April 30, 2007

Foot in Mouth of the day - Pakistan Edition

Our winner today: Benazir Bhutto.

The "democratic" option thinks that the military option is not REALLY committed to what was always an unpopular venture amongst their people. Sounds familiar?

Foot in mouth.

April 28, 2007

Civilians with balls .... not so much

Interesting developments in Turkey. First time this has happened there as far as I know.

Soft coups aplenty

And for those of my Bangladeshi brethren who care a lot about both secularism and democracy, here's a pickle. Soft coups aplenty this year.

A conversation with Mash

A conversation with Mash, owner of this blog. It started when I responded to someone else's comments about civil society elitism. Although the conversation between us veered off topic after that, it was nonetheless highly interesting and worth a read if anyone is interested. In between is a telling comment by sushantaa.

The entire thread can be found on salamdhaka's blog here.

Asif said...

Would YOU say that the people of BD in general, regardless of class, know how to vote? Don't the worst MPs come from Dhaka city, esp. Gulshan-Banani?

11:23 AM
SUSHANTA said...
bhai, ami bangladesher ek mofossol shaharer chele. Sushil Somaj niye kotha bolte bhoy lage!

12:37 PM
Mash said...
asif I think was joking when he said:

Would YOU say that the people of BD in general, regardless of class, know how to vote? Don't the worst MPs come from Dhaka city, esp. Gulshan-Banani?

What exactly does knowing "how to vote" mean? Isn't that the problem: A few people who "know" trying to impose their will on the bulk of the population because they are "too ignorant to know"?

3:25 PM
Asif said...

Now that you mention it, yes that sounded terribly lame. I got somewhat emotional seeing people blame (effectively) powerless civil society members instead of very powerful "quarters".

To elaborate and clarify: people in general do not discriminate between their candidates. Yes, that sounds elitist on the face of it. And yes, Debopriyo's "clean candidate" initiative can be criticised as a bunch of people who "know" (intelligensia/elite) imposing their views on the masses.

That however is not what I meant. I meant that if you go and ask your average AL or BNP or JI supporter in the street, they will give you some really really bad arguments. Usually things like: "AL will sell Bangladesh" or "BNP will bring back autocracy". Hardly anyone focusses on issues.

And mind you, I don't think this is a class thing at all. Some of the best political conversations I've had are with rickshawalas. The majority of them vote looking after their interest as a group. However, people in other professions (whatever the income) do not.

This lack of non-focus on issues of importance is what I meant when I said that "people do not know how to vote". Of course they do. But if you ask me, looking into wider issues is voting properly. Looking into narrow interests or petty issues ("who announced our independence?") is voting improperly.

I'm very, very glad you caught my mistake. I hope I've clarified some of what I was trying to say.

5:41 PM
Mash said...
asif, I agree with most of what you said. I appreciate the clarification. I was pretty sure you misspoke since, from reading your blog, it did not seem to be a position you have ever advocated.

One thing I will say though about people not voting the issues. I have come to respect the will and the collective wisdom of the people. People are very good at figuring out what is in their best interest. They may not articulate it well when asked, but I have always found it so.

As one who believes strongly in democracy, I am an advocate of getting as much information as possible out into the public and then letting the public decide not only who to vote for, but also what bits of information they find to be important. It may be frustrating to hear from someone that they are voting for a party simply because they are a "party man", but at the same time, that is a choice they are making and that issue is important to them.

By way of example, take the US elections in 2004. In that election, the Republicans drove home the issue of gay marriage as the wedge issue. It was almost certainly the deciding issue of the election. It drove their base to the polls on the fear that gays would marry and then take over the world or something. Now, you and I can scream at the top of our lungs that that is a minor issue compared to the larger issues of national security, war in Iraq, etc. But to those who came out to vote, that was the motivating factor. So, I say, power to the Republicans for finding an issue that motivated their base. Too bad for the Democrats that they could not convince more people that there are more important issues out there. Democracy worked, even though I didn't like the outcome. The people spoke on matters that they found important.

I think the same is true in Bangladesh. It is a failure of the political parties to shape the debate - not a failure of the people to look out for their own self interest and vote accordingly.

5:57 PM
Asif said...


I am also a true believer in the collective will of the people. However, I have also studied (not specialised, simply studied) in some depth how people's will can be fragmented. I'd highly recommend Kurt Weyland's study on Brazil (I'll post the name to your blog when I find it) and De Soto's "The Other Way" if you're interested. In these books, they show how broad coalitions have been stopped from forming.
When America voted on Gay Marriage instead of National Security issues, that was a step backward which they corrected in the next elections (2006 midterms). Over three rounds, our people have made the same old mistakes.
Add to this the "uniquely" South Asian addiction to dynasties and you've got yourself a pretty bad combination. People will end up voting in families instead of issues. I mean people who are ashamed of their extended families have no problem affirming "like father, like son/daughter/whatever" (I'm sure you've read my rant on my blog)! Surely it's not elitist to say that that's wrong!

In any case, I really appreciate your thoughts again. You've given me something to think about. Now, back to the books!

6:16 PM
Asif said...
Besides Mash,

If one were to follow your line of thinking and say "kudos to the republicans", one would have to say kudos to Milosevic, Shiv Sena and our beloved, oh-so-beloved Jamaat for "finding issues that motivate their base".

In the end, we need some institutions (constitution/strong cultural norms) to tell people and parties that this is right and this is wrong. And no, colonial institutions just won't do anymore I'm afraid.

6:19 PM
Mash said...
Asif, I don't like Karl Rove. But nonetheless he is a formidable political tactician. And no, I don't think you are "elitist" when you say that it is wrong. I happen to also think its the wrong issue, but, alas, I only get one vote :)

I am not prepared to make the judgment that the US took a step back in 2004 and a step forward in 2006. I think the political landscape changed and the relative importance of issues changed in 2006. Its not that gay marriage was not an issue, its just that political corruption and the Iraq war had a larger constituency.

As for Jamaat in Bangladesh, there is no denying that they are an effective political party with a loyal and dedicated base. I will leave aside my aversion for Islamists for a moment and stick to the politics only (so don't take my statements of praise as endorsement of their views - a reading of my blog will make clear what my view of Islamists are). Jamaat can package their message effictively and deliver it efficiently. That is what makes them a potent political force. Same applies for Shiv Sena; Milosevic was working in a more restricted political system so I don't think the thread carries that far. So, to recap, as a political force these groups are very well oiled. AL and BNP can only dream of being half as efficient - a pipe dream because their supporters are a more diverse constituency with wider and more diluted interests.

Thanks also for the references. I am familiar with the Brazil study, but not as familiar as I need to be to talk intelligently about it. I look forward to getting more detail on them from you. Also, thanks for the civil and enlightening discussion and debate. I am always heartened when we can argue and debate hefty issues without rancor.

6:45 PM
Asif said...
Trust me, same to you on that last point. Very rare in our circles not to take disagreement personally!

Will elaborate more tomorrow. Maybe even a blogpost:D. Stay tuned!

April 27, 2007

"Shushil Shomaj" - an emerging discontent

Development literature is loaded with references to "civil society". Some have critised how it has become a panacea, a quick-fix/quack-fix or a magical solution for the ills of developing countries. With our penchant for magic quick-fixes -from "Hindus and Muslims are two nations" to "Bengali nationalism" through "one-party state" into "making politics difficult" to "democracy" to "civil society" to "own brand of democracy", you name it we've done it! - we seized onto this one at some point in the 90s. Very few of us know what it means. A lot of us suspect that it is an imported product that fits badly with Bangladeshi society like a white dress on a Bangali bride (or, if you prefer, "sits as a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire").

We have reasons for such suspicion. Let us dissect the "translation". Taking a cue from English subtitles in pirated DVDs of Hollywood movies, civil society is literally translated into Bangla as "shushil shomaj". And like such subtitles, they lose all meaning and become something completely different. "Onubadey haariye gelo" if you will.

Now the problem starts here, but by no means does it end here: "shushil" inevitably starts carrying connotations of "civilised" rather than "civil" in Bangla. And we all know what a classic piece of Victorian/Eighteenth century snobbery can be carried across in English through the phrase "civilised society" or worse "polite society". Salamdhaka complained about this on someone else's blog recently and his elaboration can be found here. He says:

Why is Dr. Debapriya B. part of it but not say Dr. Abdur Razzak, a politician, who has a Phd in agriculture from Purdue?

Why is say, Manzur Elahi of CPD, part of it but not say Saber Hossain Chowdhury, a politician and a decent size businessman.

"Members of Civil Society" - how exactly do you become a member of this 'society'?

To answer the first two questions: Abdur Razzak and Saber Hossain Chowdhury are politicians trying to take control of the state apparatus. In theory, civil society is defined as those organizations that occupy the space between the family and the state (definition 1). I made this clear in the comments sections, which I would highly encourage everyone to read the comments section where a vibrant debate takes place.

But it's that last part that bothered me, hinting as it did to an exclusive club to which one has to become a member. The conception of civils society is geared to be one in which everyone (with organizational acumen) can participate. An inclusive structure. Clearly the problem was more than one of semantics.

Enter another Asif on Drishtipat. Asif discusses the DS roundtable and says:

I thank the DS for taking this initiative. But please don’t try to create another Sushil Samaj junior where there is only a certain group or class of people who are trying to speak for a much greater population they don’t represent. Where is the student leader from Dhaka University? Where is the Madrassa student ? Where is the student activist ? Where is the young politician? Where is the grassroot NGO worker or the young government officer from Borguna? The list goes on.

"Sushil Samaj junior": notice the capitalization. Instead of making "civil society" inclusive, we have made it exclusive to such a point that a writer feels oblidged to capitalise it. Once again, this goes beyond simple semantics (which after all are nothing but indicators of how we think). His criticisms are spot on. Where is the Dhaka University student, the Madrassa student or I might add a representative of the slum dwellers who got evicted post 1/11? One can argue that the DU student and the Madrassa student are busy fighting each other (bad generalizations, but bear with me). But why the slum dweller or the grassroots activist (although Naeem Mohaeimen can count for one) is not part of the roundtable are damning questions. Indeed an amount of class discrimination has crept in, leading to well-deserved discontent.

How far is this the fault of the rest of "shushil shomaj" and how far is it a matter of media perception or our perception? Does it make the news that everyday thousands of NGO field workers are working their hearts out all over the land? Civil society is active everyday, but we choose to see it only when its most famous proponents do something.

That these proponents are all well-off, educated and urban should not come as a surprise to anyone. Indeed, there are fundamental structural reasons (at least in that generation) that organizations created by well-off, urban people such as BRAC, Grameen, Daily Star and Mati O Manush survived and organizations created by the poor failed. Number one structural deficiency: a political landscape in which any big organization is distrusted by the government: not just politicians, but bureacrats and the military. Urban (Dhaka-based), well-connected actors are more easily able to assuage such fears than rural ones. Plus, with our prejudice against rural institutions and people in general, it's very easy to dismiss such things as "village politics", external subversion, opposition subversion - in fact anything other than the wishes of the rural people and thus easy to dismiss. Kansat anyone?

Further down his post, Asif raises the question of why madrassa and Islamic/Islamist institutions are not usually included in "civil society". A second definition of "civil society" defines this society in terms of "civility" that is tolerance. This is where our prejudice against Islamists dictate that we brand all of them as "intolerant" and thus not fit to be "civil society". And the majority of the population does this, even if they don't call themselves "secular" or "non-religious" or whatever. This is not to say that Islamists are the epitome of tolerance, just that ALL of them can't be intolerant. In other words, more exclusivity.

And this exclusivity, whether real or imagined, is what is damaging the very idea of civil society. Which is a pity, because if it is based on broad representation civil society provides a necessary counterbalance to the state and prevents it from abusing its power over citizens. If such exclusivity is real, then our current civil society leaders have a lot to do. If it is imagined, then once again the onus is on them to convince us that they believe in broad representation and not exclusivity (whatever such exclusion is based on: class, race, religion, education, political orientation). Either way, the ball seems to be increasingly in their court.

Funniest shit of the day

Funniest shit of the day

April 26, 2007

Self-fulfilling Prophecies

If you repeat to yourself: "I will fail" often enough, you will in more cases than not. Similarly, if a government treats its own people like mindless, rioting idiots, the people reward them by being just that. Again, in most cases than not. I'm hoping this one is not.

As Rezwan noted two weeks ago, the thinking behind keeping the leaders out of the country instead of bringing them to trial was that these trials would be susceptible to mass public pressures. While the source is dubious, if you scan the papers in the last two weeks, that is more or less what the advisors say. (I'll put up some newspaper links later!)

Now that the exile saga has fallen through, efforts are under way to do what should have been done in the first place! However, now that both AL and BNP are putting up "Mission Accomplished" banners, can you imagine the depth of popular support they will get?

All of which could simply have been avoided by giving a bit more credit to the masses! I know they don't always bring the best people to power, but they know when justice is being done.

Now, one hopes they are still in that mood after all the needless drama!

April 25, 2007

Free Press vs. Our Press

What a free press should be: David Halberstam's speech to the Columbia School of Journalism. Sadly Halberstam died yesterday. Just read about his experiences as a young reporter in Vietnam towards the end of the speech.

What our press is: yesterday with two high-profile individuals being forced into exile and our jute-factory workers rioting, the Daily Star decided to do these editorials.

Shaking my head, simply shaking my head.

Update: And then Geeteara Chowdhury (she of the foot in mouth fame in the post below!) is quoted saying: "Publicity/news items about these two leaders in the international media is tantamount to interference in our internal affairs."

Really? Then why not let the domestic papers write about them instead of intimidating them?

Foot in Mouth of the day

Today's winner: Geeteara Safiya Choudhury

When asked by reporters about the human rights of the two almost-exiled political party leaders, the Advisor to the Ministry of Industries replied that she did not care about the human rights of others, only hers. Which may explain why factory workers in Khulna were fired upon.

Foot in mouth

April 24, 2007

Fear and Loathing in Dhaka City

After the euphoria comes the crash. So it was then, so it is now: a high, followed by a new low. I have come to the conclusion that our short history is nothing except one big metaphor for drug abuse. Unfortunately, we are so divided amongst ourselves that we have little idea what sort of drugs and what sort of treatment is needed.

How many things can I list that pisses me off about the current situation. Well, once again in no particular order, here goes:

1) Exile: Really? I feel like screaming out: why exile when there should be trials? God knows it wouldn’t be hard to find evidence showing strong connections between the leaders and corruption.

2) "Foreign intrusion": Shahedul Anam rails against foreign intervention:

There are some curious things happening in our politico-diplomatic front, too. For instance, we have the unique distinction, we are perhaps the only country, of being represented by an ambassador accredited to Bangladesh, when the ambassador in question demanded a definitive time-frame for election claiming that it was what the people of Bangladesh wanted to know.
Not only do ambassadors represent their countries and speak for them, we have a situation where ambassadors seem to have arrogated to themselves the responsibility of speaking on behalf of the people of the countries they are posted in. And there will be many in Bangladesh to rush to the defense of the ambassador and excoriate me for my views

Now I am with him when it comes to stopping non-citizens trying to influence our policies. But will he (or others who think express such sentiments) criticise the CTG now for letting foreign governments influence our politics? One can hope, but I’m almost positive the hope is in vain.

3) Media: Congratulations to the Daily Star and Prothom Alo for covering such important (and relevant) things as the French Elections and the right to bail in their editorials! New Age at least showed some credibility by running an editorial on it, only perhaps because it is owned by people aligned with Hasina. But seriously, congratulations to the two big dailies. You make Fox News and the Bush Administration look like …well, Khaleda and Hasina!

4) Alternative Media: With the mainstream media taken out to graze in the fields, I have turned to 'Deshi blogs for information. However, with a few notable exceptions such as shadakalo and drishtipat, most of the blogs I’ve been reading have been depressingly partisan. The comments even more so. Let’s get one thing straight people: both Hasina and Khaleda are in a human rights dilemma. So, if you really have “human rights” in mind, mention the plight of both people. Otherwise, just confess that you’re a partisan hack and I won’t mind your lopsided concerns! To be fair, I’m not Technorati so I haven’t read ALL the blogs there are. I’m sure there are good ones. But some of the ones I’ve read are depressingly one-sided. Plus ca change…

The worst part is that so far, the CTG has talked sense. Its reforms are actually commendable and if implemented would benefit us greatly. However, what is has done is a completely different matter. To quote shadakalo: Jei jay Lonkay, shei hoy Rabon! In other words, welcome dear advisers (and your respected backers) to the world of power where you can say one thing and do another.

Among all these are just two rays of hope, one shining here and the other here in the last paragraph.

But of course, we’re used to rejoicing in hope in the first rays of our high before the crash sets in. Well, if this doesn’t work out, there’s always painful, regressive rehab.

April 23, 2007

Busting some national myths

Today seems to be a good day to bust a few national myths. So here goes, in no particular order:

Myth: “Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia are the root of all our troubles. Minus-2 will solve all our problems”
Fact: While these two have definitely contributed a lot to our woes with their personal animosity, their support for corrupt elements and their exclusionary politics, they are by no means solely to blame. Bangladesh has severe structural problems, not least of which is the fact that the judiciary is not independent enough to tackle corruption and the law is not clear enough to draw the line between corruption and legal behaviour.

Myth:“I am the daughter of the father of the nation. I should be allowed back into my country”
Fact: It is about time that Mrs. Sheikh Hasina Wajed stopped using her father’s name for anything. The only reason I support her right to return is because she is a citizen of Bangladesh. We all know who your father was, we respect him and pray for his departed soul. What have you done to deserve our respect? Besides, is being a citizen of our country not privilege enough?

Myth: "Like father, like son".
Fact: A theory disproven since the Prophet Ibrahim! Bangladeshis, please, PLEASE, stop believing in it and voting accordingly. And yes, feel free to substitute the words “daughter” where appropriate!

Myth: "BNP is the enemy of democracy and introduced dictatorship in Bangladesh."
Fact: As much as I admire Mujib, it was unfortunately his move to create BAKSAL that destroyed all semblances of democracy in our country. Democracies need a minimum of two sides. One-party states are thus inherently undemocratic.

Myth: "BNP will protect us from India, AL won’t."
Fact: Neither party has a coherent, intelligent foreign or international trade policy, not just with India but with any country. BNP-sympathisers complains about India turning Bangladesh into a “captive market”, but when India cuts off food exports, we complain loudly! Either we trade with India or we don’t, no one is forcing us to keep our borders open!
Here’s something to think about: non-tariff barriers. These are the single biggest impediments towards increasing our trade with India. Can’t we make moves on the diplomatic front at all to get India to reduce these? Do we not hold any of the cards? Answer is of course we do! But who’s using them? Instead of linking things like Tata’s investment to reducing tariff barriers, what our bureaucrats would rather do is milk the deal for all it’s worth. If you could get these non-tariff barriers down, we could get to the Indian market. Which by the way is what every American and European company has been dying to get into!

Myth: "Only politicians are corrupt."
Fact: Corruption in a significant part of society forces other parts to become corrupt as well. If a policeman needs to pay one lakh to get a job, s/he will definitely try to make it back. Similarly if a politician asks for money to not hinder even the simplest of business deals, then the entrepreneur must make it back somehow. If a professor needs to toe the party line to get appointed in state-run universities, s/he will expect students to do the same. Corruption breeds corruption. Let’s face facts: we have all gone through a terrible time in our history where people had to do what they did to survive. Should we punish them all? Or only the biggest offenders?

Myth: "1/11 changed everything"
Fact: While evidence is still pending, the post-emergency CTG so far has not acted in fundamentally different ways than its predecessors - except perhaps on the above point where it has tried to get a coherent foreign and international trade policy going. The CTG is plagued with the same insularity (they are hostile to every other power centre), lack of transparency (we have no idea who is taking the decisions and who is enforcing those decisions) and accountability (if decisions are successful, who do we reward? If not, who do we ask to step down?). Until these three problems are solved, I’m afraid it’s just another false dawn for Bangladesh.

April 19, 2007

"Baby with the bathwater"

Apparently, I started a trend in my last post... now if only anyone read this blog!

April 18, 2007

Bangali vs. Bangladeshi nationalism

In an earlier post, I had referred to the debate about Bangali vs. Bangladeshi nationalism. Syed Badrul Ahsan writing in today's Daily Star recounts how it all started:

The first, tentative steps toward a formalisation of historical mutilation came when the journalist Khondokar Abdul Hamid told a surprised Ekushey crowd at the Bangla Academy in February 1976 (the country had conveniently been placed under a state of martial law) that "Bangladeshi nationalism" would serve as the underpinning of the state. The only brave soul at that gathering was Professor Kabir Chowdhury. It was he who spoke, however briefly, of the role of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in Bangladesh's history

Now, Mr. Ahsan's writings have never fallen far from the partisan tree. Which is highly infuriating since his writings betray him now and then to be a man capable of original thought, not simply seeing our history through partisan eyes (which, ironically and correctly, is what he accuses his opponents of doing).

Let us dissect the above quote. " "Bangladeshi nationalism" would serve as the underpinning of the state": to this day, I have not come across a single reason why the Bangali nationalism based on ethno-linguistic differences should underpin a state that does not encompass a large group of Bangalis, and moreover includes non-Bangalis within its borders.

Nor have I come across any reason why a territorial definition of nationalism - which Bangladeshi nationalism purports to be even though some of its supporters give it a religious-communal hue - should not underpin a territorial state.

The very next sentence lauds the renowned Professor Kabir Chowdhury's remembrance of Mujib's vital role in Bangladeshi history. Other than BNP's appropriated version of Bangladeshi nationalism (and how many people really BELIEVE in that?), who else denies this? Is it impossible to believe both in Bangladesh as a territorial state and in Mujib as the leader who led us to it? What kind of a Bangladeshi nationalism would we have that did not include his vital role in our history? The BNP's version of course. But why give any importance to what the political parties say about history when you know it's untrue? And why battle one political party's line with another's?

More importantly, Mr. Ahsan never tells us why we need Bangali nationalism to recognise Mujib as the founding father of the state. I don't recall him calling on all Bangalis, East and West of Benapole, to unite. Yes, yes, I know "Bangladeshi nationalism" is the BNP's term, but is it not time we saw the merits of the term - in my mind, the territorial nature of our nation regardless of religion, race or gender - and corrected the demerits, namely the erasure of Mujib from our history? Thus, and only thus, can we appropriate the term from the BNP and make it ours, the people's. (And in a similar way, it would be nice to appropriate Mujib from being "head of the Awami League" or "Jatir Jonok" to being plain, simple and dignified "Bongobondhu", ours, the people's once again!) But in trying to fight for Mujib with Bangali nationalism in hand is throwing out the baby with the bathwater!

But of course Mr. Ahsan does not do this, even as he purports to educate the new generation. For the last five years, to our great shame, our PM would celebrate her (fake) birthday on the day Mujib was killed. And what does Mr. Ahsan offer to absolve us of that shame? More of the same I'm afraid: one historical fallacy for another. To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, whom Mr. Ahsan himself likes to quote now and then, the choice we seem to have is between pyre and pyre.

(PS. My non-use of the term "Bongobondhu" when referring to Mujib is deliberate. I believe that titles simply obscure a man's greatness. Nothing is more fitting than one's own name.)

April 14, 2007

Is misogyny South Asian?

Yesterday a friend of mine wrote a note on facebook that had a direct bearing on my last post about Mandira Bedi and Ann Coulter.

Turns out that some of my countrymen (and women apparently) have put up an anti-Mandira group on facebook. No surprises there. The appalling part is the language used against Bedi, which I’m not going to give wider circulation by reproducing it here. It’s even spelled out in the name of the group. Any surprises there?

More specifically, let me ask this: is there something inherently misogynistic about South Asians?

When someone says something we strongly disagree with, most people’s first reaction is to attack the individual instead of countering what is being said. And internet forums, even on the once-elitist facebook, bring out the worst in people. Therefore, when Al Gore speaks of global warming, people on the internet call him fat . They don’t go on live television and do so, because let’s face it: that’s tacky! But the anonymity of the internet suits them just fine. And to be completely “non-partisan” about this: people highly critical of Bush’s policies almost always mention the man’s inability to string two coherent sentences together. As much fun as Bushisms are, they should not be mistaken for criticisms of his policies. In any case, South Asians/ “Third worlders”/ Bangladeshis aren’t the only ones to mount personal attacks.

The problem is with the nature of the personal attack. Bush is called stupid. Gore is called fat. Kerry is called a coward. Mandira Bedi is called a “whore”. Even ignoring the fact that being labelled with an epithet for a sex-worker should not be insulting in an ideal world, why focus on her sexuality? Even if criticism was warranted (and in my last post, I tell people that even mild criticism would be an over-reaction), why not call her stupid or anorexic or a coward? Because, underpinning all this is the assumption that informs all misogyny: men can be whatever they want and women are only sex-objects. Ergo, men possess other qualities to criticise, while women have only that one thing you can put her down with. Even worse, in this construction men can be other things not related to their biology, in the process transcending their gender. But women! They remain slaves of their biology regardless of what they become. As a result, you can criticise Kerry for being a traitor and a liar, but your first criticism of/fear for Hillary is that she might come across as a “frigid woman”, “robotic”, “passionless”. Don’t believe that Westerners are capable of that sort of sentiment? Try googling “Hillary” and “frigid” and take a look for yourself!

So back to my original question: is misogyny peculiarly South Asian? Well, clearly not. But it is prevalent more in South Asia (and other parts of the South) than in the North. Ahh, when I put it this way, inevitably you think: so it is income-poverty that leads to misogyny? Possibly not, but it might lead to misogynistic values being shared and thus to misogynistic cultures. That’s simply my intuition and if someone has any research leads for me, I’d be more than happy. What I DO know is that in South Asia (and elsewhere in the global South) there is a gender imbalance in the total population that is unfavourable to women. Amartya Sen (South Asian, Bangali, born in Shantiniketon to a family hailing from - you guessed it - Dhaka!) has been trying to raise awareness of this for years, but not even his Nobel Prize seems to helped in making any impact in South Asia on this issue.

And now we are attacking Mandira Bedi. In my last post, I divided the blame equally between her producers - who cynically use her charms as a woman - and the Indian and Bangladeshi supporters, who lap it up and give her disproportionate attention simply because she is a beautiful woman. This time I have no one to blame except my fellow Bangladeshi supporters. Attacking her in the first place was utterly useless. Attacking her womanhood is simply part of the sick disease we want to cure. Here’s hoping that Bangladesh is the first South Asian country to elect a woman whose father, husband, brother or son did not also hold office!