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February 26 2014

February 24 2014

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February 09 2014

An Info-Activism Tool-Kit on Women's Rights Campaigning

Tacticaal Tech's Info-activism Toolkit on Women's Rights Campaigning

Tactical Tech's Info-activism Toolkit on Women's Rights Campaigning

The Women's Rights Campaigning: Info-Activism Toolkit by Tactical Technology Collective is a new guide for women's rights activists, advocates, NGOs and community based organizations who want to use technology tools and practices in their campaigning. This has been developed in collaboration with advocacy organizations from Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Kenya and Egypt.

This Toolkit has been customized from an updated version of two earlier toolkits: Message in a Box and Mobiles in a Box. The website will soon be translated into Arabic, Swahili, Bengali, and Hindi.

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

February 07 2014

Anniversary of The Shahbag Movement

February 5th marks the one year of the Shahbag Movement in Bangladesh. A three day long event (5-7 of February) was celebrated in the country and abroad to mark this movement. Images and information of the celebration can be found in the Gonojagoron Moncho Facebook page.

February 02 2014

Hollywood-Style Bank Heist in Bangladesh Ends in Arrest

Rapid Action Battalion personnel produce the mastermind of Kishoreganj Sonali Bank heist, Sohel (In red-white shirt) and his assistant along with recovered 165 million taka before the press at the elite force's headquarters in Dhaka. Image by Reza Sumon. Copyright Demotix (28/1/2014)

Rapid Action Battalion personnel pose with the mastermind of the Kishoreganj Sonali bank heist, Sohel (in red-white shirt), and his assistant along with the recovered 165 million taka before the press at the elite force's headquarters in Dhaka. Image by Reza Sumon. Copyright Demotix (28/1/2014)

The mastermind behind the biggest bank robbery in Bangladesh history has been arrested. 

“Sohel” along with accomplice “Idris” pulled off a Hollywood-style bank heist of 169 million Bangladeshi taka (about 2.2 million US dollars) from Sonali Bank [bn] in Kishoreganj, 130 kilometers north of the capital Dhaka, by digging an underground tunnel 30 feet long to reach the bank's vault. 

The feat was short-lived and they were nabbed by police two days later with most of the loot. Sohel confessed to the daring plot, admitting that he had planned [bn] the heist two years ago. Accordingly, he rented a house next to the bank and started digging the three-foot-wide tunnel. After a year and a half, he said could reach the bank's vault. He did all the digging during business hours in broad daylight when there was a lot of noise on the street, so people didn't suspect anything. Sohel even managed to start an affair [bn] with a bank employee to gather information for the theft.

Netizens have been widely discussing the robbery on social media. Many have pointed out this crime's resemblance to Hollywood blockbusters like “Sherlock Holmes”, “The Bank Job”, “Shashank Redemption” and “The Lady Killers” and Bollywood movies like “Dhoom 3″.

A reader commented on the popular Bangla daily Prothom Alo's report:

শারলক হোমস এর একটা গল্পে এমন ছিল। বাড়ী থেকে সুড়ঙ্গ কেটে ব্যাংক লুটের ঘটনা! এই দুঃসাহসিক চুরির ঘটনায় পেশাদার চোর ডাকাতেরাও হতবাক হয়েছেন সম্ভবত! তবে আজব বিষয় হচ্ছে ব্যাংকে টেবিলের ওপর অত টাকা পড়ে থাকে তা জানতাম না। ওই শাখায় কি ভল্ট নেই?

There was a similar story in a Sherlock Homes movie where a tunnel was dug from a nearby home. Perhaps even professional thieves have been astounded by Sohel's feat. I was surprised to learn that so much money was kept open in the bank. Is there no secured drawer in the vault in that branch?

Shihab Shahin commented in the same report:

‘দা ব্যাংক জব’ চলচ্চিত্রের ছায়া অবলম্বনে নির্মিত!

This heist is planned according “The Bank Job” movie.

Mumin Hemin commented on online portal BDNews24.com's report that the thief should have taken a cue from the film “The Italian Job”:

বেশ ধৈর্য নিয়ে মানুষটা কাজটা শেষ করেছে। মাথা অনেক ঠান্ডা এটা বোঝাই যাচ্ছে। এত টাকা এত সহজে দেখার পরেও মাথা ঘুরে পড়ে যাননি, বরং এশার নামাজ (!!) আদায় করে বেশ পাক-পবিত্র (!!) হয়ে এসে টাকাগুলো হাত করেছেন। বাহ, উনাকে মাথা ঠান্ডার জন্য শশ্যাঙ্ক রিডেন্মপশন মুভির সেকেন্ড পার্টে নেয়া যেতে পারে। তবে উনার দ্যা ইটালিয়ান জবটা আর কয়েকবার দেখা উচিৎ ছিল। টাকা চুরিই বড় কথা না, সামলে রাখাটাও অনেক কিছু :D

He completed the job with patience. His head is cool, that is evident. He did not panic seeing a lot of money. He went home, prayed his Isha prayers (!!) and then secured the loot solemnly. With that coolness, he could be an actor in the sequel to “Shashank Redemption“. But he should have watched “The Italian Job” a few times. The heist isn't everything, you have to keep that money. :D

On Facebook, Shahriar Tanvir called this robbery a copycat of “The Lady Killers”:

যারা ”লেডি কিলারস” দেখেননিঃ

সোনালী ব্যাংক ডাকাতির মত একেবারে হুবহু ঘটনা, মাটিতে লম্বা সুড়ঙ্গ খুঁড়ে ডাকাতি। একদম সেইম টু সেইম। যাক, আর স্পয়লার এলার্ট দিলাম নাহ : )

For hose who did not watch “The Lady Killers“:

That movie has a similar story, digging a long tunnel to rob a bank. This is just like the movie. No more spoiler alerts :)

Sohel has become a hero for many and his fate has saddened them. Journalist Provash Amin wrote on Facebook:

‘অপারেশন সোনালী ব্যাংক কিশোরগঞ্জ’ সিনেমার নায়ক হাবিব ওরফে সোহেলকে অসহায়ভাবে rab এর হাতে বন্দী হতে দেখে খুব খারাপ লাগছে। তার মত একজন ক্রিয়েটিভ, প্রতিভাবান, ধৈর্য্যশীল মানুষকে আরো বড় কাজে লাগানো উচিত।

So sad to see Habib alias Sohel, the hero of the “operation Sonali Bank Kishoreganj” movie, being arrested by Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). Such a creative, talented and patient human being should be employed for a good cause.

Science-fiction writer Shezan Mahmud also expressed his sympathy for Sohel:

সোনালী ব্যাংক ডাকাতি এবং ১৬ কোটি টাকাসহ ধরা পরা সোহেল রানা আর সহযোগীর জন্যে আমার মায়াই হচ্ছে। বেচারারা দুই বছর ধরে সুড়ঙ্গ কেটে তারপর টাকা চুরি (ডাকাতি বলবো না) করে উপভোগ করার আগেই ধরা পড়লো (একেই বলে অর্জনের চেয়ে রক্ষা করা কঠিন); অথচ ওরা যদি জানতো তার'চে নষ্ট রাজনীতিবিদ, ঘুষখোর আমলা, নষ্ট ব্যবসায়ী হলে বছরে ১৬ শ কোটি টাকা মারলেও কেউ তাদের ধরতে পারতো না। যাই হোক, দেশে কোন ক্ষেত্রে অধ্যবসায় এর দাম নেই। নিদেন পক্ষে এই অধ্যবসায় এর জন্যে ওদের সাধুবাদ জানাই!

I feel sorry for Sohel and his assistant because they were finally caught with all that money. He dug the tunnel for two years to steal (I won't say rob) the money, but he was caught before enjoying the loot (it is harder to keep than to earn). If only they could learn how corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and unethical businessmen loot more than that and know how to hang on to it. There is no respect for perseverance in this country. We acknowledge Sohel's perseverance at least.

On Facebook, Zico suggested that the thieves’ talents should be employed to complete the design for road construction in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh:

সুড়ঙ্গ বানাইয়া ১৬ কোটি টাকা যে নিসে তারে গ্রেফতার কইরা জেলে রাখার দরকার নাই। ঢাকা শহরের রোডম্যাপ ঠিক করার কাজে তারে দেওয়া হউক। সে একাই কয়েকটা আন্ডারপাস বানায় দিবে।

The guy who could steal 169 million should not be kept behind bars. He should be employed to work on the road map of Dhaka. He could build a number of [much needed] underpasses in the city.

Kazi Prottoy and Apala Sengupta contributed to this post

January 31 2014

Teaching of “Religion and Morality” In Bangladesh Schools

Blogger Bhaskar comments in Mukto Mona Blog about the newly introduced subject ‘religion and morality’ in school curricula of Bangladesh:

In Bangladesh, teaching of ‘religion and morality’ in secular schools, we are talking about, is an extension of Maktab, Madrasa [Muslim religious schools] and dictatorial position held by Ulema in Bangladeshi Muslim society.

January 29 2014

3 Out of The Top 10 Most Inspirational Bangladeshis are Tech-Centric

While commenting on the a list of 10 most inspirational Bangladeshis around the world published by the London-based organization ‘British-Bangladeshi Power and Inspiration’, blogger Aminul Islam Sajib points out that 3 of them had significant contribution in technology field.

January 26 2014

Bangladesh Gets Its First LGBT Magazine, ‘Roopbaan’

A group of volunteers have launched Bangladesh's first magazine aimed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues hoping to promote greater acceptance of the community, who face widespread discrimination in the the Muslim-majority country.

The 56-page magazine is named after the Bengali folk character Roopbaan, who symbolizes the power of love. The quarterly magazine, whose publishers wish to remain anonymous, will not be available on street newsstands, for fear of inflaming tensions and sparking a backlash against the gay community.

Cover of  Roopbaan, Bangladesh's first LGBT magazine.

Cover of Roopbaan, Bangladesh's first LGBT magazine. Used with permission.

Many online users have welcomed the launch, though some have received adverse reaction to their positive comments. Nowmee Shehab commented on the newspaper The Daily Star's Facebook page:

wow feeling so proud and such a sense of community through this. I am very encouraged by the brave people who put the magazine together. For those who are making religious comments- leave the judgement to God, because God is all about love and acceptance towards people who are different from you. Hopefully we can move towards a secular world where all religions are accepted and no one religion is privileged over another.

Diaspora Bangladeshi Twitter user Traveller 23 (@Traveller_23) was happy to see that the magazine's arrival has picked up media coverage:

Robert W. Gibson, the British High Commissioner to Bangladesh (@HCRobertGibson), was present at the launch. He was pleased to support this initiative:

Feminist writer Taslima Nasrin (@taslimanasreen) congratulated the initiative:

Emas Jubaer added:

Great, news! Finally Bangladesh is prospering. I had to leave Bangladesh for being gay, now I feel like going back and do[ing] something there. People who are arguing on this topic have no idea what is being a GAY like. They even don't know what is the word GAY means.

Philosopher and activist Rainer Ebert sent a video celebrating the launch of Roopbaan:

Bangladesh is the country with the second largest Muslim population, and homosexuality is considered to be a sin. The colonial era British anti-sodomy law punishes gay sex with fines and ten years to life in jail. Abdullah Al Galib criticized this publication:

homosexuality is a mental disease which one creates within himself. in the name of freedom they are destroying our society. well am not recognizing them for sure.

More information on the magazine can be found on its Facebook page.

January 21 2014

How Cartoon Character ‘Meena’ Changed South Asian Attitudes Towards Girls

Screenshot from the cover of Meena Comic Book. Courtesy Unicef

Screenshot from the cover of a Meena comic book. Image courtesy UNICEF

Only two decades ago, the status of many women in some South Asian countries was low. Many girls in rural areas were not allowed to study. Girls were inevitably married off as soon as they grew up, so what good was studying? Boys would get the best of the households’ food, the girls the leftovers.

But this discriminatory mindset has changed tremendously, in part thanks to a cartoon character.

The fictional character Meena stars in the South Asian children's television show of the same name. Promoted by UNICEF, Meena and her TV show is very popular in the region. UNICEF developed the Meena Communication Initiative (MCI) as a mass communication project aimed at changing perceptions and behavior that hamper the survival, protection and development of girls in South Asia.

Bangladesh was the first country to meet Meena when a film about her struggle to go to school aired on Bangladesh national television (BTV) in 1993. The secondary characters of her stories include Meena's brother Raju and her pet parrot Mithu.

Meet Meena. Image courtesy Wikimedia

Meet Meena. Image from Wikimedia

According to an old report of UNICEF:

Since her inception 14 years ago she has shown millions of women and girls what can be achieved. She has delivered messages on issues as far reaching as solving the problem of bullying through to challenging the stigma of HIV/AIDS through to girls’ right to play sport. The Meena stories are highly entertaining and fun, but also reflect, at their core, the realities of girls’ lives in South Asia.

Meena has spread messages to stop child marriage and the practice of dowry and promote healthy toilet use, sending girls to school, equality between boys and girls and the right to education for the domestic workers. Her shows highlights the potential contributions to society that girls can make if provided an equal playing field.

How can a message spread by a small cartoon girl be so empowering that it has helped change the society radically? Housewife Naznin Rahman told the Daily Prothom Alo [bn]:

আমার মা জোহরা বেগম তাঁর দুই ছেলের বিয়েতে যৌতুক নিয়েছেন। তখনো টিভিতে মীনা দেখাতে শুরু করেনি। তারপর যেই তিনি মীনা দেখতে শুরু করলেন, তাঁর চরিত্রে মেয়েদের প্রতি আলাদাভাবে একটা সহানুভূতি কাজ করতে লাগল। তারপর যখন তাঁর ছোট ছেলের বিয়ে দিলেন, তখনই আমরা বুঝতে পারলাম তিনি মীনার দ্বারা কতটা প্রভাবিত। আম্মা আমার ছোট ভাইয়ের বিয়েতে যৌতুক নেননি।

My mom Zohra Begum has taken dowry for her two elder sons. In those days, Meena was not aired. Since she started watching Meena, she had developed a special sympathy for girls in particular. When she had her younger son married, we realized how she was affected by Meena. She did not take any dowry for my younger brother.

Shuvo Ankur wrote on the BDNews24.com's kids page about the positive changes Meena has provoked:

প্রচার হবার পর থেকেই মীনা পেয়ে যায় দারুন জনপ্রিয়তা। এবং এর ফলে আসতে থাকে বেশ কিছু পরিবর্তন। আগে গ্রামাঞ্চলে মেয়ে শিশুদেরকে স্কুলে যেতে না দিয়ে বাড়ির কাজ করানো হতো। মীনা কার্টুন প্রচার হবার পর থেকে আস্তে আস্তে ঘটতে থাকে পরিবর্তন। কারণ মীনা কার্টুনেও দেখানো হয়েছে যে তাকে স্কুলে যেতে দেয়া হতো না। কিন্তু কিছু ঘটনার পরে তাকে স্কুলে যেতে দেয়া হয়। এবং মীনা বিভিন্ন বুদ্ধিমত্তার পরিচয় রাখতে থাকে। সে লেখাপড়া শিখে তার বাবাকে ঠকে যাবার হাত থেকে রক্ষা করে। আবার বাড়ির গরু চুরি ঠেকায়। এমনি সব কাজের জন্য মীনা হয়ে যায় সবার জনপ্রিয় এবং সার্কভুক্ত দেশগুলোতে মেয়ে শিশুদেরকে অবহেলাও কমে যেতে থাকে।

Meena achieved popularity from the start. The changes were visible soon after. Earlier, in rural areas girl students dropped out of school and ended up working as a housemaid. But the situation changed after Meena's show began airing. On screen, Meena was also not allowed to go to school first. But she changed her lot and got permission to go to school. Meena's wit and intelligence allowed her to learn to count and other essential knowledge to save her father from the deception from other people. She saved their cows from a thief. Her intelligence became popular, and the negligence of girls in South Asian countries slowly started disappearing.

Sohanur Rahman [bn] wrote on Kishorebarta that there is a lot to learn from the cartoon show:

[...] মীনার কাছ থেকে আমরা অনেক কিছুই শিখেছি। সেই ৯০ দশক থেকে আজকের দিন প্রযন্ত প্রায় ১৭ বছর ধরে মীনা আমাদের সমাজের প্রতিটি মানুষের মনের মনিকোঠায় একটি উজ্জ্বল চরিত্র হিসেবে স্থান দখল করে নিয়েছে।

We have learnt a lot from Meena. From the '90s till today, Meena has become a star and a special character in our society.

Meena is also broadcast on radio. Farzana Islam Tithi, 24, who voices Meena, told The Daily Star:

Everyone loved Meena from their childhood and everyone, regardless of age, watched the cartoon eagerly. I also used to watch it. May be Meena’s accent struck to my mind since then and I believe that feeling helped me in my voice over for Meena.

Twitter user Bengalithings deemed Meena a role model:

The UNICEF Bangladesh Twitter account (@UNICEFBD) reminded that:

Every year on 24th October “Meena Day” is observed in Bangladesh to promote social awareness on 100% enrollment of kids in school, avoid dropouts and ensure proper education.

According to reports [bn], Meena has also become popular outside of the South Asian region. It has been dubbed in more than 30 languages such as Arabic, Burmese and Chinese. You can download free Meena comic books from here.

January 17 2014

Preserving The Hidden History Of Old Dhaka

Writer and blogger Jenny Gustafsson highlights the works of The Urban Study Group, a non-profit voluntary organization, which is campaigning for the conservation of the rich architectural /urban heritage of old Dhaka.

January 16 2014

Unethical Practices In A Bangladeshi Private Hospital

Emma Clare Burton-Chowdhoury, an Englishwoman (married to a Bangladeshi) living in Dhaka, Bangladesh, blogs about her experience in giving birth to a daughter in a Bangladeshi private hospital:

The pediatric team at Apollo welcomed the premature delivery of our daughter with open arms as conveniently her special care boosted our hospital bill.

January 12 2014

37 Million Students Start New Year with Free Textbooks in Bangladesh

A Student rises up a textbook during the

A student lifts up a textbook during the “Textbook Festival Day” program organized bythe  Education Ministry in the capital's Government Laboratory School. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (2/1/2014)

More than 37 million school students in Bangladesh have received nearly 300 million free school books from the government as part of “Textbook Festival Day” on January 2, 2014, setting a new world record in free textbook distribution, according to Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid.

One of the aims of the annual textbook festival, which has been held since 2011, is to combat illiteracy in the country. According to UNESCO, about 80 percent of youth are literate in Bangladesh. 

In the past few years, the country has made tremendous progress [bn] in its education sector. Bangladesh has achieved almost 100 percent enrollment of eligible children in primary schools, male-female student parity, and ensuring free textbook for all. In 1991, the rate of enrollment was only 61 percent. In 2011, the rate rose to 98.2 percent and in 2012 to 99.47 percent. The rate of female enrollment in primary schools increased from 32 percent to 51 percent and in higher secondary from 18 percent to 54 percent of total students.

In 2014 school year the total books distributed were 299,675,938 among 37,336,672 students of primary, Ebtedayee, Higher secondary School, Dakhil and vocational school systems. The new textbooks can also be downloaded for free or read online from the government's e-book website and the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) site.

Blogger and educator Masum Billah noted on the site Articles on Education of Bangladesh another benefit of free textbooks:

Free book distribution for all the primary students emerges as a great contributing factor to reducing drop out.

Different media published photos of students’ happy faces as they received their textbooks.

Film producer Rowshan Ara Nipa remembered on Facebook her own memories of school, when it took at least a few months to receive a new book for the school year:

গত ৫ বছর ধরে জানুয়ারীর ১ তাং এলেই সব বিদ্যালয় গুলিতে এক অসাধারন আনন্দ উৎসব আমাকে সুখকর এক ঈর্ষায় ফেলে দেয় , আহ্হারে আমি যদি ওদের বয়সী হতাম তবে তো আমিও আজ এই আনন্দের ভাগীধার হতাম! তবে আনন্দ যে একেবারে হয়না তা ঠিক নয়, বছরের শুরুর এই দিনে এক সাথে এত কচি কাচার হাসি মুখ এর চেয়ে বড় কোন শুভেচ্ছা আর আছে কি?

খুব মনে আছে এই তো ৫ বছর আগেই কোন ছাত্র-ছাত্রী নতুন বই কবে পাবে তার কোন ঠিক ঠাক সময় ছিলনা, বছরের ৩ মাস পেরিয়ে গেলেও নতন বই এর দেখা পাওয়া বড় সৌভাগ্য বলে গন্য হোত অথবা ২/১ টা নতুন বই আর পুরোনো বই মিলে একটা সেট বানানোর প্রান পন চেষ্টা করা হোত । আমার মা- বাবা দুজনেই প্রাথমিক বিদ্যালয়ের শিক্ষক ছিলেন। নতুন বই তো দুরের কথা ফেব্রুয়ারী-মার্চ পর্যন্ত কোন বই ছাত্রদের হাতে নাই এ নিয়ে দুশ্চিন্তার অন্ত ছিলনা…

The date January 1 meant a day of joy, which makes me happily jealous, if I were like them I would be part of the celebrations. But it is grand is to see all those happy faces of the children.

I remember that only five years ago there were no guarantee for the students when they would receive books. It would be pure luck for the students if they could get one or two books from the whole set after three months. Both my parents were primary school teachers. They would worry a lot how they were going to carry on with teaching the curriculum in the absence of books till February or March.

Sandipan Basu made fun of the situation:

এখনকার পোলাপাইনগুলা অভাগা। আমাদের কালে আমরা বই না পাওয়ার অজুহাতে পুরা জানুয়ারি স্কুলে যাইতাম না। আর পোলাপাইনে এখন বছরের প্রথমদিনই বই পাইয়া যায়। ক্যামনে কি !!

Today's students have no luck. We could skip school for the whole of January because we did not have new textbooks. Now they get new books at the beginning of the year. How is it possible?

Students rise up textbooks during the

Students celebrating the “Textbook Festival Day” in the capital's Government Laboratory School. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (2/1/2014)

Bangladesh is advancing despite its problems. The distribution of books on the second day of the year is one such example. Blogger Arif Jebtik wrote:

যাঁরা ভাবে বাংলাদেশ এগুচ্ছে না, তাঁরা আমাদের বাংলাদেশ দেখেনি। আমি জানি এই দেশ কীভাবে কতটুকু আগাচ্ছে। [..]

আজ বই হাতে পাওয়া প্রিয় প্রজন্ম, তোমরা সুখে থাকো। তোমাদের যখন পিছু ফিরে দেখার সুযোগ হবে, সেই বয়েসে তোমরা যে বাংলাদেশে দাঁড়িয়ে থাকবে, সেই সুন্দর বাংলাদেশের কথা ভেবে আমি মাঝে মাঝেই তোমাদের ঈর্ষা করি…

Those who think that Bangladesh is not progressing, they are not aware of Bangladesh. I know how it is leaping forward. [..]

Please be happy that the new generation received new books on time. When you look back at this moment one day, like I am doing, you will have lived through that progressive Bangladesh, and I am very much jealous.

Political violence has been a feature of many people's lives in Bangladesh, including children. Freedom fighter and activist Akku Chowdhury wrote:

this is the kind of Bangladesh we would like to see…Children happy with new books seeking knowledge….not Children with gun powder learning to make human BBQ….we want violent free democratic and peaceful nation moving forward with the spirit of liberation war….we want leaders ready to walk the talk…leaders who lead by example….we want politicians who considers power as a public service but not self service to become wealthier….joi manush (hail humans)

January 09 2014

Hindus Attacked in Bangladesh for ‘Crime’ of Voting

People from various cultural, social platforms took out anti-communalism demonstration in Dhaka in protest against attacks on religious minorities after the 10th National Poll. Image by Rahat Khan. Copyright Demotix (8/1/2014)

People from various cultural and social platforms mounted a demonstration in Dhaka against attacks on religious minorities after the 10th national elections. Image by Rahat Khan. Copyright Demotix (8/1/2014)

Minority groups in Bangladesh, especially Hindus, have become easy targets for anti-vote activists following the country's tense 10 national parliamentary elections. Homes and other properties have been attacked, torched or vandalized, and many have been forced to live under open sky in the meantime.

The elections on January 5, 2014 were met with violence in some areas; many opposition parties led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) have boycotted the polls, leaving ruling party candidates unchallenged. They continue to protest against them.

Some victims said they were attacked because they voted in the elections. Shah Ali Farhad (@shah_farhad) wrote in Twitter:

Shahbag Wordwide (@Projonmo13) highlighted the reported tally of violence against minorities in Jessore in the south of the country:

The government has come under fire for not being able to provide enough security for the people. But the son of the Prime Minister Sajeeb Wazed promised swift justice:

গতকালের নির্বাচনে ভোট দেয়ার কারণে বিএনপি-জামায়াতের ক্যাডাররা যশোর ও দিনাজপুরে সংখ্যালঘু সম্প্রদায়ের উপর হামলা চালিয়েছে। যশোরে ১৫০ জন হিন্দুর বাড়ি জামায়াতের সন্ত্রাসীরা সম্পূর্ণ তছনছ করেছে, লুট করেছে এবং জ্বালিয়ে দিয়েছে। দিনাজপুরে ১০০ এর উপর হিন্দু বাড়ি এবং দোকান বিএনপি জামায়াতের ক্যাডাররা ভাংচুর করেছে এবং পুড়িয়ে দিয়েছে। আমাদের সরকারের স্থানীয় কর্মকর্তারা ভুক্তভোগীদের সহায়তা করছেন। এই ঘটনায় দায়ীদের আমরা চিহ্নিত করার চেস্টা করছি এবং তাদের অবশ্যই আমরা বিচারের মুখোমুখি করবো।

The BNP-Jamaat protesters attacked minorities in Jessore and Dinajpur because they voted in the recent elections. In Jessore 150 houses were looted by Jamaat miscreants and burnt. In Dinajpurmore than 100 Hindu shops and houses were attacked by BNP-Jamaat goons. Our government is trying to help the victims. We are trying to identify the culprits and place them under trial as soon as possible.

However, BNP's Acting Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir blamed the government instead for the attacks, and said:

The planned attacks on minorities are an attempt to divert attention from the voters’ absence and enthusiastic boycott of the farcical elections amid criticism from national-international organisations.

In Bangladesh, it isn't unusual for these types of attacks to happen after elections. Writer Joydeep Dey Shaplu requested on Facebook to relieve Hindus of the responsibility to vote:

২০০১ এ প্রথম আলোয় লিখেছিলাম ভোট দেয়ার পাপ থেকে আমাদের মুক্তি দিন। আজ তাই মনে হচ্ছে আবার।

In 2001 I wrote an article in the Daily Prothom Alo that [being a minority] please relieve us of the crime committed by voting. I feel like that again.

Audity Falguni also chimed in that Hindus should not vote:

নির্বাচনে মানুষ ভোট দেয় নি, তবে হিন্দুদের উপর নির্যাতন করা হচ্ছে কেন? নাকি খালি হিন্দুরাই দিছে? তাহলে কি নিজের ইচ্ছামত কিছু করার অধিকার হিন্দুদের নাই? যদি তাই হয়ে থাকে, তবে আইন করে হিন্দুদের ভোট দেয়ার অধিকার রহিত করা উচিত : Ruma Modak.

Wasn't the election for everybody? So why are Hindus being targeted? Or did only Hindus vote? So are they not free to exercise their rights? If not, please make a law barring them to vote.

Ripon Chakraborty detailed the plights of the victims:

2001 সালে নিজে #আক্রান্ত হয়ে বুঝেছি #সাম্প্রদায়ীক নির্যাতনের #জ্বালা কি। #রাজগঞ্জে দেখেছি- নির্যাতিত #হিন্দুদের সহায়- সম্বল হারিয়ে খোলা আকাশের নীচে রাত্রী যাপন। কী যে কষ্টের এই দুঃসহ যন্ত্রনা– নির্যাতিত ছাড়া কেউ কোনদিন বুঝতেই পারবেনা। সহ্য করতে না পেরে বাপ দাদার ভিটে মাটি ফেলে কেউ কেউ দেশত্যাগী হয়। হয়তো তারা ভালোই থাকে- হয়তো গিয়ে বেঁচে যায়। কিন্তু আমি যে পারিনা- আমি যে এই দেশটা ছেড়ে যেতে চাইনা— আমার কি হবে- আমার “ছোট বাপী”টার কি হবে— কেউ বলতে পারেন???

In 2001 I was a victim of post-electoral violence. I have seen in #Rajgonj how Hindus lost everything and lived under the open sky. If you are not a victim, you can never know that pain. Some of them migrate leaving their ancestral home. Some of them do better, save their lives by escaping. But I cannot. I don't want to leave my country. What will happen to me or my child… Can anyone tell?

The Daily Prothom Alo, a leading daily of the country, has been accused [bn] of instigating violence against the Hindus by publishing an image of minorities waiting to vote, making their Hindu identity prominent by doctoring the photo. In response, Kulada Roy wrote on Facebook:

ভয়ঙ্কর সন্ত্রাসের মধ্যে দিয়ে নির্বাচন হয়েছে। ভোট বর্জনের ডাক দিয়েছিল বিএনপি-জামায়াত। নির্বাচনের খবর হিসেবে প্রথম আলো প্রথম পাতায় একটি ছবি ছেপেছে। সেখানে দেখা যাচ্ছে– হিন্দুরা ভোট দেওয়ার জন্য লাইনে দাঁড়িয়ে রয়েছে। প্রথম আলো এই ছবিটির মাধ্যমে প্রমাণের চেষ্টা করছে যে দশম নির্বাচনে কেবল হিন্দুরা ভোট দিতে এসেছে। আর কেউ নয়।

প্রথম আলো এই ছবির মাধ্যমে সারা দেশে হিন্দু সম্প্রদায়ের উপর বিএনপি-জামায়াতের আক্রমণের উস্কানী দিচ্ছে। এই খবর প্রকাশের পরপরই যশোরের অভয়নগরে, দিনাজপুরে , ঠাকুরগাঁয়ে সংখ্যালঘু হিন্দুদের ঘরবাড়ি পুড়িয়ে দেওয়া হয়েছে। [...]

The election has ended with much violence. BNP-Jamaat boycotted the polls. The daily Prothom Alo published a big picture with their main election news on the front page. There it is shown that Hindu women were standing in queue to vote. Prothom Alo with this photo tried to imply that in a low-turnout election, mostly minorities voted. Not people from the majority Muslim population.

Prothom Alo with this picture is provoking the BNP-Jamaat protesters to retaliate against the Hindu communities [as they did not listen to their call to boycott the polls]. After the news was published, we have seen attacks on Hindu houses in Avoynagar of Jessore, Dinajpur and Thakurgaon.

The newspaper, however, denied [bn] that no published photo was photoshopped. But netizens still accused [bn] the paper of selectively highlighting minorities and publishing hate-filled comments in the comments section of the article.

Many people from Hindu communities have migrated to other countries in the past decades. Blogger Avijit Roy provided some statistics:

বাংলাদেশে ১৯৪১ সালে হিন্দু জনসংখ্যা ছিল শতকরা ২৮ ভাগ। ১৯৪৭ সালে ভারত ভাগের অব্যবহিত পরে তা শতকরা ২২ ভাগে এসে দাঁড়ায়। এরপর থেকেই সংখ্যালঘুদের উপর ক্রমাগত অত্যাচার এবং নিপীড়নের ধারাবাহিকতায় দেশটিতে ক্রমশ হিন্দুদের সংখ্যা কমতে থাকে। ১৯৬১ সালে ১৮.৫%, ১৯৭৪ সালে কমে দাঁড়ায় ১৩.৫%, ১৯৮১ সালে ১২.১%, এবং ১৯৯১ সালে ১০% এ এসে দাঁড়ায়। সাম্প্রতিক সময়গুলোতে হিন্দুদের শতকরা হার কমে ৮ ভগের নিচে নেমে এসেছে বলে অনুমিত হয়।

In 1941 the ratio of Hindus in present day Bangladesh was 28 percent. In 1947 after the partition of India the figure dropped to 22 percent when the mass migration started. The following decades saw an increase of attacks on minorities and the continuation of migration. The figures dropped further in 1961 to 18.5 percent, in 1974 to 13.5 percent, in 1981 to 12.1 percent and in 1991 to 10 percent. In recent times, it is assumed that the figure has dropped further to 8 percent.

These continuous attacks on minorities have disgraced the nation, wrote Zahid Newaz Khan:

These repeated attacks on minorities and our silence show the quality of civilization in our nation.

Different protests have been arranged across the country, like this Facebook event, which featured a protest rally in front of the National Museum in Shahbag on 8 January 2014.

January 06 2014

Slim Voter Turnout, Violence Mark Bangladesh's Opposition-Less Elections

An official marks a voter's finger with ink has she prepares to cast the ballot in the 10th general elections in Bangladesh. Image by Reaz Sumon.  Copyight Demotix (5/1/2014)

An official marks a voter's finger with ink as she prepares to cast a ballot in the 10th general elections in Bangladesh. Image by Reaz Sumon. Copyight Demotix (5/1/2014)

Voting day in Bangladesh's tense 10th national parliamentary elections was marred by poor voter turnout and bursts of violence across the country, leaving more than 18 people killed and scores injured

The country's political opposition led by Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) had aggressively boycotted the election and their supporters had resorted to petrol bombings and other deadly protests to stop the vote. More than 100 schools turned polling stations were set on fire on the eve of the election.

Votes were suspended in more than 400 centers across the country. Counting continues and results are trickling in (live update here). 

Bangladesh's Election Commission cited [bn] a mere 40 percent voter participation, low compared to the last parliamentary election in 2008, where voter turnout stood at 87 percent. Some non-governmental human rights and election monitoring agencies have offered numbers even lower than the official, putting turnout at 10 percent [bn]. 

Blogger Omi Rahman Pial explained on Facebook why turnout was low in this election:

সংবাদমাধ্যম খুব ফলাও করে সন্ত্রাসের খবর প্রচার করছে, আবার বলছে এই নির্বাচন একটা প্রহসনের নির্বাচন কারন মানুষ এই নির্বাচনে অংশ গ্রহন করছেনা। কিন্তু কেউ বলছেনা আসল কথা – এতো সন্ত্রাসের মধ্যে মানুষের জীবন বিপন্ন হয়ে পরেছে, জামাত-বিএনপি রাষ্ট্রযন্ত্রের উপর প্রকাশ্য ঘোষনা দিয়ে আক্রমন চালাচ্ছে। এই অবস্থায় মানুষ ভোটকেন্দ্রে যাবে কেমন করে? সাংবাদিকেরা এই সহজ জিনিসটা বুঝেনা এরকম ভাবার কোন কারন নেই।

The media were vocal in highlighting pre-election violence across the country. At the same time, they were mentioning that without the opposition, this election has become a farce, so people are not participating. But nobody is telling the truth, the daily lives of people have been disrupted due to constant blockades, violence. They are seeing that BNP-Jamaat have been attacking the government openly. How dare people go to the polling stations (risking their lives)? Don't think that the journalists don't know this.

Voter turnout was varied in different centers across the country. In some stations, there were the usual crowds, while others were deserted.

Voters surround a polling agent to collect their voting number in Dhaka-6 constituency during the 10th National Election. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (5/1/2014)

Voters surround a polling agent to collect their voting number in Dhaka-6 constituency during the elections. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (5/1/2014)

Security parson stand guard in front of vote center at Pilot Girls High School in Nobabgonj near Dhaka. Image by Mamunur Rashid. Copyright Demotix (5/1/2014)

A man stands guard in front of vote center at Pilot Girls High School in Nobabgonj near Dhaka. Image by Mamunur Rashid. Copyright Demotix (5/1/2014)

The parties protesting against the election have claimed that voters have rejected this election. But journalist Naim Tarique blamed the opposition for intimidating the voters:

নির্বাচন প্রতিহত করতে আপনারা স্কুলগুলো জ্বালিয়ে দিলেন; আগুনে ঝলসে মারলেন নির্বাচনী কর্মকর্তাকে; ভোটারদের আতঙ্কিত-সন্ত্রস্ত করে বাধ্য করলেন কেন্দ্র না যেতে। তারপরও কিভাবে দাবি করবেন যে, মানুষ এই নির্বাচন প্রত্যাখ্যান করেছে? তাদের তো স্বেচ্ছায় ভোট কেন্দ্রে না যাবার সিদ্ধান্ত নিতেও দিলেন না!

You have burnt those schools to stop the elections, grilled a polling officer with fire, intimidated voters to not to go to the polling stations. And still you claim that the people have rejected the election. You did not let them freely decide.

There have been cases of attacks on voters on their way to polling booths. Shawn Ahmed (@uncultured) tweeted:

Unlike the last election, women voter turnout was low. Amidst the uncertainty was the participation of one 85-year-old woman, reported Ononto Akash (@Ashtala):

Because of the opposition boycott, 154 contestants were elected before any votes were cast for the lack of challengers, so there were no election held in those constituencies. Many regretted this fact that they could not vote. Amiya (@amiya23) wrote on Twitter:

In this opposition-less election, surprisingly there still have been allegations of rigging against the ruling party Awami League (AL). Twitter user Soldier Rojob Ali wrote:

Blogger Rezaur Rahman Rizvi (@rizvi23) questioned the allegations of rigging:

In this one-sided election we know that the chosen candidates are favored to win, so why would vote rigging be required?

The opposition led by BNP has not backed down from their protests and has announced fresh programs of 48-hour nationwide strikes along with the previously declared nationwide blockade. General people fear renewed violence across the country.

A Dhaka Tribune editorial talked about the necessity of this opposition-less election and the way forward:

The holding of today’s 10th parliamentary election in the absence of the main opposition party can only be justified on the basis of constitutional necessity. The results cannot and should not be viewed as a mandate to rule for a full term. [..]

We acknowledge that today’s elections neither resolve the political crisis nor bring an end to the issue of representative elections that are the people’s right. We call on both AL and BNP to move forward together to give the people elections acceptable to all.

Many are still looking forward to a meaningful negotiation and an inclusive election. Journalist J. E. Mamun hoped for such an election soon:

[...] নির্বাচন এদেশে ঈদের মতো ফূর্তি, আমরা সেরকম একটি ফূর্তির নির্বাচনের অপেক্ষায় রইলাম। আর শুভ কাজ যত দ্রুত হয় ততই মঙ্গল, শুভশ্য শীঘ্রম!

[...] Elections are like a celebration in this country. We are looking forward to an all-party celebratory election, the sooner the better.

January 05 2014

Aam Aadmi Party Clone In Bangladesh

Blogger An Ordinary Citizen writes:

Many in Bangladesh are inquisitively looking at the development of Aam Aadmi Party in India and hoping that a similar phenomenon may develop in Bangladesh.

Co-incidentally the success of the Aam aadmi party has inspired a group to float an Aam Janatar Dal –Common Man’s Party –in Bangladesh. The tentative launch of this party will be on January 17, 2014.

More Than 100 Schools Torched in Anti-Election Violence in Bangladesh

Guards carry ballot boxes and equipment to a polling station that will be used for the 10th parliamentary elections. Image by Naveed Ishtyak. Copyright Demotix (4/1/2014)

Guards carry ballot boxes and equipment to a polling station that will be used for the 10th parliamentary elections. Image by Naveed Ishtyak. Copyright Demotix (4/1/2014)

The eve of Bangladesh's 10th national parliamentary elections saw a wave of violence as more than 100 schools turned polling stations in 20 districts were set fire by protesters and a polling officer on duty was beaten to death in Thakurgaon.

The elections scheduled for 5 January 2013 are particularly tense, with many opposition parties led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) boycotting the vote and their supporters engaging in violent protests throughout the country

Web users have harshly condemned the torching of schools. Farhana Azim Shiuly wrote on Facebook:

নির্বাচন প্রতিহত করার জন্য দেশে অনেক ভোট কেন্দ্র পুড়িয়ে দেয়া হচ্ছে। এমন খবর শুনে টিভির সামনে বসে দেখলাম আগুনে যা পুড়ছে তা তো ভোটকেন্দ্র নয়। আগুনে জ্বলে যাচ্ছে সারি সারি স্কুল ঘর। বছরে ১ দিনের জন্য যাকে আমরা ভোটকেন্দ্র নামে ডাকি, বাকি ৩৬৪ দিনই তার নাম স্কুল। রাজনীতির নামে মানুষ পুড়েছে। এখন পুড়ে যাচ্ছে মানুষ গড়ার কারখানা।

Many polling stations across the country are being burnt to halt the elections. I heard the news and sat in front of the TV only to find that the burning houses are actually local government schools. Fire is engulfing an array of schoolrooms. What we call a polling station one day in some years are actually educational institutions. We have seen that people are being burnt for no reason in the name of politics. Now the labs for forming people are being burnt.

Writer and educationist Joydeep Dey Shaplu denounced the arson and reminded that Bangladesh already does not have enough schools for its huge population:

যুদ্ধক্ষেত্রে স্কুল পোড়ানো হয় কিনা আমার জানা নেই। তবে যাই করা হোক, একবার ভাবা হয়, যুদ্ধের পর শান্তির সময় কি করে দেশ চলবে। এই বোধটাও আজ আমাদের নেই। দু'দিনের রাজনীতির জন্য তিল তিল করে গড়ে ওঠা শিক্ষাব্যবস্থাকে ধ্বংস করে ফেলা হচ্ছে। চোট পেলে সেরে যায়, বিকলাঙ্গ হলে তো কিছুই করার থাকে না। আন্দোলনের নামে পুরো জাতিটা বিকলাঙ্গ হয়ে গেলে কাদের নিয়ে দেশ চালাবেন আপনারা?

I don't know whether schools are burnt during war. But whatever is done, there is a thought, how the country will progress after the war. In our country, the developing education sector (in its own war of decreasing illiteracy) is being destroyed. A little sickness heals, but if you are crippled, you will suffer for life. If you cripple the nation in the name of protest, how will you take this country forward?

On Twitter, media worker Jabed Sultan Pias (@piasbd) wrote that he lost his first school in his hometown to fire:

1. My first school, Madanpur Government Primary School, Netrokona. Yesterday they torched my beloved school.

Lawyer Shah Ali Farhad (@shah_farhad) tweeted that this time the target are the schools by the opposition protesters:

Opposition party supporters set a van on fire at Shanti Nagar in Dhaka, ahead of the Bangladesh National Party led 18-Party Alliance’s countrywide 84-hours strike. Image by mamunur Rashid. Copyright Demotix (9/11/2013)

Opposition party supporters set a van on fire at Shanti Nagar in Dhaka ahead of the Bangladesh National Party led 18-Party Alliance’s countrywide 84-hours strike. Image by mamunur Rashid. Copyright Demotix (9/11/2013)

Trees also became a target for protesters. Hundreds of trees across highways were cut down to use as road blockades during recent political violence across the country. Sheikh Rokon wrote in Facebook:

Yes, enjoy the ‘politics’ my friends. They had cut thousands of roadside trees for ‘blockade'. Now they have started burning the schools to ‘block’ the election. Claps! Claps! Claps!

Bangladesh has witnessed such opposition-less elections before, but the protests was not as violent. Arif Jebtik reminded violent protesters:

[...] এরশাদের ১৯৮৮ সালের নির্বাচন ঠেকাতে আলাদা আলাদা অবস্থান থেকে চেষ্টা করেছিল বিএনপি, আওয়ামী লীগ, জামায়াত, বামদল সহ সবাই-কিন্তু সেই নির্বাচন ঠেকানো যায়নি।

খালেদা জিয়ার ১৯৯৬ সালের ১৫ ফেব্রুয়ারির নির্বাচন ঠেকাতে আলাদা আলাদা অবস্থান থেকে চেষ্টা করেছিল আওয়ামী লীগ, জামায়াত, বামদল-কিন্তু নির্বাচন বন্ধ হয়নি।

সুতরাং আগামীকালের নির্বাচন ঠেকাতেও বিএনপি-জামায়াত পারবে না।

কিন্তু এর আগের ঘটনাগুলোয় স্কুল পোড়ানো হয়নি।
এবার স্কুলগুলো পোড়ানো গেল-এটাই নগদ লাভ। জামায়াতকে কোলে তুলে নিয়ে রাজনীতি করে বিবর্তনে এই জায়গাতেই পৌঁছাল বিএনপি!

[..] In 1988 during President General Ershad's time, all the main political parties (Awami League, BNP, Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami and the leftists) tried to stop the elections but could not succeed.

During BNP's 15 February 1996 one-sided elections, Awami League, Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami and the leftists all tried to resist the election but failed.

So BNP-Jamaat will not be able to stop this election.

But in all previous incidents no schools were burnt.

This time BNP has gained this accolade. This is their politics of promoting Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami's cause.

Journalist Fazlul bari blamed Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami for the arson of schools:

নির্বাচন ঠেকানো নিয়ে বিএনপি হাল ছেড়ে দিয়েছে’ এমন একটি রিপোর্ট ছাপা হবার পরই ‘হাল’ পুরোপুরি নিজের কর্তৃ্ত্বে নেয়া শুরু করে দিয়েছে যুদ্ধাপরাধীদের দল জামায়াত-শিবির! পেট্রোল বোমা, মানুষকে পুড়িয়ে মারার সন্ত্রাসের পর ভোট কেন্দ্রে আগুন দেয়া সহ অকল্পনীয় নানান সন্ত্রাস শুরু করে দিয়েছে দেশ বিরোধী এই অপশক্তি! [...]

There was a report published recently that BNP has given up on resisting the elections. After that, the party of war criminals Jamaat entered the charade of showing who's in control. They have already used petrol bombs on people in buses, houses and are not below such extreme violence like burning schools.

January 04 2014

Why the Opposition is Boycotting the Election in Bangladesh

Dhaka is packed with thousands of election posters

Dhaka is packed with thousands of posters as the candidates campaign for the 10th general election in Bangladesh on January 5, 2014. Photo by Naveed Ishtiyak © Copyright Demotix (28 Dec 2013)

When Bangladesh holds its general election on January 5, 2014 the ruling party and its allies are already sure to win more than half of the seats in parliament. This is a consequence of an opposition boycott led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

But why are more than 25 political parties boycotting the election?

In countries with mature democracies, the governing parties don’t leave office during elections because everybody plays by the rules. But in Bangladesh, the tradition is to mistrust political leaders and expect that they will abuse power to rig votes. That's why the Bangladeshi constitution previously required a caretaker government to assume power during elections. However, in 2011 the parliament unilaterally abolished this system, allowing for general elections to be held under elected partisan governments.

The BNP led opposition had been demanding a caretaker government for the election since the passing of the 15th amendment to the constitution. Instead the government made a counter proposal to install an all-party interim government headed by the existing Prime Minister. The opposition refused. Since then, there have been a plethora of protests, including general strike, blockades, agitations, long marches etc.

Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar, the editor of Suhshashoner Jonney Nagorik (Sujon), a civil society think tank, opined in an interview with the Daily Kaler Kantha [bn] why the opposition is not willing to make compromises:

বিরোধী দল মনে করে, এ রকম হলে তারা নির্বাচনে জিতবে না। তারা মনে করে, যদি নির্দলীয় সরকার নির্বাচনের সময় থাকে, তাহলে তারা ভোটে জিতবে। তারাও এখানে ছাড় দিতে চায় না, কারণ ছাড় দেওয়া মানেই ঝুঁকি নেওয়া। পরাজয়ের ঝুঁকি। বাংলাদেশের প্রেক্ষাপটে নির্বাচনে পরাজয়ের ঝুঁকি নেওয়ার কোনো অবকাশ নেই। এটাই হচ্ছে ক্ষমতার রাজনীতি।

The opposition thinks they will not win the election if it is held under the ruling party. They will only win if a neutral caretaker government runs the election. They do not want to be lenient, because they know if they are flexible, they are more exposed to the risk. The risk is losing the election. There is no option in Bangladesh politics to accept defeat. This is power politics.

On October 25, the day the election commission declared the schedule for the elections, the opposition, led by BNP and Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, immediately refused it. They started their infinite strikes and blockade programs that crippled the country.

Violent protests

The protests to postpone elections and to establish a neutral caretaker government by the main opposition parties have led to violent protests and the deaths of 111 people [bn] in the past month alone.

A report by Human rights organization Ain O Shalish Kendra (ASK) says that violent political clashes in 2013 left 507 people dead, including 15 members of the police and two of the Border Guard Battelion, and 22,407 people injured (See Global Voices report).

Partha Sarathi Dey Tweets to the opposition leader:

Today is the last day of the year. Begging you Ma'm for the last time, please leave the road of violence… Except for some Jamaat-Shibir extremists you are alone. Please be mindful about the development of the nation.

There have been many international attempts to mediate between the feuding parties. The United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki Moon sent a letter to both the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition urging them to meet and negotiate. He also sent a special envoy to Bangladesh. Many ambassadors and members of civil society have tried to mediate. But all efforts have failed due to the rigid stance by both leaders. This is why the country now heads for an opposition-less election.

154 Elected in Bangladesh Before Any Votes Are Cast

Without a single vote being cast, Bangladesh's ruling Awami League and allies have won more than half of the seats in parliament because an opposition boycott has left so many candidates without challengers.

Among the 39 registered political parties only around 12 are participating in the general election on January 5, 2014. As a consequence, 154 out of 300 seats have been automatically decided.

An 18 party alliance led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) are boycotting the election, demanding that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina resign and allow a neutral caretaker government to oversee the balloting, as was previously called for by the constitution.

For months, opposition supporters have engaged in violent protests across the country to stress their demands. This has caused huge and costly damages and hampered the day-to-day lives of citizens.

Police fire water cannon, tear shell to stopped a procession by lawyers supporting the opposition BNP and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami near the Supreme Court in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Image by  Zakir Hossain Chowdhury. Copyright Demotix (29/12/2013)

Police fire water cannon, tear shell to stopped a procession by lawyers supporting the opposition BNP and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami near the Supreme Court in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Image by Zakir Hossain Chowdhury. Copyright Demotix (29/12/2013)

Sajeeb Wajed Joy, the son of Prime Minister, admits on Facebook [bn] that the opposition boycott puts the validity of the election in question, but says the election must be held to uphold the constitution (the constitution requires a parliamentary election be held before January 24):

[...] সাংবিধানিক শুন্যতা তৈরি যেন না হয় তাতে, নিখুঁত না হলেও এই নির্বাচনের কোন বিকল্প নাই। আমাদের মহান সংবিধানকে সমুন্নত রাখার দায়িত্ব এখন সম্পূর্ণ আপনাদের উপর। আপনি যদি অসাংবিধানিক উপায়ে ক্ষমতা দখলের কোন সুযোগ দিতে না চান তবে, ভোটকেন্দ্রে যান এবং ভোট দিন।

[..] We have to ensure that a constitutional vacuum does not arise, we have no option other than this election even it will not be perfect. The onus to uphold the constitution is on us. If you do not want others to gain power through unconstitutional means then please go to your nearest polling station and please do vote.

However Kathakata blog thinks [bn] that the government's actions discourage voters:

[...] এই উপসংহারে পৌঁছালে কি ভুল হবে যে ভোটাধিকারের প্রশ্নটি, জনগণের দ্বারা নির্বাচিত হওয়ার প্রশ্নটি এখন আর মূল্য বহন করে না? ইতিমধ্যে জানা ফলাফলের মাধ্যমে বাংলাদেশের ভোটাররা যেহেতু জানেন, তাঁদের ভোটের মূল্য নেই, সে ক্ষেত্রে নির্বাচনের দিনে ভোটকেন্দ্রে যাওয়ার জন্য বিরোধী দল নয়, সরকারই আসলে ভোটারদের অনুৎসাহী করতে সক্ষম হয়েছে। তাতে করে বিরোধীদের ডাকা ‘বর্জন’ বা ‘প্রতিরোধের’ চেয়ে আরও বেশি কারণ তৈরি হয়েছে ভোটারদের ভোট না দেওয়ার।

[..] Would it be wrong to conclude that the question of exercising our right to vote, an election by the people, means nothing now? As many voters in the country know from the already declared results, their votes have no value. In this case the government, not the boycotting opposition, has discouraged voters from going to polling stations on the day of the election. So this has given more cause not to cast votes than the opposition call to “ignore” or “occupy”.

Blogger and activist Rasel Pervez (who is currently on bail after being detained for his writing) quotes [bn] minister Obaidul Quader and says the election is not democratic:

[...] আজকে যেমন ওবায়দুল কাদের বললেন সংবাদ সম্মেলনে ৫ই জানুয়ারীর নির্বাচনটা হয়ে যাওয়ার পর তারা সকল দলের অংশগ্রহনে, স্বচ্ছ নিরপেক্ষ এবং গণতান্ত্রিক নির্বাচনের জন্যে সংলাপ করবেন। তিনিও জানেন ৫ই জানুয়ারীর নির্বাচন গণতান্ত্রিক হচ্ছে না।

[...] Just as Obaidul Quader said in a press conference, after the election of January 5 they will hold a negotiation to arrange an all-party, free and fair and democratic election. He himself knows that the January 5 election will not be democratic.

On Twitter, Mahbubul Karim has named the 10th national parliament election a “selection”:

Its not election, but a shameful selection http://t.co/em0sLJDSIz

Blogger Shaman Shattik writes [bn] on Aamar Bandhu that he wants Awami League in power again to see the completion of the ongoing trial of war criminals.

কথা উঠেছে, সবদলের অংশগ্রহণে নির্বাচন না হওয়ায় গণতন্ত্রের গতি ব্যাহত হবে ৫ই জানুয়ারীর একতরফা নির্বাচনে। কথাটার মধ্যে যতটুকু সত্য লুকিয়ে আছে, তার চেয়ে বেশি সত্য বোধ হয় জনগণের কাছেই সুবিধৃত হয়ে আছে। সরকারগুলোর জনগণের নিজস্ব মৌলিক সমস্যাগুলো সমাধানের সম্পূর্ণ আন্তরিকতার পরিবর্তে দূর্নীতি থেকে অধিকতর দুর্নীতির দিকে আরো ৫ বছরের জন্য যাত্রা করাটা নিশ্চিত করবে। কেননা, এই দুই দলই দুর্নীতিতে “কেউ কারে নাহি ছাড়ে সমানে সমান।” সেক্ষেত্রে ৫ই জানুয়ারির নির্বাচনে এই মূহুর্তে পুনরায় নির্বাচিত হতে যাওয়া আওয়ামী সরকারকে আমি ততদিন পর্যন্ত ক্ষমতায় দেখতে চাই, যতদিনে বেশিরভাগ চিহ্নিত যুদ্ধাপরাধীদের বিচারের রায় সম্পূর্ণভাবে কার্যকর হয়ে যাবে।

The talk of the town is that democracy will be hindered as all parties are not participating in the January 5, 2014 election. As much as there is truth in that statement, a higher truth is exposed to the citizens. Instead of being frank to solve the basic problems of the citizens, these governments are eager to extend their terms/grab power for the next five years. Because both the major parties are neck-and-neck when it comes to corruption and abuse of power. In this case I actually want to see the inevitable winners of the January 5, 2014 election, the Awami League, be in power as long as it takes to complete the ongoing trial of war criminals.

The Prime Minister says [bn] the opposition party boycott is to blame for the uncontested winners in more than half of all constituencies.

Also read: Why the Opposition in Boycotting the Election in Bangladesh

January 02 2014

Political Unrest in Bangladesh – an Observation

Millions of Bangladeshis are going through tense days and nights. The deepening political crisis, the extreme rigid stance taken by the polarized political parties and the pending general election coming up on January 5, 2014 that the main opposition parties have boycotted, all point to another vicious cycles of bloody confrontations between the current government and its oppositions.

Mahbubul Karim Sohel explains the background of the political unrest in Bangladesh and the hope for the future.

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