Discovering the Voice Within | The Daily Star
12:01 AM, November 15, 2014 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:53 AM, March 08, 2015

Discovering the Voice Within

Discovering the Voice Within

Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo
Source: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo

This is a story of Bipasha Matin and how she and her friends helped pass a law in Bangladesh.
In the year 2012, when India patented the art of making Jamdani-- an age old Bangladeshi traditional form of making sarees-- as their own, many in Bangladesh were left thunderstruck. Bipasha Matin, a student of Dhaka University, however, thought of doing something about it. "As soon as I read that India patented Jamdani, I immediately sat online to find out all about it," says Bipasha, now a lecturer of Marketing at Daffodil International University.
She read about the Geographical Indication Act (the GI Act), according to which a country patents or registers its resources, artwork, services and so on with the World Trade Organisation (WTO). As a result, the country enjoys various advantages in the global business market. "For instance, if Mayanmar wants to import Katari Bhog rice to its country, all they would have to do is place this request with the Word Trade Organisation," says Bipasha. "Katari Bhog is actually a Dinajpur specialty and if Bangladesh would patent or register this particular crop, the WTO would automatically suggest Dinajpur as the best place for trade with Myanmar. Not only is there an opportunity created for trade, but the country is also being branded on the global platform in a positive way."
Since 1990 many countries began to patent their respected resources and pass the GI Act. "In 1994, Bangladesh was also sent an application to do so as well," says Bipasha. "In 2003, the government had decided to work on the GI bill and patent resources. In 2007, a draft proposal was made by the government to proceed with the GI Act. Since then, for many years, this draft proposal was left the way it was. I found it on a website while doing my research."
Bipasha then went to the Ministry of Industries and even managed a conference with Dilip Barua, the then minister. "My friends from university and I had gone to meet with him. I remember we had to miss class to do so and the professor had deducted 10 marks each!"
Young Bipasha and her friends spoke to the minister regarding the research that they had done and also how so many of our resources should be patented, for instance the Ilish (Hilsa) fish, Royal Bengal Tiger and so much more. "We also asked him how Jamdani was never patented by Bangladesh. What is this GI Act -- was the first question that he asked," says Bipasha. "He had no idea! After we explained to him, Mr Barua called the registrar of Department of Patent, Design and trademark, Bangladesh. The registrar claimed that the department was taking public opinion before patenting the products, a required step before registering with the WTO. How could the department be taking public opinions for seven years?! I could not help asking in front of everyone."  
The minister then promised to place the issue on the priority list and take the matter to the parliament in September that year. "In addition, we decided to organise public forums so that we could gather public opinions ourselves," says Bipasha. "On October 11, 2012, we organised an open panel discussion in Dhaka University, where we invited representatives from the Taanti Associtaion, Jamdani Association, BGMEA, including the academia. This is because the draft proposal, which would soon be a law, should be included in the syllabus and everyone should be familiar with it in Bangladesh."
Three kinds of goods can be patented with the World Trade Organisation -- agricultural goods, natural goods and manufactured good. "A mere student group cannot go up to the WTO and tell them that Jamdani belongs to Bangladesh or that the famous Yogurt from Bagura, popularly known as Bagurar Doi, Mezbani mangsho (meat) from Chittagong and Rajshahi silk, amongst many more, need to be patented as well," explains Bipasha. "The government needs to provide databases dating back to 3-4 generations at least, with strong historical proof."
While the government worked on passing the law, Bipasha and her friends worked on getting databases. "We included many young students from different parts of the country and asked them to provide names of goods, famous in the respective areas," says Bipasha.
On 6 November 2013, Bipasha got a call from the ministry. "It was the day the GI Act law would be passed in the parliament," she says. "I was invited to be present there! It was a proud moment for me. That's when I realised that I had a voice and it mattered! The task was not easy but then again, it was not impossible."

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