ShahidulNews

(Moved to http://www.shahidulnews.com)

Dhaka Burns

Well I’m finally stumped for words. A party affiliated president, now
has the triple roles of president, head of the military and head of
the ‘neutral’ caretaker government. While rumours of a military
takeover abound, and the prime minister’s son threatens that they will
not go to the streets ‘empty handed’, the news that the leader of the
opposition has not threatened immediate protests, but has rather opted
to see how the new head of the caretaker government conducts himself,
is a healthy sign. Too many lives have already been lost.

A lot of changes need to take place to erase the mistrust created. A
genuinely non partisan group of advisers need to be selected, the
election commission and the voters list, both clearly not neutral,
need to be changed, and he has to clearly demonstrate that he is no
longer a puppet. Unlikely based on his track record, but one can hope.
Given the current mood, another sham election will surely light the
fuse.

Shahidul Alam
29th October. Dhaka

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Clashes between opposition and Jamaat due to demand for neutral head of caretaker government. (upload incomplete)

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Above photographs taken on 28th October 2006 by Shahidul Alam.
And today 29th October 2006, a party affiliated president, makes himself president, head of military and head of ‘neutral’ caretaker government. Today’s photographs taken by Shehab Uddin. No unauthorised copying of any kind. To publish these or high res images, contact library@drik.net. More pictures and text to follow.

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October 28, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | 9 Comments

On One Eid Day

     

Dr A.K.M. Abdus Samad, the director of the mental hospital in Hemayetpur, Pabna, was pragmatic. “An average of 2% of all populations are schizophrenic, and of course there are many other mental ailments. In this country of 130 million, we have one hospital with 400 beds. What do you expect? The government allocation for food is 18 taka per day (about 45 US cents when we met in 1993). Many mental patients are hyperactive and need more food. A good portion of that 18 taka goes to the contractor, the remainder has to provide three meals a day. So what can I do? I make sure they get plenty of rice. That way they at least have a full stomach. We have little money for drugs, and virtually no staff for counseling, so we keep them doped. Then they don’t suffer as much.”

The other doctors had a different take. “Pity you’ve come on a Friday they said. On a weekday we could have shown you an electric shock treatment.” It seemed to be a popular ‘treatment’. To the uninitiated like me, the violent convulsions and the near comatose state the patients lay in afterwards didn’t seem to be the way to treat anyone. The care givers differed. The treatment was generally given to suicidal patients they said, and the way they saw it, it was “better than letting them kill themselves.” I didn’t have much of an argument against that one.

I saw the group of visitors come round to the dorms at night and peep through the windows. It was well after visiting hours, but they had paid to get in and have a look at the ‘pagols’ (loonies). On Eid day, many would dress up and come to the peep show. Some patients did get visitors on Eid, a select few even got new clothes or special food, but for most, it was another day of waiting. Another day of hoping that someone close might come and take them away.

In every ward I went, someone would take me aside, and slip a note in my hand. Invariably, scrawled in that note would be an address. “You must take it to them (their relatives). Tell them I’m OK. Tell them to take me away from here.” The first few times I did try and contact those relatives. Some addresses had people who recognized them, most didn’t. None seemed keen on responding. Eventually I gave up, but I would still take the notes. In Hemayetpur, even false hope seemed something worth giving.

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As another Eid approaches, I remember the child Shoeb Faruquee had photographed in Chittagong. It won him an award at World Press Photo, but I wonder where the child is now.

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Patient at mental hospital, Bangladesh
© Shoeb Faruquee, Bangladesh, Drik/Majority World

Mohammad Moinuddin had yet another story to tell:

http://www.newint.org/columns/exposure/2006/08/01/md-main-uddin/

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I was on an assignment at Domra Kanda, an asylum for the mentally ill in Kishoreganj, Bangladesh, where the only medications provided are these ‘medallions’ filled with spiritual spells and ‘blessed water’ from traditional spiritual healers. Illiteracy about medical treatments – particularly those related to mental health issues – misconceptions and limited health facilities mean that many parents resort to their faith in such medallions and other blessings from spiritual healers. The clinics which provide such traditional solutions do not offer scientific medications of any type and neither are they approved by any health authority. But for many Bangladeshis, faith in traditional healers and their treatments is more powerful, effective and easily available than scientific medication. The parents strongly believe that it is their faith in such spirituality that will cure their child and bring back the long lost peace and happiness to their family.

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In a world where normality is a virtue, I salute the few individuals who have chosen to be different.

Shahidul Alam

23rd October 2006. Dhaka

ps: Apologies to ZAK on my spelling of Eid: http://www.kidvai.com/zak/2005/11/its-that-time-of-year-again.html

October 23, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Bank for the Poor

dr-yunus-ar-office.jpgIt was 1988. The flood waters had reached Dhaka, and I needed a boat to get to the head office of the Grameen (Rural) Bank. A soft spoken unassuming gentleman, casually clad, sat at a plain wooden table. There was no air¬-conditioning and the fresh breeze flowed freely through the open windows. My posh camera seemed quite out of place here.

Dr. Muhammed Yunus shook my hands warmly and words flowed easily from the man who had created one of the most remarkable organisations in banking history.

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(Photos by Shahidul Alam)

The Grameen Bank gave money only to the poor. Loans to the landless were interest free. None of the debtors had collateral. 75% of the bankwas owned by the landless who could purchase shares of Take 100 (about two pounds; each in 1988. Only one share was allowed per person). The bank boasted 346 branches and 3,000,000 members, 64% of whom were women. Incredibly, about 98% of the loans were returned! It was rapidly expanding and by the following year, Yunus hoped to have 500 branches.

An economics graduate from Vanderbilt University, Yunus had been teaching at Tennessee State University when war broke out in Bangladesh in 1971. He got actively involved in the liberation movement and returned to the newly created nation in 1972 and took up teaching at Chittagong University.

The famine in ’74 touched him deeply. The sight of the dying in the streets made him question the validity of the economic theoories that he espoused. During this soul searching he mixed intimately with the villagers and learnt of their habits, their values and their problems. One of them was a woman who made Moras (bamboo stools). She was skilled and conscientious and worked long hours. He was appalled when he discovered that she earned only eight annas (about one pence) for her daily labour! Angered and dismayed, he sought out the reasons for this shamefully unfair setup.

It had long been claimed that laziness, lack. of skill, and extreme conservativeness was the root cause of poverty in Bangladesh. Here was a woman who was skilled, worked extremely hard and had taken the initiative of setting up a business for herself and was still being cruelly exploited.

She did not have the money to buy the bamboo, so she had to borrow from the trader. He paid a price for the finished stool which was barely the price of the raw materials. She ended up with a penny a day!

With the help of a student Emnath, Yunus made up a list of 42 people who worked under similar conditions. He paid out their total capital requirement of Taka 826 (less than a pound per head) from his own pocket. It was a loan, but it was interest free.

Aware that this was not the real solution to the problem, Yunus approached his local bank manager. The man laughed. The idea of giving money to the poor, and that too without collateral, was to him hilarious. Undeterred, Yunus approached the assistant general manager of Janata Bank:, Chittagong. The manager was encouraging,, but felt that in the absence of collateral, a guarantee by influential people in the village would be necessary. Yunus realised that this would eventually lead to some sort of a slave trade. The bank was adamant, and eventually he talked them into accepting him as the guarantor. The manager was reluctant in the beginning, but felt he could take the risk, the sum being so small.

The system worked, all the loans were repaid and more people were offered loans. Yunus suggested that it was time the bank took over the responsibility themselves and lent out money directly to the villagers.“So I tried to establish that this could be done as a business proposition. I became vocal against the banking institutions, arguing that they were making the rich people richer and keeping the poor people poor through something called collateral. Only a few people could have access to funds. The bankers were not convinced.

Finally they challenged me to do it over a whole district, not just a few villages. They said if I could do it over a whole district, and still come back with a good recovery, then they would reconsider. I accepted their challenge. They asked me to go far away, to where people would not recognise me as a teacher but would instead think I was a banker. So I went to a far flung district in 1978, and started working there.”

It worked beautifully. They had almost a 100% recovery. The small loans made a big difference to the people, but the banks still dragged their feet. Yunus realised that if he went back to the University, the project would die. He suggested the formation of a new bank. One owned by the people themselves. The banks were skeptical, but he got a lot of public support, and eventuual1y in October ’83, an independent bank called the Grameen Bank was formed.

Dr. Yunus is modest about his own contribution. Asked if the bank would survive without him, he smiled “Look at what we have achieved, could it ever have been possible without dedication at all levels ?”

There is a more important reason for the bank’s survival. Contrary to most other viable commercial banks, this one is truly designed to serve the people.

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(Photos by Shahidul Alam)

Always quick to accept innovations, Professor Yunus was the first person to order an email account when we setup Bangladesh’s first email service in the early nineties. He was user number six, the first five accounts being Drik’s internal numbers. Later he ordered the entire Grameen office to be networked and had generic email addresses issued to key personnel.

The bank now has nearly six and a half million members, 96% of whom are women. The $ 5.3 billion given out as loans and the $ 4.7 billion recovered are figures any commercial banker would be proud of. Since then other Grameen entities under the more recently formed Grameen Foundation have been born. Grameen Phone, a highly successful telecommunications company has provided phones to rural women, many of whom have become successful entrepreneurs. However both the Grameen Bank and micro-credit have had critics. The high rate of interest is seen to be exploitative by many. There have been accusations that the methods of recovery, often by overzealous bank officials, have led to extreme hardship. grameen-office-copy.jpgThe skyscraper that now houses the bank, many feel, distance it from the poor it represents. The close links with Clinton and Turner, and the uncritical position taken by Yunus in his public interactions with them, has also been viewed with suspicion. Yunus makes light of these observations. Regarding the criticism of his model, he has a simple answer. “I make no claims to having a perfect system. The problem has to be solved. Should someone come up with a better solution, I would happily adopt it.”

Bangladesh has largely been known for floods famine and other disasters. Yunus has provided Bangladesh with a pride it badly needs. Many had hoped that he would enter politics, providing an alternative to power hungry politicians that people have lost trust in. While he has steered away from mainstream politics, Yunus was an adviser to the caretaker government. That this popular teacher turned banker should be the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2006 is a source of great joy to Bangladeshis, but an honour they feel was long overdue.

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(Photo by Munem Wasif / DrikNEWS)
Shahidul Alam
Drik Picture Library Ltd.
Dhaka 1988 and 2006

High resolution photographs available from Drik Picture Library: library@drik.net

and DrikNews: driknews@gmail.com, driknews@yahoo.com

October 13, 2006 Posted by | Bangladesh | , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

   

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