Hurry Curry to Brazil for Bangladeshi FIFA Fans


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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Mustafa Azim, a director of Imperial Air Salvage, is a Bangladeshi. When Tom Cruise’s latest blockbuster The Edge of Tomorrow was being shot at Warner Bros Studios in Leavesden, the Imperial Air Salvage provided planes to be blown up on the set.

Azim and a couple of his friends have tickets for the World Cup final. Many of his football crazy friends from Bangladesh are already in Brazil. Since curry, rice, and fish are the main items in their regular diet, they were disappointed when they realized that there are no Indian restaurants in Brazil and intimated him.

Waiter Habib Miah with restaurant owner and chef Mohammed Wahid (Source: worthingherald.co.uk)

Waiter Habib Miah with restaurant owner and chef Mohammed Wahid (Source: worthingherald.co.uk)

So, Azim approached Mohammed Wahid, the owner of Chilcha, an Award Winning Indian Restaurant in Montague Street, Worthing, West Sussex, to arrange a 12-person delivery to Brazil of some of their favorite dishes. “Chilcha” is the Bengali word for happiness.

Azim was already aware of Wahid’s delicious, appetizing cooking when the latter provided catering on the set of The Edge of Tomorrow at Warner Bros Studios in Leavesden.

Mohammed Wahid owner and chef of Chilcha Restaurant in Montague Street, Worthing. (Source: m.theargus.co.uk)

Mohammed Wahid owner and chef of Chilcha Restaurant in Montague Street, Worthing. (Source: m.theargus.co.uk)

Wahid was surprised at first and agreed to cater to him.

Mustafa Azim, will fly into Shoreham Airport on a chartered plane to collect the dishes. He will then head to an airport near Heathrow, before boarding a commercial plane to take him and the food to Brazil.

The overall cost of the delivery is £4200: £1200 for the curry, £1800 for the flight to Brazil, £1000 for a chartered flight to Shoreham to collect the takeaway, £100 landing and parking charges, and £100 for the taxi to the hotel.

 

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Have Will? Then, You Can Travel in the Indian Subcontinent!


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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Up to now I thought overloading was the major trait of transportation peculiar to India alone. But, now, I am really confused …

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Video grab from "Indian train in all its (crowded!) glory!" uploaded on November 10, 2011 by WildFilmsIndia.

Video grab from “Indian train in all its (crowded!) glory!” uploaded on November 10, 2011 by WildFilmsIndia.

I grabbed the above image from a video titled Indian train in all its (crowded!) glory! uploaded on November 10, 2011 by WildFilmsIndia. I do not think anyone in the West would have seen a train crowded like this in their country. But in India, it is a common sight, particularly during the festival seasons.

The regular commuters are mainly laborers coming to New Delhi from neighboring states. They would work for a week and then return home over the weekend. Most of them travel without tickets, and the state-owned Indian railways, are compelled to permit this, else their entire railway system will be debacled by these laborers.

Indian Railways ... (Source: imcradiodotnet.files.wordpress.com)

Indian Railways (Source: imcradiodotnet.files.wordpress.com)

I came across the above image captioned “Indian Railway…” on IMC – India meets Classic presents… web page hosted on wordpress.com. I doubt whether this photo was taken in India. I think it was most probably, taken somewhere in Pakistan. Also, I wonder whether all these people are genuine passengers or merely clinging on to the train, posing for the photograph to prove a point.

Recently, I viewed several videos on YouTube about railways in Asia. When I saw the following video titled “End of Ramadan rush-hour in Bangladesh” uploaded by No Comment TV on August 8, 2013, I was dumbfounded.

Eid al-Fitr or the Feast of Breaking the Fast, is an important religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting (sawm). On this day all Muslims around the world show a common goal of unity.

This video shows thousands of Bangladeshis getting crammed on ferries and climbing on trains while leaving Dhaka, Bangladesh on Wednesday, August 7, 2013, to return to their home villages and celebrate Eid al-Fitr. This video needs no further comments.

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The Travails of Traveling Abroad on a Sri Lankan Passport


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 Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” ― Blaise PascalPensées

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On April 28, 2014, I wrote an article titled “Is a Passport Necessary for the Queen of England, US President, and the Pope to Travel Abroad?”  After reading it, my friend Joe Croos, a constant reader of my posts, now living in Germantown, Maryland, USA, forwarded me the following hilarious piece of writing sent to him by his friend Tony Rajanayagam.

Neither Tony nor Joe knows who the original author of this article is. Obviously he must be a Sri Lankan.

I enjoyed reading every word of this sarcastic, thought-provoking dissertation, and wish to share it with you.

I have used my editorial discretion, to strike out two phrases in the first paragraph which, though hilarious might seem objectionable to a few. Also, I have added images to spruce up the presentation.

Sri Lanka Passport (Source:  elankanews.com)

Sri Lankan Passport (Source: elankanews.com)

There are three things in the world that are of no use to anyone, viz. a xxx’x xxxxxxt, a xxxxxx’x xxxxx, and a Sri Lankan passport. The uselessness of the third item becomes absolutely clear when one tries to apply for a visa to go abroad.

Today, international travel for a bona fide traveler from Sri Lanka is fraught with unbelievable red-tape, undesirable paperwork and unforeseeable pitfalls. It is, for example, much easier for the proverbial camel to go through the eye of a needle than for an honest Sri Lankan passport holder to enter the United Kingdom. Everything in life has a price.

Ironically, these days, it is relatively easy for a Sri Lankan illegal immigrant to enter any western country of his choice and claim asylum, become a citizen and sponsor his kith and kin. This way, entire villages from Jaffna peninsula have been uprooted and are now relocated to Scarborough in Toronto, Canada.

A Sri Lankan passport is not unique. Israeli passport is the next most useless document as it is not recognized by 23 countries in the Middle East and also by North Korea and Cuba. Presenting an Israeli passport to an immigration officer in a Muslim country would be the equivalent of waving a red flag at a bull in Spain.

Although the Sri Lankan passport clearly states that “The President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka requests and requires all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary” the document is more often than not treated with total disdain while its possessor is regarded with suspicion by almost all countries including Bangladesh, Benin and Bulgaria.

Although the purpose of the Sri Lankan passport is to promote and facilitate international travel, the way in which its owners are treated at foreign embassies makes one wonder if it was instead designed to dissuade and restrict international travel as much as possible.

Applying for a visa to a western country in Sri Lanka has become such a complex, confusing and complicated activity that some people, especially old men and women, come down with the condition known as “visaitis“. This is a relatively new disease which emerged in Sri Lanka at the end of July 1983.

The symptoms include a certain dryness of the mouth, dizziness, and mild dementia. Patients afflicted with this disease also suffer from outrageously watery diarrhea and are in the habit of passing urine frequently, and in rare cases, may be subject to catatonic schizophrenia. They can be nervous, irritable and immune to therapy. The mere thought of going to a western Embassy or High Commission in Sri Lanka is so traumatic that one or two people have in fact died of a broken heart, following the mandatory medical check-up.

There is a particular Hindu place of worship known affectionately as the “Visa Pillayar Temple” (VPT) in Colombo where people go to break a coconut and offer a silent prayer to ensure success prior to their interview (or interrogation) for a visa at the Embassy. Visa aspirants from places as far away as Valluvettithurai (VVT) in the north come to VPT to collect the vipoothi (holy ash), which when applied on the forehead is supposed to confer divine protection during the inquisition at the Embassy.

The insults start at the gate of an Embassy where you experience the taste of what is in store for you in the country you plan to spend your hard-earned money.

French Tricolor Flag - 1803

At the French Embassy in Colombo, rated 9.5 in the “Richter Scale of Rude Shocks,” it is the illiterate gatekeeper who functions as Cerberus, the three-headed dog guarding the entrance to Hades, to whom one must give the sop to slip into the Embassy.

Japanese Flag

At the Japanese Embassy in Colombo, you cannot see the visa officer through the one-way opaque glass window when you submit your application. He can see you, but you cannot see him. The experience can be quite unnerving. It is a bit like speaking to an Oracle in Greece.

Canadian flag

The application for a Canadian tourist visa is 10 pages long and has more than 60 questions, including the names, places and dates of birth of yourself, your wife, your siblings, parents, grandparents, your wife’s relatives, your in-laws and outlaws! All these details have to be submitted first electronically before you are given a date for the interview.

Bangladesh flag

Once I went to the Bangladesh Embassy in Colombo to apply for a visa. The Embassy looked more like a tuck shop and I was the only applicant. Even then that bored consular officer rudely told me that it would take five working days to issue a visa!

Indian Tri-Colour flag

In the Indian Embassy, one would witness the death of common sense. However, much you gather the required documents you need to substantiate your application for a visa, the officer will ask for the one that you forgot to bring.

US flag

By contrast, the US Embassy in Colombo offers one of the best services in the world. The US staff are extremely kind, helpful and patient and they genuinely try to assist the potential visa applicant to the best of their ability. The US evaluation process is very fair, thorough and proper. If you are a genuine visitor to the USA, you need not worry. You will get a fair hearing. All the US immigration officers are trained well to be civil and polite to the visitor. They would often engage you in small talk just to find out if you were a genuine visitor or not to the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.

Today, many embassies have subcontracted the TT Services to deal with the initial stages of processing the visa.

New Zealand flag

More recently, on arrival in Christchurch, New Zealand (the Land of the Long White Cloud), the immigration officer asked me, very politely and with a pleasant smile, what the purpose of my visit was? When I told him that I had come to deliver a talk on elephants at the University of Canterbury, the bewildered officer exclaimed, “But we do not have elephants!” and stamped my passport and wished me a pleasant stay. It spoke so well about the country of just 4.5 million people and 60 million sheep.

WWF

Once when I worked for WWF-International, I was a member of a small working committee planning the next International Theriological (= Mammal) Congress. Two countries, Australia and Colombia, were interested in hosting the event. The Australian delegate was interested in moving the Congress to Sydney, but cautioned us that the only requirement for the visa was that none of the foreign participants had any criminal record. On hearing this, the Colombian delegate jumped up in sheer joy and informed us that on the contrary, his Government would welcome delegates with a criminal record! The Congress was held in Sydney.

In the unlikely event of a visa being issued, it does not automatically guarantee that you’d be allowed to enter the country at the other end. That depends on the mood and the maturity of the immigration officer.

United Kingdom flag

One of the most traumatic experiences one could have on arrival is at the Heathrow airport in London. You had been travelling 16 hours from Colombo and the flight lands at 9 am. It is supposed to be summer, but the sun is nowhere to be seen in the Land of Ceaseless Fog and Drizzle. Thus, even before the plane comes to a complete stop, you would get an idea of the weather that awaits you on arrival. Sometimes it appears that the plane had been taxiing through ginger beer or syrup. That’s the colour of the atmosphere outside.

Heathrow airport inside

On arrival I have to join the cattle class and then go to the queue reserved for aliens. No wonder I am often treated as if I am an extraterrestrial phenomenon!

Almost all British immigration officers are most unfriendly to non-Caucasian visitors, and often act like tinpot Hitlers. They are as hard as nails and bored as the people who serve you at McDonalds. They look miserable knowing they are stuck in dead end jobs.

Welcome at Heathrow Airport (Photo: Steve Parsons – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Welcome at Heathrow Airport (Photo: Steve Parsons – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Right behind his shoulder you can read in letters big, bright and bold, the banner that reads, “Welcome to Heathrow”. The welcome you receive is frostier than the weather outside.

The first question the bored and grumpy immigration officer with a smirk on his face asks the hapless visitor is: “When are you getting back?”

If you ask for a three-month stay in England, you are more likely to be given just a month. On the other hand, if you were to request for only a week, just to attend a conference and get back home, you may be granted a stay for six months. More disturbing is the recent news from the UK that in the future, visitors to Britain from ‘high risk’ countries such as Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Ghana coming to Britain on a six-month visit visa will have to put up a 3,000 pound (equivalent to Rs. 594,000 in Sri Lankan currency) bond as security, according to the Home Secretary Theresa May.

Australian flag

Sometimes things can go wrong. During my first visit to Australia in 1990, I flew into Sydney from Jakarta. Before the plane landed, we were given immigration forms to be filled. There was an additional yellow card that had to be filled as well, and one of the questions on it was: “Are you carrying live semen?” to which I promptly ticked the yes box, given that I had already fathered two kids.

As I cleared the immigration and moved to the customs, I was stopped and taken to a small room where I was interrogated by a big, bespectacled, Wagnerian white woman with a pair of enormous Bristols and a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp. She waved a yellow card at me and exploded, “Is this a joke?”

I was genuinely clueless as to why she blew her top and asked her what was it all about, to which she pointed the box I had ticked off to say that I was indeed carrying live semen. I told her that I believed so, to which the human volcano erupted once more and thundered in no uncertain terms that it referred to livestock and warned me not to make a joke of it ever again! It was literally a seminal experience for me. The yellow card is no longer issued.

Sri Lanka flag

In the 1960s, we had a Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) member from the United States who became friends with us while we were doing research on wildlife in Wilpattu national park with Dr. John F. Eisenberg from the Smithsonian Institution and his assistant Melvyn Lockhart. The VSO chap was a hippie who loved smoking ganja (marijuana). In his lucid moments he managed to learn a few words in Sinhala which Melvyn taught. 

When he left Colombo, he was in fact carrying some ganja with him, and given his long hair and hippie demeanor, he was promptly stopped by a vigilant customs officer who wanted to see the contents of his handbag. In a flash of brilliance, despite the perspiration which had commenced its journey down his spine, he began to engage the customs officer in small talk, and told him that he had lived in Ceylon for a month and that he could even speak the local language a bit. 

When the customs officer asked him to say something in Sinhala, he promptly remembered what Melvyn had taught him, and blurted out in a loud voice “මගේ පුක්කෙ මයිල් නෑ” (Transliterated: “Magey pukkay mayil naa“) meaning “my arse has no hair” in his native Texan drawl.

All the customs officers who heard him burst out in uncontrollable laughter and began to dance (a few even had tears of joy streaming down their cheeks). They complimented him on his language skill and wished him “bon voyage“. It was the hippie who had the last laugh.

Melvyn later received a “Thank you” note from Amarillo, TX.

As a Sri Lankan, I feel that we are treated abroad as if we do not matter, despite our education, ancient culture and proud heritage. We may be short on geography, but we are long on history. We deserve better treatment in the western countries. Unlike the ASEAN countries where citizens of the member states enjoy a 14-day visa free entry to each other’s country, we who belong to the SAARC cannot go to India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, or Bhutan even for a short stay without a visa!

In the final analysis, given the limitations of our Sri Lankan passport, it is far better for us to enjoy a local holiday than be subject to untold indignities and interrogations at the hands of immigration officers. As Blaise Pascal once remarked, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

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A contemporary ordinary Sri Lankan passport (Author - Chamath237)

A contemporary ordinary Sri Lankan passport (Author: Chamath237)

 

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February 1: World Hijab Day


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj
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World Hijab Day - 2

Today, February 1, 2014 is “World Hijab Day”

More than 50 countries of the world celebrated “World Hijab Day” on February 1, 2013.

A New Yorker Nazma Khan born in Bangladesh founded the World Hijab Day. It was organized almost solely over social networking sites. Muslims and non-Muslims in more than 50 countries across the world have been attracted by it.

Nazma Khan came to the United States from Bangladesh at the age of 11. She was the only person in her Bronx school to wear the Hijab, the traditional Islamic veil or scarf that is worn by many post-pubescent Muslim women to cover the head and chest.

Her classmates and schoolmates ridiculed her for wearing the Hijab and called her names. They tormented her throughout her time in the middle school and high school for wearing the Hijab. She suffered many hardships when she entered City College of New York, especially after the four coordinated terrorist attacks by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda in New York City and the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan area on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. At that time, some New Yorkers wary of Muslims made her a target for ridicule and suspicion.

Nazma said: “I was made to feel like a criminal, as if I was responsible for 9/11 and owed an apology to everyone.”

However, Nazma, true to her religious beliefs, steadfastly wore the Hijab, shrugging off the rancorous comments and venomous stares.

Nazma Khan (Source: language.chinadaily.com.cn)

Nazma Khan (Source: language.chinadaily.com.cn)

She launched the website worldhijabday.com on January 21, 2013 with the mission to make non-Muslims understand the virtues of wearing the Hijab, the traditional Islamic headscarf.

Through her website, Nazma Khan has gained many Muslim and non-Muslim friends. Many of her Muslim followers are immigrants themselves, and have all experienced similar pains like her. Nazma has inspired many Muslim students to wear the Hijab.

World Hijab Day

In a message, she appealed to women across the world to wear the Hijab for just one day on February 1, 2013, to support the personal freedom to wear clothing of one’s own choice.

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I have listed and described the names of some common clothing worn by the Muslim women – from the least to the most conservative such as the Hijab, Khimar, Shayla, Abaya, Chador, Niqab, Yashmak, and Burqa, in my post titled, “A Muslim Woman’s Veil.

Jess Rhodes, 21, a student from Norwich in the UK with and without her Hijab (Source: bbc.co.uk)

Jess Rhodes, 21, a student from Norwich in the UK with and without her Hijab (Source: bbc.co.uk)

Even though there is no basis for celebrating World Hijab Day, Muslims in more than 50 countries of the world celebrated the day on February 1, 2013. However, there are detractors too among Muslims who are against celebrating the so-called World Hijab Day. Umm Ibrahim (https://www.facebook.com/umm.ibrahim.56) living in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, vehemently says:

✦ Please know there is no BASIS for Hijab Day, Mother’s Day, etc etc. Neither the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) nor his sahabah and none from the pious predecessors ever celebrated such stuff! Our scholars have warned us clearly against innovated festivals/occasions. Muslims should avoid initiating or encouraging innovated occasions in imitation to those of the kuffar, such as Mothers’s Day, the day of the Earth, etc!

✦ DAWAH starts with TAWHEED not HIJAB! Hadith of Mu’adh, when Allah’s Messenger (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) sent him to Yemen, he said, “O Mu’adh, you aer going to a nation from the People of the Book, so let the first thing to which you will invite them, be the TAWHEED OF ALLAH.” (Saheeh Bukhari (book 93, no 469)

✦ This is making fun of Hijab by asking support of non-muslims to wear for a day! Allah alone is sufficient for us. More reward for sisters who are struggling more to continue their hijab in west! IF possible, migrate from their lands which ban/mock Islam. Otherwise, just stay firm and be sincere and ask Allah to help. We know many sisters who wear Niqab in the West, Alhamdulillah! So, in future do we expect World NIQAB DAY, too?

✦ Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam), who said: “I urge you to adhere to my way (Sunnah) and the way of the rightly-guided successors (al-khulafa’ al-raashidoon) who come after me. Hold fast to it and bite onto it with your eyeteeth [i.e., cling firmly to it], and beware of newly-invented matters.”

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News: Woman found alive 17 days after collapse of garment factory building


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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Reshma found alive in ruins 17 days after collapse of garment factory building

Reshma found alive in ruins 17 days after collapse of garment factory building

On Wednesday, April 24, 2013, the eight-storey Rana Plaza factory building in Savar 15 miles (24 Km) to the northwest of Dhaka city, the capital of Bangladesh, collapsed with hundreds of garment workers employed in factories that supplied high-street shops in the west, trapped inside.

Before the fatal accident, workers had repeatedly complained that the building was cracking open, but the management simply ignored their complaints. Sol Rana, the owner of the building was arrested.

On Friday morning (May 10), officials said about 2,500 people were injured in the accident and 2,437 people were rescued. A total of 1,021 bodies have been recovered
from the debris and almost 650 identified so far and handed over to the families of the deceased. Many people are still missing.

A few hours after officials had announced the death toll as 1021, the recovery teams who had long given up any hope of finding any more survivors were shocked to hear at 15:15 local time (10:15 GMT), the voice of a woman calling for help from the debris of the second floor of the Rana Plaza. Immediately rescue workers were ordered to stop clearing the site.

The Bangladesh army has confirmed the news, naming the rescued woman as Reshma. The woman was taken to hospital and did not seem to have any significant injuries.

 

 

A Final Embrace: The Most Haunting Photograph from Bangladesh


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Many powerful photographs have been made in the aftermath of the devastating collapse of a garment factory on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh. But one photo, by Bangladeshi photographer Taslima Akhter, has emerged as the most heart wrenching, capturing an entire country’s grief in a single image.

Shahidul Alam, Bangladeshi photographer, writer and founder of Pathshala, the South Asian Institute of Photography, said of the photo: “This image, while deeply disturbing, is also hauntingly beautiful. An embrace in death, its tenderness rises above the rubble to touch us where we are most vulnerable. By making it personal, it refuses to let go. This is a photograph that will torment us in our dreams. Quietly it tells us. Never again.”

Akhter writes for LightBox about the photograph, which appears in this week’s TIME International alongside an essay by David Von Drehle.

A Final Embrace

April 25, 2013. Two victims amid the rubble of a garment factory building collapse in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh. (Photo: Taslima Akhter)

I have been asked many questions about the photograph of the couple embracing in the aftermath of the collapse. I have tried desperately, but have yet to find any clues about them. I don’t know who they are or what their relationship is with each other.

I spent the entire day the building collapsed on the scene, watching as injured garment workers were being rescued from the rubble. I remember the frightened eyes of relatives — I was exhausted both mentally and physically. Around 2 a.m., I found a couple embracing each other in the rubble. The lower parts of their bodies were buried under the concrete. The blood from the eyes of the man ran like a tear. When I saw the couple, I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I knew them — they felt very close to me. I looked at who they were in their last moments as they stood together and tried to save each other — to save their beloved lives.

Every time I look back to this photo, I feel uncomfortable — it haunts me. It’s as if they are saying to me, we are not a number — not only cheap labor and cheap lives. We are human beings like you. Our life is precious like yours, and our dreams are precious too.

They are witnesses in this cruel history of workers being killed. The death toll is now more than 750. What a harsh situation we are in, where human beings are treated only as numbers.

This photo is haunting me all the time. If the people responsible don’t receive the highest level of punishment, we will see this type of tragedy again. There will be no relief from these horrific feelings. I’ve felt a tremendous pressure and pain over the past two weeks surrounded by dead bodies. As a witness to this cruelty, I feel the urge to share this pain with everyone. That’s why I want this photo to be seen.

Taslima Akhter

Taslima Akhter

Taslima Akhter is a Bangladeshi photographer and activist.

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Re-posted from Time LightBox

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Was the Rakhine Buddhist Woman Raped or Married by a Rohingya Muslim Man?


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Myanmar, formerly Burma, has a diverse ethnic and religious make-up. Now, there are at least 800,000 Rohingya Muslims in the country. However, they are not recognized as one of its ethnic group by the government. According to the United Nations, the Rohingyas are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. In 1982, the military junta stripped off all citizen rights of the Rohingyas through a so-called “Citizenship Law” thus making them the only stateless community of the world.

A man walks through a neighborhood that was burnt in recent violence in Sittwe, June 16, 2012.

A man walks through a neighborhood that was burnt in recent violence in Sittwe, June 16, 2012.

In late May this year, sectarian violence erupted between Buddhists and Rohingyas in the Rakhine (or Arakan) province of Western Myanmar.

We are faced with conflicting reports from all quarters.

According to “Voice of America,” the violence broke out in late May after three Muslim men were accused of raping and murdering a young Buddhist woman and 10 Muslims were killed in an apparent revenge attack.

However, according to Pakistan’s “The News,” Intikhab Alam Suri, President, Human Rights Network says that on May 28, a Buddhist girl embraced Islam and married a Muslim man. This infuriated the Buddhist community. They resorted to vengeance. They stopped a bus carrying Muslim pilgrims and killed some of them.

Which version is true?

Thein Sein, President of Myanmar

Thein Sein, President of Myanmar

No one knows for sure how many died in this ethnic violence. President Thein Sein dismissed such speculations in comments carried by the state-controlled “New Light of Myanmar.” He said he was “disheartened by the hairsplitting of the media.” He insisted that only 77 people – 31 Rakhine Buddhists and 46 Rohingya Muslims – have died. However, some rights groups and media reports suggest the figure may be higher.

The issue has prompted a wave of criticism by Muslim and non-Muslims the world over. Some view the conflict as a case of religious persecution against the Muslims. The Saudi-based Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has also urged a probe into the violence.

Rights groups have also called for Burma to do more to protect the Rohingya. Human Rights Watch said in a recent report that Burmese security forces have committed killings, rape, and mass arrests against the group in the aftermath of the sectarian violence.

Who are these Rohingyas?

Some historians like Khalilur Rahman trace the history of Rohingyas way back to the 8th century CE when an Arab trading ship was wrecked near Ramree Island. The Arakanese king ordered the execution of the Arab traders and the crew.

Jahiruddin Ahmed and Nazir Ahmed, former president and Secretary of Arakan Muslim Conference dispute this story. They say that the descendants of the ship wrecked Arabs are currently known as ‘Thambu Kya‘ Muslims and are now residing along the Arakan sea-shore. According to them, Rohingyas are descendants of the inhabitants of Ruha in Afghanistan.

In 1799, Francis Buchanan-Hamilton published an article titled “A Comparative Vocabulary of Some of the Languages Spoken in the Burma Empire.” In it, he states: “I shall now add three dialects, spoken in the Burma Empire, but evidently derived from the language of the Hindu nation. The first is that spoken by the Mohammedans, who have long settled in Arakan, and who call themselves Rooinga, or natives of Arakan…”

After King Narameikhla (1430–1434) retained his throne with the help of the Sultan of Bengal of that time, Indian Muslims of Bengal started arriving in Rakhine.

According to another historian, Dr. Maung Maung, there is no such word as Rohingya to be found in the census survey conducted by the British in 1824. The British census of 1891 reported 58,255 Muslims in Arakan. By 1911, the Muslim population increased to 178,647.

During the British Colonial rule, a large number of Bengali farmers migrated to the fertile valleys of Arakan. The waves of migration were primarily due to the requirement of cheap labor from British India to work in the paddy fields. Immigrants from Bengal, mainly from the Chittagong region moved en masse into western townships of Arakan. Migration of Indians into Burma was not just restricted to Arakan.

A Burmese historian, Thant Myint-U writes: “At the beginning of the 20th century, Indians were arriving in Burma at the rate of no less than a quarter million per year. The numbers rose steadily. In 1927, immigration reached its peak with 480,000 people. Rangoon outweighed New York City as the greatest immigration port in the world. This was out of a total population of only 13 million; it was equivalent to the United Kingdom today taking 2 million people a year.”

By then, in most of the large cities in Burma, Rangoon, Akyab, Bassein, Moulmein, the Indian immigrants formed a majority of the population. The indigenous Burmese felt helpless under the British rule, and reacted against the Indians with a “racism that combined feelings of superiority and fear.”

The immigration’s impact was particularly acute in Arakan, one of less populated regions. In 1939, the British authorities were aware of the long-term animosity between the Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingyas. They formed a special Investigation Commission led by James Ester, and Tin Tut to study the issue of Muslim immigration in the Rakhine state. The commission recommended securing the border; however, with the onset of World War II, the British retreated from Arakan.

Burmese historians like Khin Maung Saw have claimed that before 1950s, the term Rohingya has never appeared in Burmese history. This observation coincides with that of a historian Aye Chan from Kanda University of International Studies, Chiba, Japan. He states that the term Rohingya was created in 1950s by the descendants of Bengalis, who migrated into Arakan during the Colonial Era. He further argued that the term cannot be found in any historical source in any language before 1950s. However, he stated that it did not mean Muslim communities have not existed in Arakan before 1824.

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Photography of Abir Abdullah of Bangladesh.


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Abir Abdullah

Abir Abdullah was born in 1971 in Bagerhat in Southern Bangladesh. He obtained a masters degree in Marketing (M. Com.) from Dhaka University, before taking up photography.

He completed a basic course in photography from the Bangladesh Photographic Institute in 1993.

From 1996 to 2005, he worked as a staff photographer at Drik Picture Library. He also took on an assignment as a Photography Tutor at the Pathshala South Asian Media Academy, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

In 1999, as a student of the first batch from Pathshala – South Asian Media Academy, based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, he completed a diploma course in photojournalism.

Blink, Time, Newsweek, Der Speigel, New Internationalist, Guardian, Stern, Geo, International Herald Tribune, Asiaweek, Elmundo, and many others have published his photographs.

He is mainly interested in photography that deal in social, environmental, and political issues.

Abir Abdullah is currently locatied in Dhaka , Bangladesh and is working in the European Pressphoto Agency (EPA) as Bangladesh correspondent.

DESIGNATION: Photojournalist, European Pressphoto Agency (EPA) http://www.epa.eu. Vice Principal, Pathshala South Asian Media Academy, http://www.pathshala.net

Awards

  • Mother Jones International Fund for Documentary Photography Awards for ‘ Freedom Fighters: Veterans of the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971’ works in 2001.
  • Nomination photo award from humanity photo award in China- 1999.
  • Highly recommended photo award from Commonwealth photo contest in 1999 and 2000.
  • Nominated for the Joop Swart Masterclass by World Press Photo Foundation in 2001.
  • Overall winner Phaidon 55 Photography competition in 2001.
  • 1st prize from WHO photo contest in Switzerland, 2002.
  • Third place in the Gordon Parks photo contest in USA in 2002.
  • 2nd prize, Unicef Photographer of the year contest 2004, Germany.
  • 3rd Prize in the Magazine News category in the Best of Photojournalism Contest from USA 2005.
  • 1st Prize in the SAJA ( South Asian Journalists association) Photo Award 2005.
  • Honorable mention in the National Geographic All Roads Photography project in 2005.
  • 1st prize portrait category in the Asian Press Photo contest in 2006 and 2007.

[Click on the above photo to view Abir Abdullah's work - "Cyclone Survivors"]