The Bengali Gaze

March 18, 2017

[This article was first published on March 17, 2017 in an issue of the Star Weekend Magazine of The Daily Star]

Hana Shams Ahmed

A TV commercial by a prominent telecom company was brought to my attention through a Facebook post by a journalist. The scene begins with two young men making their way through a water body on a bamboo raft in an exotic location somewhere in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Next, they are seen making their way up a mountain through a vast green landscape far from any sign of human life. One of the men expresses his frustration at not being able to find what they were looking for. The other man smiles in response and points to an old man in a bamboo hut up in the mountain.

“He is going to get you a recharge?” the first man laughs skeptically. The men seem to have run out of balance on their phones and, given their remote location in the Hills, are concerned about not being able to top-up their phones.

The second man replies that he would at least like to try his luck. He goes up to an old Jumma man sitting outside the hut and shouts at him, “Uncle, can I flexi here? Can I recharge here? Taka! Taka! Phone! I want to talk! You know, taka! Recharge!”

The man is shouting out these requests while gesturing wildly with his arms. Both are doubtful about getting a response. How would an ordinary native man in the wilderness of the Hills understand the modern Bengali language or have access to the modern phone network! The second man turns around and looks at his friend in frustration and the old man suddenly surprises everyone and responds in Bangla, “How much money do you need?”

The two men are shocked and the second man delightedly shouts back again, “A hundred taka!”

The old man keys in the amount on his phone keyboard, the second man shouts out his gratitude and extends his hand towards the old man.“You are my GP brother,” he exclaims, “Come, let’s take a selfie!”

And the commercial ends with information about the telecom company’s wide network coverage – that every other person in Bangladesh owns a phone from that company.

The telecom in question is a multi-million-dollar industry and one can safely assume that the concepts used in their TV commercials are discussed and vetted at a very high level for what they will represent about their company. So, what does this TV commercial say and represent? Read the rest of this entry »

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Joli No Udhim Kittei! (Why Shall I not Resist!)*

July 30, 2015

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Hana Shams Ahmed

[This article was first published on May 26, 2015 at Thotkata.net]

Kalpana Chakma was only two years older than me. We had a couple of things in common. We were born in the same country and we both kept personal diaries about our individual struggles in life. But that’s where the similarities in our lives ended. In the year 1996 as I was preparing for my A-level exams and arguing with my mother about my right to go out alone and wear the clothes of my choice, Kalpana was struggling against militarization, against a national suspicion of the ethnic ‘other’, against Government hypocrisy, against the militant-nationalism of the state of Bangladesh. In 12 June 1996 army officers abducted Kalpana Chakma in front of her two brothers, a sister-in-law and mother late at night from her home in Rangamati in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). 18 years on and many protests, meetings, roundtables, CID investigations and court appearances later, Kalpana Chakma still remains missing.

Read the rest of this entry »


Can the Jummas of Bangladesh speak?

July 30, 2015

Hana Shams Ahmed

[This article was published on February 17, 2015 at the Dhaka Tribune]

Although Bangladesh shares a 4,096km border with India, only the 1,036km-long border with India and Myanmar raise questions of sovereignty

Decisions taken by the government about the Chittagong Hill Tracts can at best be described as doublespeak. While the actual sentiments of the government indicates an urgency for increased securitisation, surveillance, discrimination and suspicion of the Jummas, the background and context provided for taking the decisions speak of maintaining “the law and order situation” and upholding “peace.” Read the rest of this entry »


No Peace in the Hills Yet

May 29, 2009
Hana Shams Ahmed

Hana Shams Ahmed

It was the previous Awami League government in 1997 that signed the historic CHT Accord in 1997, promising to end 25 years of guerrilla war in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Unfortunately the government-encouraged settlement of poor Bangalis into the area, started in the 1980s, has never stopped therefore destabilising the situation 11 years after the signing. Most of the key provisions of the accord remained unimplemented in the last decade. The newly elected AL government has clearly mentioned in its election manifesto that they will take steps to fully implement the Peace Accord.

Hana Shams Ahmed

[STAR magazine, THE DAILY STAR, February 27, 2009]
Chittagong’s face-lifted Shah Amanat International Airport boasts ceramic artwork of various tourism selling points of Bangladesh. One of them shows a group of quaint-looking Pahari girls doing a traditional dance. Next to it is another Pahari girl in a traditional pinon picking leaves from a hill in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The depiction of Pahari girls as part of our cultural heritage has always been used to attract national and international tourists. Unfortunately how the common Pahari girls are living their lives seems to be hardly of concern. The Chittagong Hill Tracts is the only place in the entire country (except for the Cantonment areas) where the army still remains with nearly six brigades of approximately 35,000 army personnel.
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One big hurdle down

May 27, 2009
Zahedul I Khan

Zahedul I Khan

Hana Shams Ahmed

[THE DAILY STAR, May 19, 2009]

JUST like it took the rape of three women students at Jahangirnagar University (JU) to recognise what an extreme form sexual harassment had taken at the universities it took the suicide of Art College student Simi Banu to bring to mass consciousness the extreme forms “eve teasing” has now taken in this country. And until the defiant JU students took to the streets in 1998, the mere concept of “sexual harassment” in educational institutions was only spoken about in hushed tones among girl students at the university halls.

But now it’s finally here — institutional recognition of sexual harassment. 11 years after the JU case, and many hundreds of silenced and vocal cases in between, the High Court has directed the government to make a sexual harassment law based on the guidelines drawn up by lawyers and human rights activists.

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Youth Boom and Possible Futures

January 5, 2009

Naeem Mohaiemen

Photo: Naeem Mohaiemen

Hana Shams Ahmed

[Published in ‘Our Common Future: South Asia’ by Liberal Youth South Asia, a network of liberal youth and youth organisations. November 2008]

In 2008, the results of Bangladesh’s Secondary School Certificate (SSC) exams had an all-time record pass percentage – 72 per cent – and the highest number of GPA-5 recipients ever. For a few years now, all these records are getting broken at every level of higher education. Beyond what it may mean for higher education, it keeps bringing to the media images of hundreds of thousands of young boys and girls in the streets – waving, clapping, celebrating – the shape of our exploding youth boom.

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