Issuu on Google+

The meaning of December 16 6

War veterans 10

FRIDAY DECEMBER 13 2013 vol 1 Issu e 33

Nelson Mandela 27


1

CONTENTS 1 Editor’s Note

2 This Week in Pictures 4 Bottled Up

5 Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Head in the sand

Bangladesh since 1971

V-Day depictions

A gift that keeps on giving

Glad to be Bangladeshi

Death of a neighbourhood pup

Decade of Action for Road Safety

Dr Meghna Guhathakurta

Parliamentary election

8 Post-Riposte A Wee kly Pro ductio n o f

9 Top 10

DhakaTribune Vo lume 1, Issu e 3 3 D EC EMB ER 13, 2 0 1 3

12 Big Mouth Strikes Again

Editor Zafar Sobhan Magazine Editor Faruq Hasan

13 Photo Story 6 Pick of the Week The meaning of December 16

Weekend Tribune Team Sumaiya Shams Faisal Mahmud Yusuf Banna Joseph Allchin Shah Nahian Phil Humphreys Adil Sakhawat Rohini Alamgir Farhana Urmee

18 Feature

20 Interview

21 Realpolitik

22 Tough Love 23 WT | Leisure

Art Direction/Photography Syed Latif Hossain

24 Day in the Life of

Cartoon Syed Rashad Imam Tanmoy Rio Shuvo Contributors Syed Samiul Basher Naheed Kamal Syed Latif Hossain Rajib Dhar Mahmud Hossain Opu Dina Sobhan Ibtisam Ahmed

Production Masum Billah Advertising Shahidan Khurshed Circulation Wahid Murad Email: weekend@dhakatribune.com Web: www.dhakatribune.com Cover Victory Day celebrations by Syed Latif Hossain

A birdwatcher

Kantajew Temple, Dinajpur

Mandela in the arts

Nelson Mandela

25 The Way Dhaka Was 26 Culture Vulture 27 Obituary

28 Last Word 10 Thought Plot War veterans

Design Mohammad Mahbub Alam Colour Specialist Shekhar Mondal Kazi Syras Al Mahmood

17 Crime File

EDITOR’S NOTE

Victory Day musings I

can’t help but get all contemplative with Victory Day right around the corner. At the risk of getting all Hamletesque on the readers, our issue this week has a slightly more introspective tone and focuses on the progress made by Bangladesh since independence. Our Pick of the Week focuses on what December 16 means to the general population. Farhana Urmee canvases people we work and live with to get a better sense of context behind this historical date. Our Poste Riposte is something more concrete: we debate on whether the country has progressed in the last 42 years. Our Photo Feature is veritable celebration of flags,

and how they serve as an inspiration to Bangladeshis all over the world. And, of course, our ever-popular Top 10 lists the best art, literature and films that have been inspired by our Liberation War. If you have had an overdose of Victory Day readings, check out our Crime File this week where we spotlight the death of Tommy the pup, and focus on the sad state of animal rights in the country. Culture Vulture and Obituary both focus on Nelson Mandela and his heritage to all freedom-lovers globally, while Day in the Life of follows an ardent birdwatcher. Relax, reflect and ruminate with your favourite weekend magazine. n W E E K E N D TR IBUN E FR I DAY, DE C E MB E R 1 3 , 20 1 3


2

THIS WEEK

INTERNATIONAL US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel, right, is greeted by US Ambassador James B Cunningham, centre, and Gen Joseph F Dunford, left, after arriving on a C-17 military aircraft, on December 7 in Kabul, Afghanistan. Secretary Hagel made a stop in Afghanistan during his six-day trip to the Middle East  AP/Mark Wilson, Pool

In this December 6, 2012 file photo, Liu Xia, the wife of China’s jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, poses with a photo of her and her husband during an interview at her home in Beijing. Five years after his detention, the US is calling for the release of Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and an end to his wife’s undeclared house arrest.  AP/Ng Han Guan, File Supporters throw flower petals as Arvind Kejriwal, centre, leader of India’s Aam Aadmi Party, or Common Man’s Party, speaks as they celebrate the party’s performance in Delhi state assembly elections, in New Delhi, India, on December 8. The new political party played spoiler in the race and pushed Congress into third place, according to early results. The group, led by former tax official, hopes next to campaign nationally  AP/Tsering Topgyal

French troops patrol past two Seleka, the alliance of mostly Muslim rebel groups, vehicles set on fire by Christian mobs in Bangui, Central African Republic, on December 9. Both Christian and Muslim mobs went on lynching sprees as French Forces deploy in the capital. At least one Seleka suspect was stoned to death by the crowds  AP/Jerome Delay

W E E K E N D TRIBUNE F R I DAY, DE C E M B E R 13, 201 3


3

NATIONAL In this December 9 photo, Abdullah Mohammad Taher, a Jamaat-e-Islami leader, is seen using a car during the hartal called by the 18-Party Alliance  Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune

Relatives of Mostafa Howlader, who succumbed to his injuries after he was hacked by BNP-Jamaat activists on December 8, bursts into tears at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital on December 10. Mostafa was a witness against Delwar Hossain Sayedee  Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

UN Assistant Secretary-General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco addresses a short press briefing at a city hotel on December 10  Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

Sanowar Jahan, wife of death row convict Abdul Quader Molla, shows victory sign as she leaves Dhaka Central Jail after meeting her husband on December 10  Dhaka Tribune

W E E K E N D TR IBUN E FR I DAY, DE C E MB E R 1 3 , 20 1 3


4

BOTTLED UP

letters to the editor

LETTER

of the week There will be peace in our time P

hillip Humphreys really did a great job laying out a historical and political context behind the CHT issue. Although I am not a history or politics buff, I could follow his thought process pretty easily. I disagree with the doom mongers and believe that the CHT issue could be resolved within the next five years or so, but only through political will of both the government and the indigenous folks. n

Hamza Alamgir New DOHS, Dhaka

Combined powers Enjoyed a great debate about the introduction of a combined admission process for some universities. I’m glad great educators like Dr. Zafar Iqbal are behind this, it seems like a fair and equitable process for all. I’m sure there will be initial resistance from vested quarters, but in the end I think common sense will prevail. Nasir Jamal Lokkhibari, Khulna

A different life Last week’s pictures about swineherds enthralled me. In today’s “Digital Age,” it’s somewhat quixotic to find such a group of people whose lifestyle has not changed in almost half a century. Your photos definitely captured the diversity of customs that can still be found in Bangladesh. Azad Shafiq, Rampura, Dhaka

Regal Eagle I’ve been enjoying the legal advice being given by your residential legal expert. I love how she manages to set a personal tone to all her answers but at the same time, does not compromise on the legal accuracy of her responses. Hope you guys keep on publishing her column. Sabah Haq Kulshi, Chittagong

Send us your feedback at: weekend@dhakatribune.com

W E E K E N D TRIBUNE F R I DAY, DE C E M B E R 13, 201 3


5

WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY?

Head in the sand Despite the violence brought about by the opposition parties, law and order is improving gradually. Amir Hossain Amu, land minister

We have asked the law enforcement agencies, especially the Police, Rab and Ansar to make preparations for carrying out combing operations, which may happen anytime. A minister requesting anonymity

The law enforcers were ready to tackle any situation. We might conduct raids, but we would consider the situation and some technical issues. If needed, the law enforcers will take any action for the greater interest of the people.

Law enforcers have been put on high alert and ordered to put their highest effort to maintain the law and order situation.

Rio Shuvo/Dhaka Tribune

Shamsul Haque Tuku, state minister for home affairs

Hassan Mahmood Khandker, inspector general of Bangladesh Police W E E K E N D TR IBUN E FR I DAY, DE C E MB E R 1 3 , 20 1 3


6 Farhana Urmee is a forgetful journalist who is very serious about taking her notes, because without those she is of no worth

PICK OF THE WEEK

The Meaning of December 16

Victory interpreted Farhana Urmee finds out how common Bangladeshis perceive the significance of Victory Day today

With the 42nd Victory Day right around the corner, the question that arises is: how far have we come since the birth of our country? What does December 16 mean to people now? Let’s take a look at how Bangladeshis see Victory Day. Photos: Dhaka Tribune

Imran Hossain

Flag seller

One of the core elements of national celebrations is our flag. Ahead of the national days, hawkers like Imran are seen carrying a long poll of flags of different sizes. With a green-and-red bandana wrapped around his head, when Imran sells a small flag for Tk10. He does it with a smile on his face because he is not just selling a product – he is relaying patriotism. He loves this “seasonal” business. “Mostly young people buy flags from me during the Victory Day and Independence Day,” he says. He mentions winning cricket games as another huge factor for his business. Victory in all forms, means a boost in his business.

Bahadur Shah Student

Hailing from Chandpur, Bahadur Shah, who just enrolled into a madrasa in Mohammadpur, Dhaka, is looking forward to use the national holiday to roam around the city with his friends. When asked what would have happened if we weren’t independent, the 14-year-old had a simple answer: “We would not be able to talk in our mother language and move freely.”

Ferdousi Priyabhashini Sculptor, freedom fighter

War veteran Ferdousi Priyobhashini finds it hard to describe how she feels about Victory Day, as she sees human rights being violated even after 42 years of independence. The renowned sculptor says: “There have been huge expectations at this point, since it has been more than four decades since Bangladesh came into being. Achieving democracy was not that easy for us – it took more than 20 years. “We fought for only nine months in the war, but it is now taking too long for us to accomplish political stability, establish human rights and uphold

W E E K E N D TRIBUNE F R I DAY, DE C E M B E R 13, 201 3


7

humanity above all.” But she still hopes for a better future for her motherland.

Dr Syed Manzurul Islam Professor, Dhaka University

Dr Syed Manzurul Islam believes that we may have achieved victory, but the struggle has not ended yet. “We still have a long way to go to gain the actual freedom of life – the actual independence from oppression and discrimination,” he says. He further adds: “We are currently experiencing a turbulent political state, but we have to be optimistic. Since people are politically aware in all walks of life here, we can make the best use of that awareness. It has always been the critical situations in a society that have brought out true leaders, and undoubtedly, the true leaders can bring the change.” Dr Islam also believes that young people have the responsibility to break the political deadlock in the country. “They need to ask questions. If they can hold on to the spirit of freedom, they are the ones who will bring us to victory in the true sense of it,” he says.

Tofael Alam

Rickshaw puller Tofael Alam has been a rickshaw puller in the capital for 14 years, and has noticed the changes in the city life – especially how its inhabitants celebrate Victory Day. The 32-year-old says he has witnessed the city getting adorned with the flag’s colours and decorated with lights over the years, but other than that, Victory Day holds little significance in his life. “We, the poor people, are struggling to survive every day. I know what Victory Day is, but I cannot find any meaning of victory in my own life,” he says.

Delwar Hossain Ansar member

Delwar Hossain is a security enforcer by profession, working at a shopping mall in the city. “December does not seem the month of victory now. People are too scared to go out; they hardly feel secure in the troubled state of our country,” Delwar Hossain says. The 25-year-old, holding a 303 rifle, is also terrified of the current circumstances and hardly steps out of his home without his identity card. “How can it be independence when we have to experience such dreadful situation? How can we be free, if we

have to sit at home unless it is too urgent to go out during hartals and blockades?” Delwar asks. But he hopes to see a normal and peaceful country in the future.

Syed Tahmeed Haque

Azizul

Corporate official, Grameen Phone Bound by the hectic job heading the corporate communication department at Grameen Phone, Syed Tahmeed Azizul Haque has his own resolutions for the coming year, keeping the Victory Day in mind. “I think the Victory Day should be celebrated with less recounts of the past and more planning for the future. If we resolve to do actual good for the country each year, progress is inevitable,” he says.

Lubna Marium

Dancer, daughter of a freedom fighter Despite all the political unrest and uncertainties, there are still those who are optimistic. Lubna Marium wants to put emphasis on the contribution everyone can make in their respective fields. “We have hardly come out on top in any sector; we have to accomplish so many things in order to be truly victorious,” she says. One of the members of the singing troupe that travelled around the country during the Liberation War (featured in the film Muktir Gaan), Lubna says she does not want

to see things holistically and get disappointed by our shortcomings. “We have a beautiful country, with beautiful people. Difficulties are there, but so are the possibilities. We must uphold the spirit of our victory, work hard, and be optimistic, and victory will be persistent.”

Nayan

Street child Thirteen-year-old Nayan seems to know a lot about the Liberation War – he has learned about the nation’s history at his school Shurobhi, a school for street children, in Kalyanpur, Dhaka. “I have a book at home – Muktijuddher Itihash,” he says, grinning. When asked what victory means, he replies with pride: “Victory is killing all the military officers that came from Pakistan; victory is defeating all the bad guys.” The squint-eyed lad with a name that means eye in Bangla seems content amid all the miseries and difficulties of life, just like the contrast between his name and his oblique sight. He looks forward to celebrating the Victory Day by decorating his house in the slum with paper flags, decorating his school and going to picnic with his schoolmates on the very day, and shout “Happy Victory Day to everyone!” n

W E E K E N D TR IBUN E FR I DAY, DE C E MB E R 1 3 , 20 1 3


8

POST-RIPOSTE

Bangladesh since 1971

Have we made progress?

The WT team debate over whether our beloved motherland has made any real progress after its birth through the Liberation War

Of course we have Faruq Hasan

I

t’s not hard to prove that Bangladesh has made significant progress since independence in 1971. There are the usual quantifiable indicators: our per capita income stands at $1,100, which stood at a paltry $120 in 1971. The country has fared well in the Economic Vulnerability Index, with a score of 32.4 – another six points or so would graduate Bangladesh into a mid-income country category. More than 90% of our girls were enrolled in primary school in 2011, slightly more than boys. Infant mortality has more than halved, from 97 deaths per thousand live births in 1990 to 37 per thousand in 2010. Over the same period, child mortality fell by two-thirds and maternal mortality fell by three-quarters. It now stands at 194 deaths per 100,000 births. In 1990, women could expect to live a year less than men; now they can expect to live two years more. But number-crunching aside, Bangladesh has also made significant progress in “non-quantifiable” factors. People fight about the nuances in our constitution and election model, as opposed to starting a coup to throw a military dictator out. A vibrant, fairly independent media points out the slightest of errors or dishonesty in governance and private sector. Our NGOs are models for the global development sector. Even our cricket team has been climbing up the world rankings in the last few years. There is no doubt that Bangladesh is a far better, stronger and more advanced country than it was 42 years ago. Now if we could only get rid of the general sense of pessimism that seems to prevail in every single Bangladeshi, we might move forward. n

Cartoons: Rio Shuvo/Dhaka Tribune

Progress is yet to come Shah Nahian

B

angladesh is my home. Despite the horrible public transport systems, broken roads, poor infrastructures, etc, I feel proud to be a Bangladeshi. But has Bangladesh made any progress since our liberation in 1971? Not really. Abject poverty still rules Bangladesh as income inequality keeps growing. Corruption and graft rule our politics and every other sector, and we have been consistently ranked as one of the most corrupt nations. But most importantly, I don’t see any change in the mentality of my people; it’s as if we are used to minimal progress. Rather than moving forward, Bangladesh has been a playground to politicians waging war on each other and robbing the country blind. The people are cornered to a point that it’s no longer safe to get out of our homes, go to school, or work because of the tremendous amount of violence being committed right outside our doors. Furthermore, the citizens are also slowly being robbed of their freedom. People can legally be jailed for speaking their mind against politicians on the internet, the government can get away with making unreasonable demands like not stepping down from power during elections, and the list goes on. Till the day we can rid Bangladesh of corruption and violence from its system, and actually focus on educating the people, building better houses and working on the betterment and the wellbeing of the country and its people, Bangladesh will keep on stagnating. The dreams that our freedom fighters dreamt during 1971 will remain just that: dreams. n

W E E K E N D TRIBUNE F R I DAY, DE C E M B E R 13, 201 3


TOP 10

Revisiting

history

Yusuf Banna lists the 10 best works done on the events of 1971, based on the results of a poll run on social media. To vote in our next poll, please visit www.facebook.com/DhakaTribune

10

Bangla Desh

The novel does not follow a linear approach; instead, excerpts from newspapers, stories, songs, and poetry weave together to give the reader and the protagonists an account of what is going on in the nine months leading up to Victory Day.

“My friend came to me/with sadness in his eyes/He told me he wanted help/Before his country dies ...” – the song was written by George Harrison, who came forward to help the people suffering during the war. Bangla Desh is probably the only nonBangla song about Bangladesh.

9 Amar Bondhu Rashed Novel by Md Zafar Iqbal Movie by Morshedul Islam

A touching story of an adolescent kid turned into freedom fighter, the book is one of the greatest example of children’s literature in Bangla. The film adaptation, made digitally, used real ammunition. Despite Morshedul Islam’s honest efforts, the film could not fully capture the novel’s essence.

8

Ami Birangona Bolchhi Nilima Ibrahim

Recited on BTV in the early 90s, this memoir is famous , like its author Nilima Ibrahim, as the War Heroine depicts her horrific experience at one of the Pakistani rape camps during the war.

3 Muktir Gaan

Tareque Masud and Catherine Masud

This documentary film, made by the late filmmaker and his wife, shows real footages of the refugee camps and the war zones of 1971. It’s a combination of footages by American filmmaker Lear Levin and archived footages from around the world.

Yusuf Banna is a staff writer at Weekend Tribune. He would be happier if he could be a full-time poet. He also dreams of being a painter and is envious of those who are

George Harrison

6 Concert for Bangladesh in New York

Initiated by George Harrison and Pandit Ravi Shankar, Concert for Bangladesh was to aid the waraffected people of Bangladesh during 1971. The fundraising concert at the Madison Square Garden was also joined by Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Ringo Starr and many more. It was one of the most intense musical events of the 20th century.

2 Aguner Poroshmoni Humayun Ahmed

The master storyteller portrayed the pandemonium of the war in linear narrative style. It’s about a middle-class family who gives shelter to a guerrilla commander. The novel was later adapted into a feature film.

5

Stop Genocide

Matir Moina

A creation of legendary filmmaker Zahir Raihan, this is one of the most substantial documentaries on the Liberation War. Zahir Raihan aimed to build a global opinion by showing the atrocities carried out by the Pakistani army during the war.

One of the first war movies where digital filmmaking technology has been used, this film reflects the filmmaker’s own childhood experience during the tension between the two factions of Pakistan that eventually led to the liberation of Bangladesh. It won the FIPRESCI prize at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival and became the first Bangladeshi film to go to the Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Film category.

Zahir Raihan

4

7

Josna O Jononir Golpo Humayun Ahmed

9

V-day depictions

Tareque Masud

Ekattorer Dinguli

Jahanara Imam A collection of journal entries by Jahanara Imam during the Liberation War, Ekattorer Dinguli is one of the most published (more than 30 editions) books and a widely read non-fiction in Bangladesh. A real-life account of the war written is simple language, it is a literary masterpiece. n

W E E K E N D TR IBUN E FR I DAY, DE C E MB E R 1 3 , 20 1 3


10

THOUGHT PLOT

War Veterans

Faisal Mahmud is a staff reporter at Weekend Tribune who specialises in writing IT and telecom articles with depth and analysis

A place that

no one knows Faisal Mahmud pays homage to the Bangladeshi braves that made our country a true home for us all

T

he small, dilapidated gates, and the unpretentious fading signboard claiming “Muktijoddha Rogmukti Bisramagar� (Sanatorium for Freedom Fighters) at College Gate (right across the Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University), might have evaded your eyes while battling your way through traffic on the busy Mirpur Road. And yet it has been there for the past 42 years,practically since our independence in 1971, as a testament to the brave men and women who fought for their country. Muktijoddha Rogmukti Bisramagar is right there, inviting anyone to come in and witness the scars and the heroism that led to the creation of Bangladesh.

W E E K E N D TRIBUNE F R I DAY, DE C E M B E R 13, 201 3


11 mill. But the money that I earned by doing those jobs could never alleviate my poverty,” he said. He said that the government has restricted 30% quota for the freedom fighters families in any government job. “But when my son passed a bank entrance exam, he was asked to give Tk300,000 for the job. We are no beneficiaries of the quota system,” he said.

The life within

Recreation for these injured freedom fighters is in disarray since the place does not have suitable entertainment facilities. The books in a so-called library are over 20 years old. One freedom fighter even complained

A place of their own 1

The sanatorium and the adjoining blocks were originally abandoned properties during the Liberation War. In 1972, freedom fighters treated and released from Suhrawardy Hospital sought shelter there

2

The properties were handed over to the MuktijoddhaKalyan Trust later. In 1973, the sanatorium was turned into a vocational training centre for freedom fighters through the joint efforts of the MuktijoddhaKalyan Trust and the International Rescue Committee

3

After the completion of the project in 1977, the sanatorium became a place to stay for permanently disabled freedom fighters and their family members from outside of Dhaka

Photos: Chanchal Kamal

The place and the people Ironically, the ambience inside the sanatorium almost transports you back to 1971; the furniture, colour of the wallsand the broken windows haven’t changed much in the last 42 years. About 17 permanently injured freedom fighters still live there with their families, in five old buildings, spread over some 5,760sqft of land. “More than 100 people are living on this small piece of land. It’s really congested in here. Also there are frequent water and electricity problems,” Motiur Rahman, a septuagenarian war veteran, said. Motiur fought in sector 8 during the Liberation War. “I can’t move my left hand properly for the last 40 odd years. It was badly injured by a grenade splinter during the war. I have been living here since the independence. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman gave us – some six or seven freedom fighters – this land to live on after the war had ended. He also granted us an allowance of Tk75 per month. Then, during the Ershad regime, the allowance was increased twice and we received Tk2,000 per month. Now, from November of this year, we are getting Tk16,000 per month,” he said.

“This is a paltry amount to live on, as the prices of essentials have sky-rocketed. But the Liberation War Trust at least honours us with something,” he concluded. Chaitonno Biswas, another war veteran, has been living here for the last 42 years. “I lost my left leg while I was fighting in sector 4. Right after independence, I started living here,” he said. “Life is not easy. We fought for independence, but we could never become free of poverty. The subsequent governments have promised us a lot. But the promises were rarely kept,” he lamented. Recalling the heroic days of the wartime, Abdur Rahim Badshah, another war veteran who fought in sector 3, said: “That’s the best gift of our life – liberation – and we fought for it.” Badshah’s right knee was badly injured while he was fighting at Pachdona, Narsingdi, when his group killed and captured 60 “hanadars” (Pakistani army). Badshah said after Liberation War, Bangabandhu had granted them this place to live in. “I also got a job at a chocolate factory, and later during Ershad regime, at a sugar

that they also do not get to know the current situation of the country, as newspapers are not readily available. The sanitation system is also in bad shape – all bathrooms are in a sorry state, as sweepers do not clean them regularly. The wife of one freedom fighters said that the problem with electricity is severe. Also, only few years ago, they got a water connection from the civic body. Previously, there used to be a regular feud among the families for water. The only solace for these brave souls,however,is the stories they have to share about the war. Every evening, the freedom fighters sit and reminisce about the golden days of the liberation war in 1971. MdTojammelHaque, 71, has been partially paralysed for the last 41 years since being struck by bomb splinters while fighting at Sector 7, in Rajshahi. He spends all his days in a wheelchair. “What keeps us alive is our kinship with the other freedom fighters,” he said, adding, “We can only hope that since we sacrificed so much during the Liberation War, the government will do something for our families.”

New hope?

The Ministry of Liberation Affairs has taken a project to improve the condition of the lifestyle of these brave souls. For the last two and half years, a big project has been going on in the land on the right side of their home. It is known that another 20 families of injured freedom fighters used to live on that 9,000sqft of land. Mohammad Mainul Haq, another injured freedom fighter, used to live there. “The government started this project in March 2011. We were given an allowance of extra Tk25,000, on top of our usual Tk16,000 from the Liberation War Trust, as house rent to live elsewhere while the construction

We fought for the liberation of this country. I find it heart-breaking when I see that Razakars get high positions in the government. We don’t want anything from the government. We just want to see that the war criminals get what they deserve Said Abdur Rahim Badsha, an injured war veteran

work has been going on,” he said. Abu Shahid Billa, another freedom fighter who used to live here, said after the completion of the project, they will be given an apartment and a shop from the trust in this 14-storey building. “We have already received the allotment paper. We are waiting for the handover,” he added. Moyezuddin Talukder, the project director, said it is a Tk659.3m project under the Ministry of the Liberation War Affairs. “It will tentatively end in the middle of 2014,” he said. Talukder said the first five floors of the building will be commercial. “Those will have shops. The sixth floor will have a convention centre and the top seven floors will have residential apartments for the injured liberation war veterans,” he clarified. The ministry official said that the project is an initiative taken by the government. “Eventually the 17 other families living on that 5,760sq-ft of land will also get an apartment and a shop in this building. On that land, another project of this type will be taken,” the official said. He further expounded that the present government has taken several constructive plans for the freedom fighters. This project is just one such example of that. n W E E K E N D TR IBUN E FR I DAY, DE C E MB E R 1 3 , 20 1 3


12

Big Mouth strikes again

Naheed Kamal

A gift that keeps on giving Time to learn new tricks if old ones do not work Naheed Kamal is an irreverent and irreligious feminist. An old soul of indeterminate age, with one too many opinions and a very loud voice (for a little person), she laughs a lot, mostly at herself. She lives in Dhaka, against her best judgement. Mostly, Ms Kamal rants, a lot!

I

f you don’t recall playing Russian roulette, or whatever name the game goes by these days, you would welcome any clarifications when children end up dead for a political cause that not even adults are able to make sense of. So I have come to conclude that we are playing Chinese Whispers. I don’t doubt the good intentions behind everything Madam, Big Sister, and their cohorts do (as the song goes, everything they do, they do it for you) for us – the people. So, shame on us for thinking our leaders are out of touch, when they didn’t mean to harm anyone. It is the fault of the minions who failed to grasp directions given from above, understandable when the sound system is so crap. I heard all about it during the telephone conversation – you really should pay more attention to matters of national importance. Besides, everyone talks on mobile phones all the time, and no one can be expected to pay any attention to what anyone else is saying when there are so many phones to juggle. Last week, I learned how law enforcers have been mercilessly harassing people to ensure security. If you happen to be on a rickshaw, or walking, and are stopped at “checkpoints,” expect to spend some time there. But be careful if you see vehicles bearing local television channel logos – it might mean you are to star in your very own reality TV show with a sad ending. If you are lucky, you only have to part with phones and money you have on you; if not, you may lose much more than you bargained for. Now, those “blasted” bombs greet me on a regular basis when I am out and about. Usually, I am smug and safe in the knowledge that I walk everywhere I need to go. But last weekend, as I pondered how to get from my end to the other end to enjoy rapturous music, I was faced with a dilemma – very few were willing to go anywhere. With the CNG scooters, it is never comforting to know that the doors

W E E K E N D TRIBUNE F R I DAY, DE C E M B E R 13, 201 3

are bolted and can only be opened by the driver, making it a cage, a trap I can’t escape from unless the driver lets me out. So I want to be absolutely sure that the person driving it doesn’t look too dodgy, dangerous, lecherous or unsavoury. Ithen hope that he won’t expect to be paid a ridiculous amount, and wish it will be possible to find a suitable vehicle before it gets too late and the roads empty. On one such occasion, I was hoping I’d find a vehicle that would agree to go to the desired destination, despite the risks of cocktails of the exploding kind. I keep telling myself how lucky I am that I can walk to work and not worry

up! I do wish the festival-goers had also shut up. So many people were talking loudly, it succeeded in ruining the experience for anyone who wanted to listen to the music, because even where I was perched, it sounded like most people couldn’t care less about the performance. Not even the maestros could claim their attention. Don’t put yourself out because it is free. Next time, think long and hard before you decide to attend any event during which you would rather spend your time on pointless conversations about rubbish, because you could have spared yourself the dangers

How can anyone, or any group, ever represent or speak for everyone? The “Gonojagoron Moncho” would be hard to define to all those who came to Shahbagh, because it defies definition. The bloggers kicked off something 10 months ago that began long before we came along, and it certainly didn’t end ingloriously –as some claim – with the removable of a tent from the middle of the road about explosions. But I must also remind myself that I am not safe from harm, because if I am caught on the wrong side of the road and happen to be standing around in a daze, and start to resist when they start to round up the suspects, then I might meet with the end of those “charged batons.” And I could be charged with arson, or unruly behaviour, and trussed up in the DMCH, or a private clinic somewhere if I am lucky. At the music festival that recently took place, an acquaintance asked if he should feel guilty about enjoying himself – I laughed. As with most people travelling to the Army Stadium for four nights of magical performances, a calculated risk was taken with the knowledge that petrol bombs may be part of the experience, the trip home entailed walking the entire distance. So, if anyone wants to condemn festival-goers, they can shut

and discomfort of the journey. And those of us who went for the music would have been spared the ordeal of listening to your inane endless chitchat that drowned out the maestros performing on stage. The fact that men dressed like police and army personnel went around threatening people randomly for smoking and seizing packets, while someone instructed them on walkietalkies how to terrorise the cigarette packs’ owners, made me think that if everyone started to wield power over ordinary citizens, it would make us blind and fear would prevent any action. But the dangers are real, not imagined. If your name were on a hit list, you’d be wary too. But I still want to believe that “Such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks and all it wants is the liberty of appearing.” n


PHOTO STORY

GLAD TO BE BANGLADESHI

13

A symbol of hope Dhaka Tribune A PHOTO STORY BY

Street vendors in Dhanmondi look forward to Victory Day and use the flag to decorate their space

A

s Bangladeshis, we often complain about the state of our country, how underdeveloped we are, and how nothing ever works. Invariably though, when December 16 comes around, we once again don the reds and greens; we remember what it truly means to be Bangladeshi, and why we are glad to be Bangladeshi. Our flag, the symbol of a nation, once again becomes the symbol of life, art, unity, and hope. This year, Robi Axiata Limited leads us forward in our celebrations with a

Syed Latif Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

plethora of activities. From the Red and Green Photography contest with Shahidul Alam (Drik), to the formation of the digital glad on the Robi microsite created by Maverick, and finally the 30thousand person human flag at the National Parade Ground on December 16. For Robi, being Bangladeshi means being proud of the momentous hurdle we crossed, beating all odds, and attaining independence. What does Victory day mean to you? How will you represent? n

W E E K E N D TR IBUN E FR I DAY, DE C E MB E R 1 3 , 20 1 3


14

PHOTO STORY GLAD TO BE BANGLADESHI

Victory day 2012 with Salam, rickshawpuller from Tangail. He starts his day by attaching a flag to his rickshaw which he salutes “a hundred times, a thousand times�  Syed Latif Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Wall mural depicting the march toward independence on the eve of Victory Day 2012  Syed Latif Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Rina Igarashi, the curator at the Museum of Asian Art in Fukuoka, checks out flag printed curios on the eve of Vitory Day, 2012 Syed Latif Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

The Hazaribagh area of the capital decorated with flags on the eve of Victory Day  Syed Latif Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Strips of colored cloth placed to create a Bangladesh flag backdrop made by school children in anticipation of Victory Day 2012 Syed Latif Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

W E E K E N D TRIBUNE F R I DAY, DE C E M B E R 13, 201 3


15

Students unite under the flag during a protest demonstration in Shahbagh, Dhaka

Syed Latif Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

‘I heart Bangladesh’ is a sentiment that is meant to be shared. I’m spreading the message of love and patriotism Guerilla/underground street artist

A tailor in Rajshahi making flags prior to Victory Day 2010

Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune Representing Bangladesh in unique ways

Syed Latif Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

W E E K E N D TR IBUN E FR I DAY, DE C E MB E R 1 3 , 20 1 3


W E E K E N D TRIBUNE F R I DAY, DE C E M B E R 13, 201 3


CRIME FILE

17

Death of a neighbourhood pup

Cruelty at its worst Adil Sakhawat takes a look into Tommy’s murder Adil Sakhawat wanted to be in the army, but failing that, fights crime by reporting on it. Send him information at weekend@ dhakatribune.com

Crime timeline 2012

Witness

Photos: Courtesy

A

year and half ago, a puppy came to East Rajabazar, a locality in Farmgate, Dhaka. Seeing its weakened state, Evan, Chisty, Rahim and a few other local boys adopted the dog. Evan named it Tommy, and the name stuck. Under the care of the boys, Tommy grew healthier, eventually becoming a “community pet.” He used to live under the stairs of an apartment building in Rajabazar, which was not favoured by the building’s caretaker Rafiqul Alam Ripon, who claimed the tenants complained about the dog. So, Ripon decided to take the matter into his own hands. On December 2, he hanged Tommy from a tree until he was dead. This created uproar among the local people. Chisty, one of Tommy’s “owners,” also notified Obhoyaronno, a local animal welfare society, and together, they handed Ripon over to the police.

First police on site “We did not know which police station covered East Rajabazar. We first went to Ramna police station, where the officer on duty told us to go to Tejgaon police station. When we went to Tejgaon, the officer on duty there told us that East Rajabajar was under Sher-e-Bangla Nagar police station’s jurisdiction. So we went to Sher-e-Bangla Nagar station and filed a general diary. Then we brought in Tommy’s killer to the police station, as the police could not send forces with us.” Rubaiya Ahmad, founder of Obhoyaronno “After Obhoyaronno filed a general diary with the police station, we kept the accused in police custody for five hours. Then we released him. I think the important lesson from this tragedy is animals are close to us, and killing them is tantamount to murder.” Saiful Islam, sub-inspector, Sher-eBangla Nagar police station

“Ripon killed Tommy by hanging him with rope from a tree, in front of Shonar Tori apartment building, where the dog used to live. It was shocking to see the dog getting killed. Ripon then threw Tommy’s body away in the dustbin. There should be strict laws such brutality. As far as I know, there is a prohibitory order by the Dhaka City Corporation to not kill animals. But people are not aware of that.” Abrar Ahmad, a resident of East Rajabazar “Someone who can kill a pet dog with such brutality can also kill another human being. I tried to stop Ripon as Tommy was loved by our community; even I used to feed Tommy. But Ripon got angry and yelled at me, saying if I held him back, he would find another way to kill the dog.” Almas Khan, an inhabitant of East Rajabazar

Prime suspect “I killed Tommy myself. I first planned to poison him, and then planned to beat him to death. But later, I finally decided to hang him in front of the apartment building where Rahim lives, because I had complained to him about the dog several times. It got to a point where my tenants started leaving, and I was losing valuable money. So I decided to kill the dog.”

“Ripon told me several times that the dog annoyed his tenants. Some of them even moved away because of that dog. I don’t see anything wrong with killing the dog.” Jalilur Rahman, a shopkeeper at East Rajabajar who help Ripon in killing Tommy

Reactions “We foster three dogs in our police station. Dogs are very loyal; they even give their lives for their masters. A human being should not be so cruel towards any animal.” Delwar Hossain, sub-inspector, Tejgoan police station “I am grateful to the police as they helped us by holding the killer in custody. The police could have easily sent him to jail, but after getting continuous phone call from Ripon’s family, I asked them to release him after five hours. There is an animal cruelty act in our country, but no one implements it. However, several amendments are now being implemented, and hopefully this will discourage cruelty to animals as the act will be stricter for the offender. I hope people become kinder to animals and be concerned about their welfare, because compassion is never restricted to animals only. If there is any kind of abuse against animals, please let us know.”

May Tommy comes to East Rajabazar area and is taken under the local boys’ wings July Tommy gets better after being nurtured by the boys

2013

December 2 5pm Ripon kills Tommy by hanging him to death, and dumps his body in the wastebin December 3 12:30am Rahim informs Obhoyaronno about the brutality through Facebook December 4 4pm Obhoyaronno calls a meeting at the site 4:30pm Obhoyaronno files a general diary with Sher-e-Bangla Nagar police station 5:15pm Obhoyaronno and the owners of Tommy hand Ripon over to police 5:30-9:30pm Ripon is held in police custody

Rubaiya Ahmad, founder of Obhoyaronno n

Rafiqul Islam Ripon, Tommy’s killer W E E K E N D TR IBUN E FR I DAY, DE C E MB E R 1 3 , 20 1 3


18

Rohini Alamgir likes looking into the details of seemingly simple matters. She is constantly working on her autobiography because she thinks her life is worth reading about

FEATURE

Decade of Action for Road Safety

Turning a new Rohini Alamgir looks forward to an accident-free Bangladesh

I

magine a boy aged 12 years old, wearing the generic grey shorts and white short-sleeved shirt that comprise most private school uniforms. It’s the end of the school day, and he is excited to go home: so excited that he runs to cross the street and gets run over by a big, black car. Now imagine a father, stressed from work, running out during his lunch hour to go pick

up his child from school and drop him home. He pushes through rushhour traffic, worried that he’s running late, and picks up the speed. He needs to get back to work, but wants to be there for his son. He receives a text message, and takes a quick glance. His car collides with something and skids. He flails for control, and finally wins. He pulls over and runs back. There’s

a body on the street. A little boy – his little boy. Now stop imagining. This is a true story.

Research into the madness

An urban planning research done by BRAC and BUET states that a wellconstructed city should have roads covering 25% of developed land. In Bangladesh, the roads take up around

Big stock

W E E K E N D TRIBUNE F R I DAY, DE C E M B E R 13, 201 3


19

corner 12.5% of the city space. However, in comparison to developed countries, statistics show that Bangladesh actually has fewer numbers of motor vehicles covering each square kilometre of roads. Why, then, do road accidents occur much more frequently in Bangladesh?

Fighting the odds

“There are several factors as to why traffic accidents take place,” says AKM Khairuzzaman, the programme manager of BRAC Road Safety Programme, “The primary factor is the hostile driving environment.” Behavioural analysts at BRAC have determined that pedestrians, passengers and drivers share a common preference to travel faster, and thereby arrive at their destinations quicker. In essence, everyone goes out hoping that “the odds are forever in their favour,” and the everyday street hunger games of Bangladesh begin. Desperate to reach their destinations, Bangladeshis have developed a tendency to manoeuvre themselves carelessly and recklessly. The result: grievous road accidents.

Numbers behind the tragedy

Road traffic accidents claim around 4,000 lives and injure another 5,000 every year in Bangladesh. Data collected and cross-matched between several government authorities and private NGOs, like BRAC, place the death toll from road accidents at between 10,000 and 12,000 per annum; 60% of those accidents involve buses and trucks. Financially speaking, these accidents cost Bangladesh about Tk66bn per year, around 1-3% of our country’s GDP, while traffic injuries cost around Tk58bn, according to the World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention, 2004.

A method to the madness

BRAC research shows that this kind of unscrupulous driving is often propagated by financial necessity. Truck and bus drivers are placed under duress to produce a certain amount of profit by making a specified number of trips within a given time frame. Since

Did you know? n

WHO published data in April 2011 that places road traffic accident-related deaths in Bangladesh at 21,218, or 2.22% of total deaths

Studies by Bangladeshi NGOs show that only 42% of heavy vehicle drivers know basic traffic rules and only 41% obey traffic rules

n

There are 1.4 million operational drivers in Bangladesh with fake, or without any licence at all

n

The ratio of tests carried out every day by a testing officer is 143:1

n

The Bangladeshi government, as part of its sixth Five-Year Plan, aims to reduce road fatalities by 25% by 2015

n

most truck and bus drivers operate under a contract basis, the failure to meet these deadlines could mean less or no money for them. The schedules they are given to operate within do not take into account the traffic signal and jam delays, the time it takes for ferries to cross rivers, and any of the various other factors that can affect each journey. Desperate to protect their jobs, drivers go faster and become more careless.

Poverty a factor

But if only it could be as black and white as rich people taking advantage of poor people. Here, there are many shades of grey. Studies show that at least half of the affected families of road traffic accident victims are below the poverty line, and nearly 70% of road fatalities take place in rural sections of main highways, while metropolitan cities incur about 20%. It then becomes a situation where rich people exploit the poor, and they then turn upon themselves. The loser is always the less fortunate. BUET presents another plot twist, as their studies show 219 “black spots” on ten

major highways that cause the most number of accidents, which can all be attributed to serious engineering and designing faults.

Back to school for drivers

Motiur Rahman, an automobile engineer, explains it well: “There is a lack of basic training and instruction for drivers, the lack of knowledge of road traffic laws on the part of both the pedestrians and the drivers, the lack of concern for others using the road, the roads themselves. The list goes on. Defying traffic laws, driving on the wrong side of the street, absence of proper, legible road signs and the failure of law enforcement to actually enact road traffic laws are all contributing factors as well. Then there’s the over speeding, over loading, and over taking.” While it is clear that many in Bangladesh have identified exact reasons for the road traffic accidents, what is being done to reduce the numbers?

The 4-E approach

In 2011, the United Nations (UN) declared the “Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020,” bringing together international communities under this banner to work together to prevent deaths and injuries occurring on the roads. Among many other NGOs and research centres, like Nirapad Sarak Chai and Work for Better Bangladesh, BRAC and BUET Accident Research Institute (ARI) have been actively advocating policies and campaigning on grassroots levels to help stop this tirade of casualties. They have proposed a 4E approach: education, engineering, enforcement and environment. Since 2011, BRAC Driving School (BDS) has implemented a programme titled Shurokkha, where their target is to bring in the truck and bus drivers (ranging at around 250,000 people) from the various companies and reinstruct them in driving. This programme seeks to strengthen not only their driving and technical abilities, but also enrols them in gender sensitisation classes as well as teaching them etiquette and manners. In addition, BDS has also brought in

special road safety goggles that, when worn, shows a driver how impaired his/her vision would be when under the influence. Along with these safe driving technique lessons, BRAC Advocacy for Social Change is also spearheading a Safe Road Code, which proposes to contain a Road User Code of Conduct for pedestrians, similar to what they use in the UK. The only stone left unturned is the enforcement, and that lies in the hands of our government and the police departments.

The cost of our future

However, as Apurba Kumar Saha, the manager of Technical Road Safety at BRAC, states, “Raising awareness and pushing policies will only take us so far. What lies at the heart of this problem is eradicating poverty, and finding equilibrium for our imbalanced rush towards development,” and he couldn’t be more right. We can build the roads and pave them, we can teach the drivers and the pedestrians, but what we need to change are not processes or minds. The change we need lies in the strongly ingrained need to move forward and do better at whatever the cost. We need for people to realise that the cost at the present moment: 70% of accident victims in Bangladesh are within the age group of 16-40 years. The cost is our future. n

W E E K E N D TR IBUN E FR I DAY, DE C E MB E R 1 3 , 20 1 3


20

INTERVIEW

Meghna Guhathakurta

We live in interesting times Adil Sakhawat wanted to be in the army, but failing that, fights crime by reporting on it. Send him information at weekend@ dhakatribune.com

Adil Sakhawat talks politics, economics and women’s rights with one of the leading activists in Bangladesh Your father, Jyotirmoy Guhathakurta, was a Bangali intellectual who was killed on the night of March 25 during the Dhaka University massacre by the Pakistani army. The judgement of his killer is currently ongoing. What is your take on the war crime tribunal? What should our younger generation’s take away from this be? For a long time, the martyrs’ families and the country have been demanding the judgement of war criminals. War criminals, or criminals against humanity, should be punished and the young generation of Bangladesh

topic of discussion. Countries in the Middle East have already lost their economic power and their dictatorship; USA is becoming a country like China. All these factors have affected the political situation of Bangladesh. Our neighbouring country India is already a high-income country and it is said Bangladesh is going to be a middleincome country in the next five years. So it is clear that India is now a regional power and that makes it the right time for the Bangladesh government to strengthen its diplomatic body.

The woman behind it all Meghna Guhathakurta, PhD is currently the executive director of Research Initiatives, Bangladesh (RIB) and post-doctoral fellow of a collaborative capacitybuilding project between Dhaka University and ISS. She helps to supervise and coordinate action research among the very marginalised communities in Bangladesh. Among them are the Dalits (the untouchables), the Bagdis (fisherfolks), and lesser known Adivasis (indigenous people) such as the Mundas, Bunos and Bedays (the river gypsies and snake charmers). Drawing on her background in human rights and feminist thought and practice, she is engaged in coordinating action research on Gender, Lives and Livelihood: Women in Marginalized Communities in the Eco-regions of the Sundarbans (mangrove forests). She also works intimately with indigenous advocacy groups for capacity building in the CHT and the Northern plainlands of Bangladesh. She served as member of Netherlands Development Research Council (RAWOO) from 1996 to 2002 when she chaired the sub-committee on postconflict development. She is also a member of South Asian Peoples Commission on Rights of Minorities, a commission formed by the organisation, South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR). Meghna Guhathakurta graduated in international relations from Dhaka University. In 1990, she was awarded a PhD in politics from the University of York, the UK.

should react to this positively because that war gave us our identity as Bangladeshis. The genocide in our history affects every Bangladeshi, even today. And now the war crime tribunal is punishing those criminals. I suggest that the young generation should learn this history and then confusion will not exist among them. Internationally, the death penalty is not supported. I am also against death penalty, but not when it comes to a case of a war criminal. The government can cancel death penalty for regular criminals. What do you think about our country’s current political situation? When the war started in 1971, the alliance powers were the US and Pakistan on one side, and India and the Soviet Union on the other. When Bangladesh became an independent country, and the Soviet Union was broken down, Bangladesh became a

W E E K E N D TRIBUNE F R I DAY, DE C E M B E R 13, 201 3

The political turmoil results in the destruction of religious institutes. Why do these political actions always work against the minorities? These types of attacks started in 2001. I think there is an economic reason behind this, and land is the main factor. During the British rule, the minorities’ assets were protected by different types of acts. But now, our neo-liberal government cannot preserve the minorities’ rights. That is why the indigenous people are yet to become normal citizens like us. All eyes are now on the assets of the indigenous peoples and attacks on minorities and religious institutes are the result. As land becomes one kind of currency in Bangladesh, all eyes naturally turn to the assets of the indigenous people.

Quamrul Abedin

You have worked with the CHT issues. Santu Larma said a few days ago that if the peace agreement is not implemented soon, the situation there will once again become unsustainable. What do you think about this? No, I don’t think so. The CHT people now want to enter mainstream society and prove themselves as educated people, so it is unlikely that an unsustainable situation will happen again. What is now needed is to revise the peace agreement again and to give them sustainability and a fair voice. You have worked with marginalised people. What would you say was their biggest problem in Bangladesh? There is much social discrimination that keeps them from feeling like a part of our society. Now what they have to do is raise their voice. So I work to raise awareness among them about the Right to Information Act in order to make them know their rights and help them raise their voice for themselves. There are so many NGOs working to develop the socioeconomic situation of Bangladesh. How effective are they really? The government officials are corrupted. Some NGOs really work, and the government sometimes depends on them. I mean, we have the largest numbers of NGOs than any other country. And because of our NGOs, the health and education sectors are more

developed than our neighbouring countries. The question should really be: how much development work has been done without the help of these NGOs and foreign powers? How far have our women come in terms of empowerment in the business and political sectors? In political sector, our women are severely lacking, even though the prime minister, the opposition leader and many ministers are women. It is must for all political parties to keep 33% women in their central committee. But it is a great achievement that, from the grassroots level, many women are now participating in local elections. Our male politicians are also creating problems in the way the women to do politics. Sometimes, it is observed that many meetings are held at night time, so the women cannot participate. Higher-level positions in Bangladesh in both politics and business are still primarily male-dominated. Outside of these, there are many other sectors in which women are developing and empowering themselves. What are you working on at present? I am working with Gender in Election – it is mainly research. I work with the women who want to participate in elections and am mapping out why their participation is low during the elections. This is in collaboration with UN Women and the British Embassy. n


REALPOLITIK

21

Parliamentary election

To have and to hold

Phil Humphreys speaks to Iftekharuzzaman, the executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh, about the constant struggle to seize and retain power in Bangladeshi politics

What are your best and worst hopes for the polls in January?

This is a very unfortunate situation that we are in. Time is running out - if it has not already - for a negotiated settlement on an election-time government between the two major political parties. The fate of both democracy and the people of this country are held hostage in the hands of the two leaders, and only they can resolve this through negotiation. But as of now, I see very little indication of a genuine interest in dialogue. There has been a lot of talk about dialogue, the telephone calls and all kinds of theatrics, but nothing substantive. There may have been some initiatives behind the scenes, possibly catalysed by friendly diplomatic and international sources including the United Nations and so on, but one doesn’t know and I feel embarrassed as a Bangladeshi that our national problem has to be addressed by international initiatives. There can be four possible scenarios for the election, all hypothetical:

Golden dream

As an optimist I still think there is scope for a negotiated settlement, an agreement on an election-time government. And if that happens then you see whatever reform is needed from the Election Commission and an election is held with the participation of all political parties who have the right to do so, and who want to do so. In that case a smooth transition takes place and a reasonably international acceptable election takes place and we have the democratic process ensured. That is like the ‘golden dream’, but it looks very unlikely unfortunately.

Good dream

The second scenario is still a dream; a positive. It says that for whatever reason or incentive, the BNP and its allies decide to take part in the election even if they do not agree on the election-time government. Again this is a hypothetical scenario but I am not ruling out this option because for many, especially the BNP leaders, it is their time. People in Bangladesh always vote against the incumbents, all the recent polls show that they have a better chance of winning the election so why not? And with the international monitoring of the election, media and society activity, and international initiatives, they might consider that this is possible. So if they do take part in the election then once again we have a good dream scenario where elections are

held and a smooth transfer takes place. The losing party in that case will be unhappy and say that they will not accept the election, but that is the political culture in Bangladesh.

Bad dream

So now I come to the third scenario which is a bad dream. The government pushes ahead with the election but the BNP and their allies don’t take part. Just as they have declared, and have been demonstrating for, they try to prevent that election, which means that the next few weeks before the so-called election may be much more violent and with much more bloodshed. In spite of that, since the government has the law enforcement and the administration under its control, they might push ahead and hold the election. In that case, the result is obvious, and then there will be a very big question mark about the credibility of that election in the eyes of the people of this country and in the eyes of the international community. Recalling the past experience of this nation, we might then be in an openended stage of political uncertainty; it can be a few weeks, or a few months or whatever. There may be a need for another election in whatever form, and so there is the third scenario in the form of a bad dream.

Nightmare

At the core of all this, corruption is a big factor because winning an election in Bangladesh means making profit. Election politics is an investment in Bangladesh, like it is in many countries of the world, but here it is a total gain so people consider that the people’s mandate is a mandate to make profit out of the investment that they have made, so official government and official politics is considered as an office of profit. As a result, the big government institutions become the monopolised territory of the ruling party or coalition.

What happens if there is no return on that investment?

From the opposite end, if you lose the election you think that you have lost everything so you don’t have any role to play in parliament or anywhere

else except in the street. That leads to a risk factor, first about profit, and the second is as much as the benefit of winning is increasing, the risk of losing is also going higher and higher. Remaining out of power is not only being deprived of opportunity but also deprived of your security and deprived of your fundamental rights. It is happening not only today, it happened in the past and unfortunately it might happen in the future so people don’t want to consider a scenario that they can be beaten in the election, they have to win, so they have to remain in power or they have to make sure that they come back to power. It is all or nothing, and at the core of it is corruption. Bangladesh has to recognise that corruption is a huge problem and they cannot continue to have a denial syndrome anymore. n

Phil Humphreys is a British former journalist who worked as a management adviser to an NGO in Rangpur, before joining the Dhaka Tribune as a consultant

WT Surely the Awami League could not reject the result if they have been championing the sanctity of the election commission? TIB They might still say it if they lose, that is the trend in Bangladesh. WT So the election commission that is so safe and solid now, suddenly isn’t? TIB Exactly, yes.

The nightmare scenario is the government wants to push ahead with the election, and the violence, bloodshed and mayhem caused by those who will be opposing it - and also the government response to prevent that violence - is such that it goes beyond the control of civilian authority. In that situation, the only thing I can forecast is that this will be extremely detrimental to the prospect of democracy in the country and the people’s public interest, and which will only demonstrate how insensitive a zero-sum game of power can be in the context of Bangladesh. The two leaders will have to take the responsibility for that.

So you have three dreams – two good and one bad – and a nightmare. Which is most likely?

Let me preface this by saying I am not ruling out anything, but as of now it is more likely that either one of the last two, unfortunately, and I feel very emotionally disappointed that this is what it is looking like.

What motivates politics in Bangladesh?

“I will not be surprised if we do not even see an election in January. It can be postponed in a few days at any time.” W E E K E N D TR IBUN E FR I DAY, DE C E MB E R 1 3 , 20 1 3


22 Dina Sobhan is a freelance writer and cautions readers not to take her “advice” here too seriously! Got a problem? Write to Dina at weekend@ dhakatribune.com

TOUGH LOVE 1

My family is steeped in patriotism. My father and both my uncles fought in the Liberation War. My older sister turned down lucrative corporate job offers in the US to work for the Bangladeshi government. The same is expected of me. But honestly, I’m very indifferent towards Bangladesh. I have a more “international” feel and no emotional attachment to the place I happened to be born in. I want to break from tradition, move abroad, and maybe even get a foreign passport (hopefully American!) one day. How do you think I should break this news to my family?

DINA SOBHAN What is an “international feel”? Do you get all giddy when you hear the national anthem of Cameroon? Or do you want to do an Irish jig when you see the colour green? Why aren’t you, like your family, steeped in patriotism, like an Ispahani teabag? Truth be told, the present state of affairs in the nation do not inspire much deshprem in anyone, much less

in the international men of mystery such as yourself. But to openly aspire to be anything but Bangali is an act of treachery that no one will forgive. You must be covert in such desires and plot your escape in the dark recesses of night. Apply for jobs while your family sleeps, dreaming of ways to restore our nation to its former glory (?), and only spring

the news on your unsuspecting lot when you get the gig of your dreams. Be sure it’s a job that can somehow benefit the nation, because your “grand plan” is to one day come back fuelled by newfound knowledge and expertise, and with wads of cash in your bank account with which to better your peoples’ plight. Wink wink. n

Syed Rashad Imam Tanmoy/Dhaka Tribune

2

I have fallen in love with an African-American man. The trouble is, my family is very traditional. I know they will have a huge problem accepting the fact that I am marrying a foreigner, let alone someone with a “darker” skin tone. You know how it is with deshi families and skin colour. How do I best go about explaining my decision to my close ones?

W E E K E N D TRIBUNE F R I DAY, DE C E M B E R 13, 201 3

You don’t, my foolish child. You get out of dodge with a lightly packed bag and a passport. If you are already abroad, you go to Las Vegas, or the closest equivalent thereof, and get hitched with only your best friend and possibly your dog as a witness. The other option is to just serve your old Ma a heart attack on a platter. I can already picture the agonised expression as tears

roll down her face, accompanied by mopping of said face with her “achol,” wringing hands in between. If you’re blessed with a mother with a flair for the dramatic, there may be cries of “Ma-go-ma, ami ki bhul korlam?” We have progressed as a society only to the extent that marrying a Bangali browner than oneself is now barely acceptable. And we have come to

grudgingly accept the white boyfriend that our daughters have dragged home from college because, well, who doesn’t love a lomba, phorsha jamai? Since your future husband is neither, I say embrace his family as your one and only, cause yours is as good as gone, girlfriend. A major downside is, you’re giving up Eid. Happy Kwanza! n


|

23

WT LEISURE

Across 1 Illuminating but not heavy (5) 5 India’s first politician is a rascal (3) 6 Regularly to do with X (5) 8 Danger for each one left (5) 10 First of robin or eagle eggs (3) 11 Range of 2 around breakfast time (5)

Down 1 2 3 4 7 8 9

Cat horror writer comes up with in cooking fat (7) Stomach is good in Germany (3) Element found in plating (3) EU permit father in military jacket flourish (7) Knitwear provider? Doesn’t sound like me! (3) Way of securing parking, for example (3) Found in computers, compatible with 7 (3)

Solution and clues for last week’s crossword

Across 1 4 6 7

Pine fruit hoax in sack (7) Orange County pouts about sea creature (7) Hormone makes Luis crazy in hotel (7) Send in beer, one of twelve (7)

Down 1 2 3 5

State has LA fiord relocated (7) South African hill climbing tables (5) Church supports chaotic sense of being (7) Navigate up to edge (5)

W E E K E N D TR IBUN E FR I DAY, DE C E MB E R 1 3 , 20 1 3


24 Shah Nahian is a staff writer at Dhaka tribune with a passion for music and art. When he’s not being forced to work, he spends his time daydreaming and hanging out with friends

Day in the Life of

A Birdwatcher

A messiah for birds Shah Nahian discovers what it takes to become a birdwatcher however, is to take those courses of action and to try and save the species. Sayam explains: “One of the main reasons for these birds’ decreasing numbers is hunting. We try to advise the locals against this. Since the Spoon-Billed Sandpiper has such a critically endangered status, we also had to plan for the worst case scenario. An interesting fact about the

Spoon-Billed Sandpiper is, if their eggs go missing, they often lay eggs again. So I, along with my team, took a trip to Russia to collect eggs and raise the chicks in captivity. So if there is ever a population crash, we can release them in the wild. Also, when they relay those eggs, their numbers grow.” What’s the downside of working as an ornithologist? Sayam says it’s the

How it all started

Just another day When in Dhaka

8-9am Has breakfast, then checks and replies to emails 10am-4pm Occasionally has to write papers and reports, replying to the people/organisations funding his projects 4pm-10pm Leisure time 10pm-1am Practises writing stories and poems, reads, dinner, sleep When on the field 5am Goes out in the field 6am-6pm Observes birds, collects data, has lunch in between, even does other activities relevant to birding 6pm Heads back to camp, goes through his notes and studies them, and plans for the next day 11pm Eats dinner and calls it a night

C

Sayam U Chowdhury

1 A friend of Sayam’s cousin first introduced him to the concept of birding

ontradictory to the common belief, Ornithology, commonly known as birdwatching, or birding, is simply not just what the namesake suggests. Ornithologists use birdwatching as a technique to study and answer very specific questions. In the case of Sayam U Chowdhury, this means dedicating his life for the conservation of endangered species of birds. Sayam basically focuses his birding on two specific species. One of them is the Spoon-Billed Sandpiper, a critically endangered migratory bird (less than 200 left) that’s seen during the winter. The other one is a resident bird called the Masked Finfoot, with just a thousand of them around. As both the species are on the verge of extinction, Sayam and his team initially follow these birds around to study them in their natural habitat, trying to find reasons for their declining numbers. The team surveys the birds and takes notes, then at the end of the day, they study their collected data and plan for various courses of action. In Sayam’s own words: “The first step is to know about the problem, and only after knowing the problem can we work towards a solution that is the conservation.” The second part of Sayam’s job,

W E E K E N D TRIBUNE F R I DAY, DE C E M B E R 13, 201 3

2 Graduating from North South University as an environmental science major, Sayam really got into birding and took to the field with just a pair of binoculars and a simple field guide 3 Sayam has been birding for about 10 years

meagre income: “The money comes through the funding, which is always very difficult to get. All the resources must be allocated very carefully and the priority of the project is much greater than just personal salaries.” The Royal Society for Preservation of Birds (RSPB), a charity from the UK that works on ensuring better, healthier environment for the endangered species, usually helps provide the funds. “However, I do a lot of wildlife photography and freelance consultancy work for various organisations, like conducting birdwatching surveys, preparing management plans, etc to earn some money on the side. If you judge me by only the amount of money I’m earning, then I’m a loser,” he adds. With financial insecurity and always having to travel around the globe, Sayam thinks it’s not logical for him to start a family, or even dream of a steady life. Although a high price to pay, he would never trade his life for a normal one. In his own words: “Bird watching for me is just an excuse to be close to nature, and I’ve dedicated my life to the preservation of these endangered birds.” n

Gertrud Neumann-Denzau

Gertrud Neumann-Denzau


THE WAY BANGLADESH WAS

25

Kantajew Temple It’s funny how you sometimes live next to a national heritage cite but are never aware of it. My three siblings and I grew up in Dinajpur right next to the temple, but was never aware of its historical significance till recently. To us, the temple was our favourite hide-and-seek spot, a veritable treasure trove where all sorts of “historical” objects kept popping up, and a place to just sit inside and think quietly about general stuff. I’ve only recently gone back to Dinajpur, and I’m so happy to see that the authorities have taken good care of the temple. Unfortunately for kids though, they can’t go inside and play games anymore.

Kantajew Temple, Dinajpur, 1870

Srikanth Lila Doctor, Green Road, Dhaka

Bangladesh Old Photo Archive

Today

Chanchal Kamal

W E E K E N D TR IBUN E FR I DAY, DE C E MB E R 1 3 , 20 1 3


26

CULTURE VULTURE

Mandela in the arts

Madiba: the man, the muse Yusuf Banna takes a historical journey through the life of Nelson Mandela as depicted in film, music and literature Yusuf Banna is a staff writer at Weekend Tribune. He would be happier if he could be a full-time poet. He also dreams of being a painter and is envious of those who are

“M

andela may not be with us any more, but beyond physical presence lies the deeds and memories of him. But he still will be the subject and source of creative endeavors reads his epitaph, and a more fitting farewell is unimaginable. Indeed, the man who walked the walk and talked the talk, dedicated himself to serving humanity, and led a life as exciting as fiction, has been remembered and revered in many forms of art. From the greatest actors to poets and songwriters, he has been the biggest inspiration, and his name has now become a synonym for freedom.

On the silver screen

A good pen can also remind us of the happiest moments in our lives, bring noble ideas into our dens, our blood and our souls. It can turn tragedy into hope and victory Mandela to Zinzi, in a letter written at Robben Island, February 10, 1980

Among all the visual initiatives, the most famous portrayal is in “Invictus,” directed by Clint Eastwood, and upheld by Morgan Freeman’s Academy Award winning performance. It was Freeman’s lifelong dream to portray Mandela, and before the shooting commenced, Mandela himself gave Freeman his blessings. The movie is about South Africa’s Rugby team and Mandela’s political gusto to reunite the nation and the country by hosting the 1995 World Cup. In 1987, Danny Glover played the role of Mandela in the TV movie, “Mandela,” which depicted the time when the world awaited his return from his 27-year exile. Subsequently, 1997 saw the release of “Mandela and de Klerk,” which earned Golden Globe nominations for Academy Award winners Sidney Poitier and Michael Caine. Mandela’s enigmatic, polite manner, his voice, his gentle smile, all his little gestures, everything that made the man who he was, has been a massive challenge for these actors to imitate. This was obvious from Terrence Howard’s (Oscar nominee) performance when he attempted to personify Mandela’s younger self in the movie “Winnie” (2011), which was mainly based on Mandela’s wife, played by Jennifer Hudson. The movie was not well made and Howard was pretentious and gloomy. Hoping for a better outcome, “Mandela: A long walk to Freedom” was released recently featuring the British star, Idris Elba. The movie is an adaptation of Mandela’s autobiography. For Elba, playing 53 years of Mandela’s life was a struggle to provide a solid performance under the weight of properly portraying such a strong personality. He interviewed people, and did thorough research, and must receive kudos for all his

W E E K E N D TRIBUNE F R I DAY, DE C E M B E R 13, 201 3

by Mandela, himself, when he made a cameo appearance at the end of Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” in 1992.

As seen on the tube

hard work because he truly brought Mandela to life on screen. “Goodbye Bafana,” featuring Dannis Haysbert and Joseph Fiennes and depicts a fictionalised story based on the relationship of a prison guard with a prisoner. When nominated for the Golden Bear in the Berlin Film Festival, Haysbert said, “Every night I went home, I would have a glass of wine and just cry. The sacrifices he made were profoundly sad to me.” In the 1950’s the South African actor, Lindane NKosi, played the role of Mandela in “Drum,” which was based on the antiapartheid campaign. The film made it into the Cannes and London Film Festivals. It was probably the earliest known performance as Mandela. Movies related to Mandela can roughly be divided in two categorieshis life as a whole and a glimpse from his life focusing on one his numerous, awe inspiring deeds. It’s safe to say that the best performance was given

Not to be left behind, TV producers also put in their two pence toward remembering and upholding the values that Mandela left us with. BBC therefore produced a form of drama series titled “Mrs. Mandela” where David Harewood played the role of Mandela while Sophie Okenedo starred as his wife. Seen through the eyes of his wife, the attempt to portray Mandela simply disappointed. It was boring at best. In an episode of the BBC series, “Prisoners of Conscience,” (1981) actor George Harris played Mandela, while Simon Sibela got his chance in the German TV dramatization on Rivonia trial in 1966. These, however, were minor depictions of the life of Mandela.

In literature and music

“Nelson Mandela is with me because I believe/in symbols; symbols bear power; symbols demand/power; and that is how a nation/follows a man who leads from prison/and cannot speak to them,” wrote Elizabeth Alexander in “A Poem for Nelson Mandela.” And Mandela went from being a literal symbol to a metaphor for many writers and poets. “Nelson Mandela

is, for me, the single statesman in the world,” Nobel laureate Toni Morrison once observed. “The single statesman, in that literal sense, who is not solving all his problems with guns. It’s truly unbelievable.” He was a statesman, a liberator, a leader, and the harbinger of the end of the apartheid, and like many others, Nadine Gordimer, when writing “A Sport of Nature” in 1987, realised that no story could be written or completed without including Madiba. Tributes to Mandela date back to the 1970s with “And I Watch It In Mandela,” by South Africa’s John Matshikiza, while others have become protest classics, like poet Gil Scott-Heron’s “Johannesburg.” Mandela believed in the power of words and of music. “African music is often about the aspirations of the African people, and it can ignite the political resolve of those who might otherwise be indifferent to politics,” Mandela wrote in his autobiography, “A long Walk to Freedom”, continuing with, “One merely has to witness the infectious singing at African rallies. Politics can be strengthened by music, but music has a potency that defies politics.” And today, songwriters are taking his advice, and reminding us not only of his words, but also of the man himself. Popular band, U2 wrote “Ordinary life” for the movie “A Long Walk to Freedom,” while the Special A.K.A. became a hit with their anti-apartheid anthem, “Free Nelson Mandela” in 1984. In 1985, the protest song “Sun City,” written by E Street Band member Steven Van Zandt and featuring guest musicians like Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Run DMC, Peter Gabriel and U2, helped raise awareness of South Africa’s racist policy of apartheid. “We’re rockers and rappers united and strong,” goes the song, “We’re here to talk about South Africa, we don’t like what’s going on.” “My Black President,” by one of South Africa’s greatest vocalists, the late Brenda Fassie also ranks among the most moving of numbers inspired by the great man. As the world now wonders how to deal with such a massive loss, recall Jekwu Ikeme’s “When Mandela Goes,”(2004), which looked to a future without the consecrated man, and remember his words: “When you go, Madiba, your nobility shall be our lasting inheritance. This land you so love shall continue to love. We shall trail the long and majestic walk; your gallant walk shall be our cross and shepherd.” n


OBITUARY

27

Nelson Mandela

Passing of a legend

Ibtisam Ahmed is a student of history and politics. He lives in a fantasy and writes about reality

Ibtisam Ahmed looks back at the life of one of the world’s greatest leaders

A

t some point in the 1980s, Nelson Mandela was taken out of his prison cell in Robben Island for a medical check-up in Cape Town. As the person who had come to personify the anti-apartheid movement, one would think he would have been surrounded by security guards, or a throng of admirers, or both. However, the last time anyone had seen a picture of him was in 1964, just before he went to prison. The two decades he had spent in custody had aged him and he was able to walk across the beach, unhindered. Mandela once said in an interview that it felt liberating not to have been a recognisable face for once. That would perhaps be the last time that the man who shaped the whole world, and not just his own nation, would go unnoticed. Born Rolihlahla Mandela, the son of a Thembu tribal chief, he became the first person in his entire family to go to school. It was there that he received the name Nelson, as it was customary for children to be given Anglicised names. He grew up in the midst of tribal traditions at home, and apartheidoriented discrimination at school and afterwards at university, both of which he found stifling. He rekindled his love for African culture during his secondary education as a reaction to his white headmaster emphasising the superiority of European traditions and people. In 1941, after fleeing to Johannesburg to avoid an arranged marriage, Mandela met Walter Sisulu and joined a law firm with his help. A few years later, he joined the African National Congress (ANC); that same year, he married Evelyn Mase. Their marriage was short-lived; both later revealed they loved each other, but Mandela’s dedication for the ANC got in the way. In 1952, he set up the country’s first ever black law firm with Oliver Tambo. The ANC, meanwhile, became increasingly vocal and, fearing government retaliation, asked Mandela to make arrangements for them to work underground. Four years later, he was arrested and tried for treason alongside 155 others. The trial ended with his acquittal, but it spelled the end of his first marriage. In 1958, while the trial was still ongoing, he married his second wife, Winnie Madikizela. This marriage didn’t last either, but Winnie became the most active out of his three spouses and a liberation figure in her own right. Following the Sharpeville Massacre

A great life 1918 Born on July 18 in Mvezo, on South Africa’s Eastern Cape 1944 Joins the ANC 1960 Treason trial ends with acquittal; forms ANC’s military wing 1962 Arrested for trying to leave the country 1964 Sent to life in prison, at Robben Island 1990 After being transferred to Pollsmoor, finally walks free after 27 years 1993 Wins Nobel Peace Prize along with FW de Clerk for their efforts to bring stability to South Africa 1994 Leads the ANC to victory at the elections and becomes South Africa’s first black president 1997 Steps down as head of ANC; begins lifelong campaign against HIV/AIDS 2004 Helps South Africa become first ever African nation to secure hosting of FIFA World Cup to be held in 2010 2013 Passes away on December 5 after suffering from respiratory complications for two years

in 1960, the government took drastic steps to quell the anti-apartheid movement, including a blanket ban of the ANC. Mandela was among those who founded the group’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe. He was arrested again when trying to leave the country – he was charged with sabotage and was sentenced to life imprisonment at Robben Island. While in prison, Mandela began to cultivate relationships with other ANC leaders. Having advocated for militancy earlier, he also slowly changed the focus of the party towards more diplomatic and peaceful methods. It was during his stay in prison, first in Robben Island and then Pollsmoor, that he went from being an outspoken member of the ANC to its undisputed leader, as well as the symbol of South Africa’s struggles. The international community began to tighten its sanctions against South Africa under the dual aims of ending apartheid and freeing Mandela, and in 1990, President FW de Clerk lifted the ban on the ANC and freed Mandela on February 11. At the ANC’s first national conference, Mandela was elected its president and talks began on forming a new multi-racial democracy, the result of which was the elections in 1994 with universal suffrage –the first in South Africa’s history. The ANC won the elections by a landslide, and Mandela

became president. At his inauguration, Mandela said: “Let freedom reign, God bless Africa!” His deputy, Thabo Mbeki, took over the daily running of the country while Mandela began to promote a united South Africa around the world. In 1997, Mandela stepped down as ANC president; a year later, he married his third wife, Graca Machel. He became South Africa’s highestprofile ambassador, helping to secure the 2010 FIFA World Cup. His next big goal, however, was to eradicate HIV/ AIDS in Africa, something he had been campaigning from the minute he stepped down from office. He helped raise the profile of the deadly disease in the part of the world most affected by it, but also the most ignored. In 2007, he founded the Elders, a group of individuals noted around the world as statesmen, peace activists and humanitarians. He later stepped down from his own active role and remained an honorary Elder for the remainder of his life. Nelson Mandela changed the world. With politics becoming an increasingly cynical field, Mandela was perhaps the last great statesman who worked for the benefit of other and not himself. To call him an icon would be an understatement; to say he will be missed would demean the world’s mourning. n

W E E K E N D TR IBUN E FR I DAY, DE C E MB E R 1 3 , 20 1 3


28

LAST WORD Phil Humphreys

By the people, for the people? Why the petrol bomb was invented to stall tanks, not buses Phil Humphreys is a British former journalist who worked as a management adviser to an NGO in Rangpur, before joining the Dhaka Tribune as a consultant

P

eering out through the cage door of my CNG at Mohakhali this week, I noticed a child walking along the lines of traffic selling Bangladeshi flags. There were six to choose from, hanging in descending order of size from a huge bamboo pole. Six months ago – six weeks ago even – I would not have given this vendor a second glance. But this time I was taken aback. How could he hope to sell national flags at a time like this? Surely, there can be little pride left in the country right now. In a desperate bid to block the election, the main opposition BNP has been going for the nation’s jugular. Enforcers of its back-to-back transport blockades have uprooted railway tracks and derailed trains, exploded countless homemade bombs, and even set fire to a moving bus. The party that aspires to lead the country has turned to burning its own people alive. “If you want to wage your movement and test public support for your demand, you should come to the street,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said in a challenge to BNP leader Khaleda Zia. The premier said the opposition was pushing the country towards complete anarchy while its leader was “living a lavish life in her house”.

Mutually destructive brinkmanship

For sure, the blockades are hurting more than just those caught in the fireballs. On two separate days last week, angry labourers attempting to march on the BNP chief’s opulent pile in Gulshan were halted by the very same security forces she claims - with some justification - have been persecuting her party supporters. But these protesters were not political activists, and they were not obviously aligned with either side of the seemingly unbridgeable divide. They simply had bills to pay and families to feed. Fearing further sufferings of the common people, international overtures to both women have become increasingly stern. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has implored Hasina and Khaleda to “halt their destructive brinkmanship, which is pushing Bangladesh dangerously close to a

W E E K E N D TRIBUNE F R I DAY, DE C E M B E R 13, 201 3

major crisis.” There was a thinly-veiled threat also: “In other situations, we have seen cases of election-related violence where the perpetrators of such acts - including political leaders - have faced prosecution.” Behind the scenes, the diplomatic language is likely to have been even more direct. “I feel embarrassed as a Bangladeshi that our national problem has to be addressed by international initiatives, but when you are pushed against a wall, when our leaders invite this, what can be done?” said Iftekarazzuman, the executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh, when I interviewed him last week for the Dhaka Tribune.

Pity the poor bomb-makers

Most alarming in all of this are the stories of slum women and children now being hired by party activists to transport and explode petrol bombs, for as little as Tk300 a blast. Last week, police showcased two boys who apparently worked as day labourers before they were lured into detonating crude bombs and setting fire to vehicles as a “permanent profession. a” When I attended the 2004 European football championships in Portugal, TV crews were allegedly paying England fans 50 euros each to throw chairs through restaurant windows. But these reports are on an altogether different level. In Bangladesh, it seems the manufacture of bombs has become a cottage industry; their detonation a pay-as-you-throw offer from the opposition. Improvised incendiary devices were first deployed en masse during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, when General Francisco Franco ordered his Nationalist rebels to throw ignited glass bottles filled with flammable liquids under the Soviet tanks of the Spanish Republican forces. Tom Wintringham, a veteran of the leftist International Brigades which fought alongside the Soviets and Republicans in resistance to fascism, later published his guidelines for using the new crude bombs: “The bottle will smash, but the petrol should soak the blanket well enough to make a really healthy fire which will burn the rubber wheels on which the tank track runs, set fire to the carburetor, and frizzle the crew.” What would the BNP users’ manual

say? Light the touch paper, and then destroy the buses that take you to college? Torch your brothers, your sisters, your sons and your daughters?

‘A drink to go with the food’

The petrol bomb was first termed a ‘Molotov Cocktail’ during the Winter War of 1939-40, when Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov claimed in domestic propaganda broadcasts that the USSR was not dropping incendiaries on Finland, but merely delivering food to its starving inhabitants. The Finns referred to the bombs as ‘Molotov bread baskets’ and soon responded in kind by attacking advancing Soviet tanks with ‘Molotov cocktails’, which were ‘a drink to go with the food’.

The Finns deployed the petrol bomb like a mouse under the feet of an elephant. The blockade supporters are using it like a wolf on a newborn lamb In wartime London, the petroleum combat tactic of the Finns was being observed with interest by General Sir Edmund Ironside, who had been charged by Winston Churchill with formulating a plan to repel any German invasion of Britain. “I want to develop this thing they have in Finland,” he said in a June 1940 speech to leaders of the Home Guard. “A bottle filled with resin, petrol and tar which if thrown at a tank will ignite, and if you throw half a dozen or more you will have them cooked. It is quite an effective thing.” By August, the War Office had produced a blueprint for their use and within a year over six million Molotov Cocktails had been manufactured. As it transpired, the RAF ensured that the first petrol bomb was not thrown in Britain until the onset of ‘The Troubles’ between the Protestant and Catholic communities of Northern Ireland in the late 1960s. Here, it led to a redesign of the Land Rovers used by the Royal Ulster Constabulary which,

although impervious to conventional attack from bricks, stones and other projectiles, were vulnerable to ignited petrol leaking down the sides of the bonnet and into the engine.

You must believe in something

The point of all this, is that the people throwing Molotov Cocktails in Spain, Finland, Britain and Ireland and elsewhere were fighting a clearly defined enemy. They believed in a cause, and so they saw their targets as legitimate. In Bangladesh, however, what are the grounds for this present aggression? Certainly not sectarian like the Protestants and Catholics, insurrectionist like the Finns, ideological like the International Bridgades, or counter-revolutionary like Franco. No, this is nothing more than a political impasse, reached by two individuals in their determination to hold or acquire political power at almost any cost. In other theatres of war, the bombs are made by one side, and thrown at the other. In this country, the cocktails are made by the people, for use on the people. They are being tossed around like confetti at a wedding. Six decades after the Spanish Civil War ended, the Welsh alternative rock band Manic Street Preachers released a single inspired by a propaganda poster which was circulated by the Republican side in the conflict. The song highlights the leftist idealism of the Welsh rural farmers who signed up to defend democracy with the International Brigades, as captured in the opening verse: “The future teaches you to be alone / The present to be afraid and cold / So if I can shoot rabbits, then I can shoot fascists.” The soulful sound of the Manics has been running through my head during these last few weeks of senseless destruction in Dhaka. As Bangladesh is pushed “dangerously close to a major crisis” and the very principles of democratic government are being eroded, the song’s chorus line and title could deliver a more powerful message to the feuding leaders than any statement so far served up by the diplomats. Lifted directly from the poster, its meaning is simple and unambiguous: “If You Tolerate This, Your Children Will Be Next.” n



Weekend 1 33