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

May 31, 2013

#SafeCityPledge: Indians Take a Stand Online for Women's Safety

A Twitter campaign has Indians flooding social media with personal promises to combat sexual harassment and sexism.

On the heels of the brutal gang rape of a young woman in a moving bus in Delhi, volunteer-led community art project Blank Noise invited users during a 24-hour tweetathon on 19 January, 2013 to publish a pledge committing to new ideas that make cities safer spaces for women.

The #SafeCityPledge campaign was one of the top trending topics in India on that day, and the tweets, some featuring photos of users holding placards with their pledge, have poured in ever since.

"I pledge to stand up for my rights, however intimidating the circumstances," a placard held by a woman in Calcutta reads.

"I pledge to behave like a man and stop behaving like a beast," another reads, this time held by a man surrounded by his male friends.

P Bharat in Shakhti, a women's rights blog, compiled and summarized some of the ideas and pledges shared, which attacked the culture of patriarchy and the tendency to blame the victim, among other things:
  • "I pledge to not be a mute bystander. To intervene. To change the scene." 
  • "Staring is not acceptable. Smile and look away. Make others comfortable please." 
  • "I will support my friends whenever they feel persecuted by men, I will not let men intimidate women anywhere i am"

  • "never vote for parties that have rapists in their midst & justify them." 
  • "I pledge to stop making sexist jokes and open conversations about equality of genders at home."
Submission from Miranda House, Delhi. Image courtesy Bank Noise Blog. CC BY-NC-SA 2.5
Submission from Miranda House, Delhi. Image courtesy Blank Noise Blog. CC BY-NC-SA 2.5
Sexual violence against women and girls in India has been under intense scrutiny since the December 2012 gang rape, after which the victim died of her injuries, and similar incidents this year. Faced with public outcry, the government passed a new bill containing harsher punishments, including the death penalty, for rapists.

Fueled by the rash of high-profile incidents, the movement against sexual harassment and sexism has gained steam online and offline. Another initiative called Safecity tracks street harassment in India using crowdsourced reports. The reports illustrate that street harassment of women is still a burning problem in India.

There have also been a number of street protests and rallies featuring pledges for a safe city for women in GoaBangaloreDelhiPune, and Kolkata organized using social media. Anu Elizabeth Roche, a volunteer for the non-profit Akanksha Foundation, which works with underprivileged children, wrote on Facebook about one such demonstration in Mumbai:
A number of men and women - young and old - came with their own placards and slogans pledging to promote heightened action against sexual harassment, sexist attitudes and generally spoke for reclaiming their spaces in public spheres especially.
#safecitypledge Delhi. Image courtesy Blank Noise blog. CC BY-NC-SA 2.5
#safecitypledge Delhi. Image courtesy Blank Noise blog. CC BY-NC-SA 2.5
And #SafeCityPledge recently held a workshop at Cambridge School Delhi, with 600 students between 14-17 years participating. Blogger Sahar Zainab recalls her personal experience reading the #SafeCityPledge tweets with a mixture of hope and hard realism:
I especially love the picture of the woman from Lucknow, dupatta wound tightly around her head, pledging 'humein baahar aane jaane par kisi ki rokk-tokk manzur nahi' (we will not accept anyone else's control on our coming and going outside)! But truth is that there remains a (humongous) faction of women, young girls, and even younger girls in villages, in small towns, in bigger towns, and in even bigger cities, who have yet to muster up such courage.
Check out the #SafeCityPledge campaign on their blogTwitter, and Facebook.

The post was first published in Global Voices Online.

May 23, 2013

Bangladesh's Planned Coal Power Plant Threatens Sundarbans Mangrove Forest

A plan to erect a coal-fired power plant in Bangladesh next to the Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world which straddles Bangladesh and India, is drawing fire from activists in the country who say it would destroy the world heritage site.

The proposed 1320-megawatt plant, to be built in the area of Rampal in the southern Bagerhat district, was initially put into motion in a bilateral agreement between Bangladesh and India during the Bangladeshi prime minister's tour of India in 2011 before an environmental impact assessment was conducted by Bangladesh's Environment Ministry.

On 20 April, 2013, the Power Development Board of Bangladesh signed [bn] three agreements with India's National Thermal Power Corporation, which made the implementation official. The project, estimated to cost 1.6 billion US dollars, is expected to be completed by 2018.

When the government finally released an environmental impact assessment (download in PDF from here) on the power plant, environmentalists rejected it in a consultative meeting, organized by the Power Division on April 12, arguing that the report did not take into consideration most of the important environmental aspects of the Sundarbans, its ecology, flora, and fauna as well as a large number of local people.

Moreover, the report stated that (page 208) once the proposed site was a part of Sundarbans, but had been evacuated by the settlers later.

Bangladesh's energy infrastructure is known to be quite small, insufficient and poorly managed. Only 40% of the population has access to electricity with a per capita availability of 136 kWh per Annum. So there is a huge pressure on the Government to meet the growing demands of electricity.

The National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports urged citizens of both India and Bangladesh to carry out concentrated efforts to stop the power plant on its website.
Environment experts, social workers and conscious citizen holding banner-festoon take part at a human Chain in the capital in demand to save Sundarban, the world largest remaining mangrove forests. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (21/3/2013)
Environment experts, social workers, and citizens holding banners form a human chain in the capital Dhaka to demand that the Sundarbans, the world largest remaining mangrove forest, be saved. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (21/3/2013)
Abdullah Al Imran [bn] pointed out in a Facebook note that India is violating its own laws meant to protect wildlife with its involvement in this power plant:
১৩২০ মেগাওয়াট ক্ষমতার একটা বিদ্যুতকেন্দ্র গড়ে উঠবে বাগেরহাটের রামপালে যা কিনা সুন্দরবন থেকে মাত্র ১৪ কিলোমিটার দূরে। ভারতের ওয়াইল্ড লাইফ প্রটেকশন এ্যাক্ট ১৯৭২ অনুযায়ী বাঘ-হাতি সংরক্ষণ অঞ্চল,জাতীয় উদ্যান এবং জীব বৈচিত্র্যের জন্য গুরূত্বপূর্ণ বনাঞ্চলের১৫ কিলোমিটার ব্যাসার্ধের মধ্যে কোন বিদ্যুৎকেন্দ্র তৈরী করা যায় না।
An 1320 MW plant would be established in Rampal of Bagerhat which is only 14 kilometres away from the Sundarbans. According to the Indian Wildlife Protection Act 1972, no such power plant should be established within 15 kilometers of a forest which is home to sanctuaries for tigers and elephants and wildlife.
Journalist Kallol Mustafa [bn] summarized on Facebook the environmental impact that the report foresees that the plant will have:
বিদ্যুৎ কেন্দ্র নির্মাণের মালামাল ও যন্ত্রপাতি সুন্দরবনের ভেতর দিয়ে নদী পথে পরিবহন করা হবে। এর ফলে বাড়তি নৌযান চলাচল, তেল নি:সরণ, শব্দদূষণ, আলো, বর্জ্য নি:সরণ ইত্যাদি পরিবেশ আইন অনুসারে নিয়ন্ত্রণ না করা গেলে সুন্দরবনের ইকো সিস্টেম বিশেষ করে রয়েল বেঙ্গল টাইগার, হরিণ, ডলফিন, ম্যানগ্রোভ বন ইত্যাদির উপর ক্ষতিকর প্রভাব ফেলবে বলে ইআইএ রিপোর্টে আশংকা করা হয়েছে।
The building material and equipment for the plant would be transported on the river. So it is stated in the EIA report that the increase in transport of engine ships, oil spillage, noise, light and air pollution, etc. will have an adverse effect on Royal Bengal tigers, deer, dolphins, the mangrove forest and other ecosystems.
Engineer Md. Shahadat Hossain [bn] wrote on the Water Resource Engineers Forum blog:
প্রস্তাবিত রামপাল কয়লা বিদ্যুৎ কেন্দ্রের ইআইএ রিপোর্টের এই সংক্ষিপ্ত পর্যালোচনা থেকে স্পষ্ট যে, [..] সুন্দরবনের পাশে ১৩২০ মেগাওয়াটের এই কয়লা বিদ্যুৎ কেন্দ্রকে জায়েজ করার সর্বোচ্চ চেষ্টা করা স্বত্ত্বেও, এরপরও খোদ ইআইএ রিপোর্টে বিদ্যুৎ কেন্দ্র নির্মাণ, পরিচালানা ও কয়লা পরিবহনের ফলে সুন্দরবনের উপর সম্ভাব্য ক্ষতিকর প্রভাব সম্পর্কে এমন সব তথ্য বেরিয়ে এসেছে যা প্রস্তাবিত কয়লা বিদ্যুৎ প্রকল্পকে পরিবেশগত বিবেচনায় অগ্রহণযোগ্য বিবেচনা করার জন্য যথেষ্ট।
Analysis of the EIA report for the proposed power plant reveals that the building, operation, and coal transport for the 1320 MW coal-based power plant in the Sundarbans would create an adverse effect on the Sundarbans mangrove forest in the coming years, suggesting that it should be scrapped on environmental grounds.
Fishermen get preparation for the fishing before sunset near Karamjal Wildlife Breeding Centre Centre under Chandpai range in East Sunderbans division. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (26/11/2012)
Fishermen prepare to fish before sunset near Karamjal Wildlife Breeding Centre in the East Sundarbans. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (26/11/2012)
On community blog Ishtishon, Mahbub Shumon questioned the wisdom of harming the Sundarbans when they protect Bangladesh from natural disasters:
প্রথমত - ঝড় ঝাপটা প্রাকৃতিক দুর্যোগ থেকে থেকে বুক পেতে বাংলাদেশ রক্ষাকারী এই বনের মধ্যে বা কাছা কাছি ক্ষতিকর দূরত্বে এমন কোন প্রকল্প করা উচিৎ কিনা যা জীব - বইচিত্রের আধার এবং প্রাকৃতিক ভারসাম্য রক্ষাকারী, সর্বোপরি দুর্যোগ থেকে রক্ষাকারী এই প্রাকৃতিক দেয়াল ধ্বংস করে দিবে? সচেতন মানুষ মাত্রেই একমত হবেন নাবোধক উত্তরে। এমন বিদ্যুৎ আমাদের দরকার নাই যে বিদ্যুতের জন্য আমাদের দেশটাই ধ্বংস হয়ে যাবে। দ্বিতীয় জরুরী প্রশ্ন হল- অন্য কোথাও বিদ্যুৎ প্রকল্প করা হলেও আমরা কি কয়লা ভিত্তিক বিদ্যুৎ প্রকল্পের ক্ষতি সামাল দিতে পারব?
First of all, these mangrove forests save Bangladesh from natural disasters. So why would you put a project in the vicinity of this forest that will destroy its wildlife, its flora and fauna? Any concerned person would say no. We don't need such power which will destroy my country's ecosystem. Secondly, even if the plant is shifted, will we be able to restrict the damaging effects of burning coal for the plant?
Blogger Banglar Hassan [bn] reminded his readers that a similar project had been turned down in Odisha, India as it failed to obtain environmental clearance. Faisal Caser [bn] asked:
যে বিবেচনায় এনটিপিসি নিজের দেশে বিদ্যুৎ কেন্দ্র নির্মাণ করতে পারেনি সেই একই বিবেচনায় বাংলাদেশে কী তাদের প্রকল্প বাতিল হতে পারে না?
The reason why NTPC could not build a power plant in its own country is not strong enough to stall their similar project in Bangladesh?
Facebook event to save Sunderbans. Image courtesy Omi Hasan.
Facebook event to save Sundarbans. Image courtesy Omi Hasan.
Facebook events have been created to raise awareness of the planned plant. The dates of offline protests will be announced soon.

First Published in Global Voices

May 20, 2013

Facebook's ‘Social Reporting’ feature is being abused by organized gangs in Bangladesh

Recently we are getting reports from some Bangladeshi Facebook users about a new problem. Some of their pages or statuses have been disappearing mysteriously.

Actually these individuals are being targeted by a group of people using Facebook's "Social Reporting" feature. It was originally designed to let people report offensive material to Facebook at the same time alerting someone in the community.

One or more organized groups are resorting to ‘false organized reporting' to take down certain posts, pictures, pages or events of mainly pro #Shahbag activists of Bangladesh. During this operation, a user's Facebook status or page or photo is identified and shared between the group members. All the members then start reporting and when there are enough reports submitted, the reported content/pages are  automatically removed by Facebook. @ARIFArifuk shares how they make it happen and are threatening freedom of speech.

 The visual guide to Facebook reporting courtesy Edudemic
Asad Zaman at Amar Blog exposes one such group called Anti-Virus which has five admins. Its about page says:
"The main goal of the Anti-Virus group is to eradicate Awami-Virus from online. The responsibility of the members of this group is to post links about posts criticizing Islam and activists of Islami movement. Then all the members report that status together and take it down."
They are also attacking peoples' profile pic and Facebook IDs. In his post Asad exposes their long list of targets.

In these efforts we are seeing the dark side of social media. A good way to tackle it is to restrict your profile and statuses to Friends only and remove those you don't know personally from your friends list. And you know what these groups can receive the same treatment if the community becomes active.

But really the onus is on to Facebook to explore and put an end to such abuses. Innovations anyone?

Bangladesh Diaries

MAZ- the Swiss School of Journalism is the leading Swiss educational institution for journalism. Located in Luzern, Switzerland, it was founded in November 1983. In the past ten years this institute has sent professionals and young journalism students to Bangladesh for training. Most of these students interned with the Daily Star in Dhaka.

Here are their diaries on their experiences in Bangladesh in German language (You can use Google translate to read)

  • 2013: Anja Burri
  • 2012: Fabian von Allmen
  • 2011: Andrée Stössel
  • 2010: Andrew Jones
  • 2009: Coralie Wenger
  • 2008: Dieter Bachmann
  • 2007: Thomas Müller
  • 2006: Miriam Künzli
  • 2005: Barnaby Skinner
  • 2004: Christine Wanner

May 01, 2013

Facebook Cheat Sheet: Image Size and Dimensions