IOS organizes lecture on “Impressions from a journey to Bangladesh”
October 24, 2018 at Institute Building, 162, Jogabai, Jamia Nagar, New Delhi
Urdu Weekly Chauthi Duniya editor AU Asif shared his experiences about his recent visit to Bangladesh as a member of a delegation of 46 journalists from 10 countries. The full title of his discussion was “Impressions from a journey: Whither Bangladesh?” organised by the Institute of Objective Studies at its conference hall on October 24, 2018.
The delegation, which had 12 members from India, visited several places of Bangladesh to see for themselves the transformation the country had undergone since its liberation from Pakistan in 1971. Asif said the week-long journey to Bangladesh was marked by their visit to the largest concentration of Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar in Chittagong. He noted that traffic snarls in Dhaka obstructed movement, sometimes for hours together to reach one place from another.
In order to decongest the traffic, the government was planning to build metro rail. Referring to the rate of poverty in the country, he observed that it stood at 23.5 percent. A lot of good work was done in the field of literacy, which attracted everyone’s attention. The rate of illiteracy was 25 percent.
Recalling his visit to historical places, Asif said that they were totally different from India’s. In India, there were buildings built by Muslim rulers, but in Bangladesh there were memorials to the heroic fight of ill-equipped liberation warriors against Pakistani army, which was equipped with latest weaponry. He witnessed the graveyard where about three million people killed in the war lay buried. In Dhan Mandi, he visited the museum constructed in memory of Bang Bandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the then president of Awami League and the first Prime Minister of Bangladesh, who was assassinated along with 18 members of his family.
He recalled his visit to Bangladesh parliament, popularly known as Jatiya Sangsad where he met its speaker. Jatiya Sangsad has 350 members, of which 50 are women who are elected by 300 members by way of proportional representation through single transferable vote system. He also had the opportunity to meet Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed’s advisor, Taufeeq Hossain Iman. Besides, he called on the information and broadcasting minister and the foreign minister.
Commenting on the composition of political parties in Bangladesh, Asif said that an alliance of 14 parties, led by Awami League, was ruling the country. The present Prime Minister was completing her second term in office. The next elections to the national parliament were due in coming December.
In December 1970, the Awami League bagged the maximum number of seats in the National Assembly of undivided Pakistan and emerged as the single largest party, staking claim to form the government. But Sheikh Mujib, president of the party was not given a chance leading to protests that snowballed into a full-fledged war of independence that ended with the creation of Bangladesh as an independent entity on December 16, 1971.
There are several alliances in the Opposition, including Dr. Kamal Hossain-led 4-party Jatiya Dikya Front. Dr. Kamal Hossain was the foreign minister of Sheikh Mujib. There is also the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led 20-party alliance and the left parties’ alliance of Communist Party of Bangladesh and Bangladesher Samajtantric Dal, besides several smaller parties. He said that the Opposition in Bangladesh was strong today. Commenting on the economy of Bangladesh, it was placed as the 43rd among the economically developed and developing nations, Asif said, the country was often referred to as the “Tiger of South Asia”.
Asif also visited the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar. Rohingya Muslims crossed into Bangladesh r through Chakma hills after fleeing from Rakhine province of Myanmar where a reign of terror was let loose on them by the Buddhist-aided and abetted by army.
Thousands of Rohingya Muslims were reportedly killed and burnt alive. There was an exodus of refugees from Myanmar, whose number is officially stated to be around 1.1 million. Refugees were being provided with basic facilities by the government. Fifty percent of the areas where temporary shelters had come up, asphalt and concrete roads have been built, he said.
Trees in the forest had been felled to serve as fuel wood and a large area had cooking gas cylinders supplied. He likened the shelter provided by Bangladesh to those that thousands of Syrian refugees were allotted at entry into Germany.
Minister (press) in the Bangladeshi high commission in India, Farid Hossain, held that Bangladesh was born out of war that continued for nine months. He said that the war was thrust on them as the Awami Party that swept the parliamentary polls was not allowed to form the government in Pakistan due to stubborn attitude of the then prime minister, Z A Bhutto and the chief of army staff, General Yahya Khan. He noted that after Bangladesh became an independent country, it made strides in economic and social development. Today, with a population of 160 million, Bangladesh boasted of attaining self-reliance in various sectors. A food surplus country, over the last 10 years it had emerged as a model for developing nations.
The United Nations had praised the economic development model of Bangladesh. It was in the forefront of middle-income developing countries. Bangladesh was expected to be a developed nation by 2040. He observed that the prosperity of the people could be gauged from the fact that the middle-income groups were buying cars and more and more people were coming to cities. Though it was a predominantly Muslim country, minority groups, like Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and Sikhs enjoyed equal rights. People of different faith communities had cordial relations. All festivals were celebrated in an atmosphere of peace and amity. He said in Bangladesh most people practice the Islamic faith, but are secular at the same time, which allows others to practise their faith.
Prime Minister, Hasina Wazed has pledged to ensure justice to all. The present government believes in zero tolerance for terrorism. He said that Bangladesh was passing through a golden era of relations with India. Inviting academics, scholars and researchers to visit his country to see for themselves the pace of progress there, he said that reports of UN agencies, Worldwatch and writings of economists like Amartya Sen and Jeffery Sachs placed Bangladesh ahead of several neighboring countries in human development indicators, public health policies, environmental protection, disaster management and inclusive economic growth.
In his presidential remarks, the Secretary General IOS, Prof. ZM Khan, remarked that Bangladesh had cultural, historical and geographical affinity with India. It one paid a visit to West Bengal he would find that there were many similarities between India and Bangladesh. The success of a democratic country depended a great deal on the participation of general public in process of development. Bangladesh was a case in point. He quoted Imran Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan as saying that Bangladesh was going ahead of Pakistan. He expressed the confidence that a new chapter of cooperation between Bangladesh and the IOS would be opened with the exchange of experts, ulema, intellectuals, scholars and media persons.
The proceedings began with the recitation of a verse from the Quran by Hafiz Athar Husain Nadvi. The proceedings were conducted by Shams Tabrez Qasmi, editor of Millat Times. Those who were present on the occasion included Dr. M.H. Ghazali, Ashraf Bastavi, Sohail Abedin, Safi Akhtar, Quamar Ashraf, Shabbir Ahmad, Abdul Wahid Azad and SM Jawaid Ashfaque.