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

June 22, 2012

The Blogging Phenomenon in Bangladesh

This article by Faizul Khan Tanim was published in the Independent's Weekend Magazine June 22' 2012.

Faizul Khan Tanim writes on this ‘citizen journalism’ tool which erupted as a worldwide phenomenon and has impacted Bangladesh significantly 

If you are still using the Microsoft Word 2003 version, the term blogging is not in its dictionary. However, this one word has become a global phenomenon…be it citizen journalism, individual reviews or photo story.

One may call it a modern day digital diary of events and on the other hand, it can fetch you, starting from restaurant reviews up to blogs by genre like corporate, politics and more. The audiences comprise of any one and everyone with internet access and very importantly, blogs has become very interactive, allowing visitors to leave comments.

Blogging is a form of social networking and these blog posts or entries are typically displayed in reverse chronological order, from the most recent post to the old.

It is believed that the term "blog" was not coined until the late 1990s. A tool Open Diary was launched in October 1998, soon growing to thousands of online diaries. Open Diary involving reader comment, becoming the first blog community where readers could add comments to other writers' blog entries.

In 2004, the role of blogs became increasingly mainstream, as political consultants, news services and candidates began using them as tools for outreach and opinion forming. Even politicians not actively campaigning, such as the UK's Labour Party's MP Tom Watson, began to blog to bond with constituents.

Today, blogging has evolved to be one-liners expressing absolutely what one wants to convey. Thanks to the rise of Facebook status updates, Twitter and other 'micro-blogging' systems which are helping dissemination of information into societal new streams.

And thanks to technology, blogs now cater to netizens in their own language. In Bangladesh, SomewhereinDhaka launched the first tool around the end of 2005 the option of blogging in Bangla and a new revolution erupted.

This writer spoke to two exciting and first generation bloggers of the country – Maqsoodul Haque with The Bangladesh Poet of Impropriety and Rezwan establishing his blog The Third World View. These have educated and inspired us to establish freedom of speech to the fullest.

Since it is unknown when blogging started in Bangladesh, but we can get a rough idea from both Haque and Rezwan who started in 2003. Haque said, “When I started around 2003 there were very few English language Bloggers. The group was so small, that the first Bangladesh Bloggers get-together was held in my apartment in Niketon sometime in 2005. We were no more that fifteen very excited men and women sharing a vision and importantly cherishing the freedom of expressions that this new technology brought to us. In Bengali, the first real breakthrough came with Somewherein.com Blog called Awaz in 2005-06. The rest is history”.

On the aspect of blogging as citizen journalism, Rezwan thinks and said: If a blogger acts or reports as a citizen journalist, then yes. But not all blogging is citizen journalism - there can be literary blog, photoblog, journals and more.

On the other hand, Haque think, “In a round about way - maybe. I would call it a journalist’s journal. Most journalist actually read Blogs to get an alternative take on any issue, before they file reports. I have written hundreds of Bogs entries that weren’t considered by any mainstream publication. Say for instance when a suicide and serial bombing spate hit Bangladesh in 2005-6, I was probably the only Blogger that didn’t believe that this was the work on an organized terrorist network and wrote passionately about it. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to receive a call from BBC London – asking me to share my thoughts for a few minutes in a radio talk show on terrorism. Later, I found my strongly held views being quoted in an academic journal on suicide bombers. And all the while I was under the naïve impression that I didn’t have more than a dozen people reading my Blog. The experience prompted me to install a visitation counter and I was shocked to see who and how many were actually snooping on me. Sent a chill down my spine!”

“Blogging defies traditional journalism in the sense that it seeks more opinion than one, as also voices in the ‘wilderness’ (like myself) who may have a thing or two to say about issues, but simply do not have the space. Journalism is a somewhat cliché form of sharing information, sometimes very boxed-in, with very stifling word limits. Blogging on the contrary has an expanse and the whole world is there waiting for you to unleash your idea, at your time and your terms. It doesn’t have to be the 6 a.m. newspaper or the 8 p.m. TV news Bulletin; you decide what time is ripe for what goes out. Blogging is what created the phenomenon called ‘public intellectuals’ in the first place”, Haque added.

Many believe that news media in Bangladesh belongs to certain sectors of our community and often truth is not published since it will harm the vested interest groups. Blogging however is beyond any of these problems.

And these particular phenomenons actually catapulted the use of blogs in a whole new level. When a Dhaka based journalist Syed Tashfin Chowdhury lost his eight month old daughter to medical malpractices by doctors from a renowned hospital in Gulshan-2, many people asked him to write reports in newspapers. He refused because many of the newspapers would not have published the actual news as the hospital authorities would have bribed or managed the top brasses of the media houses, an occurrence very common in Bangladesh. Instead, a full-length report style blog was published online on Facebook explaining what happened. Within moments, this report spread like wildfire and irrespective of parents who lost their children, empathetic citizens got involved and were inspired to blog and open a page on Facebook to identify doctors who does malpractices - Blacklist Doctors: Share your complains against doctors.

Today, many people believe that there are negative aspects of blogging as well. Certain blogs can portray harmful aspects and cater either negative points or help vested interest groups publish their wrong information. How can we tackle such situations?

To this, Rezwan said: Publishing libel or harmful content is not citizen journalism so it would be wrong to blame citizen journalism for negative things. Vested groups can preach wrong information in many ways - we see people spreading venoms against even the Prime Minister in rallies and public meetings. Do we bother those or do anything? The good thing about information on internet is you can ignore what is not relevant to you. If anyone feels they are personally attacked they can seek remedy as per local law. We have defamation and libel acts in place. No separate cyber law or anything is required.

Haque pointed out a few interesting facts as well: Any technological innovation brings with it its own share of positives and negatives. There are thousands of vested interest and hate groups out there, but my experience tells me these are no more than people seeking undue attention.

The best thing to do is just avoid them. A ‘cyber cold shoulder’ is the best deterrent to tackle the situation. Blogging sites also have their own control mechanism. We all have rights to report any site with objectionable content and likewise anyone can report ours. If anybody goes way out of line – well too bad, you can wake up one morning to find your Blog gone..all your ‘hard work’ consigned to a cyber trashcan !

Due to these situations, mostly those affected, are shouting and demanding monitoring organisations to scrutinize and enforce law on blog contents. Our bloggers do not agree with this third-party involvement.

Haque believes, “I am opposed to any form of monitoring or censorship. That said I would like to sound out a caveat here. Like it or not, the Internet, Blogs, Facebook etc are not owned by Bangladesh. The information era erupted once the CIA realized that more than remaining a spooky, snoopy slow to react behemoth; it makes good sense for people to have their own say. Blogs for all practical purpose is used as a tool for collecting HUMINT – human intelligence and they get it FREE! It cost more for the CIA to have an asset or agent on ground that may or may not come up with the sort of thing they want to read. I sincerely think any Blogger who is patriotic, knows all too well how to work, dodge and weave under the prevailing and existing parameters and do so with responsibility under expected codes of civil cyber conduct. The importance of Bangladesh’s National Security can hardly be over emphasized”.

The power of blogging has reached newer levels…be it freedom of speech or political movements, this phenomenon has become SENSATIONAL and a lot of think tanks are raising awareness of possible revolutions or upheavals in the country created by blog posts. But how much of it is true remains a question.

To this question, Rezwan said, “Social revolution is initiated by people, not blogs. In Arab revolution people went out on the streets to protest - they used social media - so we could see their protests closely. It may have had an augmented effect. But it was the people who started this. Unless the people rise - no tool alone can bring revolution”.

And Haque, with his intense sense of humour, knowledge on our socio-politics backed by strong patriotism, expressed what the control freaks deny to follow:

Can social media tools like blogs bring about social revolution in this country?

If anybody in her/his wildest dreams think that Blogs/Facebook or Twitter will bring about a Bangladesh version of the Arab Spring is living in fool’s paradise.

Facebook for instance is a tool for hobbyist who are either the elite or ‘elitist wannabes’ happy with clicking a million LIKE on every cause, hyperbolic political propaganda or well meaning words of dissent. In other words Facebook is a thoroughly viral Fakebook – with fake IDs, fake profile pictures and fake ‘cyber activists’. It’s very easy for thousands of fakes LIKING say a call for a protest demonstration in Matijheel, but in reality less than a dozen from Facebook will show up physically to face the police baton/ teargas or even the standing for hours in the searing sun.

The words ‘revolution’ therefore sounds very ‘revolutionary’ from the comfort of bed room laptops or cell phones. But real revolution in Bangladesh has traditionally come about in the participation of the marginalized from the grassroots who are too poverty stricken and illiterate to know that Facebook or Blogs exist! For the majority – Bamboos as opposed to Facebook or Blog is a conceivable weapon that will usher the next revolution in Bangladesh.

June 17, 2012

Bangladesh: Is a Cartoon Teaching Kids to Speak Foreign Language and Lie?

This post has been written by Pantha Rahman Reza in Bangla and has been translated for Global Voices Online by Rezwan

A cartoon show aired on the Disney Channel India has stirred debates in Bangladesh. The name of the Japanese anime (dubbed in Hindi) is Doraemon. It is claimed that this cartoon is forcing children to learn to speak the Hindi language of neighboring India and prompting them to tell lies. Many Bangladeshi children watch this cartoon, which is broadcast continuously and repeatedly.
If you read the story of a frustrated mother in The blog of a Mom [bn] you will understand how crazy are they for Doraemon:
My five year old son doesn't eat meals without watching Doraemon. He won't do homework or sleep timely if I don't let him watch.
Another mother sent a letter to the Daily Prothom Alo [bn]:
My eight year old son says he can't solve homeworks from school alone. He needs a robot like Doraemon who will accompany him and solve all his problems.
This cat robot is called Doraemon.
This cat robot is called Doraemon. Image from Wikimedia. CC BY-SA

‘Doraemon’ is a Japanese cartoon show derived from a popular Manga series which later became an anime series. The ear-less cat robot Doraemon travels back in time from the 22nd century to aid a schoolboy, Nobita Nobi. The story starts from here.

Nobita is a very lazy boy and brings nothing but misfortune. Doraemon tries to help him using 22nd century gadgets. Nobita misuses the gadgets and gets into deeper trouble than before.
Doraemon stories are entertaining but it can be debated how much of them can be used for education purpose. Because many of the tips Doraemon gives to Nobita include cheating and telling lies.

Doraemon is broadcast in the region dubbed in Hindi via satellite. Due to prolonged exposure to this cartoon, many children have learnt to speak Hindi sentences. They even use Hindi when talking to their family members instead of their mother tongue Bangla. And this has created a long debate.

Many are claiming that these kids are learning to skip their study and cheat like the main character Nobita. This debate is spreading from mainstream media to individual living rooms. Many are demanding that the airing of Disney Channel should be stopped.

Kanak Barman [bn] at Somewhereinblog tells:
The biggest casualty of the Doraemon cartoon are the little kids, Who cannot even talk in Bangla fluently but are picking up Hindi nicely. This has threatened to that extent that if the airing of the channel is not stopped now then there will be more Hindi speakers than Bangla in this age group. So this channel should be blocked in Bangladesh as soon as possible.
On the other hand Shahriar Shafique [bn] at BlogBDNews24.com blames the lack of popular children program in Bangla language televisions for this situation:
There are more than 20 channels in Bangladesh but they don't have sufficient and quality childrens programs. As far I remember there are three good shows like Sisimpur, Meena, and Moner Kotha which are aired in BTV a few times a week. Desh TV also airs Meena cartoon and some other channels dubs Tom & Jerry cartoon shows. These few shows are popular but aired for shorter periods. The rest of the time of the day other programs like soap operas, news, talk shows, food shows and talent competitions are aired; which brings little value to the kids. Incomprehensible talk shows, kitechen matters or love-romance-tragedies do not attract the kids.
Blogger Fahmidul Haque [bn] does not think that Doraemon will threatened the Bangla language:
The Bangla language has an inherent force which protects itself from aggression of foreign language. When satellite TVs came in the early nineties people thought that the language and culture of this country will be ruined. But the local language and culture adjusted to the changes. Many Bangla language channels emerged. So we don't hear much about the most spoken term “alien culture” now. If Doraemon really is creating problems, the easiest solution is to buy the rights of the series and broadcast it after dubbing in Bangla.

June 11, 2012

India: Aamir Khan's TV Show Stirs Up Social Issues

This post was first published in Global Voices Online

A new Indian TV talk show titled Satyamev Jayate (Truth Alone Prevails) premiered on May 6, 2012 and took the nation by surprise. Its anchor Bollywood actor and filmmaker Aamir Khan is bringing out on the table taboo and sensational social issues which are engaging more and more Indians. Millions of vieweres across South Asia are glued to their TV sets every Sunday as the show is being aired in various channels of private along with public networks simultenously.
Amreekan Desi watched its first episode on “female foeticide” and here is the reaction:
Our daily lives allow us the option of closing our eyes and pretending there is no problem. This show brings it right inside our living rooms, with full facts and figures. We can no longer pretend that this is somebody else’s problem. It is OUR problem.
The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker shares an email from a courageous survivor of child sexual abuse who watched the second episode on the same subject:
Satyamev Jayate touched a deep wound. Listening to the survivor stories a memory came haunting from the past. A dark secret buried deep inside, something that must have down the line changed my whole personality and what I am now. Talking to my son I realized that however open a household environment is there are certain things that stunt the growth and health of a child. Child abuse doesn’t occur only in houses which are chained by so called social “norms, values” etc it happens wherever there is a child who is vulnerable. Abusers target children who can be soft targets, knowing everything about their background and psyche, winning their trust and providing that comfort zone which sometimes a child lacks. I am a survivor.
After almost 30 years I broke the silence.
There are more reactions in the blogosphere. Half a cup of tea shares a story of maltreatment in a hospital, inspired by Aamir's show on “Corruption in the Indian healthCare system”; Ugich Konitari shares that her maid could associate her daughters story with a case on the Satyamev Jayate episode on “Dowry”. Mahesh Murthy wished if Satyamev Jayate was a social movement backed by TV. There are many discussions in the Twittersphere on this show:
priyasaha1: watched my first episode of satyamev jayate yesterday, it was simply fantastical. now i know why people r loving it.
Aamir Khan. Image by Flickr user gdcgraphics. CC BY-SA

The show is not without controversy. After an episode on malpractices by doctors the Indian Medial Association claimed that he defamed the doctors and demanded apology but Aamir defended his actions saying he won't apologize. It has also been alleged that Aamir Khan receives a high remuneration of Rs. 3 crore (USD 600,000) per episode is this high budget production. However Astitwa defends Satyamev Jayate and provides a reply to those critique Aamir Khan:
Even if 1% of this 121 crore strong nation is able to change its attitude, I think Aamir Khan’s endless gyaanbazi (edification) and the so-called irritating marketing gimmicks will be palatable to us. What say, India?
Debolina Raja Gupta posts a list of the topics featured in Satyamev Jayate till 10 June, 2012:
1. Episode 1 - Female Foeticide
2. Episode 2 - Child Sexual Abuse
3. Episode 3 - Dowry
4. Episode 4 - Corruption In The Indian HealthCare System
5. Episode 5 - Honour Killing
6. Episode 6 - Problems Faced By The Disabled In Our Country
She thinks that the show deserves applause, not criticism:
I really appreciate the idea that finally, Indian television audience is glued on to something else other than the mindless saas-bahu (mother-in-law vs. daughter-in-law) serials, or television serials in general, that are such a shitload of crap.
Indi.ca from Sri Lanka praises the show:
With many social problems, the shame is on the victim and they are brought into the conspiracy through silence. But breaking that silence can have a knock-on effect, and it’s great that this Khan is using his celebrity for such a worth cause. It’s also very compelling, immediate television.
Debolina concludes:
Aamir has managed to create a stir and shake us all up, but how much that really affects us and how much we actually do about it remains to be seen.

June 09, 2012

India: Netizens Respond To Anonymous India's Protests

This article was first published in Global Voices Online

Last month global hacking movement Anonymous sent a communique to Indian government protesting the recent court ban on sites like Torrent & Vimeo and hacked some websites including the Supreme Court of India. They continued to hack more websites and posted a message to web users, asking them to organize protests against “web censorship” in India on June 9, 2012.
Anonymous so far has organized or instigated many “Occupy” protests around the world against censorship and abuse of power. The most popular of these protests has been the Occupy Wall Street protests in the US.

This dramatic YouTube video calls for a non-violent protest in India on the 9th of June, 2012.
In a press release published in the Anonymous Operations website 18 Facebook events across several Indian cities were listed calling netizens to join. They also published directives for the protest and guides to prepare Anonymous masks. The messages reiterated that being anonymous in a peaceful protest does not mean that they are doing something illegal. Anonymous India also sent an open letter to the government.
Nikhil Pahwa at Medianama opines:

Anonymous India’s activities do help: they increase awareness of India’s war on the Internet, both by the government through legislation and censorship, and by movie producers and copyright owners through takedown notices and John Doe orders.
Meanwhile they continued to attack more websites like MTNL. Nikhil in above post also recognizes that Anonymous India’s takedown actions could Be counterproductive:
These attacks could lead to the undoing of a lot of work done by activists for Internet freedom. [..]
Activities that bring more information on the blocks to light help strengthen the case for more specificity in court orders by highlighting misuse by copyright owners and ISPs, and also for modification in the IT Rules. Taking down sites weakens it.
Anonymous #OpIndia on TwitpicOxblood Ruffin (pseudonym) in a guest post in Kafila says:
Anonymous is a public relations pandemic with an exaggeration problem, not a treacherous horde. It’s time the press learned the difference.
Ruffin also wonders whether Anonymous India can get the job done:
The simple answer is no. The Indian government won’t listen to a single word they say. In fact, Anonymous India has given authorities ammunition to tighten up the IT Act even further in response to their actions. Getting press can be good for the ego but it can set back the objective.
Anonymous India sent a reply to Ruffin stressing that they are doing it so that people like Ruffin could write freely in the Internet:
We would also like to ask him before this movement how many Indians knew they were victims of internet censorship? Government was secretly imposing censorship through ISPs with more than 400 content filter requests made to Google. He says we can’t change anything. We say we’ve educated the people about the wrong doings of the government already and more is going to happen. They will see how their elected government is taking away their freedom of speech, freedom of expression and privacy in the same of censorship.
Today a number of Indian Internet activists listened to the call of the Anonymous operations and held protests in several Indian cities against growing censorship of internet by their government. Young activists wearing anonymous masks were seen demonstrating in sixteen cities including Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore. The turnout was low but they could spread their message via Twitter hashtags like #OpIndia #OccupyMumbai etc. The Anonymous group also attacked the websites of www.cert-in.org.in and www.india.gov.in and these were down most of the day.
Hoezaay was in one such protest in Azaad Maidan, Mumbai and shares his experience in a blogpost:
I’m completely against ridiculous censorship of the Internet, so i decided to go support the cause and and check out what was going on. [..]
Most of the people there had their heads and hearts in the right place. They knew what they were doing there and what they were protesting against. [..]
I love what Anonymous is doing but i don’t support taking down government websites, mostly because our people probably didn’t even know they had these websites till they went down. If Anonymous can, please help us expose and take down the corrupt. That would be much more effective.
Please check his post for some photos of the protest.
Here are some reactions from Twitter:
@UtkarshaKotian: RT @SupraMario: At #OccupyMumbai, Azad Maidan. Less than 100 people have showed up. http://t.co/PjMqLvrc
@maemariyam: #OccupyMumbai may have been mellow but a lot of strong opinions were flying around about censorship, govt, legality & internet geeks.
Group snap. #AnonIndia #Mumbai #opIndia on Twitpic
Image via Twitpic by @mahafreed

@red_devil05: RT @MTVNoiseFactory: #OccupyMumbai Azad Maidan, 4pm. #OccupyDelhi India Gate, 5pm. #OccupyKolkata South City Mall, 4 pm. #OccupyPune Shivaji Nagar, 4pm
@emescube: This cop says..if you guys came here through online world…do your protest online. He just couldn't understand what #opindia is all about.
@emescube: Shouting it out loud. ‘Against Internet Censorship' at #Opindia Hyderabad. http://t.co/jPrEovoa
You can follow more Tweets on the protest here.

Bangladesh: An Online Work Success Story

Please read Matt Cooper's blog about how Bangladeshi freelancers have leaped forward to bag 10% of freelance work from ODesk , making Bangladesh the #3 country for contractors, behind only the Philippines and India.

His verdict:

1) Bangladesh has a young, educated workforce that is eager for more economic opportunity. 2) Bangladesh is densely populated, so things spread quickly. 3) There’s a huge financial upside to working online — for both individuals and the country’s overall economy — compared to local opportunities. Matt concludes with: "Success is what happens when 1) you are in the right place at the right time, 2) you’re smart enough to recognize the opportunity in front of you, and 3) skilled enough to execute on the opportunity. Watching the professionals in Bangladesh pull these three things together and hearing their personal stories has been an extraordinary experience."