Tahmina Shafique The Complete Portfolio


A return to familiar flavours

When it comes to parties at home, it’s so much easier to drop by at one of those fast food shops and grab a burger, or feed your child junk food and depend heavily on take-away. ‘We all know the adverse effects of outside food on the health of children and ourselves, but is there a way?’ asks Sayka Hossain, a working mother. ‘I never got round to learning cooking. Moreover, since we don’t live with my in-laws, there was hardly a chance to get my children to taste the essence of Bengali food that we grew up eating.’

Today, Sayka is a great cook herself. ‘Thanks to the cooking shows — from the quick meals to traditional feast, it has taught me all of it, in just an hour on TV.’

The delightful flavours and enticing aromas of the Bengali platter is an element that our culture would be incomplete without, as would any culture without its culinary base. With more and more single families and working women like Sayka, there is hardly any time for these traditional and healthy dishes to be passed on to the newer generations.

That’s exactly where popular cooking shows on television come in. Over the time, they have emerged with a whole new look. Gone are the days of dreary cooking instruction; shows now are on a grander scale, with chefs taking their craft to the small screen, throwing in the odd colourful celebrity guest. Somehow that adds to the audience, which includes not only mothers, but their children as well as adult men.

‘Ours is an initiative to bring back traditional dishes and also maintain the proper healthy diet through home-made cooking,’ says Abdullah Rana, who directs two of the top most cooking shows today — ‘Siddiqua Kabir’s Recipe’ and ‘Ar Ranna’ hosted by Nahid Osman and directed by Sarah Zaker. While NTV’s ‘Siddiqua Kabir’s Recipe’ is a household name and needs no introduction at all, the latter show has been running successfully on RTV, steadily earning recognition through its inclusion of special guest appearances and new variations of old favourites.

‘Last week we completed the 150th episode of our show. We are now getting ready for our brand new series which will be aired in February,’ says cooking show legend Siddiqua Kabir.

Being an associate professor of nutrition herself, as well as a consultant at Nestlé, her show promotes the importance of good and nutritious eating habits. ‘At the moment, we are facing the problem of malnutrition and obesity, both of which require proper food habits, which is often neglected,’ she says.

Siddiqua Kabir’s easy to comprehend recipes teamed with co-host Sharmin Lucky, has made the show a success. ‘It’s been an experience to work with the legend herself who is also an amazing human being,’ says Sharmin Lucky, for whom the popularity of this show has opened new avenues. ‘I am starting to work as the business development manager and brand ambassador of ‘Nogor Dola’ — a boutique house to be started by Ahsania Mission.

BTV, the first to introduce cooking shows through Siddiqua Kabir, is now showcasing a whole range of special series, the most popular being ‘Tommy Miah Ranna’ and ‘Amader Ranna’. ‘The motive is to present a variety of culinary-ranging from the traditional to western,’ explains Ruksana Parveen, the director of Tommy Miah Ranna show. ‘He is world-famous and goes abroad from time to time so we often have to do four or five shoots in a day.’ The show is done in Tommy Miah’s popular restaurant, Heritage.

‘Amader Ranna’, on the other hand, is more popular among working mothers who rarely have time to cook huge meals. Rahima Sultana is the master of such easy-to-make and quick meals.

‘These shows contribute a lot to housekeeping and time management,’ points out Sadia Anam, a working mother of two. ‘While Siddiqua Kabir’s show highlights the much needed proper nutrition and diet, the others contribute to the snacks.’

The glamour effect is at work in another popular cooking show, ‘Amader Ranna Ghor’. Currently running on Banglavision and hosted by celebrity Parveen Sultana Ditti. ‘We look for guests who have earned a name for themselves in the field of cooking,’ explains Lutfur Rahman, the chief assistant producer of the show.

‘We have had experts like Siddiqua Kabir, Sabiha Munmun and Rahima Sultana. This gives us the opportunity to have a diverse range of items,’ he adds. An attractive aspect of the show is special series for different groups. ‘Often, we have audience from Chittagong, and we cook their favourite food,’ he adds.

It’s evident that the competition between these shows is intense. Increasingly, production houses are coming up with more outré ideas. Such is a soon-to-be-released, cooking show, ‘Desh Bidesher Ranna’, in Channel-i ,directed and hosted by Keka Ferdosi, who is better known for ‘Monohari Iftar’ that shows on Channel-i throughout the month of Ramadan.

The show promises to hit the screens all around the world, as it targets Bangladeshi expatriates. ‘We are travelling to different countries such as the USA, the UAE, and Sweden, and meeting the Bangladeshi community and cooking for them. In a way, it’s also presenting Bengali culture abroad,’ explains Ferdosi. ‘We’ll also be showing the different geographical locations here in Bangladesh and presenting their traditional food’.

As the popularity of these shows increase, food lovers are opting for home-made and traditional food more and more. ‘If we can create awareness and guide the audience properly, the purpose is served,’ says Siddiqua Kabir.

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‘He was dying for me, so I agreed to marry him’

Fairy tales still come true. And not just on TV, but sometimes through TV. Celebrity couple Srabastee Tinni and Adnan Faruque Hillol are proof. While she is the stunningly beautiful debutante of television drama, he is the quintessential ‘good guy’—hard-working, and struggles aplenty to speak of—who has won her heart with devotion. Last week, a few days after they took the marital plunge, and were busy preparing for the shift to their new Uttara apartment, I caught up with them at Hillol’s parents’ house in Rajarbagh.

At ten-thirty in the morning, the two are struggling to wake up and get ready for the interview, as visitors flock in, in waves, to congratulate them or see how they are doing. ‘Buying an apartment and setting up a house is so expensive,’ Hillol tells me, still in his sleeping suit, his hair tousled and messy, as we seat ourselves in the neat drawing room. Tinni is rushing to get ready. Hillol tells me how his thespian career began.

While Tinni has made her mark through the hit mega serial 69 and serials like Shopno Shiri, Jol Rong, Durer Jibon and host of other adverts such as Tibet Beauty Soap, RC Lemon and also her recent appearance on the big screen through Mad_e in Bangladesh, Hillol has, without any doubt, established his strong acting abilities in the theatre productions of ‘Desh Natok’ and a series of superb serials like Sporsher Baire and Jora Ilish. Recently they have also hit the screen together, in serials like Talking Car, Ek Jiboner Boshonto and Romijer Aaina.

‘It was during my HSC, in 1996 that, I came across a Desh Natok advert in the newspaper, Bhorer Alo. They were looking for young artists and I immediately applied with my friends,’ says Hillol. With that came a host of successful plays like Dorponer Sharat Shoshi, Loha, Nitto Puran. ‘I had my first lead role in Loha, which I feel, was my best work so far. The play required me to be on stage for an hour and half, with no breaks at all,’ he says.

If an artist must suffer for his art, Hillol’s been there. ‘Although that was the period I was most passionate about my work, it was also the most difficult time of my life,’ he says of the initial Desh Natok days. His parents were completely against his newfound passion, which hardly earned him money. ‘Since they were against it, I could not take any money from them for this purpose, and theatre is a kind of work where you have to spend a lot as well. There were days I spent eating two dal puri and walk to and from [Dhaka’s] Panthapath, where the rehearsals were held, to my house in Rajarbagh, sometimes returning at ten thirty at night.’

Hillol grew up in a conventional middle-class Bengali family, with no predecessors who had ventured into theatre or film. ‘My father had a job which required him to move from place to place: from Chittagong to Khulna and so many other places. In that process, I changed school eleven times!’ he laughs. ‘I never thought I would end up as an actor. But, what perhaps drew me closer to the theatre life was the environment- it’s colour and exuberance. I grew up learning to sing. By the time I was eleven, I had learnt to play the harmonium and even some stuff on the guitar.’

In 1998, Hillol passed from Dhaka’s Independent University of Bangladesh, with a BBA degree and, surprised no one by ditching the well paid jobs the degree could fetch him, started worked as a full time actor instead. ‘It was Gias Uddin Selim who offered me to work on TV, around 1999.’

Despite the evident disappointments of his family, he continued his work. ‘They accepted it only when I started earning, and of course, when Baba saw people appreciating my work.’

Tinni now enters the room, dressed in a blue shalwar kameez, looking bright as a spring afternoon, save the eyes bleary with sleep. She bears the marks of a new bride—the henna-decorated hands, the bangles, and a heady anticipation of the days ahead. Once the pleasantries are done, she cannot stop talking. ‘Yesterday we went to our new house and decorated it. We worked the whole day. It’s just so amazing, my sweet home. I just don’t feel interested in anything other than this, at the moment,’ she says.

As we stray into more diverse conversation, especially the details of her marriage ceremony, her father-in-law, angered by something (probably my presence) is yelling from the dinning room. Tinni rushes to calm him down. I hear him complaining about all the gossip about their marriage in the media, telling them they shouldn’t talk about it so much. It’s an awkward moment for both of them, but Tinni walks back into the drawing room smiling her superstar smile, and tells me how concerned he is about her.

So will the marriage affect her career? She admits that it will, to an extent at least. ‘I am less flexible now, and have to be more selective with work I do. My in-laws are very understanding, but then again, there are limitations in the way I present myself on TV,’ she explains carefully. Hillol clarifies that both of them had always been selective with their work, so its not going to be a sea change.

As a young girl, Tinni had always wanted to be a singer, but changed track in 2002, when won the award for ‘Best Hair’ in the Lux- Anondodhara beauty pageant. ‘Back then my hair was longer and much prettier,’ she giggles like a little girl.

‘Getting into a beauty contest was a completely different from my aspiration as a singer. I was eighteen and just wanted to see the fun in it. But, it was afterwards, that the designer of Banglar Mela, Emdad Hoque offered me to work in a mega serial by Mostofa Sarwar Farooki and I was overwhelmed!’

Like Hillol, Tinny faced her share of problems convincing her parents about her chosen career. ‘My father was a government officer and very conventional. So, when he heard about the beauty contest, he freaked out and when it followed with my first work on television, he was not happy.’ Tinni admits that the passion that she had back then surprises her when she thinks about it now.

Since the mega serial 69, was a family oriented serial, she finally managed to convince her father to give her a chance to prove herself as an actor. ‘Had it not been Farooki’s support, I would not have been able to learn so much. He is always clear about what he wants and makes the actor understand the little details of the characters. In fact, it was him, who convinced my father to let me work in Mad_e in Bangladesh. My father had even stopped talking to me, at one point,’ she remembers.

With so many offers for roles coming her way, Tinni dropped out of North South University, where she was doing her BA. ‘There was hardly anytime for me then, so I decided to join later, and I hope that will be soon,’ she explains.

‘Farooki has not only been a great friend, but also my lucky charm,’ says Tinni. It was with his mega serial that she was noticed and there was no looking back for her since. A host of other serials like Durer Jibon, Jol Rong became instant success.

While Tinni is talkative and exuberant, Hillol is more reserved. Does it work better that they have contrasting personalities? ‘Well he was dying for me, so I agreed to marry him,’ she says jokingly, as Hillol, not the least bit embarrassed, smiles.

‘It was when we started working together in Romijer Aaina in mid-2005 that we got to know each other better. We were great friends and did not realise that a romance was building up. But, when we were working in Ek Jiboner Boshonto, Tinni went for a five day shoot in Cox’s Bazaar. I started to miss her terribly and realised what had happened,’ says Hillol.

‘He started acting so weird that I was worried about him,’ laughs Tinny. Hillol had to gather courage to confess his feelings towards her, he says. ‘We were working with a lot of other actors. After dropping everyone, he was going to drop me. But instead, in the middle of the night, at 1.45am, this gentleman told me that he loves me. He held my hand and I did not know what to say other than “I want to go home!”,’ she bursts into laughter. This time Hillol does blush.

Five months later they started dating and things just got better. ‘I realised no one else could love me more than him and I agreed to spend the rest of my life with him,’ she says, beaming affectionately. ‘And we lived happily ever after,’ adds Hillol, as he holds his wife lovingly.

The Low-down

Adnan Faruque Hillol

Birth date: October 24, 1977

Turning point: Sporsher Baire

Inspiration: got it all through the struggling times

I am: calm and reserved

Shrabastee Tinny

Date: May 25

Turning point: 69

Inspiration: Emdad Hoque and Mostofa Sarwar Farooki

I am: friendly, compromising and jumpy!

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‘Life, after all, is one big comedy!’

If one had to find out the core of the unique movie making style of the film maker, Mostofa Sarwar Farooki, it would not be just a series of hit productions in a line; rather it would be about fighting through hard times, living in a single room with a family and having one meal a day. It would be about being uncertain and frustrated about life, and deviating towards the wrong path, but at the end of it all, coming out fine and putting the life’s lessons together and giving birth to movies beyond the stereotypical plots.

Be it movies like Bachelor-the circle or the recently released, Mad_e in Bangladesh or mega serials like Ekannoborti or 69, Farooki has found his own niche in an unconventional style of filmmaking. His productions have realistic plots, and pickled with all the lucidity of the everyday. They are almost always populated by young and extrovert characters.

With such distinct and unconventional aspects to his filmmaking, it is indeed a surprise, that he grew up in a conservative family — a ‘Hujur’ (Imam) as father and a mother who is a strong believer in ‘pirs’ (spiritual guides of Sufis). ‘I ensured my voice was heard,’ says Farooki. ‘By the time I was sixteen, I set up a democratic system in my family — therefore, we were free to have our own perceptions and beliefs. There were some disappointments, but ultimately they realised that they can not impose their ideology on us.’

There is an unmistaken spark in his eyes as he thinks aloud a catchy new slogan for an advert. His small house is cluttered and untidy, and the atypical bachelor’s lifestyle. The walls are festooned with stills from the movie Bachelor and mega serials like ‘Ekannoborti’, ‘Uno Manush’. Right at the entrance, one can hardly miss the huge whiteboard, where different catch phrases from advertisements and schedules for film shoots have been jotted down. Nearly twenty other men, unshaven and carelessly dressed, also live in the same space. Some of them are chatting and laughing out loud, while the others seem to be in a mad rush for the preparation of an upcoming production.

‘We chat all night long, smoke, play cards and in the process I come across unique ideas,’ he laughs as he opts to sit in the spacious garage instead, where it is much quieter and the soft winter sunlight is streaming in. He tells me that he inherited his creativity from his mother and his ‘stubborn attitude and anger from my father,’ he laughs.

His mother sent his two younger brothers to madrassah, after one of her dreams was interpreted by a pir. ‘When I was old enough, I got them out and ensured they grew up like me — allowing them to be themselves.’

Despite going against the social norms of following in the parent’s footsteps, the bond in their family has remained intact though. Farooki speaks of his parents fondly and includes them as part of the reason for his success.

It was during 1989, that perhaps his strength as an individual was determined when his family faced a financial breakdown. ‘It was during that time, that I truly grew as an individual. We lived in a single room, with no meals for the day. There were times, I spent the whole day eating a roll and loiter around on the streets.’ He waxes nostalgic as he remembers his struggling days.

‘For a while, I wrote for newspapers — one hundred taka per piece. I thought I would become a writer but then my interest shifted elsewhere.’ Throughout his life, he was experimental; he completed his SSC in Science, but later shifted to Commerce. ‘I was searching for my own niche through out time,’ he adds.

During 1996, he started watching movies at screenings and festivals. His interest grew by the day. ‘It was at one such occasion that I met a girl, and planned to make a movie just to impress her. But then I didn’t have the money.’

Years later the movie was made and it was an instant hit — it was none other than Bachelor. ‘The film went through rejection after rejection. At one point, I moved away from movies. I doped and hated everything around me,’ an uneasy Farooki broods, and falls silent for a while.

With time, things fell into place and following a serial ‘Waiting Room’ and Bachelor, a host of mega serials and adverts became instant successes. Farooki’s creativity is evident in almost all his productions. His adverts are hilarious. But his breakthrough came with the GrameenPhone advert of ‘Ma’. The lucid and evocative storyline broke away from conventional television commercials, while it’s filming techniques (done in 35mm movie grade) also was unique.

But his other works stand out in its humorous content. Be it the ‘Flexiload’ ads for GrameenPhone, or the ‘Ki Rejwan…nishchoy girlfriend shaathey?’ ad for Citycell. The roll also includes Premier Cement’s ‘Pakhider Basha Key Poritey Pare’.

‘These ideas click out of nowhere. I do not plan them beforehand. But, most of the time, I draw the main theme from the little experiences in life,’ he explains. Perhaps, that is the reason for more realistic plots and characters. He speaks of his experience about a colleague who had to rush home a few weeks back, as his child was ill. The wife apparently had a son from her previous marriage as well. ‘It struck me — “who would look after the other son when he has fever?” But then I

completely forgot about it and came back home. But throughout the night, deep within my unconscious mind, the plot of my next movie was being made and the next morning I came up with my upcoming movie — “I Hate My Mother”!’

The enthusiasm is all too clear in his eyes, and he doesn’t seem to have any dearth of experiences to speak of. He seems to pick up the little things from incidents around him and put them together in his movies and bring them to life through comedy.

I ask him about the recent success of the hit movie, ‘Mad_e in Bangladesh’, a story that has moved beyond his usual productions. Many feel the release has been a timely one. With the situation in the country getting worse by the day, Mad_e in Bangladesh is a satire on the current disarray in the political scenario, the ignorance and anomalies in the civil administration and law enforcing system and the frustration of a young man (played by Jahid Hassan). Critics feel, this is perhaps a clear expression of the country’s current state.

‘It was fate — God’s wish that this should get released at this time. This was supposed to be my first movie, but it turned out, that the idea of Bachelor struck me more,’ he remembers fondly. ‘Even though the movie was made long ago, it was stuck at the censor board.’

Despite the controversial plot, Farooki depicts it through humour. The movie is a testimony to his rare talent of mixing comedy with reality. ‘Whatever is happening around us is, after all, is one big comedy! It is irrelevant, illogical and nonsense. That’s what exactly I focused on in the movie’ he explains. He also feels that the audience was ready for this kind of a movie.

‘It’s a myth in our country that only a movie with music, romance and melodrama will sell. The large number of young boys and girls, who are going to cinemas to watch this satire, are contradicting that notion,’ he clarifies with an air of satisfaction and pride.

Farooki is restless and full of energy. ‘I don’t know if it is a gift or a curse upon me, but I am happy with it’.

While fixing his signature-style ski cap, Farooki continues, ‘I have changed a lot now. Thanks to my girl friend my life style has changed a lot!’ He laughs affectionately. ‘She has filled my life with love and care. I used to smoke a lot and never bothered about anything around me, but now I do. I have started to love myself and I want to have a family. In fact, I want to make more emotional movies as well.’ He tries to act light hearted, as he always is, but it is evident that he has changed a lot.

I ask him about the girl, for whom he made the movie Bachelor, he laughs, ‘I do not know where she is, but I am sure she was a blessing in disguise’. He remains silent for a long moment. ‘I want to get married and be settled, hopefully, with my present girlfriend!’

It is said all artists have some autobiographical tendencies in their creation, and in his case it has been said more often than not. ‘My movies are expressions of how I perceive life and see things,’ answers the young film maker. As the interview comes to end, he gets ready to go towards the nearby rail crossing, which he points out to be his favourite place. ‘It’s close to nature and I can breathe fresh air, away from all these walls and buildings’.

The Farooki low down
Name: Mostofa Sarwar Farooki
Date of Birth: May 2,1974
Childhood: spent in Nakhalpara, Dhaka
In a few words I am: a privileged kid, restless and stubborn
Inspirations: My audience, critics, family and girlfriends!
Upcoming movie: ‘I Hate My Mother’
I admire: Abbas Koirastami

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Of innocence robbed (with Mehrin Lubna)

It was two years ago, year eleven-year-old Bilkis Begum took her biggest step towards adulthood. The young girl from Lalmonirhat, 390km northwest of Dhaka, was oblivious of the consequences of marriage and submitted to her parents’ wish that she should be married off. She had never seen the groom, nor was she aware of what was expected of her at her in-laws’, or even what kind of people they are. Her mother explained to Bilkis that she was lucky to be able to get married at such an early age, especially given her family’s financial and social status. She was not allowed to know about the negotiations her father had made with her father-in-law. The festive mood in the family and the sudden affection and care with which her every whim was now treated made her feel that perhaps her life was about to change for the better.
Unfortunately, Bilkis’ realised soon after she arrived at her in-laws’ place that she was no longer treated as a child. She was frequently beaten, abused, and expected to shoulder the burden of the household work. At thirteen she found herself pregnant.
Bilkis suffered from ailments arising out of her pregnancy at such a tender age. Neither her husband nor her in-laws seemed to care. As she started complaining and protesting when she was mistreated, the abuse increased. Earlier this year, she was cast out of her in-laws house after a particularly vicious beating, soon after she gave birth to her daughter. Her parents, her husband told her, had failed to pay the dowry.
All that she brought back home were horrifying memories and seven month old daughter Jeba.
‘Back then I did not know what the actual meaning of marriage was. I had no idea that my life would change so dramatically. It became worse when I was forced to have sex with my husband, something I had no idea about,’ says Bilkis.
Her in-laws, she said, tortured her regularly because her father had not been able to pay the dowry, fixed at Tk 30,000. The thirteen year old would be beaten up and sometimes had to spend days without eating even when she was pregnant. ‘Sometimes I just wanted to die.’
Bilkis was finally turned out of the house when she gave birth to a daughter, she says still struggling to hold her tears back.
Like Bilkis, many girls of her village suffered the same fate. At village Mogholhat in Lalmonirhat, it is a tradition to get girls married as early as possible. ‘From the time of birth, parents begin to look for a groom for their daughter. There is no regard of his age or family. Sometimes, young children are even married to men who have married several times,’ says Bilkis. Predictably, most girls meet the same fate as Bilkis.
Child marriage, especially for girls, is not only a problem in the remote villages. It is a common phenomenon in the numerous slums of Dhaka where a girl child remains a burden, an extra mouth to feed, to parents.
Like Bilkis, Jahanara had been married when she was 12. Jahanara used to live in a slum in Banani. She had her first child two years later. The following year her husband left her and remarried.
Since then she has been working at a garment factory for 15 hours a day to provide for her daughter. ‘I don’t live for myself anymore. I live for my daughter. Everything that I am doing today is only to make sure that she gets all the opportunities that I did not. I just don’t want my daughter to have the same life as I did,’ says Jahanara, a grave resignation for a 19-year-old, who by 21st century standards should only be starting her life as an adult.
Early marriage has been a major social problem for Bangladesh for centuries perhaps, given the cultural customs and traditions. Despite the obvious consequences of early marriage, a large number of people, especially among the poor, continue to perpetuate the practice.
Children, mostly girls, are married without being asked consent, which even if it were sought would be ludicrous considering their age. According to a worldwide research on child- and early-marriage by the UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, Bangladesh has one of the highest percentages of marriage among girls before 18 years of age.
Statistics indicate that among the 28 million adolescents in Bangladesh, five per cent of the girls between 10 and 14 years and 48 per cent of those between 15 and 19 are married. Furthermore, it has been found that approximately 50 per cent of these married girls had no knowledge of their families’ negotiations on their marriages.
The research carried out by UNICEF studied both, physical and emotional consequences of early marriages. It identifies child marriage as the direct violation of child rights and presents three key concerns — the denial of childhood and adolescence, the curtailment of personal freedom and the lack of opportunity to develop a full sense of selfhood as well as the denial of psychosocial and emotional well-being, reproductive health and educational opportunity.
‘For both boys and girls, early marriage has devastating physical, emotional and intellectual consequences,’ says Carol Bellamy, executive director of UNICEF.
‘The practice virtually ends a child’s chances of pursuing education or exploring professional and social life opportunities. For girls, the end result of child marriage is almost invariably premature pregnancy,’ she says. According to Bellamy, the risks of early pregnancy and childbirth are well documented and include high risk of death, premature labour, complications during delivery, low birth-weight, and a higher chance that the newborn will not survive. ‘We have been trying, with very little success, for years now to end the silent despair of thousands of children in Bangladesh and other countries, especially girls, who are being shuttered, away in lives often full of misery and pain,’ Bellamy laments.
Although societies have often identified the practice of child marriage as a social evil for ages, the numbers have hardly decreased. The UNICEF report lists poverty as the primary reason for early marriage. In Bangladesh, for example, poverty-stricken parents who can no longer afford to take care of their daughters are persuaded to part with them through marriage. ‘Parents often use early marriage as a strategy for economic survival. In families that are very poor, a daughter may be seen as an economic burden that must be shed through marriage as early as possible,’ says Bellamy. ‘Similarly, the economic gains incurred through the marriage of a daughter may also be an important motivating factor for poor families. On the other hand, parents are usually very considerate about their sons. Sons are often viewed as sources of income in the future and as a result, they are treated differently. While daughters are married off as soon as possible, sons are given better care and education,’ she says.
Advocate Mohammed Yeasin Khan of the Supreme Court echoes these views. He explains that getting a girl to marry early is one way to ensure her security and protection. Some parents also feel that marriage places their daughter firmly under male control and verifies that the children she bears are legitimate. ‘Girls in their teenage years often find themselves to be victims of exploitations and assaults. Thus fearing social disgrace, the parents wed off their daughters early,’ he adds.
According to Advocate Masuda Rehana Begum of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, a watchgroup that works to protect the rights of women, there is more behind early marriages than simply poverty or security of daughters. ‘The custom of arranging marriages for daughters as early in their lives as possible has age old roots. Our traditional norms that are passed on by the mothers to their daughters, portrays an ideal woman as the one who let go of all her desires and dedicates herself into taking care of her husband only regardless of the fact of how he treats her,’ she says. ‘Actually, women in our society have always been seen as a weaker individual who cannot live without a man’s support. Right from the moment a baby girl is born in a family, her parents suffer from a deep sense of insecurity and thus to escape from this feeling they try to get her married as soon as possible. Even today, to many parents, a girl’s life is considered meaningless and incomplete, unless of course she is married!’
Whatever maybe the true reason behind early marriages, its effects on the health of young children is alarming. Early marriage is the direct or indirect cause of many health related problems and diseases among young women, often leading to death. In fact death due to untimely pregnancy is still a statistic that mars the otherwise impressive strides Bangladesh has made in health care.
‘Pregnancy related deaths are the leading cause of mortality for 15-19 year old girls worldwide and at present Bangladesh has the world’s highest rate of maternal mortality which is 4.5 per 1,000 live births,’ says Dr Parveen Sultana a gynaecologist at Dhaka’s reputed Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical Hospital. ‘The risks of early pregnancy and child birth not only increases the risk of the mother dying of premature labour but it also creates complications during delivery and the chance of the newborn’s survival becomes exceedingly slim.’
She further points out that child marriages may put girls at an increased risk of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections (STI’s). ‘Young girls usually get married to men who are much older. As a result, in many cases, the men, who have had other sexual relationships act as the carriers of the virus and pass it on to the girls. Thus, without being aware of it, the girls become infected with the virus. Unfortunately, the eventual sufferers are their children.’
Although often overlooked, another major casualty of early marriages is the education of married children. Most girls are forced to stop their education after marriage. This is due to the socially accepted belief that all the responsibilities of a girl are inside the house. As a result, girls become completely dependent upon their husbands. This leaves them in a helpless predicament in case the marriage breaks down as they do not have the qualifications to be financially independent.
The consequences of early marriage reach beyond the lives of young married girls themselves to the children they give birth to. Poor infant and child health outcomes are strongly associated with the early age of mothers, due in part to young women’s physical vulnerabilities and in part to the lack of social and reproductive health services for this high-risk group of Bangladesh. In most cases, infants and children of mothers who give birth to them before the age of 20 face consistently higher mortality rates even through to the age of five. Those who make it past that are often denied of proper education and guidance. Young girls unsurprisingly fail to play the role that is expected from them and cannot carry out their responsibilities efficiently.
Joynal, the six year old son of two very young parents in a Dhaka slum, is the innocent victim of an early marriage between his parents. From the time of his birth, he has been suffering from various illnesses. Furthermore, his young parents have failed to earn enough for his education. ‘There is hardly enough money in the family to pay for food. Besides, I have to spend a lot of money behind my child’s heath. I wish I was older so that I could earn more and give my wife and son a better life. It was foolish of me to marry so early according to my parents wish. I think early marriage is not only a mistake but also a crime,’ explained Nazrul, only 23 years old with a son of six.
Despite such obvious drawbacks of early marriages the measures being taken to prevent it are in no way drastic. It may probably be due to the fact that people differ in their attitudes towards early marriage. More importantly, the laws concerning early marriage are too old and simply not sufficient to deal with the problem. The only available act that deals with the marriage of under aged children is the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1948 (CMRA). The Act defines a child as a male under 21 years or a female under 18 years old. According to Section 4 of the Act, the maximum punishment for a male marrying a child younger than 18 years is simply a fine of taka 1,000 and one month’s imprisonment. Section 6 has similar punishments for other people involved in the marriage like the parents of the children and the kazi who administers the marriage.
‘It can be said without any doubt that the so-called law is not at all effective, because it is a toothless and anomaly-ridden law. Moreover, how many people are aware of the consequences of marrying early?’ asks Dr Faustina Pereira of the Dhaka-based NGO Ain O Shalish Kendra, which has built a reputation in working to establish rights for women and children. She further points out that the law has no punishment for the girls involved in early marriages although there are cases when the girls have a big role to play in early marriages and therefore bear part of the blame.
The most crucial drawback of the law is the fact that although it punishes those involved in arranging a child marriage, it does not judge the validity of the marriage. ‘This is where the main anomaly of this law lies. Though the Child marriage is punishable under this Act, this Act does not invalidate the marriage. If child marriages are to be seriously stopped, the laws definitely need modification and people have to be made aware of the laws,’ says Pereira.
The question, however, still remains as to simply the modification of laws can effectively prevent child marriages or not. The measures that are to be taken must not only prevent parents from arranging early marriages for their daughters but should also provide them with alternatives. A US-based International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) study on Bangladeshi women revealed that when jobs are available to girls, both daughters and parents become interested in delaying marriage. The IRCW study by Sanyukta Mathur and Margaret Greene reports that the readymade-garments industry in Bangladesh has played an important role in extending the period before marriage, while at the same time providing young women with the means to earn a living. The report also reveals that unlike most neighboring countries hardly any step is being taken in Bangladesh to promote education among young girls so as to prevent their early marriage.
Wiping out the tradition of child marriage from Bangladesh requires much more attention from the government than is being currently given, say experts. More importantly, the social belief about girls being the weaker gender has to change, they say. ‘The old Bengali saying which observes: ‘Caring for a daughter is like watering a neighbour’s tree summarizes the attitude of people towards women in this country. It reflects the view that it is a waste of resources to invest in a daughter who will be ‘lost’ to another family through marriage,’ wrote Janet Reynor a researcher on women’s rights working for the UK-based charity OXFAM. ‘It is vital for the future of a country that children receive the rights they deserve and are not burdened with the curse of marriage at a very early age.’

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