Image by Rezwan

Overcrowded passenger ferry capsized in the Padma River in Munshiganj, Bangladesh

The World Cup Goal-E Project

This street in Bangladesh has a colorful world cup celebration

New Chum Hill Ruins

Remnants of Kiandra gold mine at New Chum Hill, #nsw #australia

July 28, 2014

Bangladesh Authorities Shut Down a 200-Year-Old Brothel, Evicting Hundreds of Sex Workers

Aerial view of Kandapara brothel in Tangail, a northeastern city of Bangladesh. Image by Ranak Martin. Copyright Demotix (1/12/2012)
Aerial view of Kandapara brothel in Tangail, a northeastern city of Bangladesh.
 Image by Ranak Martin. Copyright Demotix (1/12/2012)

 The 200-year-old Kandapara brothel in Tangail, one of the oldest brothels in Bangladesh, was shuttered on July 14, 2014. Tremendous pressure from local Muslim clerics and politicians supposedly led to the brothel's closure, but the national platform of sex workers of Bangladesh has accused local authorities of land grabbing under the guise of religious piety.

More than 759 prostitutes were evicted as a result. Residents were only given a few hours' notice, human rights organizations have protested. The Facebook page of women-centered publication "Women Chapter" says that the evicted sex workers are now facing uncertainties and living in unsafe environments.

Sociologist Laura Agustín tweeted how the sex workers were evicted:
Twitter user ATM Zakaria warned:
Eviction of sex workers without rehabilitation is a threat to the society and nation.
Mogoje Curfew (Curfew in the brain) wrote on Sovyata (Civilization) blog that these sex workers did not join the profession willingly, but out of hardship or coercion. The blogger wrote what will happen to the sex workers without rehabilitation:
We can guess the future of the evicted sex workers who are oppressed. They will certainly not get any work out there. They have to beg from home to home to feed their mouths.
The Kandapara brothels sprung up from 1860 to 1880 as traders arrived on commercial vessels. They had both time and money and were sex workers' main clients. The total population was until recently about 2,000, including sex workers, their children, some parents, babus (fixed lovers/permanent clients), pimps, and landlords.

It's not the first brothel to be shut down and its workers evicted in the Muslim-majority country, where conservatism is on the rise. On July 23, 1999, the Tanbazar brothels, one of the oldest and largest, were closed down and about 2,600 sex workers were evicted from their homes. Dhaka's Kandupatti, home to several thousand sex workers, was next. Then it was Magura. Last August, attacks were carried out on the Madaripur brothel and homes of approximately 500 sex workers were vandalized and looted.

Members from Sex Workers Network of Bangladesh (SWNOB) form a human chain in Dhaka protesting attack on sex workers in a brothel in Madaripur. Image by Shafiqul Alam. Copyright Demotix (29/8/2013)
Members from Sex Workers Network of Bangladesh (SWNOB) form a human chain  Image by Shafiqul Alam. Copyright Demotix (29/8/2013) 
The general understanding is that religious and social pressures were behind the eviction in Tangails Kandapara. However, Sex Workers Network, the national platform of sex workers of Bangladesh, said in a press conference on July 17, 2014 that the local mayor harnessed religious sentiments to grab the 302-decimal land of the Kandapara brothel.

Similar accusations were made after the eviction of the Tanbazar and Madaripur brothels. The people behind the eviction denied the allegations. They claimed that the brothels are source of criminal activity.

Sex worker formed human chain at front of press club in Dhaka protesting the eviction of Kandapara brothel, Tangail. Image by Mohammad Asad. Copyright Demotix (20/7/2014)
Sex workers formed human chain at front of press club in Dhaka protesting the eviction of Kandapara brothel, Tangail. Image by Mohammad Asad. Copyright Demotix (20/7/2014)
 Bangladesh is one of the few Muslim-majority countries were prostitution is not officially banned. Prostitution can be found in the old history of Bengal, but this profession never had any legal recognition, including during the British colonial period. In 2000, a local court recognized the profession in a verdict.

In Bangladesh, there are 18 registered brothels and around 200,000 sex workers across the country. A recent study revealed rampant child prostitution.

Kazi Mamun Hossain, a diaspora Bangladeshi blogger, wrote on Bangla blogging platform Somewhereinblog:
I condemn the duality of the state in not banning the prostitution, but also not upholding sex workers rights. I strongly protest eviction of the sex workers without rehabilitation.
The post was first published in Global Voices Online

July 21, 2014

Bangladesh's Elite Paramiltary Unit Is Under Fire for Human Rights Violations. This Blogger Asks: What About Israel's IDF?

An activist is picked up by an RAB agent in Dhaka, Bangladesh, during a nationwide strike called by the main opposition party in June 2011. Photo by   Rahat Khan. Copyright Demotix.
An activist is picked up by an RAB agent in Dhaka, Bangladesh,
during a strike in June 2011. Photo by Rahat Khan. Copyright Demotix.
Brad Adams, the executive director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, has recently written a letter to Bangladesh's prime minister suggesting that the Bangladesh government should disband the paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). Quoting news sources, he accused the RAB of being responsible for more than 800 extrajudicial killings in the past 10 years.

Human rights organizations have long accused the elite anti-crime and anti-terrorism unit, which was created in 2004, of human rights violations. A number of its members are under investigation in Bangladesh in connection to the abduction and killing of seven men (see Global Voices report).

Some netizens were Irked by the tone of Adam's letter to a sovereign country. Blogger Himu wrote for Bangla blog Sachalayatan a response to Adams, suggesting he be consistent and write to Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:
Brad Adams wrote, "We do not believe that RAB can be reformed. It has developed a culture of operating above the law without civilian accountability. It must be disbanded so that the killings come to an end."

With respect to human rights activist Mr. Brad Adams, I would request him to tear another page from his pad, take a pen and to write a similar letter to the Israeli prime minister urging him to disband the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). You will have the accounts of killings by IDF available here. A lot of these victims are innocent civilians and a large portion of them are children, and the number is a lot more than 800.

I am sure you will agree with me that the IDF cannot be reformed. So can we hope that you will also suggest the Israeli prime minister that IDF should be disbanded?

We are eagerly waiting to see when you will write this letter.
One commenter wondered cynically:
Perhaps human rights is defined differently in regions of the world.

The post was first published in Global Voices Online.

July 18, 2014

Bangladesh Has Formaldehyde to Thank for Its Short Supply of Mangoes This Season

Dhaka Metropolitan Police jointly conducted a drive at Hatirpul Bazar against the health hazardous chemical, formalin.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police jointly conducted a drive at Hatirpul Bazar against
 the chemical formalin. Image by Reaz Sumon. Copyright Demotix (3/6/2014)
Monsoon season in Bangladesh is a delicious time when markets overflow with an abundance of seasonal fruits. Red lychees, green jackfruits and yellow melons are on colorful display, piled high in baskets and on tables.

The sweet, fleshy mango is especially sought after, but this year the fruit is harder to find due to a police drive to control the misuse of formalin, a strong solution of formaldehyde used to preserve produce (traditionally used to preserve dead bodies). Last month, police set up mobile formalin-detection units, confiscating and destroying truck loads of locally produced and imported fruits.

Fruits can naturally contain 0.03-0.15 part per million (ppm) of formalin, but the police drive against formalin, which primarily targeted the seasonal fruits, found the level between 3.5 ppm to 46 ppm in fruit found at markets in the country's capital Dhaka. There, police set up checkposts at entry points into the city to check for contaminated fruit.

Formaldehyde is highly toxic. Ingesting only 30 mL of a solution containing 37 percent formaldehyde can kill a human. In the past few years in Bangladesh, formalin has been used without limits on vegetables, fruits, meats and other putrescent foods to prevent them from rotting. On 30 June, 2014, the country's cabinet approved a draft law that calls for a maximum punishment of life in prison and a hefty fine for formalin abuse and unauthorized trading.

Journalist and blogger Anis Raihan at Istishon blog described how mangoes are treated with formalin:
When the mangoes are plucked they are sprayed with the first dose of formalin. Then they are packed and transported to the cities. The first dose is to cover the delays in the transport to prevent them from rotting. After arrival the traders check whether the mangoes are intact or show signs of rotting and spray another dose if necessary to keep them fresh till they are distributed to retailers, who start to sell the mangoes as they receive them. However, if the mangoes show signs of rotting when they are received, the retailers spray another dose of formalin.
Fruit sellers haven't been happy about their loss of produce. In the port city Chittagong, the fruit sellers association went on strike for several hours, claiming that police have been harassing them by testing the fruits with inadequate machines.

Contaminated food is an issue in Bangladesh. In 2012, the deaths of 14 children in Dinajpur after eating lychees tainted with pesticides sparked uproar in the country.

A recent study conducted by the Bangladesh government and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations showed that in Bangladesh more than 40 percent of foods contains banned pesticides. Toxic substances in the food samples were three to 20 times the limits set by the European Union. In the same report, 50 percent of vegetables and 35 percent of fruits have been declared unsafe. The mango and fresh shrimp samples contained the highest level of formalin.

Police destroying the formalin affected fruits. Image by Reaz Sumon. Copyright Demotix (3/6/2014)
Police destroying fruit contaminated with formalin.
Image by Reaz Sumon. Copyright Demotix (3/6/2014)
A group of activists arranged a protest called "Stop poisoning us" last May and urged to the government to take proper measures. One doctor, Dr. Shafiq, opined in Facebook that there should be stricter law against the use of formalin.

Blogger Kobid shared a shocking statistic related to contaminated food in Bangladesh:

Each year almost 5.7 million people face health hazards due to adulterated food. According to statistics from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, almost 40 percent of deaths in 2010 were due to illness caused directly or indirectly by adulterated food.

Shahadat, a blogger, didn't mince words in describing the people who sell food contaminated with unsafe chemicals:
Not only in human food, adulterating food for any living being is cruel. The people who resort to this slow poisoning are not humans, but human-like animals.
But the issue is a little more complicated than that. As writer and columnist Tahmina Anam pointed out in The New York Times, the rural poor are the ones growing the fruit, which are then sold in urban areas. Transport is costly for small growers and risky because of non-air-conditioned trucks and road delays caused by traffic jams, strikes or road conditions. Formalin ensures they won't lose their produce, but at the cost of people's health.

Tighter regulations on the chemical’s use will solve the adulteration problem today, but not the transport issues — and growers’ desire for a workaround, chemical or otherwise.

The post was first published in Global Voices

July 10, 2014

Bangladeshi Sex Workers Take Cow Steroids To Mask Their Real Age

ActionAid, a British charity, mentioned in a recent report that 90% of commercial sex workers in Bangladesh are addicted to Oradexon, a steroid meant for cattle. Diaspora Bangladeshi blogger Anushay Hossain explains why they use this drug:

This medicine meant to fatten cows has become the preferred drug among the madams [employers of sex workers] of Bangladesh. They are using the pills to mask the real age of the underage girls working for sex in their brothels by making them appear older and at the same time making the more ‘seasoned’ sex-worker look plum and voluptuous.

This post was first published in Global Voices.

July 01, 2014

There's a Good Chance Your World Cup Jersey Was Made in Bangladesh

About 4 million Bangladeshis are working in the Ready-Made Garments (RMG) sector, which is the principal source of foreign exchange earnings. 80% of the workforce in this sector are women. Image by Shafiqul Alam. Copyright Demotix (22/6/2014)
80% of the workforce in readymade garments sector are women.
 Image by Shafiqul Alam. Copyright Demotix (22/6/2014)
Bangladesh ranks low among the world's football teams and didn't qualify to play in the FIFA World Cup this year, but the populous country is still an important player in Brazil -- much of the apparel worn by fans and some of the players' jerseys bear the "Made in Bangladesh" label.

Garment manufacturers, already the country's largest export earners, have earned at least 500 million US dollars in export orders to sew fan World Cup jerseys of most of the players of the 16 participating teams, including Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Iran, France, England, Switzerland, Belgium, Chili and Germany. The sales are expected to boost the industry's growth.

Bangladesh has also manufactured the Brazilian national team's jerseys. The Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) decided that "Made in Bangladesh" would be written at the lower part of the jersey to pay tribute to the victims of 2013 Rana Plaza collapse that killed more than 1,100 people and Tazreen Garments fire which killed more than a 100 people, according to media reports.

Karima Haque at football news site Side Tackle congratulated Bangladesh for its work:
We [...] commend and salute the thousands of pairs of hands that has made this praiseworthy feat possible. They have, and they will, make Bangladesh proud in the foreseeable future.
Tanvir Ahmed, a Liverpool Football Club fan in Bangladesh's capital Dhaka, tweeted:
The World Cup apparel is not only popular in countries participating in the tournament, but also at home in Bangladesh, a country of about 160 million people. Football is a favorite sport here. Official team jerseys from Nike, Adidas and Puma are available but costly, so many fans prefer to buy unofficial jerseys from roadside stands or shops.

A group of football fans in Dhaka seen wearing their favorite team jerseys ahead of the upcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Football fans in Dhaka seen wearing their favorite team jerseys.
 Images by Reaz Sumon. Copyright Demotix (05/06/2014)

Football fans take out a procession on Dhaka University campus ahead of the opening ceremony eve of 20th FIFA World Cup 2014 that will take place in Brazil.
Football fans on the Dhaka University campus.
Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (12/06/2014)

Bangladeshi Football fans are already busy buying flags and jerseys of the countries they support. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (
Bangladeshi football fans are buying flags and jerseys of the countries
they support. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (10/06/2014).

Football fans buy Jerseys of their favourite teams from Bangladesh's Dhaka ahead of the FIFA World Cup. Image by Md. Asaduzzaman Pramanik. Copyright Demotix (19/5/2014)
Football fans buy jerseys of their favorite teams
Image by Md. Asaduzzaman Pramanik. Copyright Demotix (19/5/2014)
The gear is proving to be a boon for business. A Bangladeshi garments manufacturer and popular actor M. A. Jalil Ananta explained in an interview in a local newspaper about the economics of the export:
We are exporting Polo brand football shirts at 9 US dollars a piece. Usually the price of this merchandise is 6.30-7.00 US dollars. But due to high demand for the jerseys, the manufacturers supplying them are getting an extra 2 dollars. So our foreign currency income has increased. We are profiting both ways: 1) we can be involved in the World Cup and 2) earn increased profit margins. This also boosts Bangladesh's reputation.