Thursday, August 28, 2008

Exploitation in Kuwait needs international attention

RIPAN KUMAR BISWAS

A 2,300-Member of Bangladesh Army contingent served with coalition forces during the first Gulf war (August 2, 1990-February 28, 1991), a war between Iraq and a coalition force from 34 nations authorized by the United Nations in order to return Kuwait to the control of the Emir of Kuwait.

In acknowledgement of their effort, around 267,000 Bangladeshis have been treated savagely, maligned in the local press, and unduly blamed for criminal activities. During the demolitions of mines from many parts of Kuwait after Gulf war, Bangladesh lost 59 soldiers and many were injured, but about 1,100 Bangladeshi workers, who primarily work as menial labourers, have been kicked out of the Arab state since last July.

While each and everyone throughout the world, media groups, human rights organizations, or even some of Kuwaiti citizen and human rights groups, who believes everyone should be treated kind heartedly, were worried of unjustly and cruelly deporting some of Bangladeshi expatriate workers, the Kuwaiti government did little to enforce its own labour laws or put an end to rampant abuse and exploitation of hundreds of thousands of guest workers rather saying that they didn’t want unnecessary international attention.

The trouble began in the last two weeks of July. Thousands of Bangladeshis and other South Asian migrants (from Nepal, India, probably Pakistan, etc.) employed as cleaners, rubbish collectors and stevedores/dockers, went on strike over a long list of grievances: poor wages, poor working conditions, overtime without pay, lack of sick leave and time off, etc. The workers also claim that employers force workers to pay extra for health and accommodation — costs they say should be borne by the companies.

Due to rising inflation, workers attempted to protest only to be met with the full force of the Kuwait government which does not enjoy anyone daring to oppose those in power. The Kuwaiti Police along with the army beat the trapped workers mercilessly while breaking up the protest and also in detention centers.

So far in progress, Kuwait ordered its law enforcers not to arrest or harass any Bangladeshi workers if they refrain from getting involved in any further violence. According to a handout press note issued by the Press Information Department on August 03, 2008, the labour department of Kuwait assured Bangladesh government that the wages and other outstanding payments of the deported workers would be sent through the Bangladesh embassy. And as of August 20, 2008, the Kuwaiti government closed down five companies for violating the new labour law.

But evidently, very little has changed since the Kuwaiti government decided, in the wake of the July 28 demonstration by migrant workers that the private sector would have to increase the minimum wage for workers to 40 Kuwaiti Dinar (currency) per month and also bear the workers’ insurance, housing, and health expenditures.

According to the Arab Times, a Kuwaiti English-language daily, around 6,000 Bangladeshi workers went on strike on August 17, 2008 over non-payment and unlawful deductions of their salaries although the Kuwaiti government recently set a minimum monthly wage to be paid without any curtail. Meanwhile, the National Labour Committee of US recently unveiled news of mistreatment from the U.S. military base Camp at Arifjan, Kuwait. Around 300 guest workers, mostly Bangladeshi, are forced to work 11-hour shift, seven days a week.

Although the US troops themselves are very kind and decent to the workers, but the company “Kuwait Waste Collection and Recycling Company,” the workers work for, is too rude to its employee. For the 70 hours of work, workers are usually paid just $34.72 a week, or 50 cents an hour, which is 45 percent short of the 90-cent-an-hour wage workers, are guaranteed when they purchased the contract to work in Kuwait. The company usually confiscates the passports of their workers at the time of hiring.

Observing the mass exploitation in Kuwait, Charles Kernaghan, director of the National Labour Committee, urged the secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to call upon the Government of Kuwait to end the trafficking of hundreds of thousands of foreign guest workers to Kuwait, where they are stripped of their passports, forced to work long hours, often seven days a week, while being cheated of half their wages. According to him, Kuwaiti Government must take it seriously if the US will raise strong voice against heinous practice of exploitation as there is a defence pact between US and Kuwait to guarantee the security of the Kuwaiti people and government.

Bangladesh, a net oil importing country, has a demand for nearly 3.8 million tons of petrol per year, including 2.8 million tons diesel. Not only the Bangladeshi workers, who remit about $1 billion every year to Bangladesh, but also the Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC), a state-owned company of the Kuwait government is the main oil supplier to Bangladesh. Bangladesh is importing import 1.152 million tonnes of oil from Kuwait for consumption over the July-December period by paying a higher premium. In his upcoming visit to Kuwait in between September 3 and 4, foreign affairs adviser, Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, also in charge of the expatriates’ welfare and overseas employment ministry, should strongly protest against mass exploitation in Kuwait and mention that a good bilateral relation depend upon mutual cooperation.

Bangladesh should also announce greater regulation of labour brokers' practices. Despite its complete disinterest in ever previously regulating or limiting workers' exploitation by local recruiting agents, the country is in need to resolve the labour unrest and repair the damaged reputation of their migrant workforce; over 5 million Bangladeshis work abroad, mostly in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries, sending home around $8 billion a year and providing a vital foreign exchange injection to Bangladesh's economy. This is almost as much as the $9 billion the country's other main export - ready made garments - brings into the country.

In its further action, Kuwait has decided not to renew residency visas of Bangladeshis doing menial jobs, saying these workers are a threat to state security and bring unnecessary international focus on the country. Mistreatment of South Asian workers especially Bangladeshis are nothing new in the Gulf States. Kuwait and the Gulf nation's infrastructure were built by these workers from South Asia. Kuwaitis owe their liberation to the coalition forces which included Bangladeshi soldiers.

It’s not only a matter of country’s remittance inflow, but also a matter of country’s dignity.
Bangladesh government’s move on the migrant workers’ issue reflects its “bowing-down” policy as the government hardly raised a voice of protest, nor did it file any formal complaint with the Kuwaiti authorities. Let alone bring the issue to the notice of the International Labour Organization, the United Nations, European Union, the United States, and other human rights organizations in the world. #

First published on August 28, 2008, New York Ripan Kumar Biswas is a freelance writer based in New York. He could be reached at: Ripan.biswas@yahoo.com

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Devil's Advocate: Taslima Nasrin

"I dream of a beautiful world where no women will be oppressed"

Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to Devil's Advocate. As the Indian Government takes its time responding to Taslima Nasrin's application for citizenship how does she respond to her critics? Those are the two issues I shall tackle today in an interview with Taslima Nasrin. Ms Nasrin you recently said 'I would like to be known more as an activist who can influence society than as a writer. Are trying to change the world'.

Taslima Nasrin: Yes. I have a dream, I dream of a beautiful world where no women will be oppressed.

Karan Thapar: You have also said something else which I find very perplexing. You said 'if you want to be a human being, a good person you have to first be bad in this society.' Are you suggesting that good people defy society they defy its values and its conventions and therefore they are considered bad.

Taslima Nasrin: Yes I think so.

Karan Thapar: And are you a bad person in that sense.

Taslima Nasrin: Yes.

Karan Thapar: You defy society.

Taslima Nasrin: Yes.

Karan Thapar: And you defy its conventions.

Taslima Nasrin: Yes.

Karan Thapar: And you enjoy doing so.

Taslima Nasrin: Yes.

Karan Thapar: Your critics say that this is just posturing. They say Taslima Nasrin says things, she does things, she adopts positions to attract attention and give herself publicity.

Taslima Nasrin: No it's not true.

Karan Thapar: Are your critics being unfair?

Taslima Nasrin: Yes.

Karan Thapar: Let's begin by talking about some of the things you have said about Islam. You have said it's not true that Islam is good for humanity its not all good. Islam completely denies human rights. And then later elsewhere you have written about what you called the 'venomous snake' of Islam. How do you justify these extreme views?

Taslima Nasrin: You know if any religion keeps people in ignorance, if any religion allows the people to persecute other people of different faith and if any religion keeps women in slavery then I can't accept that religion.

Karan Thapar: You are saying Islam does all of that.

Taslima Nasrin: Yes.

Karan Thapar: But the truth Taslima Nasrin is that all over the world Islam is recognised as a religion that perhaps has done more for women's rights than any other in the area of education, inheritance even giving them a legal identity in their marriage.

Taslima Nasrin: No it's not true. There is no equality between man and women in marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance under Islam.

Karan Thapar: In Islam for instance just to take inheritance women have a right to inherit, it's an inalienable right. Again in Islam a woman in a marriage is a legal entity of her own. The marriage itself is not just a sacrament it's a contract.

Taslima Nasrin: Yes but women do not get equality. Women get half of the property than their brothers get.

Karan Thapar: Can I put something to you? As someone who is born as Muslim you know that the fault really lies in the way Islam is interpreted or the way Islam is enforced. But by blaming Islam itself, which is what you are doing, aren't you pandering to the Western world's present prejudice with Islam.

Taslima Nasrin: Of course not. I criticize Islam and also I criticize Christianity, Judaism I criticize Hinduism because women are oppressed by old religions. Old religions are anti-women. Religions were made for men and men made religions for there own fun, for there own interest.

Karan Thapar: So you are the enemy of all religions?

Taslima Nasrin: Yes.

Karan Thapar: When I say enemy, should I in fact be saying do you hate religion?

Taslima Nasrin: You know there are many people who believe in religion. I do not hate those people. I consider them as human being. But they believe in religion – that religion itself is against women. It's not only the fundamentalists. Religion actually was created by men for their own interest. Yes some people can believe in religion I don't object it but the thing is that we should not practice religion because it's against humanity, against humanism, against human rights, against women's rights, against freedom of expression…

Karan Thapar: You are going even further than Marx ever went. Marx described religion as the sigh of the oppressed creature, as the heart of a heartless world, as the soul of soulless conditions. You are saying something quite different. You are saying it's against humanity.

Taslima Nasrin: It's against humanity.

Karan Thapar: And you don't say this for effect.

Taslima Nasrin: Because you know if women are oppressed by old religions and if you do not believe in women's rights then you do not believe in human rights, then you do not believe in humanism.

Karan Thapar: But your critics say that you are only saying this to attract attention, that you are only saying this to give yourself publicity to make yourself controversial…

Taslima Nasrin: No I don't need publicity. It's a dangerous thing to say. The fundamentalist issued fatwa against me, they set price on my head and I couldn't live in my own country I had to live in exile for more than 12 years.

Karan Thapar: So you sincerely believe all these things?

Taslima Nasrin: I sincerely believe all these things.

Karan Thapar: All right lets come to something else that your critic says. Let's come to your autobiographies. You have gone out of your way in your autobiographies to give explicit details of your sexual liaisons without consulting the other party and without carrying about other party's right of privacy. How do you justify that except on the grounds of providing 'forgive me cheap titillation'?

Taslima Nasrin: You know I wrote my autobiography and I wanted to tell everything what happened to me everything.

Karan Thapar: But what about the other party, doesn't the other party have a right to some privacy.

Taslima Nasrin: They didn't tell me that they need privacy.

Karan Thapar: Do they need to tell you?

Taslima Nasrin: Yes or if they told me I would not have listened to them. If they cheated me if they exploited me why should I hide that?

Karan Thapar: But did they exploit you? They made love to you they didn't expect that to be revealed to the world.

Taslima Nasrin: Why shouldn't I. I wanted to.

Karan Thapar: Is it ethical?

Taslima Nasrin: I think so.

Karan Thapar: Or was it simply done to attract attention to the book.

Taslima Nasrin: I don't need any attract attention.

Karan Thapar: You see its not just people's privacy that you have invaded you have also compromised third party. For instance in one of your autobiographies you reveal that Syed Shamsul Haq told you that he was having a relationship with his sister-in-law. That poor woman perhaps didn't want the world to know but you trumpet all over her rights by revealing it.

Taslima Nasrin: You know I only mentioned the things what was important to me.

Karan Thapar: Why was this important to you?

Taslima Nasrin: Because first time I heard that one big man whom I considered my idol or who was a big writer whom I respected very much and he was saying that he was having sex with that woman or this woman, he wanted to do that thing or this thing, that I actually couldn't imagine.

Karan Thapar: Quite right. You wanted to teach him a lesson or you wanted to pay him back in his own coin but as a result you have compromised the poor sister-in-law. She may have wanted privacy, she may have wanted secrecy she may not have wanted the world to know that she was having a relationship with her brother-in-law you have done that for her.

Taslima Nasrin: I have no intentions to embarrass her.

Karan Thapar: But you have done it.

Taslima Nasrin: No I did my things. I was writing my autobiography so I have to tell everything that I knew was truth and I had to tell the truth.

Karan Thapar: All right you say you have to tell the truth in which case why did you settle out of court with H Jalal. When H Jalal first accused you of writing fantasy and fiction you retorted that he was speaking a pack of lies and yet when he took you to court you settled out of court. You agreed to remove his name you agreed to in fact expunge large sections of the description of your relationship with him. Why?

Taslima Nasrin: It was actually done by my publisher.

Karan Thapar: You could have refused.

Taslima Nasrin: I refused that…

Karan Thapar: So you mean they did it without your permission?

Taslima Nasrin: It was just they changed the name. Already his name was known and he filed case against me.

Karan Thapar: But then addition to changing the name large sections of description of your relationship with him was expunged.

Taslima Nasrin: No.

Karan Thapar: It says so in the Hindu newspaper. December 19, 2003.

Taslima Nasrin: No it's false.

Karan Thapar: You never corrected it you never denied it.

Taslima Nasrin: I did that in the Bengali newspaper.

Karan Thapar: Why not in English?

Taslima Nasrin: They didn't ask me.

Karan Thapar: All right at least you changed the name. If you believe what you are doing was justifiable and that you are telling the truth why changed the name?

Taslima Nasrin: I didn't want to change the name but it was publisher's pressure that I had to change the name.

Karan Thapar: Why did you give in to pressure.

Taslima Nasrin: I didn't want to … but publishes sends out my book a lot…

Karan Thapar: Without your permission?

Taslima Nasrin: Without my permission.

Karan Thapar: Did you considered taking the publishers to court?

Taslima Nasrin: I did not and I don't think that it is a compromise. There are lots of books of mine, which were banned by Bangladesh government.

Karan Thapar: Your books may be banned but I am talking about the principle of revealing people's personal details of invading their privacy. I put it to you that your critics say Taslima Nasrin only does this to titillate to attract attention to create controversy.

Taslima Nasrin: No it's not true.

Karan Thapar: Let me quote to you then another sentence from your autobiography, which people say it proofs that she only writes to attract attention. You say "I think a woman can maintain her chastity even after maintaining sexual relationships with ten men. " That may sound clever it may be catchy but it's meaningless.

Taslima Nasrin: No it's not meaningless. Actually what I said that honesty.. one person can be honest one woman can be honest.

Karan Thapar: There is difference between honesty and chastity. Chastity is not a state of mind it's a physical state.

Taslima Nasrin: You know there is a word in Bengali, which is sath means honest and shotti means chaste woman. So there is no word for man in that sense. So I related the word sath and shotti. Sath means honest so one woman can be honest after having sexual relations with ten men.

Karan Thapar: You sound a bit like humpty dumpty. He said I use words to mean what I want them to mean. You have every right to do that as an author the problem is it becomes very difficult to communicate and almost impossible to understand. If you keep using words in this way you are simply playing with them.

Taslima Nasrin: No actually you don't know Bengali. If you knew Bengali you would understand that the two words sound the same like sath and shotti.

Karan Thapar: Your critics say that Taslima Nasrin is her own worst enemy.

Taslima Nasrin: I don't think so. Critics can say anything. I know what I am doing and I am telling the truth. I want to change the society I want to make women conscious about their rights and freedom. I don't want any religious law I don't want any patriarchal system.

Karan Thapar: Lets turn to your application to become an Indian citizen. Its been almost two-years since you applied and even today a decision has not ben taken on it. Meanwhile you visa has only been extended for six-months at a time. Do you think you have been treated fairly?

Taslima Nasrin: I don't think so. Most of the people in this country as far as I know want me to be a citizen of India. I was persecuted in my country and I had to live in exile for over 12-years. I speak Bengali and I would love to live in Bengal, in India. I think its humane to allow me to live in this country.

Karan Thapar: For two-years now the Indian Government hasn't given you its decision. How much unhappiness has that caused you?

Taslima Nasrin: Yes I am unhappy and its really not a very good condition that I'm living in. I live in constant tension that I might have to leave.

Karan Thapar: The other thing is that they wont give you a visa for more than six-months at a time. Businessmen can get a visa for a year or more but they only give you an extension of six-months. Is that unfair?

Taslima Nasrin: I dint know whether it is fair or unfair. But I am unhappy with the way I have been treated by the Indian Government.

Karan Thapar: In March you told the PTI that the hold-up was because the West Bengal government hadn't given a letter of recommendation to you saying that you should be made an Indian citizen. Why did the West Bengal government do so?

Taslima Nasrin: I think the West Bengal government banned my book because they wanted to make Muslims of West Bengal happy. May be, if I live there the Muslims will be unhappy.

Karan Thapar: So it's become a political issue?

Taslima Nasrin: Yes it has. I think so.

Karan Thapar: Have you raised this with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee?

Taslima Nasrin: I tried meeting him so many times but it seems it's impossible to get an access to him. He refused to meet me and I might try again.

Karan Thapar: Are you trying with confidence or are you just trying it because you think, you have to keep trying?

Taslima Nasrin: I have to keep trying because I love to live in India. It's important for me to live in India.

Karan Thapar: In the meantime the All India Ibtehad Council has announced a bounty of Rs 5 lakh for your life. Do you feel safe in India?

Taslima Nasrin: Though it's not safe here but still I love to live in India. I would live in India despite threats.

Karan Thapar: But aren't you scared that some fundamentalist, some mad man might come and shoot you because there is a Rs 5 lakh bounty on your head?

Taslima Nasrin: It can happen in any part of the world. Fundamentalists are there everywhere. When I was living in Bangladesh, the fundamentalist could kill me any moment. When I was living in Europe, I got security but still fundamentalist could kill me there. There was a constant threat.

Karan Thapar: So you aren't scared that some fundamentalist might come and kill you because there is a bounty on your head?

Taslima Nasrin: No I'm not scared at all.

Karan Thapar: The paradox is that political situation is changing in Bangladesh dramatically. Democracy is being revived, jehadist are being arrested and even killed and people are breathing easy again. How do you regard those changes in your own country?

Taslima Nasrin: I think it's temporary.

Karan Thapar: You don't see this as the beginning of a change in Bangladesh?

Taslima Nasrin: I would like to think that its the beginning of a change in Bangladesh. But who would to power? It would be the same old political parties who are pro-fundamentalists use Islam for their own interests, to get votes from the ignorant masses. They would come to power and would never allow me to live in my own country.

Karan Thapar: So are you saying that things in Bangladesh would only change when the leaders of the Awami league and the Bangladeshi nation party will be completely removed from politics? And that an altogether new blood, new people be allowed to step in?

Taslima Nasrin: Yes I think so. A revolution is needed in Bangladesh.

Karan Thapar: Let me quote to you what the editor of the Bangladesh newspaper The Daily Star wrote about you on March 21. He said "it is time that the state moves to reinstate the rights of a woman who has been wronged for over 13-years. She belongs here, whether or not anybody likes it."

Taslima Nasrin: It's wonderful. I felt happy that somebody supported me in Bangladesh. But this is one lonely voice and certainly not enough to make to go back.

Karan Thapar: So India has to be your home in the foreseeable future, since Bangladesh is not safe.

Taslima Nasrin: I think so.

Karan Thapar: Why don't you speak to the Indian government asking them to be allowed to stay here, be given a longer visa and be given citizenship?

Taslima Nasrin: Yes, I would like to say that.

Karan Thapar: Regardless of the fact that your critics say she is posturing.

Taslima Nasrin: That's false.

Karan Thapar: It was a pleasure talking to you.

Taslima Nasrin: Thanks you. #

The interview was broadcast on By IBNlive.com, 22 April 2007

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Distorting the history and tarnishing the image of the great leader

MD. ANWARUL KABIR

THE REACTIONARY FORCES, who elated to power centre immediate after Bangabandhu’s demise rightly understood that the deceased Mujib is more powerful as the deep rooted image of Bangabandhu can not be wipe out from the heart of the Bengali easily unless an ill-designed anti-thesis against Mujib’s ideology be introduced. So, they initiated the process of history distortion using state machineries with a view to demeaning Mujib’s image. And for the same reason Mujib was kept in complete blackout in the state controlled media during the tenures of reactionary forces.

The irony of our history is that the major beneficiary of Bangabandhu killing was valiant freedom fighter General Ziaur Rahman, who emerged as the first dictator of the country. Being a freedom fighter, just to fulfil his own political ambition, Zia did not hesitate to be a part of the blue print of the reactionary forces. The reactionary forces speculated that if the new generations, who have not witnessed the war of independence, could be kept in the dark concerning the history of our liberation and the contribution of Bangabandhu , they would, one day, be successful. For this, keeping Zia in front they started to distort and fabricate our war history. Not only this, the process of tarnishing the image of Bangabandhu had also begun during Zia’s regime. Perhaps, on part of the dictator it was necessary to build up his own image.

Reactionary forces have brought so many acquisitions against Bangabandhu which have no ground in reality. The following sections attempt to encounter some of such allegations:

A. Bangabandhu killed democracy by introducing one party rule BAKSAL: Many have claimed that it was none but Bangabandhu who killed democracy and established authoritarian rule by introducing BAKSAL in 1975. On the surface, this seems to be true. But this becomes half-true if we objectively analyse the rationale behind introduction of Baksal. In fact, it could be argued that democracy loving Bangabandhu was bound to embrace authoritarian rule in accordance with the demand of the time. The very objective of BAKSAL was to establish socialism in the country following Soviet model. It may be noted that at that time of history, socialism had a special appeal to the common people. Moreover, Soviet model of socialism was a proven model for economic emancipation of the poor people as we analysed the Russian experience. Within a short span of time the backward feudalist country Russia became one of the super powers in the world providing the poor people with all sorts of basic needs. Besides, Baksal was formed in a democratic way through proper discussion in the parliament, and many people of the country at that time, including leading intellectuals, journalists and other professional groups, welcomed it. However, right now, no conclusive remark on Baksal is possible as it died in its infantile stage with the brutal killing of the father of the nation.

B. Bangabandhu’s Secularism is a form of atheism: In true sense a secular state should be indifferent to religion—religion should be private domain of a citizen. But if we objectively analyse the history, to Bangabandhu secularism meant restricting the communal politics constitutionally and giving equal emphasis to all religions. For this reason 1972 constitution banned religion based political party. It may be mentioned that religion based communal politics leads to extremism and anarchism disturbing communal harmony. Analysing the consequence of activities of religion based parties worldwide we can claim that banning communal politics was a pragmatic spirit of our constitution --- which was also a major spirit of our liberation war. However, Bangabandhu defined secularism is no way anti-Islamic. We have observed that during his time as a major Muslim country he was very eager to build good relationship with other Muslim countries and Bangladesh became a prominent member of OIC. Even much before Bangladesh received recognition from Pakistan (recognition came after Mujib’s death), in 1974 he invited and received Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in Bangladesh just to improve the bilateral relation with the major Muslim country in the sub-continent. In this context, the observation of J. N. Dixit who worked as Deputy High Commissioner of India after our independence and later promoted to Foreign Secretary of India can be cited. Mr. Dixit in his book entitled, “Liberation and Beyond” has pointed out that Sheikh Mujib believed, Bangladesh should give priority, not just to its Bengali linguistic and cultural identity, but also, to its Muslim identity. So, the claimant of Bangabandhu’s secularism is synonym to atheism is merely propaganda.

C. Bangabandhu did not proclaim independence: This propaganda was initiated during Zia’s regime, presumably with a motive to portray Zia’s role in the liberation war over Mujib’s. But in reality, the context of our liberation had not been created in a day. Rather it had a long history starting from the language movement in 1952. It was not like that once in a fine morning in March 1971, an unknown major (Zia was then a major in the East Bengal regiment) declared independence and people started the war. The fact is, prior to our liberation war, for about half a decade under the magical leadership of Bangabandhu, people were fully motivated to be emancipated from Pakistani colonial regime.

Declaration of war, although a formal entity, however, historical evidences suggest that Zia did not announce it first. On March 27, 1971 Major Zia transmitted a declaration of war on behalf of Sheikh Mujib. But prior to this, shortly after midnight, on March 26, Bangabandhu dispatched his aides from his house. He reportedly sent this message to East Pakistan Radio:

“This may be my last message. From today, Bangladesh is independent. I call upon the people of Bangladesh wherever you might be and with whatever you have, to resist the army of occupation to the last. Your fight must go on until the last soldier of the Pakistan occupation army is expelled from the soil of Bangladesh and final victory is achieved."

On April 10, 1971 the provisional government of Bangladesh proclaimed its official declaration confirming the declaration of independence made by Bangabandhu earlier as noted below:

“We, the elected representatives of the people of Bangladesh, as honour-bound by the mandate given to us by the people of Bangladesh, whose will is supreme, duly constitute ourselves into a Constituent Assembly, and having held mutual consultations, and in order to ensure for the people of Bangladesh equality, human dignity and social justice, declare and constitute Bangladesh to be sovereign People's Republic, and thereby confirm the declaration of independence already made by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and do hereby affirm and resolve that till such time as a Constitution is framed, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman shall be the President of the Republic and that Syed Nazrul Islam shall be the Vice-President of the Republic, and that the President shall be the Supreme Commander of all the Armed Forces of the Republic..."

Moreover the historic March 7 address of Bangabandhu can also be treated as a declaration of independence where he explicitly declared that: “Ebarer sangram, swadhinotar sangram, ebarer sangram, muktir sangram” (The struggle this time is a struggle for emancipation, the struggle this time is a struggle for independence)

So, those who try to claim that Zia proclaimed the declaration of independence first distorting the history, no doubt, have some ill motives.

D. Rakkhi Bahini issue: The objective of formation of Rakkhi Bahini was to support both the army and police forces to maintain some semblance law and order in the war rampaged country. Unfortunately, after the independence some left extremist groups (e.g. Gonobahini, Purba Bangla Sharbahara) inspired by the Naxalite movement of India were engaged in various underground activities including killing, which, in turn led total collapse of law and order in some parts of the country. Besides although constitutionally banned, the defeated “Islamic political fanatics” went underground and started their destructive politics by joining other left extremist groups. The law and order became so worst that even in broad day light these groups dared to kill their political rivals. In this context, killing of four sitting members of parliament at that time can be cited. In this critical social context, Bangabandhu decided to form Rakkhi Bahini, a Para militia force. It may be mentioned that perhaps Bangabandhu wanted to promote freedom fighters and so most of the members of Rakkhi Bahini were recruited from freedom fighters. In addition to police forces, creation of additional forces was not unprecedented anyway. In this context, existence of National Guard in USA and RAB in Bangladesh can be mentioned. This Rakkhi Bahini worked successfully to control the political anarchism as initiated by the extremist groups. Besides, in 1974, it successfully carried out an operation against hoarders and smugglers. However, in some cases Rakkhi Bahini committed excess and that should have been prevented.

E. Submissive foreign policy towards India: The reactionary forces recreated the anti-Indian sentiment in the mindset of the common people and tried to portray Mujib’s foreign policy as submissive towards India. But the fact is, Bangabandhu wanted to maintain friendly relationship with India along with Russian in the context of bi-polar international political setup of that time. It may be mentioned that both Russia and India supported us in our war of Independence while USA supported Pakistan. So, after independence, it was nothing wrong to keep close relationships with these two friendly countries. But Mujib’s government by anyway, was not submissive towards India. In support of this assertion we may point out the fact that within the shortest time of Mujib’s return from Pakistan in April 1972 he could successfully compel the Indian government to back their armed forces those at the fag end of our war of liberation fought side by side with our freedom fighters from the soil of Bangladesh. On bi-lateral relationship with India, the observation of Dixit was, “... even though Sheikh Mujib knew that during those early days of Bangladesh’s existence the country needed India’s assistance, he did not wish Bangladesh to become dependant on its large neighbouring giant, India, could unduly influence its politics. For this reason Sheikh Mujib wanted the Indian “connection and influence’ to lessen over time”

In conclusion, it may be stated that, although Sheikh Mujib was a great leader but by anyway he was not a prophet or any sort of superhuman. As a political personality down to the earth, no doubt he has some limitations too. Researchers in future will hopefully unveil this using authentic history and considering socio-economic and political setup of that time both nationally and internationally. But distorting history with a view to tarnishing the great leader at the state level will not be acceptable. #

Md. Anwarul Kabir is educationalist and is a freelance writer. He can be reached at kabiranwar@yahoo.com

Bangladesh: revival of the secular spirit

HAROON HABIB

THE 33RD death anniversary of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the slain founding father of Bangladesh, was a significant occasion for the country of 140 millions. On August 15, the nation paid tributes to the slain leader as his death anniversary was observed as National Mourning Day after a six-year break.

On this day in 1975, Mujib, along with most of his family members, was assassinated by a splinter group of the army thus changing the normal course of Bangladesh’s post-independence history. His two daughters — Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana — escaped the bloodbath since they were abroad.

In line with a recent High Court ruling, the present caretaker government has reinstated August 15 as National Mourning Day and a public holiday. The step has been welcomed overwhelmingly by right thinking people and pro-liberation political parties while the Islamists and rightists, who still curse Mujib for breaking Pakistan, are immensely disappointed.

The day was observed this time with wider public participation even under the state of emergency. Awami League, the party founded by Mujib and which led the country’s liberation war from Pakistan in 1971, organised elaborate programmes after many years.

During the Awami League rule between 1996 and 2001, August 15 was officially observed as National Mourning Day. But the BNP and Jamaat-led alliance government under Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, after coming to power in October 2001, scrapped the day’s official status, which the High Court declared illegal on July 27 this year.

Significantly, President Iajuddin Ahmed and Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed, through official messages, paid tributes to the great political leader for his historic contribution to the nation’s independence. The head of the state and head of the government also visited Tungipara, the village home of Mujib, 100 km from Dhaka, where he was buried by his assassins soon after the murder, to pay tributes. The heads of three services saluted Mujib’s grave.

Television channels and Bangladesh radio aired special programmes while newspapers published special supplements on the day. The historic March 7 speech of Mujib through which he declared independence of the former eastern wing of Pakistan and patriotic songs were aired throughout the day.

In the capital, hundreds of mourners wearing black badges thronged Bangabandhu Memorial Museum on Road-32 in Dhanmondi, the house where Mujib along with his family members were gunned down.

For those who preach political Islam, the reinstatement of state recognition has come as a shock. With the decision the caretaker government has reaffirmed the belief of the vast majority of the people that Bangabandhu was not only the Father of the Nation but also that what happened on the night of August 15, 1975 was a crime which must be condemned .

The assassination of Mujib will go down in history as an act of revenge by the defeated forces of 1971 war of Bangladesh’s independence. Following the tragedy, on September 26, 1975 the usurper President Khandaker Mostaque through an Extraordinary Gazette Notification, issued the Indemnity Ordinance, 1975 (Ordinance No. XIX), barring the trial of the killers.

Through this ordinance the murderers were indemnified, encouraging them to commit another historic crime. On November 3, 1975, four independence leaders including the acting president and the prime minister during Bangladesh’s War of Liberation, were brutally killed inside the Dhaka Central Jail by the same assassins.

It took 21 years before the crime could be addressed. The Awami League government in 1996 took two important steps — the overturning of the iniquitous indemnity provision and the initiation of a normal judicial process to try those guilty of the crimes committed in 1975.

Then came the BNP government in alliance with the Jamaat-E-Islami, the fundamentalist party which collaborated with the Pakistan army in opposing the Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan. An obdurate hatred for Mujib was again surfaced. On July 28, 2002, the Khaleda Zia government cancelled the National Mourning Day, and also it being a public holiday.

Fortunately for the people, due process of law and the principle of natural justice were upheld when the High Court declared illegal the cancellation of the Mourning Day and the present caretaker government decided to abide by the decision.

But this may not be enough. The observance of 33rd death anniversary of Mujib at the state level demands a swift completion of the trial of his alleged killers. #

First published in The Hindu, August 18, 2008

Haroon Habib, a Bangladeshi journalist is correspondent of The Hindu

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Rahul Gandhi's poverty-tour in Bangladesh

MOHAMMAD ZAINAL ABEDIN

THE RECENT maiden private tour of Rahul Gandhi, the son of Congress President Sonia Gandhi and slain Prime Minister Rajib Gandhi, grandson of slain Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and great grandson of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, to Bangladesh irked confusion and debate among the political observers and analysts, with a question mark what prompted him to make such a tour. They found little logic behind the tour of Rahul, a member of Indian Parliament and one of the secretaries of Indian Congress who reached Dhaka on August 1, (2008) on a 5-day tour amid high profile tight security umbrella. Other than Bangladeshi law enforcers, 10 personnel of Indian SPG (Special Protection Group) reached Dhaka earlier to oversee and conduct his security arrangements. Bangladeshi Nobel peace laureate and Grameen Bank managing director Prof. Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the host of Rahul, claimed that it was his (Rahul) educational visit that attracted huge coverage in Bangladeshi and Indian media. It was outwardly said that he would use the visit to take first-hand knowledge of the activities of BRAC in various sectors and micro-finance projects of Grameen Bank. Other than visiting Grameen Bank and BARC projects, he also held talks with the officials of CDP (Centre for Policy Dialogue), a research cell infamous for its pro-India tilt.

But media did not miss to uncover one of the major reasons of his visit. Rahul was quoted as saying that he came to Bangladesh to see its poverty in person. Sightseeing tour is vogue around the world. But Rahul Gandhi, the youngest heir of Nehru-Indira dynasty, through his visit to Bangladesh seems to add a new term — poverty-seeing — as if, he did not see the curse of poverty before in his life and it does not exist in India or elsewhere in the world that prompted him to select Bangladesh to quench his thirst. What a strange and cruel cock and bull story it is! Such an intention is really an insult to and unfortunate for Bangladesh. Rahul Gandhi was born in one of the major poverty-stricken countries of the world and its name is India whom Rahul's (i.e. Indian policymakers) now strive to brand as ‘shinning’’ or ‘supper’ India. As the Indian policymakers are no longer ready to identify India as a poor country, (though it is really poor till date), for this reason, perhaps, Rahul failed to discover poverty among the Indians. So he opted to see poverty in Bangladesh. But Bangladeshis are not poorer than the Indians. India’s strive for attaining superpower status blinded its policymakers that failed them to see and comprehend their poverty, though India is one of the poorest countries in the world. If Rahul was knowledgeable enough about India he would not have selected Bangladesh to see poverty. So for his kind information I think it wise to reproduce some statistics so that he gets minimum information about India’s poverty.

On the occasion of India’s 60th founding anniversary, ‘The Guardian’ a prestigious daily of Great Britain uncovered the following facts on India. Over 50% of Urban India has no access to sanitation. Many deadly diseases and others that afflict India can be traced to the same source: drinking water contaminated by human waste, says ‘The Washington Post’. Infected water causes an estimated 80 percent of disease in India, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), making poor sanitation and inadequate sewage disposal the nation's biggest public health problems. In rural areas, where more than 70 percent of Indians live, fewer than 10 percent of homes have toilets.

According to ‘The Guardian’ 100 million Indians live in the slums. 100 millions Indians are unemployed. India has 50-million child labours. 60% of country is still employed in Agriculture which contributes only 22% to GDP. 33% of all illiterates of world live in India. In china this figure is just 11%. There are 200 millions children in India and 50 millions don’t go to School. 80,000 Schools are without Blackboard. 1, 44,000 Schools have just one teacher. 26% of Indian population still lives below official poverty line. In rural area of Orissa (an Indian State) poverty rate is 43% while in Bihar it is 41%. 45% of Indian Children under five are malnourished.

‘The Christian Science Monitor’, (February 10, 2004 edition) says more than three quarters of the Indians live without access to a simple toilet. Nearly 89 percent of all Indians either defecate in the open, or use temporary latrines or substandard community toilets. Nearly 600,000 Indian children die each year of ailments linked to poor sanitation. The UN's World Development Report of 1993 ranked India slightly above sub-Saharan Africa in terms of infectious diseases.

India ranks 127th among 175 countries of the world. India's under-five mortality rate per 1,000 live births is 93, that is, one in eleven children dies before the age of five. Its maternal mortality ratio per 100,000 live births is 540, compared to 56 for China and 380 for even Bangladesh. The official National Sample Survey of 2000 revealed that three-fourths of India's rural population and half the urban population did not get the minimum recommended calories.

"There is already a sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) within India – half of our rural population or over 350 million people are below the average food energy intake of SSA countries." (Utsa Patnaik, "It is time for Kumbhakarna to wake up", Hindu, August 5, 20/05)

Official data tell that 42 per cent of children enrolled drop out before completing primary education (I-V) Another 19 per cent, according to official data, drop out before completing upper primary education (VI-VIII). These data in fact understate the problem. Survey-based data, which are more reliable, put the figure of drop-outs at the primary level at around 50 per cent. (Business Standard, November 2, 2005). And according to Census data, 43.5 per cent of the children between the ages of five and nine are not in school The 2001 Census data show that of 128.3 million children between the ages of five and nine, only 72.5 million are attending school.

Moreover, the quality of education imparted in government schools is so dismal that "half the children in Class IV in government schools in Mumbai cannot do the arithmetic calculations required of a Class I student. When put to the test, 18 per cent of students attending Classes II to V in Andhra Pradesh couldn't do single-digit additions while only 12 per cent managed single-digit subtractions. In a spot-the-object quiz, only 54 per cent got the results right." (Praful Bidwai, "The Great Indian Education Bazar", www.prafulbidwai.net/archives/20050905). The above statistics are enough to justify the poverty of India. In brief, I should say, India will not be able to eradicate its poverty in see able future.

Rahul Gandhi was surely frustrated, as there was no trace of poverty on the face of those Bangladeshis whomever he saw during his visit in BANGLADESH. He did not see any cottage or hut, (what is abundant in India) on his way to and from Gazipur Sadar, Kapasia, Rajendrapur, Singhair, etc. Bangladeshis are poor, but not as poor as the Indians. Their living standard and buying capacity are higher than the Indians.

Bangladesh could prosper more and reach the rank of Malaysia or Singapore if Bangladesh could remain free from India’s overt and covert designs. Indians are envious of Bangladesh and its people. So the Indian leaders and policymakers should change their mindset against Bangladesh and shun their big-brotherly attitude and their tendency of undermining Bangladesh. #

Mohammad Zainal Abedin is a Bangladeshi researcher & journalist and writes from USA

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Unending Wave of Extra-judicial Killing by Bangladesh Elite Forces

Dreaded anti-crime outfit engaged in extra-judicial killing, despite widespread criticism from rights groups and civil society - Photo: Munem Wasif/DrikNews

Human Rights Watch, New York urge"Donors Should Not Fund Rapid Action Battalion"

THE MILITARY-BACKED interim government should take prompt action to end a wave of unlawful killings by Bangladesh’s elite crime-fighting force, Human Rights Watch said today. Since June 1, 2008, officials from the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and the police have killed at least 50 individuals under suspect circumstances.

“Despite overwhelming evidence of RAB and police responsibility for unlawful killings, the interim Bangladeshi government seems unwilling to address the problem,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead, Bangladesh’s security forces continue to get away with murder.”

After strong national and international criticism of the Rapid Action Battalion for its poor human rights record, RAB killings decreased in 2007 and early 2008. However, this trend has been abruptly broken in recent months and the number of killings has surged, Human Rights Watch said.

For example, around 7 p.m. on July 15, RAB officers in Dhaka arrested Moshiul Alam Sentu, an activist in the student wing of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. When Sentu’s mother contacted a RAB officer shortly afterwards, he assured her that her son would not be mistreated. Around 4 a.m. the following day, eyewitnesses observed RAB officers dumping Sentu’s body in a paddy field in Barisal city, south of Dhaka. The body had two bullet wounds in the chest and another in the leg. Sentu’s neck was severely bruised and possibly broken, as was his left hand, indicating possible torture. The RAB later stated that it took Sentu to Barisal to recover a cache of hidden arms and that he was killed in crossfire as the RAB team was attacked by his associates.

“The officials responsible for killing Moshiul Alam Sentu and others should be prosecuted and punished to the full extent of the law,” said Adams. “Unless those officers involved are held to account, regardless of rank, the RAB will continue to torture and murder.”

Established in 2004, the RAB immediately became known for its involvement in what the authorities often refer to as “crossfire killings.” Over the past four years, RAB members have killed more than 540 people. Research by Human Rights Watch and others has shown that many of these “crossfire killings” are in fact poorly disguised extrajudicial executions, often preceded by torture (http://hrw.org/reports/2006/bangladesh1206/).

Tragically, the Bangladeshi police have copied the actions of the RAB, killing several hundred people over the past few years. Since a state of emergency was declared on January 11, 2007, the RAB and the police have often operated together.

On July 26, the mother of Dr. Mizanur Rahman Tutul, the head of the outlawed Purbo Banglar Communist Party (Red Flag faction), informed the media that RAB officers had arrested her son in Dhaka. She urged the government to save her son from “crossfire.” According to the police, Tutul was killed in a shootout between his criminal group and the police on July 27, the day after his mother talked to the press.

The interim government, in power for 19 months, has stated its commitment to establishing a “healthy and stable democratic system” based on the rule of law, but Human Rights Watch said its failure to address impunity is undermining its own reform efforts.

“The rule of law can’t become a reality in Bangladesh unless the very forces tasked with upholding the law are also bound by it,” Adams said.

While the RAB’s human rights record has been so poor that the United States and United Kingdom had refused to work with them officially as partners in counterterror operations, some international agencies and foreign governments have recently initiated or are now considering cooperation with the force. According to reports in Bangladesh’s Daily Star and New Age newspapers, a delegation of US officials from the departments of state, defense and justice visited Bangladesh in mid-July and met with the RAB to explore possibilities for future cooperation. Among other things, the RAB reportedly proposed that the US provide them with equipment and counterterrorism training.

Human Rights Watch urged governments not to work with or provide support to the RAB until it ends its pattern and practice of human rights abuses and holds responsible officials accountable. For a foreign government to provide assistance to the RAB at this point in time would be to condone the RAB’s record of human rights abuses and would raise serious questions about the donor’s commitment to improving human rights in Bangladesh, Human Rights Watch said.

As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and several other human rights treaties, Bangladesh is obliged to thoroughly and promptly investigate serious violations of human rights, prosecute the perpetrators, and in accordance with international fair trial standards punish them if their guilt is established. As far as Human Rights Watch is aware, no RAB officers have ever been held criminally responsible for taking the life of another person or for torture.

To view the December 2006 Human Rights Watch report, “Judge, Jury and Executioner: Torture and Extrajudicial Killings by Bangladesh’s Elite Security Force,” please visit:
http://hrw.org/reports/2006/bangladesh1206/

For more of Human Rights Watch’s work on Bangladesh, please visit:
http://hrw.org/doc?t=asia&c=bangla

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Sheikh Hasina’s happy day

The shape of post-military politics begins to emerge

IT HARDLY seemed like a significant event. On August 4th, just 1.5% of Bangladesh’s voters were permitted by the army to go to the polls in the first round of local elections. The vote was held under a state of emergency. Candidates could not compete under party labels. One party leader was in jail, another in exile.

But these were also the first polls held since the army installed a civilian government in January 2007. Fears that the military would rig the result proved unfounded. The election commission purged 12m duplicate, deceased or bogus names from voter rolls. For the first time, Bangladeshis saw a voting system that seemed to deliver a fair and credible outcome.

In this case, the outcome was a decisive victory for candidates backed by the Awami League (candidates had to run as independents but could be supported by parties). It won 12 of 13 mayoral races. The League is led by Sheikh Hasina, a former prime minister who remains in exile in America following the government’s decision to release her from prison in June on two months’ medical parole. The day after the poll, the government extended Sheikh Hasina’s bail for another month.

The vote made clear that the army has lost, or given up, the ability to influence the parliamentary election scheduled for December. That election now seems likely to go ahead (it was postponed last year), although the government refuses to set a date and the election commission took this week’s polls as evidence that there was no need to lift the state of emergency. Talk of setting up a national security council, to formalise the army’s role in politics after the vote, has not died down.

But three things make a return to civilian rule more likely. One is the confidence of the Awami League itself. Having been cut off from the public purse for 20 months, its politicians are desperate to get their mitts back on it again.

The next is a split in the League’s main rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), led by Khaleda Zia, the other “battling begum”, who is in jail on corruption charges. Mrs Zia called on her party to boycott the local poll but the party has split in three. At least one faction, no less desperate to return to power than the Awami League, is likely to defy her call to boycott the general election, too.

The BNP is now trying to get the Awami League to join it in a movement against influential military figures, invoking 1990, when in a rare moment of harmony the battling begums united to oust the then dictator, Mohammad Ershad. Instead, the League has chosen to join hands with him, probably to keep him out of the BNP camp.

Third, the interim administration is running into problems. The army-backed technocrats who run the country are drifting, unable to take big decisions. Last week Tata, an Indian conglomerate, pulled the plug on a proposed $3 billion foreign investment, the largest ever in Bangladesh. The costs of uncertainty are speeding up the return of an elected government. #

First published in The Economist magazine, August 7, 2008

Rights of the indigenous peoples a far cry

RIPAN KUMAR BISWAS

BESIDES THEIR other characteristics, indigenous peoples have contributed the least to world greenhouse gas emissions and have the smallest ecological footprints on earth. Yet they suffer the worst impacts not only of climate change, but also they face hardship in education, employment, health, human rights, social and economic development, and everyday life.

Precise estimates for the total population of the world's indigenous peoples are very difficult to compile but as of the start of the 21st century, there are at least 370 million indigenous people that includes 5000 distinct peoples, spread across 70 countries living relatively neutral or even carbon negative life styles. While not a large number when compared to the world population of 6 billion, it does have a substantial impact in lowering emissions. Compare this to the impact of the United States, with a population of 300 million -only 4% of the world’s population – but responsible for about 25 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions. But the situation of the indigenous peoples in the world is not encouraging.

In order to put an end to their marginalization, their extreme poverty, the expropriation of their traditional lands and the other grave human rights abuses they have faced, and continue to encounter, the UN General Assembly decided to celebrate the International Day of the World's Indigenous People on August 9 every year during the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous people by resolution 49/214 of 23rd December 1994 as this was the date of the first meeting in 1982 of the United Nations Working Group of Indigenous Populations of the Sub commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities of the Commission on Human Rights.

In recognition of indigenous peoples' particular vulnerability to climate change and their important role in responding to it, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in its 2008 session will focus on "Climate change, bio-cultural diversity and livelihoods: the stewardship role of indigenous peoples and new challenges." UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has asked member states and indigenously people to come together in a spirit of mutual respect. “Indeed, the suffering of indigenous peoples includes some of the darkest episodes in human history,” he mentioned in his special message on the eve of this year International Day of the World's Indigenous People.

Indigenous peoples have a past, a history, and a culture that will never die. They have a consciousness of culture and peoplehood, on the edge of each country's borders and marginal to each country's citizenship. But they continue to suffer discrimination, marginalization, extreme poverty and conflict. They face dispossession of their traditional lands and livelihoods, displacement, destruction of their belief systems, culture, language and way of life, and even the threat of extinction.

In identifying themselves as indigenous peoples, they do not mean to undermine the rights of anyone else, nor do they mean to undermine the global state system. According to Rebecca Adamson, an American Indian Rights activist, we are all indigenous people on this planet, and we have to reorganize to get along. All humankind is related to each other and each has a purpose, spirit, and sacredness. The rights of the indigenous peoples are the same as the rights of all human beings.

Indigenous Peoples have fought for over 500 years against genocide, displacement, colonization and forced assimilation. Throughout they have succeeded in preserving their cultures and their identities as distinct Peoples. But the ongoing fight over land and power has left Indigenous communities among the poorest and most marginalized in the world, alienated from state politics and under- or un-represented by national governments. Today, Indigenous Peoples, who occupy some of the last pristine environments on Earth, are at the forefront of the struggle against corporate globalization and privatization of natural resources.

They want to be recognized for who they are: distinct groups with their own unique cultures. They want the governments of the countries in which they live to respect their ability to determine for themselves their own destinies. They want to be protected from genocide, arbitrary execution, torture, forced relocation, or assimilation, and they want to enjoy their rights to freedom of expression, association, and religion. They want to be treated equally with respect to opportunities for education, health care, work, and other basic needs. Where such rights conflict with the needs of the state or other peoples, they want to participate as equals in an impartial and transparent process for resolving the conflict in a fair and respectful way.

But they are inevitably going to disappear and some populations are facing extinction sooner than later. 18 of the 28 indigenous groups in Colombia have less than 100 members, "and are suspended between life and death." 50 indigenous people were killed and other forced to move to neighboring villages, caves and mosques by the Ugandan Wildlife Authority in 2004 (UWA). Indigenous peoples in Malaysia and Indonesia have been uprooted by the aggressive expansion of oil palm plantations for biofuel production.

The recent cyclone Nargis that crashed into Myanmar or the earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale that struck Wenchuan County in southwest China’s Sichuan Province, brought the world’s attention on the plight of the indigenous peoples of the South and Central Asia for a brief moment. The Rakia of India, the Peripatetics of South Asia, the Bhil of central western India, the Tharu of Nepal, the Dom of Northern Pakistan, the peoples and cultures of the Kashmir Himalayas, the Hazara of Central Afghanistan, the Wakhi and Kirghiz of the Pamirian Knot, the Badakshani of Tajikistan, the Lezghi of the Caucasus mountain range, the people of Tibet, and the Minhe Mangghuer of China, are remain stubbornly amongst the poorest of the poor. They are rapidly disappearing not only from natural disasters, but also from processes associated with globalization and its sister processes of imperialism and capitalism.

Bangladesh is so culturally vast, that it is easy to lose sight of how many indigenous peoples inhabit the region. Approximately 2.5 million are Indigenous Peoples belonging to 45 different ethnic groups. But according to a study of Bangladesh Society for the Enforcement of Human Rights (BSEHR), 61.44 percent of indigenous people still face discrimination, 41.86 percent are victims of corruptions, and 18.67 percent evicted from their ancestors´ land. Around 1.2 million indigenous people of the country are yet to be recognized as special or indigenous communities constitutionally, they are deprived of enjoying their rights and facing discrimination.

For avoiding the path of armed conflict and finding a political solution to improve the condition of the indigenous peoples of Bangladesh, government set up a special ministry titled “Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs” on July 15th, 1998 following a peace accord that was signed between National Committee on Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs and the Parbatya Chattagram Jana-Samhati Samiti on 2nd December 1997. Since the signing of the peace accord, there has been a catastrophic failure to implement the accord’s terms, and human rights violations have increased since Emergency Rule was declared in January last year.

Arrests and intimidation of activists, rape of indigenous women and other human rights abuses remain rife. Land continues to be stolen from the indigenous people by both the some of government agencies and by settlers. There is none to put an end to human rights violations in the region and to ensure that those responsible for these violations are brought to justice.

Today, we have to acknowledge the contributions, which indigenous peoples make to humanity through their rich civilizations. We have to vigilantly uphold the respect for their human rights. They should be integrated in the international development agenda, including the Millennium Development Goals, in policies, programmes, and country-level projects. We have to acknowledge their special stewardship on issues related to the environment and climate change. #

August 07, 2008, New York
Ripan Kumar Biswas is a freelance writer based in New York. He could reached at: Ripan.biswas@yahoo.com

Friday, August 08, 2008

Anti-corruption out of tune with the people?

MOZAMMEL H KHAN

ONE OF the most commendable acts of the current CTG is the reformation of the ACC with its new leadership. Since its reconstitution, people had a lot of expectations that it would work independently and impartially with its reinvigorated mandate to bring to justice those who have betrayed the people’s trust by plundering state money and have abused the state authority for their personal gain. After eighteen months or so, it is high time to evaluate how far the ACC has succeeded in meeting people’s expectation.

If one looks back, it would be obvious that the ACC has been able to put a few hundred people, mostly politicians, behind bar, broadly on three pretexts: firstly, accumulating wealth disproportionate to one’s income; secondly, undisclosed wealth in the wealth statement and finally, evasion of income tax. How far these allegations have impacted psyche of the common people in forming any stigma about those who have either been convicted or under custody to await trial?

If one looks at the first one, it would be hard to find that many, especially in the political arena, who would be able to account for their accumulated wealth. That being the case, it is not transparent to the people the index that was used by the ACC to prepare the list of the potential wrongdoers and their subsequent internment. The wealth of a few big shots as disclosed by the ACC is so meagre, in the context of present Bangladeshi elites, it would, in fact, establish their honesty among the masses, not the other way around. According to ACC, the perceived guru of corruption has accumulated a wealth of less than 10 crores (1 crore=10 million) as opposed to the common belief that thousand of crores has been plundered by him. The disclosure of this meagre asset accumulated legally or illegally, would only establish his honesty not only among his supporters but to the common people as well. In fact, even in the estimate of ACC, I have not seen many whose total wealth surpassed more than 5 crores. If this is so, it seems our politicians are very honest indeed!

Secondly, disclosure of the actual wealth was a two-way sword for the discloser. If one discloses his actual wealth, he could be directly admitting his ill-gotten part of the wealth for which he might not have paid income taxes. If one did not disclose the actual income, he could be found guilty of concealing his wealth, which if discovered by the ACC, could charge him also of evading the income tax. In a few major cases, this undisclosed wealth never exceeded 3 crores, while most of them were in the spectrum of lakhs (1 lakh=100,000). Still better, if the prosecutors could have discovered and divulged how the ill-gotten wealth was acquired to provide a clear picture of their alleged crimes to the people.

Lastly, most of the accusations and convictions were due to non-payment of income taxes. This is a serious crime in countries where every earning resident pay income taxes. According to an NBR statistics, only around six hundred thousand people of Bangladesh pay income taxes while 15 million out of 150 million are eligible to be a part of the process. It means only 0.4% pay, 9.6% evade and the other 90% are not wealthy enough to pay the income taxes. So it is naturally unlikely that the non-paying 99.6% of the people would seriously concur with the ACC’s view and drives to punish only a few of those 15 million, who should be in the tax net to start with, for evading a part of their due taxes. Any judicial legal proceeding cannot ignore interjecting community norms and values into it to validate its criminal statutes.

The ACC chief has traveled all over the country to exchange views with the common people. It was expected that he would get the people’s view about their perception about corruption in order to avoid any boomeranging effect of the prosecution and conviction in one or more of the afore-said charges.

In addition, the selectivity of the ACC and the government (I still cannot make any differentiation between them) is so obvious that one does not need a microscope to detect it. For instance, out of the six city mayors, five are behind bar, with a lone exception, the stories of his wanton corruption occupied pages of the print media weeks after weeks. Even the ACC accused him of possessing the highest amount (around 10 crores) of ill-gotten wealth among all the accused. Nevertheless, he is still flying the national flag in his car and in a seemingly planned way is getting bail and extension, one time after another, without any attempt by the ACC counsels to appeal against the bail order. The same is true for some politicians, the foremost among them was the former Al-Badr Chief Matiur Rahman Nizami, whose bail order by the HC was not appealed as because the lawyers of the ACC ‘were too tired and there was no pressure from the government to do so. ’ Quite to the contrary, the government counsels, especially the recently resigned Attorney General was over active in making appeal against any HC decision, within minutes, that went in favour of Sheikh Hasina.

The ACC and the Army chiefs in their frequent sermons try to engrain patriotism in the mind of our citizens while reemphasizing that law is equal for every one. It became a paradox, when, for instance, a decorated war hero of our great war of liberation, an illustrious bureaucrat, was rearrested at jail gate after he was given bail by the HC on a blatantly false pretext of ‘making inflammatory speech at Panthapath’ while the chief of Al-Badr gangs were allowed to go free and hundreds of his supporters were allowed to greet him closing the main city street.

As expected, the highest number of cases was filed against Tarique Rahman, the man who had allegedly been at the centre of the rampant corruption that had permeated every sphere of the society in the five years of the immediate past regime of BNP-Jamaat led four-party alliance government. Although he reportedly controlled every aspect of the state and the government ranging from the civil administration to political agenda, from BNP's political office Hawa Bhaban in the capital, he is so far facing a lone trial in the case of Taka 21-crore bribery following the murder of Humayun Kabir Sabbir, a director of Bashundhara Group, despite being detained for over a year and a half now.

In a self-evident selectivity, right before the recent CC election, the ACC submitted charge sheet against interned Sylhet City Mayor Badruddin Ahmed Kamran for allegedly concealing information about his family’s wealth worth over Taka 7.21 lakh.

However, both the ACC and the government miserably failed to carry the people with them in selling the merits of the accusation, since it is the people who are the ultimate arbiters in dissecting the fact from the fiction in people’s court thereby repudiating or rehabilitating a public figure. The glaring proof was the landslide victory of Kamran in Sylhet CC election, where people creating a historical precedence, in each of the 120 precincts, expressed their resounding verdict against the merit of the ACC charges and the selectivity of the government in prosecuting whoever it intends to. This is the right the moment of soul searching for the ACC to evaluate why their actions are out of tune with the people. In fact, analysis of the very obvious discriminatory actions of the ACC and the government (especially the re-arrests at jail gate), does not add up to the fact that they are, respectively, headed by no other than Lt. General (Retd.) Hasan Masud Chowdhury and Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed. #

Dr. Mozammel H. Khan is the Convenor of the Canadian Committee for Human Rights and Democracy in Bangladesh

Friday, August 01, 2008

South Asia for geopolitical relationship could emerge as regional power

RIPAN KUMAR BISWAS

THE GOVERNMENTS wish to develop partnerships with their counterparts that actively disseminate knowledge and information with a view to strengthening risk reduction at both bilateral and regional level.

Environmental and climate change, swelling food and fuel prices, economic slow-down, terrorism, new migration flows, and the risk of increasing conflicts over limited resources generally have a regional dimension. Most of the world’s conflicts occur in regions where at least one of the neighbouring countries is also affected by conflict. There is a need for closer regional cooperation on such questions with a view to preventing different types of humanitarian crisis.

The 15th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) — scheduled in Colombo, Sri Lanka from August 2-3, 2008, is now trying to evolve an organization devoted to an immediate implementation of its decisions with the theme “partnership for the betterment of the people.”

Since its inception while its charter was formally adopted in Dhaka, Bangladesh on December 8, 1985, SAARC countries have never been able to adopt realistic approaches going beyond the politics of mistrust and suspicion. May be the leaders had realized that SAARC had to evolve into a more people-centered organization and thus this year’s theme was a progression from last year’s theme of connectivity while they were adding Afghanistan as group’s eight member in April 2007. The Summit is also expected to decide on the request of Australia and Myanmar for grant of observer status with SAARC. China, Iran, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mauritius, USA, and EU have already been granted observer status last year.

Such partnerships should include exchange of experience of peace and reconciliation measures, dialogues on reducing vulnerability to different types of humanitarian crisis, efforts to increase understanding of risk and conflict, and discussions on emergency response, gender issues and crisis management, with a view to strengthening local capacity.

But SAARC has not been able to build such partnership among the member countries like the dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, the dispute between Pakistan and Afghanistan over militants issue, the conflict between India and Bangladesh about border issues, human and drug trafficking, cross-border terrorism, water sharing and so on.

Although the foreign secretaries in 1981 in Colombo and the foreign ministers in 1983 in New Delhi identified areas to promote regional cooperation, which includes agriculture and rural development; health and population activities; women, youth and children; environment and forestry, science and technology and meteorology; transport; and human resource development, but the countries in South Asia are now facing the challenge of terrorism, food security, and energy crisis. Heads of state and government leaders would find shared solutions and adopt a series of measures with the main focus on a joint approach to combating terrorism, maximizing energy and water resources, food security, and poverty alleviation.

There are a number of countries that have had little success with disaster risk reduction, and one of the reasons for this is that they have experienced several crises in a short space of time with their limited resources and expertise. Closer regional cooperation on humanitarian and development policy should be established to improve the coordination of risk reduction and emergency response, particularly with respect to natural disasters or any major crisis. In addition, the need for more regional cooperation is increased by the lack of a clear UN mandate for preparedness, risk reduction, early warning, etc. So far, the UN’s most important role has been responding to humanitarian crises, but in recent years it has played an increasing role in preparedness.

In regions where there are many small countries, cooperation will be of major significance, but it is important that regional organizations and forums involve the whole region. And in South Asia, the world’s most densely populated area covering approximately 1.47 billion people, there is clearly a need for regional cooperation in order to address those above issues in this Greater Himalaya region. The South Asian people share many socio-economic and political problems, such as poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, unequal treatment of women, violence against women, pollution, exploitation of child labour, and religious fundamentalism.

Exchange of dialogues periodically and implement them as much as possible rather quite often between SAARC countries will communicate opinions, problems and way to solution is definitely helping hand to improve relations.

To move firmly towards the implementation of SAARC initiatives, keeping in mind the need for a regional focus and orientation, its members should be more active and vibrant to ensure progress and prosperity in the region. A number of SAARC documents including the Charter of SAARC Development Fund (SDF); Agreement on the establishment of SAARC Regional Standards Organization (SARSO); SAARC Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters; and The Protocol on the Accession of Afghanistan to SAFTA are expected to be signed during the Summit. These agreements will boost regional cooperation.

However, over the years, SAARC has made several progresses in a number of areas including trade, finance, poverty alleviation, and environment. In view of the growing demand to form a regional action plan for adaptation to climate change and mobilising funds for the purpose, environment ministers of SAARC countries sat for the first-ever such meeting in Dhaka on July 3, 2008. Though SAFTA is expected to be signed, but efforts are being made to create a level playing field by eliminating all tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade. SAARC Food Bank would start its operation with a food reserve of two million tons of rice and wheat. The food will remain in respective storage of the member nations as food stock.

No doubt to say that SAARC is too important and could be more effective for its geopolitical relationship with neighbouring countries and emerge as regional strength. #

First published on August 01, 2008, New York

Ripan Kumar Biswas is a freelance writer based in New York. He could reached at: Ripan.Biswas@yahoo.com