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3-Aug-2013 Bad News From Bangladesh – Shahed Kayes

Saturday 3 August 2013 Leave a comment

I received some sad news from Bangladesh via a Facebook post from Chris Hesse concerning our mutual friend Shahed Kayes. Shaded of course is the CEO of the Suborogram Foundation which is the organisation that was key to building the school I was raising funds for earlier this year.

The Human Rights Watch Asia website posted the following article below (original article here). Luckily Shahed will probably make a full recovery, more background available here.

Shahed Kayes survives stabbing; attackers still after his life, August 2, 2013

Human rights defender and philanthropic educator Shahed Kayes knew there were serious risks involved in his work. He had to, as nothing in Bangladesh comes without associated risks. He knew that his attempt to educate impoverished children from the low castes was unacceptable to the deeply entrenched local power structure and those at the top of it, as schooling can lessen the abundant supply of uneducated labour at their disposal. He was also trying to stop illegal sand-mining, a crime that threatens the very survival of the Meghna river communities. The sand mafia was bound to be irked.

That is why the only thing surprising about him being attacked on the July 25th was the brazen way it was done and the impunity it came with. Shahed was kidnapped from a boat while sailing towards Ramprasader Chor Island by thugs who arrived by motorboats. The assailants were not bothered about the fact that Shahed was with an American Peace Fellow and several others. They tried to force everyone into their motorboats and only spared the others when Shahed agreed to go with them without resisting in exchange for their safety.

He was then taken to a nearby island on the river named Faraji Kandi where over forty joined the abductors. Shahed was brutally beaten with rods and sticks before being stabbed in the neck and slashing his left wrist. The abductors were intent on killing him. They cursed at him for “fighting against us,” and making them lose “a lot of money because of your movement.” Shahed recalls one of them saying, “We made the mistake of not killing you before.” “This time we will kill you. We will cut the arteries on your wrists and legs, tie your hands and feet together, and throw you in the river.”

Shahed, though, proved to be lucky this time because of the timely intervention of local journalists alerted by the American Peace Fellow. They, through considerable effort, got the Sonargaon police to rescue him. The Superintendent of Police of Narayanganj immediately alerted his counterpart in Comilla and requested them to save Shahed’s life and arrest the perpetrators. Comilla Police then reached the spot and rescued Shahed. They only arrested one of the assailants, seemingly under the influence of local Member of Parliament, a retired Major General of the Army. The way in which criminals operate with impunity in Bangladesh is exposed by the brash admission of the MP, who asserted that his men had not wanted to kill Shahed and he had ‘scolded’ them for their misadventure.

Shahed was taken to a private hospital in an unidentified location, as his security in a public hospital could never be guaranteed with that politician at the helm of affairs in the district. The MP is still trying his best to find the location where Shahed is getting treated, claiming to want to ‘talk to him’, but many strongly suspect that Shahed would be killed if he is found.

Shahed, an engineer by training, has been working to provide schooling to underprivileged children condemned to live in thatched huts along the banks of the river. He started a ‘boat school’ for the children of so-called ‘water gypsies’ (people belonging to a low caste with no fixed addressed, who get heavily discriminated against in Bangladesh) out of his own money earned by selling his ancestral land before getting supported by some nongovernmental organizations. He is also the Narayanganj district coordinator of the ‘Save the Environment Movement’ (Paribesh Bachao Andolan, POBA).

Shahed’s work has earned him a lot of goodwill among the underprivileged communities living off the Meghna river. He has represented the community in writ petitions filed against the government under Article 102 of the Bangladesh Constitution, concerning fundamental rights (as defined under Part III of the constitution)[1]. He is a figurehead in the fight against illegal sand extraction which has led to acres of lands from Mayadip island eroding into the river Meghna throughout the year 2012 and thus seriously jeopardizing the community. Shahed, together with the community members, organised several protest rallies in Mayadip, Sonargaon, Narayanganj and the capital city Dhaka. The continuing struggle has caught the attention of both local and national media and they have published a large number of reports on the situation.

The struggle has also led to the High Court taking action in the case and it instructed the Deputy Commissioner of Narayanganj to come to the area and form a committee named Illegal Sand Extraction Prevention Committee at Mayadip-Nunertek, Sonargaon. Shahed Kayes was made the Chief Advisor of the Committee. The decision severely hurt the illegal sand miners and cut their earnings from the lucrative trade and this is why they deployed every possible method, from threats to fabrication of criminal charges against Shahed and other activists, in order to stop them.

When these strategies failed, the sand-miners started attacking activists of the anti-sand-mining movement directly. In one of the most serious incidents, which occurred in August 2012, hired thugs went into the villages of the fisherfolk and attacked their families. They did not spare the elderly, women and children in those attacks, which took place across Mayadip Island. The armed squads of the sand mafia also stopped fishermen from fishing in the Meghna river on many occasions and brutally assaulted them. Several of the activists were jailed under fabricated charges filed by the sand mafia.

The attack on 25 July was not the first attempt on Shahed’s life. One of these attacks came on 3 September 2012, when the sand mafia tried to abduct him along with the Assistant Commissioner (AC) of Land of the Sonargaon sub-district when they were on a court ordered visit of the area to assess the problem. The perpetrators surrounded the AC’s speedboat in the middle of the Meghna river for more than two and half hours and left only when a large contingent of police arrived.

It is in this respect that the attempt to kill Shahed assumes such importance. The mafia’s success would not only affect Shahed but would in fact end up silencing the entire community. Knowing that Shahed is out of the equation for at least a while, the sand mafia is already preventing the fishermen from fishing in the Meghna River. Attacking Shahed, a leader in the movement for the rights of these communities, has been a demoralizing blow.

The only way to save Shahed and the community is speaking up for them. It is high time we force the federal government to provide them security and prosecute those responsible for attacking him. Shahed’s life is still in danger and he continues to get medical treatment in hiding. The MP has brazenly admitted to journalists that his thugs carried out the attack and the only ‘justice’ in this case of attempted murder is an alleged ‘scolding’ from the MP to his thugs.

The international community must exert pressure on the Bangladeshi governmental authorities to defend not only Shahed but all human rights defenders. They must isolate the Bangladeshi government if it fails to do so.

Shahed is on the right of this photo of us back in April 2013:

23-Apr-2013 Summary of Bangla-Dash

Tuesday 23 April 2013 Leave a comment

I emailed the following summary to all the people that donated money to my Bangla-Dash adventure.

It was funny as I am still getting emails from the Smart Traveller website about the situation in Bangladesh, and this arrived just as I was sending the email:

Current Advice Level: “High degree of caution”
Change Summary:
It has new information under Summary, Safety and security: Civil unrest/political tension and Local travel (hartals/general strikes can involve the shutdown of all activity; violence surrounding hartals may target public transport and private vehicles).

Anyway, the summary is :

This email is to all the people who donated money to my recent Bangla-Dash adventure – many thanks for your kind & generous support. I met the people that will receive your money, and can report that it is being wisely spent and will make a small difference to the world, but a big difference in a small village near Sonargoan just outside of Dhaka.

Short version:

I went to India to run 290km from Kolkata India to Dhaka Bangladesh to raise funds to complete building a school just outside Dhaka. I carried $5000 cash which I was very relieved to safely handover! I completed 40% of the run (115km) through the Kolkata metropolis and rural West Bengal villages as I was stopped in Bangladesh due to an unprecedented general strike over 4 days that prevented any traffic movement between towns, stopped ferries etc. However when the strike was lifted for just one day we were able to grasp the opportunity to run to the town where the school is being built and I was able to meet the builder, architect and project manager. Whilst disappointed that I was unable to finish the run due to political issues, I know I would have been able to physically finish and ultimately a life lesson is that sometimes things are outside of your control and you just need to just let nature take it’s course. I specifically chose this project because it would be difficult and there was a chance it might not go according to plan, but I had a great adventure doing it and met some great people and saw some great sights. I enjoyed meeting many people in India and Bangladesh and never once felt threatened or unsafe, in fact I clearly saw that people everywhere are just people trying to make the best of their lives and for their families, it was a real refresher on how similar we all are, as people of this world. I am impressed by my friends Marc and Chris’ desire to continue with a difficult project in a difficult country and the three of us are still continuing to seek donations to fund a second school.

Long Version:

Sometimes you just have to go with your heart.

Last year I read about 2 teachers, an Australian and an American who had been working in Bangladesh and had this idea to do a sponsored run from Kolkata India to Dhaka Bangladesh, a total of 290km in about 4 days. I was mightily impressed by this – I have been a runner for many years and was keen to attempt some kind of “journey run” for a charity and was half looking for inspirational ideas. I am very interested in India and even went to India for 6 weeks in 2012. The timing of their run wasn’t good for me, but I followed them up afterwards and found they had raised more than $20,000. They donated half to a school that was being built and which opened in January 2013 and they lined up an architect to design a school that they would fund and build to replace an existing shed that was being used as a school by a disadvantaged community.

I contacted them to see if they were planning on doing the run again, they weren’t, but they said if I was keen to run myself then they would help with the logistics in Bangladesh. They seemed like genuine friendly blokes doing something very worthwhile but the idea was pretty scary. I decided to commit to doing the run anyway and try to raise some money myself and trust that it would turn out ok. Sometimes you just have to go with your heart.

Timing was difficult, it was February and Chris was the only one still in Bangladesh, but was leaving in June. The weather would be best in March or April, but I couldn’t go in March (too hot and/or too wet afterwards). As he is a teacher and we would borrow the school’s minibus, I would be limited to the school holidays in April, although he was going away overseas for much of the holidays with his family, so we locked in the only week that we had to do the run.

Luckily I had been training hard over the summer and I just had to sort out my flights and logistics for the 82km that is on India side of the border. All my injections from my India trip in 2012 were still current. I emailed my friends, family and work colleagues to see if anyone would donate to the cause and to date have received over $4500 from about 80 different people. Chris in Bangladesh was very impressed as this was pretty much just the right amount remaining to complete the school building – the funds will be used for the solar-powered lights, shelving and furniture and some teacher-training.

I left Australia on 26th March with $5000 in a large pile of crisp $50 notes from Westpac Bank safely in my backpack. I had a few days sightseeing in Mumbai and then a few days in Kolkata where I planned the start of the run, the route and surveyed the first section. I visitied Gandhi’s house/musuem and also Mother Teresa’s which I enjoyed greatly as well as having soem great indian food. I would leave as early as possible on Weds 3rd April, starting from Howrah station and running across the Howrah bridge then find my way out through the suburbs and head for the Bangladesh border. I purposefully brought as little as possible, just to fill a very small backpack – later weighed by the side of the road at 9.2kg – however try carrying it on your back and it still feels heavy!

I started running at 5am totally scared out of my wits – would I find the way ? Would I be safe by myself ? Would I get squashed by the crazy traffic ? Would the Police just decide I wouldn’t be allowed to do this ? Luckily I found my way out of the city ok, and as it got daylight and I got further out the conditions improved. But boy was it hot ! Luckily there were lots of places to get water, cold drinks and the ever-present sweet indian chai. Most people saw me as like an alien that had dropped from the sky, in disbelief. Who are you ? where are you going ? where have you come from ? why are you running ? As it was hard work running, often all I could manage was a wave and a smile!

I had allowed myself 2 days to make the 82km to the border with Bangladesh and my appointment with my support crew. Doing it in one day would be tough and there were a thousand things that could delay me, so I went on the side of caution and planned for two days. I figured 47km on day one would leave an easier 35km for day two. I reached the town of Habra, 47km into the run at 3pm on day one and was shattered, with badly blistered feet and literally almost ready to pass out. If truth be told, the previous few hours had been hard. The road was narrow and I was close to a lot of traffic and my rest breaks were becoming more frequent.I stopped and sat and drank anything I could lay my hands on but there was no hotel so I took a rickshaw to the next village to stay the night. They’d never had a foreigner stay there before and I slept beside the mosque.

On day two I took a rickshaw back to Habra and continued my run, gently, as my feet were still sore. I ensured I took time to rest properly and tried to eat some food but I just didn’t fancy anything. It was just as hot today, approx 40C. I made it to the border at Benapole at just gone lunchtime. I received a txt message to say that my crew would meet me at a hotel in the town of Jessore and I should catch the bus there. I made the border formalities still in my running kit and dripping with sweat, so everyone waved me through as I probably looked too poor & deranged to worry about. I got changed, and caught a bus to Jessore, ate and slept. In the morning I met my crew who said that for the first time ever there was a general strike over the weekend (starts Thursday night in Muslim countries) and that we would have to drive back to Dhaka as the only alternative would be to stay in Jessore for 4 days as its too dangerous to travel between towns during a Hartal. Even then, we saw some demonstrations and found some ferries were already stopped leading to traffic jams several miles long already.

The run was pretty much over as we would lose all our available days to the Hartal. The newspapers had lots of stories of demonstrations, torchings and people being killed, so it was not idle threats. Luckily however on Sunday night we heard that the Hartal planned for Monday would not be happening so we rapidly made a plan to run the 35km from Dhaka to Sonargoan to visit the current school and building site. It was great running without my pack and running with Chris who had put in so much planning for the Bangladesh side of the trip. It was truly the highlight of my trip to make it to the village where the school is in the process of being built (completion approx June). I took some photos and its pretty clear that this is a very poor village indeed and the people can do with as much help as possible.

I stayed on in Dhaka for a few extra days but all the other trips we had planned were cancelled as there were more Hartals called and made planning anything very difficult.I decided to catch the bus back to India and made my way home eventually.

Please email this onto any of your friends or family who may also wish to donate as we are still trying to raise more money. Any help will be gratefully received!

 Links

 -My website & blog diary : http://kevintiller.com

-My photos from the trip : https://picasaweb.google.com/101800124194210937689/Bangla2013Kevin

-Chris’ photos of the run to Sonargoan village https://picasaweb.google.com/101800124194210937689/Bangla2013Chris

-You can make a donation at https://kevintiller.com/bangla-dash2013/donations-for-bangla-dash-2013/

11-Apr-2013 Dhaks

Thursday 11 April 2013 Leave a comment

I guess it feels like I am falling into some sort of routine, which I always try to fight against. I got up late – gone 8am – and had breakfast and lazed around a bit and walked to the coffee shop for a bit – a quick coffee and update my blog.

Today I went and picked up my bus ticket to Kolkata for Saturday. This was from the travel agent on 6th floor at Gulshsn-2. Then I caught a CNG from outside which is a Bangladeshi version of a tuc-tuc but they lock you in, so it’s like a cage on wheels. Probably very dangerous in an accident ! I wanted to go to Old Dhaka to some of the laneways there and figured today is almost the last opportunity. I got the travel agent to write the location in Bengali which didn’t help much as the vast majority of drivers are illiterate!

It took about 45mins and the cage although ventilated had no air when boxed up against rickshaws and buses. So I felt a bit sick but also had the adrenalin pumping as was well braced in case of accident.  The traffic of course wss insane but resistance was futile. Just brace yourself.

The laneways were actually quite good, and I enjoyed pottering around. I took a bunch of photos.  In general no one hassled me at all.

My favourite photo is this one by the river. I was surprised it was any good as I just took my camera out, snapped and moved on. For the whole trip I have just been using my camera.

#dhaka river 2013 but looks like 1813 #bangladesh by #kevintiller

A post shared by kevin tiller (@kevintiller) on

I caught a CNG back to Gulshan-1 and went into the fancy new Gloria Jeans not for a coffee but one of the strawberry ice drinks as I was sweating buckets and just wanted to sit down in the cool.

After I caught a rickshaw back to Baridhara and had a shower and siesta.

In the evening I made some dinner in the kitchen then wstched some Tv – stuff I don’t normally see, so I’d class it as educational ie BBC News, Al Jazerra and of course Indian MTV. I also installed an offline Guardian app which downloads updates overnight if on wifi. That will be cool to read on trains etc. I also installed the AirBnB app as I might look to stay somewhere different when I get to Mumbai.

In fact I have barely used a computer the whole time I have been away – just my samsung galaxy smartphone. There was a big report out on the news about the slide in number of pcs being sold. Smartphones are just so cool and sooo convenient.

It was about 11pm when I went to bed.