Snapshots of Bangladesh: inequality on wheels, evil prawns, resilient garments, acid attacks and dodgy infrastructure

Prawns, raised in paddy fields for export, have long had a bad press in Bangladesh, and no wonder. Prawns need salt water, rice needs fresh; the battle over who controls the water regime pits powerful exporters against small farmers, and in many cases the prawns win. Prawn farming has led to the creeping salinisation of the soil, and the road down from Dhaka runs a dismal spectrum from the lush green paddy and jute fields up country to the barren, salty expanses of the coast. Prawns have also undermined the embankment system, increasing the risk of prawn sculpturefloods – more on that tomorrow. But surprisingly, activists in the prawn town of Khulna (there’s even a giant prawn sculpture on one of the main crossroads, see pic) oppose any kind of boycott by consumers. Despite the salinity and the handful of jobs it creates, they argue that the country needs the export income, and if properly taxed and regulated, prawn production could be a force for good. Infrastructure: the roads are great, and the mobile (cellphone) reception was five bars, even standing in floodwater in the middle of the cyclone-devastated coastal area. But the electricity cuts out every few hours dhaka traffic(conversations don’t miss a beat – people are so used to it), and Dhaka must be a candidate for some kind of global awful-traffic prize (see pic, the guy in the foreground is my rickshaw driver). Garments: Bangladesh has been transformed by the globalization of the garment industry, which now employs about 2.4m people, 85% of them women, earning $11bn a year in exports. While the global recession has hit garment exports in more up-market producers, Bangladesh’ exports are still rising, albeit at a slower rate of growth. Why? Because it produces the cheap stuff that people buy, even in a recession. In fact, by driving higher cost competitors out of business, the recession could leave Bangladesh in a stronger position to cash in on the upswing. The downside is that margins are getting squeezed as buyers drive down prices, and the pressures on garment workers (already intense) are growing. Acid Attacks: Our hotel in Khulna was host to some deafening kids’ parties, which largely drowned out our efforts to talk to local NGOs about climate change. But all the mothers (there were no fathers) had terrible skin lacerations – they were a survivors’ group for women who had suffered acid attacks. This particularly barbaric form of gender violence is meted out to women by men for a range of ‘crimes’ including conflicts over dowry and land, alleged infidelity, or simply rejected advances. Inequality: Dhaka’s traffic provides an in-your-face demonstration of Dhaka rikshaw inequalityinequality. Take the rickshaws (as I did) – stick-limbed men sweating their way through the traffic transporting a stern faced, pot bellied businessman (sometimes more than one), often with a mobile glued to his ear (see truly terrible pic – I really should stick to the written word). And the rickshaw wallah must wend his way through the SUVs of the even better off. And the prize for the question that left me gasping like a beached fish? ‘What is your opinion of dialectical materialism?’ (from an unnamed Oxfam staffer)]]>

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5 Responses to “Snapshots of Bangladesh: inequality on wheels, evil prawns, resilient garments, acid attacks and dodgy infrastructure”
  1. Duncan

    I hate you Takumo…. OK, I’ve had to go and look it up on Wikipedia, (which probably says it all) which gives the following definition: ‘Dialectical Materialism is the philosophy of Karl Marx which he formulated by taking the dialectic of Hegel and joining it to the Materialism of Feuerbach, extracting from it a concept of progress in terms of the contradictory, interacting forces called the thesis and antithesis, culminating at a critical nodal point where one overthrows the other, giving rise to the synthesis, and applying it to the history of social development and deriving therefrom an essentially revolutionary concept of social change.’ Wikipedia also quotes Engels “All nature, from the smallest thing to the biggest, from a grain of sand to the sun, from the protista to man, is in a constant state of coming into being and going out of being, in a constant flux, in a ceaseless state of movement and change.” –(Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature)and adds ‘Development is a process whereby insignificant and imperceptible quantitative changes lead to fundamental, qualitative changes. Qualitative changes occur not gradually, but rapidly and abruptly, as leaps from one state to another.’
    All this fits pretty well with my understanding of change (conflict, discontinuity) but seems overly mechanistic. I would also seriously doubt any claim that you can predict where such a process will lead – shades of complexity theory. I re-read the ‘Communist Manifesto’ recently, and was again struck by the contrast between when Marx and Engels are looking backwards in history (often brilliantly), and then trying to predict the future (pretty laughable at times).

  2. Claudia

    That has always been my opinion too. The best Marx is the historian Marx, specially his “Civil War in France”. But I do like Marx’s pre-capitalist Economics very much too.
    Marx historical texts demonstrate why the Marxist historians are/were so amazingly good. Specially the British…
    On the other hand, futurology have not yet been the strength of any good scientist in my opinion…
    Bon voyage,

  3. iblis

    you do realize that the stick-limbed men pulling the rickshaws are much more likely to commit the acid attacks – this particularly barbaric form of gender violence – than the stern-faced pot bellied business men? err… and that the suv owners (not the drivers) are the least likely ones? 😉

  4. The Peoples

    Bangladesh is known as democratic country
    But as per article ( section ) 70 of Bangladesh Constitution , only key person or party chief. can take decision none the else
    Second one is very age old or left over colonial laws and judicial system for ruling the people.
    Due to which billions of hard earned cash money of common people are spend in conducting these pending suits or litigation in the court which may not be settled even in life time nor have any certainty of any specific results
    Now the question- who are direct beneficiaries ?
    Contesting parties are compelled to spend money in addition to valuable times of their active life, year after year
    If not why such colonial laws and legal system are not changes ?
    Peoples are in opinion that Bangladesh can not face the advancement of Science and Technology like other Asian Countries nearby Bangladesh
    Even Bangladesh will not be able to dream the face of digital world with existing colonial laws and legal system .
    But it is good for providing money to a group of people involved in conducting present legal process / system who have no rule in productive activities to change the face of poverty of the country .
    Third point which is most significant and important are the lack of accountability in every stage of life for people or Government Personal / Officials
    It will be wise to reform / replace the concerned ministry with expert of political sciences / social welfares and expert from relevant subjects of science and technology. like medicine , engineering , agricultural sciences , business and commerce etc ?