Feb 13, 2013

Posted on Wednesday, February 13, 2013

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Feb 10, 2013

Posted on Sunday, February 10, 2013

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Feb 9, 2013

Our interesting times continue. What started small, has now taken a form as large as could've been seen in the past decade in Bangladesh. No people were brought over there by political cadres on trucks with promises of  cash and free meals. The call went out over the social channels - Facebook and blogs, and what happened is largely documented there and also on video sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo. Photos are flooding the internet and the print media is also enjoying covering this.

Shahbagh Square, it is being called (and in some places "Projonmo Chottor" or "Generation Square"), deriving from Tehrir Square and how a massive amount of people gathered there in protest. But unlike the latter, this was not opposing the government. Not once in the 3 days.

Not once? Even though the tribunal was thought by many to be greatly politicized by the government? That could've been changed if just one of the slogans asking for the hanging of Kader Mollah would be replaced by the question - Why wasn't he given the death sentence? Why, when Abul Kalam Azad was!? (esp. since he went missing before he could be arrested) (Can also read: সময়ের প্রতিবিম্ব: ফাঁসি কেন হলো না, জানতে চাই)

The square is illustrated with colors and paintings and long signature sheets and they are all calling for one thing only - the death sentence for all of the traitors of the independence movement of 1971. It is worthy cause, since their actions of that time led to genocide and those tales make you shudder in horror. But even then, I was waiting slowly again to see one banner or read about one shout that acknowledged that current times are not rosy, or that this movement doesn't stop with the war crime trials and banning of Jamaat-e-Islami. Surely we need to rid of this stigma of having among us those who do not believe in the sovereignty and the future of Bangladesh. At many times during the day, I felt strong urges to rush out and join the crowd, and the next questioning, why would I just ask for this? Just this? Are they all happy with how things have been running then? Who am I asking justice from? This movement is placed in a manner where its easily hijacked by the government.  Even though major members of the government were not allowed, and no political banners were allowed in the gathering, the last day did see a big presence of the pro-BAL intellectuals. The government is  showering praises on this generation in parliament and discussing submitting an appeal to get the death sentence to replace life-long imprisonment. As one editorial opines, this event seems a definite win-win. Are we just after mob justice then? Since we aren't questioning the mild sentence, just asking for the killing of the criminal over what the courts passed as judgement?

The positive thing of this gathering is that its big, its spirit has spread beyond Dhaka. I suppose an anti-corruption, safe roads, or good roads (we really don't have good roads anywhere and thats why the newly built Hatirjheel was our recent love affair), or  or pro-democracy* gathering might not have seen such unity. And they seem to be taboo now that we have a mass gathering, which is kind of sad. On the other hand, if anyone thought this would go over as a mild political drama, they were wrong! I believe it shakes things up a bit, a little bit, while being safe and pro-government. I would still want to see people rise from the core to get above ALL things that are adverse in our public life and for being a civilized and progressive society.

As it says in the song:
আমাদের যেন সব ছুয়ে যায়

Padma Bridge levy on cards 
(Mobile phones, air tickets, land sales among a dozen items on provisional NBR list)
জাহাঙ্গীরনগর বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের ছাত্রলীগ: লজ্জা!

Posted on Saturday, February 09, 2013

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Feb 5, 2013

A roommate once cooked something, or recommended a movie, I forget, to which I replied:

She just gave me a smile that let me know that she knows I am being nice to avoid saying I didn't think it was good! When, I title this post as "Interesting Times" - it is totally in that context.

I was just reading an article titled Sweatshop Garments Drag All of Us Down, which starts off with a little story from 102 years ago in New York, USA:
The turning point in the United States was the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911, when 146 garment workers — mostly women seamstresses — were burned to death when an exit gate was purposely locked.

The article describes the reaction that incident caused from a huge number of people that ultimately led to reforms in laws and ensuring better protection for workers. That is an important result that we should be learning from considering the fires that are continually claiming lives of workers here. The thing to realize, is that businesses will be businesses, with their eye on profits, and it falls on a government to make sure the rights of the general people which includes workers, are set and protected.

Issues like this are all around us now in Bangladesh, but its amazing that most of us are not aware of our rights and what we can expect from the government. Two highly revered economists a few weeks ago tried to tell us on a TV show that the 'growth' stats that the government throws in the face of its critics can take place very much in spite of them. My own feeling is that the government hasn't taken very many steps to ensure growth of new entrepreneurs and in fact, that they step in the way only to move aside for a price. In USA today, big businesses are very influential, but they also have a culture of startups and small businesses. Big businesses are after all, now taking their production off USA to countries where their cost of production will come down. Again, on this end, we are relying on a pressure created from abroad, rather than local, to ensure our workers have a safe and just workplace.

I am now writing this from home while a hartal is underway. Called by the Jamaat-e-Islami party, whose many "top" members are on trial for war crimes of 1971. But they have on their side a factor that helped ease them into mainstream Bangladesh, despite their past - religion. Religion, namely Islam, is the religion of the masses here and that remains the one thing that can create a visible reaction - unlike workers dying in factory fires, unlike students being tortured by police, unlike any other issue that should create a massive uproar. The YouTube ban is an example. Jamaat's religious base helped them get a big following across the country who upholds their religious identity more than their national or any other. That resulted in them being invited into alliances time and again when the elections came and numbers mattered. They are also known to command a good financial hold.

Just like religion trumps most social issues we should've cared about, the war crimes trial is in a similar way clouding our already clouded consciences from other things happening around us. War crimes included murder, rape, and destruction. Each of those are still carrying on in this independent country of ours. Whereas to me it seems like the last ticket the ruling government holds over this country's people for a second term in office is this war crimes trial, its also a maneuver in the overall game to foil the chances for their arch nemesis, BNP. Meanwhile, the ruling party cadres are instructed openly to take to the streets on hartal days to protect the 'people', whereas just weeks ago a young boy named Biswajit was brutally stabbed to death by these people-protectors on suspicion of being a Jamaat-e-Islami! There were heart wrenching photos of that in the papers, and accounts of how he begged for his life, and tried to make them aware that he was hindu. The irony is almost forgotten. Even the police stand by while these party people go on showing their weapons - batons, guns or swords. Either the people don't know how to speak up against these things, or these events don't register in the heads of people as being serious enough for any thought for a significant amount of time. Right now, we just naively sit home and hope for justice from the war crimes.

Posted on Tuesday, February 05, 2013

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Feb 4, 2013

They've been establishing a political culture for ages now, and the citizens have over the days just tried to stay out of trouble and live a happy life considering themselves to be outside the effects of the political world. They paid taxes, the necessary bribes to get public services, and enjoyed the occasional voting rights the system allowed them.

Meanwhile, slowly, we've been losing the intellectual capacity for 'opinions' and critical thought, further facilitating this political culture where there are strong talks of strengthening 'education' and 'zero tolerance' for corruption, whereas culturally we're harboring 'mediocrity' in every sphere.

It would fall on the media and the people to stay connected and oppose this culture as one, but sadly, none of them are that strong.

Posted on Monday, February 04, 2013

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