Friday December 14, 2018

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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Violence And Intimidation Directed Towards Rohingyas In Bangladesh Camps

Human Rights Watch warned in a report in August that the Bangladeshi government was restricting access to basic services by resisting attempts by aid agencies.

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Rohingya, Violence
Rohingya refugees carry a hume pipe in Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

The failed attempt to send thousands of Rohingya back to Myanmar starting this month has drawn attention to alleged violence and intimidation by security forces against members of the Muslim minority living in Bangladesh’s sprawling refugee camps.

Bangladesh has boosted its international reputation by hosting more than 730,000 Rohingya who fled a vicious campaign by Myanmar’s military last year that U.N. investigators have labelled genocide – an accusation Myanmar has consistently denied.

But Bangladesh appears keen to demonstrate that Rohingya refugees will not be welcome there indefinitely. The planned repatriations sparked fear and chaos last week as Rohingya went into hiding – and in a handful of reported cases attempted suicide – to avoid being sent back.

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
Rohingya refugee children shout slogans during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

Meanwhile, allegations of sporadic beatings, looting and intimidation by Bangladeshi soldiers, police and camp officials have underscored the bleak conditions faced by Rohingya in their host country, where most are denied official refugee status and face restrictions on freedom of movement.

The repatriation of some 2,000 refugees was scheduled to begin last Thursday, but Bangladesh has now put the plans on hold until next year after failing to find any Rohingya willing to go back.

Rohingya in the camps have told VOA that soldiers were stationed near the homes of those who were told they would be sent back last week, fueling fears of forced repatriation and adding to widespread distress in communities already suffering extreme trauma after last year’s violence.

One Rohingya man told VOA anonymously that block leaders in the camps were also “announcing with loudspeakers… that it’s essential for everyone to carry ID with them whenever and wherever they go if they leave their homes.”

Late last month, security forces looted property from Rohingya shopkeepers at the Balukhali camp, said John Quinley, a human rights specialist with the non-profit organization Fortify Rights.

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
Rohingya refugees walk under rain clouds on June 26, 2018, in Jamtoli refugee camp in Bangladesh. VOA

“Right now the security forces are operating in the camps with total impunity,” he said.

In another case earlier this month, Fortify Rights reported that security forces rounded up 18 Rohingya leaders and slapped and hit some of them while telling them to instruct other refugees to cooperate with a new U.N.-backed project to provide them with “smart cards.”

Many Rohingya oppose the identity cards because they fear the information on them will be shared with the Myanmar government.

Bangladesh’s refugee, relief and repatriation commissioner, Abul Kalam, told VOA he was unaware of the allegations of violence but would follow up. “Generally, it is not acceptable that someone would apply force on or beat someone to do or not to do something,” he said.

Quinley called on the U.N.’s refugee agency to “do everything in their power to make sure that the Bangladeshi authorities are respecting human rights.”

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
An elderly Rohingya refugee holds a placard during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh.VOA

Spokesperson Caroline Gluck said the agency has notified the authorities of a “small number” of reports of violence related to the smart card project. The agency has “been following up with them to ascertain the circumstances of what happened,” she told VOA.

Officials have responded that the incidents were “not linked” to the smart card project, she said.

She added, “The new ID card will enable refugees to be better protected and will streamline access to assistance and services.”

Mohammed Sheikh Anwar, a Rohingya activist, told VOA the Bangladeshi government “needs to keep the lower-level authorities in check. There should be an accountability measure.”

“Committing violence against genocide survivors to make them agree to the authorities’ terms is not the solution,” he added.

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
A Rohingya refugee woman draws water from a hand pump at a temporary shelter in New Delhi, India.

Last week a Rohingya man named Ata Ullah said he was beaten at the office of an official at the Chakmarkul camp, the Guardian reported, after he failed to provide the official with a list of refugees.

Ata Ullah said in a video circulated on social media that when he couldn’t provide the official with a list he “was beaten with a large stick… they stepped on my neck, I could not stand it.”

Also Read: Bangladesh Government Build a New Rohingya Camp

Human Rights Watch warned in a report in August that the Bangladeshi government was restricting access to basic services by resisting attempts by aid agencies and Rohingya refugees to “create any structures, infrastructure, or policies that suggest permanency.”

As a result, the report said, “refugee children do not go to school, but rather to ‘temporary learning centers,’ where ‘facilitators,’ not ‘teachers,’ preside over the classrooms. The learning centers are inadequate, only providing about two hours of instruction a day,” the report said. (VOA)