Sunday, 12 July, 2020

Bangladesh Charges Ahead


Mukti Rijal


On the second day of our arrival at Dhaka- the fast growing city with modern sophistication- my friend Murshed Alam Sarkar took us on a journey to Kishoreganj. The exit from Dhaka city gave fleeting glimpses of the suburban and rural landscape of Bangladesh. The six hour long journey from Dhaka to Kishoreganj was filled with varied and contrasting images of developing and fast growing Bangladesh. The sleek road and swanky expressways, big apartments and complex, joint venture industries interspersed with ramshackle housing structures, slums and shanties characterise contradictions of the fast developing life in Bangladesh.

On the way to Kishoreganj, we were led into a larger cluster of tanneries and shoe factories where thousands of women workers had been employed. A big area housing shoe factories did indicate that Bangladesh produces leather products for domestic use and export . In fact, Bangladesh economy reported to be fast growing is calculated to be the 39th largest in the world . Economists point out that Bangladesh has pursued export oriented industrialisation and its key export items, according to Murshed Alam Sarkar, include textiles, fish, sea food, jute and leather goods.
Bangladesh benefits largely from outsourcing readymade garment production. Remarking about growing economy, Murshed Alam Sarkar, a civil society leader especially known for successful microfinance operation across major parts in Bangladesh who made entire arrangement for our tour mentioned that the abundant supply of labor has made the country a major labor supplier to bring valuable foreign exchange. Political stability and propitious circumstances has resulted in very fast economic growth in the country. However, this fast economic growth has been disrupted by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.. According to a report as the devastating Covid-19 pandemic has spread across the world, fashion brands that cater to markets in rich countries have cancelled billions of pounds worth of orders alone.  The impact is crushing leaving over a million garment workers in Bangladesh with no income for the foreseeable future. 
A Deltaic Country
Bangladesh is a deltaic country with fertile plainland, vast expanse of the rolling paddy field. While whizzing past the road in a cozy vehicle,I was reminded of the railway journey I had undertaken across the rural areas of Midnapore near Kolkata cahrages in West Bengal a few years ago.
Kishoreganj where we were heading to is among the high profile districts in Dhaka division of Bangladesh known for it, among others, being the home town of the current and past political leaders of the country.The famous Bengali writer NiradC.Chaudhuri hailed as scholar extraordinary had migrated to India from Banagram,a village adjoining Kishoreganj city just a few years after the first split of United Bengal into two parts namely the West and East Bengal in 1905 AD during the British occupation.
The much condemned partition of Bengal was carried out on the basis of religious identity of the people. It is therefore criticised as the first seed of communalism sown by the colonial rulers in India that had ultimately resulted into partition of India and into India and Pakistan. In 1906, RabindraNath Tagore- the first Asian who won Nobel Prize in literature - wrote Amar Shonar Bangla (Our Golden Bengal) as a rallying cry for patriotic Bengali, which, much later, in 1972, became the national anthem of independent Bangladesh.
In his widely read sophisticated work titled The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian, the much celebrated Nirad C. Chaudhury makes a powerful description of Kishoreganj- its historic and cultural past. In his work, he makes a reference to a rich and maverick landlord (Zamindar) living as a recluse who was a descendant of an old landowner and distinguished person called Kishorimohan Paramanik who lived in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century .Kishoreganj bears the name of Kishorimohan who was in the lead for founding and developing this city .According to my friend Murshed Alam Sarkar who is a prominent civil society leader in Bangladesh and runs an organization called People's Oriented Program Implementation (POPI) , Kishoreganj had almost a majority of Hindu population in the past which got declined especially in the Bangladesh liberation war in 1971AD. Many Hindus fled to India as refugees for fear of persecution and atrocities. Currently, Bangladesh has almost 11 percent Hindu population and makes up a total of 1.6 crore Hindu population next to India and Nepal .

We reached Kishoreganj by late evening,and settled in a cozy accommodation of the huge and equipped training facility named People's Academy for Role Transfer(PART) owned and operated by POPI.The organization, according to its document, is working to support the government of Bangladesh to implement sustainable development goals like good health and well being, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, poverty reduction especially through microfinance and climate change mitigation.
People's Academy offers a venue and services to local, national and international organizations, public and private sector entities to conduct residential trainings, workshops and meetings. We were impressed to see that the academy run by a civil society organization possesses such a lavish facilities like AC rooms, deluxe dining arrangement and multimedia fixtures to cater to the various categories of clientele groups. POPI implements a multi-sectoral comprehensive development program comprising advocacy,education, social justice, empowerment and poverty eradication spread across the length and breadth of Bangladesh. Microfinance is one of the planks of the program which is implemented as a strategic intervention for poverty alleviation and employment generation.

Grameen Bank
Microfinance is a concept evolved through Grameen Bank which was founded in 1983 AD by economics professor of the Chittagong University Mohammad Yunus to help poor people especially in Bangladesh by providing small loan in setting up their own micro-enterprises . Grameen Bank concept grew in a very rapid manner and won greater acclaim as an effective solution to come out of poverty. Although founder of the Grameen Bank concept Mohammed Yunus was awarded the 2006 Nobel peace prize for this popular concept,, some critics say that this model has consequently led into creating a debt trap for some of the poor people it sought to help.
Based on the experiences gathered from the implementation of the Grameen Bank concept, Prof.Yunus wrote a highly applauded book titled “ A World of three zeros : the New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment and Zero Net Carbon Emission”. The distilled ideas mooted in the book ascribed to the concept of Grameen Bank is much more relevant during these times when the world hit by corona virus pandemic is in need of the paradigm shift in our development thinking, among others. While in Kishoreganj, we were taken to see the floating schools operated in the rivers by POPI. The floating schools are run with a view to address the schooling problems faced by the children living in disaster prone riverine villages. Floating schools are housed especially in big boats equipped with required facilities and teaching –learning aids. According to Murshed Alam Sarkar floating school boats are used for other community development purposes as well.

Regular Flooding
About 50 percent of Bangladesh territory is prone to regular flooding. Drainage and flood control have been the concerns in rural and urban life in Bangladesh. Most of the land in Bangladesh is low-lying active delta subject to natural processes of sedimentation, erosion, and flooding. Despite these challenges and hardships it is really praiseworthy to see the amazing zeal of the Bangladeshis to charge ahead.  

(Rijal writes regularly for TRN) 

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