Tuesday, May 21, 2013
, a moderate Muslim
nation of 160 million people, a revolution is unfolding to keep the country’s
secular character alive. Bangladesh
moderate Muslim nation of 160 million people, a revolution is unfolding to keep
the country’s secular character alive. For two months now, hundreds of thousands of people from young men and women, aging
former guerrilla fighters and grandmothers who still carry the scars of
genocide, have occupied Shahbag Square in the capital, Dhaka. The
collective anger of a nation, simmering below the surface for more than 40
years, has been called the country’s second war of liberation. Bangladesh
The roots of this resentment lie in the genocide of the Bengali people (of the then-East
separated from West Pakistan by 1,600 km) that
started in March 1971. The Pakistan Army wanted to overturn the verdict of the
only general election in ,
won by the East Pakistani party led by the charismatic leader Sheikh Mujibur
The Pakistani occupation army and its accused Bengali collaborators, the mullahs of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, imposed a nine-month war of horrors on the Bengalis. The Bengalis fought back in what they saw as a war of liberation. The genocide resulted in an estimated 3 million killed and 200,000 women raped by the occupation forces and their Bengali accomplices, before the Pakistani Army’s humiliating surrender to combined Indian and Bangladeshi guerrilla forces in December 1971.
The government of the newly created state,
, started trials of the
Bengali collaborators, mostly members of the Jamaat-e-Islami, under a newly
enacted law, the International Crimes (Tribunal) Act of 1973. However, the
trials were stopped following the tragic assassination of the president and
founding father in 1975. Bangladesh
It was not until 2008 when the current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Rahman’s daughter, campaigned on a promise to set up tribunals to try the 1971 collaborators for war crimes. She was swept into power in the fairest election in the country’s history, winning all but 30 seats in a 300-member parliament. In 2010 the war crimes trials finally began.
Among the first to be convicted was a senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Abdul Quader Mollah (incidentally my own roommate in college days). But instead of the death sentence, Mollah was given life imprisonment with the possibility of a future pardon, if a change of guard takes place at the helm of the state. Hearing that his life had been saved, Mollah turned to the news cameras and, with a huge grin on his face, waved a victory sign to the crowd.
While Mollah was euphoric, liberal and secular Bangladeshis were infuriated. How could a man pronounced guilty of war crimes, accused of raping and shooting 344 civilians to death during the 1971 war, not receive the maximum punishment, the death sentence?
Within hours of the judgment, which was handed down on Feb. 5, ordinary students and bloggers used Facebook and Twitter to rally their contacts. Soon an impromptu gathering of hundreds, then thousands, and soon hundreds of thousands collected at
Dhaka’s Shahbag Square.
For weeks, they have been there and despite the gruesome murder of one of the leaders, have kept their movement peaceful. The protesters wanted the government to amend the law to make it possible for the prosecution to appeal the decision of the tribunal, which the parliament did, to bring equity to the law, since only the defendants were able to appeal. In addition, they want a ban on Jamaat-e-Islami as a collaborator that took active part of the genocide.
The mullahs of the Jamaat-e-Islami, on the other hand, label the leaders of the uprising as atheist and anti-Islamic, even though religion and personal faith have no part in the current resurrection of patriotism.
For the first time ever in the Muslim world, there has been a popular uprising against the fascism of an Islamist party that garnered only 3 per cent of votes in the last general election. One would have expected the western intelligentsia to be thrilled at this development and for the media to report from the square. Instead, there have been many distorted reports criticizing the war crimes trials in such major publications as The Economist of London.
The uprising back home has touched the hearts and souls of Bangladeshis around the world, including the estimated 50,000 people of Bangladeshi origin who live in the Greater Toronto Area. Over the past few weeks, rallies organized by Bangladeshi students and attended by hundreds have been taking place in
every weekend to
support the historic demonstrations in Toronto Shahbag Square, where the spirit of the
liberation war is being rekindled.
Mozammel H. Khan teaches engineering at the Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning and is the Convener of the Canadian Committee for Human Rights and Democracy in Bangladesh
Monday, May 20, 2013
STEVEN GREENHOUSE and JIM YARDLEY
Under mounting pressure to improve working conditions in Bangladesh’s garment factories, several of the world’s largest apparel companies agreed on Monday to a landmark plan to help pay for fire safety and building improvements after the collapse last month of the Rana Plaza factory complex, which killed more than 1,100 people.
The agreement, hailed by labor and consumer groups as a major breakthrough, came as the Bangladeshi government also took steps to respond to the April 24 disaster at
outside Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital. In the
last two days, the government has pledged to raise wages for garment workers
and change labor laws to make it easier to form trade unions.
The parallel announcements by global brands and the Bangladeshi government were a significant shift: For years,
has seen some of the worst practices in the global garment industry. Wages are
the lowest in the world, starting at roughly $37 a month. Factory conditions
are often unsafe. Yet global brands have often sought to deflect any direct
responsibility for the problems, while the government has often been tepid in
protecting worker rights. Bangladesh
disaster, the deadliest in the garment industry’s history, has created
tremendous pressure for change. On Monday morning, the Swedish
retail giant H&M and Inditex,
owner of the popular Zara chain, endorsed the safety plan. Within hours, the
large Dutch retailer C&A also
joined the agreement, as did the low-cost British retailers Primark and Tesco. Rana Plaza
“Fire and building safety are extremely important issues for us, and we put a lot of effort and resources within this area,” said Helena Helmersson, head of sustainability at H&M. “With this commitment we can now influence even more in this issue. We hope for a broad coalition of signatures in order for the agreement to work effectively on the ground.”
H&M is the largest purchaser of garments from
, and its endorsement was
seen as influential to other brands. The agreement calls for independent,
rigorous factory safety inspections with public accountability and mandatory
repairs and renovations underwritten by Western retailers. It also enhances the
roles played by workers and unions to ensure factory safety. Bangladesh
“H&M’s decision to sign the accord is crucial,” said Scott Nova, the executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, a factory-monitoring group in
backed by 175 American colleges and universities. “They are the single largest
producer of apparel in Washington ,
ahead even of Walmart. This accord now has tremendous momentum.” Bangladesh
Labor groups and others were already trying to pressure other big brands, including Walmart and Gap, to sign onto the agreement. “We call on these companies to do the right thing on behalf of the more than 1,250 textile workers killed in Bangladesh factory disasters in the last six months, including Rana Plaza, where the tragedy is still unfolding,” said Philip J. Jennings, the general secretary of the UNI Global Union, the international association of trade unions. “This is black and white, life and death.”
Gap has been the target of an online petition that obtained more than 900,000 signatures in support of the agreement. But the company has resisted signing on, objecting to the agreement’s legally binding nature and arguing that it had already hired a fire inspector and promised $22 million in loans for factory improvements.
PVH, the parent company of Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Izod, announced it would sign the deal, an expanded version of a proposal that PVH had already signed. The new plan lasts five years, while the previous one was to last only two. PVH also announced on Monday that it would contribute $2.5 million to underwrite factory safety improvements as part of the new plan.
cabinet on Monday approved changes in labor laws. Gowher Rizvi, a top adviser
to Bangladesh ’s
prime minister, said the changes — which still require approval by Parliament —
are part of a broader government effort to come into compliance with
international labor standards and improve on-the-job conditions. Bangladesh
“Worker safety and worker welfare have now been brought into the forefront,” Mr. Rizvi said in a telephone interview. He said discussions on these changes predated the
collapse but agreed that the disaster had intensified the pressure for reforms. Rana Plaza
“This is the goose that lays the golden egg,” he said of the garment industry’s importance to
“Don’t kill it. We have to strengthen it. We have to nurture it. Nurturing it
means fair treatment of the workers.” Bangladesh
Mikail Shipar, the country’s labor secretary, said one onerous restriction was removed by the cabinet on Monday. Under the current rules, organizers must present the government with a list of names showing that at least 30 percent of workers in a factory want a union. But that list is then turned over to the factory’s owner to verify the authenticity of the names — a step that some owners have used to engage in union busting and firing union supporters.
The list will no longer be turned over to factory owners, Mr. Shipar said, removing “a major barrier in getting registration of a trade union in a factory.”
Other changes involve benefits. Severance and retirement payments will be increased for workers with longer tenures; annual payments under a welfare fund will be equalized so that every garment worker, regardless of the size of the factory he or she works in, will receive the same amounts.
Government officials also are creating a wage board that would begin discussions between labor and management on setting a new minimum wage for garment workers. Mr. Shipar said the process might take six months, but officials have said that changes would be retroactive to May 1.
By Monday afternoon, the death toll at
had reached 1,127
people. Work crews have almost completed clearing debris and searching for the
victims — yet families of missing workers continue to linger. Rana
Local labor groups sifting through the rubble have found labels or documents of brands that were being produced by factories in the building. Several investor, religious, consumer and labor groups are pressing these companies to sign the new safety deal. Companies known to have obtained clothes from the factories include Benetton, Cato Fashions, Children’s Place, el Corte Ingles and Loblaws.
First appeared in The New York Times, May 13, 2013 192 Comments
Steven Greenhouse is the labor and workplace reporter for The New York Times, having held that beat since October 1995, and Jim Yardley is the South Asia Bureau Chief of The New York Times, based in
. He arrived in New Delhi India in 2009, after a six-year posting as a
correspondent and bureau chief in . He joined the Times in 1997
and has also worked as reporter on the metropolitan and national staffs. China
Steven Greenhouse reported from New York, and Jim Yardley from
. Julfikar Ali Manik contributed
reporting from Dhaka, New Delhi . Bangladesh
Sunday, May 19, 2013
Photo by Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images: Islamists burn an effigy of a blogger in Dhaka, Bangladesh, during a Feb. 24, 2013, nationwide strike demanding that the "atheist" bloggers be hanged
Even though Rasel Parvez is out of prison, he isn't out of danger.
"They have pushed my life to a state in which I cannot walk free. I remain in self-confinement day after day, and my social relations are mostly snapped," said Parvez, 36, in an interview with The Huffington Post.
He is talking about the Bangladeshi government, which last month for "." Parvez, who is currently out on bail, has been branded with the label "atheist" blogger because he dared to criticize the .
It took Parvez and Subrata Adhikary Shuvo, 24, another arrested blogger, more than a month to obtain bail. The other two -- Mashiur Rahman Biplob, 42, and Asif Mohiuddin, 30 -- remain in jail.
But Parvez's own home in
capital city, has become something of a prison, as he fears for his life
whenever he steps outside. Dhaka,
After his release from jail, some of his most vociferous critics took to Facebook to offer rewards to anyone who killed Parvez, with one offer in U.S. dollars. (Per capita income in
in 2010 was $641 a year.) Bangladesh
"Who knows -- some of them may be waiting just outside my house," said Parvez.
His wife, Asma Begum, said she's at her wit's end. She does her best to protect Parvez -- among other things, preventing him from taking phone calls until she has checked the caller's identity.
"His insecurity means the entire family is in danger," Begum said.
"I don't know if he could go to the office again. I am not sure if it is safe now to shift our home and find a new address. And how long should I expect him to live an imprisoned life like this?" she asked.
blogosphere consider Parvez a first-generation blogger. A graduate in physics
from the Bangladesh , he has
tried to use science to challenge religious doctrine in his home country. But
he said he has never written anything that was intended to defame the Prophet
The term blogger, let alone "atheist" blogger, was barely known in the country before February of this year, when activists took to a busy intersection in Dhaka, demanding that all war criminals from Bangladesh's 1971 battle for independence be hanged. An online call by bloggers, dissatisfied over the sentencing of a war criminal to life in prison -- even after his complicity in war atrocities was proved -- touched off the protest known as the Shahbagh movement.
Since then, bloggers have found themselves in the cross hairs, with death threats becoming part of the job. One of them was killed in February , who justified the murder by saying the blogger was a nonbeliever. More broadly, a massive was launched targeting bloggers.
Following a demand by a little-known Islamist party called Hefazat-e-Islam, the government arrested the four bloggers, including Parvez, in early April. Even before any formal charges were brought against them, the men were labeled "atheists" and paraded before the media.
"While standing before the media after my arrest, I could feel how this exposure would endanger my life," said Parvez, adding, "I have yet to get an idea about the extent of the jeopardy I am in. I need to know how well-known I am by the identity of an 'atheist' blogger."
But Parvez started to get a feel for his dangerous situation while in jail. The bloggers were put in a 10x10 foot interrogation room with other prisoners -- including individuals who clearly wished them ill, according to Parvez.
"Three of them had been arrested for a January attack on Asif [Mohiuddin], who needed 56 stitches to close the wounds inflicted in his neck and parts of his body upwards," said Parvez.
Along with Mohiuddin's attackers, the cell also contained a handful of activists with Jamaat-e-Islami, the Islamist party whose top leaders are facing war crimes charges. They were furious at the sight of Mohiuddin and proceeded to curse and threaten all the bloggers for approximately two hours, Parvez recalled.
He said the other prisoners taunted them with such threats as, "Even if we could not kill them you, our brothers will definitely succeed. Those standing against our religion deserve to be assassinated."
That wasn't all the bloggers had to endure while incarcerated. When they were transferred to the local prison, the news of their arrival proceeded them, according to Parvez, and other Jamaat-e-Islami supporters, already in prison, gathered to scorn them.
"They knew Asif, as his photograph was published in the media after he was attacked.
They became sure of our identity, seeing Asif with us. They used all kinds of derogatory and dirty language as they talked. They even threatened to harass us sexually; some threatened to rape us," Parvez recollected.
The bloggers were kept confined to their cells around the clock for the first three days.
Now, the government suggests the bloggers should agree to stay in prison for the next five years for their personal security.
"How can I stay in jail for five years when I have kids and a family?" lamented Parvez.
"I have heard about the rewards announced to get my head," he said. "The amount of money promised is enough to encourage at least a thousand killers to get the job done, given that sometimes only 2,000 taka [about $25.74] can get your enemy killed in
First published by The Huffington Post, May, 18, 2013
Emran Hossain is a journalist with BDNews24.com in
is a 2013 Daniel Pearl fellow at The Huffington Post as part of a program with
the Alfred Friendly Press Partners email@example.com Bangladesh
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Bangladesh factory deaths prompt some retailers to leave, but staying poses challenges too
JONATHAN FAHEY and ANNE D'INNOCENZIO, Business Writers with Associated Press
But since the building collapse on April 24 killed at least 1,100 garment workers in
becoming one of the deadliest industrial tragedies in history, the industry has
gone from one of the country’s greatest assets to one of its biggest
”The risk factors have jumped off the charts,” said Julie Hughes, president of the US Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, a trade group that represents retailers who import garments. ”This is worse than what anyone had imagined.”
Working conditions in
garment industry have been known to be grim, a result of government corruption,
desperation for jobs, and industry indifference. But the scale of this tragedy
has raised alarm among executives and customers. Bangladesh
The Facebook pages of Joe Fresh, Mango and Benetton, a few of the brands whose clothing or production documents were found in the rubble of the collapsed building, are peppered with angry comments from shoppers. Some warn they’re going to shop elsewhere now.
Retailers are also facing street protests. In the
university chapters of United Students Against Sweatshops are helping to stage
demonstrations against Gap in more than a dozen cities including Seattle, Los Angeles and . The group
plans to target other retailers it believes are not committed to stricter standards
for Bangladeshi factories. New York
The rising death toll may force Western brands to make a choice: Stay and work to improve conditions. Or leave and face higher costs, similar or worse worker conditions in other low-wage countries and criticism for abandoning a poor nation where per-capita income is just $1,940 per year.
Most retailers have vowed to stay and promised to work for change. Wal-Mart and the Swedish retailer H&M, the top two producers of clothing in
have said they have no plans to leave. Other big chains such as The Children’s
Place, Mango, J.C. Penney, Gap, Benetton and Sears have said the same. Bangladesh
”Today’s economy is global, and it is not a question of if a company like H&M should be present in developing countries,” said Anna Eriksson, an H&M spokeswoman. ”It is a question of how we do it.”
But for some, the risk of being in
has become too great. The Walt Disney Co. announced this month that it is
stopping production of its branded goods in Bangladesh . Bangladesh
Industry experts predict others will quietly reduce their dependence on the country.
”Almost everybody is going to cut back on what they are sourcing from
Hughes said. ”Not today, but by a year from now our imports are going to fall.
The question is how much.” Bangladesh
But it’s not easy for retailers who make their clothes in
to simply leave. Bangladesh
There is no shortage of cheap labor or available garment factories around the world. But it takes months or even years to establish relationships with new factories that retailers can trust to turn out large volumes of garments to their specifications on time.
Even if retailers move their business to other low-cost countries, they still face threats to their reputations.
Of the major garment-manufacturing countries,
working conditions pose the highest risk to brands, according to Maplecroft, a
risk analysis firm based in . But Bath,
ranks somewhat better than many low-cost countries on other labour issues, such
as child labour and forced labour. Bangladesh
According to Maplecroft’s Labour Rights and Protection Index, which measures the overall risk of association with violations of labour rights, Bangladesh is the 17th-riskiest country in the world – and less risky than such garment-producing leaders as China, Pakistan, Indonesia and India.
Another reason it’s hard for retailers to leave is that
is one of the few places
in the world that has enough workers, manufacturing capacity and experience to
provide what retailers demand: High volume, low prices, good quality and
predictable service. Bangladesh
The garment industry in
is the third-biggest exporter of clothes in the world, after China and . There are 5,000 factories in
the country and 3.6 million garment workers. Manufacturers have easy access to
cheap raw materials, and the country’s political situation has been relatively
And its garment workers command the lowest wages – by far – in the world. The average worker in
the equivalent of 24 cents an hour, compared with 45 cents in Cambodia, 52 cents in Pakistan,
53 cents in Vietnam and
$1.26 in ,
according to the Worker Rights Consortium, a worker advocacy group. China
On Sunday a
cabinet minister said the government plans to raise the minimum wage for
garment workers, and a new minimum wage board will issue recommendations within
three months. Bangladesh
Between 15 and 25 per cent of the wholesale cost of a garment is for labor. Unlike raw material costs, which can vary, labor is the only major cost that retailers can control.
“It’s a country built for commodity products,” said Janet Fox, who arranged garment manufacturing overseas for J.C. Penney and Under Armour and now works as a consultant. “It’s not a highly skilled labor force, but they can make the basics.”
For decades, the global garment trade was controlled with a quota system called the Multi Fibre Arrangement that limited production from developing countries to protect higher-wage workers in developed countries.
When the system ended in 2005, retailers flocked to
because of its low
wages. Manufacturers scrambled to increase the size of their factories. Bangladesh
Land is scarce in
one of the world’s most densely populated countries. It packs 163 million
people, about half the population of the Bangladesh US,
into an area about the size of the state of . So the Iowa government, desperate to
boost employment, looked the other way as companies converted unsuitable
buildings into factories or crammed far too many workers and equipment into
small spaces, creating fire hazards, labour activists say. Bangladesh
Since 2005, at least 1,800 workers have been killed in the Bangladeshi garment industry in factory fires and building collapses, according to research by the advocacy group International Labor Rights Forum.
In November, 112 workers were killed in a garment factory in
the Bangladeshi capital. The factory lacked emergency exits, and its owner said
only three floors of the eight-story building were legally built. Clothes
destined for Disney, Wal-Mart and Sears were found among the building’s
remains, though Disney has denied its suppliers used the factory.
But as horrific as that fire was, it wasn’t as bad as the April 24 collapse, the garment industry’s worst disaster. The eight-story Rana Plaza building housing five garment factories collapsed 15 miles north of Dhaka at the beginning of a workday.
The building wasn’t designed to hold factories, and three stories had been added illegally. Most of the victims were crushed by massive blocks of concrete and mortar falling on them.
Then as the death toll was climbing, a fire broke out at a sweater manufacturer on Wednesday in
Dhaka, killing eight people
including a senior police officer, a Bangladeshi politician and a top clothing
Only a few companies, including
Primark and Canada’s Loblaw
Inc., which owns the Joe Fresh clothing line, have acknowledged that suppliers
were making clothes for them at the site and have
promised to compensate workers and their families. Loblaw’s CEO said suppliers
were making clothes for as many as 30 brands and retailers at the site. Rana
Benetton labels were found at the site, and the Italian fashion brand acknowledged that one of its suppliers had used one of the factories. The company said that before the collapse, the factory had been removed from its list of approved factories.
Mango, whose production documents were found in the ruins, has said it was planning to produce there but hadn’t started.
Clothing retailers often depend on a web of contractors and sub-contractors to produce goods for them. Fabric will be made at one factory, buttons at another, and the item will be sewn together somewhere else. Large orders are often placed with one contractor, who then farms out the work to several smaller factories.
Retailers said they have strict standards that they require their suppliers to follow, but they know little or nothing about conditions at individual factories that make their clothes because there are so many of them.
But retailers are very familiar with the general conditions in the countries where they do business, and their importance to local economies means they can push for improvements. Labour groups and other activists have said last month’s tragedy is just the most extreme evidence that brands haven’t done nearly enough to protect workers.
The retail industry hasn’t released estimates on how much it would cost to upgrade Bangladeshi factories to Western standards. But the Worker Rights Consortium puts the cost at $1.5 billion to $3 billion. If the money was spent over five years, it would be 1.5 to 3 per cent of the $95 billion expected to be spent on clothes manufacturing over that time. Put another way, it’s 10 cents added onto the cost of a T-shirt.
There are limits to what companies can do to improve conditions, though, said Matthew Amengual, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management who studies labour regulation and enforcement in developing countries. “Companies have a very important role to play, but they can’t do it just by auditing their supply chain,” he said.
The collapse of the factory in
showed how safety issues in the country are in some ways too ingrained and
complex for companies to monitor and change. It is much easier for a company to
push for more fire extinguishers or make sure fire exits aren’t locked than to
judge the structural integrity of thousands of factories. Bangladesh
Experts said if big retailers and the
government don’t work together to improve standards and enforce them, more
production will gradually move out of the country. Bangladesh
“There are huge risks to stay if there isn’t any progress,” said the Rev. David Schilling, of the
Responsibility, a coalition of shareholders that pushes companies to be more
socially responsible. Interfaith
Disney, which has said that less than 1 per cent of the factories used by its contractors operate in
said it has told all its suppliers to stop production in the country by the end
of March 2014. The company also said it would reconsider its decision if
conditions improve. Bangladesh
Others have taken a different approach.
In the wake of the November fire, Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, toughened its policies with suppliers. In January, it said that it would cut ties with any factory that failed an inspection, instead of first issuing a warning.
Last month, Wal-Mart said it will be tying some of the compensation of some executives, including CEO Mike Duke, to the success of its compliance program.
Forty garment buyers, including Wal-Mart, H&M, and J.C. Penney, met with labour rights groups on April 29 in
to discuss how the industry could improve safety conditions in . Bangladesh
The labour groups are setting Wednesday as the deadline for brands to sign up to a legally binding plan that would require retailers to pay for needed safety improvements and allow independent inspections of the clothing factories in Bangladesh.
Only two companies — PVH, the parent company of such brands as Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and Tchibo, a German retailer — have signed up to the plan. Gap was close to signing last fall but then backed out and announced its own plan that included hiring an independent fire safety expert to inspect factories.
Adding to the pressure on retailers, Avaaz, a human rights group with 21 million members worldwide, has garnered more than 900,000 signatures on a petition pushing Gap and H&M to commit to the proposal.
“We would rather see companies stay in
to compel and fund the
renovations that are necessary to turn these deathtraps into safe buildings,”
said Scott Nova, executive director at the Worker Rights Consortium. Bangladesh
First appeared in new.Yahoo.com , Sun, May 12, 2013
Jonathan Fahey and Anne d'Innocenzio are Business Writers with Associated Press, Farid Hossain in
contributed to this story Dhaka, Bangladesh
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
|Islamist seize Dhaka on May 5, 2013|
S. BINODKUMAR SINGH
On May 5, 2013, Hefazat-e-Islam (HeI, 'Protectorate of Islam') enforced their 'Dhaka Siege' programme to mount pressure on the Awami League (AL)-led Government to implement their 13-point demands , including the demand to "pass a law providing for capital punishment for maligning Allah, Islam and Prophet Muhammad. and smear campaigns against Muslims". Four civilians were killed and several others injured as cadres of HeI fought running battles with Police across
turning the capital into a city of panic. 70,000 Islamists marched down at
least six highways and took position at the entry points of the city, stopping
road transport and cutting off Dhaka's road links with rest of the country,
while they raised slogans of 'Allahu Akbar' (God is great) and "One point,
One demand: Atheists must be hanged."
More than 10,000 personnel drawn from the Police, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) jointly launched a drive late on May 5, 2013, to clear demonstrators from
Dhaka. As violence moved
beyond the capital on May 6, 2013, at least 27 persons, including three
Security Force (SF) personnel and a HeI cadre, were killed and several other
injured in Narayanganj,
and Bagerhat Districts. Two of the injured died on May 7 and another one on May
Earlier, on March 9, 2013, HeI Ameer (Chief) Shah Ahmad Shafi had put forward a 13-point demand at the Olama-Mashayekh (Islamic Scholars) Convention organized at the Darul Uloom Hathazari Madrassah Convention Hall in Chittagong District. On the same day, HeI's 'central joint secretary general' Maulana Moinuddin Ruhi, gave the call for theApril 6 rally at the end of a 'Long March' (from
to Dhaka). During the April 6 rally, the HeI gave the Government an April 30 deadline to meet its
demands or face a 'Dhaka Siege' programme, commencing May 5, 2013.
Indeed, in an attempt to clamp down on the HeI cadres on the eve of 'Long March', the SFs arrested 30 HeI cadres from a bus in Palashbari area of Gaibandha District on April 5, 2013, while they were travelling to
Dhaka. Subsequently, a
clash between HeI and AL cadres at Dhaka city
left one person dead and at least another 30 injured. As tension grew, four
people were killed between April 6 and May 4, 2013.
Meanwhile, on May 3, 2013, two days prior to the 'Dhaka Siege' deadline, Prime Minister (PM) Sheikh Hasina Wajed addressing a Press Conference in
a conciliatory response on the 13 demands, observing, "We have already
gone through HeI demands. Many of these have already been implemented while
some are in the process." Speaking explicitly about the second and 'most
important' demand, to "pass a law providing for capital punishment for
maligning Allah, Islam and Prophet Muhammad. and smear campaigns against
Muslims", the PM stated that the Information and Communication Technology
Act, 2009, and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) already contained provisions
for punishment for the offence.
The Government's reply to each of the 13 demands asserts that these demands are nothing more than an attempt by the Islamist forces, backed by the main opposition party Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), to hold the country to ransom, as these formations feel the heat of the War Crimes (WC) Trial. Significantly, on May 9, 2013, JeI Assistant Secretary General Muhammad Kamaruzzaman was awarded the death penalty by the International Crimes Tribunal-2 (ICT-2). He was found guilty on five out of seven counts of torture and mass murder committed during the 1971 War of Independence. He is the third JeI leader to face the death penalty, while another one has received a life sentence. ICT-2, constituted on March 22, 2012, delivered the first WC verdict against former JeI leader Maulana Abul Kalam Azad alias Bachchu Razakar, on January 21, 2013, awarding a death sentence for killing 14 Hindus, raping two women, torturing two other persons and setting homes ablaze in Faridpur District, his birthplace. A total of nine persons, seven from JeI and two from BNP, have been indicted so far, for War Crimes.
has seen a surge in
violence since the January 21, 2013, verdict. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, the country has recorded 186 fatalities, including
109 civilians, 64 Islamist cadres and 13 SF personnel, in street violence since
then (data till May 12, 2013). Bangladesh
Describing the activities of HeI as 'mysterious', Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu, had noted, on May 2, 2013, "The movement of HeI is not to protect the faith of Muslims. They are working as the shadow of JeI and its student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS), to foil the trials of war criminals." Similarly, Environment and Forest Minister Dr. Hasan Mahmud, on May 7, 2013, asserted that BNP central leaders M.K. Anwar and Sadeque Hossain were behind the May 5 violence in
He also blamed central leaders of the BNP-backed students' organizations, the
Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal (JCD) and ICS, for leading the trouble in Paltan,
Baitul Mukarram and Motijheel areas of Dhaka
during the HeI demonstrations and rally. On May 8, 2013, State Minister for
Law, Advocate Quamrul Islam claimed, further, "The BNP-JeI men carried out
vandalism, arson and looting during Sunday's violence". He went on to
claim that the mayhem in Dhaka city was funded by the Inter Services
Intelligence (ISI) of .
Two left-leaning parties, the Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB) and the
Bangladesher Samajtantrik Dal (BSD), at a joint rally in front of the National
Press Club in Pakistan Dhaka city, demanded an
immediate ban on HeI, JeI and ICS, for 'creating anarchy' across the country.
The leaders of these two parties also blamed the main opposition BNP for
extending support to HeI.
The abrupt emergence of HeI as a formidable disruptive force has largely been seen by the BNP-JeI-ICS front as an opportunity to exploit the current situation to harvest some political gains. With the survival of some of their leaders at stake, they appear willing to drive the country to the brink of chaos in their effort to derail the ongoing WC Trials. At the same time, however, a clear groundswell of opinion - albeit without the attendant violence that characterizes the Islamist protests - in favour of the WC Trials has also been dramatic. A direct and escalating confrontation appears inevitable at this juncture, and it remains to be seen whether the Government has the will and sagacity to manage this evolving crisis, even as it pushes the WC Trials process to a logical culmination. And all this will be necessary before the General Elections, which fall due in December 2013 - January 2014.
First appeared in SouthAsia Intelligence Review, Weekly Assessments & Briefings, Volume 11, No. 45, May 13, 2013
S. Binodkumar Singh is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management
Monday, May 13, 2013
|Photo: Relatives search for names of missing garments worker|
|Photo: Still missing|
Numbers have always been a tricky issue in
much so that there is disagreement over even the total population of the
There is always someone ready to raise questions about any "official figure" , whether it is the voter list or death figures from a road accident.
Not surprisingly then, when the eight-storey Rana Plaza collapsed on 24 April with thousands of people working in five garment factories, numbers became a hotly contested issue.
Two sets of figures are now accepted as accurate. Firstly, the number of people rescued alive, which stands at 2,438 and secondly, the number of bodies recovered from the rubble, which stands at more than 1,000 and keeps rising every day.
Calculating in the dark
But there is disagreement over how many are still missing - and hence, the total number likely to have died.
Nearly 3,500 people have already been accounted for, with unknown numbers still buried under the rubble”
More than two weeks after collapse, there is still no agreement on exactly how many workers and staff were present in the building. This has left officials calculating in darkness.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), initially said that 3,200 people may have been employed by the five factories located on the upper floors of the building.
But that figure now looks unrealistic. Nearly 3,500 people have already been accounted for, with unknown numbers still buried under the rubble.
Five days after the collapse a woman named Shahina was found alive.
But Shahina could not be rescued, as a fire sparked by metal cutting machines killed her on 28 April. One of the rescuers later died in hospital from burns sustained during the abortive rescue.
It was not expected that more survivors would be found, and rescuers switched their focus to recovering bodies.
Then another round of distrust about numbers was kicked off by none other than Maj Gen Hasan Suhrawardy, the man in charge of the recovery operation at the site.
On 1 May, he told journalists that only 149 people were missing, raising heckles across the social landscape. Even senior government officials expressed doubts about the figure.
Workers rescued from the site said many people had tried to escape down a stairway at the back of the building. They insisted that many bodies lay in that part of the building.
It appeared the general had used a list which local administration officials had stopped using. The police had their own, much larger list, based on people registering names of their missing relatives.
Officials worried that many names were appearing several times in different lists. They also worried that fraudsters might be at work, registering fake names to get compensation.
As a result of the confusion, all lists were taken down and officials stopped talking about the number missing.
But more fuel was added to the fire by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, leader of the main opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
Addressing a big rally in
on 4 May, Mrs Zia accused the government of ''disappearing'' 900 bodies.
The opposition leader did not quote any source, but it reflected a sense of frustration and distrust among relatives of those missing.
Hundreds of relatives of the missing waited at the site everyday, desperate to ensure they at least got the body of their loved one so they could be buried properly.
But rumours soon spread that the army was about to bulldoze the site. Rumours were also spread that trucks removing debris from the site were being used to take away dead bodies.
Anger and frustration spilled over on one or two occasions and relatives, aided by locals, blocked army vehicles carrying debris.
Painstaking work by officials finally calmed the situation. The army made it clear there would be no bulldozing and that every effort would be made to recover any remaining bodies.
The military and fire brigade decided to use heavy equipment sparingly, only after ensuring that no body was left to be recovered.
It is perhaps this painstaking, time-consuming, brick-by-brick search for bodies that has allowed the rescuers to find a woman alive in the rubble on Friday, 12 days after the last survivor was found and 17 days after the building went down.
First appeared in BBC online, 10 May 2013
Sabir Mustafa, Editor, BBC Bengali service