Why young British Bangladeshis should also care about Bangladesh’s 2018 General Election

By Fariha Munim.

Growing up, Bangladeshi politics was a constant discussion point in our household as they were in many Bangladeshi homes throughout Britain. Two women, each adorned with simple or elegant saris, looking like they would drop dead any moment had fascinated the minds of uncles, aunts, fathers, and mothers over tea and biscuits in the evening for over 20 years.

What a wonderful blend of British and Bangladeshi.

(Yet, don’t let their dress detract you from the impressive fact that politics in a largely patriarchal society was dominated by not one, but two females from opposing sides in their bid to lead one of the world’s largest ‘democracies’ by population.)

As a History graduate today, I can’t say that I was never interested in those political debates waged at home, because I always was. However, I grew severely pessimistic about what was going on in Bangladesh as I got older. Politically, the country seemed like a lost cause and I was simply content to go on and spend holidays in luxury there over the summer like I had done since I was a child. Politics was and still seems like a lost cause in Bangladesh. The causes to exactly why, are still up for debate. Did I grow apathetic? Yes. Was I happy about my apathy? No.

From an outsider lens, Bangladeshi politics is close, and also so distant from me. This is a take into why, someone who can not even vote in Bangladesh still takes an interest into Bangladeshi politics in 2018 and a message to why younger British Bangladeshis should also be aware of the situation.

Today, millions have tried to vote in Bangladesh’s 2018 General Election. Bangladesh is the 8th most populous country in the world with over 170 million people inside its borders. This is the first time in its history that the same party could be “re-elected” into power. However, as part of election practice almost in Bangladesh, fair elections are not being waged.

Today, on the 30th December 2018, ballots have been stuffed with fake votes in the port of Chittagong minutes before the election opened to the general public.

People have been coerced to vote in ways that do not meet the standards of democratic voting behavior. The link attached here in translated English talks about how a young woman was followed inside a voting booth, is coerced to vote for the ruling Awami League which is defined by a symbol known as a ‘nouka’ (boat). The follower eventually moves aside but can see what party the woman voted for, and publicly then proceeds to tell her in front of other public voters that she did not do the right thing by voting for another party. This is a micro-aggression that has happened in bouts up and down the country. Yet, the effects of such undermining only serve to create a sense of oppression.

Communications inside the country surrounding election related covering have been banned until after the vote in the hopes to stop the spread of ‘fake news’.

Many views from British Bangladeshis are that Bangladesh works on a system of corruption that is suited to Bangladesh. Yet, for the educated middle and upper classes, this is becoming increasingly challenged as a way of governance. In Bangladesh, these are the groups that have traditionally led the way for active change in the past and have been shunned for it. Shunning these groups was used as a colonial tactic by Pakistani military authorities during the 1971 War of independence where student groups, doctors, professors, teachers and journalists were murdered on the grounds of Dhaka University.

People are not settling for anything less than democracy as a result of being educated more and more on the values of democracy preached in Bangladesh’s constitution and held up in the curriculum as a reference point of good governance.

The least I can do, from my privileged position as someone who can sit in the comfort of her own home without fear of prosecution or arrest, is to speak freely about the situation of a country so many people my age want to see change for.

1/3 of Bangladesh’s population is of between 18–35, with 18 being the voting age. Bangladesh has achieved a youth literacy rate for the ages of 15–25 of just over 87% which means that the language of democracy is well within bounds to be understood. This is a major reason as to why we are seeing such outrage as democratic expectations are not being held yet believed by so many as an achievable end Bangladesh can achieve.

People are being arrested for what they post online. Freedom of speech has been tampered with on severe scales. People are being coerced mentally to vote in specific ways. The violence on streets has not been explored here, because this is a common occurrence in Bangladesh but should really take us all with shock like if it happened in Britain. Younger Bangladeshis want change, and as an ally, the least we can do is support them achieve their goals.

Had I been born and raised in Bangladesh, I would not be writing this with such boldness that I am now. This right to speak freely should never be seen as a privilege but as a right. People are being denied this, despite believing in its inherent worth — they are wanting the world to see, so the least I can do?

Give Bangladesh the attention that I have the voice to give. So can you.

Racism in Britain? That’s not breaking news

By Rahma Hussein

A week ago, an article published by the Guardian showcased a new study into the widespread extent of racism in Britain today. The findings of the study are hardly surprising, and certainly does not reveal anything that we did not know already. People of colour have always been raising issues about racism and its huge prevalence, but what is the most common response that we receive? “Racism doesn’t exist anymore!”, “You can’t always speak about race”, “I love all kinds of people, both black and white”, “I am colour-blind, I don’t see colour!”

These responses are incredibly problematic to say the least – mostly for the reason that it completely refuses to acknowledge the existence of racism. Racism is now apparently a thing of ‘the past’, and there is no way that people are discriminated against due to the colour of their skin in the twenty-first century. Lived experiences of non-white people are completely erased to make perpetrators feel comfortable and to  avoid responsibility to a problem they are the prime contributors of.

According to the report,

43% of those from a minority ethnic background had been overlooked for a work promotion in a way that felt unfair in the last five years – more than twice the proportion of white people (18%) who reported the same experience.

You can read the article here.

38% of people from ethnic minorities said they had been wrongly suspected of shoplifting in the last five years, compared with 14% of white people, with black people and women in particular more likely to be wrongly suspected.

Publishing statistics on a well known problem does not in any way make this an “exclusive” discovery. We all know that racism exists in British society in all corners of life – from work, education, communities and even within families. This has always existed. Much more perplexing is the level of intellectual dishonesty surrounding discourses regarding racism – attempts at erasing British colonial histories, immigration policies and attitudes which are undoubtedly racist. Measures such as “stop and search” taken by those in significant positions of authority, such as the Metropolitan Police, which disproportionately targets Black men more than any other demographic, do so under the guise of ensuring “safer streets”. We all know this is racist. Another example of racism practiced under the guise of “safety” and “counter-extremist” within both society and academic spaces is the government sanctioned PREVENT strategy – disproportionately targeting Muslim students who deemed too opinionated or outspoken, therefore dangerous and threatening, even possibly hinting at possibilities of becoming ‘influenced’ by extremist tendencies. But hey – it’s totally ok to invite fascists onto campus because free speech and we should encourage healthy debate at whatever costs, even if it compromises the safety and wellbeing of minority and marginalised students (KCL, I’m looking at you here).   

I. am. so. done. with this ridiculous double-standard. Next time we speak about racism, don’t dismiss us. Don’t tell us that we are sensitive, and shouldn’t ‘see’ things in the context of race. Don’t tell us to stop playing the ‘race card’. Racism is alive and kicking – and it is about time that your pride (yes, you non-poc folks) is placed aside and create meaningful solutions to problems which has characterised British society throughout its history.


Cover photo credits: Washington Post photo illustrations/ UPI photo

Making History – but what now?

By Team I RISE.

The midterms had one clear defined success and that was female representation, with a record number of women winning seats in the House. We also saw the election of the first two Muslim congresswomen, Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar and Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib and the first two Native American women in Congress, Sharice Davids for Kansas and Debra Haaland for New Mexico. These were only a few of the women who made US history.

This change led to the monumental achievement in the midterms, more than thirty five women of colour are now the faces of change in U.S. politics.This defining moment did not take place in a vacuum, it was through a long periodof raising awareness of these women – of their goals, aspirations and promises of how to bring about a greater change. Social media such as Instagram allows voters to follow these candidates, to almost go on a journey with them as these candidates regularly posted their day-to-day activities in the run up to the midterm elections. To be able to have a closer and somewhat personal look into the lives of these candidates is empowering as it allows voters to feel more confident in their choices of who to vote. Social media has yet again, shown its potential and power to influence the outcomes in the political and social sphere.

This means that knowledge of the wider world and connecting with people of different faiths and backgrounds has become easily accessible. This power of the social media phenomenon has played a crucial role in the awareness of these women of colour. As a woman of colour, myself, I did not know or find out about these women through conventional forms of news, rather it was through social media. Apps such as Instagram have provided a platform where voices of people of colour can be heard loud and clear and such platforms allow a community of like-minded people to come together to make a change.

However, along with the celebrations and excitement of this surge in female representatives in official positions, there also came pessimism and questions regarding how entirely revolutionary and immense is such a change in US politics? Can these women really turn around and alter America’s long history of institutionalised sexism and perhaps also racism? It is a common historical trend that progressive politicians (especially Democrats) are passionate and mindful when it comes to positively changing domestic issues within their own states yet the same cannot be said when it comes to foreign affairs. The same politicians very rarely embrace anti-imperialist positions. But then again, can we really expect those who entrench themselves within US politics to really hold these views when the foundation of America is based on imperialist ambitions and the only way the US knows how to maintain its global hegemonic power is through violent, foreign intervention.

It’s wonderful to finally see some melanin in official positions especially when they belong to women. However, it is crucial that, considering the history of democratic reformists,we do not instantly assume that this will bring about radical change. The very racist institutions of US governance remain intact and, until these are altered, very little radical change will come to materialise. We can just hope that these women embrace progressive politics nationally and internationally and play integral roles in putting pressure on changing some of the institutional problems that US is based upon.