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FRIDAY MARCH 21 2014 vol 1 Issu e 47



A Weekly Pro ductio n o f

DhakaTribune Vo lume 1, Issu e 47 M ARC H 2 1, 2 0 14 Editor Zafar Sobhan Weekend Tribune Team Sumaiya Shams Rumana Habib Faisal Mahmud Shah Nahian Adil Sakhawat Farhana Urmee Syeda Samira Sadeque James Saville Esha Aurora Art Direction/Photography Syed Latif Hossain Cartoon Syed Rashad Imam Tanmoy Rio Shuvo Contributors Tausif Sanzum Alan Jones Dina Sobhan Jennifer Ashraf Chanchal Kamal Priyo Design Mohammad Mahbub Alam Alamgir Hossain Colour Specialist Shekhar Mondal Kazi Syras Al Mahmood Production Masum Billah Advertising Shahidan Khurshed Circulation Wahid Murad Email: Web: Cover photo Breaking all boundaries by Syed Rashad Imam Tonmoy

Treat everyone equally


oday is World Down Syndrome Day, and it is being observed for the first time in Bangladesh. There are those among us who do not have as privileged a life as we do. Rather than shunning them, we can take some time to understand their lives from their perspectives. A little empathy takes us a long way. As we decide to stand up against discrimination, let’s see what Syeda Samira Sadeque has to say about families in Dhaka that are living in rather unconventional situations, in this week’s cover story. Elsewhere, Esha Aurora emphasises the importance of a proper education system for children with Down Syndrome in Feature, while Farhana Urmee argues that when it comes to child abuse, washing your dirty laundry in public just might be a good idea. In Post-Riposte, Shah Nahian and Esha Aurora debate whether your skin colour can determine whether or not you are beautiful. For those who want something different, Tausif Sanzum tells us about the 10 oddest jobs that you never knew existed; James Saville talks to Faisel Rahman, the managing director of an award-winning microfinance company in the UK; and ahead of tomorrow’s World Water Day, Faisal Mahmud reminds us that we need to immediately address the global water crisis. We wish you a happy, thoughtful weekend. n

2 3 4 5

Letters to the Editor This Week

6 Cover Modern families

Say What? Standpoint The war for water

8 Interview

Amelia Maltepe

9 In Review


10 Post-Riposte

On beauty

11 Top 10

Weird jobs

12 Photo Story


18 Out and About 20 Thought Plot

16 Feature

Education for children with Down syndrome

Stereotypes in books

21 The Way Dhaka Was

Curzon Hall, DU

22 Tough Love 23 WT | Leisure 24 Legal Eagle 25 Crime File

Journo killed in the capital

26 Business

Microfinance in the UK

28 Last Word

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March 14-20

A demonstrator shouts to a National Guard member at opposition stronghold Altamira square in Caracas on March 17. Venezuela’s authorities deployed hundreds of security forces, including troops in combat gear, into an opposition stronghold early Monday to stamp out protests against the leftist government of Nicolas Maduro. The show of force came as the death toll from a month and a half of protests rose to 29 Monday, after a National Guard captain shot one day earlier during a protest in the city of Maracay died AFP/Leo Ramirez

NSA Can Record, Replay an Entire Country’s Phone Calls The National Security Agency has technology capable of recording all the phone calls of an entire country and replaying them later, a report based on leaked documents said Tuesday. The Washington Post, citing documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, said the technology functions like a time machine by being able to reach into the past. The report said the NSA can collect 100% of the calls of a country and reach as far back as one month with the tools called MYSTIC and RETRO. The leaked documents say the tools can “retrieve audio of interest that was not tasked at the time of the original call.” The Post said that, at the request

of US officials, it withheld details that could be used to identify the country where the system is being used or other countries where it may be used in the future. If details about it are accurate, and the spy agency really can tap into the entire network from a country, the programme would be more powerful than any other known NSA programme. Dozens of documents leaked by Snowden have sparked outrage in the United States and abroad about the vast capabilities of the intelligence programmes. US officials have defended the programmes as needed to thwart terrorist attacks, but President Obama has ordered reforms for the surveillance programmes.

A Palestinian youth throws a stone towards Israeli soldiers as he jumps over burning tyres during clashes that followed a rally to support President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Hebron March 17. Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets on Monday to show their support for Abbas, who is under heavy pressure as he prepares to meet US President Barack Obama REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma

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to the editor Bravo, Fatima! The interview of Fatima Yesmin was a joy to read. I think she can be an inspiration for the young girls in the country who are planning to have a career. Fatima’s life is a remarkable example of how any woman can excel in life if given proper support. Her sense of responsibilty towards both her family and her job demands respect. Hats off, Fatima! Thanks to Adil Shakhawat for bringing forward her story. Ratan Basak Suruj, Tangail

Same argument There is no need for a Post-Riposte if one side is arguing against something and the other side is just “sarcastically” arguing for it, like what happened in the March 14 issue of WT. The whole idea of the column, I think, was to give two sides of a story, wasn’t it? Shaams Shahriar Dhaka

Truly touching

This might be a little late, but I could not help but write about the Last Word that came out on the March 7 issue of WT. Reading “The other side of the story” was really an emotional experience. Thanks to the author for sharing such a personal account with us. Much love to his daughter Warda. Amjad Reef Dhanmondi, Dhaka

The perfect comeback! I absolutely loved the cover page of last week’s Weekend Tribune. The American Apparel ad has clearly stirred a lot of debate and discussion in various respects. But it doesn’t matter what side you are on; you simply cannot ignore the bold statement that this very simple composition made of what else can be “Made in Bangladesh,” and even more importantly, be genuinely made BY Bangladesh. Maliha Mohsin Dhaka


of the week

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Gorilla born in rare C-section at San Diego Zoo has pneumonia

Gay rights supporters protest against the exclusion of the gay community from the St Patrick’s Day parade during the annual event in New York on March 17. AFP

Dozens of women throw their bras in the air during the fifth edition of the rally organised by Pink Bra Bazaar, a charitable organisation dedicated to the education for breast health and support of women with breast cancer, on March 15 in Paris. AFP

A baby gorilla born in a rare Caesarian section at the San Diego Zoo last week has pneumonia and was treated for a collapsed lung, officials said on Tuesday. The 17th gorilla delivered at the Southern California zoo developed the illness, an inflammation of the lungs with congestion, around the time of her birth, according to a statement from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “We’ve been working with the baby all weekend and after having several days of experience treating her, it’s pretty obvious that we’ve been dealing with pneumonia,” Nadine Lamberski, associate director of veterinary services at the park, said in a statement. Zoo spokeswoman Christina Simmons said veterinarians performed a procedure to inflate a collapsed lung on the animal, an endangered western lowland gorilla. “We continue to be cautiously optimistic,” she said. The gorilla has not yet been named. The zoo said the baby’s 18-year-old mother, Imani, was recovering well since the birth, which involved delivering the baby through the abdominal wall and uterus. They are among eight gorillas at the zoo. Reuters

UK legislator pans noguitar prison policy A guitar-loving British legislator has challenged a policy that he says makes it impossible for prisoners to play steel-stringed or electric guitars. The Labour Party’s Kevin Brennan Tuesday cited singers Johnny Cash and Billy Bragg as people who helped bring music into prisons for rehabilitative purposes. He said government policy was making it more difficult for prisoners to develop their musical skills. Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright said he wants prisoners to be able to play guitars solo or in groups but that “some restrictions” had to be imposed. There are fears that steel strings could be used as weapons. Wright said he would review regulations to make sure they are appropriate. One of Cash’s most famous songs, “Folsom Prison Blues,” depicts the plight of a convicted murderer stuck in prison. Wheelchair dancers perform during the closing ceremony of the XI Paralympic Olympic games at the Fisht Olympic Stadium near the city of Sochi on March 16. AFP W E E K E N D TRIBUNE F R I DAY, M ARC H 21, 201 4




Faisal Mahmud

The war for water As the world celebrates World Water Day tomorrow, it is high time we took the global crisis of this vital resource seriously Up in the sky Zingla Tripura is a little tense this year. The season of jhum – the “slash-and-burn” method of cultivation used in the hills – has begun in the hilly terrains of Bandarban. People are clearing land by setting bushes on fire, but there is a problem – there is no water. A stretch of days without rain has made Zingla jittery. Every day he looks up at the sky for traces of clouds, only to be thwarted in his attempt by the blazing sun. “We are used to struggling for water during the dry seasons. But this year in particular, the hills where we are going to do jhum are too far away from water sources,” Zingla says. “We will have to trudge up and down the steep mountain path with hundreds of buckets of water and store them in the ‘jhum ghar’ (temporary hut for jhum farmers atop the hills).” The situation is getting worse every year in that region: the fountains are drying up, the ‘jhiris’ (small mountain rivers) are getting thinner, and rain is becoming irregular. “We, the hill people, now conduct regular hunts for new water sources far from our homes – in the deep forests and hilly terrains,” Zingla adds.

In the land of rains The situation is not much different in the tea estates of Habiganj. Under the scorching sun, Sabuj Mia has to walk miles from his home to collect water for his daily chores. The tube-well at the tea estate were he works dredge up undrinkable muddy water due to the groundwater depletion. “We use the water from a “chorra” to wash clothes, dishes and raw food items, as well as to cook and bathe. But that source is also drying up. The garden authorities constructed some wells for the estate workers’ families many years ago, but those wells do not have fresh and usable water anymore,” Sabuj said. The scarcity of water has affected the tea business too. The unavailability of safe water and sanitation leads to the frequent outbreak of diarrhoeal diseases and increases the mortality rate. The pitiable health situation in the tea gardens is causing and an overall low productivity in the entire industry.

Faisal Mahmud is good at memorising seemingly unnecessary information and finds that journalism actually appreciates, if not nurtures, that sort of futile flair

Big stock

In the middle of water While Zingla and Sabuj spent a major part of their day searching for water, Afzal Ali from “Chairman er Char,” a newly formed char (an island in the middle of a river) in the channels of the Padma River near Bhairab, now knows what the phrase “water water everywhere, not a single drop to drink” really means. With the increase of population and decrease of arable land, many of the comparatively stable chars, like Chairman er Char, has turned into the habitat of homeless people like Afzal Ali, who are living well below the poverty line, floating here and there, and searching for a stable life. The number of chars is increasing in the Padma River and the Jamuna River channels as a result of erosion and accretion. These are not the places where one can get safe drinking water easily, as they get extensively flooded. “Each day, I have to row boats for hours to get to the mainland, where I collect the water I need for daily chores from the tube-wells. The water we get here is used for cultivation, but it is barely drinkable. After years, I finally have some land in the chars where I can grow my own crops, but this is the price I have to pay for that,” Sabuj said.

Perhaps the constant “war” for water that people like Zingla, Sabuj, Afzal and Zahela are going through every day is not strong enough a warning to ring a bell for us, to make us open our eyes

A little closer to home

How much do we care?

Zahela Banu’s day starts with a fight to get in front of a queue. In the very heart of capital, in the Lalbagh area, a good number of people like her spend the best part of their day in a crowded line, with pitchers and buckets, to collect water from a single tap. “As it is almost summer, the water supply in our homes has as good as stopped. Every day, we have to collect water from a few taps in our locality,” Zahela said, adding that these taps are overseen by some local influential people, who have installed deep tube-wells and supply the water to those taps without the consent of the authority concerned.

Many people have long been saying that the day is not far away when the world superpowers will engage in warfare for safe water sources, much like what they are doing now for fuel. Cynics have responded to that possible scenario by saying that it is hard to envision that absurd picture. But is it, really? Perhaps the constant “war” for water that people like Zingla, Sabuj, Afzal and Zahela are going through every day is not strong enough a warning to ring a bell for us, to make us open our eyes and see what really is going on. Evading the harsh reality may be convenient for us now, but that can only keep us safe for so long. n W E E K E N D TR IBUN E FR I DAY, M ARC H 21 , 20 1 4


Syeda Samira Sadeque is the human version of a turtle - small, (mostly) confused and slow. Not quite bothered about winning the race. She loves coffee, cupcakes, different kinds of socks, and ranting about everything that’s wrong with the world


Modern Families

Beautifully bridged, unconditionally stitched Syeda Samira Sadeque explores the stories and challenges of Dhaka families that have reconstructed traditional definitions of the institution of family

Never let go of your family – or any one member. They’re glue. If one leaves, the whole family collapses. So hold on. Don’t let go Unaisa


amily is a very primitive idea in our society,” says Rubina (not her real name), 29, who currently lives with her boyfriend of three years. “They don’t tell you that if you love someone, and even have a baby with them, that in itself is a family, regardless of what’s on paper.” Dhaka today has become a melting pot of different practices, both those imported from “western” ideals and more traditional ones. The institution of family is also experiencing this change. Over the years, the idea of family has broken out of the traditional definition, and people are adapting their own versions of it. This includes families with same-sex parents, adopted children, remarried/stepfamilies, single parents, domestic partners – the list is constantly evolving in a world where the definition of family is no more confined to a married, heterosexual couple and their biological children. Unaisa (not her real name) tells me in an interview: “Growing up in a household of seven people, I learned to be adaptable, and I learned to share. Whenever we were given something, we knew we had to share it with seven people. That’s just how it went.” Unaisa, who has a highprofile job in England, shares her experience of being raised in Dhaka in a family that included her biological mother, sister, stepfather, stepsister, half-sister and her khala (mom’s sister). Stepmothers or sisters are often portrayed as “jealous” or “scary” in both fairytales as well as movies for grownups. But Unaisa’s experience is a positive one. “It’s a beautifully broken, jumbled up family. And whatever I am today, I am because of them,” Dr HKS Arefeen, an anthropologist and researcher on family studies, tells me during an interview: “Most people in the middle-classes and in academic circles seem accepting of the new emerging lifestyles such

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as living together. Often, in the more affluent residential areas, if couples are living together, people don’t raise questions. Most people are not involved in their neighbours’ business as much anymore. In other areas, it would be a huge stigma.” “As long as there is urbanisation, the stigma attached to these ‘deviant’ families will disappear. With urbanisation, the focus on individuals lessens, and people are less attached to each others’ stories and challenges. People notice others’ business less and, if it continues that way, it will be possible for a greater variety of families to exist without being stigmatized,” says the sociologist. Dr Arefeen himself is a single father, who raised his children by himself with support from his extended family. According to Dr Arefeen, since our societies are kin-based, even the most nuclear families are not entirely independent of the extended families’ influence. This may be the factor which creates conflict in our society for anyone who chooses to shift away from the norm. Since even nuclear families tend to be intricately connected to extended families, it breeds a latent expectation that there will be less autonomy in all kinds of families. However, the institution of family is indeed experiencing tremendous changes in its structure, values and norms – both in our society and the world over. The transformation includes moving from extended families to nuclear ones, being accepting of adopted family members, stepfamily members, same-sex parents. That is why the Rubinas of our society have to fight their own wars to be able to live independent lives, with a definition of “family” they have adopted for themselves. But she, like Unaisa, has fought a war she is winning. Instead of fighting against them, we as a society should win with them.

When two people are living together, they have already given consent to each other. What more do you need? Rubina

Rubina became a widow in 2010, after three years of marriage. Her in-laws were not very supportive of her after her husband’s death. She had a high profile job, and they raised material demands on her. Independent as she is, she felt the need to move out and live by herself. Then she felt the pressure from her own family to remarry. “Their attitude was that I wouldn’t be able to live by myself without a man. And it got me wondering: What is this world? Where are we living?” Societal pressure for girls to marry – or remarry following the death of a partner or divorce – still exists to a large extent. This stems from the larger societal pressure – and constant promotion of the “ideal” family as consisting of parents (of opposite sex) with their (biological) children. Rubina is secretive about her current arrangement with Raj, given their more than 20 years age difference and the fact that they have chosen to live together instead of get married. “Usually, we don’t face any problems regarding our age gap. People are more accepting nowadays,” says Rubina. However, her sister stopped communicating with her during the first three months that Rubina and Raj were living together. Although now they have resumed communication, her sister avoids mentioning the arrangement during their conversations. Her in-laws still don’t know about it.


Unaisa lost her father when she was 18 months old and her sister was four years old. That was more than two decades ago, and she now lives in a (very healthy) family with a stepfather, stepsister and half-sister. “After my father passed away, my two khalas moved in with us to keep my mother company. Within two years, my mother remarried.” Since then, one of her khalas married and moved out, and another one moved out then came back. When Unaisa’s mother remarried, her stepfather had already had a daughter from his previous marriage. Within a few years of the marriage, they had another daughter. “I get to boast the variety in my family when I tell the world I have a sister, stepsister, and a half-sister. I only use these terms because it sounds so cool.” She adds: “I have had them in my life since I was really young. I have grown up with them and it’s all I knew of. There was never any distinction in how any of us were treated or loved. It was all the same.” Growing up in a household of four sisters also had its struggles: at times financial ones, at times

emotional ones. In the last two decades, her elder sister has gotten married, and her stepsister moved out, having temporarily severed ties with the family, which she only recently stitched up. “Because my stepfather had a communication gap with us – including with my stepsister – it, from early on, created a strange dynamic between my mother and stepsister. She left saying she needed a “break,” Unaisa said. But things are getting back to normal as they are beginning to get back in touch. “I never felt any difference otherwise. There were some people who had “problems” with it – but those were external members,” says Unaisa. Unaisa was surprised to see many of her closest friends afraid to ask her about her “arrangement” for a long time. “They used to be scared, or tried to be sensitive. My friends weren’t very sure about my family structure, but I am very transparent. It’s not at all a sensitive issue for me.” Unaisa considers her unconventional family central to her success today. n

Respect for each other shows much more in relationships than in marriages. They are living together because they love each other. Commitment and respect for each other must go both ways Rubina

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Amelia Maltepe

A poster girl for the third gender Weekend Tribune reprints the interview of the 23-yearold Bangladeshi transgender model living in Canada. The interview was originally done by Alan Jones, printed in the VICE magazine

When did you realise that you wanted to live as a transgender? It was on Halloween [in 2011]. I dressed up as a girl, and … I started getting attention. I just thought – that’s what I want to be. How did your friends and family react to the news? Oh my. I had a problem with my family in the beginning when I told them. Probably for two or three months, I had problems. Then my mother told me: “Well, if you like it, then do whatever you want to do, whatever makes you happy.” So now I have no problems with my family. They are very supportive and my friends are all the same. I have very good friends – my boyfriend, especially. He’s very supportive. Is your family in Bangladesh or Canada? I don’t have any family in Canada. They’re all back home. Every two or three days I am in contact with my family. My father called me last night. I don’t have any problems with my family. How did you end up becoming the Toronto SUNshine girl? I saw some of the newspapers. Afterwards, when I saw it, I said: “Oh, why don’t I try to do it?” So I filled out the form, and then I emailed it to them. And they replied to me and I went and did the photo shoot. I didn’t know it would be controversial. I didn’t have anything like that in mind and they didn’t ask me about my sexuality or whether I’m transgender or not. If somebody doesn’t ask me, I don’t have to tell, right? Were you worried that they might find out and pull the plug on the shoot? W E E K E N D TRIBUNE F R I DAY, M ARC H 21, 201 4

Ramtin Kazemi

I’m confident about myself. I am never afraid in public, and I know that people don’t know. People don’t realise, so I was not afraid that something like that would happen. So I did the photo shoot. Was the transition to doing that as a transgender fairly easy? I’m very happy that I did it and I don’t have any problems because I’m more confident. When I was a guy, I wasn’t very confident. I was a cute boy. I was still beautiful, but after I did the sex change, it changed my life. Were you worried during the photo shoot that the photographer might notice? No, no. There was no way they could notice. How could someone notice? I could do a bikini shoot. I go to the beach, people don’t notice. They

don’t see. I have my own underwear I can put on. Nobody would see. Are people ever shocked when they find out you’re transgender? My close friends know and they are my friends, so it’s not a problem. In public, I go to the gym, I go to clubs, I go out, and people never realise. They see me as a beautiful girl. You saw my pictures, right? In real life, people never even think that. I don’t need to tell anybody ... I have a boyfriend, so I don’t need to get into that with anybody. On the SUNshine Girl bio, you say you want to be Miss World. Were you inspired at all by Jenna Talackova’s bid to be Miss Universe? Yeah, I always wanted it, from the beginning, but I was not sure if I could do it. But after she came out, yeah, she inspired me.

Have you heard about the “Keep SUNshine Girls as women not trannies” petition that your photo inspired? I don’t know who made that, but I think this is very stupid, whoever is doing it. It doesn’t really bother me or make me feel bad. I know about myself. I am a very confident person. It didn’t bother me for one second. So, excuse me for asking this, but are you pre-op or post-op at the moment? I still have my thing. Do you plan on having a full sex change later? Honestly, I’m not thinking about that at present. I don’t know what’s going to happen in five years or 10 years … but I don’t think about that right now. n




A missed opportunity to address LGBT issues

Tausif Sanzum likes to think about life’s many mysteries. He is also interested in development work and is quite vocal about human rights

Tausif Sanzum reviews the controversial magazine


wo months after Roopban’s launch, the uproar over Bangladesh’s first ever LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) magazine has subsided considerably. When it came out in January, the media went berserk about its homosexual themes, while others highlighted the controversy to sell the news. But how many of these people actually picked up the magazine, and offered constructive criticism? Now that we have some distance from the hullabaloo, let’s examine Roopban’s positive and negative aspects. The publication of a magazine to make the public aware of Bangladesh’s LGBT

rights situation is legitimate and noble. We should credit the team behind Roopban for overcoming the odds and getting their magazine out. Just imagine the problems they must have faced in finding a publisher, financer and writers. They must have expected the backlash the publication would receive, and still went bravely ahead. Rasel Ahmed, editor of Roopbaan, told AFP at the magazine’s launch: “It’s a giant leap forward for the country’s LGBT people ... We hope it’ll raise awareness about the community, and will lead to wider social tolerance of gays and lesbians.” Does the magazine succeed in what it claimed to do? No. Roopban should have explored the problems the LGBT community faces, from the point of view of a Bangladeshi gay magazine. Things are changing for the

LGBT community in our country. The recent verdict recognising Hijras as a separate gender by law can be considered a major victory on paper. But Bangladesh remains a difficult place to be homosexual. The constitution prohibits it. Society is generally homophobic. Being a Muslim-majority nation does not

help with LGBT acceptance. A few people form their own communities. They lead a dual lives; in one they are “straight” for their family and friends, and in the other they are open about their sexuality with people they consider part of their homosexual community. At times the pressure of this dual life may create too much of a burden for a person to take and he/she might succumb to the pressure. This dual life was considered one of the main reasons for the recent suicide of a Bangladeshi college student in Central Park Lake. These issues take a backseat however, and the exoticism of homosexuality comes to the

forefront. As a whole, it fuels the prevailing ideas about homosexuality in Bangladesh. The magazine consists of short stories, interviews, advertisements and articles. The short stories mainly involve homosexual men fantasising about straight ones. Even the health article is eroticised. An article on underwear hygiene is a poor choice for a

magazine that the publishers knew would be closely scrutinised. The feature story about cruising grounds for gay men somehow does not show the theme of the magazine in a positive light. One of the rare gems in the otherwise eroticised magazine is an interview with the lawyer Sara

Hossain. It actually focuses on the LGBT issues in the country. A reader of this magazine might wonder if LGBT people consisted only of homosexual men. There is hardly any mention of lesbians, transgenders or other minority sexual orientation groups.

Since the publication of the magazine, the editor has gone underground because of the threats he has received. Since he was unavailable to comment, we asked a few people from the LGBT community about their reactions. One gay man in his early 30s who recently returned from London said Roopban was a wasted opportunity, which could have been used to spread awareness among the general public about LGBT issues. Another young homosexual man said it was a good read as an erotic gay piece, rather than as a hard hitting information campaign. With the editor going underground, and the negative backlash from the general public, I can only wonder if a second edition of the magazine will see the light of the day. However, I can only hope that the team behind Roopban will take the shortcomings of the first issue in to consideration, and try to overcome them in the second. n

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Can skin colour determine beauty?

Shah Nahian


eauty can be subjective, but in our society many of us believe that fair skinned women are more beautiful than the dark skinned women. It might all come down to personal preference in the end, but the pattern of perceptions, amongst men and women, is undeniable. Could this be purely the result of our culture and history? Actually, no. One study has shown that men of all races find fair skinned woman most alluring. Dr Shyon Baumann, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology at Toronto Mississagua University, explains: “What the research shows is that our aesthetic preferences operate to reflect moral preferences. Lightness and darkness have particular meanings attached to them and we subconsciously relate those moral preferences to women. Fair skin is associated with innocence, purity, modesty, virginity, vulnerability and goodness whereas darker women are seen as more promiscuous.” On a conscious level, we might try to define beauty in a more poetic, and palatable way, but when it comes to the age-old shallow comparison between lighter and darker skin tones, in general, the allure of a fair skin triumphs.


It is, however, a shame that the concept of beauty often brings out so much ugliness in people, as one does not get to choose the colour of one’s skin. n

Esha Aurora


hat should define beauty, at least superficially, is symmetry. If your idea of beauty is only skin deep, then you are better off dating a mannequin. In a culture obsessed with outward appearance, it is very easy to judge oneself by the color of one’s skin. It is something that you are born with. Being light-skinned or dark isn’t a matter of choice but a complex algorithm of genetics. Unless of course you feel the need to bleach your skin to emulate our European friends – who by the way bathe in the sun till they tan orange – the color of your skin is the luck of the draw really. What is ridiculous is basing the idea of beauty around inconsequential things like the colour of your skin. n


Cartoons: Prio/Dhaka Tribune

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TOP 10

Weird Jobs

Anything for the money!

You might be complaining about your 9-to-5, Saturday-to-Thursday jobs. But there are truly bizarre jobs out there that make yours look better, though weird does not always mean bad. Tausif Sanzum lists 10 such odd jobs around the world


Cow inseminator

This might be a bit of a bummer. After a special computer programme determines whether or not a particular cow is compatible with the sperm donor, a person manually inseminates it by inserting his arm – right up to his shoulder – into the cow’s reproductive organs.



Night Security Guard


Furniture Tester

11 Tausif Sanzum likes to think about life’s many mysteries. He is also interested in development work and is quite vocal about human rights

Most of us have heard guards whistling at night. This might be one of the most boring jobs in the world, and the risk factor is pretty high. There is no growth opportunity in this field, and these men are mostly undertrained, putting themselves at risk. Who said resting and being comfortable will not earn your bread and butter? There are people who get paid to sit or lay down on furniture for hours to check their comfort levels.

Chicken sexer

If the job title is not weird enough, check out the job description. It involves determining the gender of baby chickens so they can be sorted accordingly – the males are used for breeding purposes while the females are used for egg production.



This might be one of the crappiest jobs (pun intended) in the world but it offers a decent pay. The study of fossilised poop, in order to learn about the diets and lifestyles of our prehistoric ancestors, has a salary ranging from $30,000-$50,000.


White hat hacker

If you find hacking fun but do not want to get on the wrong side of the law, then this is the job for you. The payment does not hurt either at $125,000 a year. The job description involves helping companies or government offices to find security holes in computer systems.



At the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, there is a person who escorts ducks from the lobby to the fountain twice a day. Edward Pembroke did this for 50 years from 1940-1991. The Peabody has now initiated the same practice in Orlando, Florida. The entire exercise generates a lot of public curiosity.


Bird deterrent

While the previous entry was of a bird lover, this entry is of a bird hater. Employed in Rambagh Palace in Jaipur, India, two people work as flag wavers to keep pigeons away from the hotel’s courtyard fountain.



Pet Food Taster

I’m not sure how many of us would like to be in this position. There are two major qualifications in this job: firstly you need to be able to ingest dog or cat food; secondly, you need to be able to comment on its texture and consistency. I’m not clear on whether human palate is similar to dogs or cats.

Crime scene cleaner

If you thought this only happened in your favourite crime series, you’d be wrong. The crime scene cleaner’s job includes cleaning building damages, blood spots, bones and body parts – in short, clearing up the mess after a dirty offence takes place. It’s a dirty job, but it exists. W E E K E N D TR IBUN E FR I DAY, M ARC H 21 , 20 1 4



The holiday of colours A photo story by


Holi is known as the festival of colours and love. This year, there was plenty of both. People of all ages and faiths came out to celebrate with their Hindu neighbours in old Dhaka and at the Fine Arts Institute in Dhaka University. Fortuitously, this year’s Holi concided with the national holiday for Bangabandhu’s birthday on March 17.

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W E E K E N D TR IBUN E FR I DAY, M ARC H 21 , 20 1 4



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Education for children with down syndrome

Esha Aurora is a staff writer at Dhaka tribune where she excels at breathing, sleeping, eating and the occasional opinion making

Meeting their special needs Esha Aurora talks about the importance of providing the right tools to educate children with Down syndrome


ental disability is a huge social stigma in our society. Children born with it are usually left at orphanages or locked up at home. Down syndrome is one of the most common disabilities, it affects one in a thousand people globally. This year for the first time in Bangladesh, World Down Syndrome Day is being celebrated in an effort to bring greater awareness to this very common disability. Down syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by a third copy of a chromosome. It can be identified at birth by the following signs: low muscle tone, a single deep crease on the palm, a flat facial profile and upwardly slanted eyes. It can be detected before birth by a prenatal test, and also confirmed after birth with two tests called Karyotype and FISH tests. People with Down syndrome can easily integrate into society. Even

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though they have a lower than average IQ, they can function in society perfectly well given the right tools. Lack of education is the main reason why so many people slip through the cracks. There is a lack of education for parents and children alike. Not only do we stigmatise, but we also have a tendency to look down upon the parents as bearers of bad luck. The fact is we need to treat everyone as equal citizens and give them the rights due to them. One of the very basic rights would be education. People with Down

syndrome need special education. More often than not, they are sent to a “special school� where children with all kinds of mental disabilities are treated. In an environment where kids with severe autism are treated, children with Down syndrome get overlooked because all the classes are geared towards the child who has the least ability to learn. We do not, at this point in time, have an allocated budget for special needs schools. The education available for people with disabilities is privatised, meaning the curriculum is not

People with Down syndrome can easily integrate into society. Even though they have a lower than average IQ, they can function in society perfectly well given the right tools. Lack of education is the main reason why so many people slip through the cracks


regulated. Even though some of these institutions get generous funding from donor agencies, they are unable to accommodate everyone in need. Then there is the lack of education amongst parents and family members responsible for children with Down syndrome. As a result, we are often faced with these children not realising their full potential. Our general education does not prepare us with sensitivity classes that would help us deal with people with disability. Often we are faced with an innate sense of discomfort when it comes to dealing with a person with Down syndrome. We either talk down to them or just don’t deal with them at all. Not to mention the parents whose entire lives revolve around taking care of their child. Some parents will chose to leave them with a nanny, or leave them at an orphanage because they are considered a burden to society. If we had a policy of sensitivity in our

school system, we would be better equipped to integrate people with disability into society. Not only that, but if we had mandatory courses for parents of children with Down syndrome, we would find that these children were excelling in society. There are, however, some places in Bangladesh that provide support to parents, like the Facebook group called Down Syndrome Parents Support Group Bangladesh. There are schools such as Beautiful Minds in Uttara, and Army-run Proyash schools for the disabled all over Bangladesh. These are excellent places to start; here, parents can find information catered towards their children. Even though we don’t fully realise the human capital in Bangladesh, it is important to be sensitive towards those with special needs. Especially when World Down’s Syndrome Day is being celebrated in Bangladesh for the first time! n

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Out AND about Sonar Bangla by Millions

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

World record frenzy Shah Nahian writes about the new attempt at breaking another world record this Independence Day


am sure everyone still remembers the record we made on the 42nd Victory Day on December 16 last year. Now, on the occasion of the 43rd Independence Day on March 26, you have the opportunity to stand as one with millions in hopes of breaking the Guinness World Record for the most number of people singing a national anthem simultaneously. The gathering will begin by 6:30am at the National Parade Ground. A cultural show and other forms of entertainment will also take place to keep the participants engaged till the start of the main event. Anyone attending the event will receive a gift bag by the organisers and, at exactly 11am, a shot at the Guinness World Record. Further details on this event are available at The itinerary for the event is as follows: 1. 6:30am - Gathering before the event and opening of the gate 2. 6:30-10:30am - Gift bag distribution 3. 8-10:45am - Cultural show 4. 10:55am – Inauguration of the main event 5. 10:55-11am - Dry run 6. 11-11:10am Final performance 7. 11:10-11:20am - Celebration by BAF 8. 11:20am-12pm - Musical performance 9. 12-2:30pm - Guest exit Big stock

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

Color of Natural Disposition

Nature on canvas If you want to spend your weekend in the midst of art, the solo art exhibition at Alliance Francaise de Dhaka is the perfect place to be at. Farhana Urmee tells us more


olour of Natural Disposition, the third solo art exhibition by artist Bipad Bhanjan Sen Karmakar is taking place at La Galerie of Alliance Francaise de Dhaka. The exhibition was inaugurated by Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid on March 14. Dr Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir, MP and artist Samarjit Roy Chowdhury were also present at the inaugural ceremony. W E E K E N D TRIBUNE F R I DAY, M ARC H 21, 201 4

What to see

The acrylic work of the artist integrates his childhood memories of an ideal village with rivers and boats, colourful sails, flowers, green fields and kites in the sky. You can have a glimpse of the scenic beauty depicted on his canvas with the colours that the artist has perceived from nature.

Who is the artist?

Bipad, who studied fine arts at Dhaka University, claims his love and thoughts for painting actually dates back even before he was in fine arts school. His parents were also artists – his father was a goldsmith and his mother drew alpanas during festivals. Both his parents’ artistic backgrounds as well as upbringing in a village that was blessed by natural beauty contributed to his aptitude in painting.

When to go

The exhibition, which will run till March 27, is open for all from 3pm to 9pm on Mondays through Thursdays, and on Fridays and Saturdays, from 9pm to 12pm and 5pm to 8pm.

Out AND about Volunteer for Intellectual Property

The fight for copyright

19 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

Shah Nahian invites you to join the fight to protect intellectual property What is it? April 26 marks World Intellectual Property (IP) Day. The event was established by the World Intellectual Property Organization to raise awareness among people about the impact of patents, copyrights, trademarks, etc, in daily life. IP Day also celebrates creativity and the contributions by artists, inventors and innovators all over the world. This year, Bangladesh Copyright and IP Forum (BCIPF) is celebrating IP Day by hosting a day-long campaign to create awareness about the importance of protecting copyrights and intellectual property.

Why it is important Whether it is art, music or photography, piracy - the counterfeiting and theft of intellectual property poses a threat to all individuals and business organisations. This day-long boot camp will try and teach how precious ideas are, and the means of protecting one’s ideas.

How to participate Anyone who is interested in taking part in the boot camp can register at Details can be found at volunteerforIP. Registration for the event runs from March 23 to April 3.

World Down Syndrome Day

Supporting the unnoticed

Sumaiya Shams is senior staff subeditor working at Dhaka Tribune. When she isn’t busy with grammar corrections, she tries to write. You can reach her on Twitter: @sumaiya_s

Sumaiya Shams invites you to join the world in supporting children with Down Syndrome Japan Bangladesh Friendship Hospital is collaborating with Robi Axiata Limited and AMDA Bangladesh to observe World Down Syndrome Day (WDSD) today in the capital. There will be several events throughout the day to raise awareness about Down Syndrome.

What is Down Syndrome? Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder that is commonly associated with delays in physical growth, characteristic facial features and mild to moderate intellectual disability. It is the most common

genentic abnormality in humans, occurring in about 1 per 1000 children born every year, according to the European Journal of Paediatrics.

The purpose of WDWD

On WDSD, which is observed on March 21 every year, people with Down Syndrome as well as people who are associated with them get together to raise public awareness about Down Syndrome. Activities and events are organised throughout the day, advocating the

rights, inclusion and well being of those who have this disorder. This year, Japan Bangladesh Friendship Hospital and AMDA Bangladesh joined hands to create Down Syndrome Parents Support Group Bangladesh, which aims to serve as a platform for children born with Down Syndrome and their parents to assist them in special needs advocacy, education, employment and social inclusion. The day is being observed for the first time in Bangladesh. This year, the theme is: Health and Wellbeing

– Access and Equality for All.

When and Where

The celebrations will start at 9am today, on the Japan Bangladesh Friendship Hospital premises at Dhanmondi, Dhaka.

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

Thought Plot

Stereotypes in books

The pernicious influence of superstition Farhana Urmee finds out that there are books that will teach you how to stereotype women ... and men


was on my way to the office when a cat ran across the road in front of the rickshaw I was travelling on. My superstitious mind immediately thought: “There must be some trouble waiting ahead for me!” I asked my rickshaw puller to stop and wait for someone else to overtake and rid me of the bad luck heralded by the omen. The rickshaw puller seemed less than pleased. I was nearly as annoyed as the rickshaw puller, when after waiting for ten minutes in the summer heat, the street remained deserted. He asked why we had to wait. Embarrassed, I could not answer. When, idly scouring a bookshelf at home, I found a dusty book that purported to explain the link between a person’s physical features and their character, I remembered my earlier

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embarrassment at admitting to a rickshaw puller that I was a believer in stupid superstitions. I was relieved; this book proved I was not the only gullible person in the world. The book turned out to be quite fascinating. Did you know that Hastini women who are fat, with small eyes, thick lips, thin hair and dark skin are dishonest, rude and quarrelsome? (NB: guys searching for a faithful wife should be on the lookout for a Padmini type of woman who has red lips, bright skin and white teeth). Ladies, please avoid Aswa men who have a dark skin tone (which apparently mirrors the darkness of his mind), who are overly muscular, or those whose feet clack against the ground loudly when they walk (a sure warning that a sinner cometh). Treat male beauty with caution; this characteristic is present in the very finest religious and softly spoken Mriga men, who have a heart full of love and cannot think of conducting any sin, but also by Shashak who imitate them. Shashak are good at mingling with people (mostly women other than their own wives) and falsely pretend to be the gentlest of men. Unlike Mrigras, they have corrupted minds! Once you’re done laughing, a serious question remains: How can people be discriminated on the basis of what they look like, on the structure of their face, the softness of the skin, the sharpness of the nose? How can those possibly relate to the characteristics of a person,or determine the suitability of a life-partner? Sadly, stigmas about people’s bodies are still a part of our society. They might not be as crude as the ones described in the book but they aren’t a million miles removed either, and they continue to proliferate– even in supposedly educated circles. I couldn’t find the author’s name in this particular book. Perhaps the writer, with publication looming, felt the same shame at his superstition that I felt on that day with the rickshaw puller. Let’s hope so. n




I used to go through Dhaka University every morning on my way to school with my Baba. He introduced the six-year-old me to many parts of DU, especially where he used to hang out with his friends when he was a student there. But I was particularly mesmerised by the magnificence of Curzon Hall. Years later, when I enrolled at Dhaka University, I found myself still fascinated by that building. It has unique architecture - a symbol of the British reign in the subcontinent. With the beautiful garden at the front and the pond beside Shahidullah Hall behind, Curzon Hall was a favourite place to hang out with friends when I was studying at DU. It was especially beautiful during the festivals. Now, thousands of miles away, I cherish every moment I spent there.

Curzon Hall, 1972

Bangladesh Old Photo Archive

Tunazzina Chowdhury Mithun Arlington, Texas


Chanchal Kamal

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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@



I recently turned 18, but my parents still treat me like a baby, as though I can’t possibly fend for myself out in the “big, bad” world. They insist on chaperoning me wherever I go – even to school! If they can’t make it themselves, they send my nanny along. It’s so embarrassing! There are no sleepovers, no parties, and no staying out after 5pm. I am about to enrol in university, and it looks like I’ll continue having a chaperon there as well. I feel suffocated. What do I do?

A cousin of mine just got engaged to this really gorgeous guy. He is super smart, and comes from a well-off family. My cousin is not exactly agreeable to this marriage and only said yes because her mother – my aunt – blackmailed her using her father’s poor health. Even though her fiancé is just perfect, she does not feel he is “the one” for her. I want to help her through this and don’t want her to do something she doesn’t want to do. How do we make our family understand that this is wrong and my cousin should not be coerced into an unwanted marriage?

I suggest that if they insist on treating you like a baby, you behave like one. Every time they insist on going somewhere with you, throw a full-scale tantrum: ear-splitting wailing, feet stomping, slamming doors, etc. Regress to childhood by wearing only frilly, pink clothes at home and insisting on using a pacifier and having your nanny feed you mushy food. It would be absolutely ridiculous behaviour on your part, but so is being treated like a child when you are chronologically and legally an adult. Your parents are bound to get frustrated with your odd behaviour after a point, which is when you sit them down and explain that: 1. In order to act like a mature adult,

you need to be treated like one. Your parents should allow you to grow up and take care of yourself, as they will not be around to take care of you forever. And if they don’t, you will genuinely not be able to fend for yourself in the “big, bad” world. 2. They have raised you to be a morally virtuous individual with a strong set of principles, much like your parents themselves. You must be trusted to make the right decisions for yourself as taught, and prove to them that they have done a good job raising you. 3. If they don’t stop, you will leave for college and never come back. EVER. n

Syed Rashad ImamTanmoy/Dhaka Tribune


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It is patently obvious from your query that you’re the one lusting, after your cousin’s fancy fiance. Why don’t you offer yourself up as a sacrifice instead? You’ll be rewarded in the afterlife for your noble gesture, and also have a pretty good time in this life. And your cousin will be forever indebted to you. Since this won’t be too easy to pull off with Aunty Dearest hanging

about I suggest elopement. If the fiance is not agreeable, you may have to drug and kidnap him. Your cousin shouldn’t be coerced into an unwanted marriage, but who said anything about him? In fact, it would be a feminist move on your part. After years of subjugation to the man, you will be turning the tables … in an admittedly psycho way, but nonetheless...

As for you cousin, is there another guy who will fit the bill, maybe someone less intelligent and goodlooking? A homely, but charming simpleton she’s been secretly pining after? Your job is to convince Aunty that he will be a good husband and dutiful son-in-law, not the philandering fiance that you will kindly take off her hands. I predict a win-win. n


Solution and clues for last week’s Sudoku

23 Crossword



1 Set off after vehicle shipment (5) 5 Three points for something fresh (3) 6 Writer points after pasta (5) 8 Assign everyone of talent first (5) 10 Snitch goes back on the road (3) 11 Fixed glare of composer (5)

1 2 3 4 7 8 9

Solution and clues for last week’s crossword

Get hold of fitting remedy outside (7) Managed and galloped (3) Figure of pioneer (3) Sew anew bad tear in pullover (7) Vanilla contained nothing (3) Dined at eleven, initially (3) Record fallen tree (3)


1 Keep an eye on timepiece (5) 5 A quiet tree (3) 6 Finally the long way up hot country (5) 8 Month for pair around fifty (5) 10 Bolt can be found in here, like Brazil? (3) 11 Joint the Spanish used for violins (5)


1 Break sounds like opposite of strong start (7) 2 Attempt score in rugby (3) 3 Laugh at end of bowler, for example (3) 4 Put everything into performance without depth (7) 7 Half keep up with youngster (3) 8 This clue was all-consuming (3) 9 Acrobat holds mug (3)

DID YOU KNOW? During the late 1800s, people could be admitted to the West Virginia’s Hospital for the Insane (Weston) for, among other things, reading a novel, laziness, falling from a horse in war, bad company, and “imaginary female trouble.”

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Jennifer Ashraf Kashmi

Jennifer Ashraf is a barrister and solicitor of England and Wales. She is currently Senior Partner at Legacy Legal Corporate. When she is not solving complicated legal problems, Jennifer is usually found travelling to exotic locations sampling the indigenous cuisine

Rio Shuvo/Dhaka Tribune

Got a problem? Write to Jennifer at weekend@


I met a guy online some five years back, and we’ve been “together” ever since. Despite the difference in our ages (I’m 19 and he’s 25), we have a really good understanding and a solid relationship based on mutual love and respect. The only catch is that he lives in India, and well, he’s Hindu. Since I know my parents will cause trouble over this, I’ve decided to go to India and marry him in court and change my religion from Islam to Hinduism. If my parents find out, will they be able to come after me and bring me back? What legal help can I get to secure our future?

Dear Reader, Firstly, if you ask me, I don’t really see much of an age difference, especially with the fact that you have both managed to sustain a relationship for five years; in today’s day and age that is definitely a quite a feat to achieve. What I’m worried about, however, is the fact that this must have been a long distance relationship. You mentioned that your boyfriend lives in India and that he’s Hindu. I’m making an assumption that he is an Indian national, and not a Bangladeshi national who is currently living/ working in India. And unless he has come to Bangladesh, or you have been to India, at least for a cumulative amount of 1.5 years, the basis of your relationship must have revolved around Skype, Whatsapp, Facetime and/or Viber. Whilst technology has done its bit in shrinking the world, the fact remains that some decisions should not be based with technology as the primary means of communication. Having said that, let’s look at the legal aspects of your situation and the available remedies. Since you are

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19 already, you are no more a minor and legally an adult now. This also means that now you have the ability and capability to convert into another religion without any legal barrier. You are also able to exercise your option of entering into a court marriage in India. For this, however, a few conditions will have to be fulfilled: at least one of the parties will have to be an Indian citizen (I’m assuming your boyfriend will be able to comply with this); the bridegroom will have to be 21 years of age and the bride will have to be 18 years of age (this condition is also satisfied); neither party has a living spouse; neither party is an idiot or lunatic; the parties are not within the degrees of prohibited relationships; each party involved should not have any other subsisting valid marriage. Since all the conditions seem to be satisfied here, it doesn’t appear that there will be any problems in this regard. There are a few documents which you will have to get hold of in order to ensure that the process goes smoothly: an application form duly signed by both parties, documentary evidence of the date of birth of both parties, a copy of the passport of both parties with valid

visa, residential proof of both parties, documentary evidence regarding stay at district in India of one of the parties for more than 30 days (proof of stay or report from the concerned SHO); “No Objection Certificate” or “Marital Status Certificate” by a foreigner partner from the concerned embassy or consulate in India; death certificate or divorce decree whichever is applicable, in case one of the parties had any marriages in the past. What remains to be seen is where you and your boyfriend wish to settle down once this work is over. If you wish to settle in India, then the Indian laws will apply, and, alternatively if you decide to settle down in Bangladesh, then the Bangladeshi laws will apply. At this point, considering your primary question, it would appear that your family may be unable to prevent you from marriage. However, the question still comes up whether you’re willing to go against your family and give everything up for the sake of a relationship which was based so heavily on communication via technology. Wouldn’t it be better if you had a discussion with the family first without taking such a drastic step? Food for thought. n

Crime File


Journo killed in the capital

Reporter plummets to death from police station rooftop Adil Sakhawat and Mohammad Jamil Khan investigate the mysterious killing of a journalist


t’s been one month since journalist Shah Alam Sarkar, 36, published a piece in the little known magazine ‘Aparadh Daman’ attacking Uttara Trust College Principal Bashir Uddin Ahmed. Shah Alam also worked for Asia Barta and PhotoJatra. Following the report, Bashir Uddin filed a general diary with Uttara West police station against Shah Alam. The investigating officer then called Shah Alam to the police station. On March 2, Shah Alam died after falling from the rooftop of that police station. According to the FIR report made by Sub-inspector Mamunur Rahman, Shah Alam died after falling from the sunshade on the building’s seventh floor as he tried to escape the police station using the space created for air conditioning. However, family members of Shah Alam allege that the police, with the connivance of Bashir Uddin’s followers, tortured him before pushing him off the roof to his death.

The police Yaba The

customers as the Yaba Queen. when she was “I can’t say anything. I don’t evenMoreover, know where the body is.” in jail, ManilaUttara createdWest a syndicate of female Md Mohsin, assistant sub-inspector, police station On June 20 last year, prisoners inside the jail to expand her business. After she wasCollege granted Manila the Chawdhury, “Neither police nor22, the principal of [Uttara] Trust was arrested in from the capital by the bail, she helped her syndicate pushed him off the roof.” criminal intelligence division of the members get out of prison on bail, starting her business all over again. police, along with five others. Police Saifullah Mohammed, assistant commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan recovered 30,000 yaba pills from Now that she is in jail, her syndicate Police (North) Manila and her associates, worth members are running her drug business, a DB official. Tk65lakh. cases diary “Principal Three Bashir separate filed a general with according the policetostation. The were filed against arrestees investigating officerthe called both of them to the police station for atquestioning. Chawkbazar, WhenRampura the officerand started interrogating them both, Shah Motijheel police stations. Alam suspected that he might be arrested. He then ran to the rooftop of Thebuilding police and found Manila the triedthat to climb down a drainpipe. But he fell down and ran heratdrug business posing as a died the scene.” student. She isdeputy in hercommissioner third year of of police (Uttara division) Nisarul Arif, studies at the Finance Department of“Sub Inspector Morshed Ali Mridha Dhaka Titumir College. Before, she filed a case regarding the journalist’s had beenWe imprisoned for 10 months death. are investigating that. Already we have arrested four people due to are her the involvement the yaba who principal in suspects: Bashir Uddin, a teacher Jahidul Islam, business. When interrogated, she Nazrul Islam.” Anisur Rahman, and the carpenter confessed that she used to traffic pills from via heTeknaf “If you wantMyanmar to know how fell from the rooftop and how he died, then illegally, sell them to tell you anything about this over come toand theused policetostation. I cannot different phone.” areas in Chittagong and Dhaka. According to the DB, she Rafiqul Islam, Officer-in-charge of Uttara West police station was known to her associates and



“Shah Alam was a good person. He tried to help a carpenter called Nazrul Islam, who was being extorted, by publishing a story about Bashir Uddin who wanted to cheat Nazrul. Now I hear he is dead and the police are saying he jumped from the rooftop. This is a fiction devised by the police to conceal what actually happened.” Rafiq Ullah, tea stall owner beside Uttara West police station “We saw that the body bore signs of torture. Even his hands and legs looked like they had been broken.” A local journalist

The family members

“Police killed my husband after torturing him inside the station. They called my husband at 10 am that day, but when I tried his number at 2.30

pm I found his phone switched off. In the evening a police official called me and told me that my husband was dead and that he’d been taken to Dhaka Medical College Hospital. Then I went to Uttara West Police station but the police did not let me enter. They also did not provide me with my husband’s camera and mobile phone.” Mukta Akhter Suma, wife of Shah Alam

File Photo: Journalist Shah Alam Sarkar

“Shah Alam had no cases against him, so why would he want to escape? This is nothing but a preplanned killing by the police. The police were involved in killing his brother when we went to the police station to file a case; they not only refused to take our complaint but also forced us to leave the station.” Kamal Mollah, elder brother of Shah Alam n W E E K E N D TR IBUN E FR I DAY, M ARC H 21 , 20 1 4

26 James Saville is a feature writer for Weekend Tribune. He can usually be found in the canteen scoffing porotas; occasionally he submits an article


microfinance in the UK

James Saville interviews British-Bangladeshi Faisel Rahman, founder and managing director of Fair Finance, a UK microfinance company that last year won an award from the British prime minister, and now has over 10,000 clients in London I’ve never heard of microcredit in developed nations, can you explain?

When you think about the UK you don’t really think about financial exclusion. You think about people with too much access to credit; you think about over indebtedness; you think about how to give people more education rather than more credit. But there are four million people in the UK who use doorstep lenders, people who come around to your house offering you credit and charging interest rates of around 400%-500% to lend you £500-600, and then come to your house weekly to collect. There are a further two million people who

lender up and offered to refinance the loan so long as he left her alone. We had quite a long argument. I then did something a bit unwise; I invited the media down to cover the story. They tried to find him, and they wrote the story up in the paper with his picture, and mentioned my name in the story. I got a death threat from this guy who didn’t like the fact that he’d been profiled. That was one of three I received in the first years of setting up the business. I suppose if I had any less of a reaction, I’d worry that I was doing the wrong thing.

“‘Microfinance is something we do in India and Bangladesh but not here in the UK.’ They said things like: ‘We’ll if we’re not lending to people here in the UK it’s because they can’t afford it.’”


Not just for developing countries use very expensive short-term “payday” lenders, who charge upwards of 2,000%-3,000% interest. This is a similar problem microfinance organisations in Bangladesh are trying to solve, except in the UK we have legalised this lending. I thought well if there’s a way of making microcredit work to tackle this in a village in Bangladesh, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work in the UK.

Was it difficult getting the company off the ground?

I had to use my credit card to make the first loan … I had a better chance of being repaid than some guy knocking on the door demanding cash and charging 10,000%. I first set up the company in East London, which has a very multicultural community including many Bangladeshis, and many informal lenders with the support of some local organisations and community groups. One of my first clients was a lady who borrowed £250 from a local doorstep-lender, to buy a headstone for her husband’s grave. He charged her 1,064% interest, and she had paid back nearly £3,500 to this lender. We were on this man’s his patch, and I decided to aggressively compete to put him out of business. So I rang the W E E K E N D TRIBUNE F R I DAY, M ARC H 21, 201 4

How did you know you were on the right track?

Within a year we became the most well-known microfinance programme in the country. This enabled me to get some raise a mix of public, philanthropic and social investment to launch the company officially in 2005. With a few social investors, and some banks. I was able to raise £4m in 2009, allowed the business to grow exponentially across London, so much so that we were recently able to raise another £2m. And now we plan to launch countrywide.

Did you study the microcredit model in Bangladesh?

I spent three months in a village in Mymensingh, working at a Grameen Bank branch office, interviewing the staff talking to hundreds of people on their experiences of microfinance. In my final year at Cambridge I had to do a dissertation. A family friend took me to see a lecture by Muhammed Yunus at London School of Economics. I was really fascinated by what he was trying to achieve in small villages in Bangladesh. I sent a letter to him, and The Grameen Bank offered an internship to come to Bangladesh to complete my dissertation. My initial work was to go out there

to study the impact of microfinance on the economics of small villages. After doing all this research they said I could come back after I finished my degree and come and work there. When I was working at Grameen Bank, I met some people at the World Bank who were very fascinated in the research I was doing. I started working on something called microenterprise. The World Bank hired me to work for a year as a consultant for their microenterprise strategy, and I got to work on their $120m poverty alleviation programme and learnt what made 200 of the best microfinance firms in Bangladesh successful.

When did you make the connection between Bangladeshi microcredit and the needs of the UK?

Sitting in the villages in Bangladesh, I was fascinated to see that the local money lenders behaved in exactly the same way. When I came back to the UK and said let’s see if we can give this a go. The first five or six questions I had from various UK banks I was working with, it was very much: “Microfinance is something we do in India and Bangladesh but not here in the UK.” They said things like: “We’ll if we’re not lending to people here in

the UK it’s because they can’t afford it.” What I realised is that they actually weren’t interested in dealing with poor clients because actually it’s quite complicated. People with low incomes have quite complex financial needs. Their incomes are non-standard in that they go up and down depending on whether they’ve got work, and they want to work in a cash economy. They need personalised relationships with their financiers, and mainstream banks are not able to provide this. Most banks are about: How do you automate the process? How do you credit score someone on a system? How do you make the decision as quickly as possible? In the UK, like in many developed countries, they have a very sophisticated banking model that relies on a very high-degree of technology, and that technology relies on certain algorithms and models that puts weight on certain things. This is the opposite of door-step lenders who know where you live know about your income and spend a bit of time working out how long they can give you to repay. The banks can’t give you that kind of flexibility or personalised service. So I realised I needed to create something quite new, quite bespoke.


I’m a dual citizen and I learnt Bangla as my parents spoke Bangla at home. Very soon after I was born, my mum took me to spend a couple of years living with my family in Dhaka.

listening to strange Bollywood movies that didn’t make any sense.

Did you have a strong connection with your Bangladeshi heritage?


The Big Society Award Faisel’s company Fair Finance was awarded a “Big Society Award” by British Prime Minister David Cameron last year. “Fair Finance has supported 200 London businesses to access the finance they need to get started or grow,” the prime minister said. “I’m delighted to be recognising the boost Fair Finance provides with this Big Society Award” The Big Society Awards were introduced in 2010 as part of Prime Minister David Cameron’s “Big Society” initiative which aims to encourage social businesses and voluntary organizations to provide public services in the place of government as part of a doctrine of “collective action and collective responsibility.” Critics of Big Society have argued that the concept is ill-defined and merely designed to justify the government’s program of deep public spending cuts.

What was it like being an immigrant family in the UK? My parents left just as the Liberation War was kicking off. They were on one of the last planes to be allowed out of the country. You can imagine what the UK was like for Asian immigrants in the 70s. It wasn’t as welcoming as it is today. I don’t think their university education was recognised. So my dad had to take a job in the day and he studied accountancy by night. My mum really worked all day as well, doing whatever she could in retail shops. Eventually they both got jobs in banks. I grew up in south London, in Tooting. My early years were spent

I’m a dual citizen and I learnt Bangla as my parents spoke Bangla at home. Very soon after I was born, my mum took me to spend a couple of years living with my family in Dhaka. I used to travel back to Bangladesh quite a lot, we’d go back every summer when possible to try and connect with my large extended family. My mother has six sisters and a brother, and my dad has two brothers and two sisters. The amount of first cousins led us to joke that we had a cricket team that we could field every summer. We actually had a team big enough that we could play against ourselves! We’d all speak Bangla for three months and when we got back to the UK at the end of the summer I would really struggle to speak English and after university, I lived in Bangladesh for two years working at the Grameen Bank, and so I became completely bilingual, speaking and dreaming in fluent Bangla. n

W E E K E N D TR IBUN E FR I DAY, M ARC H 21 , 20 1 4

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

Last Word Farhana urmee

Shame on us Our culture of secrecy and deference perpetuates child abuse


rrespective of generation or culture, there has always been misconduct committed by adults towards children – physically, mentally and sexually. The burden of this experience is bitter and can last for the rest of the child’s life. Child abuse may occur in different forms. A child can be bullied. A child can be forced to do hard physical labour despite the inability to do so. Adults can involve children in sexual activities. Child abuse also comes in the form of corporal punishment, a practice that prevails in schools and private tuitions as well. Abusive conduct can take place anywhere, from home to school to dorms to public places to religious institutions. In our country, children are more vulnerable, as adults are not educated about child abuse, and when such situations arise, they try to keep it a secret rather than deal with it. Abuse of children is mostly unreported and widely unspoken of due to social stigmas, making the problem more complicated. Because families do not speak freely with children about certain tabooed issues, including child abuse, there is little scope for parents to warn children about such risks in the first place. Children living in abusive families are not allowed to talk about it, and those on the streets or engaged in child labour are not given any room to talk about the violation of their rights. Privileged or unprivileged, the fear of being abused is still equal for all children. Certain cultural and societal norms also stop children from reporting these issues. Children are taught not to talk in front of elders, and that the adults are always right. In such a social context, children end up in the most helpless situation where no one is not ready to listen to them. Moreover, there is limited practice of child psychology in our country. A few cases of abuse in Bangladesh have led victims to commit suicide. Others can drown in post-traumatic

W E E K E N D TRIBUNE F R I DAY, M ARC H 21, 201 4

School curricula should educate children on adolescent health issues, sex and reproduction, which will curb the problem of unwanted pregnancies and abortions among adolescent girls stress disorder. Child abuse of any form often causes depression, leads to sleeping and eating disorders, and in cases of physical and sexual abuses, can cause other health issues. The child might drop out from school or may veer towards drug addiction, or contract sexually transmitted diseases. Apart from the policies and laws, what can make a difference is the change in attitude towards children: firstly by respecting children’s level and limits of working as much as the adults, and secondly not exploiting them for being minors. School curricula should educate children on adolescent health issues, sex and reproduction, which will curb the problem of unwanted pregnancies and abortions among adolescent girls. Moreover, an open culture can be created for children in schools, where they are not frightened to ask questions or talk about abuses they have experienced. The perpetrator may be someone from a circle of families, teachers, employers and friends. Children should not be fearful of being abandoned or disowned for sharing their experience, or for demanding justice. Targeted campaigns both for adults and children, such as awareness building programmes, must be increased both in the public and private sectors. In a conservative culture where children are expected to respect elders, some adults may take advantage of it. But adults cannot go on in a society where children’s right and safety are at stake. Child abuse is not just a shame for a victim; all of society must share this burden. Any problem, however deep-rooted or far spread, can be solved once we start to talk about it. We have to face it to heal it. n

The internet

Living in this age of information and communication technology, there is also a platform for child abuse on the Internet. This is done in various forms, including forcing children to be sexually stimulant, getting them involved in sexual activities, video documenting them during sexual activities, and spreading the videos online. This not only magnifies the extent of abuse, but also the emotional scar.

Child labour

At their workplaces, many children are assigned long hours of work in exchange of extremely low wages - an easy option for an employer. In a country like ours where a huge number of children venture out of their homes to earn their bread, getting abused is quite prevalent. The risk is doubled and consequences much worse when the child is a girl or has disability.

Corporal punishment

In schools, teachers and headmasters often resign to corporal punishment to teach and penalise children. It can get so bad that the child may need to be taken to the hospital and undergo prolonged treatment. The high court banned corporal punishment through a directive on January 13, 2011 – a laudable measure against child abuse. Further, the National Children Policy 2011 has a section emphasising the rights more and protection of children. It says: “Steps shall be taken to ensure the security and safety of children against all forms of violence, alms mongering and physical, mental and sexual abuses. Effective public awareness programs shall be undertaken to stop violence on children and abuse of them.”

Child marriage

Another form of child abuse is child marriage, where girls are more vulnerable to sexual abuse and physical abuse due to dowry issues. However, measures have been taken against this practice. Last year, the government drafted a law against child marriage, and we a have a number of non-government organisations which are working to raise awareness about this form of abuse.

Sexual abuse

According to Fahima Nasrin vice-president of Bangladesh National Women lawyers association around 20,000 children are working as commercial sex workers around the country, and at least one child is abused in the country in every single minute. The sexual abuse of children has no boundary; it can take place anywhere – the street, schools, home or any other setting. Even homes and families are not as safe as assumed for children as they are often abused by family members, relatives, neighbours and/or friends. Children of sex workers are also defenceless and taken as granted to be abused sexually, and stigmatised for their parents’ profession.

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