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Bangladesh, Disasters - natural and man-made, Economic, Environmental, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Political, Technical

Air Pollution in Dhaka

Air pollution in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Air pollution and health hazards in Dhaka city in particular and the whole country in general are persistent and perennial. The dwellers of the city, nearly 21 million living in an area of approximately 310 sq. km, had to endure very high health hazards and strangely there were no serious attempts by the government to reduce them. This deplorable situation is known not only to city dwellers but also to Bangladeshis living abroad such that they are seriously deterred from visiting the motherland, particularly in the winter months, when there is no rain and the pollution levels are at highest levels.

Air quality is normally estimated by the concentration of particulate matter (PM) and gaseous substances per unit volume that are present in the air that we breathe. Particulate matter, as the name suggests, is solid matter as well as some water droplets that floats in the air. Obviously large and heavy particulates cannot float in the air. Particulates with 50% having the maximum diameter of 2.5μm (1μm is millionth of a metre) are identified as PM2.5 and are most extensively used as the indicator to measure air pollution. Other indicators such as PM10 as well as gaseous substances such as carbon monoxide (CO), sulphur dioxide (SO2), ozone (O3) and NOx and many more are also used. It has to be stated that PM2.5 is used because it can pass through the human respiratory system relatively easily and settle at various human organs, whereas bigger sizes like PM10 are normally filtered away by human’s filtration system. Once the materials are lodged inside the body, they either stay there intact and build up or get absorbed in the blood stream within the body.

The PM2.5 is taken as main source of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases as they reach terminal bronchioles and alveolar structures; whereas gaseous substances pass through the respiratory system harming the body and eventually get out of the body. The World Health Organisation (WHO) advises that the average annual limit of PM2.5 concentration (μm/m3) should not exceed the target of 35 micrograms per cubic meter. The higher this concentration is, the higher is the health risk. In Bangladesh as a whole, as reported by the World Air Quality Report 2020, the concentration was 77.1μm/m3, which was more than twice the WHO target. It was not only that particular year that Bangladesh exceeded the target, Bangladesh consistently exceeds the target very badly and is almost always nearer the top of the offenders’ list in the world!

The quality of air in day to day speak is specified by Environmental Agencies in terms of Air Quality Index (AQI). All the above-mentioned items such as PM2.5, PM10 and obnoxious gases are taken into account and their relative harm to human health is considered to come to the final quantity called the AQI. Thus, AQI is an indicator of how hazardous the air is for humans. The AQI of below 100 is considered satisfactory and admissible. People can carry out indoor and outdoor activities without any concern from air pollution. An AQI of 101 to 200 is considered to be ‘unhealthy’ for sensitive groups; AQI of 201 to 300 is considered as ‘poor’, whereas AQI of 301 to 400 is considered to be ‘hazardous’ meaning serious health risks to residents.

Brick kiln polluting the air

Road dust, chemical and cement factories, brick kilns, construction works with no dust-dampening measures, are the polluting offenders. Of course, vehicles using petrochemicals are polluting air all the time. The badly maintained vehicles emitting fumes and obnoxious gases are serious offenders in city roads. Breathing polluted air increases a person’s risk of developing heart diseases, lung infection, chronic respiratory diseases and cancer. No wonder that large fraction of human population living in Dhaka suffers from these ailments.

In Dhaka AQI of 184 was recorded yesterday (22 May 2022) making it the most polluted city in the world now, followed by Riyadh in Saudi Arabia (180) and Wuhan in China (173) as the second and third polluting cities. An AQI of 215 was recorded in Dhaka on 21 Dec 2019. Dhaka is the 3rd least liveable city in the world, immediately after Damascus and Lagos.

It is estimated that air pollution takes away on the average 3.05 years of life expectancy in Bangladesh, according to the report by US Health Effects Institute, and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. The life expectancy in Bangladesh is 72.6 years and thus air pollution takes away 4% of human life. This figure in Bangladesh is higher than the neighbouring countries such as India, Bhutan, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Only Nepal exceeds this with 3.05 years of life expectancy loss. The economic burden of air pollution in Dhaka city alone is estimated as US $192 million per annum.

The government must take urgent steps to tackle this menace of air pollution in Dhaka in particular and Bangladesh as a whole in general. It must be stressed that for the sake of health and prosperity of the population of the country and for the world climate, the government must take immediate steps.

  • A Rahman is an author and a columnist

Bangladesh, Cultural, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Literary

Rabindranath Tagore’s Birth Anniversary

Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore, one of greatest Indian poets, novelists, philosophers and myriad-minded men, was born at No. 6 Dwarkanath Tagore’s Lane, Jorasanko, Calcutta (now called Kolkata) on 7 May 1861 (25 Baishakh 1268 BS) as the thirteenth child of Maharshi Debendranath Tagore and mother Sharada Devi. Rabindranath’s twelve siblings – seven brothers and five sisters – were all bright and brilliant people. Some of the elder brothers and sisters were old enough to have wives and husbands and they all were living in the same extensive house. The house itself, more like a palace, was large enough to accommodate all of the siblings with facilities such as courtyard, roof garden, prayer hall and so forth. This day of 7 May is celebrated by all Bengali and Indian cultural organisations round the world as the 25th Baishakh (২৫শে বৈশাখ).      

Rabindranath’s early childhood was rather a lonely, solitary and affection-deprived childhood. In a big house like the Jorasanko, there were surprisingly only a few children and most of the adults were all engaged in all sorts of cultural, literary and intellectual activities. Little Rabi used to hang around in the wide veranda alongside the rooms where piano was practised in one room, tunes of classical Hindustani music were emanating from another room and in yet another room Shakespeare’s Hamlet was rehearsed. The acutely sensitive boy was longing to be part of the artistic activities in the house, but was left out as too young to participate and had to satisfy himself to be in the veranda of the house.  

That is how Rabi described his childhood in My Reminiscences. Indeed, Satyajit Ray depicted Rabi’s childhood in a documentary film, Rabindranath, on Tagore’s birth centenary in 1961. A beautiful dreamy-eyed child clutching a flute aimlessly strolling along the veranda overlooking hive of artistic activities longing to connect with them, but with no success. But, probably, the air of this cultural atmosphere might have percolated to his inner sense so much so that he became in his own time the icon of cultural activities not only of Bengal but also of the whole of India and, dare I say, of the whole world.    

Rabi grew up in an impersonal non-affectionate regime under the supervision of servants, away from close loving relationship of the parents. His father was constantly away from the house, travelling in northern India and elsewhere. His mother was busy managing the large household. So, servants were assigned to look after the children. In My Reminiscences he termed this early period a ‘servocracy’ that ‘In the history of India the regime of Slave Dynasty was not a happy one’. When Rabi and other children sat down to eat, a wooden tray would be placed in front of them with a quantity of luchis on them and a few luchis would be dropped on the platter of the children. Then they would be asked whether anyone would like more. The children knew which reply would be welcome to the servants!

His father, Maharshi Debendranath Tagore, would occasionally come to Jorasanko, but to Rabi, it was as if he was not there in the house at all. Rabi used to watch his father perform his morning prayer on the roof of the house from a hiding place on the roof. Close personal relationships between parents and children were not encouraged by the Tagore family at that time. Maharshi Debendranath Tagore desired to inculcate British upper-class mentality. In Britain children of top government officials, dukes and duchess’, lords and ladies all went to public schools where strict disciplinary rules were imposed and certain games and sports, warfare techniques etc were taught. Rabi had to endure such impersonal upbringing at home. At the very early stage, Tagore children were given home-based physical and mental training. Wrestling was part of the home-based education. Rabi was not allowed to go outside the walls of Tagore house except for the school.

Subsequently, Rabi’s elder brother Hemendranath Tagore took the responsibility of Rabi’s early education alongside school education. Very early in the morning, Rabi clad in a loincloth used to be given a lesson in wrestling. Then dressed in kurta, he would take lessons in literature, mathematics, geography and history. Then he would go to school. On his return, lessons in drawing and gymnastics and finally in the evening, in a kerosene lamplight, lessons in English were given.

Rabi showed literary and poetic skills at a very early age. It is said that at the age of eight, Rabi wrote the poem, ‘jol pore, pata nore’ (“জল পড়ে, পাতা নড়ে”) (water drops, leaf shivers). However, Rabi himself said that at that time, like a deer with its newly sprouted antlers, he and his budding poetry made a nuisance of themselves. Rabi’s elder brothers recognised his talent to write and recite poems and encouraged him to do so.

Rabi was probably longing for friendship with others as he was growing up. When Kadambari, a mere girl of nine years old (only about a year older than Rabi) got married to Rabi’s elder brother Jyotirindranath in 1868 and came to Jorasanko, Rabi found a good companion and eventually a close friend, within the confines of Tagore house. Kadambari had a high literary sense and genuine appreciation. When she came to the Tagore family, initially she discouraged Rabi to come close to her and pretended that she did not like his poems and even his looks. Kadambari even chided Rabi by saying that “Rabi, don’t you have a male friend of your own?”. Long after the event, Rabi wrote in a poem in 1939, clearly autobiographical:

Hesitatingly I tried to come a little close

    To her in a striped sari, my mind in a whirl;

But there was no doubting her frown – I was a child,

     I was not a girl, I was a different breed.  

However, during the 1870s, a highly affectionate and somewhat loving relationship grew up between Rabi and Kadambari. They were both children, not even teen agers. After the death of Rabi’s mother, Sharada Devi in 1875, Kadambari was the deepest female companion on Rabi’s youth. When Kadambari poisoned herself on 19 April 1884 and died on 21 April 1884, aged about twenty-five, Rabi at that time, only twenty-three, was deeply shocked and distraught to the core. Death was Rabi’s constant companion since then. He wrote so many poems and songs on death and mental suffering of death that Elisabeth Kūbler-Ross on her classic study On Death and Dying mentioned that nobody had thought more deeply about death than Rabindranath Tagore and every chapter of her book was headed by a quote from Rabindranath Tagore.

Rabindranath Tagore made Bengali one of the richest and poetic languages of the world. He received Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. His songs are sung as national anthems in two sovereign states – India and Bangladesh – and Sri Lanka drew inspiration from his song in their national anthem. Rabindranath Tagore is the epitome of Bengali identity. In the book ‘Keeping up with Time’ by Anisur Rahman it is stated that “If there is one person who embodies Bengal, Bengali language and culture that must be Tagore”  

  • A Rahman is an author and a columnist
Cultural, Human Rights, International, Religious, Technical

An egregious claim on Queen’s ancestry

Following the sad demise of H M The Queen Elizabeth II yesterday (8 September 2022), the rumour mongering and alt-truth traders have gone overdrive with the egregious claim that the Queen was, in fact, a descendant (বংশধর) of Prophet Muhammad. Why this dubious and totally mendacious claim has now surfaced is not clear. But it may be that some narcissistic Islamists want to tag on with the Queen and lay claim that Queen was one of them, as descendant of Prophet Muhammad, hence the religion Islam is highly respectable!

This claim was around since at least 1986, when the self-publicity seeker genealogist Harold B. Brooks-Baker, publisher of Burke’s Peerage, laid the claim. This story appeared in Al Ousboue, a Moroccan newspaper and then the British tabloid newspapers like The Daily Mail and The Daily Express, thriving on fake and sensational news, recycled the news and that came to the notice of deplorables in Britain. It may have since then managed to crawl its way into the Google website and an uninitiated person by the name Faruque Miah extracted it from there, albeit unknowingly and innocently, to make a headline splash in our Group – the World Vision.

Before going into the nitty gritty of the claim, let me dwell on the broad outline of the claim. The broad outline was that Queen was the descendant, or as Faruque Mia puts it ‘বংশধর’, of Prophet Mohammad. Now, how do we define a বংশধর’ or descendant? A son is the descendant (or বংশধর) of his father, but a daughter is not. The daughter’s children will go by her husband’s family and by her husband’s father, not by her own father. So descendance follows the male lineage, not the female lineage. In fact, a female does not have a descendant lineage; that may be unfortunate but that is the social customs. In other words, a male may have descendant, but a female cannot.

Now Prophet Muhammad did not have any surviving son beyond infancy period. So, he did not have a descendant or বংশধর to take the realm. His daughter, Fatima, (from Prophet’s marriage to Khadija), got married to Ali, Prophet’s cousin and their children either son or daughter would not qualify to be Muhammad’s descendants or বংশধর. In fact, that was the main reason why Husayn, son of Ali from the marriage to Fatima had been killed in Karbala when he wanted to take up Ali’s (fourth Khalifa) throne. This caused Islam to split into Shiia and Sunni. Prophet Muhammad’s other marriages (to Aisha (Abu Bakr’s daughter), Hafsa (Umar’s daughter) did not produce any children. So, Prophet did not have any descendant to talk about. How could Queen or anybody else in the world could be Prophet’s descendant 43 generations later?  

 Now Islamists might say, it is not the direct descendant they are talking about when linking Queen to Prophet, it is the tenuous indirect relation. They may claim, Queen was the indirect descendant. Any technically knowledgeable person would point out that if someone traces a person’s indirect lineage back far enough, he would discover that all sorts of people are related to each other eventually. Queen and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman or Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the great train robber may be related if one traces 43 generations! There is a significant difference between being directly descended from someone (through male lineage) or simply being related to them. The Observer newspaper in the UK tried to put this in perspective by demonstrating that a child born now would have had 1,024 grandparents in the ninth generation. Compare that to the Queen, who is purported to be the 43rd great-granddaughter of Prophet Mohammad. There was no genetic tracing at all, just fictitious claim by Harold B. Brooks-Baker. Even if it was true, then Queen would be one of many hundreds of millions of great-grand daughters that may have come in 43 generations. With no historical records and no genetic evidence, it is well-nigh impossible to establish the relation between the 11th century Muslim prince and 20th century British Protestant Queen, let alone the 7th century Bedouin Prophet.

Bangladesh, Cultural, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Literary, Religious

Life and Works of Humayun Azad

Humayun Azad – a poet, novelist, short story writer, columnist, critic, linguist and above all a humanist and a social reformer – was born on 28 April 1947 (14 Baishakh 1354 BS) at maternal grandad’s house in the village of Kamargaon, Bikrompur in the district of Munshigonj, However, Humayun Azad used to think that the place where he was brought up in the village of Rarhikhal in Bikrompur was his birth place. His father, Abdur Rashed, was a teacher at the early part of his life and then a postmaster and finally he became a businessman. His mother Zobeda Khatoon was a house wife. Humayun Azad was the first of the siblings, there were three brothers and two sisters. The village had luminary like Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, the world-renowned scientist.

Humayun Azad loved and adored the natural beauty and surroundings of his village. He started his primary education in the village. He passed his SSC from Jagadish Chandra Bose Institute in 1962 and then HSC in science from Dhaka College in 1964. He got acquainted with the Bengali teacher and most prominent writer, Mr. Shawkat Osman at the college. That might have influenced him to love Bengali as the chosen subject. He got BA(Hons) and MA in Bengali from Dhaka University in 1967 and 1968 respectively and got first classes in both. He obtained PhD in linguistics submitting his thesis titled ‘Pronominalisation in Bangla’ at the University of Edinburgh. Humayun Azad’s name at birth was Humayun Kabir, but he changed that name to Humayun Azad by affidavit on 28 September 1988 applying to the magistrate of Narayangonj District.  

His first published book was the collection of poems from 1960s to 1972 and called Alaukik Ishtimar (An Unreal Steamer), which was published in 1973. He published interesting and provocative novels called shobkichu nashtader adhikare jabe (Everything will go to the despicables) in 1985, Chhappanno hazar borgomile (Fifty six thousand square miles)(which is the area of Bangladesh) in 1994, Shobkichu bhenge pore (Everything breaks down) in 1995 and many more. His most prominent and comprehensive feminist book was Naree (Women). In this book, he was even fearless to criticise Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel laureate in literature in 1913; although he praised Raja Rammohan Roy and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. The theme of the book was critical of the patriarchal and male-chauvinism of the Indian subcontinental society towards women. Both Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists were very critical of the book. Under constant agitation and threats of violence by the extremist mullahs, Bangladesh government banned the book in 1995. The ban was, however, forced to be lifted in 2000 following a legal challenge in the High Court of the country, which Humayun Azad won. He produced more than sixty titles,

He viscerally hated a State based on religious doctrine. Humayun Azad was branded an atheist by the Islamists right from the early years of his literary contributions in the 1970s, mainly due to his free unbiased thinking and forthright vision. When Ziaur Rahman, Ershad and Khaleda Zia were in power from mid 1970s till about 2008, they had all been fanning and supporting Islamic fundamentalism for political expediency and financial opportunism. Humayun Azad was the voice of humanism, secularism and free-thinking. He rebelled against religious bigotry and wrote a number of articles pointing out sheer lunacy and inhumanity of religiosity.

His satirical novel called Pak Sar Jamin Sad Bad (Pakistan’s national anthem) when published in 2003 and the Daily Ittefaq produced excerpts in the same year, he started receiving life threats from the Islamist fundamentalists. The book was regarded as an insult to the Pakistani mentality Bangladeshis for ridiculing political ideologies of Pakistan. On 27 February 2004, as Humayun Azad was going home after attending the book fair near the Dhaka University campus, two assailants hacked him several times with machetes on the jaw, lower part of the neck and hands. He was taken to the nearby Dhaka Medical College Hospital. Subsequently the then prime minister of Bangladesh Khaleda Zia ordered him to be transferred to the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) for better treatment. He recovered from the attack, but remained grievously injured.

A week prior to Humayun Azad’s assault, Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, a member of parliament of Bangladesh, said in parliament that the book ‘Pak Sar Jamin Sad Bad’  must be banned and the blasphemy law must be instituted in Bangladesh. (It may be noted that Delwar Hossain Sayeedi was a blatant Pakistani agent and caused death of many Bangladeshis during the 1971 war, but still managed to become an MP in Bangladesh. He was convicted of war crimes by the International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh and was sentenced to death in 2013)   A week later Humayun Azad was very badly assaulted. In 2006, one of the leaders of the Islamic fundamentalist organisation admitted to the RAB that Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) operatives carried out the attack on Humayun Azad (as well as carrying out other murders, bomb blasts etc).

Several months after that attack, he applied to the German government for a grant to carry out research on nineteenth century German romantic poet Heinrich Heine. The German government offered him the grant and he went to Munich on 8 August 2004. The other purpose was to get the medical treatment. However, on 12 August 2004, he was found dead in his apartment, just a few days after his arrival there. His dead body was brought back to Bangladesh and he was buried in Rarhikhal in Bikrompur on 27 August 2004.

It is a very sad story that the person who loved his country supremely, the person who fought for humanity and human justice had to suffer the inhumanity and religious barbarity and lay down his illustrious life in a foreign land. We salute you, Sir.

  • Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist
Human Rights, International, Political, Religious

Desperate times for Pakistan

Pakistan never had easy time politically or economically since its inception. The reason is quite simple – if something is made out of flawed or defective material or designed out of misconceived ideas, it is bound to reflect on its imperfection and show up in its poor performance or existence. Pakistan is no exception to that.  

The country, Pakistan was envisaged on the basis of a flimsy ideology which had no philosophical underpinning or deep deliberation. The Two Nation Theory (TNT) was produced by Allama Iqbal in his dissertation in 1930 as an academic discourse. It was not meant to be a political philosophy chalking out the birth of a nation in the turbulent post-colonial times of British Raj. There was no serious discussion on whether there was any mileage in taking TNT seriously or was it just an arm chair discussion document? Mohammad Ali Jinnah, took up this half-baked TNT as a potent political tool to suit his purpose for a separate nation and thereby stave-off Indian National Congress’ (INC) political supremacy. He did not give any serious thought on the implications of TNT, nor did he initiate any proper discussion on it before taking it up as a serious political tool. When he was asked whether he had thought through this political ideology, he replied in 1946, just one year before the creation of a State, that “let us get it before we think about it!” It was like building a factory before thinking what to do with the factory! To a large extent, this TNT may even be synonymous with Tri-Nitro Toluene – a chemical substance used to blast off a building or a barrier.   

The perceived ideology of the TNT was that as Hindus and Muslims are two separate peoples, with separate religions, culture, philosophy, education and upbringing, they cannot live together. That Hindus and Muslims had been living together for centuries had been cast aside for the political shenanigan of the day. Two nations, one for Muslims called Pakistan and the other for all other religions in India, had been curbed out in the Indian subcontinent in 1947 and to do this, communal riots and violent antagonism had been whipped up by the blatantly aggressive communal politicians. That there were more Muslims in India than in the whole of Pakistan – East Pakistan and West Pakistan put together – was considered irrelevant and superfluous.

Within a few years of creation of Pakistan, it was found that religion far from being the unifying force was, in fact, a poisonous pallet blowing apart even Muslims of various sects and ethnicity. Pakistan adopted a foreign policy that was primarily based on anti-Indian, anti-Hindu philosophy in order to keep incongruous Muslim communities together. Inherently it was assumed that this attitude would bind the loosely bound religious people of both the provinces together and thereby make Pakistan viable. The religious opportunists had the field day in that situation in Pakistan. They made Pakistan an Islamic State and then made non-Sunni Muslims second-class citizens. Even Ahmadiyya sect, to which Prof. Abdus Salam who won Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979 belonged, had been declared non-Muslim and thereby made Abdus Salam a non-Muslim.

The running of the State which Field Marshal Ayub Khan had forcibly taken away from the civilian rule in 1958 had never really reverted back to civilians. The aggressive exploitative stance that Pakistan government took under the tutelage of the Pakistan Army had caused Pakistan to break up in 1972. East Pakistan which became Bangladesh is now in much better shape, both politically and economically. Unlike Pakistan, Bangladesh is not a theocratic State and therefore free to run the country for the well-being of the people, not for the brain washed dogma that everything is done by Allah and we are just His lowly creatures!

Pakistan had never been a democratic State. Nearly half of the time since 1947 Pakistan was ruled by Army and the remaining other half by civilian governments under sharp eyes of the Army. As Shashi Tharoor of India said, “The State of India has an Army, the Army of Pakistan has a State.” No civilian government in Pakistan under a prime minister had managed to complete full five-year term of office. Either the incumbent prime minister had been killed or removed by the Army or in the present case, the sitting prime minister Imran Khan, had been removed under no confidence motion. The Pakistan Army is truly called “The Establishment”. The Establishment is in charge of the country whether in power or out of it.

Pakistan is in a very sorry state. Foreign interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs is a recurrent phenomenon. Of course, Pakistan had demonstrated that it had no moral compulsion either against interfering in foreign countries. The most recent incident was the Pakistan Army’s surreptitious involvement in Afghanistan, which made American military power pull away in disgrace like a third-grade power. America is now taking the revenge in removing Imran Khan from power. A number of times Pakistan resorted to despicable activities – sending saboteurs to India in Taz hotel killing more than 20 people; sending arms and ammunition to religious fanatics in Bangladesh and elsewhere.   

Ayub Khan wrote a book, back in 1960, called ‘Friends Not Masters’ pointedly telling America that Pakistan seeks friends, not masters. But, given half the opportunity, Pakistan would not shy away behaving like masters to other smaller States. East Pakistan had enough of Pakistan’s barbaric mindset and when Pakistan had been beaten and made to surrender in 1972, Pakistan showed no remorse at all. Now Bangladesh as an independent sovereign State would have no reason whatsoever to shed any tears at Pakistan’s desperate situation. As the saying goes, “If you dance with devils, you should be prepared to have devils bite your neck.”

After nearly 75 years of outright hostility and deadly animosity towards India, Pakistan’s deposed prime minister all of a sudden found that India is a decent democratic country and Pakistan should have good relations. But is it not somewhat incongruous to see that the mouth which is used to spew out vile words all the time now preaches amicable words?

  • Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist