Tuesday, October 28, 2008

“Kheturi Festival”: A tradition spanning over four centuries

Vaishnavs of ISKCON render "Naam Sangkirtan" at the festival. Photo: STAR
“Some render 'kirtan', some are immersed in 'puja', what links them all is their devotion to Lord Gaurango,” said Ramesh Chandra Das at Kheturi Dham.
A Krishna devotee, Ramesh recounted his pilgrimage from Narayanganj to Kheturi Dham at Premtali -- some 20 kilometers off to the west of Rajshahi city. He was humming a 'kirtan' of Nazrul, “Hey Gobinda rakho choroney.”
Like him, thousands of Vaishnavs and Hindus from different areas gathered at the three-day Kheturi Vaishnav Festival recently.
Many of the Vaishnavs arrived from far-flung districts like Chittagong. Joining them were foreign delegates from India, Italy, Australia and Canada who are members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) joined in.
This festival has been observed for 436 years. The festival marks the death anniversary of the renowned Vaishnav saint Sri Narottam Das Thakur (on the fifth day of Bengali month of Kartik).
The festival organisers say there has been a decline in the number of devotees due to the lack of facilities offered at the festival premises.
The historic site, they point out, needs urgent conservation efforts by the government. One version of the origins of the festival goes back to Narottom Das Thakur, known for his devotional verses on Radha and Krishna.
The son of King Krishnananda Dutta and Narayani Devi of the then Goura Pargana in Rajsahi, he renounced his royal claims at a very young age to immerse himself in spiritual leanings in Vrindavan.
Narottam was the initiator of the Kheturi Festival -- celebrating 'Goura Purnima,' the birth of Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
Legend has it that some 50 years after the death of Mahaprabhu, many devotees had a vision of him.

Politicians, ward councillors among 36 terror-suspects in Rajshahi city

RMP gets list from police headquarters for vigilance and action to hold peaceful election

Police have prepared a list of 36 terror-suspects including some ward councilors and politicians in Rajshahi city as they might pose threats to holding of the upcoming Jatiya Sangsad elections peacefully.

The police headquarters prepared the list following field level intelligence reports and sent it to Rajshahi Metropolitan Police (RMP) for keeping vigilance on them, highly placed sources in RMP said.

According to the sources, the list includes names of six newly elected ward councilors of Rajshahi City Corporation (RCC), three former ward councilors and five persons belonging to Awami League (AL) and BNP.

The listed persons might hamper the JS elections by abetting use of illegal arms, musclemen and money, the sources said quoting the intelligence reports and analysis of their previous criminal records.

The police headquarters have directed RMP authorities to take legal actions against the listed persons, a forwarding letter sent along with the list said.

The listed persons include incumbent RCC ward councilors Shahadat Ali Sahu of ward number 17, Ansar Ali of ward number 28, Shahidul Islam Pintu of ward number 30, Sazzad Hossain of ward number 4, Rabiul Alam Milu of ward number 13 and Abdul Hamid Sarker Tekon of ward number 22.

Sahu, an AL adherent is facing trial in one land grabbing case. Blamed widely for abetting terrorists, he was released after nine month's police custody weeks before the August 4 RCC polls that he won.

Pintu is accused in five criminal cases and Sazzad is in three cases, said the sources .

Abdul Hamid Sarker Tekon, an AL adherent claimed that he was arrested before over political bias. "I am not engaged in crimes any more", Tekon said.

Former RCC ward councilors among the listed are Rejaunnabi Al Mamun of ward number 15, Moniruzzaman Sharif of ward number 19 and Tarikul Islam Paltu of ward number 25.

Rejaunnabi Al Mamun is an accused in several criminal cases including one for abduction. The cases were filed under Public Safety Act and Speedy Trial Act.

Moniruzzaman Sharif is accused in two cases including one under Explosives Act.

Sharif was arrested in January last by joint forces and released after two month's detention.

The listed political persons are district Jatiyatabadi Jubo Dal president Tofazzal Hossain Topu, Boalia thana BNP president Saidur Rahman Pintu, Rajshahi city Jubo Dal general secretary Mizanur Rahman Khokon, Rajpara thana BNP activist Ali Haider Rana and city unit Bangladesh Chhatra League general secretary Zedu Sarker.

Others in the list are Kamal of Daspukur; Arman of Panchabati; Ekram and Nazmul of Budhpara; Tarikul, Shahjahan, Alauddin and Nazmul of Vatapara; Rokonul Islam and Matiur of Sheikhpara; Babul of Hosseniganj; Shakil, Sumon of Rajarhata; Zakir of Chhoto Bongram; Babul Sarker of Talaimari; Raju, Alamgir of Hatimkhan; Mamun of Guripara; Kalu, Tajer, Milon and Malek of Meherchandi.

Asked about the list, RMP Deputy Commissioner Sajjad Hossain told newsmen that preparing list of terror-suspects ahead of elections is not uncommon.

"Action will be taken only if anyone is found to be involved in breaching the law and order", he said.

Monday, October 27, 2008

42 trees being felled for a Rajshahi drain

Front Page

Around 42 large trees on the eastern side of Mohiuddin Jahangir Sarani are being chopped down after Rajshahi City Corporation (RCC) authority sold those for a meagre price of Tk 1.98 lakh to make way for construction of a sewerage drain.

According to RCC sources, the trees are 10 to 20 years old and include Mahogani, Koroi, Paikor, Babla and Epil Epil trees, which generally fetch a good price in the market for their timber value. 

Environmental activists say the felling of the trees would hamper the ecology of the northwestern city generally known as Green City and that such a move should not be allowed.

Locals allege that the price quoted by RCC is peanuts compared to their real market value.

A private organisation, Modina Printing and Packaging, purchased the trees and begun felling the trees yesterday morning and seven trees were chopped down by the afternoon, witnesses said.

Some branches of the felled trees were piled up for sale as firewood at a nearby wayside shop.

Shahanur Alam, proprietor of Modina, said he won the job through a tender. 

He added that he would sell the tree trunks as timber and branches as firewood.

"The decision to chop down trees to make way for a drain does not make any sense. The authority should reconsider its decision," Mahtab Uddin, an environment activist, said. 

When contacted, RCC's acting chief engineer Ashraful Haque said that felling the trees was not in the plan of the Secondary Town Integrated Flood Protection Project. 

"However, the necessary arose as these trees stand on the alignment of the planned drain," he said.

"The job was allocated in accordance with the offer of highest money in an open tender," he said.

Polls campaign under cover of healthcare

Lofty promises made violating election code

The day-long opening ceremony of Saleha Emarat Medical Centre at Sakoa village in Bagmara upazila yesterday virtually turned into a political campaign to woo public support for Awami League's nomination for industrialist Enamul Haque. 

In sheer violation of the electoral code of conducts for probable candidates in the upcoming general elections, ambitious promises were made from the meeting while almost all the speakers remained focused on seeking nomination for Enamul. 

"I have a plan to turn this medical centre into a medical college hospital, I will establish more medical centres spending Tk 60 crore… I want to serve the people of my locality. 

"Please help me to create the opportunity for serving you," Enamul told the gathering, categorically seeking support for his candidacy.

The election code of conduct prohibits such promises of development projects or giving allocations before the election. 

Rajshahi mayor AHM Khairuzzaman Liton attended the meeting as chief guest.

Former AL state minister Zinnatun Nesa Talukhdar, former district AL organizing secretary Anil Kumar Sarker, Bagmara AL President Abdus Sobhan Chowdhury, Dinajpur Mohila AL President Shirin Islam, Rajshahi Mohila AL President Morjina Parvin spoke, among others. 

Participants at the meeting were entertained with either money or launch, said an organiser preferring not to be named. 

The meeting was aired live at 11 villages through Uchchas Cable Television Network and the whole recorded programme was again aired on cable television in all the 16 unions of the upazila at night.

The newly opened 12-bed medical centre is primarily designed for providing outdoor facilities for treating 200 patients daily, satellite clinic and occasional eye camps.

Zahedur Rahman Iqbal, a close associate (business consultant) of Enamul, said the opening was scheduled in March next year but the construction ended much earlier.

Enamul Haque started real estate business in Dhaka in 1998 and his Ena Group of Industries now includes Ena Properties, Ena Textiles, Sonali Seeds and Saleha Emarat Cold Storage.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Prospects of becoming a tourist hot-spot: The origin of mass Durga Puja celebration

Anwar Ali, Rajshahi

This old temple has now become a breeding ground for weeds and has been reportedly encroached by Taherpur College authorities(left); The peak of the Shiv Temple in Taherpur (right) Photo: STAR

The tourism prospect of Taherpur was focused on while observing the greatest Bengali Hindu festival Durga Puja at the remote town under Bagmara upazila where the festivities were introduced 528 years ago.Durga Puja in this region was initiated by Raja Kangsa Narayan Roy Bahadur in 1480 (Bengali year 887). Folklore researchers believe that the Durga Puja celebration started widely in this sub-continent since its observance by Raja Kangsa Narayan.“Durga Puja used to be celebrated within the family parameters before the Taherpur dynasty started observing it as a universal celebration,” said folklore researcher Dr. Saifuddin Chowdhury of Rajshahi University.In the old days, Durga Puja was celebrated with fitting grandeur in the area. People of all religions used to enjoy local operas, dramas and fairs on the occasion, said Kartik Chandra Saha, president of the local 'Puja Udjapon Committee'. “Though now the celebration is on a much lower scale, the enthusiasm is nevertheless sincere,” he said, adding that devotional songs including kirtan were performed everyday during the puja.“Pegged as 'the venue where ceremonious Durga worship began,' Taherpur holds an appealing prospect of becoming a tourist hot-spot,” said Shyamol Kumara Saha, general secretary of the Puja Udjapon Committee.According to Hindu mythology, Ram, elder son of King Dashrath, was the first to perform Durga Puja to save people from the tyranny Raban, King of Lanka. Ram destroyed Raban's kingdom and rescued his wife Sita from imprisonment. Since then, Durga Puja was observed privately at homes until its "Sharbojonin (for all) celebration was introduced by Raja Kangsa Narayan.Locals allege that Taherpur College authority is using the palace of Raja Kangsa Narayan. Moreover, the authority has recently encroached a part of the temple where the main Durga Puja was observed, according to sources. “The encroached part is used during Saraswati Puja and left uncared for throughout the rest of the year,” said Kartik."Since it is the site of origin of the holiest occasion observed by Bengali Hindus, Taherpur can be turned into a pilgrimage that can draw millions of visitors, especially during the autumn festival," said Kartik.He suggested that a well-furnished festival auditorium and low-cost resorts for the visitors were needed."India makes good economic use of its famous Muslim heritage sites like Ajmer Sharif by maintaining the sites as religious tourist spots. Why can't we benefit from one of the most important sites according to Hindu myths?" he questioned.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Making Them Feel Important

Special Feature appeared @ theSTAR

Anwar Ali

It was not the usual classroom filled with the chorus of children's voices repeating a lesson or the sound of children shouting and chatting. Instead, the children were preoccupied with basic tasks like standing up, walking or working with their hands independently. Some of the more lucky ones were reading books, drawing pictures, working with papers, playing with coloured tools, alphabets and equipment designed for understanding things. Others were being given physiotherapy.

The atmosphere at the classroom is cheerful and friendly

The teachers at this school named Prayash for children with disabilities are also not the usual brand of teachers. Parents and relatives are surprised to see how patient and caring they are, attending to each child, not losing their composure even when the children become hard to manage, for example when they spit on their teachers clothes or even soil their own clothes. Often parents cannot help but become teary-eyed when they see their children being treated with such love and caring. They are just happy that their kids are getting an opportunity that they never had at home. Local people sometimes look at the children with curiosity; some believe that this is some sort of mental institute for 'mad children'. But those who dare to enter the school are astonished when they see the remarkable things taking place within the walls.

The 'Prayash (Endeavour) Multipurpose Service Centre was set up by the Foundation for Women and Child Assistance (FWCA) in the country's northwestern deprived and underprivileged city of Rajshahi. The school gives these children and their families the hope of a decent life. It is a situation where disabled children are often written off by their families and society because they are seen as having no significant economic contribution to make.

Tinku on a standing frame

"I was very surprised to find the underprivileged children with disabilities were being given some attendance, care, importance and whatever the mainstream people have access to," says Sheikh Abu Tarek, a disabled people's leader in the city who occasionally visits Prayash centre out of curiosity. "This is the basic demand of the disabled -- to be included in the mainstream, not to be favoured with special treatment but to have access to what everyone else has. There are many like Tarek in the city who laud Prayash activities as they have seen the positive results of its work.

Emel is now 15 years old and has both intellectual and physical disabilities. When he was only 14 days old he had a severe attack of pneumonia that affected his ability to sit, walk or speak. It took eight years to get his neck strong enough to hold his head. When he was just 5, his father left the family to marry another woman from a distant district. Emel's mother stays at her in-laws' house but has to work at other people's houses, as her in-laws are also poor. Sending Emel to school, under such circumstances, was unthinkable. Now thanks to Prayash, he is in an environment where people care about him.

Ten-year-old Santana is a bit better off than Emel. Her chest and back has swollen up, the consequences of a fever at age three. She came at Prayash at her six. Soon it was evident that Santana was quite sharp and was good at drawing as well as her studies. Her father Santu Chandra Das, a cobbler, is grateful that his daughter has the opportunity to develop her natural talents.

Children with disabilities are usually treated with neglect in our country. They are deprived of their rights as children. Ostracised and sometimes abused, these children are left in isolation and have to go through life without hope. Estimates show, about 80 percent children with disabilities live in low-income families, as there are some 3.4 million disabled children in the country. In Rajshahi city, there is no data on the situations of disabled children other than the base-line study published by FWCA in February 2008. The study estimates that approximately 7123 children with disabilities live in the city out of 44.3 percent of the population of eight lakh below 18 years of age.

The study found that a majority of the children with disabilities belong to the school-going age groups -- 34 percent of 6-10 years and 27.10 percent of 11-15 years. Among the total children with disabilities, about 34.48 percent are intellectually disabled while 26.11 percent are physically impaired, 25.12 percent have multiple disabilities, and 12.81 percent are hearing and speech impaired. In many cases the fathers do not acknowledge them as their children. A large proportion of these children are deprived of health care. About 90.64 percent surveyed children have taken treatment once while a few have never been treated at all. Some 54.89 percent children who have taken treatment were not taken to appropriate professionals. The overall picture of access to education of the children in the city is not happy either as about 70.94 percent disabled children are yet to find access to any school. Such children are at risk, says the study, as protection or care issues of the children are not addressed. A disturbing trend is of parents or organised gangs using children with disabilities for begging. The Rajshahi City Corporation (RCC) has registered the births of all children, but most of the disabled children, about 51.23 percent, are still unregistered.

Disabled children take part in a painting competition at Bhuban Mohon park

Prayash's approach to this deprived vulnerable group is considered novel and exemplary. It has designed a multipurpose service centre near the Helenabad Girls' High School in Rajpara thana areas with equipment for special education and training for the disabled children. It also provides psychological support to the children and their parents as well as a package of services including special education, sports, recreational facilities, physiotherapy, medicare, vocational training, outings, home visits, case management, and parents counselling.

Beginning in late 2004, with a target for providing support for only two disabled children, FWCA is now serving some 70 children at its service centre through nine psychosocial workers (teachers) and two physiotherapists in two shifts -- morning and afternoon. It has now turned into one of the very few prestigious NGOs in Rajshahi publishing annual reports regularly and maintaining transparency to its funds through independent audits.

Officially registered in August 2005, it ran development programmes from its general fund and was self-financed till July 2007 when it availed its first and still last foreign donation from a Norwegian organisation -- Kristiasund Rajshahi Friendship Committee for only 30 children. It has expanded its work now to young adolescent girls and women's rights programme despite the challenge of fund constraints. It is now running two agencies (self-help organisations) for women and adolescent girls.

Prayash's target group includes the marginalised and vulnerable children with disabilities such as mental retardation, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autistism and physical disability.

Ishan, counting numbers
Ayesha, painting on the wall

Gulbanu of Guripara Goljarbagh area in the city had a horrifying story to tell regarding her grandson Tinku who became disabled suffering cerebral palsy. Tinku's father is a day labourer and has three sons. Of the three, two normal children live with their parents. But Tinku could not walk, sleep properly, and catch anything as well as his mental condition was not normal. In this condition, his father decided to reject him and pressurised his mother to throw him anywhere. Tinku was considered a burden on the poor family. And one day when his father attempted leaving him in a truck, Tinku's grandmother rescued him from the street. The grandmother Gulbanu, who supports her family by washing clothes for a city laundry, decided to take care of Tinku herself.

Tinku is now being provided with special education, walking on frames, physiotherapy and other necessary services. He can now walk and talk a little. His parents have changed their attitudes to him a bit through counselling, but he continues to live with his grandmother.

"What else I have to do with the child? If he were a domestic cow or goat, I could have planned on selling him out for his illness. But he is a human being. How can I leave him?" his grandmother cries out bitterly. "When he sees someone in good clothes, Tinku stares at him longingly. But I cannot afford to give him new clothes. At Prayash they are doing more from him than his own parents ever did. The teachers are helping him learn, which is more important than a new set of clothes".

Playing like normal kids

Nine-year-old autistic Rimi is also another child discarded by her family. She was seldom included at family functions or to watch television together. Her parents were reluctant about her education as they were busy with the education of their normal son. Prayash's social workers convinced her parents that she too, could benefit from the school. Rimi is now able to read and write and her parents are a lot more enthusiastic about taking care of her than before.

The stories are more or less same for Shawan, Trina and around 80 other enlisted students of Prayash; they all now dream of a better life thanks to Prayash.

Shahrier Tasneem Ishan at 14 is still learning his alphabets and taking vocational training at the class called Shapla at the FWCA's Prayash Multipurpose service centre. Making packets with old newspaper sheets and gum, he becomes enthusiastic enough to talk about his skills developed at the centre. "I can read, draw pictures, dance, play and even act in plays".

Ditto, playing with a walking frame

Shwan Sayem, 13, son of a night guard Abdul Malek is also happy as he can now read Bangla, English, and can do sums, as well as draw pictures and make packets. Santana is a little bit silent than others in the class. Her teacher say she is brilliant; she draws well and understands quickly. She is very diligent about any task she is given.

At other rooms, Ayesha, Proma, Nafiz are being given physiotherapy, Tinku is trying to walk in a frame while the children are playing with toys that help them learn things.

Later when the teachers announce that the hour for playing has come, the thrilled children rush out of rooms to join games. Those who cannot walk take frames for walking and playing.

Farhana Ahtar, the centre in-charge says that her family members often chide her saying she is a teacher of 'the mad'. "But I love to be with these children who were discarded even by their parents... in fact, without mental preparation, noone can work for disabled children as these children are not normal, and often behave abnormally", she says.

Behind the FWCA initiatives is a woman called Wahida Khanam who had to face the challenge of being ostracised by her husband for giving birth to two boys, both with disabilities. Her husband left her while they were in Dhaka so she returned to Rajshahi. Her friend Sadikur Rahman stood by her and her two sons. Daughter of a well-off family in the city, Wahida and Sadikur began an initiative together in late 2004 without realising that they had started something that would become so big.

They appointed three teachers for the two children with a target for spending Tk 6000 per month. They started their work from the garage of Wahida's parents' home at Helenabad which became their first office. Then they realised that the teachers needed proper training for looking after the disabled children. They had to spend Tk 5000 more for pretraining each of the teachers from Dhaka. As the expenses were increasing in this way, and still a friendly environment was lacking, they started adding more children to the programme along with their own sons Mahi and Rahi. Soon they found out that there were many children with disabilities in the city who badly needed an organisation that would help them to develop and learn the basic skills to survive in a hostile environment.

"The history behind our organisation lies in our frantic effort for accommodating Mahi and Rahi somewhere. There was no ideal place for them. We then started thinking of creating the accommodation by ourselves. And when we developed the environment for the two, we naturally felt about rights of numerous other disabled children of the city", said Sadikur Rahman, FWCA president and team leader.

Beginning with a sort of altruistic effort, FWCA is now established as a right based small development organisation. There are, of course many challenges. As an organisation , Rahman says, it is still trying to develop its organisational capacity maintaining its principles.

Ishan, Santana and others are making packets with papers in vocational training.

"We are gaining experience of working with disabilities, destitute, and voiceless women, and young adolescent girls living in risk-ridden situations at urban slums. We practice that every individual is able to contribute to bring about positive changes", he says.

"Our primary mandate is to work on woman and child rights and we are continuing with support of our members, well-wishers, contributors and few development partners in the country. We are facing financial constraints, and we are overcoming the problem through mental strength and our challenge to fight the social problems", says Wahida Khanam, executive director of FWCA.

Although lack of adequate funds has been the main limitation for the organisation there are also constrainsts regarding logistics, technical, and capacity building and lack of skilled staff, she says.

Meanwhile, observes Wahida, there is a growing trend of children's rights being violated which makes disabled children all the more vulnerable because of lack of awareness and education.

Limitations of resources and logistical support has made it necessary for the organisation to think about reducing the number of beneficiaries which means that FWCA cannot address all the representatives of the target group. For a society that constantly shuns disabled individuals, Prayash is a beacon of hope for these children who are often neglected and ostracised by even their own families. It is crucial that the efforts of this remarkable organisation are supported and encouraged.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Cop goes into hiding after being charged with rape

Police in Rajshahi yesterday recorded a case against an assistant sub-inspector (ASI) of Boalia Police Station on charges of raping a field worker of an insurance company.

ASI Abdul Hamid and his cohort Faruk who were named in the first information report (FIR) have gone into hiding after filing of the case, said Sub Inspector Abdus Sattar.

The victim was admitted to One-stop Crisis Centre (OCC) of Rajshahi Medical College Hospital (RMCH) on Wednesday night.

According to the FIR, Faruk used to irritate the victim over phone and he took Hamid to the house of the victim in the afternoon on the day. The victim used to stay with her mother.

The rapist threatened the victim saying that he is a policeman and raped her.

Later, the victim narrated the incident before her mother who with the help of one Alam admitted her to OCC.

"The case was filed after the policeman working with OCC found ground for it in primary investigation," said Dr Mozaher Hossain Bulbul, coordinator of OCC.

AL polls aspirant gets death threat in Rajshahi


An unidentified caller yesterday gave a death threat to a probable candidate in the upcoming Jatiya Sangsad (JS) election from Rajshahi-5 (Charghat and Bagha) constituency.

Former lawmaker and Charghat Awami League (AL) general secretary Raihanul Haque who got the threat said the caller threatened him to kill if he seeks party nomination to run in JS election. Later, he lodged a general diary (GD) in this connection with local police station.

When contacted, Charghat Police Station officer-in-charge SM Bazlur Rashid confirmed the incident saying police have started an investigation.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Holiday hangover claims 88 patients in 7 days at RMCH

Thirty-year-old housewife Lal Banu died yesterday, five days later her admittance into Rajshahi Medical College Hospital (RMCH).

Her mother Ez Banu was lamenting while her hapless husband was sitting silently by two minor children on the hospital premises for the release of her body.

"Life of my wife must have been saved, if I could afford proper treatment. Doctors seldom attend patients at the government hospital," Lal Banu's husband Haider Hossain of Vetkibari village under Niamatpur upazila in Naogaon described his plight with certain anger in his eyes as this correspondent proceeded them.

"There is only one doctor at Ward No 3 that was full with patients as we admitted her with both of her legs severely broken in a road accident and she was bleeding profusely", Haider, a solvent farmer, added.

He said, "We managed them (doctors) whatever medicine or medical equipment they sought. She was given blood. But doctors and nurses did not appear on time when she needed an injection, medicine or checkup."

"There was none beside her when she expired despite her utmost desire to live. Doctors came later only to confirm her death," he added.

With Lal Banu, some 10 patients died at RMCH yesterday as a total of 88 patients died in last seven days since October 1 while most of the doctors did not turn up almost deserting the hospital to celebrate Eid and Puja festivals and holiday hangover.

The RMCH records show that at least 12 patients have been dying at the hospital every day since October 1.

According to the records, 11 patients died on October 1 while 12 on October 2, 14 on October 3, 11 on October 4, 14 on October 5, 16 on October 6 and 10 on yesterday.

The rate of death is higher at ward numbers of 8, 10, 14, 16, 20, 21, 24 and 27 in comparison with other wards.

Usually on public holidays, the pressure on RMCH mounts as other hospitals and clinics refer their critical patients here, said RMCH sources.

The number of patients was high in the first four days of October and on an average, 300 to 400 patients visit the hospital's emergency department every day, the sources said, adding that the number increased up to 450 and even more during the vacation.

While visiting RMCH wards yesterday, attendants complained of shortage of doctors and said that instead of doctors, interns are giving treatment. A few consultants and specialised doctors were seen on duty, but they were providing time to representatives of different medicine companies.

The air in the hospital was thick with grief of relatives of the dead patients while the hospital staffs were also seen passing busy hours releasing the bodies.

Attendants of the patients alleged that most patients are released from the emergency department following shortage of doctors.

Sirajul Islam of Baneswar at Puthia upazila was admitted to RMCH with breathing problems.

He died on Monday due to lack of proper treatment, claimed his family.

"If we could have predicted of such poor condition of treatment here, we would not have taken him here," said his daughter Piari Begum while weeping. She said no specialised doctor attended his father since he was admitted on Sunday.

With labour pains, Lucky was rushed to RMCH from Tarash upazila in Sirajganj. She was kept on waiting for a doctor to operate her until she died on Monday. Her husband Jahangir questioned dignity of doctors.

Jahir Uddin of Kushtia was admitted at Ward No 17 with liver ailments. When his son was frantically looking after a doctor in and outside the ward, his father expired on the same day.

"There should be a specialised doctor at every ward round the clock, but there was none at the ward," Jahangir's son Rezaul said.

Some three specialised doctors at three wards told this correspondent that they each were looking after more than one department.

"How I can deal with so many patients alone and the authorities take little care about attendance of doctors at the hospital," said one of them preferring anonymity.

Talking to The Daily Star yesterday, RMCH Director Brig Gen Khademul Insan M Iqbal said the deaths are 'normal' at the hospital that usually deals with 1300 patients daily. "If it is not normal, why 10 patients have died today (Tuesday) that is not a holiday."

"Ours is not a European country, we are working amid shortage of doctors, poor facilities as elsewhere in the country, but we did never lack sincerity", he said.

He denied the allegation of poor treatment and said, "We employed sufficient doctors and kept mobile phone numbers of senior doctors for calling them in serious condition."

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Electioneering starts in Rajshahi

With the Jatiya Sangsad elections drawing nearer, potential candidates from major parties have geared up their electioneering in all the five constituencies in Rajshahi city.

Some of the candidates have started campaigning at villages while some are holding press conferences to express their willingness to join the political fray and others are greeting people pasting posters on the city walls.

Most of the possible candidates started campaigning during Ramadan and they intensified their daily activities of meeting people taking opportunity of the two major festivals -- Eid-ul-Fitr and Durga Puja.

The electioneering shows that Awami League-led 14-party combine is in the lead position though it has been facing intra-party rivalry to some extent while BNP-led four-party alliance is yet to be prepared without any leader or office to guide them.

Workers' Party politburo member Fazle Hossain Badsha has started meeting people expressing his desire to participate in the polls from Rajshahi-2 (Paba upazila and Rajshahi City). Party men here signalled that his nomination from the alliance is almost confirmed.

Rajshahi Nagorik Committee that played a vital role in electioneering in favour of AHM Khairuzzaman Liton in the August 4 RCC election had promised to work for Badsha to get a ticket for the parliamentary election if he resigns from the RCC fray.

Four-party men said Badsha may fight the fray with former BNP lawmaker (Rajshahi-5) Kabir Hossain, although any formal announcement is yet to come from Kabir.

Former Rajshahi mayor Mizanur Rahman Minu who was also the former BNP lawmaker from Rajshahi-2 used to control the party politics here.

As he is still in the jail and have little hopes for his release before the elections following conviction in an extortion case, the local BNP could not decide the candidature for the polls.

Kabir's desire for contesting from this seat might create division in the party, they added.

District AL General Secretary Omar Faruk Chowdhury is campaigning for Rajshahi-1 constituency (Tanore and Godagari upazilas). Former post and telecommunications minister barrister Aminul Haque who won the seat in the last polls is now evading arrest as he was convicted in a militancy-abetting case.

Former lawmaker and Jamaat-e-Islam's central Assistant Secretary General Mujibur Rahman is likely to join the fray, said party insiders.

Former minister Sardar Amjad Hossain is passing busy hours holding press conferences and meetings as a 14-party nominee in Rajshahi-3 (Bagmara and Mohonpur upazilas).

But he is witnessing desires of businessman Enamul Haque and central Vice President of Sechchhasebak League Dr PM Shafiqul Islam, also associate professor of Bangla department at Rajshahi University.

Enamul exchanged greetings with people pasting posters and attending social gatherings while Shafiqul in a press conference yesterday announced that he would stand in the election.

Jatiya Party's Abu Taleb is also campaigning for the same seat.

BNP's Abu Hena is still absent in the areas and the party men believe Hena would join the election.

District AL President Tajul Islam M Faruk is likely to vie for Rajshahi-4 (Puthia and Durgapur upazilas) constituency and is enjoying an advance position gathering maximum number of AL leaders and activists at his meetings.

Nadim Mostafa, former BNP lawmaker from the same seat, is evading arrest following his conviction in a terrorism case, but his family members are electioneering for him.

Local people said new faces like Nazrul Islam and Mollah Abdul Wahed would come up in absence of Nadim.

Maximum number of probable candidates is electioneering in Rajshahi-5 constituency (Bagha and Charghat upazilas). Charghat AL General Secretary Raihanul Haque, Bagha AL General Secretary Akkas Ali, AL leaders Layeb Uddin Lavlu and Abdus Samad and industrialists Shahrier Alam and Bazlur Rahman are also hopeful to get a ticket.

District BNP President Azizur Rahman told newsmen that he would vie for the parliamentary seat while former Charghat BNP president Abu Sayeed Chand and former Bagha BNP president Zahangir Hossain, among several BNP leaders, expressed their desires for the fray.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Khaleda, Nizami asked to appear in court Oct 12

A Dhaka court today asked BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia, former ministers Motiur Rahman Nizami, Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, M Shamsul Islam and MK Anwar to appear before it on October 12 in connection with the Barapukuria coalmine corruption case.

Judge Mohammad Azizul Haque of the Metropolitan Sessions Judge's Court after accepting the charge sheet in the case also issued arrest warrants against nine people including former ministers M Saifur Rahman, Barrister Aminul Haque, AKM Mosharraf Hossain and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid.

go to http://www.thedailystar.net/latest/updates.php?pid=-98 for details


FF beaten to death over distribution of fitra money

A freedom fighter was beaten to death by a rival group yesterday following an altercation over the distribution of fitra money on the Eid day at Maligachha village under Godagari upazila.

The victim identified as Sajjad Hossain, 60, was a freedom fighter and village matbor (arbitrator).

Local people said some of the attackers were the activists of Shibir, a student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami. They wanted the money to be donated to the madrasa and not to be distributed among the have-nots.

Police arrested three people -- Wasim, Roky and Monirul -- after a case was lodged with Godagari Police Station, accusing over 50 people, including Mojibor, Mizan, Shakhawat and Shahid in this connection.

According to police and villagers, a number of people, who were associated with the local Hafizia madrasa, swooped on Sajjad near his house around at noon and locked into a bitter dispute.

At one stage, Sajjad fell on the ground after receiving wounds by the madrasa men and was beaten unto his death, sources added.

Officer-in-Charge Mohiuddin Ahmed of Godagari Police Station said Sajjad developed enmity with Jamaat worker Mojibor Rahman few months ago over the latter's removal from the post of Imam of the village mosque over irregularities.

As Sajjad was a leader of the village, local people gave him their fitra money for distributing among the poor of the village before the Eid.

Mojibor, who is engaged with the madrasa, demanded the fitra money for the madrasa. But Sajjad denied Mojibor and wanted to distribute those among the poor.

Sajjad had a dispute with the madrasa people led by the imam several times over the fitra-related matter before the Eid, police said, adding that on the day, Sajjad lodged a general diary (GD) with the police station sensing a threat on his life.

Acting on the GD, local police called both the groups to the police station in order to settle the matter, but a large number of madrasa men did not turn up that foiled the attempt.

When the freedom fighter was returning home from the police station at noon, the madrasa people attacked him.

Mosarraf Hossain, Sajjad's brother, told newsmen that the attackers were Jamaat-Shibir men.

PBCP chief operative arrested in Rajshahi

Naogaon police yesterday arrested an underground operative and chief commander of Purba Banglar Communist Party (PBCP/ML Red Flag), from Manda upazila.

The arrestee was identified as Motiar Rahman alias Mantu, 53.

Acting on a tip-off, a police team led by circle ASP Sohel Reza raided Turupbaria School field in the early hours and succeeded arresting him when he was holding a secret meeting with cohorts.

Other operatives, however, managed to escape from the spot.

Naogaon Police Super Mofazzel Hossain at a press conference at his office said Motiar is now undergoing interrogation.

Motiar took over the post of PBCP chief after July 27 when the former chief Dr Mizanur Rahman alias Tutul was killed in a crossfire, he added.

Motiar was evading arrest since he was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging in the UP Chairman Golam Rabbani murder case of Baghmara upazila in Rajshahi three years ago on July 25, 2005.

Police had announced a bounty of Tk 1.0 lakh for information leading to the arrest of Motiar back in 2006.

Motiar, son of Abdul Quayyum Uddin of Krisnanagar village under Raninagar upazila in Naogaon, is also accused in three other under-trial murder cases, including the killings of Manda upazila BNP leader Mansur Mridha and Atrai JCD leader Salamat Hossain.

"The arrest signals that the activities of underground operatives are now under the control of police… We are now beating the menace," said the SP seeking cooperation from common people.

He further said Naogaon and its adjoining districts are heavily infested by cadres of various factions of the underground operatives who, in the name of class struggle, are engaged in hired killings and extortion.

Puja Mandap: 100 Ansar, VDP men protest irregularities in Rajshahi

Over 100 members of Ansar and Village Defence Party (VDP) staged a demonstration in Rajshahi yesterday protesting alleged irregularities in recruiting security men for Puja Mandaps in the city.

They alleged that the authorities cancelled their appointments at Puja Mandaps only a day before the Puja without any reasonable grounds and recruited people in exchange for bribes of Tk 50 to Tk 100.

The Ansar and VDP members came from Paba and Boalia upazila to join their duty but laid a siege to the district office when they learnt that their appointments were cancelled.

They said some 265 Ansar and VDP members were appointed on September 25 for 319 Puja Mandaps in the city.

The demonstrators, however, withdrew their agitation programme after senior officials assured them of assigning duty to them in future.

When contacted, Ansar VDP District Adjutant Hira Miah said he will look into the matter. "Action will be taken if anyone was found involved in such irregularities," he added.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Eid days of hapless people go untouched in Rajshahi

"I couldn't even try to realise how and when the Eid days had passed", said rickshaw puller Ariful Islam as he was sitting idle on his rickshaw near a tea stall at Kumarpara in the city with a shadow of gloom on his face yesterday afternoon.

He usually rushes to the city from Malanchi in Natore by train at dawn for earning his livelihood by pulling a rickshaw on rent and he could hardly manage a square meal for his family on the day by Tk 175 he earned on the day before.

"I couldn't go for work in the city as all transports were off the road on the Eid day. I went to my home with Tk 150 on the second day. But today, I counted so far only Tk 40, Tk 5 more than the rent of the rickshaw."

The 28-year-old unmarried Arif, who has to look after his parents, broke down in tears when asked about his Eid. He said he could not manage new dresses for none of his family members, as he could not work for some 15 days before the holy festival due to his illness.

The situation was different even two or three years ago when he used to pull a rickshaw van at Natore alongside tilling a small piece of their land. He was forced to rush to the city for earning extra money following price hike of essentials.

Arif was not the lone hero of this harrowing tale. Roaming around the city, this correspondent found a plenty of examples of poverty-stricken food-insecure people like Soleman, Shahid, Kamal and Babul who were out of the charm of Eid festivity.

They were from in and around the city and from distant northern districts. The spectre of their poverty was stemmed from the rise of cost of living and fresh spike in essential prices.

Crises of job and food have overshadowed Eid celebration of the underprivileged hundreds, many of whom are still flocking to the city for either doing jobs or begging alms.

During this period, the poor people of the northern region usually suffer from monga, a near-famine situation, following lack of agricultural work and food sufficiency.

The situation is likely to persist till the harvest in December, said the government officials, adding that the situation has, however, improved a bit following various government measures.

Day labourer Kamruzzaman of Baya managed to buy new clothing for his one son among the two during the festival.

"I bought him a shirt with Tk 220 and a sandal at Tk 130 and sent the other son to his grandmother's house for his clothing… We (the couple) did not buy anything for ourselves… I hope we would do it in the next Eid when there will be enough work at croplands."

"Eid was great even three years before when I was able to afford new clothing for all of my five-member family… But I could not even manage a dainty dish, let alone clothing this year. I have never passed any Eid like this time without having meat," 55-year-old day labourer Moser Mondol described his plight in the way.

"I bought some sugar and milk for cooking semai (vermicelli) borrowing money from a neighbour… My neighbour also gave me his old punjabi and lungi to say Eid prayers," said Moser of Panchabati area.

Soleman, an octogenarian, came to visit his eldest son's house at Panchabati from Ramjibanpur at Puthia upazila in the morning and was returning home in the noon. "There is none but Allah to look after us. I came to visit my son and I am returning now as he is not able to give me anything."

This correspondent met Shiplu, a firewood trader on the Padma river dam at Sashanghat point. He was passing idly sitting on a bamboo-mancha. He was careless about sharing his Eid experience.

"I bought new clothing for my two minor sisters, but could not buy for myself or my parents. I went to markets thrice for buying clothing for us, but returned witnessing the exorbitant prices."

Halima, wife of a rickshaw puller, was lamenting on the Padma dam as the rickshaw of her husband, who was suffering from fever for last 20 days, was stolen on the Eid day, saying, "We starved on the day as my husband was unable to earn."

10 Hizb ut-Tahrir men freed

The 10 Hizb ut-Tahrir leaders and activists arrested on September 18 were released from Rajshahi Central Jail Tuesday night.

They were arrested in Rajshahi on suspicion of their involvement in militancy and inciting anti-state activities.

The release came after police submitted before a court a discharge report. Based on the report, the Rajshahi District and Sessions Judge's Court earlier that day granted them bail. Hizb ut-Tahrir had threatened of waging a movement to oust the government.

In the discharge report, police said nothing was found to sue the Tahrir men. Police only two weeks ago told the media that they would launch an investigation and would seek green signal from the government high-ups to bringing sedition charges against them.

A number of Hizb ut-Tahrir activists, many of whom went to Rajshahi from the capital, greeted the freed people at the jail gate around 8:00pm.

"They were freed as we received the court order to release them," said Harun-ur Rashid, Senior Jail Superintendent of Rajshahi. "Necessary papers (for their release) reached in time at the jail but procedures took some time," he said about the delayed release of the arrestees.

On Tuesday, police submitted the discharge report with a court ending the investigation, said Ramjan Ali, officer-in-charge (OC) of Boalia Police Station. "No ground or evidence was found for filing any regular case against them," he said quoting the report.

"There was no influence as we investigated the matter and found no reason to go further," said the OC replying to a question.

Hizb ut-Tahrir Coordinator and Dhaka University teacher Syed Golam Mowla and Ahmed Jamal Iqbal, teacher of South East University and a senior member of the Islamist group, were arrested along with eight others on September 18 before a scheduled press conference in Rajshahi.

Invoking Section-54 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), police showed them arrested on suspicion of using religious sentiment to foment anti-state activities and having involvement in militancy. Police had seized many leaflets and booklets carrying anti-state statements.

A court later sent them to jail rejecting their bail petitions. The accused appealed to the District and Sessions Judge's Court after the lower court rejected their bail petitions. They were finally granted bail on September 30.

Protesting the arrests on September 19, Hizb ut-Tahrir Chief Coordinator Mohiuddin Ahmed in Dhaka threatened a movement to oust the government. He said, "The Hizb ut-Tahrir will stomp the city streets and no one will be able to live in peace on the soil of Bangladesh if our leaders are not freed within 48 hours."

Rajshahi Metropolitan Police (RMP) Commissioner Mahbub Mohsin earlier told The Daily Star that the arrest of Hizb ut-Tahrir leaders was not surprising. "We had been looking for the organisation's leaders and activists in connection with distributing leaflets at Baro Masjid," he said.

The Hizb ut-Tahrir men distributed leaflets in front of the Baro Masjid in Rajshahi on September 9.

"The language of the leaflet and activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir were objectionable and are clearly anti-state as the contents of their leaflets distributed are provocative and call for militancy and toppling the government," the OC had said earlier.

The leaflet reads, "Our rulers have discarded the Quran and Sunnah... They have handed us over to our enemies. In this holy month of Ramadan we have to take oath to dethrone our rulers and establish the rule of Khilafat."

Hizb ut-Tahrir also criticises sending forces in the United Nations peace keeping missions for protecting "enemies" instead of "turning them into the flag bearers of Islam".

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Hizb ut-Tahrir leaders freed

The ten Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) leaders, including four university teachers, who were arrested in Rajshahi two weeks back on suspicion of inciting anti-government activities and involvement in militancy were released from Rajshahi Central Jail on Tuesday night.

Hundreds of HT activists, who drove to Rajshahi from the capital as news on their getting bail came through, greeted them as they came out of the Jail gate at 8pm.

The release came as they posted bail from the Rajshahi District and Sessions Judge's Court earlier in the day.

The Hizb ut-Tahrir high-ups were detained at Rajshahi City Press Club on September 18, before a scheduled press conference there.

Invoking Section 54 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), police showed them arrested on suspicion of using religious sentiments to foment anti-government activities and having involvement in militancy.

A metropolitan magistrate court later in the day rejected their bail petitions as police said investigation into the allegations were still going on.

The accused appealed to the district and sessions judge's court after the lower court again rejected their bail petitions the following day.

They posted bail yesterday in the morning and were freed after paperwork reached jail authorities in the evening.