimaces a silly smile.

“I have attended classes up to the third grade in my village school before I came to Dhaka. Why do I need to study when it gives me no food?” Rational, I acknowledge. “And besides, I need to come here in the morning right after the Fajr prayers. Otherwise, I will be unable to collect enough materials for sale.”

As we speak in front of the beautifully sparkling waters before us, the sun begins to ogle with a greater force. Debilitating and reminding us of its strength, it tells us how powerless we are against the Supreme Force that decides our Fateful existence.

“I used to work at a garments factory before. Earning around 1400 taka ($18 approx.) monthly. But I left because of the overwork and really poor conditions.”

I recalled seeing an international news report about T-shirts made by child laborers and exported from Bangladesh that were sold at $20 each in the superstores of North America and Europe.

“So, what do you plan to become? Bangladesh is advancing forward literally by the day. Soon we will become a thriving middle-income country. What do you think about the future?”

My question elicited quite a quotidian response.

“Kono mote khawa dawa koira baichha thaklei hoilo.” I think all I need to do is eat and survive through the day.

Had I asked this same question to another child of the same age but from the privileged, middle-class society that I belong to and whose members I befriend and entertain, I would have been confronted with a very different answer. Perhaps it would have been the dream of becoming a scientist. A doctor. Or even a pilot. If possible an engineer as well.

My King addressed the soul of my flesh:
You return just as you left.
Where are the traces of my gifts?

We know that alchemy transforms copper into gold.
This Sun doesn’t want a crown or robe from God’s grace.
He is a hat to a hundred bald men,
a covering for ten who were naked.

The afternoon Azan suddenly became ubiquitous throughout the vibrant, overpopulated neighborhoods of Dhaka. Here in Dhanmondi, the tall residential skyscrapers loomed ahead of me. In recent years the region has been morphed into a pinnacle of development. Since the country’s Prime Minister has her private residences in this area, it was imperative that the neighborhoods symbolized the making of a modern cosmopolitan city.

But, the truth is, this air of development have hardly touched the lives of people like Rasel and his family. While the country is developing at an unprecedented rate, while increasing numbers of families are sending their children to the local American schools and shipping them off to attend US universities, a huge population still remains underdeveloped. And the numbers of the homeless are exceptionally higher in those areas of the city where most of the people enjoy a per capita income equal to almost that of any normal developed city in the West.

Unequal growth. Something that most development economist and policy-makers in Bangladesh prefer to ignore in order to underscore our rapid rate of economic growth.

“You can pray your namaz, can’t you?” I inquire, having arrived almost to the end of our conversation.

“Yes, I have completed the Arabic Qur’an once!” he says excitedly. Must be an achievement for him.

But his sister Rubina, who has remained silent till then, cuts in all of a sudden.

“But he never prays!”

At this Rasel remonstrates. “I do. But only during the Friday afternoon prayers.”

By then, it has already become too late for me. I take my leave and walk off, breathing the beautiful scent of flowers and food. Entering into Green Road, the attractive stench of spices and barbecue permeated through my nostrils.

“Oh! They have begun to burn the chicken grills and shik kebabs already? Maybe I will get a shwarma for the evening meal.” I ponder to myself.

But then, the terrible, the most horrifying of all truths strike back at me.

Will Rasel and his family be guaranteed a bowl of rice for tonight?

Jesus sat humbly on the back of an ass, my child!
How could a zephyr ride an ass?
Spirit, find your way, in seeking lowness like a stream.
Reason, tread the path of selflessness into eternity.

Remember God so much that you are forgotten.
Let the caller and the called disappear;
Be lost in the Call.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

The poems have been extracted from the Persian Sufi poet Maulana Rumi’s legendary work Be Lost in the Call’

The rising dissent—–Bangladesh’s divulging ‘labor-spring’

As the world celebrates another Labor Day, here in Bangladesh, laborers have a hard time grappling with their family and professional lives. Due to the availability of cheap labor and a huge population of 160 million people cramped together in a very small state, in this part of the world labor-intensive industries have been thriving continuously since the early 1990s—the period when a democratic and investment-friendly economy was formed for the first time. This liberalization of the economy has introduced work for millions of impoverished Bangladeshis with little or no training. But on the other hand the privatization has also created an extremely capitalistic society.

 

Today within two decades, Bangladesh has already become one of the leading suppliers of the global cloth manufacturing industry, frozen foods and leather. It is also predicted that with the current boost in the export of high quality, cheap pharmaceuticals to the European Union countries and the Middle-East, the pharmaceutical industry will soon begin to dominate as well. In addition, along with India, the poverty-stricken country has always been a top producer of jute and jute-based products, although this sector has surpassed through many upheavals and hindrances in the past few years.

 

But the conditions of workers in all these industries who help to amass huge amounts of foreign income each year for the country are far from good. Not only do they have to go through extremely dangerous and poor working conditions, but are also forced to lead lives with  low wages as a result of which almost all the industrial workers live much under the international poverty line. This is the very reason why the country is always abuzz and making international headlines with workers’ strikes and protests. And the government also has always been under intense domestic and international pressure for securing the rights of the workers.

 

A shimmering example to demonstrate the inhumane conditions of the industrial workers in Bangladeshi factories is the ready-made garments industry. As the highest export income-earner for the economy and as the world’s second highest global supplier, the industry employs around 3.6 million workers, around 95% of which are females. Recently the international think-tank Mckinsey has also predicted that by the year 2015, the Bangladeshi cloth industry will have overtaken its Chinese counterpart to become the leading cloth supplier and also the first choice for international investors and importers to invest in this sector. During the last fiscal year, the industry has exported $18 billion worth of apparels to the global market.

 

But the naked truth is that this rise has been achieved on the saddles of exploitation of the impoverished workers in these industries. It is their hands and the investors’ money that produce high-quality, cheap clothes for global superstores like Walmart, Tommy Hilfiger and H & M. An eminent local economist has recently calculated that for every $100 worth of ‘Made in Bangladesh’ apparel sold in Walmart in America, $25 is taken by the US government; $35 by the factory-owners, shareholders and the other investors; around $38 by Walmart; while the worker whose arduous work and dexterity produced the item has to remain content with barely a small fraction of a dollar.

And so, due to this unequal division of the money, the country has always been rife with workers’ rights issues and dissent. Violence is not uncommon between protesting and demonstrating worker groups and the policemen. And several workers have even been killed in clashes with the police forces and other owner-sponsored agencies. However, most of the time the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), one of the most powerful lobby groups in the National parliament, has always succeeded in crushing down the trade union groups and any call for riots.

 

With the set-up of the government-sponsored Industrial Police—-an elite police force specialized in monitoring, gathering intelligence and quenching any demonstrations by the workers——trade unions have been thrown into silence by repeated torturing of trade union activists. The current government has increased the minimum wage rate of garments’ workers from around $20 to $36 in terms of the current exchange rate. Yet, the price is far from enough. The workers, most of them living in slums and closed quarters in cities, barely manage to survive with the 10% inflation rate currently in the country. The Bangladesh Center for Workers’ Solidarity, a prominent trade union in the country, has demanded that the minimum rate be raised to at least around $58 but the government, with the strength of the BGMEA lobby, has firmly quelled all forms of opposition and has strictly claimed that after the increase, even though it is meager, no forms of protestations or indiscipline will be tolerated in the aforementioned sector.

 

Although most of the industrial workers live in slums, some get the privilege(!) of dwelling in cramped, shabby little quarters and buildings in the narrowest alley-ways of the cities

During the last big uprising of garments’ workers back in 2010, activists from several trade unions were even arrested by law enforcement officers and brutally tortured to preempt them from going against the owner associations and to stop them from demanding a greater minimum wage rate.

 

As if the wages weren’t enough, the garments’ workers have to deal with a lot of other issues as well. One of the most important concerns is safety. The factories which house thousands of male and female workers are equipped with little or almost no security. With lax safety standards, fires have erupted in many factories quite frequently in the past decade, killing many workers on the spot due to the absence of any emergency or fire exits. While the owners of these factories are among the highest tax-payers of the country with their kids being sent to American schools that charge fees up to $11000 annually, and while

Garments workers clashing with the industrial police

they themselves reside in posh apartments in the wealthy neighborhoods and drive luxurious cars, the laborers work arduously throughout the day with small lunch and prayer breaks risking their lives constantly to be able to feed their families. Although due to the assistance of welfare organizations like BRAC they are sending their kids to schools, they know perfectly well that in the near future their children will also have to embrace the same fate as them because of the enormous class difference.

A fire in a luxurious-looking factory of the locally owned Hameem Group killed 20 workers and injured a further 100.

 

There is also the severe case of gender discrimination in these factories. Women are allowed to work side by side with their male compatriots, although most factories have segregated the sexes in the clothing lines. But the wages offered to females is almost half as that offered to males for the same job. The majority of the workers in the garments trade are females who have come to the cities in search of jobs to feed themselves and help run their families. But with the money they earn they can hardly run their own self. Also, since they have absolutely no guarantee of maternal leave or pregnancy leave or any other feminine facility, life becomes harder and more and more stressful for them at work everyday. While the government, the Western leaders and the religious mullahs of the country, along with the fiercely Islamic elite, champion the state of women empowerment in an extremely conservative, religious state like Bangladesh and never fail to underscore that women in this country are much better off than our mightier neighbors like India and Pakistan, the growing exploitation of the female populace has taken a toll with the rapid growth of the garments’ trade.

 

With the next Olympic Games under the red carpet, big brands like Nike, Puma and Adidas, are already active with the manufacture of sports’ clothing throughout the world. And a big chunk of these outfits are being made in this small state of the 160 million, where these high profile brands are constantly underpaying the workers and maintaining their solidarity with the government and the industry owners. International allegations against many of the factories supplying these global sporting brands have been brought about  but even with the repeated calls for better wages and conditions, the lives of the average worker remains virtually unchanged.

 

Last month, the deepening divide and the growing dissent have escalated all of a sudden. Aminul Islam (39), a former garment worker and one of the presidents of the Bangladesh Centre for Workers’ Solidarity, went missing on 4th April. On 5th April his tortured and murdered body was discovered on the sides of a road around 61 miles from Dhaka, in an area with a high concentration of garments’ industries. Previously he had been arrested several times along with many others for organizing protests and demonstrations. Recently he had also been working hard to organize a mass protest for better working conditions and improved wages in several garments factories of the Dhaka-based Shanta Group, which supplies clothes to global companies like Tommy Hilfiger and Nike.

 

It is evident that the murder was carried out with a political motivation. Several

Aminul Islam, 39, a labor activist who was found dead just outside Dhaka on 5th April

international and domestic human rights and workers’ rights groups such as Human Rights Watch, Worker Rights Consortium, Bangladesh Garments and Industrial Workers’ Federation have all asked for a transparent and carefully monitored investigation into the matter.

 

It is mainly due to the hard-work of these industrial workers and their struggle for better lives for themselves and for upcoming generations that the country is earning huge amounts in foreign income. With the rapid industrialization and inflow of foreign money, economic growth and poverty alleviation throughout the country has been robust throughout the last decade. A burgeoning middle-class and upper class population has been created in Dhaka, Chittagong and the rest of the cities and villages due to the ubiquitous growth of these industries.

 

Dhaka, the city I grew up and live in, is currently a heavily industrialized urban city. Everywhere you go—except in the wealthier and the middle class residential areas—you will come across factories on both sides of the roads. I am, in fact, a direct product of that industrial revolution in Bangladesh. My

The growth of the industrial and urbanized Dhaka has brought about a sky-scraper boon for the burgeoning middle & upper class to live in

father is a raw materials supplier to garments factories and although his is the sole income for the family of four, we are quite a thriving middle class family with me and my other sibling sent to English schools to read Shakespeare and to get ourselves mesmerized by the natural sciences.

 

But what about those children of industrial workers who know that they will also have to work hard and live with injustice for the rest of their lives just like their parents? Will their be more killings of the Aminuls then?

With the garments owned by Korean or local investors, or even a joint venture, with the cotton from neighboring India and equipments from China, it is the hands of these workers that assemble the final product in garment factories and stick the ‘Made in Bangladesh’ brand label on it. The product is then packed up and sent across the seas, deserts, mountains and oceans to Europe and the United States, the Middle-East, Japan, Korea, Russia and Australia. It maybe a shirt, skirt or a trouser. Or simply a mass-produced Western dress. Due to the assembly line mass-production in this age of globalization, the prices of these Western and global clothing in the domestic market have actually become much lower than the traditional Bengali clothes for the middle-class citizens. But when the price at which the foreigners are buying the item is considered, it will surely be far beyond any worker’s total monthly income. Yet these workers have a hard time grappling with their life and overcoming the hindrances of discordant prospects and a grim future for themselves. They lead a life with extreme discomfort and risk just to be able to live. Time and again they are forced to confront to the fact that their succeeding generations will also have to lead the same lives. Yet, they move on. Shoving away their tears, they go to work each day to the factories, where discipline is stringent and no latecomers are ever tolerated. They work towards a bleak future, yet continue to serve the global community at whatever price that is available to them for survival.

While the workers live and work in extremely hostile conditions, the industrialists, merchants and businessmen enjoy the air-conditioned, safer & well-ventilated modern commercial buildings of Kawran Bazar, Motijheel, Gulshan & Dhanmondi.

 

The truth about pornography

I have been trying to write something like this for months.
I will not hesitate to at first mention that I am one of the most anti-pornography people out there. So for people who have regular cravings for the addiction, you might like to deter yourself immediately from reading this post.
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US Presidential candidate Rick Santorum recently mentioned that if he gets elected, the pornography industry will definitely be in deep trouble as a part of his women’s rights campaign. Even before that, the Salafists of Egypt, a pro-Islamic political movement, publicly held the global adult film industry culpable for the increased cases of sexual harassment and rapes of the female population. They demanded the immediate removal of such erotic sites from their land in order to stop corrupting and polluting the youth.

Both these events had incurred mass public protests in the respective countries. Terming the condemnation as a violent repression of ‘democracy’, people, both males and females, thronged on the streets and on twitter bearing placards calling for riots against the associated people. They claimed that the government had no right whatsoever to tell them whether to watch pornographies or not. It ought to be a personal issue, something that the person attacked by lust must deal with all by himself.

In Bangladesh, however, a few years back the Parliament under the Awami League government did pass a law against the making and distribution of pornographies. But just like everything else in Bangladesh, no one really cares about rules. Blue films are sold at low prices on open alleys, over-bridges and of course, inside the DVD shops in the presence of well-groomed people, and sometimes even in front of the police.

But the real source of pornography, as we all know—-except the representatives in the Parliament— is the Internet. As long as the Internet sites distributing blue films are not blocked centrally, the youth will continue to be polluted by lustful desires ever since their earliest age. That single feeling may be attributed to the increase in ‘eve teasing’ in Bangladesh, where women regularly face sexual harassment on the streets of small towns and villages. The desire gets rooted inside the bodies of the viewers, and before long it becomes too late to preempt those corrupt feelings from being manifested towards the opposite or the same sex. As a result the society suffers from increased rates of rapes, adultery, post-marital sexuality and of course, prostitution.    

However, the real and permanent harm is actually done to the subjects inside the blue film. The adult film industry is one of the most thriving industries in the world. With a net turnout of around $20 billion per year it is one of the easiest and the most prolific Internet businesses around the globe. In the developed world, the actors of these films do everything deliberately and their families and friends know and approve of what they are and how they earn a living. However in the developing world with the high conservativeness, the case is far from sour. Many films show brutal rapes of women and children. Some even capture sexuality through hidden cameras in cheap hotel-rooms where prostitution and illegal sex is carried out with the approval of the authorities. Makers of such films are also known to use sexually-stimulating drugs on females in order to capture a complete intercourse with them while the females are under a daze and mostly unaware of what is happening. In Muslim-majority countries like Bangladesh, prostitutes are never allowed to blend in with the society. And so with the guarantee of a small amount of extra money they can be easily coerced to commit intercourse in front of a camera .

The global centerfold of the blue film industry is in California, United States (is that a surprise? Really?). Like me, you also might like to correlate this with the fact that the US also happens to have the highest incidences of rapes in the world. Although it is assumed that the actors of such films in the West are aware of what they are doing, a minimum of $5 billion worth of pornography is still illegitimate. Not only do these films put the actors at increased risks of sexually-transmitted diseases but violate the norms of the society severely. While politicians all over the world shout about women’s rights and invade countries (read Afghanistan) in order to improve the conditions of the female population, they are not very much inclined to stop pornographies from getting distributed. On the same road, while activists riot against women and child abuse, they can hardly see the harm the pornography industry is doing to the society and think that banning such items will actually be a repression of freedom of expression.

At the end of the day, even I, a hard-lined right wing libero-fundamentalist, think it should be up to the people to decide for themselves. Every single download of a pornography film encourages further development of the industry. Somewhere in Africa, or even in your home country, someone, perhaps a trafficked child or a destitute woman, has to pay for that film with her body. If it was the rape of a south Indian, then know that you have breached the very basic essence that constitutes a human being. Your action might seem invaluable to you right now but every single action counts. And no matter how hard-hearted or tough you are, there is a human being inside you that feels for his or her family, friends and for every creature suffering out there in the cruel world. Know that your action and inaction has the capacity to change things. It will definitely not put food to that African six year old who could have earned food for a day by participating in such a film, but it will help her to preserve her body. After all, is there something more sanctimonious and powerful than a person’s body?

Child abuse=Pornography viewing & making

It hurts me when my juniors nowadays ask me how many pornographies I see every week. It fills me with an anguish too terrible to bear to see how their young minds, which were supposed to be filled with facts and fancy, are now being made to absorb corrupt feelings and sexual fantasies too harmful for the society at large. I was awestruck to hear one of my tutored students telling me how one of his friends’ younger brother, who studies in class three only, is already watching blue films on a regular basis along with his elder brother.

It also saddens me when I find out that brothels are sprawling in the country. Like many others, I will firmly attribute them to the easy availability of pornography everywhere on cell-phones, handy cams, computers and laptops.I was shocked when one of my friends told me that, during his physics class the girl sitting in front of him was watching pornography on her friend’s cell-phone. I was even more startled to realize that the girl in this case happened to be my cousin!

You might call me a ‘bachcha’(the Bengali word for baby) just like many of my friends do, but I will proudly proclaim that I have never seen porn in my life and never intend to do so.

And I do think that my not seeing really matters to the world out there at large.

Just do it before it gets too late!

 

Occupy Wall Street—Lobbying for justice

The Occupy Wall Street Movement, which began on 17th September 2011 at Liberty Square in Manhattan’s Financial District, has spread rapidly across the world. What began as a random NYC protest by some youngsters who have been choked to death (not literally obviously!) by poor socioeconomic infrastructure is currently a movement accumulating a lot of media heat and international gossip. Amazingly these protesters are not the usual politically motivated spoiled brats trying to seek some attention to their cause but are hard-core middle and low-class citizens who have a lot of hurdles to pass through. They have named themselves ‘the 99%’, calling the Wall-Street predators and other famous CEOs ‘the 1%’. Though I am not actually sure how the protesters mourned over the death of a billionaire CEO like Steve Jobs. Maybe it is because Jobs was the one to initiate this revolution of giving the public whatever it is they desired through his unique products like the IPAD and the IPhone which the protesters are constantly using to reorganize, develop, recruit and bring everything under one roof.

However the 99% movement does have a lot of significance. Lately, America as a nation has been going overboard on its capitalist policies. The policies, designed by politicians who are funded for their agendas by various interest groups, are more or less designed to make the rich get richer and the poor to become poorer. Whether it is inflation or recession the wealthy have nothing to worry about, since if their expenses increase their incomes also rise, but the consumers from the middle and low-income backgrounds go through a lot to pay for their increased expenses while simultaneously maintaining their basic (and expensive!) amenities like health security, rent, food etc.

Graph showing income inequality in the United States. Source: The Economist

This disparity in income has been demonstrated by the graph above which was published in the economist on Oct 26th 2011. According to the aforementioned graph, in the past 30 years the incomes of the so-called 99% have risen by around 45% whereas that of the 1% have increased (or coerced to increased perhaps) by around 300% !! Imagine that, the ones who hardly need any more have had their salaries increased by around 10 times more than the ones who are in dire need of pay-rises! In the US alone, in the past 10 years (2000-2010) the total inflation rates have been 27.38%. I could not find the data for the past 30 years but as you can realize from the available data the rates have got to be really high—-even the pay-rises to the 99% would not have been able to mitigate their increased expenses. Thanks a lot to the liberal economic policies of the most powerful economy of the globe that the rich dwell blissfully undertaking philanthropic stances in front of the public while at the same time behind the public they are robbing the poor from their basic rights. The poor, on the other hand, toil hard to bring food to the table and strive to live their lives through heart-attacks and other stress-related diseases.

With the likes of billionaire CEOs like Warren Buffet, Carlos Slim, Bill Gates, the New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the Indian Ambanis dominating the world market, the world in the past three decades has had rapid lapses in income distribution. Not only have the youngsters had to fight through overwhelming inflation rates ever since their birth, when they finally emerged out in the world with the degrees and all they have had to confront themselves with the fact that the promised jobs were never going to be there. And moreover with the frequent recessions the graduates were pushed to dead ends and thus the final result is an outbreak of revolt against all those apparently responsible for controlling the entire world economy.

However the best part of this movement is that it has no leader. Everyone involved is a leader, because after all this is the 99%. The movement cannot be controlled by a handful few like the manipulators of the world economy, which can now be classified as an oligopoly. All the protesters are fighting for their rights, regardless of castes, creeds, religions or nationalities. They only need a better future for themselves and their future generations. And to achieve their objectives they have taken up placards in thousands of cities across the globe and invested their time in rallies and demonstrations. I do hope and think that their time and energy will bear fruit. The desired changes all across the world will definitely be there at last.

A point to be noted here is that although the mob may be extremely gullible and short-sighted—-qualities which all the politicians have, are and will always be exploiting to achieve their lofty ambitions——they have successfully demonstrated the meaning of teamwork, discipline and pacifism. They have credited the Arab Spring as their inspiration for trying to create a change and although the American politicos have been more than supportive during the Middle-Eastern revolution it now seems that they are not at all happy with the new revolution in their own land. After all their seats are at stake here. Just goes on to show how pretentious politicians always are. In fact, pointing at the billionaire NYC Mayor who, being a foe, is also trying his best to squeeze the movement, a protester has recently remarked: “as a billionaire, he’s under constant temptation to squelch protest” . The media is not being very helpful either. It is evident from their tone and use of language that they firmly disapprove this protest for better democratic countries. Obviously, all these newspapers, television channels, studios are owned by the signature 1% only so it is just natural that they will not be very helpful to the cause.

As an ending note I should like to define ‘democracy’ properly.  The word democracy is said to have originated sometime during 1525-1535 from the Greek dēmokratía, which means a popular government. My grade 7 History teacher always insisted that it means ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’. And since the past few decades the so-called democratic countries haven’t at all behaved democratically. Tax cuts were imposed to favor only the wealthy and to choke the poor. International policies were developed for the money-making and business-minded communities and most importantly the general public, who were under the impression that they were living in a democratic country were fooled by the politicians and corporate leaders by taking advantage of their innocence. The true spirit of democracy was violated by the very people who were supposed to protect its sanctity. A valid example is Asif Ali Zardari, President of Pakistan which is a democracy at the time of writing this article, who despite being a billionaire does not pay a penny in tax.

Therefore I urge everyone to defend what is truly yours. Politicians and other sociopaths must be made aware of the fact that the voters nowadays are no longer illiterate and guided by illusion. They must not try to elude the public any more. And we, the youngsters must now get rid of our laidback nature and stand for our rightful positions because “the only solution is World Revolution” (the slogan for the Occupy Wall Street Movement).