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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bangladesh in Human Trafficking Watch List

Bangladesh is a source and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. A significant share of Bangladesh’s trafficking victims consists of men recruited for work overseas with fraudulent employment offers who are subsequently exploited under conditions of forced labor or debt bondage. Bangladeshi children and adults also are trafficked internally for commercial sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, and forced and bonded labor. Some children are sold into bondage by their parents, while others are induced into labor or commercial sexual exploitation through fraud and physical coercion. Internal trafficking often occurs from poorer, more rural regions, to locations with more commercial activity including Dhaka and Chittagong, the country’s two largest cities. Women and children from Bangladesh are trafficked to India and Pakistan for commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor. Many Rohingya refugees from Burma transit through Bangladesh using unofficial methods, leaving them vulnerable to traffickers inside Bangladesh and in destination countries. In 2010, some Rohingya girls were forced into prostitution.

Bangladeshi men and women migrate willingly to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, the Maldives, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Malaysia, Singapore, Libya, Europe, and other countries for work, often under legal and contractual terms. Most Bangladeshis who seek overseas employment through legal channels rely on the over 1,000 recruiting agencies belonging to the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA). These agencies are legally permitted to charge workers up to $1,235 and place workers in low-skilled jobs typically paying between $100 and $150 per month, but workers are sometimes charged $6,000 or more for these services. Many Bangladeshi migrant laborers are victims of recruitment fraud, including exorbitant recruitment fees often accompanied by fraudulent representation of terms of employment; high recruitment fees increase vulnerability to debt bondage and forced labor among transnational migrant workers. Women typically work as domestic servants; some find themselves in situations of forced labor or debt bondage where they face restrictions on their movements, nonpayment of wages, threats, and physical or sexual abuse. Some Bangladeshi women working abroad are subsequently forced into prostitution. Some Bangladeshis have been convicted by foreign governments for their human trafficking crimes abroad. There are reports of an increased number of Bangladeshis transiting through Nepal to obtain Nepalese visas and work permits for employment in the Gulf, and many of them are likely trafficking victims. Many Bangladeshi migrant workers – including trafficking victims – were stranded in Libya in early 2011 due to the civil conflict in that country. Trafficking victims among these migrant workers may be particularly vulnerable to being trapped in Libya as a result of the confiscation of their travel documents and unpaid wages. Some of these migrants who have been able to return to Bangladesh are under pressure to repay the high debts they incurred for recruitment fees.

Bangladesh does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, and is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for a third consecutive year. Bangladesh was not placed on Tier 3 per Section 107 of the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, however, as the government has shown evidence of a credible, written plan that, if implemented, would constitute making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is devoting sufficient resources to implement that plan. The Government of Bangladesh demonstrated increased attention to the issue of human trafficking. The government continued to address the sex trafficking of women and children, drafted and submitted a comprehensive anti-trafficking law to the cabinet, and created an interagency task force mandated to monitor recruiting agencies and address high recruitment fees. The government did not prosecute or convict those who trafficked men, as well as those responsible for subjecting Bangladeshi workers to forced labor overseas through fraudulent recruitment mechanisms. The government did not report on law enforcement efforts against Bangladeshi officials who were complicit in human trafficking.

Recommendations for Bangladesh: Enact the draft comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation that criminalizes the forced labor of men, in order to integrate anti-labor trafficking objectives into national anti-trafficking policies and programs; increase criminal prosecutions and convictions for all forms of labor trafficking, including those involving fraudulent labor recruitment and forced child labor; take steps to address the allegations concerning the complicity of public officials in trafficking, particularly through the criminal prosecution and punishment of those found involved in or abetting human trafficking; increase the capacity of the Vigilance Task Force and improve oversight of Bangladesh’s international recruiting agencies to ensure they are not promoting practices that contribute to labor trafficking; place Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Cell officers in Bangladeshi embassies in destination countries; and provide protection services for adult male trafficking victims and victims of forced labor.

The Government of Bangladesh showed progress in convicting sex traffickers of females, but not traffickers of men, during the reporting period; however, the government drafted an anti-trafficking law that includes criminal prohibitions for all forms of trafficking, with stringent sentences, and submitted the proposed law into the parliamentary process in December 2010. Bangladesh prohibits the trafficking of women and children for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation or involuntary servitude under the Repression of Women and Children Act of 2000 (amended in 2003), and prohibits the selling and buying of a child under the age of 18 for prostitution in Articles 372 and 373 of its penal code. Prescribed penalties under these trafficking statutes range from 10 years’ imprisonment to the death sentence. These penalties are very stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 374 of Bangladesh’s penal code prohibits forced labor, but the prescribed penalties of imprisonment for up to one year or a fine are not sufficiently stringent.

During the reporting period, the government obtained the convictions of 42 sex trafficking offenders and sentenced 24 of them to life imprisonment under Sections 5 and 30 of the Repression of Women and Children Act; 18 were sentenced to lesser prison terms. This is an increase from the 32 convictions obtained in 2009, with 24 offenders sentenced to life imprisonment. The government prosecuted 80 cases involving suspected trafficking offenders and conducted 101 investigations, compared with 68 prosecutions and 26 investigations during the previous year. Fifty-three prosecutions resulted in acquittals; however, under Bangladeshi law the term “acquittal” also can refer to cases in which the parties settled out of court or witnesses did not appear in court. The government did not report any criminal convictions for labor trafficking offenses, although some unconfirmed reports noted that the government prosecuted some labor trafficking cases. Most sex trafficking cases are prosecuted by 42 special courts for the prosecution of crimes of violence against women and children spread throughout 32 districts of the country; those courts are generally more efficient than regular trial courts. The Ministry of Home Affairs’ Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Cell continued to collect data on trafficking arrests, prosecutions, and rescues.

The complicity in human trafficking crimes of Bangladeshi government officials remained a serious problem, though the government made no discernible efforts to address it. During the year, there were allegations that a Bangladeshi diplomat facilitated human trafficking of Bangladeshi migrants. Several NGOs reported a nexus among members of parliament and corrupt recruiting agencies and village level brokers and indicated that politicians and regional gangs were involved in human trafficking. NGOs and press reports indicate official recruitment agencies in Dhaka have linkages with employers and brokers in destination countries and help facilitate fraudulent recruitment. In addition, some of these employers put their migrant workers in situations of servitude. The Government of Bangladesh did not provide data on investigations, prosecutions, convictions, and sentencing of public employees complicit in human trafficking. There was no further information about the prosecution of a civil servant last year who was complicit in trafficking, as noted in the 2010 TIP Report. The country’s National Police Academy continued to provide anti-trafficking training to police officers who went through entrance training.

The Government of Bangladesh made some efforts to protect victims of trafficking over the last year. The government’s insufficient efforts to protect victims of forced labor – who constitute a large share of victims in the country – and adult male victims of trafficking is a continuing concern. The government did not have a systematic procedure to identify trafficking victims and vulnerable populations, and to refer victims of trafficking to protective services. An NGO report indicated that many brothel owners and pimps coerce Bangladeshi girls to take steroids, with devastating side effects, to make them more attractive to clients; the drug is reported to be used by 90 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 35 in Bangladeshi brothels; this phenomenon made it sometimes difficult for the government to identify prostituted minors. Bangladesh’s courts and police refer some victims of trafficking to NGO shelters; other times, those victims were either self-identified or identified by an NGO. One hundred thirty-seven victims (83 adult women, zero adult men, and 54 children) were self-identified or identified and rescued by law enforcement officials or NGOs in the reporting period, but it is uncertain whether they were referred to shelters. In the previous year, law enforcement officials identified and rescued 68 victims. While the government did not provide shelter or other services specifically dedicated to trafficking victims, it continued to run nine homes for women and children victims of violence, including trafficking, as well as a “one-stop crisis center” for women and children in the Dhaka general hospital. These centers, in cooperation with NGOs, provided legal, medical, and psychiatric services. An NGO noted that adult female victims could leave the shelters at will; children’s decisions to leave were dependent on their families’ permission. No male victims were assisted in these shelters. It is not known how many trafficking victims were served by government and NGO care facilities in Bangladesh. The government continued to run some shelters in Bangladeshi embassies abroad, but closed other shelters. Law enforcement personnel encouraged victims of trafficking, when identified, to participate in investigations and prosecutions of their traffickers by providing transportation to courts. Authorities did not penalize Bangladeshi victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their being trafficked. When no space was available in shelter homes, however, female victims of trafficking were placed in divisional custody facilities at government-run prisons, which include access to medical care and cooking facilities. Unregistered Rohingya refugees who were trafficking victims were detained indefinitely for their undocumented status. At least 36 Bangladeshi sex trafficking victims were repatriated to Bangladesh from India from 2010-2011, although repatriation remained a challenge for other victims. Some of them had been in shelters in India for almost a year and a half, awaiting the verification of their Bangladeshi identities by the Government of Bangladesh. Bangladesh established a trafficking task force with India.

While workers ostensibly had several options to address complaints of labor and recruitment violations and to get compensation, the process most often used – arbitration by Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA) – did not provide sufficient financial compensation and rarely addressed the illegal activities of some BAIRA-affiliated recruitment agents. Workers were encouraged to seek resolution for their complaints directly from BAIRA, rather than file cases against the company, by both BAIRA and the Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training. This resolution generally led to cash-payouts much less than the wages they were denied and the recruitment fees paid. If there are “major” disputes, recruitment agencies may lose their licenses. NGOs and news reports alleged instances of officials working at some Bangladeshi embassies abroad were mostly unresponsive to complaints and attempts to seek restitution abroad were rare. Bangladeshi officials noted that embassies in destination countries do not have enough staff to combat labor exploitation.

The Bangladeshi government took efforts to prevent trafficking over the reporting period. In July 2010, the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment (MEWOE) created a Vigilance Task Force charged that improving the oversight of Bangladesh’s labor recruitment process. Through the task force, MEWOE launched an advertising campaign directed at potential migrants which detailed the dangers of migration, offered tips for safe migration, and provided contact information for relevant ministries through which migrants could reach assistance. The Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs held events in villages explaining recourses for victims under the Women and Children’s Repression Prevention Act. In the reporting period, the government shut down three recruiting agencies, blacklisted their owners, and seized their assets. The government cancelled the licenses of 25 recruiting agencies for involvement in fraudulent recruitment practices that potentially facilitated human trafficking. The agencies in question have the right to appeal the cancellation, and until all the appeals are exhausted – a process that could take several years – they are allowed to continue business operations; however, during the appeals the agency is not allowed to engage in any labor recruitment. This is a large increase from the shutting down of one agency and the cancellation of licenses and forfeiture of money from six other agencies in the previous reporting period. NGOs and a government official reported, however, that friends and family members of agency heads are sometimes able to file successfully for new licenses. Bangladesh took a leadership role in the region, chairing the Colombo Process, a consortium of labor contributing countries that seeks to address issues such as rights and conditions for migrant workers and human trafficking. Under Bangladeshi leadership, consultations between European and Colombo Process countries took place in February 2011. The government continued to allow BAIRA to set fees, license individual agencies, certify workers for overseas labor, and handle most complaints of expatriate laborers, while not exercising adequate oversight over this consortium of labor recruiters to ensure their practices do not facilitate debt bondage of Bangladeshi workers abroad. The home secretary continued to chair the bi-monthly inter-ministerial National Anti-Trafficking Committee Meetings, which oversees district–level committees in 64 districts. The home secretary also regularly holds coordination committee meetings with NGOs. The national rate of birth registration is only between seven and 10 percent, and most children born in the rural areas are still not properly documented. Training, including awareness about human trafficking, was provided to Bangladeshi soldiers prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions. During the year, the government did not demonstrate measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. Bangladesh is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Islamic republic returns to secular constitution: Bangladesh’s last chance


The prime minister of Bangladesh was voted in on her promise of justice for the crimes of its foundation 40 years ago. This has not quite happened as planned, and has been the excuse for suppression of all political opposition

Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, launched a coordinated assault in January 2010 on the Islamist order that has gripped her country for 30 years. She attacked its legal foundation. In 1979, Islamists had hijacked control of the state, amended the constitution, and transformed Bangladesh from a secular country to an Islamic republic. Through the Supreme Court, Hasina retrieved it: she nullified the 1979 amendment, and the world’s third largest Muslim nation became a secular republic again.

Since then, her centre-left Awami League Party has spared almost no expense to expunge the traces of hard-line Islam. Hasina (as she is known) has spent millions of dollars to rename public buildings that once honoured hard-line Islamists. She has re-written laws to protect women from having to wear Islamic head coverings. The government has granted itself the means to dismantle Islamist militant networks. A war crimes tribunal will address the atrocities committed by Islamists during Bangladesh’s struggle for independence from Pakistan in 1971.
But there is a dark side. Hasina is not too concerned about respecting the constitution, so there has been a crackdown on her political opponents, and on the leadership of Jamaat-e-Islami, the most powerful fundamentalist political party, which claims 12 million followers. Hasina has used extreme methods to destroy the Islamists, as well as other regime opponents – methods that are incompatible with freedom, law and democracy. Now, as the state frays, and shortages of water, electricity and gas provoke riots, the crackdown threatens to further ignite the religious and political divisions of this impoverished country of 150 million people. Her radical approach threatens the democratic foundations she purports to uphold.

’So where’s the trial?’
Bangladesh’s Liberation War Museum is a small building in the poor Mirpur section of Dhaka, the capital. It was built to commemorate the victims of Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence against Pakistan. Hasina’s father, Sheikh Mujipur Rahman, led the struggle, which was fought so that Bangladesh (then a province of Pakistan exploited by its Islamic rulers) could be a secular, independent nation. Pakistan’s retaliation was catastrophic. In nine months, its military liquidated the leadership of the Awami League. It murdered as many as three million Bengalis and raped some 200,000 women (the exact toll remains unknown and contested). Pakistani soldiers did not act alone: many Bengali Muslims collaborated with the Pakistani army, killing secular Muslims and Hindus in the name of preserving Islam.
Last year I visited the museum to meet survivors. Muhammed Abu Saeed, in his 40s, told me how Pakistani soldiers beat and tortured his brother, who was eventually shot and killed. Sheikh Shariful Islam Bablu was only 15 when a Pakistani mob beat him and then tried to slit his throat. He escaped, but is scarred. All the survivors were angry, but not at the Pakistani soldiers who committed the crimes and are now beyond reach, untouchable by courts or personal retribution. They want a trial of Bangladeshis. Saeed said, “If the Bengali collaborators are tried, the souls of our martyrs will have at least a little peace.”

Their wishes may come true. Bangladesh’s youth, who have had greater access, online, to stories, photos and videos from the war than past generations, now call for truth. “The younger generation have heard stories and have said, ‘It’s a genocide, so where’s the trial? Somebody has to answer’,” said Imtiaz Ahmed, a professor of international relations at Dhaka University who has written several books on the 1971 war.

Hasina won a landslide election in 2008 by promising a tribunal, which she constituted in March 2010. The decision has been hailed by international jurists, for good reason. Done properly, Bangladesh’s tribunal could help abate the corruption and political squabbling that have crippled Bangladesh since its creation. It could also be an important model for the Muslim world. But instead of using the court’s energy to seek out hundreds of presumed war criminals, Hasina seems to have empowered it only to harass the leadership of Jamaat-e-Islami. The witchhunt promises only more instability.

I met one of the “collaborators”, Muhammed Kamaruzzaman, now in his 50s and the official spokesman of Jamaat-e-Islami, which wants to turn Bangladesh back into an Islamic state. He rarely made a point without citing a supporting statistic or referencing a historical document, yet the facts of his own life do not tally. He therefore perfectly symbolises the role his party plays in Bangladeshi politics.

In 1971 Jamaat-e-Islami actively opposed Bangladesh’s independence struggle. “[It] had this emotional attachment with Pakistan. Because they thought that Pakistan is a homeland for the Muslims. How can we separate this country?” Kamaruzzaman asked. Yet the Pakistani army organised Jamaat-e-Islami as a radicalised militia, a proto-Taliban. Whether it committed war crimes is less clear. Kamaruzzaman was said to have run an interrogation centre where more than 300 secular nationalists were tortured and executed. But even if Kamaruzzaman were to be found guilty, his party cannot be held responsible. Nor were Jamaat-e-Islami members the only war criminals – most belonged to other political and religious groups. Any fair trial would make this clear.

Hasina has intentionally obscured these facts, describing Jamaat-e-Islami as a cabal of murderers, and assuming their guilt. When her government issued a list of 1971’s top 10 war criminals, she singled out the party’s leadership, including Kamaruzzaman. He protested his innocence to me, insisting that Hasina was motivated by political calculus, not facts. “Just for political purposes they have raised this issue. With this issue you can marginalise Jamaat-e-Islami. And for future elections it will be easy, smooth sailing for the Awami League.”

If Hasina harassed his party, Kamaruzzaman insisted, its younger followers might resort to violent militancy: “If Jamaat-e-Islami leaders are arrested…we do not know what will happen. We do not know how my sons, relatives, and friends will react. We are afraid some of them can go for underground militancy, for retaliation.” He has spent most of his career denying that Jamaat-e-Islami has any links to militancy, yet now flaunts such connections.
The controversy begins
In July 2010, Kamaruzzaman and half a dozen of Jamaat-e-Islami’s top officials, including its supreme leader, were arrested and paraded before the national media. Watching it on television felt like the dawn of a new era. But then the controversy began. At first Kamaruzzaman and his colleagues were not charged with war crimes, but with others that had nothing to do with 1971, including blasphemy against the Prophet, and murdering a bystander during a political rally.

The war crimes charges came only after the men were already in prison, and included corruption, money laundering, and links to terrorism. Then, in a move that outraged the Muslim world, Hasina banned the writings of the party’s creator, Syed Abul Ala Maududi, South Asia’s most influential theologian. Now Hasina is toying with the idea of banning religious parties. Observers say that her tribunal looks authoritarian. And it could backfire. “You can’t start labelling parties before the trial has started,” said Ameena Mohsin, a professor of international relations at Dhaka University. “The government is putting the entire process of the trial into question.”
The threat of violence is mounting. Jamaat-e-Islami activists have fought street battles with police, and have been arrested for possession of explosives. Kamaruzzaman’s threats seemed less like bluster and more like prophecy. Last November, unknown assailants threw Molotov cocktails at the Dhaka residence of Bangladesh’s chief justice, who had ruled in favour of restoring secularism to the constitution.

Bangladesh appears to be following repressive secular regimes in the Muslim world, such as Egypt, Algeria and Turkey which all at one time sought to contain Islamist politics through strong-arm tactics.

Wider instability is spreading. Hasina has failed to address daily problems, such as food, water and electricity shortages, which have caused riots. Garment workers, protesting over poor pay, have burned dozens of factories in a vital industry. Recently, Hasina extended her ire to her largest political rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), whose members have been harassed and arrested. The BNP has faced off with Hasina’s party in street battles that have killed dozens and wounded more than 100. The army may be forced out of its barracks again, as it was in 2007, when fighting between the BNP and the Awami League resulted in many deaths. Bangladesh will be back where it started 40 years ago. Time may be running out.

Witnesses are aging and dying. Evidence is fading. “I want a peaceful trial, and very soon,” Bablu said. “There will not be another chance.”

First published in Le Monde Diplomatique, Paris, France, 4 June 2011

Fortress India: Why is Delhi building a new Berlin Wall to keep out its Bangladeshi neighbors?

Indian patrol the "hated" border fences

Felani wore her gold bridal jewelry as she crouched out of sight inside the squalid concrete building. The 15-year-old's father, Nurul Islam, peeked cautiously out the window and scanned the steel and barbed-wire fence that demarcates the border between India and Bangladesh. The fence was the last obstacle to Felani's wedding, arranged for a week later in her family's ancestral village just across the border in Bangladesh.

There was no question of crossing legally -- visas and passports from New Delhi could take years -- and besides, the Bangladeshi village where Islam grew up was less than a mile away from the bus stand on the Indian side. Still, they knew it was dangerous. The Indians who watched the fence had a reputation for shooting first and asking questions later. Islam had paid $65 to a broker who said he could bribe the Indian border guard, but he had no way of knowing whether the money actually made it into the right hands.

Father and daughter waited for the moment when the guards' backs were turned and they could prop a ladder against the fence and clamber over. The broker held them back for hours, insisting it wasn't safe yet. But eventually the first rays of dawn began to cut through the thick morning fog. They had no choice but to make a break for it.

Islam went first, clearing the barrier in seconds. Felani wasn't so lucky. The hem of her salwar kameez caught on the barbed wire. She panicked, and screamed. An Indian soldier came running and fired a single shot at point-blank range, killing her instantly. The father fled, leaving his daughter's corpse tangled in the barbed wire. It hung there for another five hours before the border guards were able to negotiate a way to take her down; the Indians transferred the body across the border the next day. "When we got her body back the soldiers had even stolen her bridal jewelry," Islam told us, speaking in a distant voice a week after the January incident.

Other border fortifications around the world may get all the headlines, but over the past decade the 1,790-mile fence barricading the near entirety of the frontier between India and Bangladesh has become one of the world's bloodiest. Since 2000, Indian troops have shot and killed nearly 1,000 people like Felani there.

In India, the 25-year-old border fence -- finally expected to be completed next year at a cost of $1.2 billion -- is celebrated as a panacea for a whole range of national neuroses: Islamist terrorism, illegal immigrants stealing Indian jobs, the refugee crisis that could ensue should a climate catastrophe ravage South Asia. But for Bangladeshis, the fence has come to embody the irrational fears of a neighbor that is jealously guarding its newfound wealth even as their own country remains mired in poverty. The barrier is a physical reminder of just how much has come between two once-friendly countries with a common history and culture -- and how much blood one side is willing to shed to keep them apart.

India did not always view its eastern neighbor in such hostile terms. When Bengali-speaking nationalists in what was then East Pakistan won Bangladesh's independence in a bloody 1971 civil war, they did it armed with Indian weapons. But the war destroyed Bangladesh's already anemic infrastructure and left more than a million dead, presaging the new country's famously unlucky future. Bangladesh is now home to 160 million people crammed into an area smaller than Iowa; 50 percent of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day, and the country bottoms out the list on most major international health indicators.

As bad as things are, they can get plenty worse. Situated on a delta and crisscrossed by 54 swollen rivers, Bangladesh factors prominently in nearly every worst-case climate-change scenario. The 1-meter sea-level rise predicted by some widely used scientific models would submerge almost 20 percent of the country. The slow creep of seawater into Bangladesh's rivers caused by global-warming-induced flooding, upriver dams in India, and reduced glacial melt from the Himalayas is already turning much of the country's fertile land into saline desert, upending its precarious agricultural economy. Studies commissioned by the U.S. Defense Department and almost a dozen other security agencies warn that if Bangladesh is hit by the kind of Hurricane Katrina-grade storm that climate change is likely to make more frequent, it would be a "threat multiplier," sending ripples of instability across the globe: new opportunities for terrorist networks, conflicts over basic human essentials like access to food and water, and of course millions of refugees. And it's no secret where the uprooted Bangladeshis would go first. Bangladesh shares a border with only two countries: the democratic republic of India and the military dictatorship of Burma. Which would you choose?

India has a long history of accepting refugees, from the Tibetan government in exile to Sri Lankans fleeing a drawn-out civil war. Faced with the threat of mass migration from the east, however, New Delhi has drawn a line in the sand. Rather than prepare expensive and possibly permanent resettlement zones, India began erecting a fence, complete with well-armed guards, in 1986. After the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won national elections in 1998, the program was ramped up to placate anti-Muslim sentiment among the party faithful. The fence grew longer and the killings more frequent. After years of complaints from Bangladeshi politicians, India made promises on several occasions to switch to nonlethal weaponry, but has rarely followed through on them.

By next year, every available crossing point between India and Bangladesh will have been blocked off by the fence. But while tightened security has made the border more dangerous, it hasn't actually made it much more secure. More than 100 border villages operate as illicit transit points through which thousands of migrants pass daily. Each of these villages has a "lineman" -- what would be called a coyote on the U.S.-Mexican border -- who facilitates the smuggling, paying border guards from both notoriously corrupt countries to look the other way when people pass through.

"Entire villages can cross the border with the right payoffs," says Kirity Roy, head of the Indian human rights organization Masum, which together with Human Rights Watch released a bleak report on the border situation in December. No one is likely to manage the crossing without a lineman's help, Roy explains. "If someone tries to sneak past the linemen without paying, they will find them out and tell the border guards to shoot them." An inefficient bribe system, he says, explains how border guards could kill 1,000 unarmed people in the last decade.

The ugly immigration politics on the western side of the fence, where popular sentiment runs decisively in favor of walling off Bangladesh, have made a bad situation worse. The New Delhi-based Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses estimates that there are already 10 to 20 million illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in India. (By comparison, there are an estimated 11.2 million illegal Mexican immigrants in the United States.)

The rise of global Islamist militancy in recent years has worsened the xenophobic streak in India's already dicey relations with its Muslim neighbors, and Indian politicians have been quick to capitalize on it. By 2009, Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram was declaring that Bangladeshis have "no business to come to India." The opposition BJP isn't rolling out the welcome mat either: Tathagata Roy, the party's leader in the Bangladesh-bordering state of West Bengal, has called for lining the border with antipersonnel mines. If the predictions come true for immigration from Bangladesh, Roy says, India's population of 900 million Hindus will have no choice but "to convert or jump into the sea."

The border itself has hardened into a grim killing field. Although border shootings are officially recorded by Indian officials as "shot in self-defense," the Masum and Human Rights Watch report found that none of the victims was armed with anything more dangerous than a sickle, and it accused the Indian Border Security Force of "indiscriminate killing and torture."

Most of the dead are farmers caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. In January, Bangladeshi soldiers told us, six Indian soldiers lured a Bangladeshi farmer named Shahjahan Ali into a swath of no man's land along the border. They stripped him naked, beat him, broke his legs, and mutilated his genitals before throwing him back into Bangladesh, where he bled to death from his injuries. "It's like they are drunk," says the Bangladeshi soldier who found Ali. "Like they are on drugs." Powerless to fire back without creating an international incident with their vastly stronger neighbor, the Bangladeshi border guards can do little more than pick up the bodies.
Felani's death, however, galvanized Bangladesh. Graphic photos of her dead body made the front pages of newspapers across the country, and political parties posted her picture with the caption "Stop Border Killing!" on seemingly every available wall in the capital city of Dhaka. Shamsher Chowdhury, a former Bangladeshi foreign secretary and current vice chairman of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, says, "The fence is our Berlin Wall." The shooting seemed to have given India pause as well. In March, New Delhi once again agreed to strip its border guards of live ammunition, and for once actually did it. For the first month in almost a decade, Indian troops didn't kill anyone on the border.
But by April the Indian soldiers had reloaded, shooting a Bangladeshi cattle trader and three others in separate incidents. It was a bleak reminder that while the fence itself may be a flimsy thing, the tensions that make it into a killing zone are remarkably durable.

First published in Foreign Policy magazine, United States, July/August 2011

Scott Carney is author of The Red Market: On the Trail of the World's Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers. Jason Miklian and Kristian Hoelscher are researchers at the Peace Research Institute Oslo. This article was made possible with a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism

Friday, June 24, 2011

Bangladesh ethnic communities protest Islamization of constitution


THE BANGLADESH government’s dramatic turn around from secularism to Islamism has enraged the indigenous population, who are demanding to be recognized in a proposed re-draft of the country's constitution.

The nation is poised to amend the constitution, which is likely to be tabled in the parliament on Thursday. The move has been vehemently protested by independence war veterans, the pro-secularist lobby and social justice activists. Dissent is also being heard from within the ruling party and its pro-left alliance partners.

The superior court, in a landmark judgment last July, asked the government to restore secularism in the spirit of the bloody war of independence of 1971. Secular activists charge the government has deliberately adopted dilly-dally tactics while the charter changes are considered.
Former guerrilla leader Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma a.k.a. Shantu Larma, chairman of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council, on Thursday rejected the proposed Islamization of the constitution and demanded constitutional recognition of the indigenous or Adivasi community, who have resided in the country for centuries.

The guerrilla leader, who fought a bush war for two decades, demanded the government drop a proposal to keep a Koranic verse in the preamble of the constitution -- "Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim (in the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful)" and Islam as the state religion.

"A state can't have a religion," said Larma, who signed the historic peace accord between guerillas and the government 13 years ago. The treaty recognizes the inhabitants of hill forest as indigenous communities, acknowledges its traditional governance system and established regional autonomy. However, the constitution does not acknowledge them as Adivasis.
The matter of recognition of the indigenous people came to the fore recently following denial by a Bangladesh diplomat in the United Nations that there were no indigenous people in the country.

The statement has been construed as another step by the government to further erode the already limited rights of indigenous people.

Since Bangladesh gained independence four decades ago, the 35 ethnic groups that represent nearly 2 percent of the total 158 million majoritarian Sunni Muslims have demanded to be recognized as indigenous communities.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Despite rise of food price in Bangladesh, poverty has also reduced slightly

Photo: Julian Francis/Micro-credit have empowered 13 million rural poor, mostly women

The poor communities in Bangladesh described their eating habits have changed and forgotten the taste of red meat or even lentils. The kitchens, traditionally dominated by women have pieces of chicken and fish species which they never have previously considered to eat.

Despite rise of price of food in Bangladesh increased in first half of 2011, the poverty has surprisingly reduced slightly, an Oxfam survey claims.

The report “Living on a Spike: How is the 2011 Food Price Crisis Affecting Poor People?” said the price hike of 2011 is affecting the poorest most, but it has been generally adverse on the wider society.

While food inflation reached 10 percent, according to the study released on Wednesday, Bangladesh depends on the international market for additional food imports, and changes in global prices are expected to have a local impact.

Bangladesh, a nation of 158 million has reduced poverty levels and improved living standards significantly in recent years despite global economic meltdown and natural calamities, the report said.
The study was designed to explore how poor people experienced the food price hike of 2011 in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Kenya and Zambia. It follows on from research in the same communities in 2009 and 2010.

On the other side, the national poverty headcount rate declined in Bangladesh to 31.5 percent in 2010 from 40 percent in 2005, according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistic and the World Bank jointly study launched on Wednesday.

The new survey report revealed that rural poverty declined to 35.2 percent in 2010 from 43.8 percent in 2005, while urban poverty has fallen to 21.3 percent from 28.5 percent in the same period.

Economist Professor Wahid Uddin Mahmud said the poverty rate was 50 percent in 1990 and it came down to 45 percent in 2000 and 40 percent in 2005. The poverty rate has declined by eight percent in last five years, writes private United News of Bangladesh.

He said the poverty has been decreasing gradually in the country keeping pace with the increasing growth of per head national income.

The poorest and most vulnerable try to cope by working harder, eating less, living even more frugally, drawing down any resources and assets and managing on a day-to-day basis, the report said.

Small farmers do not always benefit from high food prices as is supposed, as many sell their outputs at low prices immediately after he harvest to repay loans taken for cultivation; many people believe instead that an increasing number of middlemen and large traders cream off the main profits from high rice prices.

However, the communities under study held the government responsible for failure to protect them against food price spikes.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bangladesh dramatic shift from secularism to Islamic constitution

Photo: Secularist campaign for trial of war criminals

BANGLADESH ON Monday night decided to make a radical shift from secularism to a pro-Islamic constitution. The move angered pro-democracy, secularist activists and also surprised the nation's moderate Muslim population.

An amendment of the constitution will be brought soon to retain Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim (in the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful) in the preamble of the constitution, freewheel policy to religious biased politicking and inclusion of Islam as state religion.

A meeting of the cabinet ministers chaired by prime minister Shiekh Hasina on Monday approved the amendments to the constitution. The constitutional reforms committee worked for months to recommend several revisions.

Meanwhile, the opposition led by former prime minister Khaleda Zia and Islamist alliance partners launched a countrywide agitation, including strikes protesting abrogation of non-partisan interim government to ensure free, fair, credible polls in the reformed constitution. They fear that the forthcoming general elections due in 2014 could be rigged based on proven track records of ruling party.

Two senior ministers AMA Muhith and AK Khandaker expressed their discontent during a cabinet meeting and protested the inclusion of “Islam as the state religion” of the republic in the reformed constitution. They argued that it will be in conflict with the constitution of 1972 ensuring the state should be secular with equal rights to all citizens practising other religions including Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity.

Commenting on the ministers’ argument, Hasina remarked, “The committee report has been prepared in this regard on the basis of reality as there have been many changes in the past 40 years.”

Secularists argue that state cannot belong to a faith, instead human beings may have a religion or practice a faith.

A year after the bloody war of independence from Islamic Pakistan in 1971, Bangladesh (formerly an eastern province of Pakistan) adopted a secular constitution. Despite being the fourth largest Sunni Muslim dominated population, the country banned political activities of Islamic parties.

The 1972 secular constitution guaranteed religious freedom and respect of all faiths was installed by independence leader Shiekh Mujibur Rahman, the father of present prime minister Hasina. Subsequently the military juntas ruled the country for 15 years doctored the constitution, encouraging Islamization of Bangladesh.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at

Monday, June 20, 2011

Gas deal with American energy giant sparks protest in Bangladesh

Photo: Ashraful Alom Tito/UNBconnect: Activists protest against gas exploration deal

A CRUCIAL pact between the Bangladesh government and U.S. energy giant ConocoPhillips for deep sea gas exploration has sparked a dispute in the country as activists and allies announced a strike to protest the deal.

The radical activist group the National Committee on Protection of Oil, Gas and Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, with allies of the left-leaning parties, has dubbed the deal as controversial and against the national interest.
Professor Anu Mohammad, general secretary of the national committee, announced on Sunday a country-wide agitation and a six-hour shut down in the capital Dhaka on July 3 and demanded cancelation of the deal.

A professor of economics, Mohammad told reporters that his organization called a country wide shut-down because the agreement with ConocoPhillips endangered Bangladesh's ownership of maritime resources.

Mohammad claimed the provisions of the deal allowed Bangladesh to have only 20 per cent share of the explored hydrocarbon and eventually pave the way for the U.S. company "having a very poor track record" to export the gas abroad despite the energy-starved country.

The strike call came as the main opposition, Bangladesh Nationalist Party, demanded publication of the full text of the agreement so the deal could be studied.

The government, ignoring dissent within the ruling party alliance and protests by experts, on Thursday inked the production-sharing contract (PSC) for gas exploration in the Bay of Bengal despite an ownership dispute over the territory with neighboring India and Myanmar.

ConocoPhillips was chosen to conduct seismic surveys in blocks 10 and 11, an area of nearly 2,000 square miles.

According to the PSC, ConocoPhillips will get 80 to 85 percent of the lifted gas at the cost-recovery stage. The Texas-based company will ensure a bank guarantee of $160 million in the nine-year deal, with a condition to operate surveys and exploration.
The gas, converted into Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), could be exported if state-owned hydrocarbon corporation Petrobangla is unable to purchase the fuel through laying 174 miles (280 kms) of pipeline away from Chittagong port, the country's energy distribution hub.

Bangladesh will have to lay pipe nearly a mile under the sea in an area regularly visited by tidal surge. Experts argue that laying the pipe, coupled with maintenance costs, will be very expensive for a poor country.

Meanwhile, the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a business, body urged activists to call off the strike. The business leaders reiterated its previous stand on shutdowns, saying such political action aggravates the country's economy, especially the industrialization process for shortages of gas and energy.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at

Bangladesh: Volte Face?

IN A dramatic volte face, the Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, on June 7, 2011, declared that she wished to keep Islam as the 'State Religion', thus preserving the illegal changes made to the Constitution in 2007 by the Provisional Government led by Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed. The announcement was in complete contrast to the ruling Awami League's (AL) declared pro-secular approach. Hasina, who also leads the AL, appears to be targeting the support of some radical Muslim formations in a replay of her last tenure, 1996-2001. The present posture suggests that the Hasina Government may increasingly incline to the use of Islam for political maneuver. Meanwhile, the Dhaka High Court, on June 8, asked the Government to explain the legality of its standpoint on the status of Islam as the 'State Religion'.

The instrumentalisation of Islam to secure political legitimacy began in Bangladesh after the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on August 15, 1975. The successor President and Chief Martial Law Administrator, General Zia-ur-Rahman, passed a Presidential decree in 1977, removing the principle of secularism from the Preamble of the Constitution and, instead, inserted the infamous Fifth Amendment declaring "absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah". Further, in 1988, Islam was given the status of 'State Religion' through the Eighth Amendment by the even more zealous military regime of H. M. Ershad - Rahman's successor.

The ongoing controversy regarding the status of Islam and its legality as the 'State Religion' came to the forefront after the General Elections that restored Hasina to power in January 2009. Her Government immediately focused attention on the challenge of tackling religious extremism and terrorism. At that time, the AL Government had made it clear that it would re-introduce the original 'Four State Principles' - democracy, nationalism, secularism and socialism.

Meanwhile, on January 3, 2010, Bangladesh's Supreme Court lifted a four year stay against a ban on 'the abuse of religion for political purposes'. By lifting the stay, the Supreme Court approved the August 29, 2005, judgment of a three judge Bench, led by Justice A. B. M. Khairul Haque, which declared the Fifth Amendment illegal. The Bench also defined the meaning of secularism as religious tolerance and religious freedom. Subsequently, on February 20, 2010, Law Minister Shafique Ahmed stated, "Now we don't have any bar to return to the four state principles of democracy, nationalism, secularism and socialism, as had been heralded in the 1972 statute of the State".

Finally, the 184-page judgment of the Supreme Court was issued on July 28, 2010. The apex Court got rid of the bulk of the Fifth Amendment, including provisions that had allowed religious political parties to prosper, or that legitimized military dictatorship. The verdict further dubbed such parties as extra-constitutional adventurers and suggested "suitable punishment" for those who installed military regimes and imposed martial laws. The simultaneous trial of 1971 War Crimes and the arrest of prominent leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) on such charges further heated up the debate on the role of Islamic parties in the political arena.

At that juncture, it appeared that the Hasina Government was determined to take on the radical Islamic groups - both militant outfits and political parties. On March 16, 2009, Home Secretary Abdus Sobhan Sikder placed a report that identified 12 'militant' outfits - the Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B), Hizb-ut-Tawhid, Ulama Anjuman al Bainat, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Islami Democratic Party, Islami Samaj, Touhid Trust, Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), Shahadat-e-al-Hikma Party Bangladesh, Tamir-ud-Deen (Hizb-e-Abu Omar) and Allahr Dal. The Government has so far banned four Islamist militant groups - the JMB, HuJI-B, JMJB and Shahadat-e-al-Hikma. The main targets of the law enforcers, however, were the party activists and cadres of five main groups - Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS, youth wing of the JeI)), JMB, HuJI-B, Hizb-ut-Tahrir and Hizb-ut-Tawhid.

The Institute for Conflict Management database indicates quick follow-up action to arrest leaders and cadres of these militant formations. The numbers do not, however, include mass arrests that are common during political rallies, protest marches and violent mass activities. For instance, on April 12, 2010, the Chittagong Police filed a case accusing 1,500 to 2,000 leaders and cadres of JeI and ICS for attacks on the Police at the city's Anderkilla Intersection. The arrests in this incident are not included in the data.

Among the arrested are important leaders, such as the founder of HuJI-B, Sheikh Abdus Salam; its current chief, Mufti Abdul Hannan Sabbir; the chief of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Mahiuddin Ahmad; the regional leader of Hizb-ut-Tawhid, Mohammed Moinuddin; among others. Recoveries from the site of arrest have included arms and ammunition, with typical variety of cocktail and hand made bombs, bomb-making manuals, Jihadi literature, anti-Government leaflets, etc.

Contradictions were, however, sharpening within the country, with three visible and polarizing trends consolidating: the ongoing 1971 War Crimes trials; the anti-women Islamist demonstrations protesting the formulation of the National Women's Development Policy (2011); and the re-emergence of mass and violent street politics, after the Bangladesh Nationalist Party called a 36-hour national protest on June 13, 2011. The Islamist Parties clearly have huge stakes in all three issues, with JeI as the principal target of War Crimes trials, and Islamist allies of the BNP as key components in the anti-women and street demonstrations and protests. Bangladesh has, moreover, a long and infamous tradition of protracted and violent street protests and bandhs (general shutdowns) that have paralysed the country for weeks and months at end.

It is under these cumulative pressures that the AL's stand on Islam began to shift. When Sheikh Hasina appeared before a Parliamentary Committee (PC) which was reviewing the Constitution in the light of the Supreme Court verdict in April 2010, she had already modified her position to concede that her party was "not against having Islam as state religion". This constituted a complete reversal of the policy laid down by her father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Hasina also stated that her party was against banning religion-based political parties, though it wanted 'some restrictions' on them.

Internal conflicts within the ruling alliance make Hasina's situation more complex. The Jatiya Party, headed by H.M. Ershad and commanding 29 MPs, is against any ban on religion-based political parties. On the other hand, Left-leaning parties - including the Workers Party, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal, Ganotantri Party and National Awami Party - are strongly opposed to the Jatiya Party's proposal. The Left-parties are lightweight, with three MPs in the Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal, two in the Workers Party, and none in Ganotantri Party and National Awami Party. The AL, with a more than three fourths majority in Parliament (270 MPs in a House of 345), is, in any event, under no threat, but values the alliances for the stability and inclusive mandate they provide. The management of the alliance, consequently, will remain a matter of concern as polarizing issues come to dominate the agenda.

Against this backdrop, Hasina's June 7 statement can only worsen the political muddle in the country, as it dilutes its projected Constitutional identity, in the words of Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, as "a secular, not moderate Muslim, country", and embarks on the slippery slope of an Islam pasand (committed to Islam) country. AL's progressive 'secular disillusionment' can only intensify the percolation of radical thought through Bangladeshi politics and society, even as voices against Islamist extremist dogma are gradually stifled by the original initiator of secular politics in the country.

First published in SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW, Weekly Assessments and Briefings, Volume 9, No. 50, India June 20, 2011
Sanchita Bhattacharya, Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management, India

Bangladesh trade deficit balloons

BANGLADESH'S TRADE deficit swelled by 42.60% year-on-year to $6.43 billion during July to April of the 2010-11 fiscal year due largely to steep rises in global food and fuel prices, an official told the Xinhua news agency Sunday.

The Bangladesh Bank official said the country exported $18.315 billion U.S. dollars of goods while it imported items worth $24.745 billion in 10 months of the current 2010-11 fiscal year, which ends this month.

The overall trade deficit in the same period of the previous 2009-10 fiscal year was nearly $4.509 billion when Bangladesh's export earnings and import payments stood at $12.977 billion and $17.486 billion, respectively, he said quoting Bangladesh Bank data.

In the first 10 months of the current fiscal year, the BB data showed that Bangladesh's export and import earnings surged 41.13% and 41.51% respectively compared to the same period a year earlier.

"Trade deficit keeps widening as prices of oil and food products had a considerable hike in the global market since recession started to recede," the BB official said.

Bangladesh's trade deficit in the last 2009-10 fiscal year ballooned nearly 10% year on year to over $5 billion as the country's imports rebounded since April after months of slump in the wake of the global economic recession, he said.

The official said the huge trade gap had a tremendous pressure on the balance of payment, but comfortable receipts of remittances from over 7 million nonresident Bangladeshis, living and working in over 100 countries, helped the central bank cushion its impact.

Remittances in July-April period of the current fiscal year 2010-11 totaled $9,587.16 million, around 4.30% higher than the same period a year ago, the BB data showed.

"As remittances offset rising trade deficit, its not a big problem for us," the official said, adding that containing inflation largely related to food items particularly staple rice is rather always a matter of big challenge for Bangladesh.
Price increases in food items, particularly the staple rice, is a key concern for the South Asian country's government as nearly 40% of its over 150 million people live on less than two U.S. dollars a day and spend 70%t of their income on food.

According to latest Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics released data, the country's inflation rate leaped to 10.67% in April, the highest since July 2008. In April food inflation grew at 14.36%, hitting a record on a point- to-point basis in the last three years, the BBS data showed.

First published by MarketWatch, June 19, 2011

Controversial book accuses Bangladesh of 1971 war crimes

Caption: The book's conclusions are likely to be vigorously contested in Bangladesh. The book says both sides in the war committed crimes against humanity

Forty years ago Bangladesh won its independence from Pakistan in a short but brutal civil war in which it was claimed as many as three million people could have died. A book released to coincide with the anniversary has reached some highly controversial conclusions as the BBC's Alastair Lawson has discovered.

Sarmila Bose's book, Dead Reckoning, says that one of the bloodiest wars in the past half-century has been "dominated by the narrative of the victorious side" - Bangladeshi nationalists who won independence in 1971 from Pakistan.

She writes that both sides in the conflict "are still imprisoned by wartime partisan myths".

The introduction of her book does not exonerate Pakistani troops from committing atrocities during Bangladesh's bloody struggle for freedom.

Sharmila Bose
In the terrible violence of a fratricidal war, the victims were from every ethnic and religious group and from both sides of the political divide and so were the perpetrators...
Both sides had legitimate political arguments and their idealistic followers, along with those who indulged in opportunism, expediency and inhumanity.
Many Bengalis - supposed to be fighting for freedom and dignity - committed appalling atrocities.
And many Pakistani army officers, carrying out a military action against a political rebellion, turned out to be fine men doing their best to fight an unconventional war within the conventions of warfare...
A long-standing theme is the state of denial in Pakistan: A refusal to confront what really happened in East Pakistan.
However the study revealed a greater state of denial in Bangladesh.
But in what is certain to be viewed in Bangladesh as an extremely controversial conclusion, it says Bengalis - fighting for and against independence - also committed "appalling atrocities".

Dr Bose, a senior research fellow at Oxford University - and a former BBC presenter - says the Pakistani army has been "demonised" by the pro-liberation side and accused of "monstrous actions regardless of the evidence", while Bengali people have been depicted as "victims".

"This has led to a tendency to deny, minimise or justify violence and brutalities perpetrated by pro-liberation Bengalis," she says.

Already Bangladeshi academics at home and abroad are lining up to attack her book. One, the Dhaka and New York based writer Naeem Mohaiemen, told the BBC that she was guilty of

"pushing her conclusions to an extreme" by arguing that the war was fought between two equally violent sides, "with the Pakistan army using only justified and temperate amounts of retaliatory force".
He has accused her of lacking sufficient curiosity to unpack the more complex issues behind 1971, "such as why the killings began, why the Pakistan state behaved so brutally and why Bengalis reacted violently".

Nevertheless, the book is one of the first by a Western author to subject the war to thorough and independent scrutiny.

Dr Bose went through published documentary evidence, travelled to remote areas of Bangladesh to interview elderly villagers and journeyed to Pakistan to question retired army officers.

'Shocking bestiality'
Her book says the Bengali nationalist rebellion in what was then East Pakistan "turned into xenophobic violence against non-Bengalis" especially against West Pakistanis and mainly Urdu-speaking people who migrated to East Pakistan from India at the time of partition who were known as Biharis.
The bizarre hypothesis of Sarmila Bose's book is that Pakistani army officers are the most objective source to establish their own innocence.
In fact the interviewee list in her book reveals a distinct selection bias. In Pakistan, she interviewed 30 Pakistani army officers, and three civilians.
In addition four Pakistani army officers are listed as not agreeing to give interviews. So her pool of "expert knowledge" on the Pakistani army's actions failed to include anyone from Pakistan who has publicly said there was a genocide.
She also relies heavily on Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report, which was done by the post-1971 Pakistan government with the intention of white-washing the war.
Dr Bose takes some gaps in the popular narrative, and then pushes it to an extreme to argue that 1971 was a war between two equally violent sides, with the Pakistan army using only justified and temperate amounts of retaliatory force.
"In the ethnic violence unleashed in the name of Bengali nationalism, non-Bengali men, women and children were slaughtered," Dr Bose says, arguing such atrocities took place in the towns of Chittagong, Khulna, Santahar and Jessore during and after the 10-month war.

"Non-Bengali victims of ethnic killings by Bengalis numbered hundreds or even thousands per incident... men, women and children were massacred on the basis of ethnicity and the killings were executed with shocking bestiality."

Some of the worst brutalities were among Bengalis themselves, Dr Bose says, between those who were defending the unity of Pakistan and those who were fighting for the liberation of Bangladesh.

While "the killing of pro-liberation professionals by pro-regime death squads in the dying days of the war stands out as one of the worst crimes of the conflict... brutalisation and elimination of those with a different political viewpoint seemed to be the hallmark of nationalist Bengalis too".

There is clear evidence, Dr Bose says, of the violence suffered by "non-Bengali victims of Bengali ethnic hatred".

"Of the corpses reported littering the land and clogging up the rivers, many would have been Bihari... as Bengali mobs appear to have killed non-Bengalis indiscriminately while the Pakistani army appeared to target adult Bengali men."

In one notorious incident examined by the author in the south-western town of Khulna on 28 March 1971, Bengalis "slaughtered" large numbers of Biharis in the town's jute mills.

 'Gigantic rumour'
Dr Bose also examines the widely reported suggestion that three million Bengalis were killed by the Pakistani army. These figures are sacrosanct in Bangladesh, where the overwhelming majority of people continue to honour and respect those who died in the liberation struggle.

Describing the three million figure as a "gigantic rumour", she says it is "not based on any accounting or survey on the ground".

"None of the popular assertions of three million Bengalis allegedly killed by the [Pakistani] army cites any official report," she says.

"Claims of the dead in various incidents wildly exceeding anything that can be reasonably supported by evidence on the ground - 'killing fields' and 'mass graves' were claimed to be everywhere, but none was forensically exhumed and examined in a transparent manner."

Her conclusion over how many died has been roundly rejected by Mr Mohaiemen, who pointed out that Bangladeshis have themselves publicly dissected the problem of "numbers", going back to 1972 when the three million number was first cited.

"Researchers like Zunaid Kazi documented 12 different media estimates of death tolls. Thus, the implied 'hook' of Dr Bose's book, a claim to being the 'first' to dissect the death toll, rings hollow and is self-promotional.

"In any case, whether the death toll was three million or 300,000, does that make it any less of a genocide? That appears to be her intellectually indefensible conclusion."

Dr Bose does not ignore atrocities carried out by Pakistan and its supporters - her book has several chapters on this subject - concluding its army committed political and extrajudicial killings that in some cases were "genocidal".

She says: "Ultimately neither the numbers nor the labels matter. What matters is the nature of the conflict, which was fundamentally a complex and violent struggle for power among several different parties with a terrible human toll."

The Bangladeshi government has so far not commented on her book - but the country's attitude towards those who express dissenting views about the 1971 war was clearly seen in April when a film about a woman's love affair with a Pakistani soldier during the conflict was speedily withdrawn amid suggestions it distorted history.

First published in BBC online, 16 June 2011

The Indian edition of Sarmila Bose's book is being published by Hachette India and is due to be released in mid-June. The book is published by C Hurst and Co in the UK and by Columbia University Press in the US.