A Plea, a Poem

I have not had the pleasure of having a guest post prior to this, and I am extremely happy that this is my first one. At the moment, the situation in Bangladesh is chaotic at best, destructive at worst. My brother, a writer from that part of the world, currently living abroad but every bit as Bangladeshi as those suffering from the upheavals back home – and certainly more so than the selfish minority causing them – recently wrote about it. Instead of trying and failing to explain his work, I am attaching his piece along with a plea that he agreed to post with it. He asks that anyone who is genuinely interested in this situation spread the word and get the world to notice. He is happy to answer any questions or elaborate, should you wish to get in touch with him.

Bangladesh is dying a slow, painful death in the blind-spot of the world. My fellow countrymen and I have let the country down repeatedly, and we find ourselves staring down a familiar abyss once more. My frustration, desperation and depression, accentuated by feelings of inadequacy and insignificance, boiled over today and took the form of a poem, a plea, a prayer. I had to share it with you because I, and many others, hold out hope for a golden sky at the end of this storm. To achieve that, we need the attention of the world.

 

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and, if it is any good, sharing it with people like yourself who can genuinely care about my country and its people. You have the gratitude of a repentant Bangladeshi. If I can ever be of any assistance to you, please do not hesitate to ask. All I want in return is help for my motherland.

 Very best,

 Ikhtisad

Website: http://www.ikhtisadahmed.com

Twitter: @ikhtisad

 

Thine Kingdom Is Mine

 

Nazrul died today, newspaper says,

Spelt his name wrong, common mistake:

Unimportant, not an op-ed or commentary,

What does it matter anyway?

Father is well and mother survives,

My abode keeps me warm –

Veritable ivory tower, for far away

It is from the damned land.

 

Boy of nine this time, breaking news,

Left on the street to rot, fitting;

You want his name? Perish

The thought, who knows such things?

Father is well and mother survives,

They have democracy for comfort,

And fire on the streets for warmth,

No comparison with my “Communist Manifesto”.

 

Beaten copy, I pat once again –

Feign horror, cry for salvation,

Crocodile tears learnt from the master:

Young leader in pin-striped suit,

Champagne and caviar at night,

Saves us with chest-thumping by day,

Pretence for golden ticket, another slight,

A minister he will be tomorrow, celebrate!

 

His raping and pillaging will have to wait –

Doctor tries to resuscitate a corpse,

One more, what is the difference?

The elders speak of democracy,

Their time is now, we are saved!

Father is well and mother survives,

Wheels turn, world goes round, 

Today’s leaders do so much for us!

 

My gratitude almost given before

Sufiya’s burnt, beaten, blood-stained

Body into focus comes, in print and on screen –

One question: fat or pregnant?

Obesity averted or over-population tackled?

Victory for leaders either way;

Father is well and mother survives,

Join me here they will, together to thrive.

 

Green and red held above our heads,

Pictures I see of celebrations –

Leaders young and old have their say, I 

Join my countrymen from distant land

In their pride on this meaningless sacred day;

Father is well, but mother is silent,

Think nothing of it, she has democracy

To pull her through for decades more.

 

Mother is dead I am told –

First flight to Bangladesh, empty

Going that way, foolish to pay full price;

Plane descends, but no water in the land

Of rivers I see, only hues of red

All over, ablaze and flowing,

Turning, twisting, repeating;

Why am I even here, I wonder?

 

Funeral day, no-one left to mourn,

Nazrul, Sufiya, the nine year-old –

All too selfish, not here beside me;

Second problem: no place to bury,

Left and right I search, we have democracy

This cannot possibly be!

The columns, the talk-shows, the biases:

They were convincing, they assured me!

 

Toss her in the fire, cremation,

Paid the big bucks for my innovation

I am, now back I go, no time to mourn.

Before boarding chartered plane,

With a camera in my face, I say a word,

Maybe even two, I cannot stop!

Limelight seized, father is well

And we have democracy I tell.

 

Too long I spend being self-important,

Something mispoken or a step taken wrong –

They come and take me away,

Today I will die, they say.

This is democracy, I understand,

If not them then the other side

Will kill me for sure, I know this fact;

“Oh mother, what have I done?” I never ask,

No tears forthcoming, why should they?

I feel nothing, those who do are long dead.

 

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My Other Articles

A bit of blatant self-promotion, but here is a link to my articles for the University of Warwick newspaper The Boar. While I will continue to blog, I should point out that the articles I write for the newspaper, particularly in the Comments section, are all very dear to my heart. So, instead of repeating my work twice, I thought it would be prudent to share a quick link. I would appreciate it if my few readers would take the time to keep checking the website for The Boar as it is a wonderful publication.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

I was fortunate enough to have been in India in 2009 when the Delhi High Court repealed Section 377 of the country’s penal code. The ruling, which effectively decriminalised homosexuality, was a landmark ruling and a huge step towards equality in a part of the world that is still decades behind the equal rights debate currently sweeping through the global West. Naturally, there were quite a lot of detractors of the decision. The usual religious justifications against the decision were made, as were unusual claims such as astrologers predicting a sudden surge in “gay sex in the Army”, psychiatrists complaining about losing their livelihood because they could previously “cure homosexuals of their problems”, and the plethora of claims that it went against Indian culture. Never mind the fact that Hindu deities have a history of defying gender norms and Indian epics often describe same-sex unions.

At the time, however, the ruling remained unchanged in the face of such strong and vitriolic opposition. It was an extremely positive decision and, with the UN adopting LGBTQ+ rights as basic human rights two years later in a ground-breaking resolution, it seemed that the world was finally on its way to becoming a more tolerant place. Between the decision in India in 2009 and the 10th of December this year, other countries took huge steps towards greater rights – parts of the US, Europe, South America and Oceania legalised same-sex marriage, Bangladesh officially recognised the transexual hijra community, and even the Catholic Church spoke out against discrimination against the gay community. Not all of these decisions are without flaws, nor do they provide an automatic overnight solution to the greater problem of intolerance. However, the efforts of world governments and judiciaries to at least engage in this debate – something unthinkable even a decade ago – is extraordinary and should have been cause for celebration.

Then the morning of the 11th of December, 2013 came along. I woke up to a message from my brother telling me that Section 377 had been reinstated. A quick look through all the major news outlets proved this to be true. The Indian Supreme Court, in its ever-present wisdom, decided that the 2009 repeal was not constitutional and that Parliament would have to make the change. Legally, they are probably correct; I would not know, being a stranger to constitutional law. Morally, they could not have made a bigger blunder. The 2009 decision allowed the LGBTQ+ community to finally open up. Pride Parades became a regular fixture in some of the larger cities in the country. Thousands of individuals spoke out against discrimination and willingly shared their stories as they could not be criminally prosecuted any more. Now, with a single announcement, four years of progress has just been made redundant.

For the hopeful few who think that the government is likely to render the Supreme Court’s decision meaningless by voting to decriminalise homosexuality using constitutional methods, let me bring you back to reality. The Delhi High Court’s 2009 repeal was revolutionary for the simple reason that it went completely against the inclinations of the overwhelming majority of people in India. Politicians are largely conservative with regards to sexual minority rights as well. For the handful who are not, they would probably be unwilling to risk their political careers over what they perceive to be an insignificant and divisive issue, especially not with elections coming up. A state-by-state ruling, as is happening in the USA, is unlikely as it is not something that has ever been discussed. Personally, I do not think the question of discriminatory practices should be left to the majority. If that did happen, slavery would not have been banned, universal suffrage would have remained a pipe dream, and LGBTQ+ rights would probably still be called abominable and anti-social behaviour.

Furthermore, the ramifications of this decision are not just limited to India, though, of course, that country’s LGBTQ+ community will inevitably face the most backlash. India has long been the forerunner for rights and upturning outdated laws in the region. The hijra community’s recognition in Bangladesh largely came down to the fact that India (and, later, Pakistan) had made similar decisions in the past. Despite the animosity that is sometimes shown towards our more successful neighbour, India is still the benchmark towards which the rest of South Asia strives, at least in terms of socio-economic conditions. If she makes a move towards greater rights, we immediately feel the pressure of living up to that standard; now, we are free to continue discrimination with impunity.

The Indian Supreme Court decision is shameful. With Croatia’s recent referendum indefinitely banning same-sex unions from the constitution, it would appear that bigotry is still very much alive around the world. Unfortunately, it seems to be winning a few of the battles. Let us hope it cannot win the war.

Update: Australia’s High Court has reversed legislation allowing same-sex marriages in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). This effectively invalidates 27 unions that took place after the legislation passed. The decision has been handed over to Parliament, which voted down a similar nation-wide legislation in September of last year. It is important to note that the court’s decision was prompted by a complaint from the national government. Unfortunately, that gives us a good idea of where the issue is likely going.

We Are Not So Different, You & I

Andree lived in Paris, cut off from her family and friends who refused to support her. She was lost and scared, and died a lonely death in a hospice. Larissa, from Kaliningrad, was also rejected by her loved ones. Although still alive, her existence is one of loneliness and discrimination. Both of these are stories of the stigma faced by people infected with HIV/AIDS. Both are stories of people’s lives being destroyed by a lack of compassion. But Andree’s story is set in 1986; Larissa’s is from earlier this year.

Between these two lies a period of amazing scientific and medical advancement. Although there is still no known cure, treatment has advanced to the point where antiretroviral drugs can be used to slow down the disease and lessen its effects. Where it was once a terminal illness, HIV/AIDS is now considered a chronic one – still extremely dangerous, but no longer the death sentence it used to be in the 80’s and early 90’s. Arguably the greatest success of the last decade has been the provision of antiretroviral treatment to 10 million people in developing countries. This includes 60% of people in need of treatment in Africa, a number that would have seemed unthinkable even at the turn of the millennium.

Another major milestone has been the increased awareness about the condition. For years, the assumption, both among the laypersons and the medical experts, was that HIV and AIDS were the same thing. However, improved research and awareness campaigns have led to more and more people realising the differences between the two, and that HIV does not necessarily lead to AIDS. This, of course, ties back in to better medical approaches as the nuances of the condition (the one being a virus, the other being a disease) have led to a better understanding of preventive measures and treatment. Combined with the dispelling of myths such as HIV/AIDS being contagious through simple physical contact, this has meant that we are in a better situation now than when World AIDS Day was first commemorated in 1988.

So why then are stories like Larissa’s still so prevalent? The answer is depressingly simple – while the stigma of being infected has reduced, the stigma of the reasons behind infection is still very much present. People who represent the two groups most at risk of infection are the ones who are treated with the most contempt. Those who self-inject drugs, like Andree and Larissa, make up one of these groups. The other consists of those who engage in same-sex intercourse, particularly men. It is not a surprise to learn that society does not look particularly favourably on either of these. Yet, these are the very people who need the most attention and the most support.

The success of tackling HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa can be primarily attributed to the extraordinary advocacy from civil society activists from across the world. Political leadership provided a rare undivided front, to help those in need get another shot at life. The problem now, of course, is that the strands of society that remain at risk are those that rights groups (particularly in Asia and Africa) and political leaders are not as willing to unite behind.

The strongest message behind the awareness campaigns that helped eradicate the prejudice and the disgust felt towards HIV/AIDS patients was that of sameness, that those who suffer from the condition are no different from those who don’t except a tragic set of medical circumstances. That same message needs to be employed now on a different level. The self-injected drug users, the ones who practice unprotected sex, the ones who engage in same-sex relationships – they are NOT ANY DIFFERENT FROM YOU AND ME. Their lives might represent a different path to yours, whether it is through some of their choices or through their natural inclinations, but that is no reason to treat them any differently. It is certainly no reason to prevent them from getting treated at all.

So, on this, the 25th anniversary of the foundation of World AIDS Day, I ask anyone who comes across this entry to continue spreading awareness. Two and half decades ago, the thought of HIV/AIDS becoming a containable condition was unheard of. Today, that impossibility is getting closer to becoming a reality, but that can only happen if we fight our intolerance and no longer treat others as less than human.