Category Archives: Media-Indian Subcontinent

BANGLADESH: Mixed messages on sex work undermine HIV prevention

Crossposted from IRIN ASIA

 

Sex worker in Bangladesh: “I don’t want to live this life anymore”

DHAKA, 12 October 2010 (IRIN) – Civil society is preparing to challenge a recent government decision in Bangladesh to exclude “prostitution” as a profession on new voter cards on the grounds it effectively blocks sex workers’ access to HIV prevention and life-saving health care.

On 17 August the Bangladesh Election Commission (BEC) announced “prostitution” would be recognized for the first time as a profession on new voter ID cards. But pressure from conservative religious groups led the BEC to reverse its decision, according to Shahnaz Begum, president of Sex Workers Network (SWN), a local NGO that works in half of the nation’s 64 districts.

Election commissioner Sohul Hossain told IRIN the term “sex worker” was omitted in order to prevent commercial sex work, in line with Article 18(2) of Bangladesh’s constitution, which states that “gambling and prostitution” should be “discouraged”.

But activists are seizing upon Article 40 of the constitution, which gives citizens the right to “enter upon any lawful profession or occupation”, arguing that women, therefore, can choose sex work as a profession.

This decision is “ripe for a public interest challenge”, said Khaled Chowdhury, a lawyer at the Supreme Court. “Sex work is not illegal, but as moral and social issues are involved, it is not encouraged. The decision of the EC [Electoral Commission] may have an impact [on the acceptance of sex workers], as voter ID cards are now essential in many aspects of a citizen’s life.”

ID cards are necessary to open a bank account, apply for a passport, and to register property. While not required for health services, almost all other government forms require an ID card as proof of identity.

Limited legality

When the government tried to shut down two large brothels in Dhaka, the capital, a decade ago, 100 sex workers fought back – and won. As a result, sex work is now legal for women over 18, pimps and brothel owners.

But the ruling offers sex workers little protection, as police still frequently harass them, which, according to Begum, can lead to unsafe sex practices. “Clients are often taken to a dark alley and the sex workers have to rush because they are on the lookout for police. If sex work was properly recognized they could take the time to convince their clients to use a condom.”

To make matters worse, a sex worker in Dhaka who gave her name and age as Tania, 28, said police often demand half her average daily earnings of US$7. And without police protection, she has little recourse when clients are abusive. “Yesterday a client gagged and beat me. I don’t want to live this life any more.”

Health care

The government has offered no-cost health care to sex workers at designated clinics around the country since 1978, but the Health Ministry reports that only 2,000 sex workers used these services in 2009 (0.5 percent of the 400,000 sex workers the NGO SWN estimates are working nationwide).

Begum said the government’s mixed messages about sex work are hurting the fight against HIV because sex workers who seek medical treatment are often turned away on the grounds they are “bad women”.

A consistent government stance on sex work would help prevent such discrimination, she added. “The legal framework for sex workers exists, but it is not implemented. The mixed public health messages from the government and Election Commission are undoubtedly harmful for reducing the spread of HIV.”

NGO clinics

There are dozens of NGO-run drop-in centres nationwide that provide free HIV counselling, condoms and medicines, and a referral system for HIV testing to sex workers and their clients. IRIN spoke to 10 sex workers: All said they preferred to visit NGO clinics due to the conservative attitudes of public health staff.

In 2007, 67 percent of sex workers reported using a condom with their most recent client, according to the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) 2008 Progress Report.

According to the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), in 2009 estimated HIV prevalence among Bangladesh’s 160 million people was less than 0.1 percent. The rate for sex workers was about 1 percent, according the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

However, the Global Fund warned that a highly mobile population, coupled with poverty and a low level of awareness about HIV, threaten to increase prevalence.

And until the law can protect sex workers and guarantee their access to health care, civil society leaders taking their case to court say that Bangladesh’s status as a low HIV prevalence country may change.

“HIV is not spreading at an alarming rate, but I believe it would decrease further if the government gave [it] full recognition,” said Begum.

Legal protection is one of the issues to be addressed at the first UNAIDS consultation in Asia on sex work and HIV to be held 12-15 October in Pattaya, Thailand.

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Filed under Bandhu BSWS, Bangladesh- Policies and declarations, Media-Indian Subcontinent

LGBT Community Calls for the Repeal of Section 377

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Sam is a university-educated Muslim-born Hindu of 25 years. He is living in Dhaka and works as a university teacher. Six years ago, after graduating from college at the age of 19, he discovered that his sexual orientation deviates from the cultural norm in Bangladesh. Today he is in a romantic relationship with a man. He also has had sexual encounters with women before and describes himself as a bisexual man. Sam and his boyfriend go on trips together, hold hands on the streets of Dhaka and share a bed when staying at each other‟s places. Since male-male friendships are traditionally very intimate in Bangladesh, these practices cast no doubt upon their presumed heterosexual identities. Family and friends consider Sam and his boyfriend to be close friends. “As long as you don‟t come out open to your family, you are safe,” Sam explains. Sam is not his real name. Afraid of the possible social and legal consequences, he agreed to speak only under the condition of anonymity.

Like Sam and his boyfriend, many homosexuals in Bangladesh hide their sexual orientation from their friends and families. “It is easy to live a moderate life with a hidden identity if one is homosexual.” In predominantly Muslim countries, homosexuality is often looked upon as a sin. Accordingly, the consequences of coming out can be severe. Some gay men who inform their families about their sexual orientation are forced into a heterosexual marriage. Other parents consider homosexuality a mental illness and object their gay sons to religious brainwashing or psychiatric treatment. Sam heard of cases in Bangladesh where electric shocks were applied to homosexual men in an effort to “cure” them from their supposed psychiatric condition. He is convinced that, “unless the government, parents and friends understand that a man or woman can be a gay or a lesbian and yet be a very good and devout Muslim, Hindu or Christian, the chances for LGBT (“lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender‟) rights in Bangladesh are low.” Society in Bangladesh is far from that. Homosexuality among men is seen as a morally deprived Western phenomenon that needs to be fended off. “While the existence of gay sex is at least acknowledged by most people though, lesbian sex does not even exist in the dreams of people in Bangladesh.”

The status of homosexuality as a social and religious taboo is also reflected in the Bangladeshi Criminal Code. Its Section 377, a legacy of British rule, refers to consensual oral and anal sex as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” and subjects it to punishment up to imprisonment for life. Effectively, this section makes homosexual intercourse illegal in Bangladesh. Interestingly, prosecutions under Section 377 are extremely rare. Section 377, hence, does not impair Bangladesh‟s moderate image in the world and questions about the country‟s human rights record on the issue of homosexuality are avoided in the international arena. Not only in court, but also in mainstream media the issue has largely been ignored. The LGBT community is forced into a shadow existence and its voice is effectively silenced in the public sphere. However, mainly due to new media, times are changing.

Starting out as an online group in 2002, an organization called Boys of Bangladesh (BoB) has become a central forum for gay and bisexual men in Bangladesh. BoB currently has more than 2000 registered members, including school students as well as Ph.D. holders. Their ages range between 16 and more than 50 years. BoB is run by around twenty young men and has increasingly become public in recent years. In November 2010, it conducted the second edition of a festival titled “Under the Rainbow”, in cooperation with the German Goethe-Institut in Dhaka. Under the slogan “accept diversity and end discrimination”, the five-day festival included movie screenings, art exhibitions and musical performances and brought together leading human rights activists from with the country and abroad. Angela Grünert, director of the Goethe-Institut, explains her involvement in the LGBT movement in Bangladesh with the belief that “everyone should have equal rights in the society”, regardless of religion, ethnicity, sex or sexual orientation. BoB organized various other events, mainly in Dhaka, and its representatives attended international conferences on LGBT issues in Nepal and Thailand. The organization further provides homosexuals in Bangladesh with information on health and legal issues on its website at http://boysofbangladesh.org/.

Change on the subcontinent is also happening on the legal front. An Indian court in the country‟s capital, Delhi, decriminalized homosexual intercourse by repealing Section 377 of the Indian Criminal Code in July 2009, saying that treating certain forms of consensual sex between adults as a crime is a violation of fundamental human rights. For Sam, this is a sign of hope. He is convinced that, due to the profound cultural links between India and Bangladesh, the Indian court‟s ruling will spark a public debate on LGBT issues in Bangladesh and encourage the homosexual youth here to fight for their rights. “It is the youth, exposed to international media and increasingly educated, that is empowering the LGBT movement in Bangladesh.”

Some movements in Islam, such as the US-based Al-Fatiha Foundation, accept and consider homosexuality as natural and work towards the acceptance of non-heterosexual love-relationships within the global Muslim community. Progressive Muslim scholars around the world argue that Qur’anic verses on homosexuality are obsolete in the context of modern society and point out that, while the Qur‟an speaks out against homosexual lust, it is silent on homosexual love. However, in Bangladesh, religion remains the single most persistent obstacle for LGBT rights.

The LGBT rights movement in Bangladesh is growing rapidly and the voices for the repeal of Section 377 are becoming louder. The issue is bound to emerge into a public battle over the young nation’s religious and cultural identity, human rights and modernity and will pose a challenge to policymakers, religious authorities and leaders of civil society alike.

Rainer Ebert is a moral philosopher at Rice University in the United States of America. He is specializing in animal ethics and issues of global justice.

Mahmudul Hoque Moni is the founding director of the Centre for Practical Multimedia Studies at the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism at the University of Dhaka. He is interested in human rights issues, social justice, sports media and visual communication.

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Filed under Analysis of Homosexual Issues, Bangladesh persecution of Homosexuals, Bangladesh- Policies and declarations, Media-Indian Subcontinent

Samakamita: The first Bengali book on homosexuality

This article was forwarded to me by the author Avijit Ray in early January this year. I apologise to the readers that my health conditions and a few contextual circumstances did not allow me enough liberty to blog for the last six months.


Comments by Tanvir Alim (BOB) : As a  science writer, and an engineer by profession, the writer attempted to provide scientific view and  accessible account  of homosexuality on several bases. In the first half of my book, he explored historical and biological issues. Here he tried to explain the scientific/biological bases for homosexuality, both from historical perspective and the extent to which modern science has gotten in this area of research.  In Part II, he addressed human rights issue and ongoing struggle of gay community in Bangladesh and beyond.

It is probably the first book in Bangla providing an overview of the complexity of issues that surround the culture and and study of homosexuality. Avijit Roy found himself honored to write  such a book in Bangla which he thinks will make significant contribution in gay rights issue in Bangladesh.

This is how the author described his work.


My new book on Homosexuality is going to be out Today. The Bangla name of the Book is Shomokamita – Ekti Boigganik O shomaj monostattik Onushondhan (Homosexuality – A scientific and socio-psychological investigation)- and it is being published by Shuddhashar (a book store in the 2nd floor of Aziz super market) within a few days. In this book, I have attempted to provide a scientific view and accessible account of homosexuality on several grounds. In the first half of my book, I explored historical and biological facts. There I tried to explain the scientific/biological bases for homosexuality, both from historical perspective and the extent to which modern science has been exploring its area of research. In the second part, I addressed human rights issues and ongoing struggle of gay community in Bangladesh and the rest of the world. It is probably the first book in Bangla providing a detailed overview of the complexity of issues that surrounds the culture and involving the study of homosexuality.
I have kept all the information about the book here:
The book will be found in upcoming Bangla Academy Book fair in February, 2010. There are some important discussion going on in some Bangla blogs as well, such as

I am not a gay. However, I am very sympathetic towards gay rights and similar humanitarian issues. You may ask – why did I took responsibility to write such a book? The answer is, over the time, I have seen sufficient incidents to distrust, despise, assault or even slaughter fellow people for having differences in religion, nationality, race or color. While the intellectuals of Bangladesh has been covering those issues, no body took onus to uphold the plight of “hidden minorities” i.e. gay and lesbian people of Bangladesh.  In this book, I hope to bridge the gap, providing an introduction to available knowledge on homosexuality from an eye of a sympathetic heterosexual person and a human rights activist. Hopefully together we will be able to remove the fear of homophobia, perhaps the last acceptable prejudice, from our society.

Please send the message to your friends who are interested to collect the book. The book will be found in shuddhashar (in Aziz super market), and will be available in upcoming Bangla academy  Book fair in February, 2010.
I convey my gratitude towards all including you who were directly/indirectly involved with this book!
Thanking you
Avijit

প্রকাশকঃ শুদ্ধস্বর (আহমেদুর রশীদ চৌধুরী)
৯১ আজিজ সুপার মার্কেট (৩য় তলা)
শাহবাগ, ঢাকা।
ফোন : ৯৬৬৬২৪৭, ০১৭১৬৫২৫৯৩৯


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Filed under Analysis of Homosexual Issues, Bangladesh LGBT events, Media-Indian Subcontinent, Tanvir Alim

Between invisible friends

Crossposted from Himal Magazine

www.himalmag.com/Between-invisible-friends_nw3911.html

By Delwar Hussein

Bangladeshis thrive in and work against the ‘grey area’ of subtle acceptance of un-discussed alternative sexualities.

From a very young age, Suleman (not his real name) has known that he was attracted to men. He would wear his mother’s saris when she was out of the house, and put on his sister’s makeup in the belief that this is what men found appealing. Suleman also knew that he wanted to be an imam. He sought to understand the creation of the world, to find answers to questions about life after death. At 13 he joined a madrassa, where he began the required rigorous training, which included memorising the entire Quran and learning Arabic and Persian. Small in stature but with an imposing black beard, he is today dressed in a white kurta-pyjama with a matching skull cap. “Imams have a lot of responsibility,” he says. “The Malik has chosen me, even with all my flaws, to follow him. If I can fulfil even the slightest of his wishes, then Allah is pleased.”

Now 32, Suleman believes his education is still not over, although he is a teacher at the same madrassa at which he studied, leading the five daily prayers and also the Friday jumma at one of the largest mosques in Dhaka. His dry, husky voice, a result of the fiery sermons about how to lead an Islamic life, has a cheerful tinkle buried within it. Suleman made the decision to become a religious leader partly in the hope that it would bring an end to the desire he had for men, something he thought at the time to be outside the bounds of religious acceptability. As with the other Abrahamic religions, the story of Lot and the destruction of Sodom, used by some Muslims to condemn homosexuality, was a narrative with which he was intimately familiar. In earlier years, Suleman tried controlling his feelings by praying and fasting obsessively, in the process excelling in the eyes of the scholars at the madrassa.

But his urges only became more intense. “All night in the madrassa dormitory, my eyes would see no sleep,” he remembers. “I wanted to be able to care for a man, marry him and give him physical pleasure.” One day, Suleman hesitantly shared his yearnings with a fellow student. They ended up having sex. Afterwards, he was meticulous about following the guidelines set out by Islamic scriptures on fornication. He had already recited a prayer before they slept together and then, afterwards, he went to the bathroom to wash his mouth, hands and entire body. Only then did he go to sleep. In the morning, he prayed for forgiveness and read the Quran. This turned out to be a pivotal moment. For the first time in his life, it dawned on him that what he had done was not wrong. In his prayers that day, he remembers questioning the almighty, “My friend and I needed and wanted to do this. It gave us peace of mind and body. Is this so wrong?”

Grey existence
Suleman hardly represents the norm in the world of Bangladeshi Islamic orthodoxy. “As all the fingers on our hands are of different shapes and sizes, not all imams are the same,” he says with a smile. I ask him whether he believes what he did was gunah, a sin. He has clearly given this much thought. “Love has always existed between men, even in the days of the Prophet, and it always will,” he says. He asks me whether I can name the worst sin a person can commit. I cannot. He replies that it is to give koshto, pain, to another. Giving koshto is the equivalent of destroying a mosque. “He has said that we should love one another, give each other joy and happiness. The Sharia even says this,” Suleman says. “When I am with the person I love, I am giving him pleasure, joy, affection, my body. He is doing the same in return. So where is the gunah in this?”


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Filed under Bangladesh persecution of Homosexuals, Islam and Homosexuality, Media-Indian Subcontinent

CSBR Bangladesh: A first for the Queer members of Bengali society

Crossposted from CSBR e-news

http://www.wwhr.org/files/CSBR_Enews_Winter_2009.pdf

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Filed under Analysis of Homosexual Issues, Bangladesh LGBT events, Bangladesh- Policies and declarations, Boys of Bangladesh, Islam and Homosexuality, Media-Indian Subcontinent, Media-International

Pakistani gays flogged in public

by Ashok DEB

The sexual minorities of Pakistan have witnessed grave human rights violation on the grounds of their gender identity or sexual orientation over the past decade. The sodomy legalisation of Pakistan is empowered to condemn the victim to an imprisonment upto 25 years, which itself amounts to a severe violation of  basic human rights. Sex between two consenting adults strictly pertains to their own private lifestyle and personal prefferences and could no way be crminalised by justifying through tenents of religion, norms or so-called morality.

This video is a glaring example to what extent persons of non-normative gender identities are victimised and humilated in this puritan islamic nation. This video clearly demonstrates the extra-judicial torture the gays had to face in addition to the ruthless anti-homosexuality legalisations. If you watch the clip carefully you can notice that the gay prisoners are boarded off the blue police van. This clearly implies that the victims were under police custody when this public flogging took place. Nowhere in a civilised world could we imagine that the law enforcers actually meant for protecting  the rights and dignity of the citizens could hand them over to a group of unruly mob.

We could get a glimpse of these atrocities only because an invisible angel shot and uploaded the video over the net. These fragrant violation of human rights often go unpublished as the local media equates the issue of homosexuality to perversion. Thus to the international observers these crimes go unnoticed and hence unpublished.Even our country Bangladesh is no exception to this rule. The silence of the victims adds up to the lethal cocktail of intolerance, homophobia violations. This is what the modern activism terms as TYRANNY OF SILENCE.

Still have doubts in your mind that these individuals are hardened criminals rather than same sex lovers? Then have a careful re-look at 15 sec instant of the video where a man kisses his  lover before the inhuman degrading torture starts.  I feel that time has come for the human rights actvists of Pakistan to distinctively address,speak out and protest against such gross derogatory punishments and humilations. As a part of International community and same sex rights activists we strictly denounce such abhorrent actions of Pakistani authorities and stand up beside the victims in solidarity.

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Filed under International - Persecution of Homosexuals, Islam and Homosexuality, Media-Indian Subcontinent

Goethe Institute-Dhaka hosts photo exhibition on male homosexuality

Submitted by Tanvir Alim

Compiled and Edited by Ashoka DEB


The Goethe-Institut acts as a liason centre of the foreign cultural policy of Germany. Currently the centre is hosting Under the Rainbow’ festival which showcases several programmes  employing the popular medium of dance, film and photography. The main theme of this event is to discover the beauty of loving , realising and revealing who and what you are, while breaking down the culture. A strong and bold statement indeed, in a nation where inter personal relationships are bruised,battered and dictated through pre-determined puritanistic norms and societal scrutiny.

Goethe will screen a few path breaking movies which have left lasting impressions in the field of gay rights and feminist movements.I will provide you here with a brief synopsis of the scheduled movies.

Brokeback Mountains:

In this story, two young men meet and fall in love on the Brokeback Mountain in Wmoying in 1963. The film documents their complex relationship over time and how they succumbed to the social norms of getting married and publicly deny their affection. This film somewhat mirrors  and reminds us of the typical end of  relationships which the closetted Bangladeshi gays are forced to face over time.

If those walls could talk :

Its a fascinating movie which depicts the plights of three different women and their experiences with abortion. Each of the three stories takes place in the same house in three different years: 1952, 1974, and 1996.  The movie vividly depicts each women’s experiences or to be more precise the helplessness across their individual circumstances demonstrating the dictates of puritan society over her own body. A very strong yet touching feminist film indeed.

Fried Green Tomatoes:

This film portrays how a timid housewife who is unhappy in her marital relationship befriends a tomboyish women, who teaches her to assert her rightful share of joy and later finally garners courage to invite her lesbian lover for a live in relationship. A textbook demonstration of transformation or metamorphosis what we non-normative genders aspire and dream of.

Photo exhibition:


I first saw the works of Ghazi Nafis on his project “Community” across his website which portrays the state of homosexuality in Bangladesh. Ghazi, a photo journalist of repute, often works on social issues for the oppressed and suppressed communities , and the Bangladeshi homosexual community is no exception to this.His images make subtle yet powerful statements about the severely depressed psychological state of the Bangladeshi gays who have pushed themselves deep inside the closets to avoid approbations of any sort.  I have noticed that many global LGBT activists consider internet based associations formed by party loving Bangladeshi gays belonging to the higher social strata as the sole barometer of  same sex culture. Ghazi Nafis has painstakingly caught the glimpses of those Forbidden Relationships which blossom secretly across closetted indoors, yet violently denied in public by cautiosly meandering away from societal scrutiny to mitigate harshness and ridiculing. Yes, his lenses caught the glimpses of real state of homosexuality or gay culture in Bangladesh in truest form, the way it exists and has always existed……the CLOSETTED WAY.



You can have a look at his works at the  PHOTO EXHIBITION ‘Looking at Inner Face’ which is scheduled between December 12, 06:00 pm – December 26 at Goethe Institute Dhaka

Location:


House 10,

Road 4 (new), Dhanmondi R/A,

Dhaka, Bangladesh
For more info mail
intern2@dhaka.goethe.org
Or log on to the Website:
http://www.goethe.de/dhaka


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Filed under Ashok DEB, Bangladesh LGBT events, Media-Indian Subcontinent, Tanvir Alim