Tahmina Shafique The Complete Portfolio

18May/070

Up, up and away

In the past week, two international financial institutions and the Centre for Policy Dialogue, a Dhaka-based economic think-tank have confirmed our worst fears. That rising prices of essentials are no longer one-off market fluctuations but indicate rising inflation i.e. a rising trend in the general level of prices.

According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), the inflation rate has crept up to 7.43 per cent in March, compared to 7.28 per cent just a month earlier. The estimates strongly point out that the rate has been increasing at a faster pace, since January this year.

The spiralling inflation rate has reached a point where the government is not being able to tackle or combat it, says economists. The result has been soaring prices of essential goods such as sugar, rice and commodities. Last week, New Age reported that the prices of essentials have risen between 5 and 50 per cent since January. BBS data also shows that the inflation rate of food items increased by 0.17 percentage points in March in comparison to the figure released in February. The inflation rate of food items in March, this year was 8.53 percent.

As prices increase incessantly, the larger question remains if the prices are going to come down or if the inflation will continue to creep upwards? ‘In Bangladesh prices never decrease,’ says Khaliqur Rahman, a wholesaler operating in Mohammadpur for over fifteen years now. ‘Prices are rising by 70 per cent and there is no likelihood of a decrease, because even if steps are taken, prices will not be allowed to come down by powerful people who can influence the prices.’

‘There are various factors that have been fueling prices in the last five years,’ says MM Akash, professor of economics at the Dhaka University. ‘It is the weak regulatory system of the government over market, as a result of which there was a continuous increase of the market power of the illegal hoarders, rent seekers or middle man’s influence in the supply channel, increasing transaction cost of business and the increasing power of the import syndicates.’

This week, New Age’s consultations with a number of economists and government officials revealed the strong possibility that prices will increase further leading to threatening consequences. In fact, many economists predict that the actual inflation figure is much higher than the ones being officially quoted.

Last year, during the BNP-led four party government’s tenure, the inflation rate hovered around 7 per cent reflecting the increase in the price of necessary goods including the kitchen markets. This year, with the military-backed interim government’s anti-hoarding policy and the multiplier effects of various factors prices have been soaring and inflation in Bangladesh continues to creep up.

According to a study, released last month, the average price level of essential commodities are expected to rise another 3.16 per cent due to high fuel prices, hinting at an annual inflation rate which could cross the 10 per cent marker this year. ‘Increase in the inflation will slow down the economic growth rate by nearly 1 per cent in terms of GDP at constant prices,’ said the study titled Oil Price Increase: Assessing Impacts and Policy Recommendations prepared by AK Enamul Haque and Sajjad Zahir of the Dhaka-based Economic Research Group.

‘Two-digit inflation in the coming months as a result of fuel price increase will have the most adverse effects on the productive sectors of the economy — agriculture and the small and medium industrial and other enterprises,’ observes Enamul.

In the meantime, tens of millions of people, from the working class and moving upwards into the higher middle classes are feeling the crunch of the recent 15-22 per cent hike in fuel prices. In order to reduce the losses incurred by the Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation (BPC), the price of diesel and kerosene was increased to Tk 40 from an earlier price of Tk 33. Similarly, the prices of octane and petrol have been increased to Tk 67 and Tk 65 per litre from earlier prices of Tk 58 and Tk 56.

Most ordinary Bangladeshis have found their standard of living deteriorating significantly as they find their salaries inadequate to buy the same amount of good and services they used this same month last year. Fuel is that essential item that determines prices in public transports, power generation, irrigation of land and other activities.

‘It seems like every government has something against us poor people,’ says Khalil, a bus conductor. ‘The rising prices have done nothing to the rich, but it has taken away our meal and peace. Can the government say it has done something for us?’

The net impact of recent fuel price and other essential commodities have hit the poor the hardest. ‘The toll is likely to be significant unless alleviated through targeted means of transfers, preferably in cash,’ said a BB report released this month.

‘Increasing the petroleum price suddenly at a significantly high rate and in the name of eviction causing unnecessary troubles to the huge informal business sector has increased the cost of supply and has contributed to the rising prices and hence inflation,’ points out Akash.

‘The caretaker government has addressed various issues to combat corruption, but concrete steps to address these issue are yet to be taken,’ says Barkat-E-Khoda, professor and former chairman, economics department, Dhaka University. ‘While price hike can have dire economic consequences, it is also affecting the consumers, especially the poor. Moreover, the restrictions on the amount of goods that can be transported over time has resulted in the increase in the transport cost and affected the supply of goods to a great extent.’

The government’s anti-hoarding drive that led to disruptions in supply chain and also lower than the targeted production of food grains fuelled the prices of essentials and hence driving the rate of inflation at an alarming rate, say economists. ‘The issue needs to be addressed from the root. If we are to combat inflation, we need to look at the factors that have been at work for so long…growing number of syndicates that influence prices, limited supply of goods compared to the demand ,’ stresses Khoda.

According to the food ministry and the Department of Agricultural Extension, production of food grains such as Aus and Aman in July-March of the fiscal 2006-07 dropped to 124.12 lakh tonnes from 125.55 lakh tonnes in the same months in 2006. Low production and short supply of rice in the market caused price hikes in the last few months and sources predict more hikes in rice prices in the current month.

‘The price of rice has been increasing by three taka, per kg and to make things worse the stock of rice is limited,’ says Belal, a seller in Karwan Bazar market. ‘Now when we order rice, it takes days, and often more than a week to get it as the stock of rice has been fast decreasing. Since the restriction on the amount of goods that can be transported has been imposed by the interim-government, prices have spiralled up more and more.’

Last week, however, the interim government reset the government’s procurement prices of Boro paddy (winter crop) and rice in view of the present market rates to provide fair price to the growers.

While many producers are hoping that the measure will encourage the farmers and help increase the government’s domestic procurement of paddy and rice (the government will procure 300,000 tonnes of paddy and 1M tonnes of rice this year), many believe that this to be an eyewash as it will do little to stabilise the spiraling price situation in the country.

Although, this step is likely to go in favour of the sellers, many sellers are skeptical about it. ‘We are waiting to see a miracle happen after this step,’ says Md Abu Bakar Siddique, a rice retailer in Karwan Bazar. ‘We already have limited stocks of rice and over that the government is buying up huge amount of rice and releasing it at a cheaper price. How is that going to do any good in the long term? The government needs to help us increase the stock.’

‘Suppliers could transport double the amount earlier, now they are not being able to cover up the costs with the limitations imposed on the amount of goods [a truck can carry]. Add to that we have a high amount of import, where the global inflation is making the matter worse,’ points out Mustafizur Rahman, research director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue. ‘Much of the present economic state is stemming from the gap in demand and supply side factors,’ he says.

But, according to Bangladesh Bank, it is no longer in their hands to control the inflation. ‘We are doing our best to look into the demand side policies but it is supply of goods that need to be taken into account to stop the price hike,’ said a high-official of the central bank, requesting anonymity. ‘It is the duty of other government agencies and authorities to control supply side pressures stemming from anti-hoarding drives, fragile supply chain management, eviction of hawkers and hikes in price of fuel and electricity,’ he further added.

While a tight monetary policy—where the government less cash to circulate in the economy by selling its bonds—was implemented last year, this year central bank officials feel inflation is here to stay. ‘This time it will not work. There has been reduced rice production and this has led to a fall in the growth in agriculture although we had predicted a higher growth earlier.’

‘If prices continue to rise in such a pace, how will we survive?’ asks Shaheda Khatun, a Dhaka house-wife. ‘The price of food items like rice, sugar, vegetables are running further away from our reach every week.’

‘This is Bangladesh and nothing is transparent, not even the steps that the caretaker government is taking,’ says Dhaka CNG driver, AftabUddin. Like many, his frustration over price hikes for over a year is clear. ‘The poor will never be better off. Has the government made things easier by ensuring lower prices and driven the syndicates out? Has the government ensured that those farmers are not affected?’ he asks.

‘The overall economic activity has been disrupted with power-tariff hikes, allowing syndicates to run amok in the market and many other factors,’ points out Khoda. ‘It is important to take steps that will be faster and more effective.’

Experts feel that the next budget should take into account the realistic picture of the present state of the economy and then propose the measures for sustainable development to favorably improve the living standards of the rural poor and purchasing power of the urban working and middle-classes.

VOX POP It seems like everyone has agreed that the poor should die

Monjurul Islam Monju (38)
Telephone Operator (Monthly Income: 3,200, Expenditure: Tk.4,000-5,000)
Prices are sky-rocketing but what about our income? My income has been the same despite the wild increase in the prices. Ever since this mayhem and increase in the prices of essentials, my life has become unbearable. I had to send away my family: my wife and three children to our village, because I could not afford to feed them here anymore. The house-rent was raised by Tk 300, because the landlord had to save himself. There were days I could not feed my children properly, days I could not buy rice because everyday the price kept increasing. If this continues I don’t know how the poor- the worst sufferers like me can survive.

Md Bilal (30)
Rickshaw-puller (Monthly Family Income: Tk 5,000 Expenditure: Tk 4,500 and more)
Earlier my expenditure use to be around Tk 3,000 and now it has increased so much that I had to take a loan to pay my the house rent last month. It’s not that prices are increasing once in a while; they are fly further out of reach every other day. My wife keeps complaining about the prices of goods, especially rice which is increasing every day. There are days we save up rice for our three children and not eat ourselves; we have reached a point where we can no longer afford to pay so much. This price hike is killing the poor like me and where will we go if our income is not as much as what we need to spend just to stay alive?

Mohammad SR (45)
CNG driver (Monthly Income: Tk 5,000 Expenditure: TK 5,000)
I cant keep track of the rising prices anymore. It seems like every government that comes into power has something against the poor. The price of rice was Tk 25 two days ago and today it is Tk 27. And in Bangladesh prices only increase, they never decrease and the poor are always worse off. The price of oil, rice and other major necessities are increasing in this way because of the incapability or ignorance of the government to ensure our rights to live a decent life with three meals a day.

Morjina Begum (30)
Garments worker (Monthly Income: Tk 2,200 Monthly Expenditure: Tk 5,500+)
The prices are increasing everyday and it seems like everyone has agreed the poor should die. My family has been suffering and my income is no longer enough because our expenditure is growing weekly. My husband, a rickshaw-puller, has lost hope and we do not know how to cut back costs. I have to stop the education of my children, if we want to live. Had my income increased with the price increase, I would have been able to afford their schooling but now I am struggling to put three meals in front of them. This price increase will not stop until we all die.

Humayan Kabir (34)
Security Guard (Monthly Income: Tk 4,500
Monthly Expenditure: Tk 4,500+)

For the last three months or more, I have been surviving on loans that I took from my brothers. My expenditure has doubled in the last few months and there is nothing I can do about it. My income has not increased but the prices of essentials like rice are soaring higher every other day. I can no longer support my parents back in the village because I cannot afford to maintain my family here. The price of oil and food has increased and to make things worse landlords are increasing the rent. The worst part is that the expenses are increasing and the income is not.

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18May/070

Facebook: be there or be square

It’s the misanthrope’s dream party. You can interact with all your friends at the same time, but only on your own terms. For a while MSN worked, but real time interactions are so nineties, and so socially demanding. The solution: Facebook. This enormously popular networking website has attracted a remarkable amount of attention in recent months across the world, and even in Bangladesh. Almost everyone who uses a computer is using it—from hip teenagers, to university students, to workaholics. In London, employers recently asked City Hall to ban the website at offices, a plea the city fathers refused. In Toronto, executives weren’t so lucky. Not a smart move given that the Facebook club has grown to 25 million members worldwide in just over a year, and could now realistically swing an election, especially in the US.

While curmudgeons may consider it a phenomenal waste of time, Facebook has its uses.

‘It was through Facebook that I got to meet my oldest school friends — I had never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would get to talk to them after seven years!’ says Sanjeeba Rahman, a student of English department at Dhaka University. ‘Through Facebook you can actually find your long lost friends because there is a group for almost every school, formed by the students or schools.’

In Bangladesh, the popularity grew in the last one year when students finally decided that hi5, another social network site was no longer ‘clean’. ‘We had been using hi5 for two years or more, but since anyone and everyone could view our profile and photos, it soon became nasty,’ says Zima Huda, a BBA student studying at BRAC University. ‘Guys started making lewd comments and one fine day, we realised, it was actually turning into a soft-porn site with some maniacs uploading outrageous pictures!’

It was perhaps then, about nine months ago that hi5 users soon shifted to Facebook, a site that allowed them more privacy.

‘I closed my hi5 account and shifted to Facebook, after a friend in Canada told me about it,’ says Nadia Alma, a BBA student at BRAC University. ‘In case of Facebook, not anyone and everyone can view my profile. Moreover, even if I add friends, I can determine what information I do not want them to see through the option of limited profile.’

A typical Facebook profile consists of a number of different sections, including information, status, friends, and friends in other networks, photos, notes, groups, and the wall.

‘I love the idea of wall, where you can drop a line anytime and keep in touch with friends who we never get the time to e-mail,’ says Kyoko Bhuiyan, an O-Level student. ‘More over, there are so many groups that you can join- groups like I am a Disney princess at heart, No, I Don’t Care If I Die At 12AM, I Refuse To Pass On Your Chain Letter, If you don’t know where my country is…then go buy an atlas!, Bob Dylan are simply awesome. You get to have so much fun to addafy on topics like these, that too with people across the globe, who have similar interests.’

Facebook was originally launched in February 2004, as a social network site exclusively for Harvard University students. Founded by a young Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg, who ran it as one of his hobby projects with some financial help from a friend, the site was an instant success in the university. It allowed users to chat, post photos and comments, as well as connect with fellow students with common interests through online groups. The site quickly grew, first to other universities and later to high schools. In a year or less, it had spread to more than 30,000 educational institutions in the U.S., Canada, and other English-speaking countries.

Last year, Facebook opened its virtual doors to the general public by permitting registrations from people in hundreds of geographic areas. This caused the site to explode in popularity. Today, there are around 25 million Facebook users worldwide and the site is adding 100,000 new users each week!

‘I love the fact that there is a network of Bangladesh, where all Bangladeshis living miles away get to unite and connect with each other,’ says Nasfia Alam, a student of Pharmacy at the University of Asia Pacific. ‘I have countless Bangladeshi friends who have formed groups like I Miss Phuchka, You know you are from Dhaka when…, I love my country and no it’ not India, it’s a separate country! I think groups like these in some way or the other, ensure that Bangladeshis across the world feel strongly about their own nation and express the little things that they miss about the country through this site.’

For majority of the University students, Facebook has fast become an educational site- the one that raises awareness and could be for a cause. ‘I think Facebook is fast becoming a medium through which you can actually raise your voice on issues that would have been otherwise ignored,’ says Tasnim Khalid, an IBA student. ‘The fact that we have students forming groups that aim to raise money for the poor during disasters and joining groups like petition to invite Professor Yunus into politics, Say no to drugs, stand against religious discrimination and many others is a testimony that Facebook is reaching out beyond being just a site for chatting and keeping in touch. It is rather becoming a powerful platform for the young to be aware and to be able to stand against what is wrong.’

‘I actually sold my first painting for Tk 4500 through Facebook!’ says an ecstatic student Syed Abu Salman, studying Architecture at North South University. ‘I just put up the photos of my painting and sketches in the album of Facebook and tagged all my friends in my network. Soon, one of my friend’s uncle showed interest and asked for more samples and there it was. Many of my friends have followed this step- after all it’s a great way of showcasing our talent and make a living.’

Although, majority of the Bangladeshi users are University and college students, it is fast becoming popular among the middle-aged groups as well. For twenty-eight year old Arman Khan,a graphics designer at a Dhaka-based ad-agency, Facebook is a great way of socialising for workaholics like him. ‘When I joined two months ago, I couldn’t find a soul I knew in my age range. Within a few weeks, old classmates, friends, and coworkers swarmed in, as if collectively awakening from social networking hibernation!’

‘As I feed my own Facebook addiction, what’s most interesting is how this youth community site is growing up. Certainly, its evolution promises to change the way the world and the advertisers view it and incorporate it into media plans,’ says thirty-five year old Janvi Sarker, a teacher and a mother of a six year old.

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11May/070

The new face of Dhanmondi

It is a different kind of a morning in Dhanmondi, this week. Dhanmondi, better known for the towering buildings, private schools, hospital, community centres, universities and more importantly the hub of traffic jam and pollution, has transformed to a great extent.

While the sight of immovable traffic and children lumbering with their bags and walking to school in the mornings and afternoons was a common sight and almost something that characterised Dhanmondi even a few days back, many Dhanmondi dwellers find it difficult to absorb the fact that it is not the same anymore! ‘It is incredible that there is a smooth flow of traffic, no honking and the common scenes of cars pushing in the middle of nowhere and creating a jam that lasted for more than hours, is not there anymore,’ says exhilarated Dhanmondi resident, Nuvia Jabeen.

On May 6, this week Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) banned honking on a number of major rickshaw-free city roads and a few streets in Dhanmondi residential area to minimise noise pollution. Moreover, a number of roads in Dhanmondi were made one-way from 7:00am to 9:00pm to reduce traffic that took place during the peak hours.

‘It is clearly the most effective step that has been taken to improve the frustrating state of traffic in Dhanmondi,’ says a banker and also a Dhanmondi resident, Salma Hafiz. ‘It is almost unbelievable that the sight of the most unbearable, long line of cars has disappeared.’

Opinions were not similar, however, on May 6, Sunday, when a huge traffic struck Dhanmondi streets, with drivers and city dwellers confused about the new traffic regulations. ‘It was a terrible morning, worse than the usual jam packed ones,’ remembers Samira Khan, a school teacher. ‘While a number of policemen stood before the roads with the posts that said one way, many cars had come through the wrong way and the result of the confusion was a huge jam.’

The confusion had aroused as no one had any idea about the exact details of the roads made one-way and hence the roads were packed for about an hour. Meanwhile, the rickshaw-pullers charged extra fare, as they had to take a new and longer route.

‘Most of the students and even teachers could not make it to school that day and opinions had turned sharply against this new rule,’ points out Khan. ‘Infact, we are still quite sceptical about the consistency of the traffic police’s performance. It is quite unlikely that they are going to be as strict and ensure that the rules are not broken in the long run.’

Roads 6, 7, 8, 6A, 7A, 8A, 9A, 10A, 11A, 12A, 13A, 14A and some other Dhanmondi roads were brought under the purview of this Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) traffic plan. However, the one-way traffic system will not be applicable on holidays.

‘The plan is likely to work well and we have not heard any complains as of now,’ says Salma A. Shafi, an urban architect and treasurer of Centre for Urban Studies (CUS) based in Dhanmondi. ‘But, if the traffic police are not as serious as they are now, people will not adhere to the rules.’

Reportedly, some 150 members of riot police have been deployed to enforce the one-way traffic system and it is being monitored seriously.

There are still divided opinions concerning the effectiveness of this plan among others.

‘This has made our work harder. While, we could go through a two way road before, we have to take a longer route now,’ says Abdul, a rickshaw puller. ‘We had to increase the fare because of this.’

‘It has saved time,’ argues Shafi. ‘It is better to be able to take a less congested route than to be stuck in traffic for hours. Moreover, if you look at the map carefully, one or two main roads were made one way, keeping the rest of the roads two-way. Therefore, traffic is likely to improve, because vehicles will enter through a road and exit through another.’

The Dhanmondi Poribesh Unnayan Jote, a resident’s rights group formed by Dhanmondi residents and researchers, agree that this may be an effective plan and they will follow its impact in the days to come.

There were however, traffic jams after around one in the afternoon in the bridge in road 8 and 32, this week. ‘It is unlikely that this plan will work,’ says a mother, Tahmida Chowdhury, residing in Dhanmondi 6A. ‘At the end, it takes the same time to reach your destination.’

‘Traffic jam has decreased significantly,’ argues Hamid Rajon, a police sergeant in Dhanmondi. ‘There was considerable traffic on the first day due to confusion about the exact routes, but now it is turning out to be very successful.’

The DMP has also banned the honking of horns on some roads in Dhanmondi to curb noise pollution. The road from Shahbagh intersection to Shaheed Jahangir Gate was declared horn-free a few months earlier. More roads were made horn-free including the Airport Road from Shaheed Jahangir Gate to Uttara and Abdullahpur, Kemal Ataturk Avenue up to Phoenix Bhaban via Gulshan-1 and 2, roads from Gabtoli to Azimpur via Russell Square, from Bijoy Sarani to Mohammadpur Traffic Office, from Hotel Sheraton to Kakrail intersection, from Matsya Bhaban to Rainbow crossing, from Science Laboratory to Matsya Bhaban, and from Matsya Bhaban to Golapshah Mazar via Old High Court intersection.

Reportedly, the police who will be in civil clothes can fine vehicles up to Tk 200 if found guilty of blowing horns in the horn-free zone without unavoidable reasons.

‘I think preventing honking has been a commendable step,’ says Shafi. ‘This is perhaps the first time, that such a step in the local level has been taken and it is indeed very appreciable.’

‘Living in Dhanmondi and main roads, had been a night-mare so far,’ says Anwar Hassan Lablu, a program manager at a Dhaka-based NGO. ‘Although this step should have been taken much earlier, it is a laudable step. The kind of torture that many people like me had to endure early in the morning due to incessant honking and chaos on the roads is simply inexplicable. This is the right of every citizen to be able to live in peace.’

While these seem to be laudable steps, majority feel it needs to be consistent and further steps need to be taken to improve the city planning and rules in the residential areas. ‘Factors such as parking facilities, allotment of plots, pedestrians rights, segregation of commercial and residential areas, rickshaws and cars need to be taken into account in order to ensure proper city planning,’ says Shafi.

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4May/070

A life less ordinary

If Nasreen Huq, had ever written her autobiography, it would not just be a chronology of her legendary campaigns and support for those who are forced to live without rights at the fringes of our society. It would be the story of a passionate and driven young woman whose tough exterior belied an empathy and sensitivity that inspired all those around her. More than anything else, perhaps, it would have been about her rare gift of being able to love, heal and inspire anyone and everyone she touched.

Last week, as hundreds of friends, fellow activists and admirers came together to commemorate her first death anniversary many spoke of the void she left in their lives when she died on April 24 last year, after a car rammed her against the wall at her Dhanmondi house.

‘She changed lives and gave us a reason to be alive,’ says Nurun Nahar, the first acid survivor who Nasreen had supported in 1995. ‘I remember her kind, smiling face that said she is always there. I remember the times in the hospital and how she fought to ensure my treatment and give me justice,’ she adds fighting back tears. ‘I use to hide my face, out of the shame of being so hideous, but Nasreen Apa taught us to be confident and proud. I remember the Saturday get-togethers she had arranged for us to sing and dance and at the end sit with her and share our feelings. At one point, she became so busy with her job at Action Aid and when we complained she promised to spend time with us like before, once she left her job in a few months. She did not keep her promise. She left us.’ Her voice trails off as she breaks into tears.

Nurun Nahar is one out of countless women who are indebted to this icon who tragically passed away at the age of 48.

‘Nasreen had always felt deeply about issues. Even when she was young, she would deeply affected by the stories of abuse of young girls around her,’ says her sister Shireen Huq, a member of the Dhaka-based women’s rights NGO Naripokkho, of which Nasreen was an integral part. ‘It was this feeling that led her to work in campaigns even while studying abroad and also join voluntarily at Nari Pokkho at a very young age.’

Born on November 18, 1958, Nasreen grew up in a middle-class Dhaka family. Her father Rafiqul Huq was an engineer and led a very simple life. ‘We grew up in a family which was very unconventional in terms of beliefs and values. We treated everyone equally and believed in helping others—Nasreen was exactly like that—simple, supportive, loving and caring,’ adds Shireen.

‘She was the youngest and the most pampered. I could not send her to school initially because I was studying and it was very difficult for me to continue my education while looking after her,’ recounts Nasreen’s mother Jaheda Khanum. ‘I still remember how I use to seat her in the back bench of my class at the university and buy her a pastry to keep her occupied. She never disturbed me and would sit silently for hours.’

‘For most part of her childhood, she spent time with my mother, and it was Nasreen who discovered her in a new way,’ adds Jaheda. ‘Nasreen’s Nani had not been able to go school because back then girls were not allowed to go to school. She educated herself by sitting by the window of the school and learnt to read. This fact inspired Nasreen to be more involved in doing something for women in the villages.’

Having done exceptionally well at school, Nasreen received a full scholarship from a private college in Dallas in the United States in 1976. It was during that time that she also involved herself in forums and campaigns against rape and abuse and other forms of violation of rights. ‘Although many felt she would forget her values and be like other teenagers, she had rather become a stronger individual,’ remembers her mother.

After studying zoology at Purchase College of the State University of New York—also in the US—she went on to do her major in Nutrition at the University of California, Berkeley. Her years in the US gave her an objective perspective of Bangladesh that would later find expression in her work and her passionate commitment to national development. It was in around this same time, around 1984, that she started working voluntarily with Naripokkho. After coming back to Dhaka 1988, she literally dove into the work she had been carrying on from distance while in the US.

In 1995, Nasreen’s interaction with Nurun Nahar led her to meet more acid survivors. It was then, that Nasreen started collecting newspaper reports and went to visit these survivors. She arranged workshops and sessions with them which not only concentrated on their medical and legal needs but the emotional support, which few others have the courage to take on. In the years that followed she contributed in setting up the Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) to fight against this issue. Today, the campaign continues to seek treatment and emotional support for survivors and demand the criminal prosecution of attackers.

Nasreen had a rare ability to reach out to people and understand their needs. Her many contributions in organising discussions on gender issues, health right of mothers, and many others, brought a new dimension to the overall work for developing the rights of women.

‘Nasreen brought a natural sense of justice to bear as a development activist- first as a research nutritionist with BRAC, then as policy adviser to Helen Keller International; and, of course her work in developing the state of health and rights in remote villages,’ says her husband Nurul Islam Bhuiyan, as he plays with their 30-month daughter, in their Dhaka apartment. ‘She was a woman who believed in equality and she worked tirelessly throughout her life, in reaching out to anyone at anytime and anywhere.’

Indeed, Nasreen managed to reach out to every level and contribute in areas that were against the social norms. Nasreen involved herself to break social and dietary prejudices against pig rearing, which was the only livelihood for countless poor families who were considered to be untouchables. ‘Nasreen involved a maulana in managing her pig firm and she lobbied with the Department of Livestock and Fisheries for vaccination of the pigs. This just shows how she tried to bring through the sense of unity despite religion or norms. She was working to restore their livelihood and also boost up the prospect of export through this.’

‘For eighteen years, Nasreen was my only best friend. More than a partner and a wife, she was a friend who understood and cared,’ says Bhuiyan. ‘Jamila [their daughter] is her dream. Having failed to have a baby, Nasreen was more than happy when Jamila came into our lives like a miracle. She had big dreams about her but everything fell apart with her death. It is still very difficult to accept it.’

While an investigation into her death has revealed little that might point to the allegation that she may have been murdered, many among Nasreen’s family and friends believe that her death was no accident and had to do with her campaign against a UK company’s open pit coal mine project in north Bangladesh. In true ‘Nasreen Huq’ style she had involved herself in investigating the coal exploration deal between the Government and the Asia Energy.

‘It is difficult to accept her death, even after a year,’ says Shireen. ‘Had the entire procedure of her investigation been completed, it would have been easier to accept it. More importantly, we needed to know if it was really an accident or a murder. It’s truly disappointing, as to how, the investigation was soon slowed down and not given the emphasis that it deserved.’

With contributions in almost every aspect of the movement to establish rights in Bangladesh, be they for the minorities or for women, Nasreen remains a guiding spirit of countless people across the country and abroad. Her passion, determination and spirit of democracy live on as her legacy.

‘Amar meye acche shara akash jurey,’’ (my daughter is in every part of the sky) says her mother as she looks at her picture proudly.

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