Please don’t ask me where I got this. In fact, some in my family are worried this could get me in serious trouble. Below is a copy of the letter written by Dhaka University Professor Hawlader to the Bangladesh Anti-Corruption Commission Chairperson.
The reason I’m posting this is because this is a side of Bangladesh that most people abroad don’t know about. I’m not talking about the allegations of corruption. I’m talking about how politically active students and university professors are in this country. Back in Toronto and at Notre Dame, I’ve known tons of students (and a few professors) that have signed petitions, endorsed politicians, and even participated in protests and marches. But their political activity pales in comparison to most of the students and professors in Bangladesh. In fact, those curfews that were imposed a few months back, were instigated when students and professors took to the street and started rioting in protest of the government. It’s kind of weird and surreal to see this kind of passion.
I’ve talked about the problem of corruption in this country previously, but even I feel this professor’s letter is a bit over the top. Maybe I don’t know the political situation in Bangladesh well enough, but I’m simply not one of those bloggers that has to analyze and critique Bangladesh’s political system. There isn’t anything wrong with voicing dissent, of course. But, as someone who has come to this country as a foreigner, there is more to praise than criticize about Bangladesh’s political system. Bangladesh is one of the few Muslim-majority countries which is a constitutional democracy. Bangladesh also has had more years under female leadership than Western Nations like the UK and Canada. They are also at peace with all of its neighbors (albeit, Bangladesh is surrounded on all sides by India).
Unlike Professor Hawlader, in my books, Bangladesh is far from “hapless”.
It’s hard to tell the sense of scale when it comes to curfews. All you really worry about is that you need to get home before it’s too late. I had done my best to collect as much information and ask around before I rushed home last night. I even wrote an article about it on NowPublic.com. Shortly after, I took the article down from NowPublic because I didn’t want to post anything without confirmation. At the time, I wasn’t sure if this was a few streets and nothing more than traffic control – or something larger.
It turns out, that approximately 6,000 law enforcement officials (cops? troops? what do you call it when military backs police?) to enforce this curfew. This was reported by The Daily Star. As they reported: “Around 6,000 law enforcers will be deployed in the city including the diplomatic zone and the posh areas of Gulshan, Banani, Baridhara, Dhanmondi, Uttara and on the Dhaka University Campus.“. That’s more than just a few roadblocks.
For those used to life in Dhaka City, the only breaking aspect of this story might be that the curfew has been imposed a few hours early this year. Police and military imposed curfews happen with such regularity here, they really need a more efficient system of announcing them. I, like many people here, found out by getting a call from a relative. This relative, in turn, found out from her children as they were returning home. Thank God for cellphones – I made it back with but minutes to spare.
Curfews are not at all uncommon here in Bangladesh. My very first blog post here was regarding the post-riot curfews that were imposed across the country. This curfew is a lot more limited. It’s restricted to the parts of the city where foreigners tend to live, shop, and hang out. These areas are also the few places in the country where you can get alcohol. I guess the official government/police/military explanation (it’s really hard to tell them apart now seeing how democratic rule is currently suspended) is that they want to avoid drunk and disorderly behavior.
But some people aren’t buying that story. I’ve written up an article for NowPublic talking about some of the speculation that I’ve been hearing. I guess, when you live in a place where curfews can be imposed on short notice, it’s easy to start speculating.
A copy of the NowPublic article is available after the jump. You can also read it at this link.
Continue reading ‘Dhaka Rings In New Year with (Limited) Curfew’
When I first started this blog, I didn’t have much to show for this project. In fact, the day I wrote my first blog post I was stuck in a relatives’ home because all of Bangladesh was under military curfew.
Since then I have a lot to show: I’ve given away two cases of water during the summer flooding season. I’ve given over fifty mosquito nets (including one long-lasting insecticide treated mosquito net called PermaNet) to rural villagers. I’ve given wind-up flashlights to low-income students trying to study without electricity as well as one to a low-income disaster relief volunteer. I’ve helped to pay for a large group of poor children to have a balanced and healthy meal. And, recently, I’ve distributed 70 blankets (30 of which I did with Save the Children, another 30 with Muslim Aid UK, and 10 I gave out one-on-one) to victims of a Cyclone Sidr.
So it’s about time I tweak the look of the site a bit. Gone is the static photo of my Notre Dame hat and Dr. Jeffrey Sachs’ book. I’m still using that photo – but the main picture on my site now changes randomly every few minutes (you’ll have to reload manually) to shows some of the things I’ve done and interesting people I’ve met. This change also reflects a decision I’ve made.
When I first came to Bangladesh, I thought I would stay here for a couple of months and then go. But since coming here, I’ve kept changing my departure date. September departures became October departures – and so on. I don’t know when exactly I am going to fly home – but I know I will be here in Bangladesh Christmas and the New Year. For the first time in my life – I’ll be spending Christmas and New Years away from both my Mom and Dad.
It’s not easy staying here. There are bugs, germs, and it’s easy to get sick. I’m far from my friends and I am kind of getting homesick. This has also had a cost on my family (in particular my mother who had contracted Dengue Fever during the time she was accompanying me on this project). But, despite all this difficulty, I have a unique opportunity. I’m doing something no one has ever done before (at least in terms of how I’m sharing my experience and work online with others through Flickr, YouTube, and blogging). And I’m helping others while I do it. How many people can say that?
I also want to share a message and inspire others. It’s hard to do that if I’m just uploading old footage and photos from my home in Canada. Hopefully by staying this project can grow and perhaps inspire others.
Coming to Bangladesh has given me a greater appreciation for all the freedoms we enjoy in America and elsewhere in the Western World. Sometimes I think we forget just how free things are over there. In the United States, if my cellphone wasn’t working and if I couldn’t get online with my computer, I would just assume that I wasn’t getting any reception and that I had a bad internet connection. I could never imagine, as did actually happen here in Bangladesh, that the government would order the shutdown of cellphone networks and internet access gateways.
In America, when I watch 24-hour news programs like CNN, MSNBC or Fox News, I know they can each have their own bias – but they are allowed to say what they want. I could never imagine that the government would forcibly shut down any one of these stations because one of them said something the government didn’t like. But that’s exactly what happened to CSB – Bangladesh’s only 24-hour news network. After airing footage of anti-government protests, the government shut down the station. (I am linking to the CSB entry in Wikipedia because the government not only took the station off the air, but also shutdown their website as well)
Eventually, I’m sad to say, this kind of censorship changes how you react. So, when I and others were consistently unable to access many Bangladeshi blogs hosted on Blogspot – my first reaction was to assume that this was a new form of government censorship. Blocking blogs is not something new – Pakistan and Turkey do it presently for WordPress.com (and, previously, were also blocking Blogspot.com). But, sometimes – as it seems to be in this case – this was just a technical glitch that affected multiple users on multiple ISPs. Unfortunately, governments that choose to limit free speech usually don’t make press releases stating that they are going to be doing so.
Life would be much easier if every government that wanted to censor or limit free speech would make a press release saying “Oh hai! Im in ur internetz – censorinz ur speech” (and if the press release was worded like that, life would also be much cuter).
I actually started my first blog over eight years ago. I had stopped when I came to a realization: I’m boring. Writing about my life isn’t at all interesting. So, when it came to making a blog for this project – I tried my best to avoid blogging about personal issues. In hindsight, that was a bad idea. There are a lot of good stories that I haven’t talked about simply because they didn’t connect with any issues directly relating to the project.
For example, there was this time when I had to fight with Arab security at an airport in the Middle East. They had confiscated my Notre Dame branded Nalgene bottle because they said it was too big of a water bottle to take onto the plane (even though I had been permitted to bring it on board my connecting flight by airport security in North America). I refused to leave the security checkpoint without it. This was admittedly a very bad move – my passport was confiscated and I was surrounded by security forces. A female family member who had traveled along with me tried to plea with them. This only angered them because apparently, in that country, women are forbidden to talk to men who aren’t family. How we were able to leave in one piece – with my Notre Dame bottle returned to me no less – is quite the story.
Unfortunately, not every story has had a happy ending…. Continue reading ‘What Do I Have To Show For All This?’
“We can’t discuss this over the phone” is something I’ve been hearing a lot lately while in Bangladesh. Whether it’s openly talking about the military government, the curfew they have imposed, or the riots that instigated the curfew – people are scared to even talk. I’ve been to Bangladesh many times before – but I’ve never seen people this scared before.
There have been riots, strikes, and curfews in the country before – but there are a few things which make this time different. First, there is no longer a democratically elected government. In the past, one political party topples another (either by force or political pressure) – elections usually follow. But what happens when you topple a military government? No one is really sure.
This time is also different because journalists and foreigners are being targeted. Typically, democratic political parties would want cameras rolling – hoping that the media will sympathize with them and vilify the enemy instead. But, now even the BBC isn’t even safe from being caught by the army. Local journalists haven’t been as lucky – with many being detained and reporting beatings (source).
No one seems to be safe from the government’s eye here. The government’s have accused democratic politicians, foreigners, NGOs, or simply “evil forces” as being responsible for the riots and as justification for continued curfews.
It’s times like this that I’d rather be in South Bend. Aren’t we playing against Georgia Tech this weekend?