Interview of Raja Devasish Roy

June 27, 2010

Photo: Abeer Hoque

Hana Shams Ahmed

[Himal, June 2010]

At Partition, the Chittagong Hill Tracts, with an overwhelmingly non-Muslim indigenous population, were included within Muslim-majority East Pakistan. Yet the Paharis (indigenous hill peoples) were never really integrated into the Bengali nationalist movement for independence, which culminated in 1971. Discriminatory attitudes of the majority Bengali and ‘spoiler’ tactics by the central government prevented the Paharis from playing a substantive role in the movement. Following the formation of Bangladesh, the Paharis asked for constitutional recognition and regional autonomy, but were turned down. Marginalised throughout the period of British and Pakistani rule, the Paharis finally took up arms, and Manabendra Narayan Larma, their leader, a young lawyer and legislator, formed the Parbatta Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS), the political wing of the insurgent Shanti Bahini guerrillas, to fight for the political rights of the Pahari people.

In 1997, the Bangladesh government signed a ‘peace’ accord with the PCJSS. But the United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF), a breakaway group of the PCJSS, and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), then (and now) the opposition in Parliament, fiercely opposed the accord. The BNP protested that it allowed the Paharis a separate administrative system and discriminated against the Bengalis, while the UPDF opposed it on grounds that the agreement failed to address PCJSS’s most important demand – full autonomy. Others criticised the accord for not addressing the hundreds of thousands of Bengali settlers who were moved into the Hill Tracts from 1979 through the 1980s as a counter-insurgency measure. Nor did the document give constitutional recognition to the indigenous peoples.

For most Paharis, the 1997 agreement did give them relief from conflicts between their own political groups, and with the Bengali settlers over land and political office. Yet 13 years after its signing, much of the accord remains unimplemented. In February, Bengali settlers, allegedly with support from the army, set fire to more than 400 Pahari homes in 11 villages across Baghaihat of Rangamati district (see Himal April 2010, ‘Manush Bachao’). As yet, there has been no independent investigation into these incidents. In April, the CHT Regional Council, chaired by Jyotirindro Bodhipriyo Larma, the leader of the mainstream PCJSS, was declared unconstitutional by a High Court (though the judgement has since been stayed). If the Regional Council ceases to exist, Paharis will essentially lose all significant influence over the CHT administration.

Raja Devasish Roy is the chief of the Chakma Administrative Circle, an official body, and the traditional raja of the ethnic Chakma community, which lives mostly in the CHT as well as India and Burma. He is also an advocate at the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, and was one of the lawyers fighting the case for the Regional Council. He recently spoke to Hana Shams Ahmed about the concerns and problems that continue to face the Adivasis of the CHT. Read the rest of this entry »


Sexual harassment and our morals police

June 27, 2010

“A single woman is like molasses, ants will follow her wherever she is kept.”

— A lecherous landlord (the character played by Abul Hayat in the film Third Person Singular Number)

Nick Henderson

Hana Shams Ahmed

[The Daily Star, 19th Anniversary Special Issue, February 25, 2010]

AN interesting debate popped up around Mostafa Sarwar Farooki’s film “Third Person Singular Number” when it was released late last year. It began in a Bangla newspaper and poured onto the English blog Unheard Voices. The newspaper reported that students of a private university had held a human chain to protest obscenity in the film — among others, the discussion centred around the concept of “living together” not being acceptable in our society, a scene showing someone purchasing a contraceptive device, and questions about the “character” of the film’s protagonist Tisha because she was living with a man she was not married to. Read the rest of this entry »


Media Marketing of Beauty & Female Stereotypes

June 27, 2010

Photo: Hasan Ahmed

By Hana Shams Ahmed

A bank’s billboard shows “achievement” as perceived by three groups – The child’s achievement is learning the skill of tying a shoelace, the man’s is taking his first step on the moon and finally the woman’s achievement is getting crowned in a beauty pageant. Read the rest of this entry »


The beautiful housewife and other stereotypes

June 27, 2010

Hana Shams Ahmed

Anwara Begum’s new book takes a look at women in the Bangladesh media. She argues that TV ads don’t only sell products but also attitudes and in the process set standards of beauty and mannerism, as defined by men. Hana Shams Ahmed reflects on the stereotyping of women.

[OneWorld South Asia, 8 October, 2009]

Dhaka: Dighi is the darling of the Bangladeshi media. She has long, beautiful hair and has just the right moves that will keep the viewers glued to the TV screen. There are life-size photos of her on big billboards in the city and big roles in films and drama serials already.

It was a commercial for a brand of henna that gave her the big break. In the ad, with a face full of pinkish makeup, she flaunts her translucent pearl-coloured hands exquisitely decorated with dark henna. Her on-screen friends gaze at her hands longingly, wishing they too could look like her.

Of course, this feeling is shared by thousand of girls who are on the other side of the television screen. Although Dighi’s hands look beautiful, one doubts whether that is what the viewers are focusing on.

The attention is clearly on what she represents. As Anwara Begum points out in her book, ‘Magical Shadows: Women in the Bangladesh Media’ (AH Development Publishing House, 2008), “TV ads don’t only sell products, they sell attitudes.” At an innocent age of 10 years, Dighi is the nation’s favourite child model. Read the rest of this entry »


Bangladesh’s Women Are In The House

June 27, 2010

By Hana Shams Ahmed

[Women’s Feature Services, May 26, 2009]

At a public meeting in Noakhali district in the Chittagong Division of Bangladesh, Agriculture Minister Motia Chowdhury had a strange encounter. Throughout the proceedings, a group of men stood with their backs toward her. The men, as it turned out, were conservative Muslim clerics, who found it difficult to accept a woman as a leader, but at the same time could not pass up the opportunity of listening to her speech.

Chowdhury is a leading woman politician in Bangladesh. Her involvement in politics goes back to Eden Girls’ College in Dhaka where she became vice president of the students’ union in 1963. She served a jail sentence for political activities in 1964-65 and actively participated in the liberation movement in 1971. In 1990, Chowdhury also actively took part in the movement against the rule of the Ershad junta, which ultimately ended an eight-year military rule. After democracy was restored in 1991, she was one of the few women to win a non-reserved seat in parliament. (In the original constitution, 15 seats were reserved for women. By 2004, this rose to 45 seats.) Chowdhury served as the Agriculture Minister in the Awami League (AL) government from 1996-2001. And is heading the same ministry in the recently elected AL government. Her feisty personality and determination to break barriers in a patriarchal political set-up has earned her the title ‘Agni Konna’ (daughter of fire). Read the rest of this entry »