Tahmina Shafique The Complete Portfolio


A star is born

As a six-year-old she would tip-toe before the mirror in her mother’s dressing room and put on makeup, ready to begin her performance as an actress. For her, the stage was the chair over which she would stand proudly and often imitate Shuchitra Sen or Shuborno Mustafa. Indeed, Zakia Bari Mamo’s childhood was filled with aspirations of becoming an actress.

‘At first it was just a new found pastime of imitating ma, wearing her glasses and acting like a teacher, but as I involved myself in different forms of arts like dancing and singing it changed into a strong desire,’ says Zakia Bari Mamo.

This past week part of that desire came true, in a spectacular way. The girl who spent most part of her childhood acting before a mirror, stepped on the immense stage of ‘Lux-Channel i Super Star 2006’ contest to take away the award for the best actress and the opportunity to act in the first ever TeleCinema in Bangladesh ‘Daruchini Dwip’, Tawkeer Alam’s direction based on Humayan Ahmed’s book.

For Mamo, the passion of art was so intense that she would come all the way to Dhaka from her home in Brahman Bariya to attend classical dance classes of her guru and guide Kabirul Islam. As years passed, Mamo wanted her studies to be part of a bigger goal, and she took the challenge of taking up Drama and Dramatics in Jahangir Nagar University, against the preference of many others around her.

‘My mother wanted me to study English, but I wanted to study something that I could relate to and drama was just that!’ says Mamo, now in her second year. ‘I was ready to take all the years of struggle and frustrations to be what I had always wanted to be.’

Mamo continued to act and dance, especially in the university dramas and later as a supporting actor in a mega serial ‘Sporsher Baire’. But her true success was yet to come. And when it finally came, it was beyond her imagination.

‘I never thought I would make it,’ says Mamo. Four months back, when the Lux Channel- I Superstar hunt started, Mamo was indulging herself with her love—the drama classes at her university.

‘It was my father who came up with the idea of me signing up for the contest,’ recalls Mamo, even while she herself was apprehensive about it.

‘It was such a big contest with so many talented candidates across the country, I felt I would never get a chance. Besides I had my exams going on,’ she adds. But, her father as confident as ever, made her sign up. She was ready for the experience and also to lose. As Mamo entered the contest, she felt the three months were worth a try.

‘During those months, we learnt so much through classes taken by extraordinary people like Aly Zaker, Sara Zaker, Tamanna Rahman, Salauddin Lavlu, Suborna Mostafa and many more,’ she adds excitedly. These three months, the contestants were groomed and briefed thoroughly. ‘I learnt a lot, from how to stand straight, to speak confidently and simply the art of acting.’

The best compliment that she received during the contest was that she has what is the essence of a true Bengali.

‘I am so pleased to know that in many ways, all those people out there, including the judges, knew I was a true ‘Bengali’ girl before anything else and this makes me proud!’

Indeed, everything about Mamo suggests something that is distinctively Bengali— be it her doe-like eyes, or her perfect smile or her lustrous hair. Perhaps the most captivating feature about this star is her simplicity. She agrees she is simple and wants to reach high goals through this very simplicity.

‘I want to be simple and extraordinary,’ she says, perhaps thinking back to her childhood and a life spent in Brahman Baria.

‘My father had a lot of confidence in me. He always believed I would make it to the top,’ says Mamo, giving her parents and family full credit for their support. Indeed, Mamo grew up in a vibrant environment. Although none of her family members were connected to art, she was given the chance to explore it in its diversity. Her father worked as an official in the construction works and her mother was a Political Science teacher. With immense gratitude Mamo recalls the time when her mother let go of her teaching job at Brahman Baria, just for her daughter’s convenience.

‘It used to be very difficult for me to come all the way to Dhaka every Friday and that was the time my parents considered shifting, giving me a greater chance to fully explore opportunities,’ she says.

Mamo makes it clear that she would not compromise her studies for stardom in any way. ‘Studies have always been an important aspect in my family. I plan to study as much as I can and get a post graduate degree in drama,’ she says confidently. She believes that one should study the area which interests them the most.

Now, Mamo is looking forward to a new life but owes a debt of gratitude to the people of Brahman Baria and those who supported her in Dhaka.

So, how is the brand new world of glamour for this uncomplicated girl?

‘It’s been just a few days and I have been receiving countless calls from people I do not know. In a way it’s wonderful to know that so many people know me,’ she says, admitting that she loves the attention. She is also looking forward to her first work with Tawkir Ahmed ‘Daruchini Dip’.

‘I can’t believe my good fortune of having the chance to work with someone like him, especially on Humayun Ahmed’s novel,’ says Mamo.

While she looks forward to working more, her exposure will be limited only to what she sees as creative and decent movies.

‘I would love to work on movies set against the traditional background,’ she says, elated.

As she steps into the brand new world of art, glamour and glitz, Mamo also does not forget those who are less lucky in life. She wishes work with acid victims someday.

‘I always wondered how terrible it could be to live with that harsh reality and someday I would like to help them.’

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‘It’s about accountability and being able to deliver the global qualifications’ (with Mahfuz Sadique)

If globalisation is considered the yardstick by which the world’s affairs are dictated now, the quest for a global platform of education that will create global citizens has been in full swing for some time now. With the dizzying pace of change, the yet-to-be successful attempts at standardisation, and an increasing need of international competitiveness, the imperative for internationally recognised qualifications in skills and education has become crucial for students. Today, owing to the popularity of international qualifications such as O’levels and A’levels, one cannot deny that for a large number of students such standards have become a statement of identity and a passport to compete in the international level. As in other corners of the world, the providers of such qualifications are competing to edge their way to greater popularity in Bangladesh too.

Despite its inherent benefits, international qualifications do have their own share of drawbacks. For many students, the idea of just sitting under an Examination Board operating at the other end of the world seems exactly that — foreign and distant. They are almost indicative of the alienating nature of present day education, across the board, catering only information and not a sense of purpose or belonging. The curriculum, methodology, the assessment criteria and the endless intricacies of prescribed syllabuses seem vague and confusing. There has been, in all, despite the popularity, a considerable amount of criticism over the idea of such qualification providers to set out a syllabus and expect the teachers to follow it accordingly and students to understand it and sit for an exam at the end of it all. The major criticism therefore has been simple: students, teachers and providers are not connected, and there is a dire need for them to integrate and communicate.

In an attempt to attain this ‘connected’ platform of education, international Education Boards have been setting up regional centres, integrating local teachers in the curriculum development process and, in general, taking a more holistic approach. Some of these qualification providers are giving extra care at integrating South Asia, and more relevant to us — Bangladesh, into the global system. Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), perhaps the oldest and pre-eminent qualification provider in the world, seems to have paved a way of bringing students and teachers in Bangladesh closer to their world.

‘Our focus is to bring the students and teachers closer to us. We aim to work together and help the students to go as far as they possibly can’, Ann Puntis, the Chief Executive of CIE, on a recent visit to Bangladesh, told New Age while discussing her organisation’s vision, programmes and international educational qualifications in general. ‘We have expanded our operation in South Asia, having gained a great degree of popularity in Europe. We are glad to know that with collective efforts of all, today Bangladesh is one o the top five countries experiencing rapid growth in enrolment and results!’ an effusive Ann adds.

Operating in more than 250 countries across the world with more than two million students, it is evident that CIE has come a long way. ‘What is unique about the Cambridge system is the fact that it is the only qualification provider which operates as part of a university. Though the operations are independent of the university itself, as part of University of Cambridge, we have a strong pedigree in educational development and research. We constantly review our provision and introduce new subject areas and qualifications,’ explains Ann.

Indeed, operating under one of the oldest and prestigious universities in the world means that the qualification provider is invariably able to draw resources and skill from the Cambridge University experts themselves. ‘The advantage we gain is that the examiners are trained rigorously under supervision and guidance from the university, and drawing from its resources and ongoing research. Most importantly it is created to meet the needs of international students across the world’, says Ann. ‘We have been in this field for so long and worked with the experts. This results in the leading-edge qualifications that meet ongoing demands of students, teachers and beneficiaries across the world,’ she further adds.

According to Ann the South Asian region has great promises and moreover with the recent expansion of its operation and particularly the appointment of a new regional manager in South Asia, William Bickerdike, the region has seen a rapid growth. Enthralled by the enthusiasm and dedication of the teachers and students, already on his second visit since his appointment earlier this year, William is proud to award the students who have achieved the highest marks in their respective countries and the world as well. ‘We have students in Bangladesh who have achieved highest marks in the world in subjects like Biology and Maths’, says William. William is, presently, based out of Delhi but working closely with teachers and schools across South Asia.

So what is the philosophy of CIE and their future plans?

‘The teaching and learning philosophy of CIE seeks to break the convention of memorizing. We aim to encourage students to learn and reach out to achieve as much as they can,’ explains Ann. According to her, the assessment criterion is based on high quality education i.e. learning without memorizing. Therefore, much of the curriculum focuses on practical approach, participation and creativity. ‘Being an international qualification provider we have a set standard for our assessment, which is the same all across the world,’ points out Ann.

But are the teachers in South Asia or Bangladesh well equipped to teach this curriculum? Here Ann and William elaborate on their activities with teachers. ‘We work closely with teachers in order to ensure the success of students. Therefore, we have experts and trainers coming down to Bangladesh, regularly, to help these teachers to apply such methodologies in practice’, explains Ann. ‘Moreover the examiners send out their marking scheme and reports which help teachers mark the practice exam papers’, she adds.

A unique aspect of the examination body is not only the training and seminars being held for teachers but also the introduction of a ‘Teachers Support Site’, which offers assistance in using teaching materials and applying them in classroom. ‘This has been a popular site for teachers across the world. The site not only provides materials for teaching but helps teachers in say Ghana to communicate with those in Singapore or Bangladesh’, says William. This exceptional approach of CIE through the site has been a true success. ‘It’s more of a platform for teachers to express their ideas and problems. This also helps us understand the needs of the teachers,’ adds Ann.

As committed and supportive as ever, Ann and her team’s final aim remains the same — to ensure quality education and meet the changing demand. ‘We live in a global society and it is imperative for us to listen to the needs and make changes. In order to do so, we need to communicate with those who work with us’, says Ann. ‘At the end of it all it’s all about accountability and being able to deliver the global qualifications,’ an ever-smiling Ann says.

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Bangladesh’s gulags (with Saad Hammadi)

Jamila Khatun (34) still remembers the helpless wails of her husband Shah Alam Babu as a High Court judge sen tenced him to death two years ago. ‘He kept saying that he was innocent but the judge Shamsul Alam Khan gave him a death sentence, even though there was no proper investigation into the case,’ Jamila says, forcing back tears. Shah Alam Babu was acquitted of all charges against him last week, having spent two years in prison, in death row, because of a case of mistaken identity. In these two years Shah Alam lost his business and property in fighting the legal battle to prove that he was not the ‘wanted’ criminal Sundar Babu- who was the accused in the murder case for which he was imprisoned. His wife and children’s lives were shattered, and they were driven into penury.

Shah Alam was arrested on August 18, 2004, accused of killing Gazi Liakat Hossain, a secretary general with the Auto-Tempo Union. Two years after his imprisonment in the condemned cell, the country’s legal system finally realised that Shah Alam was innocent. On September 14, Shah Alam was released from Dhaka’s, Kashimpur Jail.

The High Court on August 29, 2006 ordered Shah Alam’s release upon finding the earlier verdict invalid. The High Court further ordered stripping the session’s judge, Shamsul Alam Khan, of judicial powers on charge of condemning an innocent person to death by portraying him as the accused without any reasoning or evidence.

But as the second case of mistaken identity of an accused, surfaces in our legal system within the span of two months, human rights groups are underlining the need for serious reforms in policing to reduce the collateral damage in meting out justice.

‘This is nothing new in our country. It is because of the media and wider awareness that people today get to know about such flaws in the legal system of our country. Many such instances were overlooked ten years back because neither people had awareness nor were the media and human rights organisations so strong,’ says advocate Alena Khan, executive director of Bangladesh Society for the Enforcement of Human Rights (BSEHR), a Dhaka based human rights group.

She cites the example of the very recently closed Tania rape case where Obaidur Rahman alias Mora was falsely accused of raping the six year girl. ‘It was the conspiracy of the police to save their image and I had to stay in dreadful conditions in jail for ten long years,’ says Mora. ‘Who will compensate for those ten years?’ he asks.

Human rights workers point out that victims like Mora and Shah Alam are unable to go back to leading normal life. Furthermore, the alarming conditions in the jail and the flawed system indicate that these prisoners undergo inhuman forms of torture and live in dreadful conditions.

‘Shah Alam is just one case out of numerous men and women who are wrongly kept in jail for a long time, some running up to years,’ says Dr Faustina Pereira, advocate of the Supreme Court and a director of the Dhaka-based NGO Ain-O-Shalish Kendra (ASK). ‘There are innocent prisoners who spend years in jail as they have been misidentified. There has to be an effective system of checks and balances to ensure that a wrongly identified or willfully misidentified person is not imprisoned,’ she further adds.

Owing to these flawed investigations, these victims end up spending years in inhuman conditions in jails. What one rarely ponders is the years that they spend behind the bars, the dreadful conditions they live in and how tremendously this experience affects their lives.

Having spent two years in condemned cell, Shah Alam is unable to adjust himself to a normal life. ‘For two years, I did not see the day light. My world was dark and repugnant,’ recalls Shah Alam. The condemned cells are less than the size of a semi-double bed, where four people are kept. ‘I could not move and it was in itself a torture’. It was due to the dreadful conditions which also included inedible food and sanitation that has resulted in serious health complications.

Within the central jail, the condemned cells are located far from other cells to restrict communication. ‘Nobody was allowed near the cells except for the guard on duty,’ says Shah Alam. ‘The prisoners are separated from human habitation to give them a sense of afterlife,’ adds Alena. Indeed, the jail conditions in the country be it central or district jails is extremely unhygienic. Alongside the poor ventilation and sewerage, even food and access to proper medical treatment is not provided adequately.

According to a BSEHR investigation, the common forms of diseases spreading across the central jail are skin diseases, dysentery, tuberculosis, jaundice, and drug addiction.

A UNDP report from 2003 reveals, although there are 80 jails in the country, 16 of these are not yet functioning. More adverse is the fact that, whereas the official capacity in the remaining 64 jails is 21,581 prisoners, the actual prison population is 45,444 – over double the capacity. Of these 31,020 are under trial i.e. detained prior to conviction, while only 13,078 (less than one third) are convicted prisoners.

There are over 9,900 people detained in the Dhaka Central Jail alone against its capacity of 2,682 people. At present 432 women are detained inside the jail against its capacity of 134 female detainees.

‘There are many media reports and research that point towards the fact that one of the major problems in the jails, be it Dhaka Central jail or districts jails or sub jails, is overcrowding and mixing of the various categories of prisoners,’ says Pereira. ‘In several cases there are detainees who have not been produced in court even for a single day, in other words, these are persons held as prisoners who are innocent, since they are yet to be judged guilty.’

If they are indeed found innocent at the end of their trial, how can their lost years or indeed a single minute of wrongful imprisonment be compensated?’ she asks.

According to Periera these revelations are just a tip of the iceberg. ‘There are prisoners who are kept in jail even after they have served their sentences which again amounts to wrongful imprisonment of innocent persons, and this is a grave violation of human right,’ she says. According to her, a large number of prisoners are under custody for minor offences and some of them have already stayed beyond the sentence they were likely to receive under the charges framed against them.

A major reason behind the terrible condition of jails across the country is due to the overcrowding of the prisoners owing to adjournments, delays in investigation, and political mass-arrests that strain the prisons system beyond its allocated resources.

An important point focused by Noor Khan, director, investigation and documentation unit, is the fact that the increase in arbitrary arrests made to suppress political dissent has also added to the overcrowding of prisoners in jails.

‘The government has used the law enforcement rashly without considering the consequence of the situation. The mass arrest and later convicting innocent people are likely to worsen the coming days in terms of criminal activities,’ says Khan.

Reports suggest that there has been mixing up of various categories of prisoners. Often juvenile prisoners and are kept along with convicted and notorious criminals. ‘Not only does it affect the vulnerable but these criminals motivate the young generation within the central jail, most of who are likely to get released, to expand and operate an already established criminal network,’ points out Khan.

In the past investigations have revealed that unethical practices such as bribery, abuse by political prisoners, and systemic irregularities are making things worse. Moreover, criminals inside the central jail are maintaining their outside network with the help of the jail officials.

‘Some of the high profile criminals use cell phones inside the jail with the help of jail officials,’ says a prisoner who was released recently. Ongoing investigations suggest there is increasing corruption and flawed system within the jail.

‘I am aware that some of the officials are involved in such practices but the number of such activities has decreased owing to rigorous monitoring,’ says Major Shamsul Haider Siddique, deputy inspector general, Prison of Dhaka division.

He mentioned that a large number of prisoners are shifted to Kashimpur jail in Gazipur where around 8,000 prisoners can be accommodated. ‘Last Thursday we shifted 181 prisoners there and by the end of this week we plan to shift another 1,500 prisoners,’ he says.

The ever increasing flaws in the jail administration and overall system require a proper implementation and monitoring, say human rights groups. Concerning the severe forms of punishment visited on prisoners, Periera highlights the fact that the Jail Code specifies very clearly, as to how and in what condition such punishments should be given.

‘We, as human rights group are more than willing to come forward and do our part to ensure that the system is properly and humanely implemented. We have over the years written to the government to allow us to be on the jail visitation board. We are yet to receive any kind of acknowledgement or response,’ she says.

Pereira agrees that a large number of cases emerge where it has been found that the prisoner has been languishing in jail for several years beyond the jail term. According to her these prisoners also include foreign nationals from Africa, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, who are often held for reasons such as expiration of visa. ‘These languishing prisoners eventually get lost in the system.’

Dreadful conditions and inhuman torture inflicted upon the prisoners in jail often lead to the fateful death of many. According to a report ‘Human Rights in Bangladesh 2004’ an Ain O Shalish Kendra Publication, 41 convicted prisoners and 63 under trial prisoners had died in different central and district jails. Their investigation revealed that in many cases the death was a result of late treatment, absence of medical help and torture.

Such was the case of Anisur Rahman, a rickshaw puller who was arrested along with his friend, in Jessore district. They were arrested by police on the ground of suspicious movements. On August 03, 2004, when Anisur asked for a match to light his cigarette, he was furiously beaten by the jail warden. According to jail authorities, Anisur was admitted to Jessore hospital, as he had high fever. As his condition deteriorated, two jail wardens brought his mother from Bishnupur to the hospital where he was admitted.

The report further revealed how they forced Anisur’s mother Rabeya to sign a paper. She had no idea what the paper said. Afterward, Anisur was sent back home although he was in a dreadful state. Anisur told his mother how he was tortured in the jail. As his condition became worse, his mother admitted him into the hospital where he died.

According to the doctors who treated him, Anisur bore several injury marks on his body. When Anisur was arrested in the first place, Rabeya was unable to pay Tk1,500 which was demanded by the police as a bribe to release her innocent son, the ASK report claims. Shockingly, after undergoing inhuman torture and admission in the hospital, Magistrate Moshfequr Rahman acquitted both Anisur and his companion. The jailor Abdur Gaffar Mallik refused knowledge of any such incident and claimed that Anisur’s mother took him in custody with a written undertaking and he had died at home.

Another innocent victim, Falu Mia was arrested for three robberies carried out in Savar. He was 32 and had only been married three months. After having spent 22 years of his life behind bars he was proved innocent. Eight years after his release Falu died, still fighting for compensation for the injustice done to him.

The government is at the moment taking steps to reform certain provisions in the Jail Code and in the administration of the prison system according to reports in the media. The cabinet on September 18 approved the amendment of the existing Jail Code of 1868. Out of the 1,388 sections in the Jail Code the cabinet approved reforms in 419 sections while 230 others were rejected.

Chaining up prisoners en masse has been a practice that the jail authorities carry out among many other cruelties. Without any fault, Nazrul Islam was arrested in charge of 11 robbery cases at the age of 12. The case was filed by one of his relatives to deprive him of his ancestral property. Remembering his experiences in jail Nazrul told a human rights worker, ‘I did not know why I had to carry chains for 11 years’.

Among the amended acts, the system of shackling prisoners is now prohibited. According to the act, only the notorious prisoners were confined to the system of shackling. The new act further relieves the prisoners by closing one-third of the present punishments.

An important aspect that Periera highlights is the fact that many of the provisions of the Jail Code do include fair terms and basic minimum standards of treatment. ‘Our organisation has always stressed that if the Jail Code was properly implemented, the prison system and treatment of prisoners would have been a lot better,’ she points out.

It is evident that the jails in Bangladesh need to be properly monitored and rules need to be properly implemented say human rights groups. ‘One of the first steps to improving the system is to have open and transparent system of sharing information. We need to have accurate statistics on these jails, their under trial and other prisoners, in order to be able to assist the government in expediting the cases of these prisoners, including Jail Appeals,’ says Periera.

‘Bangladesh has a history of judges making sudden visits to the jails and seeing the conditions for themselves,’ points out Periera. ‘We even have important Commission Reports on Prison Reform,’ she adds. But even if some of these recommendations were implemented the prison system would not have been so dire.  Indeed this was the case about decades ago. But today, there has been very little done to better the miserable state of these jails across the country, she adds.

Human rights workers says that Bangladesh can draw from the example of India where several effective and pragmatic steps were taken to improve the system, including the use of close circuit cameras in some of their jails, which certainly helps to strengthen the state of administration and monitoring.

‘Provision for taking witness testimony through television and phone connection between the court and the prison could also better the system in many ways. There have also been improvements in effective separation and rehabilitation of certain kinds of inmates, such as those mentally unstable, old and infirm, children born in prison and juveniles,’ she adds. ‘Learning from such working practices from other countries will take us a long way,’ says Periera.

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Waste not, want not

The dumping ground at Matuail is a like wasteland of Biblical proportions. It is the only dumping site for Dhaka, a city of 14 million inhabitants that produces 3200-3500 tonnes of garbage everyday. Mountains of garbage that rot and produce a toxic brew of greenhouse gases and bacteria lie amidst scavengers and garbage pickers, the only signs of life in this desolate landscape. The 52 acres of land, overflowing with hazardous waste is a testimony to Dhaka’s indifference to the health and well being of its citizens. Predictably, the site is about 90 per cent filled up and according to experts, this grotesque ‘garbage bin’ in Matuail will be filled to its limit in about a year’s time.

Undoubtedly, Matuail is a living hell for those who work there. Having to work in unplanned conditions and untreated wastes, the waste pickers are exposed to extremely harmful, unhealthy and deadly diseases and chemicals. In spite of being aware of it, the workers are bound to carry on because to them these deadly wastes mean money. But they are not the lone victims of the effects of waste dumping. For years, common city dwellers have been the eventual sufferers of the wretched waste management policy of the Dhaka City Corporation (DCC).

From the enormous amounts of waste produced everyday, only about 42 percent is collected by DCC and disposed off in open crude landfill sites. The rest are simply not taken care of. Garbage lying scattered on streets is a sight common to all. There are even ‘unofficial’ dumping grounds in certain areas of the city which the DCC never bothers to take notice of. The city is faced with severe environmental degradation and public-health risk due to these uncollected wastes that are dumped in open places. The dumping of these has led to three major environmental problems — transmission of diseases, green house gas emissions and pollution of ground water through leakages.

At least, this was the case before the two urban architects, Maqsood Sinha and Iftekhar Enyatullah, came into the picture. Over the past 10 years, their model to turn the tremendous amount of waste that Dhaka produces into an asset has revolutionised the waste management problems of the city. Today, these two innovative researchers are the directors of Waste Concern, an organisation they had founded 10 years back to help solve the problem of waste disposal. From a small non-governmental organisation, Waste Concern has expanded to become a world-renowned firm for waste disposal and treatment solutions.

Had these two BUET architects not met about a decade back, the initiative to form the organisation would probably not have come true. ‘I came to Dhaka and was gathering information for a research, when my professor asked me to meet someone who was doing a research on Waste Management Technology. That’s how we first met,’ remembers Sinha. ‘From that point, it was all about combining our ideas together and looking for innovative solutions to waste related problems. Eventually we came up with the concept of Waste Concern – an organisation that would approach the treatment of waste in a new way.’

‘Instead of looking at waste as a hazard, we looked at it as a resource and that’s exactly how we started,’ recalls Sinha.

‘We appointed waste collectors, most of whom had previously worked in horrible conditions. They go from door to door collecting garbage from about 1,000 households and hauling it by rickshaw vans, bring it all to our waste treatment plant. There they sort out any inorganic material before placing the organic trash into five brick bins. With little help from micro organisms, the natural climate here takes care of the rest, turning heaps of organic garbage into valuable products such as fertilizers,’ explains Iftekhar. ‘The food habits of Bangladeshi people make the waste a resource as most foods are fresh and not packaged. This means the waste is 80 percent organic and perfect for composting.’

‘At the beginning, it was difficult for us to motivate the people to work with waste and none was ready to give us a piece of land to set up our plant,’ recalls Sinha.

‘It was Lions Club that finally gave us a plot of land near the city for setting up the plant and we commenced work straight away.’

When this model was implemented in small slums and other colonies and proved to be successful, the two men decided to go for it in a large scale.

‘The plant produces 3 tonnes of bio fertiliser, which sells for about $0.04 per kilogram. The revenue is enough to make the operation self sustaining, covering production costs and providing well paying jobs to employees.’

Creating more job opportunities in the waste management sector has been one of the basic objectives of Waste Concern from the very beginning. Besides conducting research and experiments on waste treatment and organic farming, the organisation also trained waste pickers and employed them on a full time basis. The end result is the improved life of many waste pickers who now have the opportunity to work in better conditions and with a better monthly income.

From the very beginning, the model adapted by Waste Concern has been so successful, that the government has helped it replicate this concept in 14 cities across the countries. ‘By diverting 50,000 tons of waste a year from dumping, it produces 400 tons of organic fertilisers a year, which helps farmers across the country,’ explains Iftekhar. In Bangladesh, there were previously no alternatives to chemical fertilisers. The use of organic fertilisers for farming is now common in many rural areas and, according to the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), it has significantly boosted the annual output of crops in some areas.

Waste Concern and its operations have proven to be so effective that the governments of Sri Lanka and Vietnam have set up their own replications the organisation’s model of Community Based Solid Waste Management. Assisting these two countries with their waste disposal problems has been a major success for the two researchers. Moreover, South Africa has also taken up this model and is currently implementing it.

But this success is the fruition of years of struggle. ‘We faced various problems. Most banks were not willing to give us the initial loan to start off. Moreover, we did not receive the support from various bodies to put our plans into action.’ remembers Iftekhar. ‘Many people had negative notions towards what we were trying to do, but at the end of it all, we believed in what we were trying to do.’

What is today a breakthrough for Bangladesh is that these two founders of Waste Concern have shown that composting has even greater potential in the context of climate change. As the Kyoto protocol, an agreement made under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), comes into effect, countries that have ratified this protocol have to deliver on their commitments to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases, thus significantly decreasing the adverse effects of global warming. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) allows developed countries — who are the worst polluters and hence the biggest contributors to global warming — to achieve part of their reduction obligations through investment in projects in developing countries that reduce green house gas emissions or fix or sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. CDM allows energy efficient (or less GHG emitting) technology to be installed in the country’s waste management sector. As a result, least developed countries like Bangladesh can not only earn from reducing global warming but also invest in its own waste management solutions.

Already, Bangladesh has made excellent progress in the highly competitive market of CDM. Currently, there are 4 CDM projects that are under development. Supported by developed countries like the Netherlands, Canada and Japan, these projects aim to earn a significant amount of foreign currency as well as contribute to the energy sector of the country through the efficient treatment of waste.

Two of these projects named ‘South North Project’ and ‘Composting of Organic Waste in Dhaka’ have already commenced. The Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies (BCAS), the SSN’s participating institution in Bangladesh, is in charge of the project supported by the government of Netherlands. Altogether, the different components of the project are expected to reduce about 15,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and earn a benefit of about $120,000 per year.

The second CDM project has been prepared by Waste Concern and the World Wide Recycling (WWR) of the Netherlands with support from the UNDP. This innovative project is now under implementation with an aim to reduce about 90,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year. ‘We aim to reduce about 1 million tons of greenhouse gas over a period of eight years,’ says Iftekhar while talking about the goals to be reached via the second CDM project in the country. He further mentioned that the most significant fact about this project is that it is the first composting project using CDM globally. The main view of the project is to convert the waste dumping facility in Matuail into a productive waste treatment plant by reduction of odour, ground water pollution, saving of municipal land and fire hazard.

‘We want to convert this dumpsite into 700 ton capacity composting and landfill gas recovery site, turning trash into fertiliser and emitted greenhouse gases into usable energy,’ explains Iftekhar. Besides the improvement task at Matuail, the project also includes two composting sub-projects based in Dhaka and Chittagong as well as a landfill gas recovery project in Chittagong. Moreover, Waste Concern is also preparing a baseline for poultry waste in Bangladesh. The project has also proven how foreign investment in developing countries can contribute to the improvement of global environment as World Wide Recycling has already agreed to finance the project at a cost of $10 million, in return for credit and percentage of gas production.

In the long run, Waste Concern aims to revolutionise the whole waste dumping scenario throughout the country. What once seemed impossible and began as a struggle, is now slowly transforming into reality and a bright future. The two pioneering researchers have not only earned local fame but also global recognition for their tremendous effort. Recently, the two men received the ‘Race Against Poverty Award’ from the United Nations in recognition of their contributions to recycling waste and providing training to hundreds of waste pickers. However, according to them, this is just the beginning of a long journey ahead to convert ‘trash into cash’.

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‘A hunt for talent, not stars’

This past week, music lovers in Dhaka have thronged the National Museum for a taste of the good old days. While some rushed there after work to relish the treat, others shifted their household chores for later. ‘Life after five ‘o’clock for the last one week has been truly pleasant and memorable’, says Marium Akhter, a housewife, who hasn’t missed a single evening at the Museum. ‘It reminds me of the times when Rabindra Sangeet, songs of Atul Prasad, folk songs and many more were a part of almost everybody’s life. I think it is a great initiative to revive the almost extinct creative and traditional songs through a talent hunt’.

As Bengal Bikash — the Dhaka-based Bengal Foundation’s painstaking, year-long effort to scour out the best voices in the country for Bangla music’s rich traditional repertoire — reached its final stages at the National Museum gallery, Dhaka’s cultural circles were abuzz with excitement.

The programme focused on Rabindra Sangeet, Nazrul Geeti, and songs of three poets Atul Prasad, Rajni Kanth, DL Roy and also folk songs. ‘Our goal was to revive the era of such traditional songs and bring out hidden talents for this music across the country’ explains Luva Nahid Chowdhury, a Director of the Bengal Foundation. ‘We were not looking for a star, our lone objective was to discover musical talents, not merely those who intend to participate for the sake of becoming famous’.

As talent hunts become abundant, Bengal Bikash claims to be distinct from what the new trend has set, in the recent years. ‘In many cases these contests seek to bring out an idol or a star out of the participants. But our focus was to simply bring these artists to the fore rather than make glamorous idols out of them,’ says Mahbub Alam Pollob, the assistant director of the Foundation.

Throughout the five days this week, visitors included renowned artists, actors, foreigners, businessmen, families poured in to get the taste of some exceptional and timeless songs, resonating through the auditorium. A colourful stage, some outstanding groups of musicians backed by excellent sound system and last but not the least, a total of 100 participants made the event a complete success.

‘The response of this talent hunt has been beyond our expectation. Five categories i.e. folk, modern, Tagore, Nazrul and three poets (DL Roy, Rajanikanto, Atulproshad) which consisted of 20 participants each, enabled us to have some extremely diverse group of singers’ said Nahid. ‘The main criteria for this selection was talent rather than glamour. Moreover, our aim was to help them nurture their existing talent further’ she adds. It is because of this aim of Bengal Bikash that the winners, rather than having their albums released overnight, will receive a scholarship in their respective categories through which they would be able to nurture their talents and excel more in their fields of music. ‘The winners will be given the chance to release their albums once they undergo further qualifications through this scholarship’ explained Pollob.

‘Being a part of Bengal Bikash was an experience itself. I did not ever dream of coming so far in a national competition such as this,’ said Raja Mia, a carpenter from Shalika, in Magura district. ‘This opportunity has inspired me more than ever, I now want to practice folk songs and get somewhere with them.’ The programme featured participants, coming from different districts and spheres of life. What was common in almost all these participants was perhaps their passion towards creative and traditional songs. ‘All of us here had involved music as a part of our lives and maybe that was the reason for which we all could be here’ says Anandita Sarker, a second year student and a participant in the modern song category.

‘A year back I never thought my life would change like this’ said an ecstatic Shima Rani De, a winner in the Rabindra Sangeet category. Indeed, a year back, I had very little idea of what talent hunts searching for artists really meant. Back in May 2005, Bengal Foundation embarked on this talent hunt programme as part of its endeavour to uphold the traditional and creative Bangla songs. A total of 4,091 participants from far-flung towns sent over 20,000 songs in cassettes without any instrumental backup to the Bengal Foundation. ‘Those who can sing without the support of music are the ones who have practiced and learnt the true essence of creative songs. We were searching for latent talents, therefore, there was no scope for people to become an artist over night’ said Mita Huq, an eminent Rabindra Sangeet singer and member of the jury for Bengal Bikash.

Out of these 4,091 participants, a total of 1,296 participants were chosen to go through further selection round in six divisional zones. A survey undertaken by Bengal Foundation during the selection revealed the highest number of participation of 18-year-olds. Furthermore, it also revealed the highest numbers of entries were received for modern songs. The selection rounds that took place in different divisions brought back 100 promising artists and it was this group of singers who won the hearts of many music lovers this week through their remarkable voices and performances.

The five categories were divided into different days were twenty singers sang some exceptional songs. According to the members of the jury which included renowned artists like Chandrana Mojumdar, Mita Huq, Subir Nandi and many more, it was very difficult and confusing to find a winner, as all participants were simply outstanding.

‘I think just the experience of being a part of this programme was worth anything in the world’ said Mozamel Huq, a rickshaw puller by profession. ‘It gave everyone an equal opportunity and a platform to express and realise their own talent. Moreover, the neutrality of the whole process is what has made Bengal Bikash a true success.’

‘What was unique about Bengal Bikash was the foundation’s endeavour to inspire the talent of the participants,’said Monalisa Borua, a participant of Nazrul Sangeet category. ‘Perhaps this was the reason why we didn’t have main winners and losers. Instead we had an innovative method of inspiring and appreciating the talent of each and every artist’.

Indeed, another unique feature of the programme was the absence of losers. The foundation’s effort to inspire artists and their appreciation of their talent was shown through their selection of categories like ‘Sreshto Maan’ (exceptional achievement) and Uttom maan (excellent achievement) each consisting three participants and rest of the 16 were given ‘Shofol Maan’(successful participants). Therefore, the award giving ceremony of Bengal Bikash inspired all hundred participants. Recipients of ‘Sreshto Maan’ included Shimu Rani De, Shukantu Chokrobati and Adrita Anwar for Rabindra Sangeet Category; Anandita Chowdhury, Md Anisur Rahman and Chompa Bonik for Nazrul Sangeet; Halima Parveen, Saiful Alam Raja and Arifur Rahman Arif for Folk songs; Anandita Chowdhury, B.M.Nurul Anwar and Farhana Rahman for three poet’s song; Nahida Sultana,A.K.M Shahid Kabir and Shumona Rahman for modern songs.

The last day of the event i.e. the award giving ceremony revealed perhaps, the best performance of the artists. Moreover the selection of songs and an enthusiastic audience made the event exceptionally good. Speaking of the audience, it must be mentioned that the enormous auditorium of National Museum could not accommodate the hundreds of visitors, who at the end of it all seated themselves on the floor while others stood till the end, at the exit doors to get a glimpse of this exceptional event.

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Till divorce do us part

Forty-two year-old Mehjabeen Rashid (not her real name) had suffered for most of her married life trying to repair what was always going to be an unsuccessful marriage. For 20 years she had tried to compromise with and change a husband who had multiple extra-marital affairs. ‘I suffered depression and beatings for twenty years of my life for the sake of our marriage and later for our children. Throughout these years despite knowing that he was a womaniser, I tried everything possible way to make the marriage work, but the more I gave, the more I felt was expected of me,’ she says. ‘I thought I could change him, even though, deep in my heart, I probably knew that it was impossible.’ Finally, a year ago Mehjabeen summoned up the courage to walk out on her husband and file for a divorce.
‘It was hard initially, and a lot of people discouraged me,’ says Mehjabeen, but it was only after she had gone through with the divorce that she realised that she had joined a legion of women in Dhaka whose ranks are swelling with every passing day, she says.
‘Part of the reason for this increased propensity to file for divorce is perhaps that the acceptance level of a divorce is rising in our society,’ explains Mahbuba Nasreen, a professor of Sociology at Dhaka University ‘The stigma associated with the word “divorce” has started to peel of to an extent, if not to a great extent,’ she says. ‘The increase in the number of divorces today shows that divorce is being viewed as an acceptable option for women in a conflict-filled marriage but then again most women opt for a divorce as the last resort and compromise until they can no longer tolerate the torture. We are still undergoing a transition, there are a minor group in the society who have accepted this concept but the rest of the larger groups are still making it difficult for women to come out of abusive marriages and start a new life’ she adds.
Mehjabeen’s case was hardly an exception. She had married the man her parents had decided on for her, at the age of 22. From the very beginning, he was only moderately interested in her, she says. He had a drinking habit, and after about a year of marriage she began to realise that he was also having extra-marital affairs. ‘I stayed with him despite all this and tried my best to keep him happy so that our marriage survived,’ she says. ‘This was what my parents told me to do, when I told them about the drinking, at least.’ By the fifth year, he had started to bring mistresses to their house and even slept with them in Mehjabeen’s bedroom. ‘He went around with these women openly, in front of relatives, neighbours, everyone. While some people felt I should move out of the marriage, most relatives felt that it was my responsibility to save the marriage.’ When the marriage rolled downhill in spite of her best efforts, Mehjabeen first suffered a nervous breakdown, followed by a long period of clinical depression which required repeated treatment and counselling.
And it was during these painful years that she realised the mistake of not having to built a career for herself. ‘I had wanted to be a housewife. I felt I needed to be by his side, but that very dependence made things worse for me,’ she says. She started making a little money from small jobs like private tuition. Her seventeen-year old son wanted his mother to fight for her rights, her respect and most importantly, life. ‘As for the eight year old, his father’s behaviour affected him so badly that he found it difficult to be social and communicate with others properly,’ Mehjabeen says. ‘By the age of seven he had witnessed traumatic things like his father bringing another woman to the house or beating me’ she says.
‘As years went by, he became more violent. He would get drunk and create chaos in the entire building. He would beat me up in front of my two sons. I started avoiding him and staying in my children’s room. This hurt his ego and one day he broke the door and abused me in front of my sons. It was then that I felt I had been through enough. For the first time, I stopped thinking about all the consequences and took the bold step of walking out and asking for a divorce. It was very difficult but there was no other option’, recalls Mehjabeen, her eyes watering.
Like Mehjabeen, most Bengali women try to make a marriage work in the face of incredible odds and abuse, often not considering a divorce until it is too late, say social scientists.
‘It is mainly due to the socially accepted norm that women ought to compromise and ensure that the marriage does not fall apart,’ points out Mahbuba Nasreen. ‘Two major factors cause women to remain silent and accept their husbands’ misdeeds - the future of the children, and their own lack of economic independence.’
The story of 49-year-old Selina’s (not her real name) married life is not very different. She endured a terrible marital life for decades just for her three daughters, as she knew the consequences of being a single mother. ‘My husband would come back late at night, after staying with another woman all the day long. I compromised, tried to explain to him the importance of the marriage and our family, begged for his commitment to the relationship and tried to make him understand the needs of the children. But he never bothered about us,’ says Selina. ‘He started to spend extravagantly on his mistress not even bothering to pay our children’s school fees. I ran a small boutique, the money from which was not enough to pay the bills. Had I built my career before, I wouldn’t have to tolerate silently for so long.’ The need to be independent and to build a career is being increasingly felt by women, especially in Dhaka, where the nuclear family is breaking down the social safety-nets that prevent men from being abusive or unfaithful, say scientists. ‘Slowly but gradually urban women are coming to a collective realisation where they are more than ready to let go of unhappy or forced marriages and be single again. Most divorced women, in fact, no longer look for a marriage just for financial support. They are more serious about issues such as a career, financial independence and peace.’ points out Mahbuba Nasreen.
‘However this only true in case of middle and upper income groups, and women in rural areas and lower income groups continue to tolerate and compromise.’
It was with this intense desire for independence and respite that Selina walked out of the bitter marriage that had left her bruised. ‘I had to struggle alone. Despite being an educated and well-known family my husband’s parents, mainly his father, who is today an influential professor, supported their son and made things more difficult for me and my children’ says Selina. ‘Had it not been for the physical torture I suffered and my daughters’ determination I wouldn’t have walked out of the marriage,’ she says.
‘Walking out of a marriage or getting a divorce is always a very difficult thing no matter how educated, rich or independent a woman is. We live in a patriarchal society where women are taught to compromise and remain silent,’ points out divorcee Monika Parveen who has been running the match-making agency ‘Monika’s Badhon’ for the past 11 years, and is now planning a counselling service for divorced men and women.
‘Part of the reason for rising divorce rates is the fact that women are becoming increasingly confident and have their own sense of right and wrong and this is exactly where the conflict arises,’ says Monika. ‘A more divorce-tolerant culture and heartening support from the woman’s parents after divorce reduces the incentive to stay in a marriage. But above all this these men and women need much greater degree of awareness concerning the true meaning of marriage and this needs counselling and support from all of us,’ she adds. Monika describes how she had to suffer years of abuse at the hands of her husband until she walked out and found her own way. Hers is a true success story of a woman breaking out of a tyrannical marriage finding her feet. ‘I have conducted seminars, counselling and research into the causes and implications of divorce and hope to do something for the cause of divorced women,’ she adds.
In spite of a past racked with abuse many women are overcoming their emotional wounds and moving forward, says Selina is now the owner of a boutique as well as a catering business. ‘At first I felt insecure. There seemed to be no one on my side. I was unsure as to how I would support myself and my children. A lot of men tried to take advantage of this situation. However, it was due to my children that I was able to stand up on my own feet. They supported me in every way they could. Now, although we are still struggling, I feel more settled. I am more confident about the future. I am sure the future has brighter things,’ says Selina.
Despite being extremely strong and determined, women like Mehzabin and Selina inevitably suffer from the adverse consequences of being divorced. In fact, many divorced women say that this becomes their only identity in society. ‘This is mainly because most of the people in our society are still living in a time warp and are unaware of the changing matrimonial trends,’ points out 30-year-old Samia Zaman who took the courageous step of walking out of her own failed marriage last year. ‘I knew he slept with another woman and there was just no compromise on that. I knew who I am and I knew I would have stand up for my son. It was up to me to decide the future of me and my child. I had to end it and try to give my son the life he deserves.’
Being a University professor it did not take Samia very long to decide the best for her child. Most women think about the negative impact of a divorce on children and try to avoid it at all costs. They often fail to realise the way unhappy marriages affect children. It is now almost fact that unhappy marriages increase the risk of children suffering emotional problems later in life.
‘Women tend to stay within the boundaries of a married life due to security related issues. The lack of security associated with being single is inexplicable, thanks to the ever ignorant society and the animals in the form of men who are ready pounce on single women and exploit their weaknesses at the slightest opportunities’, explains Samia. It is a shame that divorced women are often preyed upon by men who are around them, who think they have become easy pickings.
When Selina started her struggle alone with her daughters, an influential man tried to take advantage of her situation. ‘Ma was so desperate to find a way out but she was involved in a business partnership with this man,’ adds Selina’s 21-year-old daughter. ‘He would come to our house late at night and Ma was obliged to be nice with him because he was investing in her business.
Although we were against it, Ma trusted him completely and he ended up entering my room one night and abusing me.’ Although Selina moved out of the trap, the scar of what has happened still haunts her. ‘It was all because of her status of being a divorcee and helpless, all because of a bad marriage and my father who never did anything to make my life better. We were like social outcasts,’ says Selina’s daughter. Mehjabeen’s post-divorce story is similar. ‘After walking out of the marriage men offered me “quality time” with them, and sadly the most forward and inappropriate proposal came from my boss,’ says Mehjabeen who has continually changed jobs because of this.

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The theater and its people

Theatre in Bangladesh has come a long way. By and large, it depicts the common struggles and aspirations of its people. With passage of time, this form of art has struggled through impediments and revived till date. For all those who lived through the post 71 period, it was the era of revival of theatre in Bangladesh.

‘Back in around 1973, when I faced the footlights with the maiden staging of Badal Sarkar’s ‘Baaki Itihash’ by Nagorik Natya Sampradaya on British Council stage, little did we know it was the turning of a leaf in the history of theatre,’ says Sarah Zaker, an eminent activist and actor. Having worked for over three decades, she has also directed many of her own productions.

The history of theatre dates back to 1947, when this part of the world was known as Pakistan, when it was sporadic and staged in special occasions only. However, the independence in 1971 brought a new wave of enthusiasm in almost all forms of art and culture: theatre in this case was not an exception. For most people, theatre in many ways was and still is the ‘legacy of liberation war.’ It was during this period that the audience saw the greatest number of unforgettable plays like Munir Chowdhury’s ‘Kawbor’ (1972), Shah Noor Khan’s ‘Shawbhapoti bollen’ (1977), Syed Shamsul Huq’s ‘Payer Aowaj Paowa jai’ (1976), Salim Al-Deen’s ‘Muntasir Fantasy’ (1976), Badal Sarker’s ‘Baaki Itihaash’(1973) and many more. Besides these remarkable original plays, there were a lot of adapted and translated plays by playwrights like Shakespeare, Irwin Shaw, Albee, Gogol, Brecht’s etc.

Even today be it through original or adapted plays, theatre continues to pass on strong social messages through depicting present day crisis stemmed from social evils. In many ways this form of art has been the platform for many people to portray diversified aspects of the society. ‘From time to time, we focus on aspects which appeal to us,’ says renowned director Aly Zaker. ‘It could be set against the 20th century background or even 30s’.

Aly Zaker’s next direction is a play adapted from King Lear being reshaped on a background set against the Muslim society.

The period of struggle for the theatre has been a continuous phase. It was especially true during the early 90’s when the theatre in Bangladesh passed through a period of lull. Many felt it was the end of the era of theatre.

‘The influx of home entertainments through television channels and DVDs kept away a lot of the theatre audiences from coming all the way to watch these shows,’ points out Aly Zaker.

‘Moreover, with the passage of time and increasing stress at work, its often a matter of fatigue for people to pass through the irksome traffic jam to come all the way to watch theatre in the limited places,’ he adds.

Indeed, one of the major reasons for the fall in the number theatre going audience was largely because of the limited places like Natak Para, Mahila Shomiti etc.

‘We realized a large group of audience namely from Gulshan, Uttara and the DOHS part of the city found it increasingly difficult to make it to theatres having crossed the ever increasing traffic jam in Dhaka,’ says Lubna Marium, a dancer and General Secretary of Shadhona, which is a center for advancement of South Asian Dance and Music. For more than two decades, it has been working tirelessly to promote the rich cultural heritage of South Asia among young Bangladeshis through various events, workshops and training programs.

‘So that was when we felt there was need for theatres in this part of the city to bring back a large group of Theatre lovers,’ she adds.

It was this initiation that led to the first ever theatre shows to take place in Gulshan.

‘Once we decided to deliver these to this segment of the city, we needed a place, which was difficult to find,’ says Lubna. ‘Finally the Indian High Commission gave us the opportunity to use the Indian Cultural Centre for staging plays every second Saturday of each month.’

Shadhona has already shown two famous plays Aly Zaker’s Dorpone ShorotShoshi’ and Nasir Uddin Sheikh’s ‘Jonome Jonmantor’, each of which saw an increasing number of audiences.

‘I always believed that if the people cannot reach the theatre, we should take theatre to people,’ says Aly Zaker. ‘The intiation of bringing theatre to Gulshan has helped those who couldn’t make it to places like Mahila Shamiti or Natak Para due to time constraints.’

‘What has been a great achievement for Shadhona is the fact that it has been able to capture the younger generation’s attention. It was lovely to have a bus full of students coming from IUB to watch Desh Natok’s ‘Dorpone Shorot Shoshi,’ says Lubna.

Therefore, the home entertainment facilities have not been able to suppress the enthusiasm and passion of these people. With time, as always, theatre has struggled to revive again. More and more young people have come into the making of some remarkable plays and even many young groups have been formed. In 1997 a group of young and energetic actors came together and formed one of the most successful theatre groups called ‘Prachya Naat’.

‘I started working since I was 18 and the kind of enthusiasm and passion we all experienced during that time is what gave birth to our success,’ says Rahul Anondo whose directed play ‘Mandar’ is going to be staged in the Indian Cultural center in association with Shadhona on September 9.

‘I think its one of my mature works and it has only been possible because of a group of enthusiastic and talented actors who have put in a lot of effort in the making of the play,’ says the 30 year actor and director. Rahul feels the young theatre practitioners have been able to mark a lot in the revival of recent day theatre.

‘Given the support both socially and economically they can go a long way and help keep the interest of the theatre lovers intact,’ he adds.

‘Today there are about 300 practicing groups in Bangladesh and theatres take place on a regular basis,’ says renowned director Aly Zaker.

‘Back in the 80’s if we could carry out 100 shows, it would be a great achievement whereas today we have at least 300 to 400 shows of a single play and this is just a testimonial of how far the theatre of Bangladesh has come,’ he adds.

Increasingly more and more people from the younger generation are coming up in the form of theatre actors and audiences.

‘I always felt that the audience for theatre has always been separate from those going for other forms of entertainment. Therefore, the audience has not really changed but in many ways increased in the sense that we have more young audience and also young actors,’ says Wahida Mollick, who is the assistant professor of Music and Theatre department in Dhaka University. Wahida has also been actively working in acting, production and costume designing in theatre.

‘It was involved in theatre since childhood and it was largely because of my father Mostafa Tofajjul Hossain who was a passionate artist and actor himself.’

‘Today we have some of the major Universities like DU, Rajshahi and Jahangir Nagar University with separate departments on theatre studies which shows that increasingly the views of theatre as a career is being slowly but steadily accepted. We have more and more younger audience adding up to the existing audience,’ points out Wahida.

As Sara Zaker puts it—Theatre has come to stay. For more than thirty years it has proven to be of high artistic quality, be it stage production or open air.

‘With time theatre has made use of various new aspects. Take the example of lighting and designing. While once we used it to just illuminate the stage, now lighting controls dramatic moments and helps build the ambience of different scenes,’ says Nasirul Huq, who has been a lighting designer and an actor in theatre for about 25 years now.

‘Although theatre had become socially acceptable long ago and has been continually progressive and liberal it has not been economically viable. Unlike other countries in Europe, we do not get proper funding from the government to uphold this art,’ points out Nasir. ‘As a result most cannot engage in theatre as a full time work and do other jobs.’

Despite all these limitations, we have people who work till six or perhaps nine at night and rush for their rehearsals. It’s evident, that such limitation has not been able to subdue the passion of these people in any way.

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