A Struggle From Dawn to Dusk

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By?ANDREA RICE

Photographs by Taslima Akhter


Lens - Photography, Video, and Visual Journalism

The garment industry is one of the?largest industrial sectors in Bangladesh. It accounts for a good portion of the country?s exports and employs more than three million workers. Most of them are women.
?Workers toil from dawn to dusk on minimum wage,? said?Taslima Akhter, a Bangladeshi photographer who has spent more than four years capturing the workers? movement for ?The Life and Struggle of Garment Workers.?
Ms. Akhter, 37, was compelled to bring to light some of the industry?s darker aspects, like dangerous working conditions and low salaries. As an activist, a photographer and a resident of Bangladesh, she sees the ongoing project as both a personal agenda and a civic duty.
Ms. Akhter said she believed that the struggle of garment workers ? particularly women ? was one of the country?s most pressing issues. A transition to democracy in Bangladesh would raise questions about women?s rights, she said, expressing hope that her project could help speed the country toward that goal? ? and inspire the workers to make their own voices be heard.
In 2006, garment workers in Bangladesh made less than $25 per month, Ms. Akhter said. Following a tremendous protest in 2010, their wages increased to just under $45 monthly ? still not a living wage.
That strike ? and the number of women who participated ? drove Ms. Akhter to continue her work on the project, most of which she photographed in and around her hometown, Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. (Outside Dhaka, she shot in Gazipur, to the north, and Narayanganj, to the east.) Ms. Akhter studied photojournalism at the?Pathshala South Asian Media Academy in Dhaka in 2007. She completed a master?s degree in philosophy from theUniversity of Dhaka. She just completed a six-week course on photography and human rights at New York University?s?Tisch School of the Arts as part of a?Magnum Foundation scholarship she was awarded in 2010.

De-energising Bangladesh

by rahnuma ahmed

In the end, treachery will betray even itself.
Roman proverb
When the prime minister, the finance minister etc., not known for being democratically-oriented, feel obliged to respond publicly according to the terms and conditions set by the National Oil-Gas Committee, it is clear that the tide is shifting.
It is clear that? the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports (NCPOGMR) has made a significant impact on public consciousness. That there is a growing national awareness of the issue of ownership of natural resources; of the terms on which production sharing contracts are signed with international oil companies (IOCs); a growing suspicion that exporting extracted gas may not be the best way of solving the nation’s energy shortfall. More precisely, of the hollowness of the government’s reasoning as to why gas blocks need to be, must necessarily be, leased out to multinational companies.? More broadly, of whether the nation’s ruling class, regardless of which political party is in power, does act in the interests of the nation, of its people.
It is clear from what top ruling party leaders are now obliged to say, to repeatedly say, we are patriotic, we are not treacherous, that they have been forced to cede ground.
It is clear that a moral battle has been won.
Continue reading “De-energising Bangladesh”

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – URGENT APPEAL

Alert! Bangladesh labour activist Moshrefa Mishu needs your help: I do not generally go for signature campaigns, but this situation is serious I would urge you to take the trouble. We need to act fast. Shahidul

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BANGLADESH: Labour rights activist arbitrarily detained and charged in three fabricated cases

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that the Detective Branch of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police illegally arrested a female labour rights activist named Ms. Moshrefa Mishu (46) on 14 December 2010. She has been arbitrarily detained in three fabricated criminal charges since her arrest. Ms. Moshrefa Mishu, is a leftist political activist and President of the Garment Workers Unity Forum (GWUF), a labor rights organization of the readymade garment factories of the country. She has been ill-treated and threatened with death or disappeared while in detention. The police have shown her arrested in three fabricated cases and remanded her for three days on different occasions. Mishu’s health condition has deteriorated as a result of ill-treatment and the subsequent denial of adequate medical treatment by politically-motivated doctors while in detention. Please intervene in this case by insisting the Government of Bangladesh ensure the required treatment and her release from the arbitrary detention.
Please follow the link
And you will find a blue button send an appeal letter, click and follow the process, write your name, email address and country and then click on preview. And then click on send emails – the email will go to – Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Chief Justice of Bangladesh, Law Minister of Bangladesh, Home Minister of Bangladesh, Chairman of National Human Rights Commission, Inspector General of Police, Commissioner of DMP.
Asian Human Rights Commission has already written separate letters to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and Special Rapporteurs on Independent of Judges and Lawyers?and Violence Against Women requesting their prompt interventions in this case.
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Bangladesh army's advancing business interests

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The five star Dhaka Radisson hotel - which offers guests use of the nearby deluxe army golf course - is owned by the Bangladesh Army Welfare Trust (AWT) and was established on military land. ??Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

By Kamal Ahmed
BBC News, Dhaka

The army is becoming increasingly involved in business activities.?The Bangladeshi army has over the years played a key role in the country’s political life, but it has now also emerged as a major player in the business arena, with interests spread across all the major sectors of the economy.
Following the example of the Pakistan army, it has been thriving under successive civilian governments. But there are now signs of unease about it within the force itself and within wider society.?Evidence of the army’s wealth and influence is not hard to find.?The five star Dhaka Radisson hotel – which offers guests use of the nearby deluxe army golf course – is owned by the Bangladesh Army Welfare Trust (AWT) and was established on military land.

‘Commercial advantage’

There are five other top hotels in Dhaka, but none can provide a package that exploits military real estate.
The military’s interests include the hotel and hospitality trade.?Capitalising on its success with the Dhaka Radisson, the AWT is now building another five-star hotel in the port city of Chittagong.
A leading hotelier who did not wish to be identified told the BBC that the use of cheaper military-land amid sky-rocketing land prices in Dhaka has given the army a clear commercial advantage against other players.
In addition to a recently-built fast-food shop aimed at the affluent middle class in Dhaka, the army’s other big business these days is the Trust Bank. Set up under civilian rule, it has now grown into a fully-fledged commercial bank with about 40 branches nationwide.
In 2007, the military-backed caretaker government granted it exclusive rights to receive fees for passports.?Former senior civil servant Akbar Ali Khan says that this is against the government’s procurement rules – and there should have been an open tender to ensure that the cheapest and best passport service was selected.

The landfilling by the back of Sonargaon Hotel started during the recent caretaker government, which is considered to have been backed by the military. Little is known about such fills, but military vehicles are regularly seen plying the newly made roads and military trucks are parked there. ??Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Impropriety denied

While bank officials say it played by the rules and received no special favours from the government, its audited accounts – first released in 2007 – caused much controversy.?They revealed that the-then army chief, Gen Moeen U Ahmed, got loans several times larger than the rules allow.?The army’s business empire is thought to be worth around $500m.?At the time, he was chairman of the Trust Bank by virtue of the fact that he was head of the army. And Bangladesh was being ruled by an army-backed interim government.?Gen Ahmed denies any impropriety, arguing that questions over the size of the loan are an attempt “to malign” him.
And there are other parts of the forces which have their own banks. The Civil Defence Force runs the Bangladesh Ansar and Village Defence Party Bank – known as the Ansar VDP Bank. This bank, set up in 1995 by the government, has not yet received any banking licence and functions like a credit society.
But the army’s interests do not end here.

Ice cream sales

If you are buying any ice-cream in rural areas of the country, you may be getting a product of an army-owned business, that of the Sena Kallyan Sangstha (SKS).?The SKS is a welfare foundation whose function is to care for the welfare of veterans and family members of servicemen.?Among other things, the SKS now owns concerns in food, textiles, jute, garments, electronics, real estate and travel.
It is now evident that the Bangladeshi armed forces have been largely following the business model developed so successfully by their Pakistani counterparts.?In Pakistan, the military’s Fauji Foundation has a huge involvement in trade and industry.
Using the Pakistani model, the AWT was founded in 1998 during the previous rule of the Awami League led by the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The irony is that military business interests have thrived more under civilian rule than under martial law regimes.
The growth of military involvement in commerce has had serious repercussions for the armed forces themselves.?The official probe into the country’s worst ever mutiny by the paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) border guards in 2009 – which left at least 68 high ranking military officials dead – bears this out.
Commission Chairman M Anisuzzaman Khan said that the mutiny was partly fuelled by resentment among the BDR’s rank-and-file over the corruption of army officers engaged in the retail sale of consumer items.?It recommended that no forces – military or civil defence – should be allowed to engage in commercial or business activities.?”Law and order forces are meant for defending the country, they are not supposed to run factories or business units,” Mr Khan said.

Unease

But an empire worth at least $500m is growing daily and becoming stronger. Plans obtained by the BBC reveal that the army’s business ambitions include power plants and even the insurance businesses – no potential business sector seems out of its sights.?Critics argue that the army should concentrate on serving the country.?Although the army headquarters agreed to respond to the queries made by the BBC, our repeated requests for interviews did not materialise and no response was actually made.?But a number of retired generals have expressed their unease over the army’s extensive exposure in the fields of trade and industry.
Lt Gen (Retired) Mahbubur Rahman – who entered politics few years back and served as the chairman of the standing committee on the Ministry of Defence in the previous parliament – told the BBC that the military “should keep within its charter of duties and not engage or get involved in any financial transactions – especially for business”.?”We have witnessed how such activities can bring disaster,” he said.
A number of leading figures in business and civil society have admitted that many army-owned businesses are virtually indistinguishable from other commercial enterprises in the way they operate.?But as its ambitions develop, it seems that the debate about whether or not the army should engage in such activities will also grow.
Related article.
Moeen U Ahmed and Trust Bank

ISRAEL?S ?OPERATION MAKE THE WORLD HATE US

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BRUCE. E. WILSON, ?ISRAEL?S ?OPERATION MAKE THE WORLD HATE US? ENTERS BOLD NEW PHASE AS JERUSALEM POST EDITOR RELEASES VIDEO MOCKING DEAD FLOTILLA ACTIVISTS?
6 June, 2010 ? MRZine
?Israel does not need enemies: it has itself. Or more precisely: it has its government,? writes The New Republic?s Leon Wieseltier in a bitingly titled column, ?Operation Make the World Hate Us: The Assault on the ?Mavi Marmara? Was Wrong, and a Gift to Israel?s Enemies.?
It?s not just an Israeli government initiative. Operation Make The World Hate Us has another valuable asset ? the Deputy Managing Editor of the Jerusalem Post Caroline Glick, who under the auspices of the US-based Center for Security Policy has just released one of the most gratuitously offensive (and on so many levels, it?s quite remarkable) video creations to afflict the year 2010, ?We Con the World,? which appears to mock the nine dead (or more ? six are still reported as missing) activists killed on the Turkish Mavi Marmara when Israeli Defense Force commandos stormed the boat. According to a British eyewitness interviewed by UK-based The Press Association, 48 people aboard the ship received gunshot wounds.
Two notable organizational patrons of Glick?s video are the Center for Security Policy and Christians United for Israel. Glick?s industrial-strength polemics include claims that there is a ?totalitarian jihadist ideology which is ascendant throughout the Islamic world.? According to the Jewish organization Jews on First, Glick has advocated the unilateral bombing of Iran.

The Center for Security Policy is so proud of Glick?s video it?s up on the organization?s web site front page. Christians United for Israel website also has a front page link to Glick?s inadvertent anti-hasbara masterpiece. The video features, among other lyric elements, the line ?Itbach el Yahud!? (slaughter the Jews!) and claims that children in the Gaza Strip lack ?cheese and missiles? (according to a 2009 UN survey 65% of babies 9-12 months old in Gaza suffer from anemia).
It?s not especially surprising that Caroline Glick was inclined to produce ?We Con the World? given that in 1997 and 1998 she served as assistant foreign policy adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu. What?s astounding is Glick?s obvious pride in associating herself with the video, which features shaky production values, procession of anti-Islamic stereotypes, bad singing, and mockery of the dead. Not only has Glick posted it on her personal website but she acted in the video, which at the end identifies her as Deputy Managing Editor of the Jerusalem Post.
As Caroline Glick Wrote on her blog post concerning her video,
This week at Latma ? the Hebrew-language media satire website I edit, we decided to do something new. We produced a clip in English. There we feature the Turkish-Hamas ?love boat? captain, crew and passengers in a musical explanation of how they con the world.
We think this is an important Israeli contribution to the discussion of recent events and we hope you distribute it far and wide.
All the best,
Caroline
As described in her Wikipedia bio, Glick?s ?writings have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the National Review, The Boston Globe, the Chicago Sun-Times, The Washington Times, Maariv and major Jewish newspapers worldwide? and she?s been on ?MSNBC, Fox News Channel, Sky News, the Christian Broadcasting Network, and all of Israel?s major television networks. She also makes frequent radio appearances both in the US and Israel.?
And in her spare time, Glicks?s a video auteur.
Lyrics to ?We Con The World?
There comes a time
when we need to make a show
for the world, the web and CNN
There?s no people dying
so the best that we can do
is create the greatest bluff of all
We must go on, pretending day by day
that in Gaza there?s crisis, hunger and plague
coz the billion bucks in aid won?t buy their basic needs
like some cheese and missiles for the kids.
We?ll make the world abandon reason
we?ll make them all believe
that the Hamas is Momma Theresa
We are peaceful travelers
with guns and our own knives
the truth will never find its way to your TV
Ooooh we?ll stab them at heart
they are soldiers no one cares
we are small and we took some pictures with doves
As Allah has shown us
for facts there?s no demand
so we will always gain the upper hand
We?ll make the world abandon reason
we?ll make them all believe
that the Hamas is Momma Theresa
We are peaceful travelers
we?re waving our own knives
the truth will never find its way to your TV
If Islam and terror brighten up your mood
but you worry that it may not look so good
Well don?t you realize you just gotta call yourself
an activist for peace and human aid
We?ll make the world abandon reason
we?ll make them all believe
that the Hamas is Momma Theresa
We are peaceful travelers
we?re waving our own knives
the truth will never find its way to your TV
We con the world
yallah, let me hear you!
we con the people
We?ll make them all believe the IDF is Jack the Ripper
We are peaceful travelers
we?re waving our own knives
the truth will never find its way to your TV
Itbach el Yahud ! (slaughter the Jews)
We con the world
we con the people
We?ll make them all believe the IDF is Jack the Ripper
All together now!
We are peaceful travelers
we?re waving our own knives
the truth will never find its way to your TV
We con the world
yallah, let me hear you!
we con the people
We?ll make them all believe the IDF is Jack the Ripper
We are peaceful travelers
we?re waving our own knives
the truth will never find its way to your TV
This article was first published in the AlterNet blog on 4 June 2010; it is reproduced here for non-profit educational purposes. According to Ayman Mohyeldin, this video was ? ?inadvertently? ? ?distributed [to journalists] on Friday by the Israeli government press office (which belongs to the Israeli prime minister?s office and is responsible for accrediting foreign journalists)? (emphasis added, ?Israeli Government?s Media Madness,? The Middle East Blog, Al Jazeera, 4 June 2010).

Reuters under fire for removing weapons, blood from images of Gaza flotilla

Give photography a chance

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By Giedre Steikunaite

Fish ??Partha Sarathi Sahana/Majority World

A photograph?s story is not only the one told in the image. Who took a picture, and why, also matters. Now who takes pictures of the developing world, and why?
?The vast majority of the published images that we see of the developing world are taken by predominantly white, predominantly male photographers from the ?north? or the ?west? (whichever language you use) and we think a) that this is unfair and b) that it leads to a distorted view lacking balance. The distorted view is intrinsically dangerous as it perpetuates stereotypes,? said Dr Colin Hastings, responsible for strategy and financing at?Majority World, in an interview with?igenius.
How about giving Majority World photographers a chance to represent the world they live in themselves?
Majority World, a global initiative set up to provide a platform for indigenous photographers from the Majority World to gain fair access to global image markets, is in its third year. Their?online library contains loads of photographs, both individual and featured, ranging from Adolphus Opara?s?Slum Aspirations to Aaron Sosa?s?Daily Havana to Saikat Ranjan Bhadra?s?Grey Reality. The idea is to shift the current practice of the global North photographing the global South and allowing the South to do it itself.
Photographers in the developing countries face numerous challenges. At first it was said that they don?t exist, then that they ?don?t have the eye?. But apart from these prejudices, there are serious problems photographers have to deal with: lack of access to the internet, costly cameras, scanners, and computers, lack of awareness of Northern markets, no money to travel and build up a portfolio, poor business and marketing skills and, probably worst of all, untrusting potential clients, who are nervous to assign an unknown photographer in a distant land.
Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir. ??Prakhar/Majority World

Let?s come back to those white males who dominate the global photography market with their orthodox reflections of the Majority World. And aid. ?Development isn?t simply about money. What about developing mutual respect; enabling equitable partnerships; providing enabling environments for intellectual exchange? What about creating awareness of the underlying causes of poverty? These are all integral parts of the development process. When all things are added up, cheap images providing clich?d messages do more harm than good. They do not address the crucial issue: poverty is almost always a product of exploitation, at local, regional and international levels. If poverty is simply addressed in terms of what people lack in monetary terms, then the more important issues of exploitation are sidelined,? wrote Shahidul Alam, an international photojournalist and Chairman of?Majority World in?The New Internationalist in 2007.
Back then, the situation started to change, if only very slowly. In that same article, Mr Alam agreed that due to the media?s deteriorating financial situation, some adjustments had taken place: with media?s budgets squeezed, it?s getting harder to fly Western photographers to make some shots in a far away land.
This is where local photographers come in handy, but the fact is yet to be recognized by news outlets. And it ain?t so sunny out there, either. ?Certain rules still apply of course, such as the vast differentials in pay between local and Western photographers,? wrote Mr Alam.
I asked Dr Colin Hastings who works tirelessly to promote Majority World photography, how to encourage global media organizations to use images made by local photographers. He said we need to make a distinction between purchasing images pre-taken and uploaded into an existing photo library (known as ?stock photography?) and ?assignments?, where a photographer is commissioned to take specified types of image for a particular purpose.
?As for stock images, all we ask is that Majority World photographers have equal opportunities to get their images into photo libraries and showcased across the world and available for sale. At present they are marginalized and face many disadvantages. It is providing an equal playing field that is at the heart of what Majority World is about, enabling them to have the resources that Western photographers just take for granted.
?When it comes to assignments, Western media, editors and photographers tend to go out with a predetermined agenda often to find images to confirm their existing preconceptions and stereotypes often based on information that is way out of date. This is an issue of editorial bias, i.e. do you really want to find out the truth (whatever that is).
?Well, you are more likely to find out from someone who is of the culture, speaks the language, understand the nuances and the history, than from someone who jets in for a few days, is essentially a voyeur from the outside of the culture, and may be viewed with a mixture of incredulity and suspicion by those being photographed… To say nothing of the ethical issues about whether anyone ?should? be or has the right to take photos in any situation.
?It is right to acknowledge that it is not a simple matter to employ and brief an unknown photographer at a distance, especially where there are language and other cultural barriers to communication. But that can also be too easily used as an excuse. There are suitable and reliable photographers out there who do fine work. Part of our role is to take the risk out of this process by finding the most suitable photographer and acting as a communications facilitator.
?We have to help the client to change their behavior and ways of doing things and also help the photographer to understand and to respond to the clients? needs.? It?s complex!?
Three years ago, Dr Hastings expressed his wish for every postcard sold in a tourist destination in the global South to be taken by a local photographer. ?My vision is to see a whole range of beautiful high quality photographic products – cards, calendars, diaries or digital products images – taken entirely by Majority World photographers,? he said.
We?re not there yet, but hopefully on the way.
Photos: fish by?Partha Sarathi Sahana, water by?prakhar

A Tribute to Our Forgotten Sisters

Majeda, Jarina, Farida and Many other Garment Workers



Bodies of child garment workers who died in a fire in a factory in Mirpur. Dhaka. 1990. ??Azizur Rahim Peu/Drik/Majority World

By Saydia Gulrukh


Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, New York City, March 25, 1911
Whoever saw the hellish fire at 33 Washington Place,
A terrible tragedy, something quite new,
Can never forget it, And everyone knows many lives were lost.
They were incinerated, In a factory 10 stories high.
There were horrible screams from the onlookers,
Those who were burned alive
And those who choked in the smoke.
(Yehuda Horvitz wrote and sung this song to the tune of a Jewish prayer to commemorate?the deaths of Jewish women in the Triangle Fire)


In many ways, the Triangle Shirtwaist Company was just another sweatshop factory?in the heart of Manhattan. It was located on the top three floors of the ten-story Asch Building just at the end of Washington Square. All that characterizes a sweatshop ? low wages, excessively long hours, and unsanitary and dangerous working conditions ? was part of its factory policy. Most of the several hundred Triangle employees were young women.? Many among them were recently-arrived Italian or Jewish immigrants.
On March 25, 1911, as the hours of the clock approached the closing time, a fire broke out on the top floors of the Asch Building. Flames leapt from discarded rags between the first and second rows of cutting tables.? The fire spread everywhere, as several men continued to fling water at the fire.? In the thickening smoke, a shipping clerk dragged a hose in the stairwell into the rapidly heating room, but nothing came out.? Terrified and screaming girls tried to climb down the narrow fire escape.? Some girls trapped on the ninth floor jumped through the window (Leon Stein, Out of the Sweat Shop, 1977). By the time the fire was over, 146 women garment worker had died. The next two days were marked with the horror and grief of families and comrades desperately trying to identify their dear ones from the bodies burned to bare bones.
In 1909, when women garment workers started to organize and called for a strike demanding better pay, safe working environment, Triangle Shirtwaist was one of the factories which agreed to only a partial settlement. One of the demands that was not met in this settlement was the demand for adequate fire escapes (Meredith Tax, The Uprising Thirty Thousands, 1994). These deaths, horrifyingly cruel, agitated the members of International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). Many thousands joined the funeral procession, they mourned the lives lost, and demanded the safety for workers.
Two weeks after the fire, a grand jury indicted Triangle Shirtwaist owners Isaac Harris and Max Blanck on charges of manslaughter. Three years after the fire, on March 11, 1914, twenty-three individual civil suits against the owner of the Asch Building were settled.? The average recovery was $75 per life lost. Calls for justice continued to grow,?thirty-six new laws reforming the state labor code were enacted between 1911 and 1914, those who survived the fire were left to live, and relive, those agonizing moments.
Garib and Garib Sweater Factory, Gazipur, February 25, 2010
21 killed at Garib and Garib Factory, Gazipur, 2010
62 killed at KTS Garments, Chittagong, 2006
23 killed at Shan Knitting, Narayanganj, 2005
23 killed at Chowdhury Knitwear, Narsingdi, 2004
23 killed at Macro Sweater, Dhaka, 2000
12 killed at Globe Knitting, Dhaka, 2000
24 killed at Shanghai Apparels, Dhaka, 1997
20 killed at Jahanara Fashion, Narayanganj, 1997
22 killed at Lusaka Garments, Dhaka, 1996
32 killed at Saraka Garments, Dhaka, 1990
(Source: The Daily Star, March 1, 2010)
It was a little after 9 o?clock at night, workers were finishing their shift. Some were still working, Abdul Mannan of the Garib and Garib factory?s sampling section was among them. He was working on the second floor when he first saw the flame and breathed smoke. It was coming from the first floor. A short circuit had occurred near a large stock of flammable acrylic sweaters, which produced thick and extremely toxic smoke and quickly transformed the factory into a ?gas chamber? (Bdnews24.com, Feb26, 2010). Zarina, Farida, Majeda, Sahara, Majida, Rahima, Shantana, Momtaz, Rasheda, Shahinur, Rawshan, Jahanar, Rina and Sufia were on the sixth floor as the monstrous fire swallowed the building.? The main power was immediately turned off. In the pitch dark, workers, both men and women, ran up stairs to escape, but blazing fires and toxic smoke followed them.

21 workers including 15 women were killed in the fire incident at Garib & Garib Sweater Factory in Bhogra, Gazipur on Thursday night. The fire brigade authorities formed a three-member committee, headed by its deputy director (administration and finance), to find out the cause of the fire. However, they suspect the fire might have originated from a short-circuit. Dhaka, Bangladesh. February 26, 2010. Yasin Abdullah/DrikNews

Within half an hour, ambulances and firefighters had circled the building, they started their rescue mission but came across dead bodies only: Kashem, Badal, Alamgir, Mainul and Pradeep, bodies which lay haphazardly in the stairway, there were many others. The events that followed were rather routine. After hours of effort, the fire-fighters tamed the unruly fire.? The Fire Brigade authorities, BGMEA and the government formed three different probe committees to investigate the cause of fire (Daily Star, Feb 27, 2010). In a ?sympathetic? gesture, the authority bore the cost of the burials and kept the factory closed for four days to mourn the deceased workers.? The BGMEA ?expressed sorrow at the death of the workers and announced Tk 2 lakh as compensation for each worker? (New Age, Feb 26, 2010). Labor organizations and left-alliances protested, demanding better compensation, and immediate punishment of those responsible.? They continue to protest, to hold meetings in Muktangon, in Shahid Minar, in Gazipur too, protests which barely manage to prevent us from forgetting about them. Perhaps through taming the fire, the fire-fighters had also tamed the sparks of our anger, anger at the deaths, anger at exploitative and unjust practices in the garments industry.

Collectively Resisting Our Amnesia
The hundred years which separates these two tragedies in the history of the garments industry, incidents that are strikingly similar, also coincides with the international women?s movement which has turned a hundred year’s old. By placing these two stories side by side, I don?t intend to undermine the struggles and achievements of our movement, to argue that ?nothing has changed.? My interest lies in the differences in our response to the two tragedies.
People gathered in thousands to cordon the dead bodies of Triangle factory workers, to hold the hands of hysterically grieving relatives and friends. The ILGWU proposed an official day of mourning. The grief-stricken city gathered in churches, synagogues, and finally, in the streets. In 1911, the funeral procession turned into an ocean of grief as countless numbers of people joined in, while the dead bodies of Zarina, Majeda and Farida were sent in separate ambulances to their village, and the only people who joined in that final journey, besides their family members, were the police. We do not join in their funeral procession in the thousands, we do not take over the street to mourn the lives of these women who had slaved their youth away for the much celebrated, and steady increase in the nation’s GDP. As I read Yehuda Horvitz songs written to commemorate the lives of the women killed in the Triangle fire, I look for songs sung celebrating the lives lost here. What I find is a statistical rhyme, an incomprehensive list of the numbers of workers killed in garments factory fires in the last decade. The thought of garments factories being ?gas-chambers? horrifies us? as long as the news remains fresh, and soon enough, we manage to find ways of returning to the national narrative, working in the garments sector is a stepping stone to women?s empowerment. Images of blazing fires rapidly disappear, stories of Rasheda, Shahinur, Rawshan choking to death are conveniently forgotten. In 1911, many women in the funeral procession in New York city had carried placards which said ?we mourn our loss; we demand real progress in workers protection.? In 2010, we do not mourn our loss. We read of our loss in the newspapers.
There has been much talk of corporate greed and sweatshops, many editorials have been written protesting the criminal indifference of factory owners. Locally and globally, every year thousands of pages are written analyzing the sweatshop economy and the feminization of the global labor force. Perhaps, it’s time to analyze our deadly indifference. On international women?s day, a true tribute to Rahima, Shantana, Momtaz and many other sisters whose names will soon be lost in the statistical crowd, can be offered by resisting our own collective amnesia.
Saydia Gulrukh is a PhD student at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, USA
and a faculty member of Pathshala, The South Asian Media Academy
Published in New Age, 8 March 2010

The Current State of Health Care in this Country

By Arjun Janah

I have learned, from experience with my aged parents and my younger sister-in-law, that elementary services, or even basic coverage, can be denied on the flimsiest of grounds.? My own experience with physicians and hospitals has been that I normally get at most 15 minutes with the first, and less than a day to recover after surgeries with the second, before being shown the door.? There is also no followup.

It is true that, given a reasonable plan (obtained either by means of collective bargaining if one is fortunate enough to belong to a large organization and so paying group-rates, or else by paying high individual-rate premiums if one is lucky enough to be affluent) expensive tests and high-tech procedures may be ordered, that often involve tens of thousands of dollars of charges.? But these seem to be driven more by considerations of profits than by true concern for the long-term well-being of the patients. Less profitable and less drastic procedures, that may be very simple, on the one hand, or may involve sizing up the whole individual and his/her history and circumstances, and utilizing lifestyle changes and long-term remedial services on the other, are simply not part of the health-care equation.? Though they might drastically reduce health care costs, while improving long-term outcomes, they yield less profit, and might even make much of the current health-care behemoth redundant.

A tremendous amount of effort goes into paperwork — leaving n urses, for example, relegating basic patient-care duties to nurses’ aides. Surgeons are usually unavailable after an operation, despite all that may go wrong during recovery. Internists often have little or no coordination with specialists, to whom the whole picture of the patient’s health is of little or no interest.

Doctors themselves run up huge debts in medical school, and are mercilessly driven as interns, where they often have shifts that run for days with little or no sleep, while yet being responsible for most of whatever little routine medical attention a ward patient receives. They then scramble to set up a practice, preferably in a lucrative surgical specialty, so as to pay off the debt, and then often endeavor to stay as far away from hospital wards and routine patient care as they can get.

Surgeons are willing to spend time with a patient prior to highly expensive (and often unnecessary, though profitable) surgeries, but usually have no time for them after-wards.? Other physicians? are forced to cram in as many patients as possible per day, either to meet their basic expenses and their chosen lifestyles, or else to satisfy HMO’s and hospitals for whom they work. Fifteen minutes has become the standard maximum per patient, including time for basic physican’s paperwork. Many spend far less time.? Basic examination tasks, once performed by physicians, are increasingly assigned to physicians’ assistants, nurses, medical assistants or others.? Those who buck this trend find them selves in trouble, either financially or with their overseers — often people who have no medical background.

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67 Minutes for Madiba

OK. I?ll admit it. I do have a soft spot for older women. My grandmother, my mother, Shejokhalamma, Chotokhalamma, Chotomami, Sufia Khala (poet Sufia Kamal), Didi (Mahasweta Devi) were all pretty special. All in their eighties or so.? I can?t be entirely to blame though.? When a woman says, ?I?ve been waiting for you all day. I?ll wait all night. You must come.? How can one say no? Especially if it?s a woman you haven?t even met. And Fatima Meer was some woman.
It was a long route from Mexico City. I had stopovers in Frankfurt, London and Dubai, but it was Johannesburg I was headed for. There had been an initial panic when Professor Yunus?s assistant Lamiya told me that the meet and greet with Nelson Mandela had been scheduled for the 8th.? There was no way I could make it over from Mexico by then, but my good luck held out. Madiba rescheduled for the 10th! Arriving on the 9th evening, I headed off to Kensington to the home of Wilson and Rayhana. Wilson had been at Pathshala for two years, and they had kindly offered to put me up.
The Lamborghini, two Porches, a Ferrari, a Bentley and a Rolls that I saw parked next to each other in Mandela Square, spoke of the huge inequalities that still had to be dealt with in South Africa. Watching “Jerusalem – The Promised Land” on the flight in, reminded me of the post apartheid expectations that needed to be matched by ground realities. The British had lured in Indians with the Dick Whittington story of streets paved with gold. Now the youth in Hillbrow wanted to see the gold, and they wanted it now. As Mandela had said upon release, the long walk to freedom had only begun. Lucky? Kunene wanted short cuts.
This was no ordinary assignment, and I knew there was not going to be a second chance. Checking out with Lamiya what the drill was for the 10th, I charged my batteries, cleaned my lenses, emptied my memory cards and double checked all my equipment. There was too much at stake. Access to Madiba was always going to be difficult. Robin Comley, the picture editor of the Times had only obtained permission for her photographer to be part of the pool. The foundation would vet the low res images, and select which ones would be released. The pictures were to go out in the foundation?s name. There was no chance of an exclusive session. I was privileged and very much the exception.
Yunus bhai had put in a strong recommendation for me. The fact that I had written about Dr. Yunus and had historical pictures of Grameen, had helped. My photograph filled the front page, and my article was the key feature of the foundation?s brochure for the 7th annual lecture. So while I was theoretically only allowed limited access to Madiba’s room in the Mandela Foundation, I ended up being the first one to go in and the last one to leave. To be face to face with the legend was stupendous in itself, but he looked frail, and I found myself asking why we were making this wonderful man put up with this parade. Madiba and his wife Graca were waiting inside. Yunus Bhai, Lamiya, Kamal Bhai and I made up the Bangladesh delegation. Three others from the international film crew, who were not allowed to film, also came in. The official photographer and cameraperson made another two, and of course the officials of the foundation joined.

Yunus meets Nelson MandelaNobel Peace Prize Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank meets Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, former president of South Africa and leader of the ANC, Nelson Mandela at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg. 10th July 2009. South Africa.?? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Shaking hands, posing for pictures, repeated shakes for the camera, one sided conversations continued. I had photographed royalty and heads of state before. This was typical of a ‘meet and greet’, but? though I felt uncomfortable, I also wanted to be selfish. I wanted to talk to him, to soak up his presence, even an urge to be photographed with him. But as a photographer I needed to snap out of my reverie. Yunus meeting Mandela was of huge significance to Bangladesh. A few functional shots, of the two meeting, shaking hands, a short video clip. I had ticked off my check list. Now I wanted the picture I had come for. Madiba as I had pictured him. The statesman, the leader, the rebel, the visionary.
There was only one part of the room where the light was just right. Yunus Bhai was in front of me. I could hardly move him out of the way, and there was no question of shifting Madiba. So I prefocused on Madiba, and waited for a gap to emerge. One frame, another, he slowly turned, looked at me and smiled!

Nelson Rolihlahla "Madiba" Mandela a former President of South Africa, the first to be elected in a fully representative democratic election, who held office from 1994?99. Before his presidency, Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist, and the leader of the African National Congress's armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe.Nelson Rolihlahla “Madiba” Mandela a former President of South Africa, the first to be elected in a fully representative democratic election, who held office from 1994?99. Before his presidency, Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist, and the leader of the African National Congress’s armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

We had made contact the way a photographer makes with a subject. We were doing this together. I remembered Sasa talking of how Madiba, in an official ceremony, had shortened his speech, so that he and the other photographers soaking in the rain, could go on home. More importantly I remember Zapiro talking of how Madiba had called him after his critical cartoon of the ‘slipping halo’. He was worried that he had offended the most powerful man in the country. Instead, the president had praised him for his work. As for the criticism? “But that’s your job”, he had replied. I had been pleasantly surprised to see the ‘offending’ cartoon, displayed in both the Mandela Foundation and at the exhibition in the Apartheid Museum. My mind was wandering, but the minders were waiting to usher me out. I took one longing look at my hero, and left.

slipping-halo-by-zapiroSt Rolihlahla. Cartoon of Nelson Mandela ? Jonathan Shapiro AKA Zapiro

The City Hall in Johannesburg was packed with glitterati. The vice president of South Africa, Professor Yunus, Achmat Dangor, the CEO and Professor Jakes Gerwel, the chairman of the foundation, were all on stage. I was uncomfortable sitting in the front row, knowing Winnie Mandela, the rest of the Mandela family, Oliver Tambo?s daughter, Graca Machel?s daughter, members of the cabinet, the Bangladeshi High Commissioner were all behind us.
I didn?t stay in my seat long. I needed to search out the best angles, find the right light. But this was one situation where I could not be disrespectful. Sello Hatang, the information and communication officer nodded to me, letting me know when Madiba was about to enter. Officially I was not allowed this space, but I could read the signals. They trusted me and were going to turn a blind eye. I would be allowed to go where I wanted.

Nelson Mandela with wife Gra?a MachelNobel Peace Laureate and Former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela with his wife Gra?a Machel at the stage during the 7th Annual Nelson Mandela Lecture by Professor Muhammad Yunus. Johannesburg. South Africa. 11th July 2009. ?? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

The crowd rose like a wave, as he entered, helped along by Graca Machel, but walking with just the help of a stick. He looked less frail, made more eye contact, had small conversations. The crowd was there to see him. The great man responded.
The haunting voice of Zolani Mkiva set the scene. Professor Yunus, ad-libbed his hour long lecture. The audience was spellbound. Gill Marcus, the deputy governor of the reserve bank, wept. It was a different Bangladesh that South Africa was seeing. As the crowd mingled at the end of the talk, I went looking for Sello. I had promised my students at Pathshala that I would ask for a message from Madiba for their first book. I knew it was too much of an ask. Winnie walking past, squeezed my arm and gave me a tiny pinch. She had enjoyed my capers as I had wandered down the aisles looking for the best angles.
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Winnie Madikizela-Mandela attending the 7th Annual Nelson Mandela Lecture at City Hall Johannesburg. 11th July 2009 South Africa ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

I had meant to take the morning flight to Durban to see Fatima Meer. Vinay Lal from UCLA and his friend Goolam Vahed, had given me the contact details. I had even rung to let her know that I would be coming over. The day had gone on captioning pictures, uploading files, informing clients. I had rung Maarten at World Press Photo, checking up on phone numbers for photo editor friends. “What was it like with Madiba?” he had asked. “The pictures came out well” I had said, “but it would have been sufficient for me, even if I hadn’t taken any pictures. Just being around him would have been enough.” “I thought so too” Maarten had said. “I know you as an activist”. I reluctantly rang the freedom fighter Fatima Meer to tell her I wouldn’t be able to make it. It was too late to call on her. The woman who had spent time in prison with Winnie, and along with her husband Ismail, had been one of the closest friends of Madiba, had other ideas. Quickly searching the Internet for the cheapest flight, and taking along the minimum equipment, I got into Wilson?s car. There was no time to charge batteries or empty cards. but it would be OK, I thought. After all, I’d only have a few minutes with her.
It took a while to find 148 Burnwood Road in Durban. As I went up the stairs to see this woman wrapped up in her easy chair I thought of the fiery activist, whom the apartheid government had tried to assassinate. I remembered the irony of Nelson Mandela, Fatima Meer and all other members of the ANC, having been listed as “terrorists” in the US, even until last July. The apartheid government, which had openly conducted so many targeted assassinations, had never been on that list.
?Have you eaten?? was her first question. I remembered I had entered an Asian home. A stroke had left her left side paralysed. “Lucky it was the left side,” she said. “I can still work.” She then got busy arranging for a place for me to sleep. The corner room was ready, towels, soap, fresh blankets, had all been put in place. I was happy I didn?t have to find a hotel that late at night. I was hesitant to ask if I could record what we were saying. I needn?t have worried. Gandhi, slavery, Mandela, the movement, her mind was a repository of South African history. When I heard that Mandela had stayed in this house upon leaving Robben Island, I had asked which room he had stayed in. Sensing my reasons, she said, Desmond Tutu, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, had all slept in the middle room. Calling over her night nurse, she quickly instructed. ?Fix that room for him. He is going to sleep there.? I was going to sleep on the bed that Mandela used to sleep in!
The bed in Fatima Meer's house where Mandela, Tutu, Sisulu and Tambo would take shelter in.
The bed in Fatima Meer’s house at 148 Burnwood Road, Durban, where Mandela, Tutu, Sisulu and Tambo would take shelter in. 15th July 2009. South Africa.?? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
She talked of the Koran that Dada Abdullah had given Gandhi when he sent him over to South Africa. Of the Sura from the Koran which he had read when thrown off the train. Of how it had inspired him to resist. She talked of the house being surrounded by fire, and they being shot at. About how her husband Ismail, even while in jail during the treason trial, had helped her in carrying on the resistance. Thinking she might be tiring, I suggested we have a break. ?Let?s get on with the recording? she said. We talked of the ‘bronze giant’ Mandela chatting her up and teasing her. But also of wanting the couple’s opinion about Winnie, before the new relationship had formed. She had loved the ‘black pimpernel’ in the 1960s. She loved him still.
She talked of establishing the Women?s League for Durban Districts, and rebuilding alliances between Africans and Indians following the race riots of 1949. She spoke bitterly of how the riots had been instigated by the whites, in retaliation for the Gandhi inspired resistance by the Indian community. But she had questions too about Gandhi, and Madiba, and the present government. Gandhi had been too British initially for her liking. Madiba’s handing over power to Mbeke, was a misjudgment. “He failed to build the second tier of leadership.” She spoke of the tyranny of the ANC, the party she had helped to build.
I soon ran out of memory cards. I did have my computer with me, so was able to download the movies to make space. Then I ran out of batteries. I had woefully miscalculated the vitality of this eighty-plus woman. I still needed portraits, so I would have to leave it till the morning, hoping the batteries recovered sufficiently for me to take a few shots. Fatima was more than willing. It was 3 in the morning. My flight was at 8:40. I woke up just before sunrise, and quickly packed. There was barely enough light to photograph the room and the bed. I needed to conserve battery for the portraits. Fatima knocked on my door. As I went over to her side and asked her if I could take the photographs,? she simply said ?Let me do my hair first?. The hair was done, the photographer was called. She had put on her sunglasses. I was happy to photograph her with her glasses, but also wanted pictures of the way I remembered her. The animated face recounting those wonderful tales. ?Will you smile for me?? I had asked. ?Well I haven?t put on my dentures,? she said, but smiled anyway. This woman had certainly won my heart.

Fatema Meer at her residence in Durban.ANC activist Fatema Meer at her residence in Durban. South Africa. 14th July 2009.?? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

There had been a call for each citizen of the world to provide 67 minutes to commemorate the 67 years of service that Mandela had given to South Africa and the world. ?This recording will be our 67 minutes. This story needed to be told,? were Fatima?s parting words.
As her trusted taxi driver, Babu dropped me to the airport, I remembered Fatima talking of how prison had robbed the nation of the best years of their greatest leader. I remembered Madiba, delicate and frail. This giant of a man would be leaving us at a time when we needed him the most. He had fought against white domination, and he had fought against black domination. He had a dream of a democratic and free society. A dream he had been prepared to die for.? It is for those of us who live on, to realise that dream. I now knew why Fatima had wanted the story to be told.
Happy Birthday Madiba. You built the road to freedom. We need the courage to walk it.
18th July 2009
Dhaka.

Changing their destiny

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Letter from Bangladesh


Intro to film: In Search of the Shade of the Banyan Tree ? Shahidul Alam/DrikAV
They all have numbers. Jeans tucked into their high-ankled sneakers. They strut through the airport lounge, moving en masse. We work our way up the corridors leading to the airplane, but many stop just before boarding. The cocky gait has gone. The sad faces look out longingly at the small figures silhouetted on the rooftops. They wave and they wave and they wave. The stewardess has seen it all before and rounds them up, herding them into the aircraft. One by one they disengage themselves, probably realizing for the first time just what they are leaving behind.

Abdul Malek and other migrant workers, waving goodbye to their family just before they board a plane bound for the Middle East, at Zia International airport, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Shahidul Alam
Abdul Malek and other migrant workers, waving goodbye to their family just before they board a plane bound for the Middle East, at Zia International airport, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Shahidul Alam

Inside the aircraft it is different. They look around at the metallic finish of the interior, try on the headphones and drink lemonade. They have seats together and whisper to each other about each new thing they see. Abdul Malek, sitting opposite me, is in his early twenties. He is from a small village not far from Goalondo. This is his second attempt. He was conned the first time round. This time his family has sold their remaining land as well as the small shop that they part-own. This time, he says, he is going to make it.
A migrant worker's family prays outside Zia International airport the night before he leaves. Dhaka, Bangladesh. 1995. Shahidul Alam
A migrant worker's family prays outside Zia International airport the night before he leaves. Dhaka, Bangladesh. 1995. Shahidul Alam

As in the case of the others, his had been no ordinary farewell. They had all come from the village to see him off. Last night, as they slept outside the exclusive passenger lounge, they had prayed together. Abdul Malek has few illusions. He realizes that on $110 a month, for 18 months, there is no way he can save enough to replace the money that his family has invested.
A woman bids farewell to her man, leaving for work in the middle east, from across the glass panels of Zia international Airport. Dhaka. Bangladesh. 1995. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
A woman bids farewell to her man, leaving for work in the middle east, from across the glass panels of Zia international Airport. Dhaka. Bangladesh. 1995. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

But he sees it differently. No-one from his village has ever been abroad. His sisters would get married. His mother would have her roof repaired, and he would be able to find work for others from the village. This trip is not for him alone. His whole family, even his whole village, are going to change their destiny.
Bangladeshi migrant workers works in front of the Petronas Tower. Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Bangladeshi migrant workers works in front of the Petronas Tower. Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

That single hope, to change one’s destiny, is what ties all migrants together ? whether they be the Bangladeshis who work in the forests of Malaysia, those like Abdul Malek, who work as unskilled labour in the Middle East, or those that go to the promised lands of the US. Not all of them are poor. Many are skilled and well educated. Still, the possibility of changing one’s destiny is the single driving force that pushes people into precarious journeys all across the globe. They see it not merely as a means for economic freedom, but also as a means for social mobility.
In the 25 years since independence the middle class in Bangladesh has prospered, and many of its members have climbed the social ladder. But except for a very few rags-to-riches stories, the poor have been well and truly entrenched in poverty. They see little hope of ever being able to claw their way out of it, except perhaps through the promise of distant lands.
Lokman Hossain works as a cleaner in Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. "There are Bangladeshi girls from well to do families who study here. We hear them talk to each other in Bangla, but when we try to talk to them, they pretend they don't know the language". Singapore. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Lokman Hossain works as a cleaner in Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. "There are Bangladeshi girls from well to do families who study here. We hear them talk to each other in Bangla, but when we try to talk to them, they pretend they don't know the language". Singapore. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

So it is that hundreds of workers mill around the Kuwait Embassy in Gulshan, the posh part of Dhaka where the wealthy Bangladeshis and the foreigners live. Kuwait has begun recruiting again after the hiatus caused by the Gulf War, and for the many Bangladeshis who left during the War, and those who have been waiting in the wings, the arduous struggle is beginning. False passports, employment agents, attempts to bribe immigration officials, the long uncertain wait.
Some wait outside the office of ‘Prince Musa’ in Banani. He is king of the agents. His secretary shows me the giant portraits taken with ‘coloured gels’, in an early Hollywood style. She carefully searches for the admiration in my eyes she has known to expect in others. She brings out the press cuttings: the glowing tributes paid by Forbes, the US magazine for and about the wealthy, the stories of his associations with the jet set. She talks of the culture of the man, his sense of style, his private jet, his place in the world of fashion.
Apart from the sensational eight-million-dollar donation to the British Labour Party in 1994 ? which Labour denies, but which the ‘Prince’ insists was accepted ? there are other stories. Some of these I can verify, like the rosewater used for his bath, and the diamond pendants on his shoes (reportedly worth three million dollars). Others, like his friendship with the Sultan of Brunei, the Saudi Royals and leading Western politicians, are attested to by photographs in family albums.
The diamonds on the shoes of 'prince' Moosa Bin Shamsher is said to be worth three million dollars. Dhaka. Bangladesh. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
The diamonds on the shoes of 'prince' Moosa Bin Shamsher is said to be worth three million dollars. Dhaka. Bangladesh. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

He was once a young man from a small town in Faridpur, not too distant from Abdul Malek’s home or economic position, who made good. Whether the wealth of the ‘Prince’ derives mainly from commissions paid by thousands of Maleks all over Bangladesh or whether, as many assume, it is from lucrative arms deals, the incongruity of it all remains: the fabulously wealthy are earning from the poorest of the poor.
Whereas the ‘Prince’ has emigrated to the city and saves most of his money abroad, Malek and his friends save every penny and send it to the local bank in their village. Malek is different from the many Bengalis who emigrated to the West after World War Two, when immigration was easier and naturalization laws allowed people to settle. Malek, like his friends, has no illusions about ‘settling’ overseas. He knows only too well his status amongst those who know him only as cheap labour. Bangladesh is clearly, irrevocably, his home. He merely wants a better life for himself than the Bangladeshi princes have reserved for him.
First published in the New Internationalist Magazine
Photo feature on migration