December 2007


Islamabad burns as news of Benazir’s assassination spreads. CNN/BBC trot out the usual tripe about “south asian curse” and a “long tradition of assassinations”. No mention of the main reasons for instability on the subcontinent.

Ayesha Siddiqa is a military analyst and author of MILITARY INC. (banned by Musharraf gov’t). Speaking on Sky News an hour after the assassination, she said “It is really time the military gets out of politics.”

Military Inc.The Bhuttos mean all manner of things to us. Zulfikar Bhutto precipitated the 1971 Bangladesh genocide when he refused to accept Mujib’s victory in 1970. I will break the leg of any politician who goes to East Pakistan, he said. Nine months
and a million deaths, Zulfikar Bhutto got his wish. He got to be PM of a new Pakistan, leaving East Pakistan to Mujib.

Later Bhutto was hanged by Zia ul Huq. But not before he finished the book “If I Am Assassinated”. Benazir took on the mantle of “Daughter of the East”. Mostly hyperbole and exaggeration in that book, but this is not the time to speak ill of the dead.

Then the return of Benazir. Her brother Murtaza was openly feuding with Benazir’s husband Asif Zardari. One day in 1997, Murtaza was killed in a Karachi gun battle for which many blame Benazir (I heard an urban legend that her mother stopped talking to her). Another brother died mysteriously in Paris. Who knows why? And now Benazir. Blood to blood.

All roads lead to the army. Not some mythical, Ramayana-Quran combo “curse”, but rumbling machines and money. Lots of money, much of it American.

Zurich, Utrecht, Dec 17 2007 -UBS, a financial heavyweight from Switzerland, is facing scrutiny by civil society organisations for investing in a proposed coal mine in Bangladesh. The Phulbari coal mine, proposed by GCM Resources Plc, is set to cause major social and environmental upheavals in the region, displacing upwards of 50 000 residents. (more…)

Victory day greetings for all my readers.  Today is the 37th anniversary of our historic 1971 victory against oppression and colonialism of Pakistan.  In 1971, the fight was for emancipation from the oppression of the west.  Victory day of this year comes at a time when we are back to the days of oppression, class divide, fear, torture, arrest and intellectual persecution. Our victory was meant to be for everybody in Bangladesh, whether you live inside or outside of the beautifully landscaped wall in the picture.

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[Photo Courtesy: Shafiur Rahman. Click here for full size better resolution image.]

Unfortunately Bangladesh celebrates the 37th victory anniversary when she is ruled by a government which is by the people, for the people and of the people who live inside that landscaped wall. The festivities of 37th victory do not reach the people outside the wall as it also does not reach the decomposing bodies under the rubbles of Rangs Bhaban or the shelter less orphans in cyclone Sidr ravaged coasts. And this victory day is also meaningless for the half a million people who have been arrested since 11 January 2007.

We only can hope that by next victory day, we will have a government which will have the courage to let people enjoy the fundamental right of freedom until they are convicted of any crime. And unlike the quarter million who are in jail today under suspicion only, nobody will be behind the bar only with suspicion. And let’s also hope that by the next victory day, we will get back a government where the people living outside the wall have a voice too.

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This photo was taken on February 2007 when I was in Dhaka. Every time I visit the national monuments in Bangladesh I come home with mixed feelings. Although I have visited numerous other national historic national monuments all over the globe, very few of them emotionally jolt me so much.

It was almost 25 years since I last visited the Savar Shaheed Smriti Soudha (The mausoleum of the martyred in Savar). Like before, the enormous campus, the greenery and water body surrounding the mausoleum impressed me. Compared to Bangladesh standard and definitely compared to other national mausoleums like Shaheed Minar or Rayer Bazar intellectual mausoleum, the Savar mausoleum was much better maintained.  However, despite all the beautiful landscaping work, well maintained water bodies, the sanctity of the mausoleum itself was in a relatively sad state. People are sitting, sleeping on the pillars, badam/ ice cream/fruit vendors are selling their products, young couples are busy with themselves, gangs of young men are  loitering–all on the alter of the mausoleum. Then at the base of the mausoleum, the floors are covered with excreta of the birds sitting on those seven pillars.

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 Shahid Minar’s condition is much worse.  Once February is past, until next February, It kind of turns into a loitering garbage disposal site of a rundown block.  Once I recommended a tourist to go visit Shaheed Minar and on returning he avoided talking to me about his Shaheed Minar experience although he was ecstatic about everything else he saw in Bangladesh.  Rayer bazar Badhdhya Bhumi (Rayer bazar Killing Ground intellectuals Mausoleum) is another beautiful monument with poor access and shabby maintenance.  And soon after December 14, it gets one degree worse. It becomes unsafe to be there even in daylight, forget visiting the mausoleum after dusk.  

Having explained the current state of our national monuments, on the eve of 37th victory day, let me share my dream about the monuments with you all. Let’s talk about Shaheed Minar. No other monument could be as wonderfully located as the Shaheed Minar. It is at the watershed of New and old Dhaka and it is at the center of the academic hub of Dhaka, Conveniently located between Dhaka University, Dhaka Medical College and BUET. This monument could be our museum of Language movement and language Bangla. The museum has to be underground below Shaheed Minar as any additional structure will ruin the landscape. There may be a nominal fee to enter the site except for the month of February. There will be guided tour throughout the day covering the museum and the monument. Round the year school kids will have their field day at this museum learning about the origin of Bangla language, about the history of language movement etc. 

 Similarly Rayer bazar mausoleum could be the museum of genocide 1971. Still there is enough land surrounding the mausoleum to build a 71 Bangladesh genocide museum. 

These monuments are our assets. These are of equal if not more importance than any of the artifacts those are being sent to Musee Guimet. Protecting those artifacts or hanging the war criminal Jamaatis must not be the ONLY mean of protecting our history and pride. We need passion to protect, present and promote our national treasures. These are our  monuments for 365 days of the years 24 hours a day. Not for several hours of a single day of the year. These should be the places where all our school children will come and learn our history from. These will have to be the showcases of Bangladesh and her history for visiting foreigners.  

The demolition of Rangs Bhaban was a symbolic equivalent of the 1/11 military government. Exactly as what was with Rangs Bhaban, i.e. spectacular demolition an imposing indestructible structure; this military government embarked on a similar larger scale project with whole of Bangladesh.

Rangs Bhaban demolition in 24 hours notice was termed as a symbolic victory over corruption. Look at this blog and read in the comment section how the early supporters of this military government drooled at this fiesta of destruction.

However, as warned by a few, the bulldozer revolution of 1/11 faltered all through its way. The military government came with promises of rooting out and cleansing the country of corruption. Well nearly one year later, corruption is as rampant as before and none of the so called corruption kings could be convicted in corruption charge. All the unbelievable number of jail years given to politicians are all income tax or firearms cases. Any of the members of the current government can easily be implicated in similar income tax or firearm crimes. Then the bulldozer revolution tried to beautify Dhaka by destroying slums, control the markets by sending soldiers to market places, and control politics by purchasing some collaborator politicians and editors. And fortunately for the people of Bangladesh, all these misadventures failed.

Rangs Bhaban ( although Governments’ collaborators initially tried to publicize that it was built on illegal land, court order confirms that it was not) was evacuated in 24 hours notice, hundreds of businesses got uprooted, and some RAJUK daily laborers broke the beautiful glass walls with big hammers.

Soon the bulldozer revolutionaries started grasping the magnitude of the job and their inability to finish the job they started. A company was allocated the demolition job ( Hint hint: Lt Geneal Hasan Masud). The nation was told that a demolition expert company would do that job with surgical precision.

Well several months later, we now hear that the job was taken by a company which had no idea of the enormity of the job. Only experience they had so far was demolition of two very old three story one unit flat building in Chittagong. And even that company did not keep the job to themselves. They charged the government 75 lac taka and subcontracted it to labor contractors for 25 lac taka, thus earning 50 lac taka by only being a collaborator.
And the result is very visible today.

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Look at the mess this government has put us into. This is what happens when the wrong people embark into a job which they do not know how to handle and which is not their job either.

Rangs Bhaban is precariously hanging in the air today. Partly collapsed, the rest of the huge structure may collapse any moment. Dead bodies are hanging from the rubbles. Per different newspaper reports, as many as 30 workers are still trapped under the towering rubbles. No rescue operation is being planned as the building is too difficult to approach.

In previous thread termed Rangs Rongo, many of the military government apologetics boasted that Rangs Bhaban was the symbol of this governments’ crusade against corruption. I agree with them. The current state of Rangs Bhaban is the symbol of this military government.

And most unfortunately, the victims of these misadventures are not us, nor our elite brethren in Bangladesh. The victims are the poor people in Bangladesh. The decision makers of Rangs demolition will roam around and chatter around happily, the conspirators, collaborators of 1/11 bulldozer revolution will keep enjoying the advisorial, editorial, ambassadorial perks, but the poor people of Bangladesh will keep hanging like that poor soul in the picture. Someone buried under Rangs rubbles, the rest of them buried under the soaring price of essential basic food items.

It’s a mess. A big big mess.

[ BREAKING NEWS: 4 Rajshahi University Professors, Associate Professor Moloy Kumar Bhowmik of the Department of Management, Selim Reza Newton, Dulal Chandra Biswas and Abdullah Al Mamun of the Department of Mass Communications,  sentenced to 2 years hard labor for “inciting anti-army riots” by students]

[This letter from one of the professors to his wife was received the night before the verdict]
awaiting verdict.
A Rajshahi University teacher’s letter to his wife.

Naturally I was anxious. 25 November was the day of verdict. The night before, darkness had fallen heavily on me. No space left for sleep to enter. “IF” — that one word kept circling inside me, it made all else seem insignificant. “If” the verdict was announced, “if” they decided to punish me would I be able to stay calm and strong in the courtroom? I lay on my prison bed and wondered. I kept telling myself that such things had repeatedly happened in history, from the time of Socrates. No, I could not break down. I would have to be strong. I would have to resist the injustice. I must hold my head up high. I must not bend. I know I will lose my job, you will have to find one…, what can I do in this situation, what should I do, what will happen to you my love? I keep thinking, over and over. I think I have only one weapon at my disposal. I must remain strong, I must keep my spirits high. Like many others in prison. Most of the prisoners are innocent. They are victims of the judicial process, that is why they lead imprisoned lives. (more…)