A Hubble Bubble and the Genocide

Today the TEEAL team was able to meet with officials involved in the major changes occurring with higher education within the country. Recently the World Bank has agreed to fund the Higher Education Quality Enhancement project which aims at making universities in Bangladesh internationally competitive and to help bring new resources to public universities.

Street in Dhaka
Street in Dhaka

One of the major phases of this project through the University Grants Commission is to expand the wireless internet connection for all public university campuses and to build a digital library for all students and faculty to access. Currently this online digital library has 30,000 e-books and 3,000 journal articles from 11 major publishers. They are looking to expand fiber optics to all universities within the next 6 months and to link all campuses to one network to make it easier for students to access the digital library.

Of course this may seem then that TEEAL would prove to be obsolete as an innovative source of information for university students and faculty.  However, we argue that even with a wireless connection, often in rural areas where most agriculture universities are located, there will be very slow connections and downloads of articles will be a lot faster using TEEAL. We also have access to some publishers the digital library does not.  Furthermore, during our meeting with Dr. Hossain from the UGC, he stated that they were looking for additional resources for the agricultural students; so this could be a perfect way to supplement the digital library. Based on our meeting, what we will more than likely do is to give the UGC their own TEEAL set and train the digital librarians on the system so they can help refer universities to TEEAL if they call looking for additional resources.

Street food vendors in Dhaka
Street food vendors in Dhaka

Following this meeting we met with the Deputy Secretary of the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project. He was able to give us some more details about the project, such as they were ending World Bank funding in 2018 and were not sure how they would continue to fund the digital library past this date. They also seemed interested in helping us form a relationship with the digital library as an alternative resource for universities.  They are more than willing to discuss being a partner in our endeavor and help us connect to more universities. I think both the meetings were very successful and that Chandra will be sure to follow up with them shortly regarding progress forward.

Following our meetings we made our way to the national museum to learn more about the historical and cultural background of Bangladesh. On our way to the museum we were able to explore more of the downtown area of Dhaka.  We started to see how crowded the city could be.  In these areas there is often just one small street meant for cars, rickshaws, CNGs, pedestrians, and street vendors. Everything is so tightly packed together and I truly admire our drivers for being able to find ways through and around people.  It was nice to get this small dose of crowded Dhaka, with the protests continuing it won’t be safe for us to visit old Dhaka. However, I can picture old Dhaka to be very similar to what we saw today; old buildings that now hold countless shops, street vendors with makeshift stalls, and the ever present press of people as they come and go among the old memories and new trials that make up the lifeblood of every city.

Rickshaws on a street in Dhaka
Rickshaws on a street in Dhaka
TEEAL Team as we enter the National Museum
TEEAL Team as we enter the National Museum

The museum was very nice with a lot of different artifacts from around Bangladesh throughout it’s entire history.  I was actually really surprised at the condition of some of the artifacts.

Calvin, Chandra, and Hill at the National Museum
Calvin, Chandra, and Hill at the National Museum

There were temple statues from the 8th century that appeared to be in almost perfect condition.  I know that in many developing nations museums and the preservation of national artifacts often comes in dead last for funding allocation when it is competing against education, food security, infrastructure, and technology. There are stories of the National Museum of Egypt being in shambles in the early 1900s with mummies and artifacts just piled in basement rooms. With no catalog of the objects in the museum, this led to the theft of priceless national treasuries from Egypt. That being said I am unsure what the basement of the Dhaka museum looks like but the visitor sections I felt were well put together.

Poster for the Abiden exhibit at the museum
Poster for the Abiden exhibit at the museum

We were able to explore the agriculture, life, textiles, animals, and plants of Bangladesh along with viewing historic artifacts from the culture of the country. Probably my favorite name for an object was an old clay pipe from the 5th century that they called a hubble bubble.

Of course the museum also focused a lot on the recent struggles of Bangladesh, especially in regards to their Liberation War in 1971 against then East Pakistan.  I was very impressed with the displays dedicated to this time period.  The rooms were filled with large copies of news articles and headlines, letters from leaders, pictures form the press and more personal snapshots taken by citizens during the events. There was a lot about this time period that I had no idea about.  I knew before coming to Bangladesh that they had once been part of India until the partition and then were part of Pakistan as East Pakistan, and were able to gain their independence in 1971.  However, what I was shocked to see was the brutal genocide that occurred during the war by the East Pakistani army and its Militias.  The genocide began on March 26, 1971 when West Pakistan launched Operation searchlight to suppress Bengali protest for self-determination. It is estimated that between 30,000 to 3,000,000 were killed and around 200,000-400,000 Bengali women were raped in a systematic campaign.

It was shocking to see the images of the dead and maimed laying in the streets of Dhaka.  In one corner were large picutres of mass graves filled with skulls .  They also put together a memorial for the systematic murder of the intellectuals a the University of Dhaka that occured at the start and end of the campaign. The US at the time released that was posted in the exhibit that read “It was the most incredible, calculated thing since the days of the Nazis in Poland.” What was amazing to me and extremly diappointing was to hear that “Genocide” was used by US officials in Bangladesh to describe the events and yet Nixon and Kissinger chose to downplay the events to protest West Pakistan interests. As a student of human rights and as one who studied the Holocaust intensely, I found the exhibit disturbing and upsetting on a very personal level. I felt anger that the US could have sided during the war with West Pakistan and that yet again the phrase of “Never More” uttered at the end of the holocaust again was a lie that is constantly perpetrated by world leaders. To this day it is hard to prove that event such of this can be considered Genocide as described by international law; however Truth and Justice Commissions are still being held against those that perpetrated the violence, especially Bengalis that assisted the militias in the attacks.

TEEAL Team leaving the museum
TEEAL Team leaving the museum

With this sobering display the last one we visited at the museum everyone was looking for  little happiness.  We decided the best thing was to do some final souvenir shopping for ourselves and our friends.  We were able to walk to a shopping complex to buy some items.  Of course on the way Calvin, our superstar sandman, was asked for pictures. Calvin and Hill will be in a ton of photos around Dhaka by the end of our stay here! Tomorrow we plan to spend the day finalizing our marketing plan and hoping to work on our presentation. I can’t believe our trip is almost over!

TEEAL Team at the Shawrma House for lunch
TEEAL Team at the Shawrma House for lunch
Prime Minister's House
Prime Minister’s House
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