‘REPEAT a lie often enough and it becomes the truth’, is a law of propaganda often attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels. The Bangladesh government seems to have studied Goebbels’ book well. The lies generally come in the form of denials. ‘No, we have not been involved in “crossfire” and “disappearances”.’ ‘There is no political motive.’ ‘No one will be spared.’ ‘The elections were fair.’ ‘The judiciary is independent,’ the list goes on. The lies are repeated ad nauseam in political rallies, in talk shows, in press briefings and through social media trolls.
‘We do not condone any such incident and will bring the responsible officials to justice’ said the foreign minister Dipu Moni at the Universal Periodic Review of Bangladesh at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on February 4, 2009 in response to accusations that the government was involved in ‘crossfire,’ a Bangladeshi euphemism for extra-judicial killings. She added that the government would show ‘zero tolerance’ to extra-judicial killings, or torture and death in custody. Indeed, doing so was part of the election campaign for the Bangladesh Awami League when they were in the opposition. As often happens however, once elected, their position changed, and ‘crossfire’ has become so integral to the Bangladeshi lingo that MPs now use the term in parliament, ‘You are allowing crossfire as part of a fight against drugs. Then why aren’t you doing the same in case of rape?’ Continue reading “The journalist who got too close”
And yet she smiles. Gang raped numerous times as a child. Forced into pick pocketing. Caned till she was unconscious. Sold to a madame. Hajera Begum’s life has little that would give cause to smile. Yet she smiles. She cries too. Not because of the gang rapes, or the beating, or the many years she lives in the streets as a rag picker, but when she remembers that a man who worked in an NGO, refused to work in her team because she was a sex worker.
It was that moment that Hajera decided she would make sure it was different for others like her. She had earlier set up a self-help group for sex workers, but eventually, with the help of some university students and other friends and a generous journalist, set up an orphanage for abandoned kids. They are mostly children of sex workers. Some are children of drug addicts. A few are children of parents who simply couldn’t afford to keep them. Hajera and her thirty children live in five small rooms near Adabor Market 16, on the edge of Dhaka. Run entirely by volunteers, she has only one paid staff, the cook. “What will I do with a salary” she says. We share what food we have. I have a roof over my head and I have my children.
Remarkably, Hajera is not bitter. While she remembers every detail of her nightmarish life, she also remembers the friends who believed in her, and helped her set up the orphanage. Instead of remembering that she is incapable of bearing children because of brutal unwanted sex, she basks in the warmth of the 30 children who now call her mother.
By Marlene Zuk Images forwarded by Manzoor
“People are more afraid of insects than they are of dying, at least if you believe a 1973 survey published in The Book of Lists. Only public speaking and heights exceeded the six-legged as sources of fear … And yet for centuries, some of the greatest minds in science have drawn inspiration from studying some of the smallest minds on earth. From Jean Henri Fabre to Charles Darwin to E.O. Wilson, naturalists have been fascinated by the lives of six-legged creatures that seem both frighteningly alien and uncannily familiar. Beetles and earwigs take care of their young, fireflies and crickets flash and chirp for mates, and ants construct elaborate societies, with internal politics that put the U.S. Congress to shame. …
Over the years, CNN.com has become a news website that many people turn to for top-notch reporting. Every day it is visited by millions of people, all of whom rely on “The Worldwide Leader in News”—that’s our slogan—for the most crucial, up-to-date information on current events. So, you may ask, why was this morning’s top story, a spot usually given to the most important foreign or domestic news of the day, headlined “Miley Cyrus Did What???” and accompanied by the subhead “Twerks, stuns at VMAs”? Continue reading “Why Miley Cyrus is news”
PARIS ? FOR a period of my life, from my 27th to my 39th years, I slept alone: I had no sex. I wasn?t unhappy. Or frustrated. In fact, I found no sex preferable to disappointing sex.
Just before giving up, I had a boyfriend. He often said that we were happy sexually, but frankly he was blind to my unhappiness. So that winter, I went skiing without him.
Alone in all that sun and snow, absorbing energy from the sky and mountains, I let my body breathe quietly. The freedom and whiteness of the snow and mountains produced a kind of ecstasy. And the special pleasure I found skiing in this paradise made me think about the possibilities of my body, my sensuality. And I asked myself, ?Sophie, is your sexual life so very stimulating, actually?? And my answer was, ?No.? I realized that even when I took pleasure, I was not ecstatic with my sexual life. In fact, I seemed to be going through the motions of lovemaking because, I thought, that?s what everybody did. I decided to take a break, to recover a true desire. Continue reading “Life Without Sex”
In that strange coastal town-city where it rains every morning, I partake of pain as if it is prayer. Married to a violent man who treats me with nothing but distrust and suspicion, my skin has seen enough hurt to tell its own story.
In the early days, his words win me back: I don?t have anything if I don?t have you. In this honeymoon period, every quarrel follows a predictable pattern: we make up, we make love, we move on. It becomes a bargain, a barter system. For the sake of survival, I surrender my space. Continue reading “I Singe The Body Electric”
‘Geometric Landscapes and the Spectacle of Force’, Seher Shah.
Seher Shah / Courtesy of artist and Bose Pacia, New York
?Why have there been no great women artists?? asked American art historian Linda Nochlin in a landmark 1971 essay.
Four decades later, her question still stands: while a handful of Western female painters, sculptors, and performance artists?Frida Kahlo, Louise Bourgeois, Marina Abramovic?have achieved the same level of fame as their male counterparts, the West?s elite art world continues to be dominated by male artists, curators, dealers, and collectors.
Look elsewhere around the globe, however, and women are thriving in some of the most dynamic up-and-coming art scenes. They?re even achieving widespread success in a country not exactly known for women?s rights: Pakistan. Female artists from the developing Muslim nation have been recently feted in exhibits like last year?s Hanging Fire at New York?s Asia Society and the Fukuoka Asian Art Triennial in Japan.
Women also hold prime positions of influence in Pakistan?s art system, running prestigious galleries such as Karachi?s Canvas and Poppy Seed, and heading key art institutes such as the School of Visual Arts at Beaconhouse National University in Lahore (under the direction of Salima Hashmi), and Lahore?s National College of Arts, which is overseen by Naazish Ataullah.
One reason for the unusually high ratio of female artists in Pakistan has to do with the fact that the art industry has not traditionally been viewed as a lucrative business by men, says South Asian art historian Savita Apte, who administers the internationally renowned Abraaj Capital Art Prize. Until very recently, creatively inclined males tended to focus on fields such as advertising or illustration, leaving the art field wide open for some very talented women.
And these women have been taking the art world by storm: for last year?s inaugural Jameel Prize, an award given to Islamic artists at London?s Victoria and Albert Museum, both finalists from Pakistan?Hamra Abbas and Seher Shah?were female. (The winner, Afruz Amighi, is an Iranian woman.) And at the Hong Kong International Art Fair this year, Pakistani painter Shahzia Sikander won the SCMP/Art Futures award.
Female Pakistani artists may also be drawing international buzz because of the way they defy gender stereotypes about their country. ?Because of the perception in the Western press, which often portrays [Muslim] women as covered, when the world looks at Pakistan, they want to go into the minds of women,? says Amna Naqvi, a former investment banker, founder of Karachi?s Gandhara-Art gallery, and an important collector whose work has been lent to museums around the world.
One of Naqvi?s favorite artists is Aisha Khalid, a painter in her 30s who is married to the prominent artist Imran Qureshi?although Khalid is considered to be the bigger name. Khalid?s Birth of Venus paintings depict fully veiled figures against a backdrop of Islamic symbols. Another work combines grandmotherly embroidery with pointed sexual commentary, such as sewing pins stuck through a coat, with sharp needles exposed on the inside.
Even for artists whose work does not deal with overtly feminine symbols, the link between their creative drive and their place in Pakistani culture is evident. Sikander, who was awarded a MacArthur ?genius? grant in 2006, says: ?Women in Pakistan in general wield a lot more power than what is perceived from abroad. In Pakistani society, women are less coddled, which makes them much more resilient, resourceful, and original.?
For Sikander, her art is a means for her to ?question the social and political values of [my] time.? This places her with-in an emerging tradition of trailblazing international female artists, alongside Japanese sculptor and painter Yayoi Kusama, photographer Miwa Yanagi, video artist Tabaimo, and Iranian photographer Shirin Neshat. As artists from developing countries explode into the global art scene, these women will be leading the way.
I cannot say when I grew up but I think as you grow older you change in such a way that…it
influences you. Growing older influences you.
? A 22-year-old polytechnic student
Girls from better-off homes are like broiler chicken (farm-er murgi).
? A 19-year-old college student, photographer
How it all began
At times curious, ?I don?t know which end the baby comes from, please include that in the book.? At times plaintive, ?All these grandmotherly types in the village said, if a boy so much as touches you, you?ll become pregnant. I was terrified, I kept shrinking and slinking away for years and years…? On occasions stroppy, ?And yes, you must include a section on pills,? ?And there must be a discussion on why wives are not to blame if a girl child is born,? ?Also, when a wife is pregnant and starts feeling less y?know, but her husband keeps insisting, can you please have a discussion on how long they can do it, without the baby being harmed?? On others giggly, ?And yes, tell those boys that not all girls are to be looked at as (future) wives, but as sisters.?
The idea of putting together a resource book for girls and young women on adolescence grew out of listening in to the whispered conversations of the Out of Focus girls when they stayed with us overnight, some of them for weeks, sometimes more than a month or two, to prepare for their coming matriculate exams. It was the name that a young group of boys and girls of low-income families, who Shahidul trained in photography for many years, had chosen for themselves. And then there was Nahar, who grew up piggybacking on Shahidul, whose mother worked as a peon in the office facing our flat. And also, my experience as a university teacher at Jahangirnagar, where women students, sometimes from other departments as well, would seek me out for advice.
The idea took material shape much later when RIB (Research Initiatives Bangladesh) agreed to fund the initiative of writing a resource-book, a book that would include both information which girls had sought but were denied (?My bhabi said, you will find out when it happens?), or didn?t know who to ask, how to ask (?I was curious but afraid of asking my elder sister, she?d have thought I was a bad girl?), and also, their own life-experiences of growing-up. Books for adolescent boys and girls, increasingly made available by NGOs, are generally authored in a seamlessly whole adult voice, one that ?talks down? to adolescents. Adolescence is viewed as transitional, a stage of life, as a problem requiring solutions, rather than a period marked by ?specific psychosexual development? (Walkowitz, 1980). Gender dynamics, processes of thinking and feeling, informal power, and cultural conceptions of the self are ignored. The need for a nuanced appreciation of material realities, of subjective fears, dreams and aspirations is generally absent. Instead, one sees an over-reliance on the need for disseminating medical, scientific knowledge, totally oblivious to more recent feminist critiques that call for the need ?to reintegrate the whole person from the jigsaw of parts created by modern scientific medicine? (Koeske, 1983).
The manuscript was co-authored. Rima, Shetu, Shopna, Moly, Brishti and Doly from Out of Focus, and Nahar, were joined by other girls from the social margins, Epy, Khincchin, Nomita, Lokkhi, Pensila, Maria, Runu, Shebika and Anju, a total of sixteen writers who were assisted by three women anthropologists, Shah Afroditi Panna, Rajina Sultana and myself. The work is now in its final stages.
Tales of growing-up: contributing to family incomes
Girls from social and economic margins contribute to family incomes rather than being dependent, as is the norm in middle-class families. Lokkhi, 21, whose father had retired from the lowest rungs of government service, who had a brother who ?didn?t count, he doesn?t look after us,? provides for her family?s food expenses by tutoring several schoolchildren, and doing appliqu? embroidery on saris. Brishti?s, 19, father died when she was young, her only sibling is an elder sister, a garments factory worker. ?After my sister got married, I began supporting my mother and myself, I was on ETV?s Mukto Khobor but the neighbours were suspicious, `She must be up to some tricks,? they said. Both Lokkhi and Pensila studied at the Open University-run schools, in addition to earning incomes.
Pensila came to Dhaka to work as a domestic help, leaving behind her parents and three siblings, a family of marginal farmers in Chapainawabganj. Her father?s sudden death caused her to leave Dhaka, and we lost contact with our youngest co-author, who was only 14. Shebika, 20, and Epy, 17, two Chakma sisters from Khagrachari, had recently come to Dhaka to join their older, married sister who works in a garments factory. Shebika entered factory work, while Epy took charge of running her sister?s household. The family had lost their home, land and livelihood due to military atrocities, and had been forced to flee to refugee camp life in Tripura, India for ten years. They returned to Bangladesh in the mid-1990s, but impoverishment had already set in. Another co-author was Nomita, a petite sixteen-year old, whose father works as a school guard. Unsuccessful in her Matric exams, Nomita was dolefully considering taking them again, as she sewed chumki on shalwar-kameez-orna sets, piecework that contributed a steady trickle to her family income.
Most of our co-authors described childhood as a time when they ran around freely, played with boys, and had not a single care in the world.
Tales of growing-up: attraction, love and desire
I quizzed Pensila. ?Yes,? she said, ?I would talk with the other girls.? About? Well, marriage. And? You have to leave your parents. And? Well, the husband… And? I feel shy. Go on, I urged her. You have to sleep beside your husband, she burst out and blushed. Both of us giggled uncontrollably.
Another co-author had said, when I was at home, in the village, I would enjoy it when my boudis (sisters-in-law) would sit and ?talk dirty?. Rabeya spoke of her own awakenings when she and close friends would sit and pore over a love letter, sent to any one of them, re-reading it for the umpteenth time. Nomita recollected how, soon after her periods began, her cousins? wives would tease her mercilessly, ?Now we can marry you off. We will make you jealous. We will keep your husband for a night.? One of us had asked Lokkhi, what is sexual desire? Do women feel it too? She replied thoughtfully, ?It is not something that one gives but something that one shares, like say, a husband and his wife, between the two of them.?
Another of our co-authors told us, ?When my sister doesn?t give in to her husband, and they quarrel, my other sister cautions her, ?If you don?t, men are likely to heat up and suffer from a stroke.?? Dhaka Community Hospital was a partner in the writing project, the medical staff ? from doctors to nurses to paramedics ? gave generously their time and attention to write answers to a long list of questions drawn up by our co-authors (?we want to know what the doctors think, what science says,? was a common refrain of many of our co-authors). We related this incident to Dr Quazi Quamruzzaman, its chairman, and an old friend of mine. We sought his medical opinion. Flabbergasted but quick to regain his composure, Zaman bhai tersely replied, ?Tell them to bang him on his head.?
Tales of growing-up: parents as sexual
The older co-authors spoke of how mothers often relate to them, their own experiences. Parents have to sacrifice their own needs and desires because the children have grown up, one of them said. ?We lived in a single room, even that is one thousand to twelve hundred taka rent. Dhaka city is so expensive.? Another spoke of her family?s circumstances, ?My sister?s husband died when she was in her early 20s, she returned to live with us. My mother decided, from now on, we will sleep separately. But my father wanted to sleep beside her, he wanted to touch her, to feel her beside him.?
?We had moved to a new home, a large-ish room,? related one of them, ?sixteen hundred taka rent. My elder brother got married, they slept on the newly-partitioned side, while us four siblings slept on the bed. My parents slept on beds made on the floor. There was a daughter-in-law in the house now. My mother became very careful, she wouldn?t let him. But now that my father has passed away, she feels sad. She says, he must have been hurt.?
Rabeya beautifully summed up one of our intense night-long discussions, ?The problem is not theirs. It is ours. They were unable to tell us that they too, had wanted. And, of course, we never tried to see things from their perspective.?