Tahmina Shafique The Complete Portfolio

25Jul/080

Live and commit

Playwright, dramatist, director, actor, writer, thinker, advisor, friend, father- Abdullah Al-Mamun was each one of them and many many more. For some, he is a maverick, and for others he is a man of many avatars- his versatility and immense contribution to a whole era of theatre works, film-making and writings remains to be unparallel till date.

This month, as the eminent artist, fights against major brain haemorrhage and lies unconscious on the hospital bed, with fat tubes sticking out of his mouth, his friends and family continue to pray that he would walk out of the hospital door and touch their lives the way he had always.

Mamun’s contribution to the art and cultural fraternity has been immense, and today it is safe to say that he has shaped a major portion of the TV serials, films, plays and scripts that we have today.

‘I know Mamun since 1961,’ says Ramendu Majumdar. ‘I had just gotten into University of Dhaka and witnessed Mamun’s enthusiasm towards theatre. In a few years we had formed a student’s theatre group and since then Mamun took several initiatives and moved on to shape a whole era of theatre and film works. His contribution to the film fraternity and art has been immense and incomparable.’

Mamun has been known for his versatility- the kind that is rare. Over the past four decades, he has managed to contribute immensely to the films and theatre world, at the same time, he has brought many talents under the limelight, all of whom continue to look up to him till date. Some of his lauded theatre works include Shubochon Nirbashone, Akhon Durshomoy, Chardike Juddho, Shena Poti, Akhono Kritodas, Tomrai, Kokilera, Desher Manush, Krishno Kanter Will, Meraj Fakirer Ma, Meher Jaan Arekbaar.

Some of his timeless films are – Gibon Niye Juya, Shareng bou, Oshikkhito, Akhoni Shomoy, Shokhi Tumi Kaar, Mane na Mana, Jonom Dukhi, Dui Jibon and Domka.

‘My father was extraordinary and will always be so,’ says his daughter Deeba Nargis, a reputed TV actress. ‘His compassion and his dedication is something that always awed us.’

Born on July 12, 1943, Mamun was always quiet and lived in his own world. ‘He was never the loud kind- always composed and calm, which was the reason why he was often mistaken as pompous,’ says the renowned actor Tareq Anam.

‘But he was certainly someone who was supportive.’

Tareq’s career began with Mamun’s play and he worked with him in several occasions. ‘Mamum represents a whole new era, a whole new age where he shaped up the whole theatre and film culture and scenario.’

‘You can’t compare him with anyone; he was absolutely unique,’ says Kabori Sarwar. ‘He was a major support system for many of us.’

Mamun’s career began as a television producer in 1966, after he had acquired a degree in history from University of Dhaka. While at University, Mamum was inclined to plays and had already started working with a group of students in plays. From the late 70’s, Mamun played a major role in the theatre movement.

Decades on Mamun only went on proving himself to be one of our most talented thespians of time. More importantly, he created a new dimension to television serials.

‘One of unique things about Mamun was his rare ability to capture audiences attention. We might have had differences of opinions on his themes, but that was one thing that we always recognise and salute him for,’ says Tareq.

Mamun has left behind three daughters and a son, all of whom have grown up with his fundamentals. While his wife passed away in 1984, his children feel, he played the role of a mother and a father at the same time. His fundamentals in life - live and commit - has been deeply embedded in his children.

‘He spent his lifetime in building talents and finding actors and talented players, back at home, he wanted the same thing- he wanted to see the artist in us,’ remembers his daughter fighting back tears of pride.

‘He is my father and he is the best. But above all of that, I know he is incomparable and irreplaceable as a man, a guide, as an actor, as a philosopher, as a thinker, as an individual- he was a man of class.’

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11Jul/080

‘Businessmen will only invest when there is political stability in the country’

How did you become associated with Bangladesh Better Business Forum?
The forum basically included the heads of trade bodies and also several government officials. I was nominated because of my long standing association with the tea garden, being the president and also because, my position as the president of the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce back in 1998. At the moment I am also the managing director of Kaderpur company.

The BBBF includes several working groups- I am working specifically under the skill development groups that aims to focus on skill development and hence greater accessibility to employment.

How did the forum come about and how does it exactly function?
Forums like BBBF are present in other parts of the world, for example Vietnam also has a forum that aims to improve the business environment of the country. The group includes a mixture of both government and private sector officials who work together towards ensuring a better investment climate within the economy. These members work together and send their recommendations to improve the business environment.
Now, this forum includes five working groups- each focusing on specific areas such as Macro economic policies, skill development work and more. Under each of these groups we have these members.
In case of skill development group, of which I am a member, we are formulating a comprehensive plan for training young people in the hope of increasing skills and productivity and higher accessibility to job market.
A comprehensive set of recommendation of what should be done has been already sent to the government and those will be implemented once approved.
This is the first time ever in Bangladesh that such an initiative has been taken up and it is indeed a challenging work.

What are your views on the investment climate in Bangladesh?
There are several well documented barriers to a better investment climate in Bangladesh.
However, in my opinion it is the method by which businesses are run and government runs that becomes a major barrier. There is no transparency or accountability whatsoever.
Moreover, you have several other issues at hand, for example, when people look for approvals for starting a business or an investment, there is the whole lengthy procedure and red tape, which further disturbs the climate for investment. Added to that, it is hard to get something done without political connection and personal contacts and even when you have both, there are several cases where you must pay your way through. The success of businesses now lies greatly on these contacts and issues.

With the current ‘state of emergency’ in place along with the barriers that come with it, how do the BBBF intend to go ahead with the implementation of its recommendations and has there been any tangible implementations so far?
Firstly, the recommendations that the BBBF are working on is to enhance the business and investment climate in the country –which is our main objective - where our five member groups are working on for instance the simplification of regulations, economic issues and skill development. There is no conflict of interest with the interim government as the forum is represented by advisers while all the recommendations are handed in directly to the chief adviser for processing.
The World Bank, for instance, has identified the lack of skill in our work force as a major barrier to economic development in the country. This is an issue which is being addressed by our skills training group in a coordinated way with the government, wherein, 14 ministries are involved to provide marketable skills training, as we aim to standardise and upgrade the skills of the people entering the job market.
There have been tangible implementations in association with, for example, the Bangladesh Bank, in terms of financing of SME’s and reducing the spread of interest to name but a few.

Do you feel that the current political scenario is in any way conducive to business environment?
It is not. The businessmen will only invest when there is some form of political stability in the country. We are hoping that when elections finally take place and the BBBF functions properly, these problems can be solved.
As far as the functionality of the BBBF is concerned, if there is a desire for cooperation than this forum will be very effective in fulfilling its aim. Moreover, this is the model that the country should adopt fully in the field of business, education, investment and human resource development. The model is unique, in the sense that it shows how both the government and private sector can work towards a certain goal and do so effectively.

Are there proper legal frameworks and infrastructure for this?
We need to improve a great deal. There is a dire need for simplification of rules and regulations. Moreover, there is also the need for capacity building. For example, BOI should be given proper manpower. These problems should be addressed so as to achieve economic growth.
Infrastructure is all in shambles. The government has to be energised. In a country where the issues of ‘power’ are so intense, it is difficult to attract investment.
There are also the issues of the Chittagong port, gas situations and fluctuating prices. It is inherent that we need stability in the economy and also a lot of determination and cooperation.

How is the Bangladesh economy functioning today?
At the moment, we are definitely burdened by many problems, such as the price of diesel and gas going up. Power is an important factor in the business world and the increased cost of transportation is definitely having a detrimental effect.
Some of these are international issues, but there have been domestic crises such as the electricity problem which hasn’t been addressed in the last five years or so by the previous government.
Also, with the cost of, for instance, food, going up, workers are demanding more wages and the general cost of production has gone up. We have to absorb all these problems, as in a competitive world, we cannot increase the price of our products even though the cost of production has gone up.

Filed under: Human Rights No Comments
4Jul/080

Nasreen Awal Mintoo

As the WEAB president how has the present business environment affected women entrepreneurs?

One of the harshest truths about women entrepreneurs is the fact that they have constantly faced challenges in being able to push forward and to do well. The present business environment, as we all know has been affected tremendously and the business confidence level has gone very low. As much as it may affect the businessman, for women entrepreneurs it has become a greater challenge.

Moreover, in case of WEAB, the women entrepreneurs have been having difficulty in being able to take loans and registering.

What are some of roles of WEAB?

WEAB was formed in 2001. Their aim was to create a platform to help business women establish themselves in a competitive field, dominated by men. The main object of WEAB was to develop a support system for women entrepreneurs to not only improve the quality of their products, to meet the changing market demands, but also to impart training on technical know how, design development and to create marketing links for their products.

In these two years, we have gone places, taken these women’s products abroad and so much more.

What are some of the challenges that you face while working with these women?

I feel the greatest challenge has been the sheer criticism and the social attitude that is yet to change towards women’s work and their dedication. Some of the times working with women have been challenging because their own families have not been supportive of them being independent and self sufficient.

We need a women’s bank, taking loan has been increasingly difficult. Moreover, women’s representation in businesses in yet to improve- for example there is no woman representing the FBCCI and in case of Bangladesh Better Business Forum we have one women out of 60 members.

As a woman yourself, what were some of the challenges that you faced?

Some of the greatest challenges were the fact that people did not appreciate our initiations and we had to face constant criticism- something that is very common when it comes to women stepping up. The struggle has been also evident in keeping the 2420 women that we work with.

Personally, I was lucky to have the support of my family and my husband.

What is your take on the present

political state?

I would say that the present political situation has brought a lot of changes, and we are all looking forward to the elections and to a better business environment. But, at the end of it all, like any other citizen of a country, I would like to see a democratic state as well.

How do you feel about the crisis that your family had to undergo as a result of the state of emergency?

I do not feel it is appropriate for me to speak about it. But the whole situation has been very stressful and emotionally draining. In the process, we also lost my mother-in-law and my family kept struggling to hold on and be able to carry on despite such odds. It is still very difficult to be able to cope and hang on, but I guess we have to.

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27Jun/080

‘Almost half the primary school population is dropping out’

The primary school dropout rates in Bangladesh, with a population of 150 million, have always been high, running at around 38 per cent, but the recent statistics call for immediate action and desperate help.

According to a study conducted by 10 NGOs with the Commonwealth Education Fund, the dropout rate has increased from 33 per cent in 2002 to 47 per cent in 2007. Moreover, the net enrolment of six to ten-year-olds declined to 93 per cent in 2005 from 97 per cent in 2002.

The increasing dropout rate also suggests that Bangladesh is unlikely to attain a 100 per cent completion of primary education by the MDG deadline of 2015.

According to experts, this finding has been a major shock for the education sector. The government’s recent efforts to generate more funds from multilateral lending agencies and bilateral donors are being questioned.

‘The dropout rate is almost half the primary school population, which is alarming,’ says Salma Akhter, professor, Institute of Education and Research (IER), Dhaka University. ‘This also reveals that the overall system has not been effective and immediate actions need to be taken.’

The Second Primary Education Development Programme, known as PEDP-II, conducted the latest survey all over Bangladesh in March, this year. The report was prepared in June but according to reports the findings have put the project officials in a fix over when to make them public.

The government provides 64 per cent of the funds of the Tk 5,000 crore programme. The Asian Development Bank is the leading of the 11 partners of the six-year (2004–2009) programme for the development of primary education. The downward trend took place during the second primary education development programme (PEDP-II), an ambitious, US$7 billion project funded by the government (63.9 per cent) and development agencies (36.1 percent) that runs from 2003 to 2009.

According to the US Agency for International Development, a partner in the PEDP, Bangladesh’s primary school dropout rate remains unacceptably high, especially for children living in poverty and from minority families.

However, according to Siddiqur Rahman, Professor, Dhaka University and also someone who is a part of PEDP-II, the dropout rate has not increased but has improved. ‘Earlier, the dropout rate was understated in an attempt to gain confidence, while in reality the rate was much higher — around 57 per cent or so. Therefore, this rate is in fact, much lower than before, indicating that the recent efforts have been effective. Moreover, one needs to also consider the successful enrolment rate running at 97 per cent.’

Among those children who are not enrolled and those who have dropped out, a significant number come from poor households and live in rural areas, urban slums, and areas with high populations of ethnic minorities. According to academicians, the reasons for the lack of quality in education services include lack of well-trained teachers, particularly in remote areas where the poorest and most marginalised children live.

Despite all the accomplishments of the past decade and a half, there are still a number of urgent challenges which must be addressed in primary education, says Maniruzzaman Miah, former vice chancellor of Dhaka University and chairman of the National Education Council.

‘While the dropout rate remains high, of those who remain in school, less than half achieve the expected competencies by the end of the primary cycle. Access, equity and quality remain the major challenges,’ says Akhter.

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27Jun/080

Primary education’s moment of truth

For nine-year-old Hamid, the primary school that he goes to in old Dhaka is only associated with horror and repulsion. Not the regular horror and repulsion that all children feel towards schooling, this is worse and justified too. Despite the orders of their apparently omnipotent parents, many children in the neighbourhood are refusing to go to school. ‘And why wouldn’t they?’ asks a mother of two primary school students, in Lalbagh. ‘The state of primary schools is depressing - not only do they fail to offer an encouraging environment for children but they also provide unskilled and crude teachers, who seem to find it very difficult to understand children.’

For this teacher, who has completed her HSC examination two years ago, teaching itself is a rigour and she follows the same Victorian system, the conventional way of having children learn a prescribed syllabus by rote. ‘Sometimes I just lose my nerve trying to make sure that we get done with the syllabus and have them memorise everything- after all, if they don’t then they don’t learn,’ she explains confidently.

‘But the job itself is frustrating. I stay here for long hours and in return get almost nothing for a salary. Where is my motivation to do better?’ While teachers themselves understand the need for quality, they say there is little scope for further on the job training.

Parents meanwhile are continually struggling to make sure that their children are getting a quality education even though they attend school. ‘I do not even know what my daughter should learn by the time she passes primary education- she continues to memorise the given tasks and there seems to be nothing beyond that. Add to that, most often she does not seem to enjoy school because of the teacher’s behaviour and the environment,’ says Selina Begum, a mother of three, living in Kakrail.

As one can imagine, the frustration is mutual for students, parents and teachers. ‘I left school when I was 11,’ says thirteen-year-old Maliha, referring to a Bogra based primary school. ‘All we did at school was memorise lines that never made sense to me, and if I could not do so, the teacher would mistreat me and often hit me. At the end, I just stopped going to school.’

‘Those who complete primary education do not end up receiving basic competencies and more often than not, the achievement from it is nil,’ admits a government primary school head teacher, based in Dhaka’s Paltan. ‘So even though we see high enrolment, the quality of education has not improved. The whole idea of delivering these children certain skills is not achieved at the end.’

Primary education strategists, researchers and experts suggest that success is achieved only when students are engaged as real participants in the learning process. But instead, the primary education system has been evolved in a way where the students, instead of being partners and active participants, very soon after their entry into schools, turn into passive participants, subordinates and lose all initiatives and interest in studies and ultimately turn into dropouts. This dropout rate, no doubt compounded by factors such as poverty, has translated into 47 percent this year, a total of 15 per cent increase in two years.

According to recent reports, Bangladesh has about 16.5 million children attending 80,395 official primary schools where more than 320,000 teachers are employed, with many secondary level schools having primary facilities. In addition to that, there are more than 20,000 informal primary schools run by NGOs and the private sector where children are taught up to the third grade.

More than 65 per cent of primary schools are under direct government management, with the rest registered as non-governmental schools, receiving assistance, support and being subsidised by the government. It is also undeniable that primary education has expanded significantly, in the past decade.

While it is noted that some primary schools have improved significantly, and the country has made considerable progress towards achieving the millennium development goal of universal primary education, the state of primary schools in general, across the country, specifically remote districts is of dubious quality.

Add to that, this past month, the country saw protests from organisations of primary school teachers and associations protesting against the government’s recent decision to hand over the responsibility of supervision of primary schools in 20 Upazilas across the country. While state-run primary education is crumbling due to sheer failure in management and operation, some see the move to involve non-government actors in training teachers as a pre-cursor to a shift towards privatising primary education – an allegation that BRAC has denied squarely.

‘We will be dealing with only the quality of education and work on reducing the drop out rate,’ explains Anwarul Haque, director of Public affairs and Communications at BRAC. ‘We are not dealing with any form of administrative intervention or taking over primary schools. Our aim is to purely work on quality that needs major attention. The protests have come as a result of the inherent perception that people seem to have about NGOs and their fear of privatization of the primary education system.’

Despite these explanations, experts feel the move was undefined and unclear. ‘This was not discussed earlier and even though BRAC claims that they are not looking at the administrative issue and do not have much control, documents and notices clearly suggest that BRAC is being given a major responsibility of managing the primary schools in 20 Upazilas,’ says Zafar Iqbal, writer and educationist.

‘While this is understandable that there is a need for improvement, the larger issue here is the fact that BRAC specialises in non-formal primary education program rather than a formal system as this and these 20 upazilas consist of a huge number of schools. Therefore, the matter needed to be sorted more carefully,’ Iqbal says.

Experts also continue to point out, that primary education should remain under the government and private sector control can prove to be damaging.

According to the Article 17 of the Constitution of Bangladesh, primary education shall be the responsibility of the State. To bear this responsibility primary education in Bangladesh underwent a great deal of changes and development during the last few years, but the issue of quality and structure remain to be a matter of great magnitude and national concern.

‘Bangladesh does have one of the largest universal primary education systems in the world,’ says Salma Akhter, professor, Institute of Education and Research (IER), University of Dhaka. ‘It is noted that education system has expanded and reached out greater number of students. But the larger question remains that how much have we achieved in terms of quality? And how much has been actually the learning achievement?’

According to professor Maniruzzaman Miah, former vice chancellor of Dhaka University and chairman of National Education Council, ‘The standard is much less than desirable but the problem is in the teachers’ quality, management and monitoring system. Primary education must not be only text book based; it should propagate knowledge.’

Yet, over the years any form of increase in budgetary allocation for development of the education sector has not been translated into cost-effective spending, and sometimes, a large part of the annual development budget remains unspent, say experts and academics.

The existing institutional structure needs enhanced capacity to utilise more and more resources to develop the sector,’ points out professor Anisuzzaman, University of Dhaka. ‘Not only is there a dire need for capacity building but also proper and effective planning in the overall sector.’

‘Improving the standard of teaching is crucial. Teachers are poorly trained and paid. Teaching methods and materials are generally sub-standard, especially in government schools. Schools are in poor condition and detrimental to learning. Moreover, the entire system and structure needs to be provided,’ points out Miah.

Primary education has evolved through various challenges and taken decades to shape. Around 1973, after independence, primary schools were nationalised as part of a larger policy framework. These nationalised primary schools began to cater a major portion of primary population. Subsequently, teachers and headmasters became employees of the central government with their ties and their accountability to the local communities that they serve almost severed.

Presently, these schools are directly run by the government which pays 100 per cent of staff costs and grants for school infrastructure and free textbooks for all their students. Along with this financial assistance, the responsibility over the year, has been extended to non-government organizations too. ‘But, these private organizations, extended only support to some of the larger activities by the government,’ says Siddiqur Rahman, professor, Institute of Education and Research, University of Dhaka, and heading the Primary Education Development Program(PEDP).

PEDP II represents a major operational part of the government’s Education for All (EFA) and poverty reduction agenda, which are linked with the Millennium Development Goals. ‘We have been looking over the overall primary education program and planning to ensure better development and training programs are served for the teachers. We are constantly working to better the services,’ adds Rahman.

‘While we do recognise the many improvements within the primary system lack of proper monitoring and transparency in the operation of the system has been a major issue of concern,’ adds Salma Akhter. ‘Moreover, even though you have greater enrolment, at the same time the drop out rate has been increased to 47%- almost half the group, which is alarming.’

Inclusion of BRAC

On May 23, this year, the government approved the pilot primary education project under which BRAC would work to improve overall education and classroom environment in the 20 upazilas by training teachers and making school management committees (SMC) more effective.

According to primary teachers, experts and academics, this move comes as a shock and a major shift in the policies so far. According to them, this move would not improve the standard of primary education; rather shift primary education control to private sector control.

‘I feel this step has not been a good idea,’ says Zafar Iqbal. ‘BRAC is covering a major portion and that is undesirable, specifically because, they have no experience in delivering formal primary education as such. Moreover, the whole process of getting BRAC involved and their role has been highly non-transparent and confusing.’

‘The pilot programme of Brac will assist the government’s second phase of Prmary Education Development Programme (PEDP). Monitoring of the government programme on primary education has not been given to Brac or any other NGO,’ said Khondaker M Asaduzzaman, director general of directorate of primary education in response to this past week’s outrage by the primary school groups.

‘We know from the notices and documents, that this is the first time that a private body is working along side government, instead of providing support,’ says Zafar Iqbal. ‘This goes against the principle of keeping the primary education out of private hands.’

‘It could be presented differently with more strategic thinking and preparatory groundwork involving key stakeholders. NGOs (not just BRAC) working with primary education could be supported by PEDP to fill in the educational/school gaps (through establishing schools in remote areas, promotion of pre-primary centers, inclusive education for ethnic minorities, disabled, street/working children and similar others and inclusion of life/ occupational skills) as appropriate,’ suggests Anish Borua, an expert who has worked extensively with BRAC education program in the 80s and later at the Dhaka-based ngo CAMPE.

Brac has no intention of privatising or commercialising primary schools in the country and its pilot project, funded solely by Brac, said Brac chairperson Fazle Hasan Abed told reporters last week.

‘Since Brac is funding the pilot project, it will not use public funds allotted for Primary Education Development Programme (PEDP-II) of the government. We have no plan to take any fund of the PEDP-II or any fund from foreign donor agencies,’ added Abed.

‘There are 500 Upazilas in the country, so the 20 that BRAC is in charge of is insignificant,’ says Rahman. When asked about BRAC’s role, the PEDP officials refused to speak about the issue.

According to primary and mass education adviser, Rasheda K Choudhury, ‘We need supports from all stakeholders including NGOs for improving the quality of education in primary level. With this end in view we gave an NGO the responsibility of monitoring all the primary schools in twenty Upazilas across the country. It is an experimental programme, not a permanent one.’ She further said that the education ministry and directorate of Primary Education will monitor the pilot project and make a report after completion of mid-term and final supervision evaluating the performance of the NGO. ‘The ministry will cancel the pilot project if the NGO fails to reach the target.’

Be it experimental or a long term process, the steps that have been taken recently needed to be discussed in a more accountable way and it is evident that the process was not a transparent one or clear to the major experts, academics, primary school organizations and associations, let alone the general public- who are, lest all the other actors forget, the masters of the state. Therefore, primary education system being as crucial as it is to any country across the world needs to stand on a stronger platform and steps need to be taken to clarify the confusions.

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13Jun/080

Annisul Huq

How does the recent success of being elected as the FBCCI president feel? How has your life changed since then?
Winning elections can be euphoric and a humbling experience at the same time. It feels great to have won the support of the business community, but there’s also a huge sense of responsibility that pushes me 24/7. My life, today, is all about less hours of sleep, more hours of seminar, more sessions of brain storming and whirlwind meetings.

As the former BGMEA chief, what were some of the challenges that you faced?
The biggest challenge was the issue of minimum wage. In a world where we are plagued by inflation and price hikes, it’s incredibly difficult to set limits on wages. Yet, since the garments sector depends hugely on price competitiveness, there were multiple factors which had to be considered and appropriate checks and balances had to be put in place.

How do you see the worker’s unrest, clashes and the on going criticisms concerning the garment owners and the overall system?
If you closely follow the developments of workers’ unrest, you will very often realise that more stories are done on a negative incident. There is more hype on negatives and nearly zero or nothing on the positives. The unrests are at times is justified, yet there are also times when a bus tragedy has been enough to have the workers resorting to a frenzy resulting in damaging any and every factory that’s situated close to the spot. Would I call it a reasonable outburst? No.
Hence as much as all the criticisms are not well founded, there are also incidents where the factory owner has actually defaulted. There are grey areas at both the ends.

Where do you feel the problem of this on-going clash lie?
The problem of this clash lies mostly on the workers’ resentment and their inability to cope well with what they take home, at the end of the day. At the same time, the owner too, is facing a competitive world that disallows him to be more generous. The export volume may be on the rise, but the margins are all gone anyway. In such a situation, where the Catch-22 parallel can be drawn, there must be an efficient bridge between the two parties. We need to address our workers directly and not allow any other intervention to take place.

What are your views concerning the BGMEA Bhaban that was constructed o n a protected wetland in the city and is subject to a debate over whether it should be demolished? How do you think the impact will be?
The impact will not be positive for sure. The Bhaban was endorsed by two former prime ministers; the BGMEA has already been penalised for the loopholes that it earlier had. Therefore, even after legalizing, if the question of demolishing persists, the business community will be demoralised.

Before the state of emergency was imposed, a number of businessmen had requested for the state of emergency to be announced so as to bring peace in the country and bring a stop to the damages done to businesses. Where you a part of it? How do you look at the impact of this imposition today?
No businessman wants his factory to be vandalized. No businessman wants to face road blocks when he/she is attempting to export an urgent shipment. No one wants a disaster that violates the calendar of commerce. With the imposition of the emergency, hartals and road blockades had ended. But any conscious citizen opts for democracy. I am no exception to this.

What are your views concerning the present political economy in Bangladesh?
We would want more investments to pour in and this has not happened. It is natural for business communities around the world not to invest in a transitional climate and therefore sufficient FDI’s have not blessed our economy yet. With the new budget around and with the hope for the elections in December, Bangladesh may just see a new dawn in terms of economic progress. Going forward, business community would want to see timelier and a more focused negotiations and interventions from the administration in case of a crisis.

Your life as a television anchor was indeed very successful- when you look back to those times, what are the best times and lessons that you learned?
Media has taught me how to cherish spotlight and how not to let any viewer or any audience down. This has left reflections on my professional path as well. I think of any transaction as a transparent and a commitment dialogue. One can’t cheat the camera and similarly, one can’t fool the common eye either. For me, the best is only what happens today.

How did you shift away to a different sector? Do you feel it was a good decision?
I did not shift to a different sector. I was a young man back in the 80’s and media was a passion. But along with age, during mid-80’s, there were responsibilities to be taken care of and I had to choose a career. I have, in reality never disassociated myself from television. I have always been a part of that virtual reality.

Throughout the time, you have played many roles- anchor, owner of Mohammadi group, BGMEA chief, president of FBCCI and many more. Which one made you feel the happiest and satisfied? How so?
I am happiest being ‘me’. None of my roles are conflicting. They all belong to the same package. I am all of them rolled into one.

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6Jun/080

Analyzing our times

With the dearth of engaging and educational cultural programs, many across the country, especially the younger generation are unaware of the true essence of Bengali culture and social standing of the country. Much of what we have today is indeed quality entertainment, but the kind that lacks analysis and critical focus on issues that make up our culture.

Having seen 44 unique episodes of Ntv Samoyiki, a weekly program, we can perhaps, safely say it has paved ways for a shift in the nature and forms of cultural shows that we have. The program that is aired every week on NTV deals with a range of literary, cultural, social, and political issues, particularly the ones that are either neglected by the dominant, or too obvious to capture attention.

‘We picked up the simplest things around us,’ says Azfar Hossain, the host who has successfully captured the attention of not only Bangladeshi viewers but also those living abroad in the past months. ‘Some of the topics we have covered so far are jokes, silence, joy, signboards, nostalgia, acting, the struggle of weavers, the cultural politics of media and metaphors and even mathematics, the politics of seeds, rice, waiting, etc.’

According to Azfar, the show reflects a weekly magazine in the form of electronic media- a brainchild of poet and writer Alfred Khokon who produced this program. ‘We wanted to be able to reach out to greater number of people through this approach- a critical weekly magazine in the form of electronic media- that targets people from all sphere of life- farmers, academics, students, workers and more,’ says Alfred.

Alfred Khokon, is an eminent young poet, producer and filmmaker and has several books to his credit. Apart from Samoyki, his notable TV programmes include Aajker Shokal, Ke Tahare Chinte Pare, a feature programme on Lalon music, Rabindranather Moner Manush, a special programme on Rabindranath Tagore’s Baul songs.

‘I had thought of this idea way back but did not have a person in mind who could actually do justice to a program such as this,’ remembers Alfred. ‘When I met Azfar and he attended some of the episodes of the Lalon Program I produced, I was awed by his critical analysis and depth in thought, and I knew he is the one.’

Azfar Hussain has made his mark as a critic, theorist, pedagogist, poet, translator, editor, activist and much more. At the moment, Azfar also teaches English at North South University after moving from US where he taught English, cultural studies, and comparative ethnic studies at Washington State University and Bowling Green State University. He has produced an enormous and significant body of work on world literature, critical and cultural theory, and on politics. An activist, he is currently one of the coordinators of a cultural activist organisation JanaSanskriti Mancha.

‘Some of our goals are to create critical consciousness among our viewers about the very world we inhabit today; to see that what we call ‘culture’ and ‘knowledge’ are not politically and ideologically neutral; to recuperate lost and forgotten historical figures in the interest of democratic cultural struggle; and, overall, to advance the cause of the marginalized. And I have no hesitation in telling you that like my books, the TV show I host is decidedly interdisciplinary,’ says Azfar.

Samoyki also featured special issues on Edward Said, Akhtaruzaman Elias and more recently, poet Kazi Nazrul Islam. With guests appearing for critical discussion and various sections of the program that cover Bangladesh culture, art, life, politics and more, the program has gained much popularity.

‘We can see this media could emerge as a communication tool in place of a cheaper recreation box. This is a hope before us. I believe people involved with this media have to be educated as well along side audience,’ says Alfred. ‘We have a long way to go, and hope to make further contribution in restoring our culture.’

As for the responses, both Azfar and Khokon have received so far from here and outside the country (particularly the US, Canada, England, the Middle-East). ‘They have been rather unexpectedly quite positive and overwhelmingly numerous. One question that I got asked on several occasions was this: ‘Are you a professor of Bangla literature?’ Folks wonder how I avoid using English words or phrases while using Bangla. And some folks keep complaining that we have not yet gone for more air-time that we have now, despite many requests. Let’s see. I feel we have a long way to go,’ ends Azfar.

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16May/080

An abiding passion

This past week, when twenty-six-year-old Andrew Biraj picked up his phone, in the middle of his sleep, in muffled voice, he heard something that took him hours and, in fact, days to absorb. For a young photojournalist like him, the Joop Swart Masterclass grant of the World Press Photo Foundation is indeed a dream come true. ‘It is yet to sink in,’ says Biraj, a week after the news broke. ‘I am not sure how to react.’

Biraj is among the 12 journalists, aged under 30, who have been selected by the foundation from among 132 photographers of different countries, and the only photographer from Asia Pacific in the group.

Biraj is no stranger to accolades. He has bagged the first prize in the ‘Environmental Picture Story’ category of ‘Best of Photojournalism’ by the NPPA this year, bronze in the third China International Press Photo Contest 2007; second prize in the photojournalism category in the Venice International Photo Contest 2007 and a lot more.

His recent fame is not what defines him; his abiding passion for photography does. The passion began long before anyone even heard of him and finds expression in his exuberance whenever he talks about his work and years that he spent clicking away, trying, in the process, to discover and rediscover himself.

‘Had it been a profession, I would not have been able to find myself, my own identity in the photographs. I guess more than anything else, it is that zeal with which I worked that pushed me forward despite the barriers,’ he says.

Biraj focuses on people living on the fringes of social, political, and environmental spectrum. His ongoing work on ‘State Excluded’ that captures the lives of the Bihari community, the jute mill stories, or even the aftermath of cyclone Sidr bring across powerful messages and have stories to tell.

Apart from New Age, where he has been a photojournalist for about five years, his work has also been featured in reputed international papers and magazines such as The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, The Guardian, The Observer Magazine, Courier International, Saudi Aramaco World, and Himal Southasian.

Biraj’s interest in photography grew when he was a student of Notre Dame College. ‘Before that I had never thought of photography. I had wanted to be a truck driver. Apart from, of course, the constant struggle of being able to pass my exams at school,’ he says. ‘But when I saw my cousin’s Pentax K1000, I grew immense interest towards photography. I would hold it and click various scenes and capture random objects.’

In just a few days, Biraj knew he wanted to learn the trade and joined the South Asian Institute of Pathshala for a basic course. ‘It was also then that I began to discover the pleasures of photography. People like Shahidul Alam, Azizul Rahim Piu inspired me greatly and there was no looking back.’

Biraj would pass days going through books of photography, observing different forms and styles. ‘I realised that photography had the power to speak the thousand words. And the next step for me was to explore through my lens.’

Taking up photography as a degree was a challenge itself, says Biraj. ‘At that time – and, to some extent, even today – it was certainly not acceptable to middle-class families who prefer degrees in, say, business administration. Had it not been my mother’s support and trust, I would not have been able to move forward and be able to do it.’

He started his photography diploma in the same institute that had instilled within him the passion. While studying, in 2000, with the SLR camera that his uncle had gifted him, Biraj started out with street photography — photographing people, places, incidents and events. ‘I had the chance to travel a great deal and experiment. I took all sorts of photographs, of events, of countryside, of just inanimate objects.’

To afford the cost of photography was difficult. ‘I had to teach students and gather the money so that I could continue photography,’ he remembers. Having grown up in a middle class family it was always difficult to maintain a hobby and passion alongside education.

Later in 2001 he joined Shaptahik 2000 and in the same year, the students of Pathshala together formed a group and arranged an exhibition. The theme of the exhibition was ‘how do we see freedom’. ‘My participation in the exhibition inspired me even further.’

By 2002, Biraj had experienced a transition. ‘That was the time when I began to find myself and my values and beliefs began to be stronger and led me further.’

In 2003 was a turning point for Biraj. ‘Joining New Age gave me a new dimension to photography, because it was ready to accept photographs that break local conventions and so the scope was immense.’

At New Age, Biraj captured powerful and varied images — of city, natural disaster, people’s movements, events, glitzy shows, and on human rights.

In 2004 he finished his BA in photography on a full scholarship to the University of Bolton in the UK. ‘Coming back was a new opening. I was more flexible as I was done with studies and I had the opportunity to visit places, and capture even more varied and powerful images through the lens,’ he says.

While his award winning works define his independent style mostly in the form of photo essays, some of the powerful works he finds in his collection are the personal projects. ‘When my great grandmother was 95 and was practically counting her days, I worked with her and captured her expressions —her fine lines of age, her hands, her smile and every little expression. That work remains, till date as the most important work to me, partly because personal works tend to be more challenging.’

Biraj remembers another work of his own fondly — on cancer. ‘I was photographing this boy of my age, Shaon who was suffering from cancer. This was an assignment for Shaptahik 2000, but in the process of that work, I bonded with him so much that, it made each of the shots more meaningful. And at the end he died.’

He begins to pack up and rush to get his visa for Myanmar, where he is assigned to capture the aftermath of cyclone Nargis— a project for New York Times. So, what next? ‘It is a journey— you never know what I do, but wherever I go, I will always be back home and work here. As long as I have the zeal, both photography and I will move forward.’

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18Apr/080

The people’s war

Those who have lived through the war of independence in 1971, speak of it with tears of pride and inexplicable melancholy. Often, they struggle to fight back tears and find words that would perhaps justify the depths of the movement- the depth of the extraordinary power, resilence and belief of the people.

More often than not, they say, words fail to do justice- to the desperation, to the strength, to the struggles, the desperate cries, the haunting memories, the images, the bloodsheds and more.

True, words fail to justify even the bloodiest war of the twentieth century. And more often, words seem to die and with that a part of history seems to fade. So has the history of 1971 in so many ways. Even though the war stands till date as the worst genocide of World War II era - the number of deaths being well into seven figures, outstripping Rwanda (800,000 killed) and probably surpassing even Indonesia (1 million to 1.5 million killed in 1965-66), it remains to be a largely unacknowledged event in the history of the world.

The larger part of the world population seem to have very little knowledge and awareness concerning the campaign of violence on the part of the Pakistani army as the Bengali people of the then East Pakistan sought to achieve political sovereignty.

Thirty seven years on, the war remains to be a contested issue- those who had seen the war continue to fight to pass on the true stories to the next generation and at the same time fight between emotional and psychological intensity that the war left within them.

In the past 37 years, so much has been written, so much told, yet it is felt that none of it could bring to the life the true images of the war, none of it could justify what this people’s war meant.

Yet, amidst these, photographs speak the tale of the war that time may have forgotten. It is also true that war photographs remain to be powerful in history- because of the intensity – both emotional and physical that it portrays, but also perhaps the photographs of 1971 stand out for several other reasons. More than anything else, the photographers seem to stand out for the one fact that it was the people’s war- not the armies- but people- farmers, villagers, man, woman and child.

This month as an exhibition titled ‘Bangladesh 1971’ takes place at the Rivington Place public gallery in Shoreditch, East London, they retell the tale of the war visually, bringing back painful memories to Bangladeshis and leaving others in awe. These photographs of the war taken in 1971 bring to life the very images of the beginning of a dream- the movement of people and the birth of Bangladesh.

In this exhibition, most were amateur photographers at that time, men who just happened to hold a camera when they found themselves caught up in the war. For almost two decades, Shahidul Alam - director of the Drik, the photography Library in Dhaka and a curator of the current exhibition along with Mark Sealy, director of photographic agency Autograph ABP – went beyond the struggle to justify the war with words and collected these photos, visiting the photographers in their homes and saving their negatives.

These images taken by these accidental archivists, 37 years later have gone on to become an intimate, reflexive portrait of the war, ranging from photographs that are well known to others that have never been seen in public.

The exhibition consists of more than 100 images organised in loose chronology that begins with the first resistance of the Bengalis, to the Pakistani occupation. The exhibition portrays some powerful images. The spirit and resilience of 1969-70, when war was imminent is captured most powerfully by Rashid Talukdar’s image of a ten-year-old bare feet boy, leading a street march and shouting ecstatically and leading the group.

The collection includes many iconic images of war: Abdul Hamid Raihan’s image of two children staring into the distance, a carpet of missiles scattered at their feet; Mohammed Shafi’s portrait of a freedom fighter - a boy who could be from anywhere - reveals a young man’s fear despite his attempt at studied resolve. Other images depict the horror and the haunting night mares that many speak of till date.

On the night of December 14, knowing they were about to lose the war, the Pakistani army and its local paramilitary allies massacred the future doctors, teachers, lawyers, and writers of Bangladesh in an effort to cripple the new nation. The bodies were not found until after independence, when a mass grave was discovered in the city. The exhibition includes a powerful image of this massacre- a ghostlike face surrounded by submerged bricks and covered in a thin sheen of mud.

Bangladesh 1971 also showcases the many portraits of the slaughter. A photograph shows a uniformed man circled by a large crowd, stabbing a civilian with a bayonet; the caption tells us that it is not a Pakistani soldier but a Bengali one, attacking a local man who has collaborated with the army, is outstanding. According to reports, at Alam’s first exhibition of war photos in Bangladesh, the government had requested that he removed this image, in which the roles of victim and perpetrator are reversed. His refusal led to the exhibition being shown at a private gallery rather than at the National Museum.

It is here that Alam is most successful in bringing the untold tales of the war and the complexities of the many roles played. The exhibition in all, documents the political story, the landslide election victory of Sheikh Mujib, the betrayals by collaborators, the massacre of intellectuals two days before the surrender of the Pakistani forces – and at the same time it reveals other stories- some untold, some silent.

Walking out in the newly liberated town of Mymensingh, the photographer Naib Uddin Ahmed had come across woman who had been raped and tortured by the Pakistani army: his picture of a woman covering her face with her hair bears witness to the contradictory state policy regarding such women and the powerful image seems to speak louder than words.

Another powerful image that showcases women’s struggle and their actions in the war is the image of women preparing for battle prior to the crackdown of March 25, 1971. The exhibition includes many more photographs- idyllic image of two women wading through a pond with a basket of flowers, carrying grenades covered with water hyacinth- show the strong role played by women. The countless images, a visual testament to the trauma and hope of independence.

Some of the photographers were also of actual freedom fighters, like Mohammad Shafi, whose diaries, buried underground and recovered after the war, are the only non-photographic artefacts on display. Alam characterises these Bangladeshi photographers as freedom fighters for the huge personal risks they took to preserve the only ‘physical documentation of this war’.

As Bangladesh 1971, a visual journey into the birth of Bangladesh brings to life the memories to many and awes the rest, thousands of miles away from home, in many ways at an important political time such as this, important questions once again appear and linger on- have we as a nation paid respect to those who fought for independence? Are we still fighting another fight?

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11Apr/080

Walking the talk on gender parity

There have been major turns of the table this past month. On the eve of International Women’s Day on March 8, when the military-controlled interim government tabled the National Women’s Development Policy (NWDP) 2008, it may have seemed to be a timely and appropriate step to some. But, the mention of the contents of the policy triggered a sequence of events which have had a counter-productive effect. For one, the legitimacy of the incumbents in introducing such a policy has been questioned. According to the constitution, an unelected interim government can not introduce any such policy, experts point out.

Moreover, important questions have been raised as to why the content of the policy had omissions and lacked clear and detailed issues that needed to be considered. Above that, the recent outrage of religious clerics and different Islamist radical groups, have given rise to suspicions of political machinations, say some women rights activists.

The state’s reaction to these objections raised by the Islamist factions on the top of that, especially the four advisers’ visit to the Islamic Foundation, to apologise and attempt to set up a ‘review committee’ have further raised questions about the credibility and focus of incumbents and the objective of such a policy.

In the past three weeks, the policy has been attacked in processions and protests by a section of the Islamist groups. Several thousand activists of different Islamist outfits staged demonstrations protesting the policy and demanding its immediate withdrawal. Last month, demanding rights of women as ordained by the Quran, the protesters demanded the interim government to do away with the policy or face tougher action, including rallies across the country. They also called upon ‘Muslims all over the country’ to prepare themselves for a civil war against the bid to implement the NWDP-2008.

‘The policy brings to life some of actions and beliefs of the State,’ points out Farida Akhter. ‘When we had protests on the streets by women, police chose to hit women and stop them. Yet when other groups, who are undoubtedly anti-women rights, came on the streets giving religious excuses, we saw the State defending itself, justifying its steps, giving explanations to anti-women rights groups. What does that reflect?’ asks Farida, a women’s rights activist and head of Nari Grantha Prabartana, a Dhaka-based NGO.

The Policy

‘The policy has been designed to ensure equal rights for women in all spheres of national life and also to ensure safety and security for women in the national, social and family environment,’ announced Fakhruddin Ahmed, chief adviser on March 8, this year.

The National Women’s Development Policy dates back to 1997, which was the result of long struggle of women’s movement in Bangladesh which indicated equal status and sharing of power for women in written document. ‘It was one of the major successes of our time, to introduce such a policy where major issues such as women’s reproductive rights and equal inheritance rights and more were included,’ points out Dipu Moni, Secretary, Women’s Affairs, Awami League and also a lawyer and public health expert.

Bangladesh, a country that is structured on and characterised by patriarchy till date, where despite all the progress of the past century, women continue to struggle for their basic minimum rights, a national policy is expected to look at some of the fundamental issues such as discriminatory laws, right to decision making, reproductive health rights and more. In the last one decade, there has been the constant struggle of women right’s groups to voice these very rights that are still confronted with the most medieval of customs, constraints and abuses.

Although the movement has made great strides in several ways, in adopting a global perspective on women’s issues, and translating and adapting that perspective into ground level reality, they continue to struggle on certain issues. Despite all that has been achieved, gender parity is still a distant milepost, because of a specific, political, anti-women agenda of the day—which is a narrow and regressive, say experts. An example of this very narrow agenda has been reflected yet again in the way that the latest debate on the women’s development policy has been handled, say women’s groups.

A good example can also be cited from the undemocratic manner in which the whole NPWD, 1997, was changed in 2004. ‘It points out very clearly the difference between government rhetoric on women’s’ empowerment and the actual practice,’ says Ayesha Khanam, general secretary, Bangladesh Mahila Parishad.

‘The omissions snatched away some of the fundamental rights of women, negating the role played by the movement,’ says Dipu Moni. ‘The same thing has been done this time and the fact that major issues such as inheritance rights have been omitted shows the political support of this caretaker for certain groups.’

‘We were not at all consulted,’ says Selima Rahman a former minister from the past BNP-Jamaat coalition government. ‘The policy needed to be prepared following discussions with the political parties and it reflects the many gaps in decision making. A sensitive issue such as this certainly required more detailed focus, consultation and engagement of everyone.’

The new policy has however, upgraded on issues such as education, a major tool through which patriarchy can be offset, says Ayesha Khanam. ‘We settle for less, because we cannot wait for the time when we will have a completely fair policy. We must settle with something. Moreover, the policy may not be radical as such, but it has shown significant progress and has been prepared in light of CEDAW (an international women’s rights treaty), of which Bangladesh is a signatory.’

The goals of the policy are social, political and economic empowerment of women who account for more than half of the country’s population. While much of the policy is similar to that of 1997 and 2004, the policy has a few highlights and also omissions on important phrases.

The latest policy suggests one-third representation of women in parliament- that is a proposal for a proportionate increase of the number of reserved seats and direct election to the seats reserved for women. ‘The parliament representation has been a major struggle for us and this provision for direct election of reserved seats for women is certainly a major improvement,’ says Ayesha.

‘What our policy had was the provision of monitoring and action,’ argues Dipu Moni. ‘Giving 33 per cent seats is putting a limit to women’s rights.’

The policy also states that the quota for women in entry level jobs in both government and private organisations would be increased. ‘Why did not we the see the employment of women this time when there was so much reshuffling and appointment of officials at the government level?’ questions Dipu Moni.

The preamble of the policy underscored the need for ensuring more involvement of the women in nation-building, especially facilitating them to contribute to policy matters. The objectives include ensuring equity between the men and women in every sphere of national life, women’s security at national, social and family level, and their empowerment in the political, social and economic fronts.

‘The policy also advocates the establishment of women’s human rights, elimination of discrimination against girls, ensuring adequate nutrition for them and providing enough support to help their aptitudes and talents to bloom,’ says Ayesha Khanam.

According to Sultana Kamal, former caretaker adviser and head of the Centre for Law and Arbitration, a legal aid NGO, the NWDP failed to mention anything about the UN CEDAW, the uniform family code, or the equal right of women to inherit property.

Unlike the 1997 policy, the present policy has omitted the word ‘inheritance’ completely. ‘This reflects the government’s standing and also justifies the fact that this policy is anti-women,’ says Farida. ‘The policy also overlooks the major issues concerning law, privacy of women and their minimum rights.’

‘Women in different religions get different shares of properties - equal in some religions and less in others. Our demand was to formulate a uniform family code giving women equal rights. The issue was not made clear in the policy,’ Sultana Kamal has said in press interviews.

Indeed, the policy also lacks clear specifications of the uniform family code- through which women have equal rights in decision making, marriage, divorce, guardianship, reproductive health and property. ‘We asked for a woman’s right as a citizen and it was not against any religion,’ says Ayesha. ‘We demanded an equal platform for women as much as men, which is the fundamental right of any citizen in a country.’

‘Eleven years later, you would expect a much more progressive policy that incorporates stronger issues and that has not been reflected in this policy,’ says Dipu Moni. ‘There is nothing new in the policy itself, and, in fact, these commitments had been made earlier in the Constitution, in CEDAW, in the Beijing Plan of Action, the MDG and NSRP. For one, this government had no authority to even introduce a policy, and when it did it failed to do any form of justice to women’s rights and movement of several years.’

The protests, the content and the reaction

In the wake of the recent protests, many continue to question how the religious clerics were threatening street action, even before the policy had been made public. ‘Their claim was that the policy provided equal rights to inheritance, and thus violated religious norms and codes, even though the policy has not mentioned it at all,’ says Farida.

In section 9.13 of the policy states that it shall ensure equal rights to and control over all moveable and immoveable property acquired through the market. ‘This is a statement of the constitution of Bangladesh is not a re-statement of it or any advance. The constitution of Bangladesh cannot be changed by anyone group that does not meet the legal requirement in parliament,’ says Ayesha.

‘What else does moveable and immoveable property or resources received through market even mean?’ questions Mohammad Kamaruzzaman, assistant general secretary, Jamaat-e-Islami. ‘The phrase “Bazar babosther maddomeh” is just a conspiracy against Islam. They just wanted to use a different phrase instead of equal inheritance right, the method to acquire wealth, which contradicts Islamic ideology and values. We are not going to stand any form of change in the inheritance laws stated by the Holy Quran.’

According to the constitution of Bangladesh, section 19, Equality of opportunity, subclause 2, it is stated clearly that ‘The State shall adopt effective measures to remove social and economic inequality between man and man and to ensure the equitable distribution of wealth among citizens, and of opportunities in order to attain a uniform level of economic development throughout the Republic’.

‘For one the policy does not even mention inheritance and even if it does, every religion supports equality. Personal values in religions are always applicable, but that does not mean that we cannot have a state policy that supports equality in all spheres,’ states Ayesha.

‘Through this new law they want to teach us what we know and practice before them,’ says Kamaruzzaman. ‘Is there equality between man to man in the society? Some men are rich and some have nothing, so where is equality? The idea of equality is vague, what we can do is to reduce the existing difference between man and woman. This step has been against Islam and all of the recent actions show that politically the state wants to show that we are not for women’s right but the truth is Islam does ensure women’s rights.’

According to some, such protests in the name of religion need to be ignored. Rasheda K Choudhury, the adviser on Women and Children’s Affairs, says such criticism was misplaced. ‘The new policy ensured equal rights of women only with regard to property they had earned themselves, not with regard to what they inherited,’ she said to the press, after protest. Legal experts had to consider not only Muslim women but also those of other religions, Choudhury said.

Why did the government even need to justify its actions, ask Farida, Dipu Moni and a host of other women groups, researchers, intellectuals and citizens. The four advisors visit to the Islamic Foundation, to apologise and attempt to set up a ‘review committee’ only raises further questions on the validity of decision-making of the government and more than anything else, it’s stand on women’s development. ‘We are to see what happens and when implementation of this policy does begin,’ says Selima. ‘We will immediately initiate implementation of the short-term steps while the next government will have to take strong measures to implement the long-term policies,’ said Choudhury to the press.

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