Saturday November 25, 2017

Meet Tuhin Das from Bangladesh: Poet, Activist and Writer in Exile

Tuhin Das says he began to write more serious articles as a witness to the rise of fundamentalism

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Bangladesh, Feb 17, 2017: I don’t know how I can express myself, as feelings become obtuse from fear. Soldiers of darkness caught me like an animal and butchered me in dreams. You know the feelings of dreaming are like reality. It is midnight in my Bangladesh.

Tuhin Das is from Bangladesh, but he lives now in exile. Forced to leave his home in April 2016, Tuhin Das sought refuge at City of Asylum Pittsburgh, a sanctuary for endangered writers.

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“I left my country in an extreme situation and I came here not for only security,” he said. “I came here for freedom, freedom of expression, freedom of writing and freedom for living a certain way.”

Tuhin Das
Tuhin Das, VOA

Born and raised in Barisal, Bangladesh, Tuhin Das loved to read poems. Tuhin began writing his own poems when he was in seventh grade. Some of his works were featured in a local children’s magazine.

“Basically, I write poetry because that is my voice, my soul voice. I wrote a few rhymes, like children(’s) poetry,” he said. “They were published in children’s magazines.”

Tuhin Das also started writing other things, like short stories. However, in the 1980s things changed in his country. A military dictator took control and established Islamic rule.

Tuhin Das says he began to write more serious articles as a witness to the rise of fundamentalism.

“When I started writing articles, basically our community in Bangladesh was ninety-four percent Muslims and they did not think [writing] is good because some feelings hurt them,” he remembers. “I wrote against war crimes, some war criminals in our country, and they are still in our country and they are doing their job. They were never condemned, so for that, we wrote against them.”

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Tuhin Das, VOA

However, freedom of expression came at a cost for Tuhin Das.

“Right now there are local collaborators of 1971, and right now in our country there are a lot of their supporters,” he said. “So, when we wrote against them and the supporters, sometimes online, they personally threatened us.”

To save his own life, Tuhin Das left Bangladesh.

Since 2013, Das has been the target of fundamentalist groups who have murdered freethinking bloggers, writers and editors. In Bangladesh, writers are being persecuted under the country’s Information and Technology Communication Law. Instead of protecting Tuhin, the police collected and searched his writings for anti-Islamic statements to use against him.

City of Asylum Pittsburgh has given exiled writer Tuhin Das a refuge.

“I think a lot of bad things have happened in our country and already 16 writers are murdered by the extremists so, right now, I am feeling safe here,” he said.” I am writing freely. Right now, I am writing a novel about (the) social structure of my country, basically the Islamization of my country.”

Tuhin Das appreciates the community support he is receiving. He joined the Greater Pittsburgh Literary Society where he is learning the English language and about American culture.

His work has continued to appear in Bangladesh. In his native language, Bengali, Das has authored seven poetry books. He has served as editor of several literary magazines, written short stories and published columns in his home country. He says his proudest accomplishment is the founding of a popular magazine called, The Wild.

However, Tuhin Das says he misses his Bangladeshi home and hopes one day to return there.

“I love my country and also my family, my parents and my nephew and my sisters and a lot of friends,” he said. “I think the situation of my country will be good and I will come back to my country. I hope that.”(VOA)

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Rohingya Camp Refugees face Challenges in Family Planning Brought up by Bangladesh Officials

The Bangladesh Govt is promoting the use of contraceptives to promote family planning among Rohingya Muslims but there are still challenges to be faced

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One of the Rohingya Refugees settled in the hut with their fifth child
One of the Rohingya Refugees settled in the hut with their fifth child . BENAR.

Bangladesh, November 14: As Bangladesh’s government struggled this week to persuade residents of overcrowded refugee camps to use contraceptives as part of a new push to promote family planning among Rohingya Muslims, Nurul Islam’s wife gave birth to their fifth child.

Three-day-old Ayesha was born Tuesday in a tiny, one-room hut in Teknaf upazila (sub-district) in Cox’s Bazar district that her parents and four brothers have called home for the past two months since they fled a fresh cycle of violence and atrocities allegedly committed against the Rohingya minority by the military in neighboring Myanmar.

Islam was elated at what he described as his “latest achievement.”

“Having a child shows that you are a strong man. I now have five of them,” the 32-year-old told BenarNews proudly. “And I will try for more,” he added with an air of confidence.

Unlike most other members of his community, Islam said, he was aware of birth control procedures but wasn’t interested because the practice was “considered a sin.”

“I know what a condom is… but have never used one,” he said – a telling statement uttered by a majority of Rohingya that prompted the family planning office of Cox’s Bazar to introduce birth control steps in about 15 refugee camps sheltering nearly 1 million members of the displaced group.

More than 600,000 of them, including about 20,000 pregnant women, have arrived in southeastern Bangladesh from Buddhist-majority Myanmar since its military launched a counter-offensive in response to insurgent attacks in Rakhine state on Aug. 25, according to the latest estimates from the United Nations.

Rohingya Refugee Camps set up by Bangladesh Government
Rohingya Refugee Camps set up by Bangladesh Government. Wikimedia.

‘Deep-rooted problem’

Officials with the Directorate of Family Planning, which is connected to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, launched the birth control program in Rohingya camps in September.

But soon after, they realized they were “only scratching the surface of a deep-rooted problem,” Pintu Kanti Bhattacharjee, the department’s deputy director, told BenarNews.

“A majority of Rohingya, who are largely uneducated, are not aware of birth control measures. The ones who are aware are convinced that family planning methods conflict with their faith,” he said, adding, “We then realized we were faced with a huge challenge.”

Before the refugee crisis exploded in late August, Bhattacharjee’s department had about 50 workers.

“We have hired about 200 people over the past few weeks and still feel the need for more staff,” he said. The near 250 health workers operate out of 13 offices in Ukhia and Teknaf sub-districts and “go door-to-door to educate Rohingya about the benefits of family planning.”

“So far, we have managed to talk about birth control with 150,000 Rohingya. We convinced 7,500 of them to take contraceptive measures like condoms, pills and injections,” Bhattacharjee said.

‘I would like to opt for birth control

Islam, the refugee who became a father for the fifth time this week, was among the unconvinced multitude.

“Our children are Allah’s gift to us. We will accept as many as he gives us,” he said, as he prepared to walk 1 km (0.6 mile) to the nearest food distribution center to bring his family something to eat.

“Allah will take care of them,” he added, before disappearing into the crowd of refugees rushing to get ration supplies.

Islam’s wife, Amina Khatun, 24, said she did not agree with her husband.

“If they [family planning workers] come here, I would like to opt for birth control,” she told BenarNews.

She had their first child when she was 16 years old, two years after getting married. Over the next eight years she delivered four more children. All of them, including the latest addition to their family, were born at home with help from women in the neighborhood.

“It’s not easy to take care of so many children. And my husband wants to have more,” Khatun said exhaustedly as she breastfed her newborn.

Abdul Muktalif, 57, a camp leader in Teknaf, said that all Rohingya couples had “at least five children in hopes that the more kids they have, the more money they will bring in when they grow up.”

Muktalif, who has been living at the Leda camp for the last 14 years, has 15 children – the youngest 1 year old – from three wives.

Officials weigh voluntary sterilization

Bhattacharjee said his office was mulling the idea of providing voluntary sterilization to Rohingya but “cannot implement it unless the Ministry (of Health and Family Welfare) approves it.”

In a statement issued Thursday, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said: “Simply offering sterilization would be a narrow and unethical approach.

“Family planning is a matter of individual choice, should be completely voluntary, and women, girls and couples should have access to the widest method mix for them to choose from complemented by adequate information and counseling on available methods and services,” it said. (Benar)

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India will soon ask Malaysia to extradite Preacher Zakir Naik

India will soon approach Malaysia with a request to extradite hardline Islamic preacher Zakir Naik.

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India will Request Malayasia to extradite Zakir Naik
India will Request Malayasia to extradite Zakir Naik. wikimedia commons
  • India will seek the Malaysian government’s help in extraditing televangelist Zakir Naik who faces charges of money laundering and inciting hatred through his sermons broadcast on Peace TV, the foreign ministry said Friday.

Zakir Naik obtained permanent residency in Malaysia 

Officials will approach their Malaysian counterparts with the extradition request sometime within the next two weeks, Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar told a weekly news briefing in New Delhi.

“Any formal request seeking the assistance of a foreign government in cases of extradition requires a completion of the internal legal process involving consultation with other ministries involved in the case,” Kumar said.

“At this stage, we are nearing the completion of this process and as soon as this process is complete we will be making an official request to the Malaysian government in this matter,” Kumar said. “It could be a couple of days or a couple of weeks. But it would be soon and the nature of our request would also be clear.”

Naik fled India a month before terrorist carried out a massacre at a café in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in July 2016. This week, Malaysia’s deputy prime minister said the Islamic preacher legally obtained permanent residency in the country, and that Malaysian authorities would arrest him only if he broke local laws or was found to be involved in terrorist activities.

Naik’s speeches allegedly inspired some of the militants who carried out the siege at the Holey Artisan Bakery café in Dhaka, where 29 people, including 20 hostages and five gunmen, were killed.

In November 2016, the Indian government banned Naik’s Mumbai-based NGO Islamic Research Foundation, which partly funded the Peace TV channel that is banned in India, Bangladesh and several other countries.

Kumar said because the Indian government had knowledge of Naik’s whereabouts, the legal procedures would be tailored to requirements between the two countries in their extradition treaty.

Advocate challenges charges

“Naik is being hounded because he hails from a minority community. The charges that the investigating agencies are trying to frame are all stale and are hardly incriminating,” advocate S. Hariharan told BenarNews in a phone interview from Delhi.

“The charges lack veracity and would not stand scrutiny in the court of law. We will be challenging the extradition and deportation.”

Last week, the Indian government filed a 61-page charge sheet against Naik alleging he was involved in a criminal conspiracy by lauding terrorist organizations. In April, a non-bailable warrant was issued against him in an alleged case of money laundering through his NGO and a shell company.

In Malaysia meanwhile, the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) has urged the government to ignore any request from India to extradite Zakir Naik, Reuters reported.

“For Muslim individuals, even when they won by using arguments and not weapons, like Dr. Zakir Naik, they are considered terrorists because their arguments cannot be countered,” PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang wrote last week in an opinion piece published in Harakah Daily.(BenarNews)

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Afghanistan temporarily blocks Social Media Services Whatsapp and Telegram citing security concerns

The restrictions on social media come as the Taliban intensifies attacks on Afghan security forces, inflicting heavy casualties.

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Whatsapp and Telegram
A WhatsApp logo is seen behind a smartphone, Feb. 20, 2014. Authorities in Afghanistan are temporarily blocking WhatsApp and Telegram social media services in the country. VOA

Islamabad, November 4, 2017 : Authorities in Afghanistan are temporarily blocking WhatsApp and Telegram social media services in the country, citing security concerns, officials confirmed on November 3.

An official at the Afghan Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, ATRA, told VOA the social media tools will be suspended for 20 days. The temporary ban on Whatsapp and Telegram follows a request from state security institutions.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a formal announcement is expected Saturday.

Whatsapp and Telegram
The messaging app Telegram is displayed on a smartphone, July 15, 2017. VOA

ATRA has ordered telecom companies to shut down the services November 1, according to a copy of official instructions appearing in Afghan media.

Social media users have complained of technical problems while using the two services in recent days.

The controversial move has sparked criticism of the Afghan government, and it is being slammed as an illegal act and an attack on freedom of expression.

The outage prompted the telecom regulator to issue a statement Friday, saying the ban is meant to test “a new kind of technology” in the wake of users’ complaints.

It went on to defend the restriction, saying WhatsApp and Telegram are merely voice and messaging services and their temporary suspension does not violate the civil rights of Afghans. The government is committed to freedom of expression, the ministry added.

Afghan journalists and activists on Twitter dismissed the statement.

“This seems to be the beginning of government censorship. If it’s not resisted soon the gov’t will block FB & twitter,” wrote Habib Khan Totakhil on Twitter.

“Gov’t fails to deliver security, now it seeks to hide its incompetence by imposing ban on messaging platforms. Totalitarianism?,” said the Afghan journalist.

“#Censorship is against what freedom we stood for in #Afghanistan post 2001. Gains shouldn’t go to waste,” tweeted activist Nasrat Khalid.

An estimated 6 million people in war-torn Afghanistan can access internet-based services. The growth of media and social media activism have been among the few success stories Afghanistan has seen in the post-Taliban era.

Classifying numbers

The restrictions on social media come as the Taliban intensifies attacks on Afghan security forces, inflicting heavy casualties.

The insurgent group also relies heavily on WhatsApp and Telegram, Twitter and Facebook to publicize its battlefield gains.

The Afghan government has lately barred the United States military from releasing casualty numbers, force strength, operation readiness, attrition figures and performance assessments of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.

The U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, John Sopko, while briefing members of Congress on Wednesday, severely criticized the classification move. He maintained American taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent.

“The Taliban know this [Afghan casualties], they know who was killed. They know all about that. The Afghans know about it, the U.S. military knows about it. The only people who wouldn’t know are the [American] people who are paying for it,” Sopko noted.

The United States has spent nearly $120 billion on reconstruction programs in Afghanistan since 2002. More than 60 percent of the money has been used to build Afghan security forces. (VOA)