Faruq Faisel

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Nepal Film Festival in Toronto: The University of Toronto's Nepal Group is organizing the first Nepali film festival in Canada titled Focus on Nepal.

The one day film festival will takeplace on December 3rd, 2005 (saturday) at the Innis Town Hall ( 2 SussexAvenue; Sussex and St. George), University of Toronto with the first screeningstarting at 6pm.

The Focus on Nepal festival will feature four high quality films from Nepal made by emerging Nepali filmmakers. The festival includes a feature film called Numafung (directed by Nabin Subba; 108 minutes) about a Limbu woman, named Numafung (which means "beautiful flower" in Limbu language), attempting to negotiate her own grounding within highly binding, patriarchical traditionsand dizzyingly rapid modernizing processes.

The remaining three films are documentary films. These include The Living of Jogimara (directed by MohanMainali; 38 minutes) about 17 innocent people from Jogimara village in Nepal who were killed in the crossfire between the army and Maoist forces.

Andolan Jaari Chha (English title: The Struggle Continues; Filmmakers to remain anonymous due to security reasons; 23 minutes) a guerilla style documentaryfilm about the street-level politcal protests in Nepal and their brutal clampdown by the forces in power all captured with hidden camera.

Bhenda Ko Oon Jasto (English title: In Search of a Song; Director: Kiran Khrishna Shrestha; 60 minutes) about a couple of young Nepalese pop musicians (from the band Nepathya) who go on a trip to rural Nepal in search for the origins of the folk song that they sang in a modern version, and became famous for.

Together, the films provide a non-essentializing, critical glimpse of some of the complex socio-economic changes and struggles taking place in Nepal. All films have English subtitles.

The films will be screened in two sessions. Screening Session A will begin at 6 pm and will include Andolan Jaari Chha and Numafung. Screening Session B willbegin at 9 pm and will include Bheda Ko Oon Jasto and The Living of Jogimara. Tickets for each screening session will be $10. A festival pass (admission to both screening sessions, ie all four films) can be purchased for $16. Nepalifood (momos) available for purchase at venue. Silent Auction and more.

Advancetickets can be bought at Mt. Everest Restaurant (496 Bloor Street West), NepalHandicrafts (372 Spadina Avenue), Brampton Tandoori Restaurant (16 KennedyRoad), and Norbu Linga (Cumberland Terrace,Unit L15, 2 Bloor Street West).

For those interested in discussing the films or learning about recent political developments in Nepal, a post-festival discussion session titled "Reflections"will take place on December 4th (sunday) at 1-3 pm (free admission).

For more information check out s.ninglekhu@utoronto.ca.

Films are available for pre- screening for media personnel interested in writing reviews about the festival films.

Nepal Supreme Court Orders Government Not to Ban News on FM: Kantipur On Line reports on November 30, that the Supreme Court (SC) Wednesday ordered the government not to ban any FM radio station from broadcasting news.

Issuing an interim order, the apex court directed the government not to restrict news broadcasts on FM radio stations until the court gives its final decision on a writ challenging the government ban on FM radio stations from broadcasting news.

A division bench of justices Min Bahadur Rayamajhi and Anup Raj Sharma issued the order today following a hearing on the writ petition filed by advocate Tulsiram Niroula on October 28.

Following the Feb. 1 royal takeover, the government had issued orders to FM radio stations not to broadcast news and news-related programmes. Since then, FM radio stations across the country have been airing only entertainment-based programmes. However, complying with a letter from the Royal Palace, Nepal FM, a private radio station began airing news from the King's Birthday on July 7.

In its decision, which appeared to go against the government demand of a clarification letter from Nepal FM, the apex court on Aug.10 issued a stay order asking the government not to implement its decree to close down the FM station.

Since then, all the FM stations across the country again began airing news.

In an move that many said was to curb the free press, the government on Oct.9, issued a media ordinance, which barred FM stations from broadcasting news. However, respecting the SC order, the FM stations had continued to broadcast news items.

But the government began a series of assaults on FM stations from Oct.21 when it first raided Kantipur FM station in Pulchowk at midnight.

However, on Nov 11, in its decision on a case filed against the media ordinance, the SC ruled that an interim order couldn't be issued on the case, which made it easier for the government to implement the ordinance.
Since then all FM stations had suspended their regular news broadcasts.

Bangladesh, Islam and Jihad: Time has come to pay some attention to Bangladesh, the country where I was born and worked for many years.

Today Reporters Without Borders voiced deep concern about a dramatic deterioration in the security situation in Bangladesh and its impact on the press after three journalists were injured in an Islamist bombing, two reporters were beaten by police, a newspaper correspondent was threatened by the head of a madrassa and a minister’s supporters made a bonfire of copies of an independent daily, all in the past 10 days.

“Despite government assurances that security is improving, the increase in attacks and bombings is exposing the press and public to new risks,” the press freedom organisation said.

“This is partly a result of the attitude of the current government which, instead of combating these extremist excesses, has preferred to crack down on the journalists and human rights activists who issued warnings about this new threat.”

Starting with the most recent, the incidents of the past 10 days are as follows:
  • A member of the Islamist movement Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh set off a bomb outside a public building in Gazipur, north of Dhaka, on 1 December, killing at least one person and injuring about 30 others, including three journalists who were covering a demonstration. The three reporters were Nazrul Islam Badami, the correspondent of the daily The New Nation, who was very badly hurt, and Belal Hossain of the BSS news agency and Aminul Islam of the local newspaper Ajker Janata, who also had to be hospitalised.
  • A group of supporters of housing minister Alamgir Kabir made a bonfire with dozens of copies of the daily newspaper Janakantha on 28 November after it ran a story about a physical attack by Kabir on one of the newspaper’s reporters.
  • The principal of a madrassa in the southern town of Lohagora made death threats on 27 November against Maruf Samdani, the local correspondent of the national daily Prothom Alo, after the newspaper ran a story about alleged embezzlement by the principal.
  • Channel I television reporter Mahbub Matin was beaten by police while covering a demonstration by the opposition Awami League on 21 November and had to spend the next six days in hospital, where plain-clothes police kept him under close surveillance. Matin’s cameraman, Jahid Hasan, was also injured during the demonstration. Matin told journalists he thought the attitude of the police was “strange.” He also questioned the seriousness of the enquiry into his beating, since the policemen who hit him were the ones in charge of the investigation.

Shahadat Bhai: At around 1.30 last morning I
heard the "ding" sound on my computer. I opened the mail right way. Munwar Hosain Piyal from Los Angeles. Subject line was Shahadat Bhai.

In Bangladesh, when addressing our close and elder friends we always add Bhai after their frist names. Bhai means brother in Bangla.

In the body of the message Piyal wrote: "Our dear Shahadat bhai has passed away Today Monday night early Tuesday night, Bangladesh time 1:30am. He had suffered from a cardia arrest and other complicacies.....

Please make do'a for his departed soul...may Allah rest him in peace.”

This morning Akbar Haider Kiron phoned from New York and asked me if I heard the bad news. I could hear that he was sobbing on the phone.

Shahadat Chowdhury was Piyal’s “Bhai”, Shahadat Chowdhury was Kiron’s “Bhai”. Shahadat Chowdhury was my “Bhai”. He was “Bhai” to uncounted numbers of Bangladeshi journalists, politicians, sports people and cultural stars.

Shahadat Chowdhury was the editor of the Weekly Bichitra, the first real news weekly of Bangladesh. No other periodical has ever gained the readerships and influence that Bichitra had.

I moved to Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh from a tiny district town called Bogra in 1974. I just finished my college there and was admitted to the Dhaka University. Bangladesh was recovering from a nine month long bloody war of liberation. The Pakistani army killed my father during the war. I was the only earning member of my family at the age of 16 after my father’s death.

I could only support my study and provide for my family only if I could get a part time job. Since my arrival in Dhaka, I was searching desperately for a part time job. Only skill that I had then was journalism. So, each day after my last class I was going from one news paper office to another. Knocking at the doors of the editors. I did not find it easy to convince the high profile editors to hire an unknown young man from a district town.

Nurul Islam Patwari was the editor of Daily Dainik Bangla and Weekly Bichitra (managed by a government controlled trust) at that time. When I ended up at his office one late afternoon, he did not straight forward reject me, like the others. He told me that he was busy that day and if I cared I could come back and see him some other day. I remember that I went back to his office several more times. He was always busy and asked me to come back some other time.

I did not give up. I could not give up. I needed a job and he was the only one who gave me at least a thin hope. Then one afternoon, my star got lucky. I knocked at his door. He asked me to come in. He looked at me and asked me to sit down. His look did not tell me that he had recognized me as the job seeker who was coming to him non-stop. I was surprised when he asked me if I would like to have a cup of tea. I gathered my courage and said that I would love a cup of tea. Till today I remember the taste of that lemon tea.

The editor looked depressed. He did not ask me why I was there. I did not know where should I start. There was silence in the room for several minutes. All on a sudden, like a monolog, he started talking. As far as I remember he said- “you know I feel like resigning from this post right now. Who wants a job where you are humiliated every day? I was called at the Prime Minister’s office once again. He scolded me in front of a room full of people for a news item that has been published in our daily today. This is not the first time that he has done this to me. I am tiered and fade up. I cannot take this any more. Tell me why you want to be a journalist. Its not a good profession.”

I replied humbly that it was not that I wanted to be a journalist. I needed a part time job to support my study and provide for my family. As my father, who was also a journalist, was killed by the Pakistani Army.

He asked me what was my father’s name. I replied- Mohsin Ali Dewan. He kept on looking at me and then broke the silence. “Your father and I started our carrier together at Daily Insaaf. He was a friend of mine.”

He got off from his chair and asked me to follow him. I followed him to a office where 4 or 5 people were working. He introduced me to a man who was tearing papers. He told him, “Shahadat, this is my son, his father was killed during the war of liberation and I want him to work with you for Bichitra.” I realized that this was the Weekly Bichitra office and the man I was just introduced was Shahadat Chowdhury. He was the Assistant Editor for Bichitra at that time. Later on, he became the Editor in-charge and then the Editor until the government suspended the publication of Bichitra.

This was my first introduction to Shahadat bhai. He gave me a job. Later on I realized that constantly tearing papers was Shahadt Bhai’s habit. Shahadat Bhai himself was a freedom fighter. Many months later, one evening while I was having a drink with him at his residence in Hatkhola, he told me: you know Faruq, if Patwari bhai brought any other person and asked me to give him work, I would not respect his request. It was only because your father was ‘Shaheed” in our freedom movement I gave you a job.”

Shahdat Bhai, did not give me only a job, he taught me journalism, introduced me to different circles in Dhaka and gave me the exposure that brought me where I am today. There are many memories of sweet and unforgettable moments that we had spent together.

Three years back, I was returning no Dhaka from Canada via Bangkok. I found Shahadt bhai and Selina bhabi on the same flight. Shahadat bhai was returning home after medical treatment in Thailand. When we were getting off from the plane in Dhaka, a wheel chair was brought for him. He looked somewhat embarrassed. I could feel that he was not that happy that he was not that young, as on the day that I met him on the third floor of the Dainik Bangla building in 1974. He asked me to come and see him at his house some time.

I always carry a guilty feeling that I cannot see every one who was very important during Dhaka life. Shahadat Bhai was one of them. During that trip to Dhaka, I made it a point to visit him at his New DOHS residence on a Friday morning. He took me to his study. We spent the whole morning talking about our days together at Bichitra and his new venture Weekly 2000. I told him that I found the name of his magazine very unique, because I have never seen any magazine anywhere yet that has a title with numbers not alphabet.

When I came out of his house and getting in to my car. I looked back. Shahadat Bhai was standing on his balcony. He waved and said- Please come back again.
I never did. Now I can go back to that house again, when I am in Dhaka, but I will never be able to see “our beloved Shahadat bhai” again- ever. Why did not I go to see him every time when I was there? How can I forgive me now?

Monday, November 28, 2005

‘Who Makes the News?’ Three Weeks of Global Action on Gender and the Media

From 16th February – 8th March 2006, hundreds of gender and media activists, human rights groups, grassroots communication organisations, academics and students of communication, media professionals, journalists associations, alternative media networks and church groups from North America, Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific will join forces to take part in the first ever Three Weeks of Global Action on Gender and the Media.

This unique initiative entitled ‘Who Makes the News?’ is being organized by WACC as part of the second phase of the WACC Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) 2005.

GMMP 2005 is a grassroots media monitoring research and advocacy project which aims to promote the fair and balanced representation of women and men in news media worldwide. The third ever GMMP began on 16th February 2005 when groups in 76 countries monitored the representation of women and men in their news media.

Since then, national data from participating groups worldwide has been flooding into WACC and the GMMP 2005 data analyst group, Media Monitoring Project (MMP), South Africa, has been running hundreds of data queries to produce the global, regional and national results for the project. The data analysis is currently being finalised and the GMMP 2005 consultant, Margaret Gallagher, is in the process of writing the global GMMP 2005 report which will contain global, regional and national quantitative and qualitative results. The global report will be available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese making it accessible to a wide range of countries worldwide.

In addition, many of the groups who participated in the media monitoring are planning to produce regional and national GMMP 2005 reports in a number of local languages tailored to the needs of their individual gender and media context.

‘Who Makes the News? Three Weeks of Global Action on Gender and the Media, will begin with the launch of the global GMMP 2005 report in London by WACC in partnership with Amnesty International, Article 19, the International Federation of Journalists and the Open Society Foundation. Targeting international news media, the event will include a press conference and debate amongst media personnel on the gender and media issues that GMMP 2005 highlights.
During the following three weeks, groups worldwide will organise their own events to highlight to their national media what is wrong with current representations of women and men by media and will seek to explore ways in which these concerns can be addressed. Taking the three weeks as a framework within which to organise activities that respond to the specifics of their gender and media context, groups in over 70 countries will hold events to launch the GMMP 2005 global, regional and national reports. From video-conferences across the continent of Africa to the establishment of a media observatory in Latin America, the GMMP network and related groups are planning a wide variety of unique and exciting activities for the Three Weeks of Global Action.

Ending on 8th March – International Women’s Day – this period of action hopes to link up with UNESCO’s ‘Women Make the News’ initiative when the Director General appeals to all media producing daily news to hand over editorial responsibility to women to cast the news on that day. WACC will be calling on its members and partners and the GMMP network to support this initiative as a first step in promoting the fair and balanced representation of women and men in news media worldwide.

If you would like to take part in ‘Who Makes the News? Three Weeks of Global Action on Gender and the Media, or would like further information, please contact the Co-ordinator of the WACC Women’s Programme on at@wacc.org.uk or visit the GMMP 2005 website:

Sunday, November 27, 2005

A Bad News from Nepal: Kantipur On Line reports today- Nepal Govt closes down Radio Sagarmatha, arrests journalists

KATHMANDU, Nov 27 - In what looks like yet another brazen assault on the free press, the government closed down Radio Sagarmatha, the first community radio in South Asia, Sunday night, arresting five employees including journalists and technicians

A police team led by Inspector Bishwa Khadka stormed into the Master Control Room of the radio station at around 8:55 p.m. today, forcefully seizing transmission equipment and detaining Durga Karki, Rajendra Rijal, Dipak Babu Aryal, Deepak Raj Pandey and Punya Bhandari.

They were taken to the District Police Office, Lalitpur. Police, however, released Durga Karki at around 10:30 p.m.

It is learnt that the government raided Radio Sagarmatha for "attempting to carry a BBC Nepali service relay broadcast that included the interview of Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda."

The interview with Prachanda dealt with the recent understanding between the political parties and the Maoist rebels to work towards the resolution of the conflict in the country.
Radio Sagarmatha, however, did not carry the interview.

The police team left two separate letters from the Ministry of Information and Communications at the radio station, one asking the radio station to stop operation until further notice and the other asking to hand over transmission equipment.

In one of the letters, the government has accused the radio station of "airing programmes that encourage terrorists and terrorism against Section 15 (d) and (i) of the National Broadcasting Act- 2049 BS and the licence provided to the radio station."

Chairman of the radio station, Laxman Upreti has termed the government action as "a dagger to the heart of the radio revolution in Nepal."

"Nepal has been the South Asian country pioneering the role of FM radio in informing the public and Radio Sagarmatha has been the vanguard of this movement. The action by the government is a dagger to the heart of our radio revolution," he said in a statement issued by the radio station.

"At this point, we are on the lookout for our staff taken in by the authorities. At this hour of crisis, we seek the support of all who value freedom of speech and expression in Nepal," the statement further quoted Upreti as saying.
BBC relay transmission suspended on Radio Nepal

Meanwhile, the government has also stopped airing the relay transmission of BBC World Service from Radio Nepal. Authorities have furnished no reason for the action.
"According to our information, seven other radio stations around the country were also prevented from carrying the BBC Nepali Service feed by the security forces," the statement further said.

$100 Laptop : On November 18th, the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) revealed the first prototype of the $100 PC at the Information Society (WSIS) meeting of over 19,000 people in Tunis, Tunisia.

The OLPC is founded by AMD, Brightstar, Google, News Corporation, and Red Hat, all of whom have funded the MIT Media Lab as well.
The $100 Laptop is running Linux.

Here is an article from the US State Dpt:
Initiative Would Provide $100 Laptop to World's Poorest Countries MIT's nonprofit One Laptop per Child program presented to information conference By Tim ReceveurWashington File Staff WriterWashington

A nonprofit group seeking to develop a $100 laptop computer for children in developing countries unveiled its first working prototype on November 16 at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis, Tunisia.

One Laptop per Child (OLPC), a U.S.-based organization created by faculty members of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, seeks to distribute the low-cost computers through ministries of education, according to Nicholas Negroponte, chairman and co-founder of the MIT Media Lab and Wiesner professor of media technology at MIT.

He says that OLPC has had "initial discussions" on implementing the program with officials from China, Brazil, Thailand and Egypt.

Negroponte, who first announced the initiative at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January, said the new technology could revolutionize how the world’s children are educated.

“Laptops are both a window and a tool: a window into the world and a tool with which to think,” he said on November 16. “They are a wonderful way for all children to ‘learn learning’ through independent interaction and exploration.”

“We hope to provide these laptops to hundreds of millions of children around the world,” he said.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the laptop initiative "inspiring" and said it has the potential to change lives in poorer nations. "It holds the promise of major advances in economic and social development," he said during the WSIS meeting.

"These robust, versatile machines will enable children to become more active in their own learning," Annan said. OLPC hopes to have laptops ready for shipment by the end of 2006 or early 2007, and will begin manufacturing when 5 million to 10 million machines have been ordered and paid for in advance, Negroponte says.

Power supply interruptions are a recurring problem in developing nations. To address that constraint, the laptop can be fitted with a hand crank to supply extra power when needed. According to MIT Media Lab, one minute of hand cranking will result in 40 minutes of uninterrupted power.

“In one Cambodian village where we have been working, there is no electricity, thus the laptop is, among other things, the brightest light source in the home,” Negroponte said.

The laptop also features a low-power display that can be switched from color to black and white to allow viewing in bright sunlight. Many children in developing countries attend school outside, he said.

The machine can be folded in different ways to serve as a computer, electronic book or media player. "We designed the device to perform many roles," said Negroponte. He also said applications will be open-source based (run from a nonproprietary operating system), and available in "every single language that people want.”

The OLPC initiative is consistent with other U.S. efforts to narrow the gap between countries that make comprehensive use of technology and those that have little access to it. It is one of many U.S. public- and private-sector efforts to bring the benefits of information and communications technologies (ICT) to the developing world. (See related article).

“The key here is to get countries around the world, but particularly in the developing world, to adopt and ingrain the use of technology to help better their economies, jobs, economic opportunities,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce Michael Gallagher told reporters.

WSIS originally was convened in 2003 to help bring the benefits of technology to poorer countries. However, in advance of the Tunis summit, talks and media attention focused heavily on a disagreement among nations over Internet governance and the oversight of the main computers that control traffic on the Internet. That disagreement was resolved, clearing the way for WSIS again to focus on its original mission. (See related article).

For additional information on the conference, see World Summit on the Information Society. More information on the $100 laptop initiative is available on the MIT Media Lab Web site.
The full texts of documents presented at the Tunis summit are available on the WSIS Web site.
Link to the MIT pages http://laptop.media.mit.edu/faq.html http://laptop.media.mit.edu/laptop-images.html

Nepali People for Peace: Citizen's Movement for Democracy and Peace in a press release on 25 November said:

"We welcome the seven Party-Maoists understanding on Loktantra and Peace. We will continue our activities toward its forward looking implementation " was a key message put forth during Citizen's Meet for Democracy and Peace in Nyatapole, Bhaktapur. The citizens' meeting was a continuation of actions initiated by Citizen's Movement for Democracy and Peace (CMDP). Participation of around three thousand pro democracy citizens, majority of them localites from Bhaktapur was a symbolic solidarity and public support for ongoing movement for Loktantra.

Speakers during the meeting Shiva Prasad Munakarmi, Tilak Prasad Kayasth, Bhoj Raj Shrestha, Dr Saroj Dhital, Narendra Bhakta Hada, Khagendra Sangroula and Dr Devendra Raj Panday emphasized the breakthrough due to the recent 12 points understanding between seven political parties and CPN (Maoists). They were challenging the present autocratic and undemocratic regime; against the absolute monarchy; advocating for Loktantra, Peace and Constituent Assembly. Padma Lal Biswakarma was a moderator of the program and Hareram Lawaju chaired the mass meeting.

Performances by the Dhimey Baja (traditional musical instrument) Group and Astha cultural group; Loktantrik poems by Sri Krishna Anu, Ram Krishna Duwal, Tri Ratna Shakya and Arjun Parajuli; people's songs by Bharat Nepali, Ramesh Rayan, Ram Krishan Duwal held the masses. CMDP volunteers and activists collected rupees 4192 from the public during the event and rupees 6292 during the course of publicity in Bhaktapur. The details of public fund collected and spent were also disclosed before the citizens. 'People's Songs of Nepal' a collection of people's songs was also released during the people's program.

Friday, November 25, 2005

And while the King is in Africa: While the King of Nepal is visting Africa and meeting other Kings and Dictators, things are shifting very quickly back home. The Economist reports this week:

Nepal Three into two
Nov 24th 2005 Delhi and Kathmandu From The Economist print edition

A novelty for King Gyanendra: a united opposition

The battle-lines in Nepal's bitter triangular conflict have become clearer. After talks in Delhi last week, two of the three sides—the Maoist insurgents and the mainstream political parties—announced on November 22nd that they were ganging up on the third, the monarchy. King Gyanendra, who seized absolute power in February, is as isolated at home as he is unpopular with Nepal's main allies abroad. But he is still solidly in charge.

Ever since the royal coup, the Maoists, whose insurrection has cost more than 12,500 lives in the past nine years, have been edging closer to a coalition of seven democratic parties. The king has shunned dialogue with either the Maoists or the parties. Seeing a chance to move into the mainstream, the Maoists decided to pursue an alliance with the parties and, to build trust, declared a three-month unilateral ceasefire in September, which the army did not reciprocate.

Analysts say that the insurgents recognise that it is not possible to overrun Katmandu, and may be looking for a “soft landing”. A steady trickle of guerrillas is surrendering to the army, suggesting morale is low.

The agreement with the parties calls for a boycott of the municipal elections that the king has called for next year, and the formation of a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution—with, presumably, no role for the monarchy, or only a ceremonial one. It also calls, “after bringing the autocratic monarchy to an end”, for supervision by the United Nations or another “reliable international body” of the Maoists' and Nepalese army's weapons.

Foreign governments—especially India's—are encouraged by the accord. But it does not herald an early end to Nepal's agony. Crucial disagreement remains. The parties want parliament reinstated and an all-party government formed to hold talks with the Maoists before a constituent assembly is formed. The Maoists, who are not in parliament, prefer a “national conference of all the democratic forces”.

More fundamentally, the king controls the army and the government, and holds the key to peace. If the Maoists return to violence, then the democratic parties will be in an uncomfortable position associating with them, as the government enforces “anti-terror” measures. If the Maoists remain at peace, then there is little need for the government to deal with them.

The parties and the Maoists may regard isolating the king and casting him as a warmonger, unwilling to negotiate, as an end in itself. It would certainly step up the international pressure on him. Cold-shouldered by India, however, he seems to be hoping China will come to his aid, and in public at least, is unperturbed. While his enemies plotted this political ambush, he was away on a two-week tour of African capitals.

Perhaps he reasons that his position is safe. Another explanation is given credence in Katmandu: King Gyanendra, a pious Hindu known to believe in astrology, has a particularly felicitous horoscope at the moment.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Kenya and the Filmloop: I visited Ottawa from Kathmandu last January. During that trip, my friend Elaine talked to me about her upcoming (at that point) summer holiday plan. She was thinking of taking her daughetr Kyla and son Eliot to either Nepal or to Kenya for a break. I tried my best to convince her to come to Nepal. I must admit that at the end I failed. She went to Kenya this August with her children.

Today she has e-mailed some of her pictures from their Kenya adventure to friends and family. She did not have time to add description at all, but it is great fun to look at those great pictures. This has taken my blues away that she did not visit me in Nepal. I have never been to Africa. Her pictures reminded me again that every one who has the opportunity and ability should visit Africa- which includes me and Priya.

Along with the photos, came another intersting information from Eline. She used a cool program called Filmloop to share her photos with friends and family. This is new, cool, easy and free.

FilmLoop has been developed by Eline's friend Kyle's new company. Using this program you can make your own loops and add your own pictures and show them to friends you invite. It's the simplest, least intrusive sharing mechanism

Eline wrote: "I've seen. I'm suggesting to all my friends that they try throwing their Thanksgiving pics into a loop and invite friends and family to see it. The great thing is that they can hide it or let it play, make comments so you can converse, blow up one or all the pictures to full screen - it just runs without intruding on your screenspace or attention until you tell it to. You do not have to look at all the pictures. They just stream by you at the top of your screen (or whereever you put it), and if you see one you like, you can pull it up, stop play, scroll back if it's gone past, or let it come around again. When you've seen enough, you just hide the player. It's good for all the times when you're waiting for something and looking at pictures for 30 seconds would be a nice diversion."

I can add to that comment, that I have downloaded the program and finding in amazing. Now I only have to make some time to upload my Nepal pictures on the loop. I have no idea when I will be able to do that. But in the meantime, why do not you go to the Filmloop site and try this out.

Killing the Messenger: On the eve of the 2005 Commonwealth Summit, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged Commonwealth heads of government to see that people killing journalists because of their work were duly punished, so the Commonwealth could become “a true home of democracy and freedom.” It noted that 15 journalists had been killed in member-states Bangladesh, Gambia, India, Pakistan, Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka since the last summit in December 2003 and that virtually all the killers were still walking free.

“The responsibility of the democratic countries meeting at the summit in Malta from 25 to 27 November – especially Britain – is to press leaders of those six states to stop such crimes and to punish them,” the worldwide press free freedom organisation said. “Drastic steps must be urgently taken to penalise member-states that do not make genuine efforts to ensure press freedom and the safety of journalists.” It said Presidents Yahya Jammeh of Gambia and Mahinda Rajapakse of Sri Lanka, as well as Bangladeshi home minister Lutfozzaman Babor, (please see his photo on the left) should be criticised by the summit for their “inability or unwillingness to put an end to the impunity enjoyed by those committing crimes against journalists in their countries.”

The media is the victim of the greatest violence in Bangladesh, where hundreds of journalists are attacked every year. Six have been killed since the 2003 summit and their killers are still at large. The most recent victim was Gautam Das, 28, correspondent of the daily Dainik Shamokal, who was brutally executed in Faridpur, west of the capital, just a few days ago, on 17 November, after investigating organised crime and abuses by local figures. He was found dead in his office with an arm and both legs broken and with neck injuries.

The murder in Gambia of Deyda Hydara, editor of the thrice-weekly paper The Point, has rocked the country’s politics for nearly a year. Hydara, who was also the local correspondent for Reporters Without Borders and the French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP), was killed as he drove his car on 16 December 2004. He had fiercely criticised two new press laws, approved by parliament just before he died. After two fact-finding missions (December 2004 and April 2005) to Gambia, Reporters Without Borders said his murder, by professional killers, was part of a years-long series of attacks on journalists and others disliked by the government, that involved the same methods and circumstances (unmarked vehicles, prior death threats). It pointed to the country’s National Intelligence Agency (NIA) as the main suspect and found that Hydara had been threatened and spied on by state security services until a few minutes before his murder only a few steps from a police barracks.

Four men in Sri Lanka kidnapped Dharmeratnam Sivaram, 46, editor of the news website TamilNet and a columnist in the Daily Mirror newspaper, as he was leaving a bar in Colombo with friends, a few metres from the Bambalapitya police station, on 28 April this year. His body was found next day in the Himbulala neighbourhood, near parliament, with a bullet in his head and signs of a beating. A suspect was arrested in June but little progress has been made since then. Reporters Without Borders has called on the authorities several times to end impunity for the killers of journalists. Two others were murdered last year because of their work.

Journalists in Pakistan are the target of generalised violence, especially in South Waziristan. Amir Nawab Khan, cameraman for the broadcast news agency APTN and reporter for the daily The Frontier Post, was killed in an ambush near Wana in February this year along with Allah Noor Wazir, a reporter for the station Khyber TV, the daily paper The Nation and the German news agency DPA. An unknown group claimed responsibility 10 days later. Reporters Without Borders continues to urge the authorities to fully investigate the killings.

The murder in Sierra Leone this July of Harry Yansaneh, acting editor of the daily For di People, shocked the local media, and an autopsy showed he had died from the effects of being beaten two months earlier by henchmen of female member of parliament Fatmata Hassan Komeh, who belongs to the ruling party.In India, Veeraboina Yadagini, who had been investigating illegal activities in the south of the country, was stabbed to death in February 2004, probably on the orders of local politicians.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

What next for Nepal?: Nepal made the front page of the Indian Express on Saturday, November 19, 2005, again. This time Kathmandu Editor of Samay magazine Yubraj Ghimire wrote: "NepalMaoists tie up with political parties to cut the King to sizeAgree to push for King as titular head; 'will disarm under UN: In a key push towards democracy in Nepal, theCommunist Party of Nepal (Maoists), spearheading a decade-longinsurgency to turn Hindu Nepal into a Communist republic, has reachedan understanding with an alliance of seven political parties. Highly placed sources said that the broad understanding—coming after a week which saw several senior leaders and diplomats in New Delhi—is a"peaceful" agitation for full democracy that could mean accommodating a ceremonial or truly constitutional monarchy and a "joint movement"to elect a constituent assembly. To this effect, the Maoists are learnt to have agreed to disarm under UN supervision. Details of next steps are likely to be made public only after the King makes his position clear on "ceremonial or truly constitutional role''offered to him. The King is on a trip abroad and is scheduled to return home on December 2 unless developments back home compel him to cut it short.

Education Minister Radha Krishna Mainali, himself a Naxalite leader in Nepal in the '60s, warned that the leaders who have spoken to Maoists could be held under anti-terrorist acts, but it was not clear whether the statement was made on behalf of the King. According to PTI, Mainali told reporters: "The frantic visit of some prominent political leaders and diplomats to Delhi is an unfortunate development, consultation would not yield any good result.

"For, the understanding comes at a time when two most prominent pro-democracy leaders, G P Koirala of Nepali Congress and Madhav KumarNepal of Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), went to India ostensibly for their health check-up.Their visit coincided with the presence of US Ambassador to Nepal James Moriarty and Indian Ambassador Shiv Shankar Mukherjee. It is reliably learnt that Koirala and Nepal also met Maoist leaders Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai in Delhi. There has been no official word yet on the meetings as well as the understanding. When contacted in New Delhi, before he left for Kathmandu, CPN's Nepal told TheIndian Express: "We have to talk, we don't have to meet in India to talk. We can meet them (the Maoists) in Nepal itself." Nepal and another CPN-UML leader K P Sharma Oli returned to Kathmandu while Koirala is still in Delhi. The seven parties, which have been agitating in Nepal, had earlier authorised Koirala and Nepal to reach any agreement with the Maoiststo steer the country out of the current political stalemate. Ambassador Moriarty said that Washington had no objection to political parties talking to the Maoists but their return to the political mainstream was contingent on them giving up violence.

You can read the full story here: Sleepless in Delhi

South Asian International Film Festival: Now a little bit of information on the the South Asian International Film Festival that I have found from thier website. "This is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to support established and emerging artists from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. With a focus on dynamic, visionary independent cinema, SAIFF aims to bring communities together to support these artists and unite in celebration of a common spirit. We're proud to announce the return of the South Asian International Film Festival, a groundbreaking cinematic and entertainment extravaganza in Manhattan. This year, SAIFF 2005 will run from December 7 through December 11, 2005 in New York City. With several screening locations, a team of high-profile sponsors, and a slate of top-notch films, the festival will give audiences of all ages and ethnicities the chance to discover new South Asian voices and celebrate established ones. Kicking off with a feature film premiere and opening night gala, the five-day event will present a select combination of full-length films, shorts, and documentaries in a variety of genres. In addition to a retrospective honoring an internationally renowned filmmaker, the Festival will attract new films from the entire South Asian continent (i.e. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka) and the South Asian diaspora. Hosted by influential young and established South Asian guests, the festival will mix in dynamic entertainment, cutting-edge nightlife, and exclusive social events with its slate of high-quality film programming. For more information about the 2005 South Asian International Film Festival, contact at info@saiff.org or 212-674-6262. or Vists: South Asian International Film Festival

Color of Faith: I wrote about Saiful Wadud Helal, my filmmaker friend from Ottawa, in the early days of this blog. His latest documentary Color of Faith (Bishwasher Rong- in Bengali) was the solo entry from Bangladesh at the World Documentaries Series of the Montreal World Film Festival this summer.

I was not at the festival, but my friends told me theat “Bishwsher Rong” generated an unanticipated amount of curiosity and interest about Bangladesh, which otherwise captures attention of the West during its natural disaster or political disorderliness.

A prees release said: "In the intolerance-driven world of today many of us fail to see and appreciate simple, little things about simple, selfless people, and how places, culture, faith, daily practices are woven into the tapestry of their lives. In this backdrop, “Bishwsher Rong” provides a humane perspective on faith and religion. It depicts how religion and culture come together to give people a unique kind of identity. The film is set in Badarpur, a remote village in Bangladesh, where each spring hundreds of thousands of people gather in remembrance of their beloved holy man “Langta”(Naked). In the post 9/11 world, where we are surrounded by words such as terrorism, fundamentalism, and fanaticism, this film questions any essential conception of religious identity, and calls for a deeper look at the colours that faith might assume.

The people of Bangladesh struggle every day with nature for survival. They acknowledge, appreciate, and revere all the forces of nature. Religious faith provides them with added strength and courage. The sapling of religious faith brought over by Sufis and saints from the dry, scorched earth of Middle East has blossomed in the moist, olden soil of Bangladesh. Nevertheless, the fruit it bore is considered forbidden by fundamentalists- as forbidden as Gandham (the forbidden fruit of paradise)."

Since its founding, the Montreal World Film Festival has attached high priority to supporting cultural diversity. This has inspired participation of young filmmakers as Saiful, and ventures such as “Bishwsher Rong”.

Saiful began his career as a journalist. After receiving a diploma in Television production from Montreal, he began working in the television industry as a programme director and editor. Between 1999 and 2005, he wrote, produced short films and shows for ethnic TV channels, as well as produced commercials and music videos. He has directed two short films, The Poet and Bonjour Montreal in 2000."

Now, "Bishwsher Rong" is going to be presented in the " Emerging Filmmakers- Short And Documentay Showcase of the 2005 South Asian INternational Film Festival" This year the festival is titled as the "Colors in Fusion", which is going to take place from 7th to 11th December, 2005 in New York. The South Asian International Film Festival is the largest South Asian film festival in North America.

I am so happy that Saiful is going to bring another colourful feather for his hat from the Big Apple.

Saiful will be available for press interview, prior, during and post festival. Phone: 514 772 3883, E-mail: saiful@mac.com
For More Information vist Mira Media Production or Color of Faith

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Water, Religion and Communication: I promise, this will be my last post on the movie Water. It is true that I was thinking a lot on this movie for last couple of days. One point that came in my mind is the relationship between religion and communication, after watching this film.

If I remember correctly, at the bank of the Ganges the charector Shakuntala asked the priest, why the widows had to suffer like that. The priest answered that the Hindu religion had given three opotions for the widows. Either one had to burn themselves with their husbund to become Saati, or had to live a life of suffering, or if the family approved, she could marry the younger brother of her death husband.

After a little pause the priest also informed, but there was a new law through which widows could remarry. Shakuntala was surprized. She asked, if that was so, how could they did not know about the law. The priest replied "we only learn the information where we have our self-benifit".

The communication issue came in my head on that point. The priest, does not matter whichever religion that person represents, would obstract information that might harm his or her interest. It happened in 1930s in India, it is still happening all over the world. I think that time has come when we need to address the issue of religion and communication seriously.

I came across an intersting organization recently. It is called "World Association for Christian Communication". This organization has published a charter on the Christian Principles of Communication. The declaration says:

"Information and communication are drastically changing the world we live in. Instead of establishing commonness and solidarity, public communication now tends to reinforce divisions, widen the gap between rich and poor, consolidate oppression, and distort reality in order to maintain systems of domination and subject the silenced masses to media manipulation.

Yet communication remains God's great gift to humanity, without which we cannot be truly human, reflecting 'God's image'. Nor could we enjoy living together in groups, communities and societies steeped in different cultures and different ways of life.

It is both the potential for solidarity and the threat to humanity which modern communications contain, that has prompted the members of the World Association for Christian Communication to examine their communication practices and policies on the basis of the Good News of the Kingdom.

The guidelines which follow are an expression of our common witness to Jesus Christ and to the hope He has given us through the transforming power of His own communication.

Communication from a Christian perspective
Jesus announced the coming of God's Kingdom and commissioned us to proclaim the Good News to all people until the end of time. Hearing the Good News, living by it and witnessing to it, is the basic calling of all Christians.

To enable them to carry out this task, they have been promised the power of the Holy Spirit. It is this Spirit that can change the Babel of confusion into the Pentecost of genuine understanding. But the Spirit 'blows where it pleases' (John 2:8), and no one, neither church nor religious group, can claim to control it.

The Good News addresses itself to the whole person and to all people. We pray for the coming of the Kingdom as well as for our daily food, for God's reign in the world-to-come and the here-and-now.

For Christian communicators, the material and the spiritual are part of each other. Christ's own communication was an act of self-giving. He 'emptied himself, taking the form of a servant' (Phil 2:7). He ministered to all, but took up the cause of the materially poor, the mentally ill, the outcasts of society, the powerless and oppressed.

In the same way, Christian communication should be an act of love which liberates all who take part in it.

The Gospel, being the Good News for the poor, needs to be constantly reinterpreted from the perspectives of the poor and oppressed.

This challenges church hierarchies to disassociate themselves from the power structures which keep the poor in a position of subservience. In this sense, the Good News for the poor embodies genuine reconciliation by means of which the dignity of all people can be reaffirmed.

By accepting Christ's sovereignty, the Christian communicator proclaims God's Kingdom rather than our divided churches. The churches do not exist for their own sakes, but for the sake of the Kingdom. For this reason, the Christian communicator gives preference to ecumenical communication so that Christians of different denominations can speak with one voice, thus bearing witness to the one body of Christ.

Christian communicators, as witnesses to the Kingdom, should awaken and reflect the corporate witness of the church. The lives of Christians, as well as the work of communicators, need to be set free from the individualism which characterises some cultures and traditions. We need to rediscover the early Christian community's understanding of a witnessing and communicating church. The church as a community of believers is God's chosen instrument for promoting the Kingdom.

This is because the church is meant to embody and testify to the central values of the Kingdom, among which are oneness, reconciliation, equality, justice, freedom, harmony, peace and love ('shalom'). Furthermore, Christian communicators are conscious of and show respect for God's mysteries. God's ways can never be grasped, let alone be explained.

Likewise, the crown of God's creation, people, cannot be fully understood. Christian communicators, therefore, are always aware of their inadequacies when speaking of God, and conscious of 'mystery' when telling the story of God's people.

The communication of Christians is ultimately meant to glorify God. In that sense, all Christian communication is an act of worship, a praise of God through the shared word and action of a community living in the consciousness of God's presence. Christian communication is challenged to witness to God's transforming power in all areas of human life.

Paul calls himself and all servants of the Word, 'servants of your glory' (Eph 1:12) and thus 'servants of your joy' (11 Cor. 1:24). The glory of God and the joy of the people should be the hallmark of all Christian communication. These general principles of Christian communication will now be elaborated in the context of today's communication problems.

Communication creates community
Many people today fear or deplore the loss of community and community spirit. Rather than bringing people together, the mass media often isolate or divide them. Yet communication, including the use of alternative media, can revitalise communities and rekindle community spirit, because the model for genuine communication, like that for communities of all kinds, is open and inclusive, rather than unidirectional and exclusive.

But a community must not be seen as the local community alone. A community of peoples and nations, as well as a community of different churches and religions, has to emerge if humankind is to survive.

Therefore, one aim of our work is the breaking down of all kinds of barriers which prevent the development of communities with rights and justice for all - particularly such barriers as race, sex, class, nation, power and wealth.

Genuine communication cannot take place in a climate of division, alienation, isolation and barriers which disturb, prevent or distort social interaction. True communication is facilitated when people join together regardless of race, colour or religious conviction, and where there is acceptance of and commitment to one another.

Communication is participatory
The mass media have been organised along one-way lines: they flow from top to bottom, from the centre to the periphery, from the few to the many, from the 'information rich' to the 'information poor'. This has conditioned the minds of many people - not only in terms of the media's content but also by creating a 'mass media mentality'.

Many think that this is the way the media have to work. Even those who advocate horizontal flow are often only concerned with an increase in the number of channels, the diversification of content and localisation of media. They still adhere to the basic top-down principle.

On the other hand, there is now a growing awareness that there are information and communication needs, felt by individuals and groups, which the mass media cannot meet. Modern communication technologies could allow a much higher degree of participation than those who control the media systems are willing to grant or to develop. Communication is, by definition, participatory.

It is a two-way process. It is interactive because it shares meaning and establishes and maintains social relationships. The more widespread and powerful the media become, the greater the need for people to engage in their own local or inter-group communication activities. In this way, they will also rediscover and develop traditional forms of communication.

Only if people become subjects rather than objects of communication can they develop their full potential as individuals and groups. Communication is now considered an individual and social necessity of such fundamental importance that it is seen as a universal human right.
Communication as a human right encompasses the traditional freedoms: of expression, of the right to seek, receive and impart information. But it adds to these freedoms, both for individuals and society, a new concept, namely that of access, participation and two-way flow.

Participatory communication may challenge the authoritarian structures in society, in the churches and in the media, while democratising new areas of life. It may also challenge some of the 'professional rules' of the media, whereby the powerful, rich and glamorous occupy centre stage to the exclusion of ordinary men, women and children. Participatory communication, finally, can give people a new sense of human dignity, a new experience of community, and the enjoyment of a fuller life.

Communication liberates
The mass media are a form of power and often part of a system of power. They are usually structured in such a way as to reinforce the status quo in favour of the economically and politically powerful. Mass media power thus has a dominating effect which is contrary to genuine communication.

We cannot communicate with people whom we regard as 'inferior', whose basic worth as humans we do not respect. We can simply impart information to them or sell 'media products' to them. Genuine communication presupposes the recognition that all human beings are of equal worth. The more explicit equality becomes in human interaction, the more easily communication occurs.

There are crude and subtle ways of silencing people. The dictates of modern nationalism and the demands of ruling ideologies are examples of how freedom has been curtailed and contrary views suppressed. When media boast of or clamour for freedom of the press or of broadcasting, they should be asked: Whose freedom and whose liberty? Freedom of communication is bound up with the quest for community and the fulfillment of the individual and social needs of all, rather than of just a few.

Communication which liberates, enables people to articulate their own needs and helps them to act together to meet those needs. It enhances their sense of dignity and underlines their right to full participation in the life of society. It aims to bring about structures in society which are more just, more egalitarian and more conducive to the fulfillment of human rights.

Communication supports and develops cultures
A people's basic culture and need for cultural identity are part of the dignity of the human person. Many countries and peoples are now rediscovering and redefining their basic cultural identities. This is particularly urgent where culture, language, religion, gender, age, ethnicity or race have been attacked or treated with contempt by members of other cultural groups.
Global communication structures are now being set up in such a way as to threaten the cultures and priorities of many nations. More seriously, the entertainment industries, particularly television and home video programmes, are creating a media environment which is alien and alienating. The Western criteria of the mass media have already been adopted by the national elites in countries of the South. They set the 'standards' of what can rate as 'professional' in media productions, often preventing the emergence of alternative forms of communication.
Communicators now have an awesome responsibility to use and develop indigenous forms of communication. They have to cultivate a symbolic environment of mutually shared images and meanings which respect human dignity and the religious and cultural values which are at the heart of Third World cultures. One of the greatest assets of today's world is its many different cultures, revealing the richness of God's image in all its diversity.

Communication is prophetic
Many media workers are trying to interpret the signs of the times, because this is part of the public information work to which they are committed. For Christians, the events of the day are part of God's agenda for action. In it, God's plans are revealed through changing circumstances and new opportunities. In order to discern and interpret the situation correctly, Christian communicators must listen to God and be led by the Spirit. This is a condition of prophecy. But words are only part of prophecy. They take on real meaning only when they are accompanied by action.

Prophetic communication expresses itself in words and deeds. Such prophetic action must be willing to challenge the principalities and powers, and may carry a high price. Prophetic communication serves truth and challenges falsehood. Lies and half-truths are a great threat to communication.

Prophetic communication stimulates critical awareness of the reality constructed by the media and helps people to distinguish truth from falsehood, to discern the subjectivity of the journalist and to disassociate that which is ephemeral and trivial from that which is lasting and valuable. Often it is necessary to develop alternative communication so that prophetic words and deeds can be realised.

These principles should guide the work and mission of Christians in communication. They also set out the corporate agenda of the World Association for Christian Communication - for project support, studies and dissemination of policies. Communication must be seen as central to the churches, as the process in which God's love is received and shared, thus establishing communion and community."

I am wondering if communication has been looked at throught the believes of other religions. I am wondering what Koran has said about Islam and communication. I do not know. I would love to know.

Seema Biswas of Water: In my blog on Water I wrote that I was impressed by the performance of Seema Biswas as the empowered widow Shakuntala. I did not realize at that time that Seema had also performed as Phoolan Devi in the Bandit Queen. Though I found Bandit Queen a very disturbing movie, but I must admit that I was absolutely impressed by Seema's acting and courage. So let me share what I have learned about Seema from the web.

The Hindu wrote: " Seema Biswas in a pretty white top, black skirt, and a stylishly draped red shawl looks totally unlike the long-suffering housewife, Ganga, that she played in Salesman Ramlal, a stage play. "It is a small role, but this Hindi adaptation of Arthur Miller's classic, Death of a Salesman, has been a dream role for me," says the actress, haltingly.

Yes, the bold, brash Phoolan Devi on screen is a soft-spoken, shy woman in real life. "The play's director, Feroz Khan, believes in quality and not quantity, the lead actor Satish Kaushik is brilliant in his role of the salesman, and when I first saw the adaptation. I liked it. I always trust my instincts, and that's why I chose to play Ganga," explains Biswas.

The talented graduate of National School of Drama (NSD), New Delhi, has been on stage since her school days in Nalbari, Assam. When Shekar Kapoor offered her a role in `Bandit Queen', Biswas knew it was what she wanted to do, and researched her part thoroughly.

Unable to meet Phoolan Devi in person, Seema studied the Chambal queen's body language, trying to soak in the nuances of her personality. "During the shooting, I would smoke a cigarette, but would start to cough immediately. So I ended up delivering my dialogues while my voice remained husky," reveals this non-smoker, who believes in being authentic with her role. And, for `Kahmoshi', Seema learned sign language, and for the small role in `Pinjar', she met mentally-challenged people.

The Malayalam films with Jayraj, `Shantam' and `Vivats', have won her awards and rave reviews. Her latest role in `Ek Hasina Thi', whose promos are doing the rounds of the channels these days, promises to be a very sensitive one. "Even in `Boom', I was happy about my small role as the housekeeper." However, the film flopped at the box office. Seema takes life as it comes. "I take up projects based on their merit. I'm excited about my role in the play Antigone, an adaptation of a Greek tragedy. The director subtly brings in the issue of the Gujarat violence, giving the play a contemporary touch. I'm also looking forward to my work with director Avinash. We will also be travelling to orphanages in Assam for the shooting," says Biswas.

The actress has carved her own niche in an industry that clamours for stars with glamorous looks. "Yes, physical beauty is still the most sought-after attribute in this industry, but I have followed my convictions," says the actress with Assamese origins. Undaunted by some tragic events in her life, Biswas accepts her lot philosophically. "So many things happen in life. Some good, some bad. On one side, we have technological miracles, on the other we have corruption. I wish I could do more to get rid of corruption," she says.

Why does she not enter politics ? The actress laughs: "I don't think I'll survive in that world," says Biswas, who prefers to spend birthdays with visually impaired children or orphans. "And this I do for my satisfaction, not as a charitable act towards them," she is points out. As one leaves, she leafs through the design magazine that one is carrying. "I like form, colour, and beauty in nature... I should have studied architecture!" she says wistfully. "Maybe I'll take up set designing... "

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

My Cool Friends: Victoria Fenner: Since I started writing this blog, I was mainly focusing on the people, issues and expereinces that I was coming across. Now I want to add another series on "my cool friends". I must admit that I am lucky to have some very cool friends form all around the world, on the path of my life.

Victoria is one of them. I met her first in Hamilton, a small town near Toronto. I was there for the Canadian National Community and Campus Radio Conference, soon after immigrating to Canada. She was one of the organizers. I got elected on the board of the Canadian National Community and Campus Radio Association at that confernce. Victoria and I clicked. We kept in touch since then.

After a while Victoria moved to Ottawa with her ex-partener who became the station manager for the CKCU radio at the Carleton University. I was with the CHUO Radio at the Ottawa University. After couple of years, I think, both Victoria and her partner moved to the States. We were still in touch but did not see each other for long time.

Last winter, when I was in Ottawa for a break from Nepal, our mutual friend Heather invited Victoria, her husband, their dog and me at her place in Chelsea for a sleep over. We spent a long evening beside heather's fire place drinking wine and catchin up. Early next morning we all drove to CKCU studio to be on Heather's morning radio show live.

Victoria has just sent me an e-mail with the follwing announcement:

"My latest project is now up and ready to receive listeners!I'm producing my own podcast (which for the uninitiated is an on-line radio program with a new name.) It's called The House of Sound and Story and is part of the brand new Rabble Podcast Network. Here's the official description:Community radio veteran Victoria Fenner explores the role of the arts in community-building and cultural vitality. Featuring artists, activists, and noise-makers from the local and international scene. And ideas to help you explore your own inner artist too!

Episode 1: Poem for Peace in Many Voices November 9, 2005 7.2 Mb 15 Min. London, Ontario poet Penn Kemp's "Poem for Peace in Two Voices" has been translated into over 100 languages and read aloud by 3,000 people around the world. You can find it at www.rabble.ca/rpn

If you've never listened to a podcast before, don't let the techno name scare you. It's no different than listening on line or downloading an mp3. And there are easy to follow on line instructions too. I plan to put up a new episode once every ten days or so to start. I'm doing well .. my little apartment is great and so are the people I'm hanging out with. I'm taking a couple of months off to do some composition and some radio programs. Even doing my first art gallery sound installation next month. "

You can visit Victoria's own website at http://www.magneticspirits.com/

Water: Yesterday was my friend Saleem Samad’s birthday. As I wrote earlier, he is a Bangladeshi journalist in exile in Canada. He has left his wife and son behind, and living kind of an alone life here. First, I thought I should organize a party for him. But I myself is not absolutely settled in Ottawa yet. So, organizing a party with a very short notice was not that practical. Therefore, I decided to invite him out for a movie.

We went to watch “Water.” I am glad that I did that. First reason was that Saleem was happy that we celebrated his birthday in this manner and secondly both of us were touched by the movie.

Directed by Indian-born and Toronto-based filmmaker Deepa Mehta, Water is set in the 1930s. At that time, Mahtma Gandhi was just released from the British jail and independence movement of India was gathering its momentum. Written by Mehta as well, the movie focused on the plight of the Hindu widows, who were oppressed by the cruel tradition of Sanatani Hindu Dharma.

Deepa Mehta was born in Amritsar, India in 1949. She received a bachelors and masters degree in philosophy from the University of New Delhi, where she met her husband, Canadian filmmaker and producer Paul Saltzman. Shortly after getting married, she immigrated to Canada in 1973. However, the marriage was short lived, and they divorced. She has one daughter, Devyani, of whom Mehta says: "I really admire her. She is proud and satisfied of being who she is. That is something lovely about her and possibly nurtured by her father and mother's absolutely crazy life"(Ramchandani).

I did not know much about Deepa Mehta before 1997. When I was traveling cross Canada with a renouned Indian journalist, Kalpana Sharma- she requested me to find out Deepa Mehta when we were in Toronto. I remember Sharma did interview Mehta in Toronto for the Hindu, the leading daily of India.

Water is the last of the trilogy composed of Fire (on politics of sexuality), Earth (politics of nationalism) and Water (about politics of religion). This was shot in 2000. It was supposed to be filmed on the location of the Hindu city of India Varanasi, but due to protest and vandalism of the local political and Hindu fundamentalist group, shooting was moved to Sri Lanka. (The Politics of Deepa Mehta’s Water)

I am not going to write about the plot here, as I am hoping that whoever would read this post will definitely make time to see this very powerful movie. The 90 minutes that I was absorbed in watching this movie, there were many thoughts going through my head. Water was filmed in locations of West Bengal, and that reminded me of Bangladesh, the country that I have left behind. The river, water, boat and the people- all reminded my childhood memories from the villages in Bangladesh.

And the temples, burning of the dead bodies at the river ghats, the statues of the bull, old houses, spread-out banyan tress reminded me of Nepal, the only Hindu Kingdom on this planet.

And John Abraham, the latest superstar of the commercial Bollywood films played the lead male character in Water. Many women’s hearts around the world throbs for John these days. I saw him first in the movie called Dhum, which I saw at the Jay Nepal Cinema in Kathmandu.

And Lisa Ray- of course made my heart throb. So, I did a quick goggle search on her and found some interesting information. Lisa was born in Toronto on 4 April 1972. She is 5' 5" (1.65 m) tall, informed one web site. Another said: “Lisa Ray was finishing High School in Canada with aspirations of reading Journalism at University when a celebrated fashion magazine approached her to model for them, and she ended up on the cover. This catapulted her into a state of instantaneous recognition. Her high profile career got her noticed by Indian film-makers but she refused many offers until the offbeat Kasoor (2001), which received a considerable amount of attention. Deepa Mehta then cast her as the lead in the light-hearted romantic comedy, Bollywood/Hollywood (2002), which went on to be a huge success in Canada. She also played the lead on Arrangement (2004), a romantic comedy, filmed in Austin, Texas. She subsequently moved to London to train in acting and concentrate on a serious career in the performing arts. She recently graduated from the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts and has subsequently worked in 'Seeking Fear'. She now permanently resides in London.”

Jokes apart, out of all the performers in this movies, I was really impressed by Seema Biswas as the empowered widow and Sarla the little widow. I will recommand this film to all my friends as worth watching.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Journalist in Exile: In Ottawa, I am spending a fare amount of time with Saleem Samad. Saleem is my friend for more than fifteen years. We also used to spend lots of time together in Dhaka, when both of us were journalists there. Saleem is now in exile in Canada, and my neighbor in Ottawa.

When Bangladesh Army Intelligence picked up Saleem in 80s for writing about army atrocity on the Chittagong Hill Tracts people, I was a junior journalist. Actually, I only learned about this incident much later, when both of us got together to convene a national seminar on the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Dhaka.

When the Bangladesh government in 2003 again detained Saleem, I was already in Canada. I learned about his arrest, and news stated coming that he had been tortured in the custody. That had affected me tremendously. The days Saleem was in the jail, every night I would lie down in the bed in Ottawa and thought that my friend had another hellish night in a dirty jail cell or a torture camp. Many nights I could not sleep. Sometimes I end up weeping alone in my bed.

My conscious bounded me to start an online campaign for his release. I published an e-mail based newsletter every day untill Saleem was released. I knocked from door to door to convince Canadian officials to influence Bangladesh government to release him immediately. Many of my friends would remember how the Bangladesh High Commissioner used to crash the door to come to our meetings in defend of his government against Saleem.

Sometimes Saleem tells us the stories of the sufferings that he went through during his two time detentions. He can laugh while taking about all the inhumane torture that he had to suffer. I cannot laugh with him. My heart breaks when I hear these stories.

Saleem visited me in Kathmandu last year. He did tell me that he was going to Canada for a conference. In November 2004, I got an e-mail in Kathmandu that Saleem had applied for political asylum in Canada. This November is Saleem’s first anniversary of moving to Canada. Incidentally, 13 November is also his birthday. So, dear Saleem- Happy Birth Day to You and Happy Canada Anniversary.

In February 2004, Saleem wrote the following story for the TIME magazine, which is a good reading.

A Prisoner's Tale:
A journalist recounts his personal story of police abuse and state repression in Bangladesh

"I should kill you," the high-ranking Dhaka police officer said. He drew his pistol from his holster, shoved me to the floor and pressed the muzzle to my temple. "You are a traitor. You have betrayed your country. How dare you describe the nation as a haven for al-Qaeda and the Taliban?"

My troubles began last November when Britain's Channel 4 asked me to set up interviews and translate for a crew it was sending to Bangladesh to make a documentary on the state of the country. As a long-time reporter in Bangladesh, I was delighted to take the job.

However, these are perilous times in my homeland. The government holds power with the help of fundamentalist Islamic groups that are changing Bangladesh's secular character; local Hindus and Christians are fleeing to neighboring India in the thousands, and the authorities are furious at media reports that Bangladesh is playing host to jihadis from Afghanistan and beyond. Rather than address these concerns, the government has systematically muzzled journalists and opposition leaders who try to get the story out. Since October, more than 4,000 people have been arrested and 44 have died in custody during a government crackdown supposedly directed at organized crime and euphemistically called Operation Clean Heart.

In this environment, foreign reporters are routinely denied visas to Bangladesh. So Channel 4's crew-British reporter Zaiba Malik and Italian cameraman Bruno Sorrentino-entered as tourists. The authorities were tipped off by a pro-Islamic daily, and police intelligence agents tailed us.

On Nov. 25, Malik, Sorrentino and Bangladeshi interpreter Priscilla Raj were arrested at the border with India and charged with sedition. I was not with them that day. Hearing of their arrest, I decided to lay low. I slept at a friend's home and instructed my 18-year-old son to empty our house of my papers and to hide my computer hard drive. However, the police were tapping my brother's phone, and they heard me tell him where I was.

They showed up at my friend's flat at 3 a.m., and I went with them peacefully. The government charged me with sedition and conspiracy to defame the country. At the police station, I was held in a 3-meter-by-4.5-meter cell with up to 15 other detainees. The conditions were foul. There was one squat toilet in the floor of the cell and neither soap nor drinking water. We were told to drink from the toilet tank. On the third day, I got dysentery. We slept without blankets on the bare concrete floor. The mosquitoes were relentless. We were given sodden rice and plain dhal to eat. Every few hours I would be woken up and pulled from the cell to answer questions. The same high-ranking officer who brandished his pistol would force me to sit on the floor with my legs extended so he could thrash my left kneecap with his baton.

The police wanted a full accounting of the time I spent with the Channel 4 crew: the places we went, the sources we met. I had done nothing to be ashamed of, so I told them everything I knew. A military intelligence agent present at these interrogations demanded to know where my hard drive was hidden. He threatened to hurt my son and wife. However, I would not give up my life's work. Finally, after five days of interrogation, I was loaded into a police van and driven to a prison in Dhaka, where I was given a cell to myself with a sink and enough blankets to make a mattress. The prison hospital gave me painkillers for the throbbing in my knee. Compared to my treatment at the police station, this was luxurious.

Then, after 50 days in custody, I was finally released on bail on Jan. 18, thanks in large part to pressure from Paris-based Reporters Without Borders and New York's Center to Protect Journalists. However, the police have yet to return my passport, credit cards, and ATM card, mobile phone or address book. In addition, I must still go before the courts to face the charges against me, which carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. I am confident the High Court will acquit me of all charges. The Channel 4 crew was deported back to Britain before Christmas without suffering physical abuse. However, Raj has told me that her interrogators tortured her with electric shocks.

Before the arrests, however, the Channel 4 team got 80% of their film footage out of the country. The documentary has yet to be broadcast, but if the world is able to see-and read-how Bangladesh is being transformed into a repressive nation, then the suffering and anxiety my family and I have endured will be worthwhile. However, for now, I feel I have emerged from a small jail only to enter another, much larger prison. --.

Saleem Samad has his own blog: http://spaces.msn.com/members/saleemsamad/

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Away from the Mountains: It is only three weeks that I have been away from Nepal. But it seems so long back. For last couple of weeks, I was not following the happenings in Nepal. This evening, I thought I must read some Nepali newspapers online.

Found the Editorial of this week's Nepali Times very interesting. Kanak Mani Dixit wrote the following column.

"The king at the summit: If he is going to go he’s going to go

It looks like King Gyanendra will be attending the 13th SAARC Summit 12-13 November in Dhaka. Because the parties and civil society in open dissent are yet to gather sufficient steam to challenge him head-to-head to reverse the coup of 1 February, for the moment the king is in the driver’s seat even if few like the direction he is taking.

If he is going to go, he is going to go. But we have to be clear that when King Gyanendra attends the summit of Southasian leaders, he represents only the palace, some sections of the military, and the graceless squad that makes up his council of ministers.

King Gyanendra revels in pomp and ceremony, whether it is at religious rituals in debi temples, walking in military fatigues among the peasantry, acting gracious in investiture events, or seated regally at international gatherings. If limited to that, the country and people would have no problems with it.

Unfortunately, the king also clearly enjoys the exercise of power. The reason to attend the SAARC summit is to try to gain some regional and international credibility, and consolidate power at home on the rebound. And thereafter, the royal palace plans a two-week tour of African capitals at a time when the nation bleeds and desperately seeks a political release.
The king has yet to receive a formal invite and dates from countries he would actually like to visit (India, United States, China, or any of the European countries). Even the black-flag demonstrations planned by boisterous Nepalis in New York would not have kept him away in September: it was only the failure to secure an invitation at a reception given by George W Bush where everyone else would have been present (except a handful of totalitarians and dictators) that forced the palace into humiliating retreat.

According to reliable information, the takeover was itself rushed so the king could attend the SAARC Summit originally slated for 6-7 February and later cancelled. The plan was to ambush the international community and gain automatic recognition for the new authoritarian dispensation.

In the ensuing months since February, things haven’t been going well for the king. Internationally, there has been a solid wall of non-recognition of February First. Domestically, the Maoists rage in the countryside, the political parties are sullen but defiant, and a public opinion poll would probably show a dramatic shift in perception about the place of royalty.
The king heads a regime given to midnight raids on radio stations, elevating Panchayat-era hooligans to powerful positions, promulgating unprincipled ordinances on the eve of weeklong holidays, and allowing the country to run without fiscal discipline or accountability. Overall, it is a blot on the country’s image.

Since 1 February, King Gyanendra has gone to open-invitation international summits: the Non-Aligned Summit in Jakarta and the Boao Forum in April and the G-77 meeting in Doha in June. The same will hold true for SAARC in Dhaka. The right thing to do would be not to attend because each and every action, directive, ordinance and ruling by the royal palace is presently constitutionally unauthorised and so would a trip to Dhaka as a head-of-state and head-of-regime.

If he does attend, the king will be doing so under the sheer weight of power garnered through the military-backed takeover. That attendance will be without representational legitimacy. Nepal was already once a democracy and intends to go back to being one.

Attending the SAARC summit will be one more act by a monarch insensitive to the people’s political maturity: a willingness to rule over a shrunken kingdom where the citizens suffer economic stagnation and social regression. One must understand the craving, and the mindset from which it emanates.

Reza and his TV Show: Since my return to Ottawa last month, my interaction with the Bangladeshi community remained very limited. I am focusing more on spending time with Priya, my daughter and starting the process of settling in here after spending almost two years in Nepal.

Therefore, it was a pleasant surprise when Barrister Rezaur Rahman invited me to an event at the Ottawa University, where he was organizing the premier for his latest television show- Anondo Prohor (the moment of joy).

I knew Reza in Bangladesh since 1980. He was a lawyer there. I do not remember how I met him first. However, one day he told me that he was conducting a television show on Bangladesh Television specifically on laws. At the earlier days of his show- Ain Adalat (Law and the Court), it was not that popular. The Bangladeshi TV audience took a long time to be able to appreciate any other TV shows apart from the entertainment shows.

However, I made it a point to watch this show one day and did so. I really liked Reza's approach. He was focusing more on injustice, exclusion of poor people from the justice system and documentation of different human rights violations. I was working for Weekly Chitrali at that time. I wrote a small piece on this show in Chitrali. Perhaps that was the first media coverage for Reza's Ain Adalat.

By the course of time, Ain Adalat became tremendously popular. It was talked about and some time controversial as well. Reza had no problem in getting media attention any more. He was all over, on the TV screen and the covers of the glossy color magazines. His popularity brought him power as well.

Some how at that point he got involved with different initiatives, which were some how patronized by the military general Ershad, who took over the power of Bangladesh through an army coup. This connection between Reza's initiatives and Ershad's blessing did not bring good results. Soon the media, which loved Reza for his show, started publishing negative reports on him. His involvement with the Dhaka Tempo (three-wheeler motorized vehicles) Association became the most contagious issue that harmed Reza's image a lot.

When Ershad was forced to resign because of the public up rise, Reza also left Bangladesh. Since then, he is living in Canada. First in Montreal and now in Ottawa.

Reza himself admits that his journey in Canada was not as smooth as it should have been. The controversy from Bangladesh haunted him in Canada as well. Some corners of the community here did every thing possible to make his life difficult, even in exile. Thanks to Reza's confidence and ability to act strategically, he did manage to control all the damages.

In the mean time, he completed his Bar at Law. I learned that he has a good law business among the new immigrants.

However, his life in exile could not take away his passion for TV show and lime light. At least this latest event proves that. Reza has produced a colorful and entertaining TV show totally made in Canada. The performers are all Bangladeshis living in Canada. He himself presented the show. Few days after Eid, which is like Christmas in Muslim world and Bangladesh, this Canadian Bangla TV show went on air on Channel Eye in Dhaka.

I liked the show and appreciate Reza's initiative. Now there are several private satellite television channels in Bangladesh. Some of those channels are available in Canada through cable providers. In addition, there are many Bangladeshis living abroad now a days. This different flow of cultural exchange, sending Bangla culture from abroad back to Bangladesh, that Reza has initiated, has tremendous potential.

Congratulations, Rezaur Rahman.

Jordan Journal 2: November 9, 2005. No, I am not writing this from Jordan. But heard the news from Amman this evening while in Ottawa, I am finding it hard to believe what has happened in Amman.

Just few weeks back I was walking on those same roads, where people were running in panick this evening. I felt very secured in Amman. More secured than Kathmandu. Our conference was at the Marri0t Hotel. On the first evening when I went to the Marriot to register for the conference, I met two Bangladeshi journalist friends. Naimul from Amader Somoy and Bulbul from Sangbad. Three of us walked around in Amman quite late in the evening. I found the Canadian Embassy just beside a Shawarma Restaurant. I did not find the place overly secured. And we also did not feel anything to be scared of.

We went to the Dead Sea in the late night once. Looked at Palestain and Israel from the Jordanina side. Every thing felt very calm. But withean three weeks, things have totally changed in Amman.

As I wrote in my last Jordan Journal that the Deputy Prime Minister Marwan Muasher came to our meeting twice to brief us how his government was trying to create an environment for total press freedom. I found that hard to believe. And today I read the BBC story on the state of media in Jordan today.

Gagging the press

King Abdullah told a meeting of editors recently that journalists should no longer be jailed for what they write or speak.

But it is still against the law to write anything that might harm relations with an Arab or friendly government, and journalists have recently been jailed for doing so. Criticising the king himself is still completely off-limits. No journalist is locked up for it, because no-one does it. And there's no sign of the sort of electoral reform that would make Jordan's parliament truly democratic.

Marwan Muasher, appointed deputy prime minister late last year to oversee the reform effort, has been moved to a job in the royal court. The ever-loyal English-language Jordan Times now has pictures almost every day of meetings called by the King to reassure Iraqi journalists, Jordanian editors, European ambassadors."

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Nepal: Muzzling the Media
Article 19 has issued the following press release on 2 November, 2005.

On 9 October 2005, King Gyanendra of Nepal, promulgated an Ordinance Amending some of the Nepal Acts Related to Media 2062 (2005), which is the latest attempt by the government to control the media and restrict the distribution of news and information within Nepal.

“This is an alarming development which threatens to silence the independent media once and for all”, stated Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

ARTICLE 19 sets out its main concerns with the Ordinance in its latest report Memorandum on the Ordinance Amending some of the Nepal Acts Related to Media 2062 (2005). In this report, ARTICLE 19 demonstrates how many of the provisions contained in the Ordinance are in flagrant violation of international standards and threatens freedom of expression.

In particular, the Ordinance contains a number of provisions to amend existing media laws, in order to introduce strict controls over the publication and broadcast of materials and ownership of the media. ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned that the penalties for breaching these laws have been increased largely ten-fold. In particular, ARTICLE 19 is gravely concerned that the penalty for criminal defamation includes a fine of up to 500,000 Rupees (approximately 7,000 U.S. dollars) and/or two years imprisonment.

Given the imposition of a state of emergency in February for several months, the role of the independent media to inform the public could not be more crucial. Accordingly, ARTICLE 19 calls on King Gyanendra and His Majesty’s Government to review the Ordinance and relevant media laws and to bring them into line with international standards.

Background: On 1 February 2005, King Gyanendra of Nepal declared a state of emergency. The controversial move overrode fundamental freedoms protected under the 1990 Constitution and effectively granted the monarchy absolute power. The media was particularly hit by this step. A number of newspapers and televisions were shut down while FM and community radio stations -- an important source of information for people in remote districts -- were not allowed to broadcast any news.

On 29 April, the state of emergency was lifted but not the ban on news broadcasting. Further, fundamental rights have not been restored. FM and community radio broadcasters have come together and set up the Save the independent Radio Movement in Nepal, campaigning for the complete lifting of the ban. The ban has also threatened the financial viability of media as well as causing large unemployment, thus jeopardizing the existence of one of the most vibrant media sector in the region. In particular, FM and community radio in Nepal had been a leader in the field of community broadcasting in South Asia.

For additional information or interview, please contact: Agnes Callamard, Executive Director: Tel: 020-7278-9292; Direct line: 020-7239-1184; agnes@article19.org