From the very beginning of this year it has been a breathless rollercoaster ride. Corruption scandals, political shenanigans and the worst factory disaster left Bangladesh gasping for air. Politics took a devastating turn when political rivalry took the form of brutal violence against people and public property, its debilitating effects seeping into every crevice of society. In the midst of this bleak, blighted scenario, were a few silver linings - remarkable victories in the sports arena as well as acts of bravery by young men and women. The Star magazine team looks back at some of the individuals who made headlines - for the right and wrong reasons.
History's Terrible Twins
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her archrival Khaleda Zia are the by-products of two ghastly incidents of Bangladesh's history. Hasina was brought into politics after the tragic murder of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, a time when the Awami League (AL) was split into two feuding factions, both facing waning popular support. Since those forlorn days, Hasina, who had little experience in politics, let alone leading the country's largest political party, has steered the AL into many turbulent bends. One of the biggest challenges to her leadership came when the AL had suffered an ignominious defeat in the general election of 1991; the other was in 2007 when a demand for reform was raised within the party, a move that could have ended her political career. She has handled the challenges against her leadership rather well, has consolidated power only to become one of the two most powerful persons in present Bangladesh.
Khaleda, on the other hand, was introduced into local politics after the assassination of her husband Lt Gen Ziaur Rahman. Khaleda faced the first big hurdle in politics when party stalwart KM Obaidur Rahman left Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) during the rule of deposed dictator Gen HM Ershad. Khaleda boycotted two general elections under Ershad, which has earned her the title of 'uncompromising leader'. She led the BNP to victory in 1991, a surprise win for the party. Another debacle that her leadership faced was in 2007 when a military controlled government tried to split the country's two major political parties in the name of brining about reform.
The kind of hatred that the two leading ladies in Bangladesh politics share with each other was exposed this year when a telephonic conversation between them was 'leaked'. The parley ended bitterly with Khaleda accusing her rival of lying. There are reasons to believe that the presence of both the ladies in politics and their acrimonious relationship is one of the many reasons behind the present political impasse. This is especially so if the AL leadership goes ahead with the one-sided election of January 5, which no doubt will make us compare the AL with the likes of the BNP and Jatya Party, which were born in the womb of military dictatorship.
Khaleda whose ‘movement’ has killed numbers of people in arson attacks might not want to run for a parliamentary seat in the general election her party decides to participate. The same cannot be said about Hasina. Be that as it may, it is, however, certain that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to reform Bangladesh's politics if both the 'begums' remain where they are now. Only time can tell as to when and how a change in Bangladesh politics will take place.
A GAME OF SHADOWS
Gonojagoron Moncho (GM) was formed when Jamaat leader Abdul Kader Molla was handed down life imprisonment for crimes against humanity at the beginning of this year. The Moncho, which consisted of mostly left activists, were successful in drawing the attention of the media and a large number of youths. Thanks to the movement, International Crimes Act was passed, introducing a provision where the prosecution can appeal to the appellate division if they feel aggrieved with a lower court verdict. But the zeal with which the GM was formed soon started to fizzle out. It was mostly due to a debate centering the murder of Rajib Haider, a GM activist who was outspoken about his atheist beliefs. After his murder, allegedly by a little known terrorist cell, the GM started to entertain some Islamic elements into its programmes. In fact, the GM lost much its support base as it centered round only war crimes, more so at a time when the nation is facing some pressing issues such as corruption, misgovernance, the killing of innocent people during hartal and blockades and holding of the general election. Also Awami League could not quite ride on the wave that the GM has created.
The GM's stagnant popular support is inversely proportional with that of Hefazat-e-Islam (HI). Formed by a madrasa rector in a remote village in
Chittagong, the HI shot to fame after it had held a huge gathering in the heart of the capital to materialise some demands that the group knows the government cannot meet. The HI's second rally in Dhaka and a GM-style sit in was met with some harsh actions by the law enforcers, resulting in the death of a few. The HI and its paraphernalia have put the death toll to a few thousands. Given the level of trust that the government enjoys in the country, many actually bought the HI's claim and the 'Shapla Massacre' has been one of the reasons why the AL met a humiliating defeat in the recent mayoral polls.
Both the GM and HI are now a skeleton of its previous self. It is highly unlikely that they will be able to remain as strong independent pressure groups. It is unfortunate that the GM, which started its journey as a progressive block, has not been able to keep the momentum and has failed to become an alternative political force.
Obaidul Qader made headlines during his two years as communication minister for his outspoken remarks, even going against his own party to point out the mistakes in the administration. His voice was loud and clear - he spoke against corrupt government officials, against the finance minister blaming his “impractical stance” for the delay in Padma bridge construction, and against the shady members of the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) for destroying the image of the party. He earned many fans for his much publicised surprise visits to various state enterprises, catching anomalies on the spot, much to the delight of the public.
In the two years of his tenure he became hugely popular for being able to achieve a majority of the targets that he had pledged to fulfill. A Facebook fan has written on his wall that the communications ministry is up there on the chart as a ministry that stands out for its excellent performance in the last two years. According to the communications ministry, the plethora of ambitious projects - elevated expressway, the upgrading of the Dhaka-Chittagong highway and some others - will be completed within a few months. Although major projects like the Padma Bridge are yet to get underway, the scene is changing and communication development projects are up and running all over the country.
Call the Rab
Jatiya Party chief Gen HM Ershad has been infamous for changing his political stance overnight. But his recent decision of not going to the polls under Sheikh Hasina, it seems, will not change. So caught between Ershad and the deep blue sea (rescheduling the election), the government decided to arrest the former military strongman. But even by AL standards, picking Ershad up just like that must have looked quite a strange thing to do. Hence, it came up with an ingenious story where the Rapid Action Battalion (Rab), which was established to deal with serious crimes, took Ershad to the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) as, the Rab said, the former President 'was not feeling well'.
It came as a welcome change from the 'crossfire' ridden Rab reports that hit newspaper headlines. But as it sometimes happens in a farce, the tragedy (Ershad's ill health) turned out to be something to be laughed about: a healthy Ershad receiving a bouquet of flowers from an AL adviser was soon published in the newspapers. To make matters even more laughable, Ershad, supposed to be confined to some hospital bed, was seen playing golf. What happened to Ershad is a mystery. Something, however, is unmistakably clear: Ershad thought (perhaps still thinks) that January 5 general election would not take place. It is still not the time though to tell if he was right.
Bangladesh's First Woman Speaker
April 30, 2013 won't be celebrated as a national holiday but it still was a momentous day for Bangladeshis all over the world. Dr Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury was elected as the first woman of the National Parliament on that day.
Before being elected in this important post, Chaudhury was the State Minister of the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs. Her nomination as the speaker did trigger controversies as she was not elected as a Member of Parliament through direct popular voting but was chosen by the Awami League – she was the International Affairs Secretary of the party – to occupy one of the parliamentary seats reserved for women.
We are glad to finally see a woman in this pivotal post in the government. Electing a woman as the 13th speaker of Bangladesh might seem like a small step by a government but it is definitely a giant leap for the whole of womankind.
Mad about Muhith
AMA Muhith is one of the few statesmen of our country who have hit the headlines through his comments. He compared Nobel Laureate Dr Yunus with terrorists, called all the expert economists “rubbish” and “nonsense”, and addressed the Integrity Department of the World Bank “worthless”. Muhith's dealing with the Hallmark issue, share market collapse and Padma bridge corruption was always in the headlines. His role was highly questioned when he commented that Hallmark was not a major scam in the banking sector and the amount of money Hallmark withdrew was “negligible”. It may be mentioned that Hallmark withdrew some 4000 crore taka as funded and non-funded loans from the Sonali Bank Limited, one of the major state owned commercial banks. His role in controlling the share market made him a controversial phenomenon in the politico-economical arena of Bangladesh. He fought an uncompromising dual with Dr Yunus, split the Grameen Bank into 19 parts and removed Dr Yunus from his very own organisation.
Awami League's Enfant Terrible
Golam Maola Rony is one of the most discussed and televised parliamentarians of the Awami in 2013. From the very beginning of this year this MP attracted people's attention by being outspoken about the failures and corruption of his party. His analysis and commentary on various political aspects especially of his party has made him a popular figure in TV talk shows. Some say that his “too honest” image has made many senior leaders angry. Even an AL policymaker has said, “Rony is the evil star for Awami League.” But his TV intellectual image was shattered when he has allegedly beaten some journalists up in his office. After that Rony was sent to jail and he has apologised for his misconduct. He is the first ruling party parliamentarian who has been imprisoned when his party is in power. But such controversy has failed to silence him. He continued to speak and air his thought frankly and fearlessly. Of late he has been in the news by expressing sympathy with the hanged Jamaat Leader Abdul Kader Molla, saying Molla and 'butcher Kader' of Mirpur are not the same person.
In August 2004, Salman Khan began remotely tutoring his cousin, Nadia, who was struggling with “unit conversion”. Since Nadia was in New Orleans and 'Sal' was in Boston working at a hedge fund at that time, Sal started tutoring her via telephone and Yahoo Doodle after work. Eventually, word got around and he was tutoring a handful of his cousins and family members. Sal started recording videos and posting them on YouTube in 2006. More and more people kept watching, and Sal, who has three degrees from MIT and an MBA from Harvard has created nearly 3,000 of them since then. Today his website (www.khanaca-demy.org) covers a staggering array of topics–from basic arithmetic and algebra to the Electoral College and the French Revolution. Over the past two years the free videos have been viewed more than 200 million times. Volunteers have translated Khan's videos into 24 different languages, including Urdu, Swahili and Chinese. Khan's meteoric success has attracted the financial support of a bevy of high-profile, socially responsible backers, including billionaire Ann Doerr, Bill Gates, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and Google, whose chairman, Eric Schmidt, serves on Khan Academy's board. The company's 37 employees are mostly software developers with stints at places like Google and Facebook. Khan grew up in a suburb of New Orleans, where his Bangladeshi mother raised him on her own by cobbling together a series of jobs and businesses. Khan has given commencement speeches at Ivy League schools like Rice and Yale.
The Don of Narayanganj
In 2013 any news that came from Naryanganj would be incomplete without Shamim Osman in it. Being the most influential member of Awami League backed Osman family, Shamim graced the newspapers with all of his 'talents' to make controversial headlines. He left no stone unturned in making Narayanganj full of hot news, some of which are stained with blood. Extortion from transport owners, terrorising ordinary people and opposition activists, beating up famous footballer Emily, grabbing properties of even a graveyard were some of his regular features. Shamim Osman and his family members' involvement in the murder of Tanvir Muhammad Toki, a brilliant student and son of Ganajagoron Mancho organiser Rafiur Rabbi exceeded all of his previous vicious activities. When the law enforcers discovered Shamim's dungeon with murdered Twaqi's blood stained shirt, it became clear as to how this family has terrorised the inhabitants of Narayanganj. Far from putting him into the trial, the AL has given him nomination for the next general election, perhaps to unleash some more terror.
A Winner’s Stroke
Siddikur Rahman, known as the 'Tiger Woods of Bangladesh golf' claimed his second Asian Tour Title when he beat SSP Chowrasia and Anirban Lahiri of India by a single stroke in a tense final day of the Hero Indian Open at the Delhi Golf Club in November. The 29-year-old, 5'5” Siddikur, who had become the first Bangladeshi golfer to win on the Asian Tour when he clinched the Brunei Open in 2010, carded three-over-par (75) on the last day for an aggregate of 14-under (274), just enough to give him one shot victory.
He kept $225,000 of the prize money, taking his season's earnings to $449,167. From an impoverished family Siddikur was forced to leave school at an early age and started working as a ball boy at Kurmitola Golf Club before being promoted to a caddie. There he learned the game with a make-shift seven iron head stuck onto a piece of metal rod. He turned pro in 2007 and won four titles in the Professional Golfer's Tour of India in the next three years before landing the biggest prize–the Brunei Open in 2010. The ace golfer has inspired players to excel in a sport that is considered “a rich man's game' by many in the country.
A Fallen Hero
When Mohammad Ashraful admitted to match-fixing during the 2013 Bangladesh Premier League, Mushfiqur Rahim called it a "loss of pride" for the Bangladesh cricket team. Here is a batsman who scored the fastest fifty in Test among any batsman in the world and scored the fastest fifty in the ODI and T-20 international among any Bangladeshi batsman and till date holds the record of the youngest player to score a hundred in a Test match. He provided the entertainment quotient that turned heads towards Bangladesh, be it the unbeaten 158 against India in 2004, the magnificent 100 against Australia in 2005 triggering a huge upset, or the innovative 87 against South Africa in the 2007 World Cup. When he made a comeback in 2013 after being dropped due to poor form, he made 190 against Sri Lanka. Ashraful, who has been in the eye of the storm ever since his confessional statement to the Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) about his involvement not only in this year's BPL but allegedly also in international games for the country, admitted that he was one of seven people who had been charged with match-fixing in the BPL. Fans felt that he let the entire country and the sport down. How history will evaluate Ashraful remains to be seen.
Top of the World
During the first Test match between Bangladesh and New Zealand (October 9-13), 22-year old Shohag Gazi achieved the cricket equivalent of the moon landing by slamming an unbeaten 101 and bagging 8 wickets including a hat-trick. No human in the 136-year-old history of the sport had done it before. For a man who learned to play cricket with a tennis ball, it was a long journey from his humble home in Patuakhali. He made his first-class debut in the 2009-10 season, starting off with a five-wicket haul against Chittagong Division. The following season he was the highest wicket taker in the National Cricket League, taking 41 wickets. In 2012, against West Indies, he became the first off spinner to bowl the first over of a Test match on debut, ripping through the batting order and claiming 9 wickets. By his third Test against Sri Lanka, Gazi was the lead bowler of the Bangladesh team. Despite all the adulation and fame he has received from the sport, he remains impeccably mild mannered and self-effacing. His success is emblematic of Bangladesh's growing aspirations at the regional and global stage. He embodies what Bangladesh can become: the world's best at something. Gazi has transcended the heritage of a society divided and handicapped by politics and ideology at a time when people of this country desperately needed something to believe in.
The Man Who Built ‘Television’
2013 brings a pack of good news for the film enthusiasts of Bangladesh. One of our Bangladeshi films 'Television' has drifted through quite a few film festivals around the world, bagged a number of noteworthy awards and earned prestige and popularity for our Bangladeshi film industry. For giving us these proud moments throughout the year, director, Mostafa Sarwar Farooki along with his team surely deserves a round of applause. ‘Television’ was screened in the Perspectives Film Festival in Singapore this October and had been selected in the festival's “Breakthrough in Independent Cinema” category. Also in October, it competed with a number of quality films from all across Asia in Rome's Asiatica Film Mediale's and has won the “City of Rome” prize for best feature film (jury). In addition, it won the best feature (audience) in popular vote in Asiatica. Then again, the film was screened in Kolkata International Film Festival and won the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (Netpac) award. ‘Television’ was also awarded with Jury Grand Prize in Asia Pacific Screen Award, 2013 and was nominated for best film and best screenplay in the same contest. Previously, the acclaimed film was nominated to compete at the Oscars in the “Best Foreign Language Film” category. Not only ‘Television’, this year Farooki has created a buzz with his film “Pipra Bidya”, which had its world premiere at the 10th Dubai International Film Festival.
The Bangla Bond
One of the catchphrases of 2013 that we know by heart is Oshombhob ke shombhob korari Anantar Kaj! This dialogue came out of our invincible superhero Ananta Jalil's mouth in 'Mission Impossible' a TV commercial of Grameenphone. Throughout this year Ananta Jalil has been the centre of discussion for his leading role in Nisshartho Bhalobasha (translated as What is love), his superlative, hilarious dialogues and participation in talk shows, his hi tech surreal stunts or for his peppy song “Dhakar pola very very smart.” Ananta's latest film Nisshartha Bhalobhasha, which was released last Eid-ul-Fitr in over 200 theatres all around the country, is still running in a number of cinemas. This year, he also started working on “Most Welcome 2”, claimed to have the biggest budget in the history of Bangladeshi film. Apart from making onscreen news, AJ's infidelity rumors with his wife Barsha also made his fans jump off the seat. As soon as the Ananta-Barsha breakup rumour was squashed, he again came in the lime light by taking Barsha to watch a Barca match in Camp Nou and by buying her a brand new Bulgari watch worth USD 22,000 from Dubai as an Eid present. All through 2013, our Bangla Bond Ananta Jalil kept people glued to his antics - both on screen and off.
The Inventor of Artificial Kidney
Dr Shuvo Roy, a Bangla-deshi American scientist, has made an epoch making invention for the humanity. His invention of implantable artificial kidney for kidney failure patients has brought about a revolutionary change in medical science. Nearly two million people worldwide are affected by the end stage of renal diseases. Dialysis is the only treatment available but it's too expensive and is complex for most of the patients. It also does not replace all the functions of a healthy kidney. Kidney transplant is another option which is very limited due to donor shortage. Roy's invention will be the key to save the lives of millions of people suffering from renal failure. His bio-compatible artificial kidney can be effectively attached to the circulatory system and the device will allow patients to live untethered from dialysis machine and normally eat and drink.
Mahmud in the Middle
Mahmudur Rahman is one of the most discussed and controversial names of 2013. He and his daily Amar Desh produced lots of notable events in Bangladesh. Some of the reports of his daily triggered the madrassa based Islamic leaders' demand that blasphemy law to be passed. They took to the streets under the banner of Hefajot-e-Islam. He published the controversial Skype conversation between the two judges of the International Crimes Tribunal, which led to the resignation of one of the judges of the tribunal. Soon Mahmudur's office was shut down by the law enforcers and he was interned in his office. Finally on April 11, 2013 he was arrested on charges of sedition related to the hacked Huq-Ziauddin conversations, for committing cyber crimes and inciting violence. He spent many days in police remand and was hospitalised due to alleged torture. Despite the credibility issue of his newspaper reports, suppression of media and attracted the global outcry on human rights issues in Bangladesh. Journalists, human rights activists at home and abroad have demanded the release of Mahmudur Rahman. But it is true that the issues that Mahmudur Rahman has introduced into Bangladesh politics are yet to be solved and are still threatening the stability of our country.
Common Woman, Uncommon Valour
It is human instinct to flee the scene of a grue same crime. In times of danger, it is only natural for a person to be more concerned about their own safety and protect their lives. Jharna Begum, a 28-year old single mother of two, was an exception to the rule.
Jharna was the only local to brave the wrath of Shibir activists and help the seriously injured Jahangir Alam, in-charge of the Upashahar police camp, who was savagely beaten up by the said activists earlier this year. Without worrying about her safety, Jharna ran to the scene, covering her scarf around the wounded police officer's head to curb the bleeding. Her attempts at saving a fellow human being were not diminished even when she saw that no one was willing to come forward with a helping hand.
Even when others joined her Jharna continued with her efforts, not abandoning her responsibility even when Jahangir was taken to the hospital. She waited at the hospital until the policeman's relatives arrived at the hospital, and left Jahangir's side only when she was sure that he was in the care of loved ones.
She was honoured by the police department with a crest and certificate and was recently rewarded with a permanent job at the attorney general's office. For Jharna, the courage she showed was only natural as she did it for the “sake of humanity.” But for the rest of us, Jharna Begum has become an icon; she has become the face of compassion and valour of the common person on the streets.
The Making of a Hero
Keshab Roy's story could have been like million other teenagers born and brought up in poverty. He could have continued working at a pawn shop for Tk 300 per month to supplement his family’s modest in come.
On July 12 Keshab, an 18-year-old from Nilphamari, was amidst one of the seven recipients of the Youth Courage Award given by the United Nations. Keshab was recognized for his courage in battling against child marriage and promoting education for all children.
Keshab himself was forced to drop out of school when he was in class six after his father was suddenly taken ill, and he then started working for a neighbourhood pawn shop to provide for his family. He was determined to complete his education, however, and he was supported in him ambition by Kanchon Chandra Roy, president of the NGO Surjomukhi, who even persuaded Keshab's father to allow him to rejoin school.
He then joined the local training programmes of Shurjomukhi, promoting children's right to education and raising awareness on other social issues. After becoming the president of Rangdhanu Shishu Forum, Keshab became even more involved in preventing child marriages. He has managed to stop 25 child marriages in Nilphamari till date, and helped in encouraging over 50 drop-out school students to continue their education.
The Solitary Fighter
After two years of a long battle with the Ministry of Home Affairs, he has finally begun to find a fresh lease on life. He wants to be a lawyer to fight against the corrupt system and the arbitrary acts of law enforcers. He is not frightened of what the future has in store but confident that one day his dreams will come true.
Limon Hossain, is the young man whose leg was amputated after he was shot by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and left bleeding for a long time before getting any treatment. They had mistakenly shot Limon thinking he was a criminal they were looking for. The law enforcers, to cover up their goof up, falsely accused him for carrying arms and obstructing law enforcers. However, after two years of Limon's immense struggle, the government finally withdrew the case against him in July this year. But Limon Hossain is still waging against the state machinery and he has chosen not to drop his case against the RAB.
The Face of Inhumanity
Sohel Rana has been in the news after April 24. But for all the wrong reasons.
Rana, possibly the most hated man in the country, was responsible for the death of over a thousand workers who lost their lives in one of the worst industrial disasters in recent history. Workers had seen cracks on Rana Plaza in Savar the day before the building collapsed but authorities did not take their fears into account, farcing them to come to work the next day or face serious cuts in their wages. Rana had also told journalists that the cracks were “nothing serious,” ignoring the warnings of engineer Abdur Razzak, who repeatedly asserted that the building was unsafe.
What more can be expected out of a man who bullied adjacent landowners, and took their property by force to build this eight-storeyed structure? Rana was a notorious muscleman, a 'mastan', involved in the trading of illegal drugs and guns, and protected by corrupt local government officials. Rana was the joint convenor of the local unit of Awami League's youth wing Jubo League, and would unashamedly brandish his influence in his locality, threatening people and exploiting his political connections for his own gains. His political allies seemed to have been mesmerized by him, as they didn't think twice before giving him a construction permit to build Rana Plaza, despite allegations against him, and even went on to give him a second permit to add upper floors that is said to have destabilized the building.
Rana might be the face of the terrible disaster but he's not the sole villain. Corrupt government officials who protected him and granted him access to build his unstable complex, other owners of factories in the complex who did not care for the safety of their workers, as they continued to violate every code and regulation, the engineer who should have reported the cracks in the building to a higher authority and demanded that the plaza be closed until further inspection – all of them are to be blamed for the death of 1,129 factory workers.
The Rana Plaza tragedy has had long term effects on the country's garment industry - many buyers cancelled orders, with Bangladesh being internationally criticised for its negligence of basic safety codes for workers.
Rana, though far from being the sole culprit, is the symbol of everything wrong with our wealth obsessed, power hungry, political society. Unfortunately, however, our country is overpopulated with countless Ranas, who are willing to risk lives to satisfy their insatiable appetite for wealth.