A Poet of Bangladesh’s Past and Present – a Tribute to Kazi Nazrul Islam on his 120th Birthday

“Of equality I sing: where all barriers and differences between man and man have vanished, where Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians have mingled together.”[i]


Bangladesh’s national poet, Kazi Nazrul Islam (*1899, †1976), sings of equality. He sings of peace. He sings, humbly, of respect and love for humanity, and for his homeland. He sings, hurt, of the divisions he has experienced, the hatred that pervades society. “I have turned mad having seen what I have seen, having heard what I have heard.”[ii] He sings, feisty, of revolt against oppression, and of rebellion against chains of ignorance. Of course, among his four thousand works, not all call out for a common humanity, but it is because of his strife for change that Kazi Nazrul Islam came to be known as the “Rebel Poet”.

 

His poetry is beautiful even when translated. As a non-Bengali native, it is impossible for me to know how unconceivably beautiful his language must be in his own tongue. His writings are flawless; even his earliest prose is so perfect that no effort could have improved it any further. It flows, so I was told, like a fountain, with a rhythm that wraps around the audience like a warm coat, and at the same time rallies every being to stand up for their rights, fuelling their drive to break out of the familiarity of oppression and ignorance. It is said that his language burns with a flame that is unprecedented in Bengali literature. Nazrul became Bangladesh’s national poet because of how uniquely it lets Bangladesh come to life – its nature, its objects, its symbols (both Hindu and Muslim!), its historical heroes (again, both Hindu and Muslim!), its contemporary hurt. Through his influence on new generations of poets, Bengali poetry as an art came closer to life.

 

Kazi Nazrul Islam was known as the “Rebel Poet” not merely because of his fiery language, or because of his desire to liberate Bengal from the British. Nazrul was a rebel because he refused to bow to anyone.[iii] It is true that he was a devout Muslim, and a proud Bengali – what he refused, however, was to be shoved into a categorization that he would have to be loyal to as an end in itself. In a speech delivered in Kolkata’s Albert Hall on December 15, 1929, he said:

 

“Just because I was born in this country and society, I do not consider myself to be solely a subject of this nation and my community. I belong to every country and everyone. The caste, society, country or religion within which I was born was determined by blind luck. It’s only because I managed to rise above these trappings that I could become a poet.”[iv]

 

Though Nazrul was not uncriticized or unopposed in his time, he gave people little reason to hate him. A devout preacher of religious symbols, he applauded religion if used as a language of love, and praised practices of various religions. Instead, it was fanaticism, superstition and ritualistic behaviour he spoke out against:

 

“Do consider the honour of martyrdom
more glorious than slavery,
Consider the sword to be nobler than
the belt of the peon,
Do not pray to God for anything petty;
Bow not your head to anyone except God.”[v]

 

“I am a poet of the present, and not a prophet of the future.”[vi] Nazrul may have claimed that his time may pass, that his writings would become outdated and inapplicable. Considering contemporary incidences of hatred in Bangladesh – riots, violent protests and extra-judicial killings – it is clear Nazrul’s dream has yet to be realized. As the national poet of Bangladesh, his poetry is taught in educational curricula, the national anthem of Bangladesh is a Nazrul song, and his person is celebrated on its own national holiday (today). Why his message has not pervaded society remains a mystery. After all, while Nazrul’s language may be magical and enchanting, his messages are never hidden. The audience need never engage long with his material. Instead, his poetry has been said to “communicate even before [it] is understood.”[vii]

It is true that his memory and dreams carry on in contemporary Bangladesh. In 2012, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister prominently declared:

 

“We want to build a Bangladesh as dreamt by national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam […] breaking the vicious cycle of poverty. We want to build a Bangladesh where every citizen will enjoy equal and basic rights. There will be no difference between the citizens. Women would enjoy their just rights. I urge all to work towards building such a Bangladesh. May Bangladesh Live Forever.”[viii]

 

On this day, his 120th birthday, we celebrate his legacy. Yet merely praising him with words is not enough, instead, our love for Nazrul should extend beyond a dull admiration, and encompass the spirit of rebellion that is so famously attributed to him. Our compassion should rise above the boundaries created by religion, caste, and social status, and should extend to joint humanness. Today, the rebel poet still has a cause to rebel for.

 

 

 

[i] Islam, Kazi Nazrul. Rebel and Other Poems. Sahitya Akademi, 2000, page 37

[ii] Choudhury, Serajul Islam. “The Blazing Comet.” New Age Xtra. June 1, 2006. Accessed May 16, 2019.

[iii] Choudhury, Serajul Islam. “The Blazing Comet.” New Age Xtra. June 1, 2006. Accessed May 16, 2019.

[iv] Kazi, Ankan. “Diminishing a Poet.” The Indian Express, June 14, 2017. Accessed May 16, 2019.

[v] Choudhury, Serajul Islam. “The Blazing Comet.” New Age Xtra. June 1, 2006. Accessed May 16, 2019.

[vi] Choudhury, Serajul Islam. “The Blazing Comet.” New Age Xtra. June 1, 2006. Accessed May 16, 2019.

[vii] Choudhury, Serajul Islam. “The Blazing Comet.” New Age Xtra. June 1, 2006. Accessed May 16, 2019.

[viii] Hasina, Sheikh. “113th Birth Anniversary of Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam and 90th Year of His Poem ‘Rebel’.” Address, India-Bangladesh Joint Celebration, Dhaka, May 25, 2012.

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Nicaragua’s Peace Project

Nicaragua is a tropical country with sandy beaches filled with stars, amazing warm weather and roaring volcanoes that light up the sky at night with fire. It’s right in the belly of Central America, between Costa Rica, Honduras and El Salvador. Home of some of the best coffee and cacao in the world, hosts all kinds of rich ecosystems, from thick jungles and fertile lands, to constellation of islands spread in a lake. The vastness of its natural resources including gold and precious wood, has attracted dictators and dirty corporations by the dozen, making it one of the most impoverished countries in Latin America.

Despite the great revolution of ´79 and numerous other previous civil wars and invasions, Nicaraguans have remained a peaceful and friendly population, ready to open their doors and share their food with anyone that visits their homes. Descendants of indigenes, their love for nature, honor and unconquerable free spirit has been kept alive generation after generation, continuously breaking the chains of greed and oppression.  Their strong sense of community has made them endure through terrible times in many occasions.

On April 18 of 2018, after decades of blatant corruption and the use of repression and fear to control the population, the National Police started openly shooting young unarmed university students with snipers and AK-47s. They were peacefully protesting for a reform bill on the Social Security System that would reduce benefits to the elderly and extend working periods for the rest of the population; all in order to keep sucking money out the Social Security System. People have had enough and were not going stand down against any amount of bullets or violence. After the first 30 students were shot in the streets; it was not about the Social Security reform anymore, it was about democracy, justice, peace and freedom.

Over a year has passed and the Nicaraguan community all over the world, along with over 60.000 people that had to go in exile, have created an articulated support network of self-directed organizations with the mission of bringing back democracy and peace to Nicaragua. This includes making the dictator Daniel Ortega step down from power and take him, along with the rest of the people accused of crimes against humanity, to justice. This is a worldwide non-violent effort under the name of #SOSNICARAGUA that is being led by hundreds of people that voluntarily have taken the challenge regardless of the consequences for them.

Het samenbrengen van mensenrechten & technologie in Den Haag

Onderstaand artikel is geschreven en gepubliceerd door Impact City

Tijdens Movies that Matter Festival 2019, werd voor de tweede keer de Ideation Session georganiseerd in samenwerking met The Hague Hacks, Border Sessions en ImpactCity. Tijdens deze sessie kwamen vertegenwoordigers uit de mensenrechten-sector en de technologie-branche samen in Den Haag om te brainstormen. Het doel van deze sessie was om ‘slimme’ technologische manieren te verzinnen voor het verbeteren van privacy, surveillance, veiligheid, duurzaamheid en voedselproblematiek in drie specifieke landen uit de Actvist films van dit jaar: Zuid-Afrika, Thailand en de Verenigde Staten.

Als onderdeel van het Activist-programma op het festival worden de activisten uit de acht documentaires uitgenodigd om deel te nemen aan Q&A’s, meet & greets met het publiek en persoonlijk afspraken om hun werk en de impact hiervan zoveel mogelijk te bevorderen. De Ideation Session is in het leven geroepen om de activisten te koppelen aan personen en organisaties in Den Haag, teneinde collectief te brainstormen en creatieve oplossing te bedenken voor de obstakels die zij dagelijks tegenkomen tijdens hun werk.

De deelnemers van verschillende mensenrechtenorganisaties en tech-organisaties keken eerst de films over deze mensenrechtenverdedigers. Hierna konden de activisten, deelnemers en filmregisseurs elkaar beter leren kennen tijdens een diner in Theater aan het Spui. De activisten deelden hun ervaringen met technologie in hun eigen werk. Hierna ging de Ideation Session officieel van start, waarbij de activisten het voortouw namen en elk team in de materie dook.

Voor activist Patima Tungpuchayakul, te zien in de documentaire Ghost Fleet, is meer transparantie in de handelsketen van de visindustrie van groot belang. Patima’s werk draait om het bevrijden van slaven op vissersschepen in Thailand en Indonesië: dit is in Thailand een groot probleem, waar nog weinig over bekend is. Tijdens de sessie werd duidelijk dat communicatie tussen de vissers op zee en hun familieleden op het vasteland niet alleen zeer belangrijk is voor de vissers, maar dit zou ook kunnen bijdragen aan de transparantie van de keten. Zo zijn er ideeën geopperd om op schepen satelliettelefoons te kunnen uitlezen of douaniers uit te rusten met een vertaalapp zodat zij met de bemaning kunnen praten, wanneer ze een schip betreden.

Filmmaker en activist Assia Boundaoui van The Feeling of Being Watched, besprak de uitdagingen en technologische kansen voor het bevorderen van haar huidige project: The Inverse Surveillance Project. In dit project ligt de focus op de vraag hoe overheidsaansprakelijkheid eruit zou zien door middel van Artificial Intelligence, om zo radicale overheidstransparantie af te dwingen. De vraag die werd behandeld tijdens deze sessie was ‘hoe worden de getuigenissen van de moslimgemeenschap en hun ervaringen met FBI surveillance verzameld?’. De deelnemers stelden vast dat het gebruik van bestaande tools, apps en netwerken een belangrijke rol moet spelen in datacollectie, en zo een infrastructuur te creëren die groei bevordert, waarbij de privacy en waardigheid van de gemeenschap gewaarborgd blijft.

“Hoe kunnen we informatie delen, met het gebruik van technologie, zonder surveillance van de overheid?” Dit was de vraag van de activisten Shaeera Kalla, Deliwe Mzobe en regisseur Rehad Desai van de Fees Must Fall movement in Zuid-Afrika en de film Everything Must Fall. Shaeera gaf aan hoe ingewikkeld het is om te communiceren met medestudenten/activisten, voornamelijk tijdens vreedzame protesten waarbij de politie met geweld optreed. De politie en de overheid misbruiken sociale media en creëren nepaccounts om informatie te vergaren over specifieke leiders binnen de beweging en demonstraties. De deelnemers stelden al gauw vast dat een centrale app nodig is voor demonstranten om veilig te communiceren en middelen uit te kunnen wisselen. Deze app zou niet alleen van toepassing zijn op de Fees Must Fall Movement maar voor activisten wereldwijd.

De activisten, filmmakers en organisatoren waren blij verrast door het grote aantal technologische mogelijkheden dat in korte tijd werden bedacht. Alle teams organiseren follow-ups om verder te werken aan de ideeën die zijn besproken, om uiteindelijk concrete innovatieve en technologische middelen te ontwikkelen om die mensenrechten wereldwijd bevorderen.

The Hague Hacks 2018: Being Part of the Solution

Hack. Hacking. Hacker.

These words are traditionally associated with gaining access to a computer system without permission. But a new generation of techies and problem solvers are reappropriating the word. In the last few decades, “Hackathons” have emerged as an exciting meet-up for computer programmers, coders, graphic designers, business professionals, project managers, companies, medical experts… everyone under the sun. All are welcome to Hackathons, as long as individuals share their talents and expertise to achieving a common goal.

The Hague Hacks is no exception.

The North Korea group exploring the complexities of this human rights issue

 

On December 14th, 2018, The Hague Peace Projects organized the second annual Hague Hacks to connect technology professionals, start-ups, and human rights defenders to explore and brainstorm possible technological solutions to human rights issues. Five human rights issues in particular were chosen for this year’s festival: the current polarizing role of social media in Bangladesh; the potential for technology to increase security in Sudan; the freedom of the press and the safety of government critics in Rwanda; the tracking and monitoring the North Koreans slaves outside of North Korea; and the protection of personal data from the government of Pakistan. Participants were encouraged to learn as much as they could about the context and the complexities of these issues before the event.

On a rainy Friday morning in December, the speakers and participants arrived at the Humanity Hub in The Hague. An atmosphere of excitement began to build as The Hague Peace Projects Director, Jakob de Jong, welcomed everyone. Jakob presented The Hague Hacks as the “kick-off” event that will launch a year of planning, collaborating, meeting with experts and committees, fine-tuning, development, prototypes and implementation of these ideas to create actual and sustainable solutions. He explained that The Hague Hacks is not simply a one-time meeting that all participants can feel good and forget about the next day. On the contrary, it’s a continuous, long-term commitment to connecting tech experts and human rights defenders. The Hague Hacks event is designed as a festival to celebrate these kinds of partnerships and foster an environment to stimulate new innovation and collaboration.

 

Jakob de Jonge addressing the crowd at The Hague Hacks Festival

 

ImpactCity also took the stage. As our principle sponsor for this event, they repeatedly and demonstrably supported The Hague Hacks at every stage of the Festival. ImpactCity believes that economic success and social impact go hand in hand. As such, they try to foster a welcoming and supportive space in The Hague for Start-Ups and Scale-Ups. They also have a program called the Humanitarian Action Challenge, which aims to stimulate cooperation between business and NGOs. The winners of the Humanitarian Action Challenge were invited on stage at The Hague Hacks Festival to say a few words about their experiences developing technology to defend and promote human rights issues across the globe. Hack the Planet, Be Data Driven, and Timby were also in attendance, sharing their knowledge and inspiring participants to blend technology and human rights activism to create effective and long-term solutions.

 

A traditional Syrian lunch was served by Ya Laziz. Guests enjoyed falafels with all the fixings, and madlouka for dessert.

 A delicious traditional Syrian lunch served by Ya Laziz

With full stomachs, participants embarked on the first workshop: The Discovery Workshop. Here, participants were asked to gather in groups according to one of the five human rights issues that they wanted to focus on. The purpose of this workshop was to explore the issues in depth with a human rights expert for each region. Participants had the opportunity to ask questions and learn about the context, the actors and the challenges involved before identifying how technology could provide a viable and sustainable solution.

After a short break, everyone returned to their groups to tackle the second workshop: The Focus Workshop. It was finally problem-solving time. The Humanity Hub was abuzz with discussion. Participants collaborated together: sharing their knowledge, skills and talents to explore the potentials of technology and brainstorm innovative ideas. People of every age, gender, ethnicity, religion, background and profession were united in their conviction to create innovative tech solutions. To see such diversity and yet so much unity was heartwarming and inspiring. All groups engaged in interesting, passionate and fruitful discussions. Of the five groups tackling their respective issues, the Bangladesh and Pakistan groups succeeded in developing viable and plausible technological solutions.

Since the event in December, these two groups have continued to meet regularly to grow their ideas. As part of the next step in The Hague Hacks process, they will present their ideas to two committees. First, they will present their idea to a human rights committee composed of several experts in the dynamics and complexities of their respective human rights issues in Bangladesh and Pakistan. Second, a business and technology committee will assess the viability, the longevity and financial sustainability of their ideas. These committees will provide feedback and constructive criticisms to ensure that these ideas can transform into appropriate, respectful, long-term and successful technologies.

 

The Bangladesh group collaborating and brainstorming possible technological solutions

 

The Hague Hacks would like to thank a few people and organizations without whom this event would not have been possible. An enormous thank you to our partners: The City of The Hague/Gemeente Den Haag, Impact City, and The Hague Peace Projects. We’d also like to thank our wonderful host, The Hague Humanity Hub. Thank you to all of the volunteers who helped plan, promote, organize, and execute the event. Moreover, thank you to all of the speakers and experts who donated their time and knowledge to make this collaboration between tech and human rights come true. Finally, thank you to all of the participants who engaged with our speakers and experts, expressed unrestrained passion for helping solve these humanitarian problems, and continue to create and problem-solve viable technological solutions.  See you all again next year.