Issue: 2017-12-01 | The Daily Star

Juboraj, the 19-year-old ailing lion is awaiting death in a cage at Comilla Zoo. His skeletal body and the rotting wounds on his back are stark signs of the extreme negligence that put him in this fatal state. This near-dead lion has passed 13 years alone in his cage, with meagre food and no medical care. Now he has stopped eating.He does not move at all; he spends the whole day lying on the ground, as if he has no desire to live anymore.

After a video of Juboraj went viral on social media, the zoo authority called in veterinarians who reported that the lion's health had deteriorated beyond recovery. Recently, the lion's cage has been concealed as the zoo authority stopped putting him on exhibition in the face of public outrage. However, the cover-up could not prevent over-enthusiastic visitors from climbing on top of the roof of the cage to take photos of the ailing lion. There was no security guard or caretaker anywhere in the zoo to stop this blatant breach of the zoo's safety rules. In fact, the unfortunate fate of Juboraj is representative of the derelict conditions of Comilla Zoo.

Established in 1985 on0.5 acres of land by Comilla district administration, at present the zoo possesses only a couple of macaques, two deer and a turkey as exhibits. At least eight cages of the zoo are vacant and several others have been demolished. At the time of our visit, only one of the 11 caretakers were present and,on conditions of anonymity,he shared with us a shocking tale of irresponsibility and mismanagement.

The water is so shallow and dirty that the only crocodile of Bonobilash zoo spends most of its time on ground. photo: Dipankar Roy

The zoo started its journey with seven monkeys of different species, two bearcats, nine deer, several Indian peafowls, two rare Egyptian wild fowls, several rabbits, a couple of jackals and an Indian python. In 2004, Juboraj the lion was brought in at the age of four. Several initiatives were taken to procure a mate for the lonely Juboraj, but she never made it. According to the caretaker, the district administration mostly contracts the maintenance of the zoo to local politicians of the ruling party who hardly care about the treatment and nutrition of the animals. Furthermore, high-ranking government officials often make the zoo caretakers run their personal errands, and even their domestic chores. Only one or two of the caretakers spend their working hours in the zoo. They feed the animals just enough to keep them alive. As a result, in the last 10 years, 90 percent of the animals have died of starvation and disease.

The zoo's infrastructure is also in a bad way. Lands surrounding the zoo have been developed in recent years and run-off waters from the surrounding high grounds flood it during the slightest showers. Garbage from the surrounding multi-storeyed buildings is often thrown directly into the cages and at the open deer pens. Through several broken parts of the boundary walls, local youths freely enter the zoo premises and tease and torture the helpless, captive animals. However, Sonjoy Kumar Bhawmick, Executive Officer of Comilla District Council, denies all these facts. He says, “We select the contractor through a free and fair procurement process and our officials regularly monitor the maintenance works. The animals are fed well and treated well. They have died of natural causes and old-age complications. However, we will bring in new animals after reconstructing the old, demolished cages.”

There is no caretaker or security guard at Bonobilash zoo to stop visitors from going dangerously close to the cages and injuring animals by throwing stones and sticks at them. Photo: Dipankar Roy

Like Comilla Zoo, most of the district-level zoos in Bangladesh are extremely neglected and poorly maintained. Rangpur Zoo is the only zoo catering to the people of seven northern districts in Bangladesh. It is also one of the two zoos (the other being the Bangladesh National Zoo)directly under government control. However, due to the poor maintenance and unhealthy environment of the zoo premises, very few visitors come by. Needless to say, the animals are also in a miserable state. Most of them can be seen sleeping and lying about with no trace of food or water in their cages. Noticing journalists in the zoo, a caretaker rushes in with a chunk of meat and a jug of water and takes them to the cages of a lion and an Asian black bear. When asked why he is so late to feed them, he replies, “Not really; I served them breakfast in the morning.” And what did they have for breakfast? “Tea and puffed rice”. However, according to experts, a full-grown lion in captivity requires 18-20 pounds (roughly 8-9 kilograms) of meat every day, which should be supplemented with vitamins and calcium.

The only Asian black bear of the zoo was very sick and too weak to respond to the caretaker's call for lunch. When the caretaker prodded him to move aside, his back exposed blood-stained wounds.

Besides constant starvation, the animals of Rangpur zoo are also suffering from loneliness. Except the macaques and a couple of donkeys, most of the animals are confined to the cages alone. Without any mates, breeding has altogether stopped and the animals seem to have lost all interest in life. 

Visitors often climb on top of the roof of the cage of the ailing lion. photo: NavidNooren

Udoy Chandra Barman, a local journalist and a resident of Rangpur city, says, “This zoo is quite unpopular amongst the people of Rangpur because of these feeble animals. We feel so bad for them. Besides, the environment of the zoo is also unsafe. The mango and guava orchards in the zoo are filled with junkies and couples; nobody else dares to go. The only restaurant inside the zoo is also unusable.” However, Dr Shahadat Hossain, the sole veterinarian of the zoo, claims that the maintenance and overall environment of the zoo has improved significantly. He says, “When I joined Rangpur zoo, the situation was even worse.

“The animals you are seeing today were introduced here in 1989. All of them are very old and have already exceeded their usual lifespans. From our end, we are trying to give them the best service.”

However, in Khulna's Bonobilash Zoo, we did not find any veterinary surgeons or even any zoo officials who could talk to us about the zoo's condition. Situated in Jahanabad cantonment, the zoo is said to be operated by the army. In reality, we found that it is in fact operated and maintained by a gang of four cooks who have no knowledge about the care and nutrition of captive animals. According to one of these cooks, Kazi Rakib, “Our NCO [non-commissioned officer] sir provides us with the necessary food for the animals. We feed them and take care of them. If they get sick, we give them saline and glucose syrup and they become well again.”

Visitors often throw rotten foods, stones and sticks at deer through this damaged fence at Comilla zoo. photo: Navid Nooren

Due to this inappropriate treatment, several animals died in the zoo in the last couple of years, including a tiger and several deer. At present, the zoo has only a tiger, a mugger crocodile, some spotted deer, a barking deer, a wild cat, some ostriches, macaques and four pairs of falcons. The deer have been kept in a low, sand-covered enclosed area where no grass grows. During every rainy season, they become sick due to the waterlogging and excessive mud. The shallow, dirty water in the crocodile's tub is brimming over with thrown-away garbage so that the aquatic reptile spends most of its time on ground. Due to the lack of security guards, visitors roam around freely on the zoo premises. Many visitors were seen going dangerously close to the hungry, carnivorous animals to take photos. Many visitors were also seen throwing stones and sticks at the animals.

A total of eight kilograms of meat has been allotted for all the carnivorous animals of the park, of which seven kilograms of very low-quality meat is given to the sole surviving tiger. The remaining one kilogram of meat is distributed among the falcons and the wild cat. The crocodile is given only a chicken every week. However, on Monday, all the animals of the zoo are not given anything to eat. Asked why, Rakib explained that it was simply the rule of the zoo and could not provide any further reason. Despite several attempts, the NCOs in charge of the zoo could not be tracked and contacted either. “We don't have any contact number for them either. We see them once or twice a month. We do all the works of the zoo on our own,”adds Rakib.

Like these district-level zoos, Bangladesh National Zoo, although bigger in size and better resourced, is in no better shape. Much of its 186 acres of land—which makes it the fourth largest zoo in Asia—remains unused. Most of the animals are old and sick and many of the newly imported ones, such as the dingoes, oryxes and antelopes, have already died prematurely from the lack of companions, inappropriate habitat and malnutrition. However, the government is quite indifferent about the catastrophic conditions of these zoos. Md Kamruzzaman, Joint Secretary (Livestock-1), Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock, says “As there is no legal framework or directives for establishing and managing a zoo, the zoos in Bangladesh are run by different authorities, which causes uncoordinated and unmonitored management.”

Most of the animals at Rangpur zoo are confined to cages alone with no trace of food and water. Photo: Udoy Chandra Barman

“We have prepared a Draft Zoo Act but it could not be passed due to objections raised by the Forest Department, which issues licenses to private zoos.” However, when contacted, Chief Forest Conservator, Mohammad ShafiulAlam Chowdhury, denied this claim. He says, “The Forest Department does not issue licenses or permissions for establishing zoos. We also have no objections against the Draft Zoo Act. These claims are not true.”

Work to formulate the Zoo Act started in 2005, but for more than a decade, it remained suspended due to bureaucratic complexities. However, zoologists and researchers have expressed their concerns and termed this deadlock as just an excuse to justify the procrastination. According to Dr Mohammad Firoj Jaman, Professor at the Department of Zoology, University of Dhaka, says, “There might be no act but there are codified rules of running and managing a zoo which were promulgated during the establishment of Bangladesh National Zoo. The government can enforce the rules for running other zoos as well.”

“Currently the government runs zoos with veterinary surgeons who have no academic knowledge about the habitats, behavioural patterns, diet and nutrition of wildlife. To make these zoos liveable for the animals, the government should form multi-disciplinary teams involving zoologists, botanists, entomologists, nutritionists and veterinary surgeons who will worktogether to create customised natural environments and diets for every captive animal,” he adds.

Another zoologist and animal rights activist, Dr Niamul Naser, Professor at the Department of Zoology, University of Dhaka, and ex-officio of the Zoological Society of Bangladesh recommended closing the zoos and relocating the wildlife to safari parks and sanctuaries. “We cannot expect natural behaviour from wild animals in captivity. Most of the animals are territorial and much of their food and breeding habits develop as they patrol their territories. So, in captivity, these animals become completely different entities,” says Dr Naser. “Zoosare an outdated and inhuman concept. To preserve rare wildlife and learn more about them, we should establish sanctuaries where visitors will get the chance to have safari tours within a limited range,” he adds.

However, at present, all initiatives for the improvement of the zoos and all suggestions made by experts have been stalled by the government's failure to pass the Zoo Act. In this deadlocked state, unmonitored mismanagement and indifference towards animal rights have turned Bangladeshi zoos into death camps for animals. Zoos are where rare species are supposed to be preserved from extinction, where people can learn about the animal kingdom and learn to be respectful towards nature, but in Bangladesh, they have completely lost their purpose. In this situation, the proposition of dissolving the zoos and releasing these starving and languishing lives into sanctuaries is worth taking into consideration.  

The writer can be contacted at shahnawaz.khan@thedailystar.net

For someone whose first vivid memory of football was the Italia 90 and whose lasting impression from that World Cup was Salvatore Schillaci's euphoric goal-scoring celebrations, it is hard to take in the fact that Italy will not be part of next year's World Cup in Russia. Thirty-two teams have made it to Russia, including 14 from Europe, and four-time champions Italy is not one of them.

It is a shame that the joint second-highest title-holders will be missing out from the greatest show on earth. It is a shame that the World Cup will not see a record sixth final's appearance of arguably one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time or one of the meanest defences in world football.

But it's not anyone else's fault that Italy couldn't make it to the grand stage, a competition which they only missed twice before—once in the inaugural World Cup in 1930 when they willingly didn't participate, and the next time in 1958 during the World Cup in Sweden. It was their own doing and they had to paid the price.

It has been 59 years since then and Italy has added two more titles to their two pre-WWII title-haul during this era, with the last one coming as late as 2006. What could have happened in the past 11 years that a team, which under Marcello Lippi had conceded just one goal during their entire 2006 World Cup campaign, failed to even go through to the qualifying stages?

A few things have happened actually. The most visible of them was that they were put in a very tough group for the qualifiers, with Spain being the in-form team of the group. It was always going to be an uphill task to grab the lone direct qualifying spot from the group, which they eventually did not. They didn't do all that bad, but were second-best to Spain, meaning they had to go through a double-legged playoff. For the playoffs, Italy were one of the four seeded teams, but as the luck of the draw would have it, they were pitted against the strongest unseeded team of the competition, Sweden.

Yet one would have expected them to move past Sweden, a team whose biggest achievement at the World Cup is a runners-up finish, back in 1958 on their own soil. But Italy did not only fail to win either of those matches, they also failed to score in 180 minutes of football, despite dominating possession for most part of the two legs. It was as much as a tactical failure from Italy boss Gian Piero Ventura as much as it was a failure of his charges to break down a resolute and disciplined Swedish defence. The one deflected goal from the first leg proved to be the deciding factor as the men in blue huffed and puffed around the Swedish penalty box, without any outcome whatsoever.

So who is to blame for all this? A lot of people, including the 69-year-old coach Ventura and his employer, the highly controversial Carlos Tavecchio. Ventura was a provincial coach whose greatest achievement thus far had been taking Torino from Serie B in 2011 to the Europa League round of 16 in 2015. However, he never managed any top Serie A clubs and had only the 1996 Serie C title in his trophy cabinet. His appointment was made by Tavecchio, a man who is more renowned for inciting racism, xenophobia and misogyny than for his footballing acumen.

These people failed to read the warning signs that were getting more and more pronounced ever since their triumph in 2006. Since that famous night in Berlin, Italy have only managed to win one of their World Cup finals and were eliminated from the group stages in the following two competitions. They did, however, reach the final of Euro 2012 and made it to the quarterfinals of the 2016 edition, but pundits will say, those squads far exceeded their potential, thanks to the innovativeness of Cesare Prandelli and Antonio Conte. These two coaches, in those two particular tournaments, took two aging squads and turned them into something that was much bigger than its parts. Those performances only masked the fact that Italy was an aging team, devoid of young legs and the ability to play fantasy football.

That brings us to the core of the problem, which is a dearth of local talent coming through the systems in Italian football.

A few statistics will help illuminate the argument. For the record, the last time a Serie A club—an Inter Milan team which had fielded 11 foreigners in their starting 11 in the final match—won the Champions League was in 2010. The last time an Italian side contested in a UEFA Cup/Europa League final was in the last century. And there has not been an Italian Ballon d'Or winner since 2006.

Thankfully, in the wake of this debacle, both Ventura and Tavecchio have left, and hopefully someone with a lot more pedigree in European football will take charge. Italy still produces the best coaches in Europe—in the last two years, three of the top five European leagues were won by Italian coaches—so finding a good coach with a vision will not be hard, but whether he will be provided with the right kind of environment and a forward-looking system, remains to be seen.

There are plenty of problems at the heart of the Italian system, and they need to be fixed pretty soon because a country that has produced players like Meazza, Piola, Mazzola, Riva, Facchetti, Zoff, Rossi, Baresi, Baggio, Maldini, Buffon, Nesta, Cannavaro, Del Piero and Totti should be too much of a miss at the world stage.

Atique Anam is a senior sports reporter, The Daily Star.

Over the last few weeks, the row over Bollywood filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali's upcoming film, Padmavati, has taken over the national consciousness in India. That a Hindi filmmaker could hit the nerve of a despotic, extremist group that calls itself the Rajput Karni Sena, is not new to the regular news-reading janta of urban India. What's new is the form of threat to freedom of expression that has taken shape in the discourse of the controversy—one that is extreme to the point of a dead body being discovered outside Nahargarh Fort in Rajasthan with a graffiti reading, “We don't just burn effigies, we hang them.” The police haven't been able to establish whether it was murder or a suicide. In the meantime, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) passed the film with a 12A rating and zero cuts, following which the Karni Sena leader went on one of the primetime news channels in the country, called upon his “fellow Rajput brothers” and threatened to burn down British theatres that will screen the film. We see before us the resurgence of the misplaced pride of a community with a glorified past, where the stories of valour against insurmountable odds are now yellowed and possibly lost in time.

But before we delve into the hows and whys of the matter, let's roll back a little. To begin with, it's not uncommon for Bollywood to come under the radar of extremist groups and individuals. Bollywood films have often drawn ire because of the creative liberties filmmakers take for their projects that are loosely based on historical figures or events. In 2008, Jodhaa Akbar, starring Bollywood A-listers Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan and Hrithik Roshan, and directed by Ashutosh Gowarikar, drew sharp criticism from the Rajput community. In 2005, Aamir Khan-starring Mangal Pandey: The Rising had a petition filed against it in the High Court for its portrayal of the historical figure who led the Indian Rebellion of 1857. In 2001, Asoka, starring Shah Rukh Khan, became infamous for going completely off the rails when it came to historical facts.  

Bhansali, for one, has courted such controversies before, with his Goliyon Ki Raasleela: Ram-Leela, an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, which highlights a relationship between a man and a woman of two warring communities. A Delhi court stayed the release of the movie (as per the suit filed by six petitioners), stating that the film hurt the religious sentiments of Hindus. It went on to be banned in Uttar Pradesh. In his next film, Bajirao Mastani, about Peshwa Bajirao who falls in love with a warrior princess, Bhansali went on to put a long disclaimer right at the beginning of his film stating that it doesn't claim to be an accurate representation of historical facts. It still got banned in Pakistan for being “anti-Islamic”. A few of the film's shows were cancelled in Pune, Maharashtra for “distorting historical facts”.

Padmavati has been under constant attack since day one, ever since it was in the process of getting made—right from when Bhansali's set was vandalised by the Rajput Karni Sena when he was filming at a fort in Jaipur in January this year, to stoking debates on national television screens that questioned the director's liberties while making the films. A crucial question that came forth was: who was Padmavati? The film is based on the legend of Padmavati, a Hindu Rajput queen, who was written with much flair and pomp in an epic poem by Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi in 1540. Titled Padmavat, the poem goes on about the queen, the wife of Ratan Sen, the Rajput ruler of Mewar, who committed jauhar (self-immolation) after her husband's kingdom was laid siege by the Turkish-Afghan ruler of the Delhi Sultanate, Alauddin Khilji. It has been historically noted that the mention of Padmavati came almost 224 years after the death of Alauddin Khilji, who ruled between 1296 to 1316. It hasn't been established whether Padmavati and Alauddin Khilji ever had a history together. Historian Pushpesh Pant states in an interview by The Quint, “There may have been a character called Rani Padmavati but the legend of Padmavati is not entirely a historical fact.” The poem itself ends with Jayasi's words: “I have made up the story and related it.”

As our historical texts increasingly get lost in translation among the urban masses instead of being found, the latest casualty, that of Padmavati, is one for the books. In the process, though, what may have worked in its favour is the interest in the film and how it will turn out for its box-office success.

The writer is a journalist based in Mumbai, India. Suvigya Khatri is her pen name.

Puran Dhaka, even today, possesses enough heritage treasures to be the envy of many cities known for their historic character. Unfortunately, over the last decade, despite earnest efforts of civil society, activists and the media, there has been a steady increase in the erosion of its historic urban fabric. In fact in many places, whole neighbourhoods have been cleared up—today not a single old building can be found there.

The lack of awareness about the significance of cultural heritage is one cause but that is hardly the only one. The absence of any support mechanism for the preservation of heritage properties has pushed many private property owners to resort to replacing old buildings with multi-storeyed apartment buildings to take care of their immediate financial and housing needs. Over the last decade, they thoroughly changed the urban fabric of the old town.

To understand real estate development in Old Dhaka, it is necessary to understand who these property owners are. A large share of the properties listed as vested properties were actually illegally acquired by land grabbers who exploited the situation. Taking advantage of this weak statutory framework, real estate developers moved in for the kill.

High-rise adjacent to Nawab Bari gate. Photo: Joybrata Sarker

The occupation began in 1947 when the city experienced a massive demographic change, as a majority of the Hindu population migrated to India while about 200,000 Muslims from India settled in Dhaka. The city's population practically doubled during this period. Migrant Muslims settled in the neighbourhoods belonging to the Hindu community. The vacant grand residences and mansions of Hindu elites were turned into multi-family dwellings, such as tenement housing, to provide accommodation for the migrants; of course many properties were also swapped by wealthy Muslims who left their properties in India. This change had a far-reaching impact on Puran Dhaka.

The next two or three decades till the '70s saw a gradual but steady change in the pre-partition Muslim neighbourhoods. With the abolition of the zamindar system in the mid-1950s, the elite mohallas gradually lost their shine, and eventually saw redevelopment on their properties. Puran Dhaka was sliding back into despair. Post-1971, as the population of the city increased very rapidly, the stress of migration was also felt in the old neighbourhoods of Puran Dhaka.

Although there appears to be a causal link in the whole process, the problems and failures of the concerned to take any effective steps to stem this degeneration of the traditional urban fabric seems to have been orchestrated in order to achieve an overarching goal of transforming Puran Dhaka into a high-density, high-rise development.

Today, it is not just that buildings are straight-up being broken down. Take a closer look into the wiping out of Puran Dhaka and you'll find that besides the demolition of old monuments, there are quite a few other ways of destroying the tradition at urban fabric of the old town. High-rise buildings built with incompatible construction materials can have quite a negative impact on the street.

Photo courtesy: USG

In many cases, we find vertical extensions on old buildings, where the adding of one or two floors is a very common practice. However, they usually have a telling effect on the façade of the building. In case of streets, which are designated as heritage sites as a whole, the extra height can also have serious negative effects on the skyline of the area, thereby its heritage value. Other times, the extension is built horizontally either on the back side or the front side of the heritage buildings, obscuring the façade of the heritage buildings as a result. Even if these extensions are just patchwork additions, they can have a very negative effect on the heritage value of the site. It is a common practice in Puran Dhaka to build structures in the open around a building. A multi-storeyed building constructed in the backyard of a heritage site can actually look quite disrupting, while a multi-storeyed structure built in front of heritage building is often constructed solely to hide it and eventually demolish it.

In certain areas it is quite obvious the construction of high-rise structures is being deliberately done in order to promote similar developments along that road or line. This phenomenon is pursued without any regard for heritage properties. Examples of this can be seen in the Chawkbazar area and Bikrampur Garden City in Islampur. In certain neighbourhoods of Puran Dhaka it is quite obvious that when the demolition takes place they actually focus on certain areas and then gradually get rid of all the old buildings there. A case in point is Amligola. Only in 2007, there were around 60-70 old buildings on JN Saha street. Unfortunately, after pursuing aggressive demolition of heritage buildings over the last decade, the street has been stripped of its heritage properties by the dozens. We have seen similar examples in the case of Golokpal Lane, Bakshi Bazar, Orphanage Road and Nawabpur Road among others.

Construction in front of Choto Katra. Photos: joybrata sarker

Often the destruction of the urban fabric appears less significant than the construction of multi-storeyed buildings that destroy the skyline. On the north-eastern corner of Boro Katra, an 18-storeyed building has been constructed at a handshaking distance. To take advantage of the building construction rules regarding Floor Area Ratio, almost a dozen smaller plots have been consolidated to form a single large property that overshadows the magnificence of Boro Katra. This is being touted as a success story by RAJUK. Similar structures can be seen at the Mitford Road-Imamganj intersection. Multi-storeyed buildings within the buffer zone of a historic building can actually compromise the heritage value of the monument and the campaign to designate the Boro Katra as a world heritage site in the long run is affected.

Much of this destruction has been the result of sheer negligence and failure of policymakers, concerned government agencies and regulatory bodies. The failure of agencies such as the Department of Archaeology, mandated to preserve the heritage assets of our country, has resulted in steady loss. On the other hand, the unwillingness of regulatory bodies like RAJUK to intervene in case of violations has created major stress on the whole urban fabric of the old town, as a result of which the historic city is fast losing its identity. Towers being built within the courtyard of Choto Katra not only reveals the incompetence of the concerned government agencies—their reluctance to enforce the laws for the protection of monument can be seen as tacit support for the perpetrators of this criminal offence. Topping all that, a series of major policy decisions by the Dhaka South City Corporation, the most important people's representative body for the old town, are having serious negative impacts on the heritage assets and historic urban fabric of Puran Dhaka.

Taimur Islam is the Chief Executive of Urban Study Group.

For a few years now, the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB), the largest state-owned publishing house in the world, has been immensely criticised by civil society for their misprints, factual errors and ideologically inappropriate content. What was missing from the conversation was the breadth of the problem—and that is what came out when Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) published their research paper on November 13.  

The study took almost a year to complete and reveals some horrifying aspects of NCTB's activities. Misspelled words, incorrect grammar, inappropriate teachings—what might seem like minor mistakes from the surface hides a system of irregularities and corruption. The report concluded that the independent government body is a mess. For example, according to the study, which interviewed numerous officials within the NCTB and outside, only the ruling party loyalists get picked as members of different committees. In some cases, members get excluded even if they are actually competent. According to one informant, who was an excluded candidate, “I have never been called by the NCTB, because the only qualification required for the selection of committee members is political influence.” This is in spite of the fact that NCTB is ideologically supposed to be an independent organisation.  

The same thing happens when it comes to selecting people for the writers' panel, as many of the writers are picked through favouritism, personal choice and recommendations from the ministry. Many of them lack proper understanding of the curriculum, according to the report.

When contacted, the NCTB Chairman Narayan Chandra Saha informs us that they are also looking into the matter and since the different ministries are involved in the whole process, he cannot give any statement alone, without their opinion. Professor Dr Mohammad Nizamul Karim, Secretary, NCTB, also refused to say anything. 

A serious outcome of favouring political partisanship is that people with actual qualifications are left out. Although there is a policy for employing at least one expert from each subject for editing the textbooks of each grade, there are instances where the editors brought in have no significant expertise.

The report stated that this was also observed in the primary education wing. Instead of hiring experienced experts to strengthen our primary education curriculum, they take in regular employees from the education ministry, who often do not have subject-specific expertise. Many are simply cadres who chose “education” as their sector when passing the Bangladesh Civil Service (BCS) exam. It does not mean their university training is in designing textbooks.

Rasheda K Choudhury, Executive Director of Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE), sheds light on the importance of having experienced people in creating the curriculum. “According to pedagogy, we call it 'developmentally appropriate curriculum and textbook', where a textbook is prepared considering the age, intellectual capacity and psychology of the students. This process requires an expert who understands these aspects well. Simply employing government employees who were placed in the education cadre in their BCS exam will not work if they don't have the required experience or expertise,” she adds.

Renowned academician Hossain Zillur Rahman, who was a former advisor to the caretaker government, also agrees with Chowdhury that since NCTB's activities affect the development of children, the organisation should be more careful and conscious while appointing an expert. “If you compromise with merit, you cannot compensate for the impact! It will influence the entire system,” he says.

This is something that actually happened because of taking in political favourites. Dainik Shikkha published an article in May 2017 recounting how an education ministry official eliminated Abdul Hakim's poem “Bangabani” and Abu Jafar Obayedullah's “Mago, Ora Bole” and put in his own creations instead. To do this, he stopped the presses for a whole month, resulting in delivery delays of the ninth and tenth grades. This happened in 2012.

The report also unearthed that in the beginning of 2016, a number of madrasa leaders met with NCTB demanding the curriculum be changed according to their interests. The NCTB gave in to the demands. For example, a textbook for the madrasa system had a character called Uttam. The madrasa leaders changed it to Oliul because Uttam sounded like a Hindu name.

Another thing the report revealed—the local and revenue audit team took BDT 8-10 lakhs every year for the past few years so that such irregularities are not shown in their audit report. In the 2016 academic year, with the initiative of audit and budget officers, a total of BDT 1,624, 000 was collected from the monthly salaries of different employees to pay BDT 20 lakhs to the audit team. The rest of the amount was taken from the budget.

This is one example of the irregularities of the body—over BDT 50.96 lakh was spent in the last three academic years for minor tasks like making guidelines for tender, publishing advertisements, issuing work orders and preparing a list of books sent to the upazilas. However, when asked, Mohammad Monirul Islam, the Chief Accounts Officer of NCTB, informs us that he knew nothing about it.

Malpractice has also been found in the printing phase. In the 2015 production year, the estimated production cost of each forma (double dimai paper) was BDT 0.85, which increased by 60 percent in the following year. There are allegations that the contracting process was biased—that both the tender committee and printing association members were informed about the projected estimated cost before inviting tenders.

According to an owner of a printing press interviewed by the researchers, it is strictly mentioned on the tender notice that each printing press must have 23 by 36 inches size printing machines, sheet machines and UV for binding covers, as well as necessary equipment for lamination, along with their own printing and binding factory. But, most of the small printing presses do not have their own binding arrangements, and hence, they outsource. “The thing is, there is a clear difference between the quality of work of a contractor and sub-contractor—a contractor might work for the goodwill of his company, but a sub-contractor usually does not care about it,” he says.

Besides, people who are supposed to monitor the quality are allegedly negligent in their duties, and the presses can get away with using lower-quality paper. According to the informer, the presses use good quality paper during daytime, but switch out at night. These books are then sent to the schools of different upazilas.

The upazilas also bear the brunt of irregularities in the case of distribution. According to a 2017 NCTB report, around 50 percent of the books were not distributed in time to nine upazilas of Laxmipur, Noakhali and Chittagong. But, the inspection report shows that all books were distributed on time.

However, Md Farhadul Islam, the new Chief Distribution Controller of NCTB, informs us that he does not believe that this is entirely true. “Last year a shipment arrived in time, but we were not able to receive it within the deadline because of formalities. That is why we tried to bring books from other districts and arranged book festivals in different upazilas of Laxmipur and Noakhali districts,” he says. Islam also assures us that since the information regarding malpractice and irregularities have come out, they are careful about the matter. “I believe that whoever is responsible for this, whether it is NCTB or printing organisations should come to light,” he adds.

Though a large number of media reports have been published in recent years on NCTB's massive blunders, compared to that, no significant steps have been taken by the respective authorities to look at what is actually going on there. However, time has come to give attention to this, as children all over the country should not be deprived of their basic right to education because of malpractice and mismanagement by the NCTB.   

Mystery of Innocence

Nasir Ahmed's Solo Art Exhibition

Organiser: Gallery Chitrak

November 24 - December 8, 10 am - 8 pm, Gallery Chitrak, House- 4, Road- 6, Dhanmondi 

 

Humachinities

Round-Table & Workshop on Digital Humanities

Organiser: Mamun Rashid

December 5-6, 4-6 pm, Jahangirnagar University

 

The Uncaged

Zahangir Alom's Solo Art Exhibition

Organiser: Alliance Française de Dhaka

December 1- 14, 6-9 pm, Alliance Française de Dhaka, Dhanmondi

The day I almost didn't get on the ship

When you've paid a large chunk of your savings to go on the trip of a lifetime, you would probably be smart about it and not do anything stupid that will make you miss the trip.

Not me.

A few hours before the scheduled departure to Antarctica, I was nowhere near the port in Ushuaia, the City at the End of the World, where the ship was. I was far away, in the Tierra del Fuego National Park, halfway through a five-hour hike (which had seemed like such a great idea earlier in the morning).

Making matters worse, I had just been struck by a horrible realisation: my brand-new GoPro that I had purchased just for Antarctica was missing, along with two months' worth of panoramic photos of my ongoing travels through South America. I had left it on a rock when I had stopped for a snack an hour ago in the middle of the hike.

Great. Just great.

To add to that, I was running late for the last bus that would take me to Ushuaia. The bus would leave in an hour, and I had another two hours worth of trekking to do to get to the bus stop. Mathematically, my chances didn't seem very good.

If I fail to catch the bus, I can kiss my ship, my money plus all my hopes and dreams goodbye.

I have a history of missing flights and trains. However, on this momentous day, I miraculously made it to the port just in time (albeit with sore legs and bruises on my feet from all the panicked running I did).

The ship, Plancius, was the very last one at the far end of the port, and looked tiny next to the gigantic cruise ships and shipping vessels. It could only fit 108 passengers, which was fine with me. I wanted a small crowd on my first (and probably only) trip to Antarctica, and given how I feel about humans in general, the fewer the better.

I joined the last bit of the queue of passengers waiting to get on the ship and met Tania from Australia, who was standing behind me in line. She turned out to be my roommate, and together we walked up the plank and to our room.

The first order of business (after squealing over the room and the beds and the window) was to join everybody else at the Observation Deck for the mandatory safety briefing and emergency drill. We met the captain and the crew, got lectured on how to stay safe and were shown where the bright-orange lifeboats were located, you know, just in case.

Just as the sun was starting to sink, we set sail. Ushuaia disappeared behind us, and I stood at the front of the ship, watching the darkness settle over the water... without a GoPro to capture the moment.

Setting up camp. Photo: Courtesy

The day I couldn't stop puking

The Drake Passage is no joke.

Known for strong winds and large, choppy waves, the passage is famous for tossing ships around like pieces of old socks in a washing machine. And even though I knew this and had read all about it, I happily went to sleep the first night without taking my seasickness pills.

It was one of those stupid decisions that I made on a frequent basis throughout life.

I woke up sick and rushed into the toilet for the first of many puking sessions that day. It's not easy trying to aim your vomit into the toilet bowl when the entire room is shaking and rolling like a giant hamster ball, but somehow I managed it.

I lurched and stumbled back into bed, only to run back into the toilet a minute later. This would be repeated over and over, like an awful movie scene caught in an endless loop.

A voice over the speakers cheerfully greeted us good morning, and asked if we would please come to the Observation Deck for the first lecture on Antarctica of the day.

I never made it to any of the lectures, and neither did 80 percent of the other passengers on the ship. We were all united in our seasickness and inability to do anything else but vomit.

I also never made it to any of the meals, which was a shame, because in one of my non-vommitty moments, I noticed, while miserably sprawled on the bed and staring blearily at the screen in our room, that Nasi Goreng was on the lunch menu.

That they were offering a Malaysian/Indonesian meal on a Dutch ship was weird, but that they offered it on the first day when I was not fit to consume food and could barely get out of bed was just pure evil.

Nasi Goreng was never seen on the menu again thereafter.

The day we saw our first iceberg

The ocean was a lot calmer on this day—we had passed the worst parts of the Drake Passage. I was feeling much better and was finally able to consume food.

I was also finally able to walk out of the room without crashing into walls and attend the lectures scheduled for the day. We learned a lot of information about ice caps and Antarctic animals, with an entire session dedicated to penguins, because why not?

The lectures were followed by a demonstration of the equipment we would use. There were a variety of “adventure” activities planned for this trip, including ice camping, kayaking, snowshoeing and mountain climbing—each had specific equipment that required a bit of a learning curve.

After that, it was just a lot of waiting as the ship continued to sail southward. Now that I could eat, I did so with a vengeance, munching on the endless supply of cookies in the observatory while staring over the endless expanse of ocean and wondering how there can be so much salty water on this planet.

In the late afternoon, things got a bit more exciting. We started to see other living things in the form of albatrosses up in the gloomy sky.

Somebody reported the presence of a whale at starboard, which caused a flurry of activities as everybody jumped to their feet and hurried over to one side of the boat. I thought I saw something, but I was never sure if the grey lump I saw in the distance was an actual whale or just a particularly dark crest of a wave.

Even more exciting was the sighting of our first iceberg!

We were getting close!

Photo: Courtesy

The day I went camping in Antarctica

I woke up early the next morning and found myself in Antarctica.

The ship was sailing through the very tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, and in contrast to the flat, endless ocean the day before, we were now surrounded by peaks of ice on both sides.

People were out on the deck taking pictures and enjoying the fabulous view, and someone had even gotten around to building a snowman.

We made our first stop after lunch at Cuverville—a permanent ice cap with a population of Gentoo penguins. I got back to my room and put on five layers of clothing and approximately two million layers of socks.

I then realised that I had somehow forgotten to bring any waterproof outer layer, so I added on a few more layers in the vain hope that if I somehow fell off the Zodiac boat, it will slow down the icy water from freezing me to death.

We got to land without me falling overboard, and I stepped foot for the first time ever in my life on Antarctica… and also on penguin poop.

The place was littered with dark-red penguin poop, and it stank to high heaven—not quite what I was expecting. Nevertheless, the cuteness of the penguins more than made up for the olfactory surprise.

We strapped on snowshoes to help us walk easier on the snow, and went marching around the colonies, trying to get as close as possible while still maintaining a respectful distance of five metres.

Some penguins waddled up to us in curiosity, but most paid us no heed and carried on with their activities. I witnessed more than a few penguins stomping on each other in what seemed to me a somewhat violent activity, only to find out that it was the mating season, and that the “violence” I was observing was basically penguin porn.

Again, not quite what I was expecting, but hey, you learn something new every day.

The ship Plancius goes from Ushuaia, Argentina to Antarctica. Photo: Courtesy

Despite all my layers of clothing, I could only stand being out in the cold for an hour or so. After my fair share of penguin poop and penguin sex, I quickly took a Zodiac (an inflatable dinghy) back to the ship where I could find warmth and cookies.

The ship set sail again to another location.

Later that evening, after dinner, a group of us headed ashore again on a Zodiac to spend the night camping out on the ice. Not that there was such a thing as “night” down here—it was 10pm, but the sun was still up as we set up our tents and ooh-ed over the toilet fort that the crew had dug into the ground.

A Weddell seal also decided to join the slumber party and took up residence on the far-end of our temporary campsite. We spent a considerable amount of time staring at it, like dorks seeing an alien thing for the first time. We waited for it to move its bulk, but it didn't even twitch.

Around 1am, we got tired of staring at a big lump of blubber, and decided to try get some sleep. It was still bright as day as my tentmates and I shoved ourselves into thick sleeping bags and squeezed into the tiny tent.

I don't know if it was the cold, the bright sky or the discomfort of being lumped practically on top of each other, but my first night in (and literally on) Antarctica was spent without any sleep.

Still, I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else in the world.

Atiqah Nadiah Zailani (https://atiqahnadiah.wixsite.com) is a Malaysian professional aspiring for a balanced, sustainable life by living well with less, who solves problems and gets things done for a living. 

It's that time of the year when we manly men bring out our old leather jackets hoping to look cool like 80's MacGyver. Except it never gets that cold, making us realise the leather was best left attached to the cow.

But, it is just barely cold enough to do that other winter thing for manly men: barbeque. We wait all year to do this because somewhere in an old movie starring Robert Redford or Aamir Khan, it appeared very romantic. Crackling fires, sultry guitar twangs and the love interest crooning softly complete the picture. 

In reality though, crackling fires are accompanied by the spastic fizz of electrocuted mosquitoes and a wife somewhere shouting "I've set a towel on fire." All you men and women reading this can take comfort following my tips. I have made all the mistakes to be made without dying even once. Or worse, without burning the meat.

(The wife insists I add "it is always a miracle.")

First you make a brief plan

This is the step people waste most of their time on. I have a friend who planned for the last seven years about throwing a barbeque party. The only thing to plan is to settle the invites. Four out of six people will not do any of the work even after making strong promises. Two of those people will turn up only after the food has been cooked, licked and chewed. The trick is to find more of the first two: those will help you cook, share the blame and be worthy of the post cookout selfie.

Then you gather materials, quickly

You can buy a metal miniature box-like thing in New Market for grilling. It is cheap at under BDT 1,000 and you can conveniently store old screws and nails in it till next year. Or you could borrow a few bricks from the under-construction apartment nearby and build your own trough.

What you need to get right is the coal which is also easy to find. All bazaars are fully stocked with jacked up prices of coal to be sold by the kg.

Get a square foot of chicken wire netting from a hardware store for about BDT 60 to lay on top of the trough and you're set. What's important is how you do the cookup. I'm an expert on this as I've once watched the children's edition of Masterchef where Gordon Ramsey completely refrained from his usual shouting like a deranged vice principal.

Prepare the meat

The trick to getting all the meat to taste right is to marinate properly for additional flavour and softening. For the noobs, it means soak the meat in something nice like lemon or vinegar and not moisturiser. I tried marinating for days. I also marinated for a few hours. It all turns out the same. What you do not do is marinate with sauce. That will burn quickly while cooking leaving you an acrid taste.

Lighting the fire

We manly men love to watch the world burn. Which is why we opt quickly for lighter fluid or kerosene. You pour it on the coal and light a fire resulting in tiny explosions that reach all the way to a towel hanging overhead. As you squint your eyes and ignore the burning eyebrows, you feel like a manly Bruce Willis just having blown some bad guys into oblivion. The right way is to start the fire a little but then leave out the fluid altogether. If you add more fluid while cooking, you end up with a metallic taste of lighter fluid/kerosene on your meat after cooking. And trust me, those things do not taste pleasant. Chalk up that experience to a lighter fluid cap I tried removing with my teeth while holding the can one-handed. Manly men don't always use both hands.

The right way to get a good fire going is to crumple up newspaper balls underneath the coal and set it on fire. It takes a while but helps create that smoky yet delicious flavour you would pay an additional BDT 1,500 for in a restaurant. Also, I work for a newspaper. Supply is unlimited.

Cooking

Let the coals burn for a while till they are covered in a grey ash. Then it gives off the perfect simmering heat allowing you to cook the meat slowly and completely. You don't want a blazing coal fire no matter how cool it looks. That creates soot. While charcoal is good for cleaning teeth, it never tastes good. Pro tip: add the sauce near the very end or else it will burn.

Keep antacids ready

That is how a good barbeque party should end, with plenty of antacids to calm your raging stomach. It is that one time of the year you can pretend to be a manly man of yesteryear. It will feel almost as if you caught an animal in the wild and saved your herd from starvation. But easy on the daydreaming as towels always end up catching on fire.

Ehsanur Raza Ronny is a confused dad, all-round car guy, model car builder, and cartoonist. He is also Editor of Shift (automobiles), Bytes (technology), and Next Step (career) of The Daily Star.

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