Gay Bangladesh News & Reports 1996-2009

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Also See:
Islam and Homosexuality


The oldest, biggest and the most active internet based mailing list of Bangladeshi gays called Boys Only Bangladesh (BOB). Since the group cannot be found out by searching, advertising is the only way it can reach people across the world. And India being our biggest LGBTneighbour, it is believed that we have a lot of common friends. GayBombay surely is an effective way to reach out to others. Moreover, it is also said that there’s no active community in Bangladeshand the gay scenario is totally void. BOB is there to prove it wrong.The group has been there since 2001 working both online and offline to bring the Bangladeshi gays together under one roof. Just like GB, BOB also arranges parties, gatherings, film shows and such activities from time to time. With more than 1400 members which is increasing each day, BOB is looking forward to work as the forerunner in the LGBT sector of Bangladesh. GB’s help and guidence in this regard is highly welcome. It’d also be great if GB friends can list BOB in their website under the International Forums section. The site link: http://www.groups.yahoo.com/group/boysonlybangladesh


More information about Islam & Homosexuality can be found at: www.al-fatiha.org
Other articles of interest can be found at: groups.yahoo.com/group/al-fatiha-news
Queer Muslim magazine: Huriyah

Gay Islam discussion groups:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/muslimgaymen     http://groups.yahoo.com/group/lgbtmuslim
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/queerjihad          http://groups.yahoo.com/group/bimuslims
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/transmuslims       http://groups.yahoo.com/group/lesbianmuslims


1 Sexual health workshops for males who have sex with males 4/96

2 Revealing an Underworld Network: Male prostitution in Ramna Park 11/96

3 Varieties of homosexuality in Bangladesh: implications for HIV prevention 6/98

4 Dhaka forced to face sex taboo 9/99

5 Alternative Lifestyles getting increasing popular in Bangladesh 2002

6 Why gay men flee Bangladesh 4/03

7 Bangladesh: Rape fuel Bangladesh and India AIDs Crisis 8/03

8 Bangladesh’s gay prostitutes take a tiny step out of the closet 10/03

9 AIDS/HIV situation in Bangladesh: A Looming Threat 9/03

10 Gay asylum bid by Bangladeshi Gays in Australia clears first hurdle 12/03 

11 The stand of Bangladesh’s law and order system on "Homosexuality 10/04

12 Hizras bear the brunt of prejudice in conservative Bangladesh 6/05

13 Gay Bangla: The Shadow Citizens 1/06

14 Nobel Peace Prize to Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh 10/06 (background story)

15 Transsexual host breaks TV taboo 11/07

16 A Jihad of the Heart a study with practicing Muslim 11/08

17 Transgender Bangladeshis to vote today 12/08

18 High Court Halts Deadly Shipbreaking on the Beaches of Bangladesh 3/09

19 Gays and Lesbians: the hidden minorities of Bangladesh 3/09

20 Gay, straight or MSM? 8/09

20a Living on the Extreme Margin 8/09

21 ‘Prove you’re gay’ 10/09

22 Evergreen Documentary Project receives French funding 10/09

23 Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies 12/09

24 Between invisible friends 12/09


 


April 1996 – The International Lesbian and Gay Association 1999
NAZ Foundation
The newsletter of The Naz Foundation Issue 17, April 1996

1
Sexual health workshops in Bangladesh and India for males who have sex with males

An HIV/AIDS Journal With International News And Features Sexual health workshops in Bangladesh and India for males who have sex with males In October, November and December, 1996, a series of workshops were conducted by The Naz Foundation for males who have sex with males in Dhaka, Calcutta, Chennai (Madras), and New Delhi.

Whilst each group expressed differing socio-cultural-economic dynamics, expressing differing identities, sensibilities, class, and needs, there was a high degree of concurrence on major issues. This report highlights certain issues of major concern that arose from these workshops a other work being done by The Naz Foundation elsewhere in India and Bangladesh.

From such work we have found very high levels of male to male sex (and not necessarily males who identify as gay/homosexuallbisexual) but also high levels of anal sex between males and between males and females. And because very little effort has been made by government or non-government agencies addressing the issues of male to male sex and anal sex between males and females, the presumption being made that anal sex is only a "homosexual" issue and that "heterosexuals" apparently only practice vaginal sex, The Naz Foundation has been challenging these assumptions to ensure that all sexually active people have the right to access appropriate information, sexual health products and sexual health services appropriate to their needs, behavioural practices and socio-cultural constructions of identity and community.

If there is to be any successful effort towards empowering males who have sex with males toward health seeking behaviours then there needs to be major efforts to:
a. increase access to and usage of appropriate sexual health products and services,
b. reduce STD/HIV infections amongst males who have sex with males and their male and female sexual partners

To ensure that the possible socio-economic impact of AIDS at the personal, familial, community and national level is reduced then the following issues need to be urgently explored.

1. Sexual Behaviour research
Before appropriate strategies can be developed towards STD/HIV control programmes by government and non-government agencies, there needs to be effective research conducted in regard to the full range of sexual practices of individuals, and sexual behaviour patterns of families and communities. For such research to be appropriately used in such a development, then it must be contextualised within socio-cultural-economic frameworks. The problem is that very little of this has been done.

No-one really knows what is happening in terms of sexual behaviours and their sociocultural constructions. Sexual behaviour is not the isolated phenomenon of the individual but lies within a context of culture, social and economic conditions. "…… it would have to focus not only on the incidence of particular attitudes and practices, but on the social and cultural contexts in which sexual activity is shaped and constituted. Research attention would have to be drawn not merely to the calculation of behavioural frequencies, but to the relations of power and social inequality within which behaviour takes place and to the cultural systems in which it becomes meaningful. "In relationship to HIV/AIDS, as in relation to gender, inequality and sexual oppression, an understanding of sexuality and sexual activity as socially constructed has thus refocused attention on the inter-subjective nature of sexual meanings – their shared, collective quality, not as the property of atomised individuals, but of social persons integrated within the context of distinct and diverse sexual cultures.

This emphasis, on the social organisations of sexual interactions, on the contexts within which sexual practices occur, and on the complex relations between meaning and power in the constitution of sexual experience, has thus increasingly shifted attention from sexual behaviour, in and of itself, to the cultural rules which organise it. Special emphasis has been given to analysing the local or indigenous categories and systems of classification that structure and define sexual experience in different social and cultural contexts.

"In a remarkably short period of time, it has become apparent that many key categories and classifications used in Western medicine to describe sexual life or epidemiology are in fact, far from universal – unshared by people living in the diverse historical contexts … or cultural settings that have increasingly become the focus for HIV/AIDS rescarch. On the contrary, categories as diverse as "homosexuality", "prostitution" (we can include lesbian, gay, commercial sex workers, men who have sex with men … SK) or even "masculinity" and "femininity" may be altogether absent, or quite differently structured, in these societies and cultures – while other, local categories may be present that fail to fit neatly into the classification systems of Western science."

(Conceiving Sexuality – approaches to sex research in a post-modern world—page 11, edited by Richard Parker and John Gagnon, 1995, Routledge)

Very little of such research has been done in India often leading to ill-thought out strategies for HIV prevention, and an almost invisibility of the issue of anal sex as a sexual practice between males as well as between males and females. What may be recognised are the terms, homosexual, gay, men who have sex with men, male commercial sex workers, and so on, where very often these terms carry no significance or meaning amongst males who have sex with males amongst the indigenous population.

Preliminary research conducted by The Naz Foundation amongst males who have sex with males have found a range of issues that are not easily visible or even acceptable for socio cultural reasons. These include amongst others
a. male rape
b. adolescent males as sexual objects of older males
c. high levels of anal sex between males and between males and females
d. very early experiences of sexual activity and sexual abuse amongst males
e. inter-family male to male sex, with sexual partners including brothers, uncles, nephews, cousins, male-in-laws, etc.
f. sexual encounters with servants
g. male to male sex without identity constructions of homosexual/bisexual
h. identity structures around marriage, penetration, age, family, religion, caste and class
i. feminised identities primarily of males who are penetrated
j. Hijras as a socially constructed identity of biological males who are "feminised" through social/sexual interactions in pre-pubescence
k. sexual desire of many males based on discharge and activity not on gender of partner
1. some male to male sexual behaviours based on females being seen as disease vectors
m. gender segregation and limited sexual access to females within a socio-cultural framework of homosociability and homoaffectionalism increasing options for male to male sex

This research is limited by time and available funds, but already it can be clearly seen that what currently exists as HIV prevention strategies amongst males who have sex with males are very limited. We have only identified an extremely few intervention strategies.

These are: a. Humsafar Trust in Mumbai (Bombay)
b. CAN MSM project in Chennai (Madras)
c. Naz Delhi Project
d. Naz Calcutta Project and a number of local gay groups in Bangalore, Lucknow and elsewhere.

For a variety of reasons, primarily identity constructions, but also incuding financial, none of these look at male to male sexual behaviours in its broadest frameworks.

At the same time, we have not been able to clearly identify any agency that looks at anal sex between males and females and is developing appropriate STD/HIV prevention strategies taking this on board.

In conducting such research though, several significant questions must be asked:
a. who is going to conduct the research
b. how is it going to be conducted how is information going to be collected and by whom what questions are going to be asked, how are they asked, and in what language
e. what terminology will be used
f. how will the information be analysed and who will do the analysis how will the data be used in developing appropriate STD/HIV prevention and sexual health services who will develop such services and who will work in them

Recommendation
The need for appropriate information towards developing strategies for sexual health promotion amongst males who have sex with males must be urgently addressed as a priority. This will require developing appropriate behavioural and anthropological models of research that include the subjects of such research, both as subjects and as observers. Such research should also recognise the wide diversity of cultures, languages, terminologies and behaviour of participants, which include those whose primary behaviour is male to male, as well as those whose male to male sexual behaviours are intermittent, secondary and discharge based.

2. Sexual Behaviours and Identities
The workshops as well as issues identified through research conducted by The Naz Foundation, have shown that the range of identities of those involved in male to male sexual behaviours -are socio-culturally constructed and very often have nothing to do with identities as understood within Western science. The terms gay/homosexual have very little significance for the vast majority of males who have sex with males, and only seem to have some meaning to those with access to English, and who are primarily middle/upper classes, a small minority in India.

Even in their context, marriage becomes a primary focus of identity. Some of those under thirty may well identify with this terminology, but after this age, marriage as a family commitment becomes the primary identity. There may well be those who carry both identities and situate them within specific social contexts, i.e. a "park"/social network identity and a home/business identity. For the those from the lower-middle/lower income/labour classes, different, more gendered, frameworks exist.

Thus the terms, kothi and danga exist as identities of those males who are sexually penetrated and behave in "feminised" ways. These males stated that they ,never penetrate other males, nor have sex amongst themselves. This is considered shameful. Their ejaculation is usually produced through the act of anal penetration by their partner, or through selfmasturbation.

However, whilst this is what is usually stated, private one-on-one discussions indicate that some kothis do have sex with each other and do anally penetrate as well. There are also hijras, a socially constructed group of males who have a historical socio-religious sanction in specific contexts, who dress as women, feminise their behaviours in exaggerated forms, and live upon earnings gained through performing certain rituals at marriage and birth occasions, through aggressive begging and through prostitution (oral and anal sex) in urban settings. Many of these males are also ritualistically fully castrated as a religious sacrifice, and they will speak of believing that they are females in a male body.

Yet listening to their stories, many speak of an early involvement in anal penetration in their villages, and since this is seen as a female activity, feminise themselves as part of their socialisation. Those hijras that are not castrated, state that they never have sex with each other, nor do they penetrate, but again through one-on-one discussions in a beshararam (shameless) environment, some have revealed the opposite. At the same time, those males who sexually penetrate (and never are penetrated, so it is believed) are called panthis/giriyas, "masculine", males who are "real men". And "real men" never touch their male sexual partner’s genitalia.

Yet, again, some of these "real men", in private situations, have also revealed that at times they enjoy being sexually penetrated and have asked for this. In such occasions they will select a "double-decker" as a sexual partner.

However, their public "park" identity is secured through only being seen to be going with kothis. Then there are the jiggery dosts, close malele friends of approximately equal age, who may also have sex with each other, sometimes involving mutual penetration. Or double deckers, those whose sexual acts include both penetrator and penetrated, and whose sense of sexual desire may the closest to what would be understood by the term "gay".

There are of course a significant number of males who have sex with other males who do not have any of these identities. Two males sharing a bed in a shared room, finding themselves sexually "hot" who will then go onto having sex, where, as one stated "I dreamt I was having sex", or another " a ‘jinn’ made me do it". Males living away from their wives, young males not married. Truckdrivers, tea shop "boys", restaurant "boys", taxi drivers, rickshaw drivers, business men, hotel-"boys", students living in hostels, military personnel, well the lists can go on.

Recommendations
If we are going to empower individuals, sexual networks, social groups and communities towards an increase in health seeking behaviours, then more research needs to be done to identify as to who, how and why various sexual identities are constructed, there specific meanings, and how they can determine sexual behaviours. Understanding these constructions enable more effective designs for intervention strategies that enable the promotion of sexual health amongst males who have sex with males.

3. Empowering Behaviour Changes
Why do individuals modify their sexual practices towards safer sex practices? Why should they? Under what circumstances? What forms of persuasion work? Our evidence from the workshops, research, and direct intervention, indicate that myths, environments, identities, behaviour modalities, socio cultural frameworks, religious ideas, poverty, accessibility to appropriate sexual health products, empowerment, class, economic power, and so on, all play a role in determining whether a shift towards safer sex practices can be maintained over a long period of time. It is not simply a matter of telling people the risks involved in their behaviours, the possibilities of infection, or the resultant potential death from an AIDS related illness. Fear can be a possible motivation for an individual to change their behaviour, but can this fear be sustained?

Little work appears to have been done as to what effective strategy or strategies would work amongst the differing sexual networks amongst males who have sex with males. What might work amongst one group or class may not work in another. What might work for self-identified gay men may not work for those involved in jiggery dost or discharge sex. What has clearly been shown by the range of workshops, is that any strategy that may be developed needs to be underpinned within frameworks of community development, social networks, peer pressure, personal empowerment, and familial frameworks.

It should be remembered that in South Asian cultures, individuality, and thus a sense of the personal self separated from its social surroundings is weak. Rather, identity is given shape by the family and marriage which play a more central role in a person’s life. Empowering behaviour change requires intervention strategies to contextualise such work within these multi-levelled dynamics to make any sense and to be effective. Beyond the actual structures and models of intervention, access to appropriate sexual health products becomes essential.

How can one tell an individual to practice safer sex when identity is configured around anal penetration, where the environment is not conducive to safer sex behaviours, where poverty can be one of the dynamics that socially constructs sexual behaviours, and where access to appropriate condoms and lubricants is not possible?

At the same time, sexual health services need to be sensitised to the needs of males who have sex with males. If a clinician does not have the knowledge around anal sex issues, or is too ashamed to discuss these issues, or finds them offensive to deal with, how can such a service deliver an appropriate framework which can be accessed by males who have sex with males?

This is the challenge for South Asian agencies developing sexual health work amongst males who have sex with males.

Recommendations
More research needs to be conducted with regard to developing appropriate messages, sexual health products, and sexual health services. This research should look at frameworks of support for males who have sex with males towards encouraging them to practice safer sex, the levels of knowledge, understanding and acceptance by medical staff and social service agencies regarding males who have sex with males and their sexual practices, and what would work in the differing sexual frameworks and networks of males who have sex with males.

4. Sexual Health Education
Resources In the workshops consistent attention was drawn to the fact that there is almost nothing appropriate available with regard to sexual health education materials specifically targeting anal sex and/or males who have sex with males in South Asia. This means that males who have sex with males are not able to gain any specific knowledge regarding their sexualities, practices or issues around the risks of STD/HIV infections. Nor is there any specific information available regarding symptoms of STDS. Many of the workshop participants could not recognise some symptoms as STD related and very often stated that they would not access STD services because of this. At the same time, those who practice anal sex with females are also not able to access information on the levels of risk of this behaviour. Anecdotal material from a number of different sources indicate that STD/HIV transmission is surrounded by new myths that have evolved partly through the educational resources being made available.

These include:
a. women as disease vectors, arising from many campaigns which target female sex workers as infectors of HIV and therefore to be sexually avoided
b. anal sex is safer than vaginal sex , because no one talks about it pre-pubescent males/females are safer and sex with them may cure AIDS – since discussions on sexual behaviour and HIV/AIDS usually speak of adults, i.e. men who have sex with men STDs/HIV/AIDS can be cured through so-called homeopathic remedies bought from "quacks".

Recommendation
There is an urgent need for a broad range of educational materials reflecting the sexual practices of males who have sex with males, including specifically anal sex, to be made available. Such resources should include that which is part of an ongoing general campaign around raising awareness and knowledge about sexual behaviours, STD/HIV infection symptoms and risks, and condom usage, and those resources specifically targeting behavioural groups specific to the needs of each such group. These resources should not only be available in the local language as written resources, but should also cater for those not literate. Resources also need to be developed that cater for those who are visually impaired and other marginalised and physically impaired groups. For example, in one city, a young male of 16 years, with a below normal mental age was being regularly sexually accessed for anal sex by other young males in his neighbourhood.

5. Sexual Health Products
Figures received by The Naz Foundation indicate that in India, only 360 million condoms are sold each year in a population of over 900 million people. These condoms vary in quality and strength, with the higher quality condoms being relatively more expensive. Condom promotion is usually left to family planning clinics (which are primarily visited by women), some ad-hoc local government poster campaigns (which of course necessitates literacy), STD clinics (if you attend them), and a range of HIV agencies, either through free access or through social marketing principles. There are no condoms available appropriate for use in anal sex encounters either between males or between males and females. Further, the only water-based lubricant available in the market is Johnson and Johnson KY jelly sold in tubes by pharmacies and is relatively expensive.

Several points need to be made
1. There are insufficient condoms in the market place to cope with the specific needs for a major reduction of STD/HIV infections through safer sex practices.
2. There is insufficient education to promote correct condom use as a safer sex practice. Condom promotion historically has been seen as an aid to family planning,
3. There is no clear cut strategy to deal with the difference between procreative sex and recreational sex. This issue is clouded with morality, shame and ignorance.
4. Condom quality varies considerably, with the cheaper brand (Nirodh in India, and Rija in Bangladesh) being seen by potential users as a government condom, aimed for family planning, and of poor quality.
5. The vast majority of individuals having risky sex come from lower income groups because of population size and social frameworks. The middle-classes only make up 10% of the population, whilst 80% of the population live in rural areas. Cost and access is a major factor controlling use.
6. Sexual environments, whether indoors or outdoors. are not generally conducive to condom use. A lack of privacy and intimacy in sexual encounters also control condom usage.
7. Sexual taboos against the public discussion of sex, particularly anal sex. The majority of campaigns regarding condom use are focused on female sex workers and those who access them. What about other females and males who are also sexually accessed? Condom promotion is seen as targeting "highriskgroups" and not a part of general education campaign. The methodology of the actual penetrative act increases the risk of condom damage. That is, rapid penetration and thrusts leading to quick ejaculations, and occasional use of oil-based lubricants. No suitably packaged and priced water-based lubricant in the market.

Recommendations
1. Increased availability and accessibility of good quality condoms at prices every one can afford.
2. Increased usage of condoms through regular and on-going condom promotion campaigning, recognising the high levels of recreational sex including anal sex.
3. Marketing and promotion of appropriate condoms for anal sex.
4. Increased availability of education resources regarding correct condom usage. Easy availability and promotion of suitably packaged water-based lubricants to be used with condoms. Destigmatising the public discussion of sexual behaviours through multi-media educational campaigns.
6. Sexual Health Services Anal sex is perceived as a highly stigmatised behaviour in the public arena, particularly for the penetrated. These workshops as well as other research conducted by The Naz Foundation, indicate that anal sex is not some small minority behaviour, but is a significant sexual practices amongst many males of differing ages, socio economic groups, religions, castes, class, and marital status. Anal sex is not only occurring between males, but also between mates and females. Yet, this sexual practice appears to have a low priority in regard to STD/HIV infections through the use of the terminology heterosexual/homosexual, through denial and shame.

Can anal sex between males and females be defined as a heterosexual practice? As a result, sexual health services often ignores the possibility of STD/HIV transmission resulting from such a sexual practice both for males and females. Even where a clinician may consider the possibility it usually is in the circumstances of addressing the needs of a kothi or hijra. In these circumstances, with these identities being heavily stigmatised results in individuals with these identities often being intimated and/or abused if or when accessing such services.

As has been constantly stated in other Naz documents, shame is a significant controlling factor with regard to people’s lives and access of services. There appears to be very little education of clinicians and medical staff regarding anal sex and any resultant infections through anal sex, nor the socio cultural constructions of this practice. There are few appropriate sexual health services addressing these concerns. Rather it is assumed that any patient, male or female, attending such a clinic, comes through the result of infections through vaginal sex. Anal swabs are not often a part of the investigation.

Recommendations
1. All STD services staff private or govemment, as well as all sexual health services provided by govemment and non-government agencies should receive training on ALL frameworks of sexual behaviours which must include anal sex as a practice both between males and between males and females.

2. Such training should also include the sensitising of staff regarding the needs of individuals and families in regard to possible infections through anal sex, and that the quality of service delivery regarding this issue should be regularly investigated to ensure that all individuals can access sympathetic and high quality services.

7. Legal Issues
Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalises male to male sex with up to 10 years imprisonment. One of the consequences of this is to make it very difficult for males who have sex with males to access sexual health services because their behaviour is against the law and through this accessing makes them visible. It further makes the availability of sexual health services for prisoners difficult.

The second issue, and related to the first, is the high level of reported harassment and violence directed towards males who have sex with males both by police and members of the general public. Very often there will be a demand for sex and/or money. Reporting of these incidents is obviated by Section 377, and further compounded by the unsympathetic and sometimes violent attitudes of the police. For effective sexual health promotion amongst males who have sex with males, both these connected issues must be appropriately and adequately addressed.

Recommendations
1. Repeal of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and its equivalent in Bangladesh as a step towards increasing the confidence of males who have sex with males to access legal, judicial and sexual health services.
2. Training of police staff and the judiciary on issues regarding males who have sex with males and sexual health concerns. 3. Developing advocacy programmes for males who have sex with males to ensure the human rights of individuals are being respected, and that those who are harassed or violently abused can seek legal redress. A lot of work needs to be done. Home Page Site Index E-Mail ILGA Last updated: 31/07/00 Copyright © 1999 International Lesbian and Gay Association. All rights reserved.



November 15, 1996 – Sydney Star Magazine

2
Bangladesh: Revealing an Underworld Network: Male prostitution in Ramna

It is perhaps a well known fact that Ramna Park is one of the busiest venues for the sex-workers. When the Star talked to Park Officials, security guards, gardeners, vendors, flower-girls, and child water-wallahs, none of them denied being aware of the institution of prostitution that centres around the famous park. In fact, much to the amazement of the reporters, the children (aged between 8-14) were most eager to come forward with information about the female sex-workers of Ramna.
The Star however wanted to investigate a lesser known ring of male-prostitutes who have made Ramna one of their head-quarters.

This information was first acquired from two researchers, Dr. Shumon Lahari (a medical doctor) and Mr. M.A. Faraz (an NGO worker), who are currently exploring the area of male sexual behaviour in Bangladesh. Lahari and Faraz have been involved in a "need assessment study" since April 1996, on male sexual behaviour, particularly of homosexuality as a hidden yet existing life-style.

[It is important to note here that not all homosexual men are working as or visiting prostitutes for sexual, gratification. Since the Star’s story is on Ramna, it took a special interest in a particular group of men who operate as sex-workers in Ramna Park only. It is not our intention to stigmatize homosexuals into professions such as prostitution].

Faraaz and Lahari claimed that unlike female sex-workers, men do not work from organized brothels, but are usually saturated in parks such as Ramna. Perhaps the Park offers them a certain sense of security since female prostitution is already a common practice. Police harassment is also limited in public parks compared to organized brothels.

Lahari and Faraaz claimed that men of all social classes engage in sexual encounters with one another at Ramna. From "bureaucrats to university students and from truckdrivers to respectable officers frequent Ramna to buy sex from the male prostitutes." Faraaz and Lahari informed the Star that every evening between 8 and 10 p.m. are the peak hours of male prostitution in Ramna. Aside from the hijras there are also transvestites (men dressed up as women) who operate in a different space in the Park from the female sex-workers. There is an underlying agreement between the two groups not to infringe upon each other’s space, activities or clients. Most of these men receive an average of 12 to 15 partners each night. The researchers made an important distinction between the sex-workers and their clients. According to the researchers, the sex-workers are usually men from working class backgrounds who participate in prostitution for financial benefits. The clients on the other hand, visit the sex-workers because they have limited options to express their sexuality or desire for other men. Many of these clients are leading mainstream heterosexual lives and are even married to women.

The objectives of the research study conducted by Lahari and Faraaz include providing a safe space for men to express their sexuality, to create social awareness about homosexuality, to provide psychological support to gay men in their process of dealing with their -sexual feelings, and to create an environment where homosexuality is an acceptable and viable life style in society.

They are also concerned about the slowly but steadily growing HIV/AIDS epidemic in Bangladesh and want to promote safe-sex among men. Lahari and .Faraaz claim that society at large is living in denial about homosexuals and it is extremely detrimental to individuals to have to suppress their true identity in fear of being labelled "socially deviant"

The invisibility of gay men is further perpetuated by such laws like the Penal Code 377 which states "Any sexual intercourse against the order of nature is punishable by law." When asked how they would deal with the legal ramifications of such a law, Faraaz replied "This law is quite vague in its language because it does not define what ‘against the order of nature actually means." Faraaz and Lahari are currently working with a group of 50 researchers to publish a comprehensive report on male sexual behaviour in Bangladesh which will be complete and available in January 1997.

When Star asked Lahari and Faraaz in what direction they intend to take their study in future, they responded by saying that they are in the process of forming an NGO which will focus solely on male sexual behaviour. They believe it is a "neglected issue in society and one that needs to be addresses." The two researchers are working with the Naz Foundation, a U.K. based organization which deals with male sexuality worldwide. Lahari and Faraaz have already received support from several UN organizations to proceed with their study and to work towards forming a platform from which debate can take place on the issue of homosexuality.

The activists also expressed their dissatisfaction with the media, which is so conservative that they totally deny and ignore the existence of gays in society. media needs to have a more positive attitude towards homosexuality if society at large is to be informed and educated about gay rights. Lahari and Fraaz pointed out that gay rights are human rights and organizations working on human rights in Bangladesh should take a keen interest to support the welfare of individual people in society regardless of their sexual preference and orientation.

After having this informative discussion with Faraaz and Lahari the Star decided to investigate the alleged ring of male prostitution in the Ramna Park. Our Staff correspondent reports:
Just as the sun sets, darkness engulfs most part the city’s Ramna Park which, according to a sign board near the gate opposite Shishu Park, should keep open till 9 p.m. As you enter the park from the gate, only yards away from the Dhaka Club Ltd. and the Police Control Room, men in dirty Hawaii shirts, loose trousers and sponge slippers will approach you. "Do you want a top class lady? Or perhaps a male companion? Just ask."

As you brush aside such offers and walk inside the park, shadows of men and women will move toward you. Then you have more offers at hand. Some men will come upto you, try to read your face in the dark, then, either move off or ask you for a light. In the process of lighting the cigarette the inevitable question whether you need anything will come up.

Along the poorly lit winding pavements of the park you may feel a little relieved to find the tea vendor with his flask and bucket. "These days police are a little strict but you can still find your choice at the gate near Kakrail," Shahjalal, the friendly vendor points his finger towards a half-lit route, taking you as one of the many sex-hungry customers of the park.

On the neatly laid turf by the pavement, well-dressed young men hang around hand in hand. Some sit close to each other and gaze into the darkness. Near Kakrail gentlemanly figures now begin to appear. Whispers of busy men behind the bushes. can be heard.

A well-built young boy about l6, in lungi, approaches and sits on the bench. "Do you need a massage?" He enquires. His name is Rabiul Karim and he comes from Shariatpur, Pabna. It was a year ago that a fellow villager convinced him to work as a masseur at Aricha ghat. " He assured my parents that I would earn a lot of money at the ghat. But life soon became terrible as I was raped by men at the ghat," says Rabiul, "about two months ago I decided to come to Dhaka."

Rabiul adds that a lot of rich people come to the Park in the evenings and pay handsome amounts for sex. His earnings range from 100 to 200 taka everyday. If you have a walk along the park now you can find a lot of people like me. Today business is slow, on Thursdays we are really busy" says he.

A young man dressed in a red T-shirt and tight jeans now starts a conversation with a middle-aged man yards away from the bench. Within minutes the two disappear behind a bush nearby. As the couple emerges from the bush after sometime, the young man directly comes towards Rabiul and sits down, "he is a son of a bitch…pervert," he mutters to his friend moving his chin towards the middle-aged man now hurriedly making his way towards Kakrail. The young man reveals that he was driven into the business for money but cannot get away from it now. "I come from Pahartali, Chittagong. I passed my intermediate exams two years ago but could not find a job. Now I am doing well" he says adding that he has just earned fifty taka. " There are many plain-clothes policemen here who have traps," the young man warns, "they catch rich people red-handed in the act and extort as much as possible."



June 28-July 3, 1998 – Aegis

3
Varieties of homosexuality in Bangladesh: implications for HIV prevention.

International Conference on AIDS 1998 Jun 28-Jul 3; 12:244-5 (abstract no. 155/14312)__Jenkins C_Int’l. Cent. Diar. Dis. Res. B., Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Country info

OBJECTIVES: The national AIDS policy of Bangladesh has recognised the existence of male to male sex and the likelihood of high risk behaviour. The policy calls for much needed research in this domain. In order to address this need, a study was carried out to explore the varieties and contexts of same sex experiences among males and the life courses of these men.

DESIGN: This study took place in Dhaka, with the help of a small new non-government organization dedicated to male sexual health. In-depth life history interviews were collected. METHODS: 7 young men were selected and trained as qualitative interviewers. They gained access to their informants through their own friendship networks as well as simply meeting men on the street. Sampling aimed at maximizing class, educational, age and situational variation. A total of 45 interviews were tape recorded and translated from Bangla to English.

RESULTS: Initiation into same sex activities prior to opposite-sex activities occurs widely among male youth, especially in rural areas. This may occur as early as 8 or 9 years old, but the most appear to be in the 13-15 year old age group, with initiating partners in the 17-24 year old group. These are often relatives, such as brother-in-laws or cousins.

In some cases, younger boys are raped by groups of older boys. Gender roles vary widely and different life courses range from having no further male to male sex to becoming a professional sex worker. Some move toward transexual lifestyles, while others become bisexually active. Sex with boys is seen as a safe substitute for sex with dangerous female sex workers. Most men claim they do not use condoms or water-based lubricants. Nearly all of those interviewed were married, or claim they will marry. Of greatest importance was the necessity to keep their lives hidden from family members.

CONCLUSIONS: Early male to male sex poses serious risks, particularly when the older males have also begun having intercourse with women. Risk increases with age throughout young adulthood, particularly after moving to urban settings. As disclosure is rarely possible, anal sex issues are best handled within general male sexual health clinic settings and well controlled venue-based outreach programmes. Rural boys and men will be most difficult to reach, but using local traditional healers is a possibility.

Keywords: AEGIS, Homosexuality, Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, Sex Behavior, Condoms, Prostitution, Interpersonal Relations, Coitus, Interviews, Bangladesh, Human, Male, Female, prevention & control



September 21, 1999 – South China Morning Post

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Dhaka forced to face sex taboos

by Arsha Mahmud in Dhaka
Homosexuality, in theory, does not even exist. But in reality, its practice is creating a dilemma for Bangladeshi authorities, social workers and medical professionals. They simply do not seem to know how to deal with it.

The subject has been strictly taboo in this predominantly Muslim society. So when the daily Manavzamin reported about a police clampdown on homosexuals in Dhaka, many readers seem to have been jolted by the revelation of their existence. The reaction of many, even among the educated, was that homosexuality in Bangladesh was an absurd suggestion and that gays plying their trade in public was preposterous. When police arrested 15 boys and men two weeks ago, they did not use the word "homosexual", instead describing them as "perverts" on their charge sheets.

The action, police said, was aimed at curbing "a growing menace". It is not difficult to find male "sex workers" in the city. Each evening they can be seen loitering at busy intersections and parks that are well-known pick-up points. But the clampdown caused another headache for police because there is no law on the statute books to specifically deal with the problem.

So a Dhaka magistrate charged the "perverts" with causing a "public nuisance" and fined them 500 takas (HK$79) each. All were released and, as expected, are back in business. However, that is not the end of the story. What has caused consternation among various professional groups and social scientists is the arrest of a worker from a non-government organisation. He was accused of pandering to the "business".

The Bandhu Social Welfare Society is reported to have been supplying condoms and providing advice on safe sex to homosexuals. "This is an issue which exists in every society and we must not pretend that it doesn’t exist here. No amount of intimidation or arrests is going to solve the problem," said Dr Halida Hanum Khandker, president of Confidential Approach to Aids Prevention. "We cannot turn a blind eye to the problem, rather we should all try to tackle it in a practical way," said Mushtaque Ali, executive director of Incidence, a group that provides medical assistance to male sex workers.

Incidence began its work three years ago after conducting a study that revealed young boys, mostly poor and homeless, were being increasingly used as sex workers. Among male sex workers in Dhaka, two brothers named Kalam and Lalu are perhaps the best known. Aged 26 and 24 respectively, both are dumb. An elder brother tried beating them to stop their "horrible acts", but now others in the family accept the situation. A nephew said: "Every morning my uncles come home with their pockets bulging with money. For poor people like us, money is crucial." nearby, converge at the site. Rabiul and the smartly dressed young man move on to make further contracts.



Early 2002 – The Daily Star, Dhaka

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Alternative Lifestyles getting increasing popular in Bangladesh

[Author’s note: This piece was written in early 2002 for the two lovebirds I came to be friends with in Boston. An attempt to spur some laughter in their lives by being outrageously funny (lamely though). Not recommended reading for those who think they are very funny. Written in January, 2002.]

Faisal Hossain reports from desk, The Daily Star, Dhaka. An alarming prevalence of homosexuality among young people of Bangladesh has been observed by noted social scientists of Dhaka University. Compared to the last survey conducted five years ago in the same area, girls and guys alike have been found to be more open and favorable to the concepts of distorted sexual orientations. Notes a somber Dr. Safiul Azam, Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology and Principal Investigator (P.I) of the USAID funded project “Investigations of the Arsenic Calamity on Rural Psychology”, “Certainly we have a much higher percentage of gays and lesbians in our society than we had five years ago. Our study in the area of Chittagong has shown a clear increase of 7.9% a year over the period (adjusted for the birth rate) and we have reasons to believe that the whole nation have experienced a similar rise with the national mean expected to be around 3.5%".

Upon asked how the P.I. thought the alarming increase could be related to the Arsenic calamity in drinking water, he said, “Our discovery was purely accidental. We intended primarily to study how the Intelligent Quotient (I.Q) could be getting affected by the presence of poisonous Arsenic in the drinking water. “We were motivated to conduct our investigations based on a recent study by a British medical team at the Imperial College of Science Medicine and Technology that has appeared on Nature, June, 2001. They have reported Arsenic to have a neutralizing effect on the neurophilic effects of Iodine in African mice Rodenta Negria. With a steady injection of arsenic in their blood stream over a week, 94% of them invariably lost the ability to distinguish between cheese on mousetraps and those on plain white paper.

“Hence, we had strong reasons to believe that any decrease in our national I.Q average could be correlated to the concentration of Arsenic in groundwater”, adding further that, “when people were given our psychological questionnaires, many of them were answering in a pattern that reflected strong and disturbing signs of homosexuality that Sigmund Freud first identified in this treatise on Human Psychology.” Certainly there seems to be some element of truth in Dr. Azam’s observation. He currently leads a team of 3 Dhaka University Researchers from the Sociology and Psychology Labs and 12 under-paid M.Sc level graduate students who are spending a large part of their life offending people further by asking about their personal preferences. There also seems to be more university students of the like sex engaged in behavior that would definitely be labeled as ‘suspicious’ in homophobic schools of the United States.

For example, based on my own personal experience, I now have witnessed more university male students at Rajshahi holding hands of their male ‘buddies’ and some even like to appear pressed hard on the male posterior. Shafqat Ali, a five feet 3rd year student in History at Rajshahi University said, “I think the internet and cable TV are the causes behind such an alarming increase. Girls these days are watching Hrithik Roshan, Fardeen Khan type movies and chatting on the internet with fake, inflated Casanova-type e-personalities in newsgroups and chatrooms. Naturally, that makes them want us guys to be all 6 feet tall, good dancers, guitarists, sweet talkers and brainless gym-goers and their expectations are just way too high for the average diminutive Bangladeshi university student.

“Many of my batch mates have reluctantly resorted to this ‘alternative’ life style with similarly frustrated male friends because of their hard luck in getting a decent date in their Freshman year”, lamented the short and stodgy Senior student in History. But Shafqat is confident of preserving his manhood. “I know some girl will fall in love with me oneday for who I really am before I need to take viagra pills.” When I asked Dr. Azam on what appeared to be playing the more deleterious role on the distorted psychology of our youth – the media and Bollywood entertainment industry or the Arsenic calamity, he was unsure himself, “It’s difficult to say and we can only speculate.

At this stage any hypothesis is equally likely, but certainly Media and Bollywood have more merit. My own 10 year old boy, a 5th grader at Scholastica, shocked his mother recently by declaring that one of his dreams was to spend a whole day chatting with Abishek Bacchan by the lakeside in Nainitaal, U.P, India.” (c) Copyright Faisal Hossain, 2002.


 


April 16, 2003 – Sydney Star Magazine

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Why gay men flee Bangladesh

Poisoned Water And Bollywood Movies Are Key Causes Of Homosexuality In Bangladesh, Or So Say The Experts. A Look At A Country Where Being Gay Can Result In Torture, Electroshock Treatment And Forced Marriage.

by Adam Carr (BNews)
Bangladesh, with a population of 133 million, is the ninth-largest country in the world, and the second-largest Moslem country in the world after Indonesia.

Bangladesh is also a democracy, with a British-style parliamentary system. One of the less pleasant legacies of British rule is Section 377 of the Penal Code, which provides: "Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life." Bangladesh lawyers, however, say this law is a dead letter. "The instances of prosecution under this section are extremely rare," writes one lawyer. "In my 20 years of practice, I have not known or heard of a case where a person has been prosecuted for homosexuality under the aforesaid section."

Quite a lot is known about homosexual practice in Bangladesh, thanks to the work of an Australian gay man, Professor Gary Dowsett, who wrote a research paper, Men Who Have Sex With Men In Bangladesh, as part of an HIV-related research project. Dowsett describes a complex pattern of sexual activity ‚ teenage male prostitution in Dhaka parks, a custom of sex between male cousins and brothers-in-law, a tradition of transvestism. All this, he notes, has nothing to do with western "gay identity", although this is now also starting to appear.

Until recently homosexuality was almost never spoken about in public. This is beginning to change, but the results are sometimes a little strange. A recent article in the Dhaka Daily Star noted, "We have a much higher percentage of gays and lesbians in our society than we had five years ago." Dr Safiul Azam, associate professor of Sociology at Dhaka University, went on to say homosexuality was increasing at the rate of 3.5 percent a year. Dr Azam’s explanation for this was arsenic contamination of the drinking water supply. " With a steady injection of arsenic in their blood stream over a week, 94 percent of African mice invariably lost the ability to distinguish between cheese on mouse traps and those on plain white paper." The connection between cheese discernment in mice and homosexuality was apparently too obvious to explain.

Another Daily Star writer took the view that homosexuality resulted from the pernicious effects of Indian movies. " Girls these days are watching Hrithik Roshan movies and naturally that makes them want guys to be all six feet tall and good dancers," the writer claimed. " Their expectations are just way too high for the average Bangladeshi. " Many of us have reluctantly resorted to this ‘alternative’ lifestyle with similarly frustrated male friends because of their hard luck in getting a decent date."

This would all be amusing enough were it not for the fact that militant Islamic fundamentalism is gaining ground in Bangladesh as it is elsewhere in the Moslem world. Islamist groups funded from Saudi Arabia are campaigning for the introduction of shari’a law, which has historically been unknown on the Indian subcontinent. Gay men will be obvious victims of this trend, which is being resisted only fitfully by Bangladeshi politicians fearful of offending Islamic sentiment.

Recently the United States granted political asylum to a Bangladeshi gay man who was, he said, threatened with stoning by Islamic fundamentalists. The man also reported being raped by police, forced into electroshock treatment and ordered by his family to enter into an arranged marriage. There is a real danger that Bangladesh may follow Pakistan down the road of fundamentalist intolerance, in which case there will be many more Bangladeshi gay men seeking asylum in other countries, including Australia.



25 August 2003 – Human Rights Watch (HRW)

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Bangladesh: Rape fuel Bangladesh and India AIDs Crisis

Police officers and crime lords who sexually abuse gay men and sex workers are stoking an emerging AIDS epidemic in Bangladesh
, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report warned.


Police officers and crime lords who sexually abuse gay men and sex workers are stoking an emerging AIDS epidemic in Bangladesh, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report warned on Tuesday. Additionally, the officers often attack AIDS outreach workers, in a direct blow to the people attempting to contain the virus." Bangladesh is brutalizing exactly the people it most needs as allies if it is to avoid a severe AIDS epidemic," Human Rights Watch researcher Vivek Maru said. " Violence against at-risk people traumatizes them and drives them out of reach of HIV (news – web sites) prevention services, which can increase their risk of infection."

The report gives case studies of people who have complained about the police brutality toward gay men.
One victim, Mohammed H, 17, said he has been arrested and raped many times for no reason other than being gay.
" About three months ago," he said, " I was arrested by police and taken to a police camp and then from there, to a sugar cane field." " Four people raped me. I thought I could not continue and feared that a fifth person would rape me, so I ran away. I was completely naked. I had to go to my house by way of the outside of town." " I was most recently raped by police three or four days ago."

It is thought that Bangladesh is now teetering on the edge of a full-blown AIDS epidemic, with numbers of infections rapidly growing. In one region, prevalence among drug users jumped from 1.7 per cent in 2001 to 4 percent in 2002, while widespread infections in the country’s neighbor India suggest that Bangladesh could find itself in a similar situation in the coming years, HRW said. The agency is now lobbying the country’s government, calling for a reform of its police force. " The reforms that can stop the attacks on people vulnerable to AIDS and help stave off an epidemic are the same reforms the country needs to resolve its crisis of law and order," Maru said.



October 3, 2003 – Agence France Presse
G-Max News, South Africa

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Bangladesh’s gay prostitutes take a tiny step out of the closet

Nabinagar, Bangladesh – Shunned since youth by their families, Bangladesh’s male prostitutes are finding a furtive sense of community as they fight together against rampant discrimination. Khokhon, 22, has sold his body for the past two years in the parks and transport terminals of this small town near the capital Dhaka.

He left his impoverished village in the eastern Narsinghdi district before his relatives could throw him out for being gay.
But he remains a dutiful son, sending back to his family some of his earnings from the flesh trade. " I knew I wanted to love another man and my family will never accept it. They will say I am bad," said Khokhon, who like other male prostitutes interviewed would only give his first name.

Khokhon, who lives with a partner, also works at a garment factory. " I am prostituting myself as I need the extra money to send home," he said. Faced with common problems, the male sex workers, with some help from social workers, organise private meetings together to discuss their plight and compare techniques in countering violence at the hands of police and hooligans. " They are slowly working to be united so that they can defend themselves and their rights from castigation and constant harassment," said Mohammad Nasiruddin of the Organisation of Development Programme for the Underprivileged, a non-governmental group here.

M. Salehin of another non-governmental organisation, CARE Bangladesh, said the number of sex workers was not necessarily increasing but demand for them was, in part due to more exposure to homosexuality through the internet and Western films in the Muslim country.

"There are two sides to consider when we say the gay population is growing because it could be that many led a secret life and are now coming out discreetly to meet like-minded people," Salehin said. "Or thanks to the internet, younger people were being drawn into it thinking men having sex with men is normal because it is practised in the West," he said.

Tomiz, a smartly dressed 18-year-old, said his clients often felt compelled to pretend to be straight."I service married men who are women inside," he said. "They get married for social reasons or to get family property. "Bangladeshi laws dating back to the British colonial area describe homosexual intercourse as "unnatural." Prostitutes, men or women, face light jail sentences if arrested.

But male sex workers are worried less about court action than about physical attacks. Many of the prostitutes are quickly singled out for being effeminate. Milan, 20, said he left home when his family learned of his orientation. After renting his first house on his own he was forced to move out when the owners also discovered his lifestyle. "My family did not accept my way of life as they noticed I was feminine and so I started prostitution to feed myself. What else could I do?" he asked.

Milan said he has been beaten publicly–and that the assailants would secretly come to him later for sex. "They don’t want to know us during the daytime," he said. "I want my right to move freely and earn my bread."



2 November 2003

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AIDS/HIV situation in Bangladesh: A Looming Threat

Mohammad Sorowar Hossain, Research Fellow, National University of Singapore Email: sorowar@tll.org.sg

Recently, a report on the AIDS cases came out in the daily newspaper According to that report, more than 13 thousand people are carrying HIV in Bangladesh and the experts have classified the AIDS situation as concentrated epidemic. Ironically, the government was downplaying the actual AIDS cases, just informing only 282 and taking credit from the international community!

But in reality, the actual figure would be far higher than the reported one. Due to stigma and fear of discrimination HIV infected people are so scared to come forward with their diseases and ask for treatment and health care. It can make people hide their HIV status amidst fear of rejection from loved one. HIV testing is another area where discrimination is evident. Voluntary HIV tests and counseling is often limited, not well known, inaccessible or only in urban areas. People may also be deterred from getting tested because of laws that restrict an individual’s confidentiality. So it is impossible to get the exact HIV status in Bangladesh.

AIDS posing a challenge to the mankind already claimed the lives of more than 23 million, killing more than 3 million people every year.

According to WHO report 2002, an estimated 42 million people throughout the globe currently is living with HIV. Another 70 million men, women and children may die of AIDS in the next 20 years and 25 million children will be orphans by 2010._ African human civilization is threatened to extinction due to HIV. 28.5 million people are HIV positive, in which about 30% of the total adult population having this deadly virus and 7000 people is dying every day (BBC report). In South Africa one in nine people are infected with HIV. In Botswana and Namibia about 40% of the total population is fighting with AIDS. In the Bahamas 60% of deaths among children under the age of five are from AIDS and in Zimbabwe the corresponding figure is 70%. AIDS is shaking the very foundations of the African progress. East African universities has reported that an average of 2 to 3 deaths occurs per month among the faculty members while university of Nairobi reported an average death rate of 2 staff members per week. In Botswana, 35-45% of all teachers are infected. HIV also infects the African economy. A study of African countries suggests that for countries with HIV/AIDS prevelance levels above 20%, GDP is estimated to be 2.6 percentage less per year.

Recently it has been reported that last six months 220,000 people died due to AIDS in China. (Channel NewsAisa, October 4, 2003)_

Dr. Robert Gallo first discovered HIV, the causative agent of AIDS in 1984. Nobody knows the origin of HIV. Scientists believe that it might have come from African green money or laboratory accident. The earliest known case of HIV was from a blood sample collected in 1959 from a man in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. How he became infected is unknown. HIV destroys the body’s defense systems so that they can no longer defend the body against infections and other disorders. AIDS patients are severely suffered from at least 29 opportunistic infections, which are rarely seen in healthy people. The life expectancy after acquiring the disease is only up to five years. _ There are some myths associated with the transmission of the disease. The HIV infection is not acquired (or transmitted) via mosquitoes, food, water, toilet seats, swimming pools, sweat, tears, clothing and a handshake. HIV is mainly transmitted through sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal and oral) or through contact with infected blood, semen, or cervical and vaginal fluids. This is the most frequent mode of transmission of HIV worldwide. Blood transfusion or transfusion of blood products (e.g. obtained from donor blood infected by HIV) injecting equipment such as needles or syringes, or skin-piercing equipment and mother to child are also the route of transmission. Homosexual activity is one of the most talked about issue for the rapid transmission of AIDS because anal sex (practiced by Guys) can cause the rectal bleeding and thereby allow easy transmission of HIV. At the beginning of the epidemic most AIDS/HIV cases were limited to homosexual people. _ The curatives for HIV are still elusive. Scientists are working hard around the clock to devise an effective vaccine against HIV.

But the fact remains, however, that virus is so smart, disguising the body’s defense systems by rapidly mutating its genetic material, which foils the vaccine developmental efforts. Currently some antiviral drugs have been marketed which are highly costly and toxic for the body but can not cure the AIDS at all, just lengthen the life expectancy of the patients. For instance, the cost of one treatment of AZT alone is around $8000 per year, which is not affordable to general people. _ Why is the HIV situation so alarming in Bangladesh? _

We are used to feel proud that we have conservative society where moral climate is better than that of other western countries. But the real scenario is quite terrible, unbelievable. Everything what we call “obscene activities” are going under curtain. Moral values especially among the young generations are aggravating very fast. Although there are only 14 well-established prostitutions (two of which were evicted from Narayangaon) all the residential hotels (ranging from high to low class) in major cities are thriving on sex business. All river ports, seaports are well known for sex affairs. Just after evening all the parks in the Dhaka city are considered to be sex venues for low class people.

Important studies of the sex industry identified large numbers (1,70,000 including 8,000 to 10,000 hijra) of generally non-literate sex workers (SWs) whose customers represent all segments of society. Female SWs have an average of 2-5 clients a day, making the number of clients about half a million men a day. In addition, ‘floating prostitutes’ are present in large number but the precise distribution and prevalence are unknown. It is suspected that large numbers of young and mostly single female textile and garment workers may also supplement their low wages by occasional prostitution. _

Sex outside marriage might be more widespread than traditionally acknowledged. Documented sexual practices include premarital, extramarital and male-to-male sex particularly among youth. For example, some studies indicated a high percentage of (around 50%) youths to have experience of sex before marriage and occurrences of induced abortions among women. 60% of long distance truck drivers have sex with commercial sex workers about twice a month without any knowledge of HIV/AIDS. Extra-marital sex appears to exist in rural societies and in particular where husbands are absent for long periods. _

Police: Sad to say that our law enforcers (police) are very corrupted and morally degraded. It would be wise to include them under high-risk groups for HIV spreading. In Africa, police and armies are badly affected by AIDS. The ministries of defenses of several African countries have provided the UN with values of 20-40% infection rates among the African soldiers, police. In some countries numbers as high as 60% were reported. In our country sex workers are used to allege “they (police) abuse us at night, treat us inhumanely and do not pay money for sexes with them. Threats from HIV/AIDS are not big problems for us. The police violation is the prime concern for us” _

Barber shops: in our country it’s a very common practice to use same blade or special type of knife (Khur) repeatedly without sterilization. This practice is also common in our neighboring countries. Even WHO experts are focusing very little on this issue. But this would be one of the major factors, which may increase the risk of spreading of HIV infection where the HIV epidemic is looming at large. _

Looks unfamiliar but in reality, homosexual activities are widespread in our conservative society. It has been reported that, Bangladeshis are very active on global gay scene. But those still in the closet oscillate between confusion, guilt and fear. Since some gay activists in Bangladesh are highly educated, once in while, foreign education is being cited as reason for being gay. A gay Australian Professor Garry Dowsett, who wrote a research a paper, Men Who Have Sex With Men In Bangladesh, as part of an HIV-related research project, describes a complex pattern of sexual activity – teenage male prostitution in Dhaka parks, a custom of sex between male cousins and brothers-in-law, a tradition of transvestism. According to Dr Safiul Azam, associate professor of Sociology at Dhaka University, homosexuality is increasing at the rate of 3.5% a year. Demonstration of homosexual tendencies for short periods is quite common in our society. Those practicing are not ostracized, although if caught, are ridiculed. Like in other societies gay relation flourish in dormitories, barracks, labor colonies, prisons (very common) and hostels, and authorities are hard pressed to keep them secret. Male prostitutes are available in most towns.

In rural areas, homosexuality is generally considered something that young people do for fun and some elders may do in secret. But almost no discussion can take place on the subject, even with the threat of HIV/AIDS looming over Bangladesh and gays being identified as one of the most vulnerable groups_ Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are a major factor in the spread of HIV infection and serve as indicators of low condom use and other high-risk sexual behaviors. Studies have shown high rates of STDs in various populations.

In 1989, syphilis rates of 56% and 39% were found among floating and institutional SWs respectively. In 1997, 54% of 980 SWs gave a history of present or past symptomatic STDs. Recent reports indicate high levels of STDs amongst various other groups. Condoms are not generally the preferred method of contraception. According to a survey conducted by Governmental organizations, about 98% of the floating prostitutes don’t use condom while 96% of the hotel sex workers. Two third of the rickshaw pullers and truck divers never use condom.

Furthermore, knowledge of condoms as a means to prevent STDs is very low. Approximately 200,000 required units of blood is currently largely (70-75%) provided by professional blood donors of whom approximately 20% are positive for hepatitis B and/or syphilis. Available data from Client Monitoring System of Department of Narcotics Control and other research reports shows that prevalence of injecting drug use (IDU) is on the rise. Most injecting drug users (IDUs) in Bangladesh share needles.

In some areas the professional injectors use one needle for many IDUs. There are estimated 25,000 IDUs mainly in Dhaka, Rajshahi, and other towns including border areas. Prevalence of STDs is quite high among drug users in general. It’s a matter of great concern that our neighbouring countries- India, Barma and Nepal are considered to be the epicenter of HIV epidemic in this region. Currently, about 4 million people in India are having HIV.The epidemic of HIV/AIDS in India is following the same pattern as that of sub-Saharan Africa in the 1980s and it could become just a devastating unless preventive action is taken now.

A report from CIA’s National intelligence Council projects that the number of people infected with HIV in India will jump to 20-25 million by 2010. The Bangladesh economy relies on more than 1.5 million migrant workers mostly from neighboring countries, including truck drivers, businessmen and laborers.These migrants, who spend much of the year away from their families, are known to be at increased risk of contracting HIV_ Reasons behind the degradation of moral climate _ Religion and the family have immense impact on the nation’s moral, but their influence is declining. Education should have positive effects on morals, but it is failing to fulfill that responsibility.

We are the second largest Muslim nation in the world. But what proportion of the Muslim population is practicing Islam? Frankly speaking we are Muslim by name. Only a very few portion of the population is practicing the religion. Islam including all the regions condemns all sorts of illegal sexual behaviors and emphasizes on the moral values. Prophet Muhammad (SWT) has said, “ when sin afflicts people and they publicize it, then Allah sunjcets them to ailments unknown in their forefathers.” (Reorted in Sahi Tirmizi)_ In our country moral climate is getting worse mainly due to available Indian movies, cable TV and pornographic films. In major cities educated (school, college and university going) young generation is also badly affected by Internet where pornography is easily available.

These days, getting excess to cable TV is very easy and cheap. Most of the channels display filthy programs often targeted to the teenagers and younger children. Even shows touted as “family friendly” are filled with sexual innuendo, moral perversion, homosexuality and every combination of dysfunctional families that you can think of. VCD shops are so wide spread that you can find every nook and corner of the towns and even in the villages. All the shops are usually used to display the Indians VCD but porno VCDs remain under the self.

Worth mentioning, last year I went to my village where there is no electricity and most of the people are illiterate. I was agape to see the VCD shop! Our government or political leaders are indifferent about the moral degradation. But leaders of some ASEAN countries (Singapore, Malaysia) have restricted the cable TV and banned porno films. Our government must take bold steps to prevent moral degration otherwise a bleak future is awaiting for us. _

Religion is the key to curtailing the HIV epidemic Only education and awareness will not prevent HIV epidemic. As we know, USA is the most civilized industrial nation in the world. But studies show that HIV infection rate is still high. Moreover, other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are also increasing at an alarming rate. The annual incidence of syphilis is 130,000, gonorrhea 1.4 million, chlamydia 4 million, pelvic inflammatory disease 420,000 and genital herpes about 500,000. Muslim societies in love with Western life style are also catching up. Another important point needs to mull over that emphasis on condoms give a false impression about the safety. FDA study showed that new codoms had breakge rates of up to 9% and there was a 38% leakage rate of HIV-size particles (AIDS virus is one-fifth the size of the sperm) in the condom tested. So condoms are not totally risk-free to prevent HIV infection._

As muslims, we are fortunate to have in our culture and way of life the basic essential elements of an effective solution. Decency, modesty and virtuous sexual morality are vital factors in controlling the virus casuing AIDS epidemic and its spread. Figures published by WHO on the spread of AIDS in the world show very clearly that Islamic values and traditions, although not fully adhered to or respected, represents a strong and effective means of prevention against the spread of the virus in the muslim countries. Rates of infection in Muslim countries are far lower than those in non-Muslim ones. Infection is also much lower amonst Muslims living in non-Muslim countries. This fact should not prevent us, however, from opening our eyes to see problem that is growing amonst us. _

Blaming certain groups also allows societies to avoid responsibility of dealing with the epidemic. This denial can be dangerous. Government may hide cases, fail to gather accurate data or not care for people with HIV/AIDS. Officials may use figures of detected cases rather than estimated cases to downplay the magnitude of the epidemic in the country. People at risk may be denial. They may assure a false sense of security by believing only “ outsiders” or marginalized groups can become infected. Stigmatizing an AIDS patient as being sinful or deserving punishment serves little purpose. Besides the fact that many AIDS patients contracted the disease without being sinful, stigmatizing AIDS patients actually further promotes the spread of the disease.



December 9, 2003 – The Age,
Melbourne, 3000 Australia

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Gay asylum bid by Bangladeshi Gays in Australia clears first hurdle

A gay Bangladeshi couple passed their first barrier towards staying in Australia today after the High Court ordered the Refugee Review Tribunal reassess their claim. The men, who arrived in Australia in February 1999, claimed they were refugees because they feared persecution in Bangladesh because of their homosexuality.

Their application was rejected by the Immigration Department, the Refugee Review Tribunal, the Federal Court and the Full Court of the Federal Court. The tribunal raised doubts about the couple’s credibility, rejecting claims they were forced to leave their Dhaka home, that they had lost their jobs and that a religious court had issued an order sentencing them to death by stoning. It also rejected the claim by one of the men that he could not get work between 1980 and 1991, was sentenced to 300 lashes in 1985 and was attacked in a home he shared with a previous male partner.

The tribunal said the men had conducted themselves discreetly in the past and rejected their claims they had suffered, and would continue to suffer, serious harm. The men claimed they would be killed if they returned to Bangladesh and the Federal Court had erred by failing to admit that the tribunal’s decision incorrectly interpreted the Migration Act.

They said that having determined homosexuality was unacceptable in Bangladesh and could lead to potential harm, such as being bashed by police, the RRT erred in holding that the men did not have a well-founded fear of persecution. The High Court, by a 4-3 majority, allowed the men’s appeals. It held that the tribunal should have considered what might happen if they had lived openly as a homosexual couple.

The majority held that the tribunal also fell into jurisdictional error by dividing Bangladeshi homosexuals into two groups – discreet and non-discreet – and failed to consider whether the men might suffer harm if police, employers or others became aware of their homosexuality. "By declaring that there was no reason to suppose that the appellants would not continue to act discreetly in the future, the tribunal effectively broke the genus of homosexual males in Bangladesh into two groups – discreet and non-discreet homosexual men in Bangladesh," the High Court said in its judgment. "By doing so, the tribunal fell into jurisdictional error that renders its decision of no force or effect." The High Court ordered the RRT to redetermine its review of the Immigration Department’s decision. – AAP



October 5, 2004 The Daily Star

11
The stand of Bangladesh’s law and order system on "Homosexuality

Your Advocate
Q. Dear lawyer,
I want to know about the stand of Bangladesh’s law and order system on "Homosexuality". It is important to know if Bangladesh still has laws that go against homosexuals. I hope you would give me a detailed answer to this question. I mean can homosexuals be prosecuted in Bangladesh solely on grounds of their sexuality?_Tanveer On E-mail.

Your Advocate: The stand of Bangladesh on homosexuality is very clear. This is considered to be a serious offence affecting private morality of persons and is strictly prohibited by law. Section 377 of the Penal Code says- "Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman, or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall be liable to fine. Explanation:

Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offence described in this section." Once you go through the law quoted above, I hope, you will get the answers of your queries. Law is so clear on this point that a plain reading will at once lay bare its spirit, nature and intent. This being a penal clause providing punishment it would not be difficult for you to understand that there cannot be any punishment/penalty without prosecution. Therefore, prosecution, being necessary corollary, will follow the charge of unnatural offence of any kind including homosexuality.

It follows, therefore, that in Bangladesh there is law that goes heavily against homosexuals and that homosexuals are liable to prosecution on ground of their sexuality alone. _The answers to the queries patent in your words are sought to be so far given. But in view of the overtone of your query, which is suggestive of oddly curious position of Bangladesh in this regard, I feel like adding a few more words.

As I understand, you have indicated the legal position touching upon the question of private morality of consenting adults. You are not unaware of the nature and kind of our society, which is, essentially tradition-bound, conservative and non-permissive. The conservative and traditional attitude towards sex-.morality is not only true of Bangladesh it is true of the overwhelming majority of the countries of the world. In the advanced societies of the West conservative sentiments and values are still found to influence decisions at all levels.

Therefore, there must be reflection of the society in its laws. Where sexual behaviour offending against natural order is an offence, consent is immaterial. In case of sexual behaviour contemplated in Section 377 of the Penal Code question of ‘consenting adults’, to my mind, is of no avail. There is no, at least I have not come across any, decision of the Supreme Court on this point.

In many western countries homosexuality is no more an offence. But gay rights, same-sex civil marriage, rights of the same-sex couple’s etc. are concepts that are currently gaining ground in those countries not yet widely sanctioned by the society or law. With the peculiar background of homosexuality in the most advanced societies you can easily guess, instead of being bemused the position of homosexuality in a society where sex is by and large, a taboo.
Your Advocate M. Moazzam Husain is a lawyer of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. His professional interests include civil law, criminal law and constitutional law.



June 21, 2005 – BBC News

12
Hizras bear the brunt of prejudice in conservative Bangladesh

by Roland Buerk
Dhaka – Hizras bear the brunt of prejudice in sexually conservative Bangladesh. They have been ostracised for generations but now they are campaigning for equal treatment from society and the law. They are the hizras of Bangladesh. Hizra literally means "impotent ones". Many hizras in Bangladesh say they are born hermaphrodite, of indeterminate gender. Others are men who want a sex change, though few can afford to have the operation.

All dress as women in saris or the long flowing blouses and trousers known as shalwar kameez. They wear jewellery and make-up. "We used to feel that we were the most humiliated creatures in the world," says Miss Pinky Sikder, the president of Badhon Hizra Shangho (the United Hizra Organisation). "Now at least we know we are human beings like everyone else and we can have rights."

Condemnation
Non-traditional sexuality of any kind is deeply frowned upon in Bangladesh which, although a relatively tolerant Muslim country, remains conservative in sexual matters. Laws dating from the British Raj era making sodomy a crime punishable by life in prison are still on the statute books.

In reality they are rarely enforced. The condemnation from society of anyone found to be gay is deterrent enough for most to remain very firmly shut in the closet. As the most visible group with a differing sexuality, hizras say they bear the brunt of the prejudice. "It’s beyond imagination that I could get a job," says Khuki, who is from the capital. "Whenever we go out we get lots of bad comments and catcalls. It is impossible to get a job."

Saima says she was forced to abandon her education. "I was doing well in my studies but one day during an exam I wore a shirt with a bra underneath. A friend of mine saw it and I was beaten severely by the teachers. I stopped going to school after that."

Auspicious
Hizras have a long tradition in the subcontinent. Some see themselves as the cultural descendants of the eunuchs who worked in the harems of the Mughul emperors centuries ago. In India they are considered auspicious. They often turn up unannounced, in a group, at weddings or a house where a baby has been born to bless the family. They dance and sing, refusing to leave until they are given money. They are seldom disappointed, a hizra curse is believed to be as powerful as a blessing.

But that tradition has largely died out in Islamic Bangladesh, leaving them little alternative but to turn to prostitution to make a living. After nightfall they congregate in the parks of Dhaka with other prostitutes to look for customers. It exposes them to great dangers, but members of Badhon Hizra Shangho say, thanks to the organisation, their work has got safer. "In the past we used to feel very insecure," says Moni, another member of the 180-strong organisation. "We were tortured by the police and the mastaans (local gangsters), they took our money and forced us to have sex with them for free. We couldn’t assert ourselves as human beings because we were sex workers. But now we have a position and if one person gets tortured or attacked we all go to help them. Now we have a community to share our pain."

Third gender
Badhon Hizra Shangho has also turned its attention to Bangladesh’s laws. The hizras say they face harassment from officials because of their indeterminate status.

" I have had real problems in government offices, hundreds of questions" says Appely Mahmud. "They said to me, ‘your first name, Appely, is a lady’s name and your second name, Mahmud, is a boy’s name. So which are you?’ When I replied I was a lady boy they were very angry. We want a conclusion to this."

The hizras also claim they are also routinely denied a vote during elections because they look like women but are registered with the names of men. So they are campaigning to get themselves officially recognised as a third gender alongside men and women. They want three boxes on official forms, male, female and hizra.

Badhon Hizra Shangho has held rallies in the streets to push for a change in the law. The hizras also tried to hand in a petition to the home ministry but were held back by police.

Still, the members of Badhon Hizra Shangho hope that eventually they will succeed in getting the rights they demand. "We will get there." says Pinky Sikder. "When you see the Pinky of today and the Pinky of 10 years ago there is a huge difference. "If you are alone it is impossible to fight but if you are united it is easier to survive. We believe our lives will get better."



January 20, 2006 – South Asia.com

13
Gay Bangla: The Shadow Citizens
There are gays in every society, including Bengali society, and there is no sense in suppressing and stifling homosexuality.

by Afsan Chowdhury
Afsan Chowdhury Published on January 20, 2006 They will forgive me if I commit a murder but not if they find out that I have a boy friend." Mohsin is 28 years old, a Bangladeshi, and a gay. He was speculating on the possible reaction of his upper middle class family members if they were to discover his sexual preference.

Having graduated two years ago, Mohsin has landed a decent job in a development outfit and knows his mother will push for his marriage as soon as his youngest sister ties the knot. He is terrified of that moment. He plans not to tell his family, and not to marry either. Is he overreacting? There has been a number of cases where the family has accepted the same sex proclivity of their sons, and even daughters. While family dinners with same sex partners are still not in, children are not thrown out if they are revealed to be homosexuals.

But there certainly are difficulties when homosexuals first declare their preference, known as "coming out" in gay parlance. Most families respond with dismay and a kind of corporate shame. Many feel that they have gone wrong somewhere in the child’s upbringing. Since some gay activists in Bangladesh are very highly educated, once in a while, foreign education is cited as a reason for being gay.

In fact, Bangladeshis are very active on the global gay scene. But those still in the closet oscillate between confusion, guilt and fear. "Why do they hate us?" asks a gay man in Dhaka. "Except for preferring people of the same sex as partners we have done nothing wrong." Being gay in Bangladesh isn’t easy because society responds differently to sexuality in public and in private. To put it bluntly, society is hypocritical, for it says one thing and does another. People involved with gay issues say that between 5 to 10 percent of the population is homosexual. That would mean at least 6 to 12 million Bangladeshis, more than the total population of many countries, prefer the same sex.

Even if that estimate is considered to be on the higher side and is reduced by half, the number left would still be significant. But almost no discussion can take place on the subject, even with the threat of HIV/AIDS looming over Bangladeshis and gays being identified as one of the most vulnerable groups. Criminal Behaviour One of the reasons that homosexuality is treated so gingerly is that the country’s Criminal Code decrees sodomy (homosexuality or advocacy of the same) a crime which is punishable with a jail sentence. Any discussion, not to speak of debate, is hence ruled out and homosexuality is driven into the shadow world.

Demonstration of homosexual tendencies for short periods is quite common in Bangladeshi society. Those practising it are not ostracised, although if caught, are ridiculed. Like in other societies, gay relationships flourish in dormitories, barracks, labour colonies and hostels, and authorities are hard pressed to keep them a secret. In the Dhaka University dorms, cases of young boys being kept as "regulars" are well known. Male prostitutes are available in most towns. And in rural areas, homosexuality is generally considered something that young people do for fun and some elders may do in secret.

Male homosexuality is tolerated despite religious sanction. Yet divorce citing gay behaviour by any partner is not known. It is a different story for lesbians, however. Although it is no secret that dormitories record incidences of lesbianism and studies have corroborated the fact, it is kept a secret fearing loss of marriage prospects. And marriage, after all, is society’s idea of a woman’s ultimate nirvana.

Literature has recorded a high incidence of shakhi culture, where proximate friendship develops between two women in which emotions are at least romantic and may lapse into "touching", though both parties may deny any sexual overtones in such relationships. Psychologists say many shakhis may be substitutes for boyfriends. Society frowns upon single women, and the social pressure to marry- doesn’t matter who to-is intense. Most succumb to it, despite their sexual preferences, and end up miserably knotted. Heterosexual girls suffer in marriages with male gays too. "I can’t run away from my responsibilities. I have a family. So I stay although we are like strangers at home," says Sultana, a 30-plus housewife married to a gay.

Many gays, forced into marriage, often resort to clandestine and then increasingly open gay relationships, leaving women with a dead marriage to have and to hold. Children, economic dependence and "shame" prevents any divorce actions. There are some instances of lesbians entering permanent relationships, but most lesbians are married and whatever sexual liaisons they may enter into are purely by chance. "I have had sex with a woman only once in my life," says Zaheda, who works for a travel agency and lives with her disabled sister. The tolerance level for lesbians is very low in Bengali society. It is low for women in general. One either worships them (mother models) or abuses them (partners).

West Bengal
The situation is somewhat different in Bengali society across the border in India. At the elite level, there is considerable acceptance of homosexuality and of gay groups. Homosexuals keep in touch with each other through magazines like Provortak (published from Calcutta) or through gay organisations. Some activists in Calcutta are directly involved in running sexual health projects jointly with official agencies.

Although India also has the same laws relating to sodomy, gays are not prosecuted. A petition for scrapping the sodomy laws is awaiting action at the Supreme Court in New Delhi. A number of organisations like the Humsafar Foundation have been working for wider acceptance of gays in Indian society with some degree of success.

In West Bengal, there have been occasional instances of harassment, but gays can operate with relative openness. Gay prostitution is high, operating out of parks and other public places.

Some Calcutta lesbians, many of them married, have set up private clubs which are basically places to get together. But the stigma of female homosexuality remains strong in West Bengal as well, even though the pages of Provortak are full of pieces by lesbians discussing their problems.

In Bangladesh, it looks as if the sodomy laws will remain in the books for some time to come, not a little because of religious opposition. Whatever society may do in private, publicly they want respectable laws.

In India, social attitudes are more liberal and relaxed, which allows gays to "come out" and access health and other services more easily.

Meanwhile, the least that the authorities could do is wake up to the reality of gay behaviour and recognise that health and social issues are becoming more and more pressing where homosexuals are concerned. Homosexuality does not disappear by ignoring it.

Some Middle Eastern societies have adopted a pragmatic approach by maintaining that because homosexuality is a crime committed against God, the matter should be dealt by Him on Judgement Day. Perhaps this interpretation should be used to provide Bengali gays with some respite as well, if not in society at large, at least in law?

There are gays in every society, including Bengali society, and there is no sense in suppressing and stifling homosexuality.



October 14,2006

14
Nobel Peace Prize 2006 to Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh

Economics professor Muhammad Yunus wasn’t afraid to turn the rules of banking upside down

Editor’s Note: Bangladesh’s Muhammad Yunus and the bank he founded, Grameen Bank, which created a new category of banking by granting millions of small loans to poor people with no collateral—helping to establish the microcredit movement across the developing world—won the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2006. On its Web site, , the Norwegian Nobel Committee said it awarded the prize to Yunus, 65, and the bank "for their efforts to create economic and social benefit from below."

As a young economics professor at Chittagong University in Bangladesh in 1976, Muhammad Yunus lent $27 out of his own pocket to a group of poor craftsmen in the nearby town of Jobra. To boost the impact of that small sum, Yunus volunteered to serve as guarantor on a larger loan from a traditional bank, kindling the idea for a village-based enterprise called the Grameen Project. It never occurred to the professor that his gesture would inspire a whole category of lending and propel him to the top of a powerful financial institution.

Today, Yunus runs Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank, a leading advocate for the world’s poor that has lent more than $5.1 billion to 5.3 million people. The bank is built on Yunus’ conviction that poor people can be both reliable borrowers and avid entrepreneurs. It even includes a project called Struggling Members Program that serves 55,000 beggars. Under Yunus, Grameen has spread the idea of microcredit throughout Bangladesh, Southern Asia, and the rest of the developing world.

"At first I didn’t think that what I did had any significance in a broader context," he explains. But the mission keeps expanding in scale, and in the meantime, Yunus has grown intimately familiar with the unbearable dimensions of global poverty. As many as 1.2 billion people around the planet lack access to basic necessities, he explains, and microfinance could be their pathway out of despair. "Yunus and Grameen have taken a first step, which has inspired others to take a look at [microfinance] as a business," says John Tucker, deputy director of the microfinance unit at the U.N. Capital Development Fund.

Yunus’ innovation has broad appeal. In 1997 only about 7.6 million families had been served by microcredit worldwide, according to the 2005 State of the Microcredit Summit Campaign Report. As of Dec. 31, 2004, some 3,200 microcredit institutions reported reaching more than 92 million clients, according to the report. Almost 73% of them were living in dire poverty at the time of their first loan.

When Yunus started Grameen, he wanted to turn traditional banking on its head. One of his first moves was to focus on women because they are most likely to think of the family’s needs. This was a radical step in a traditional Muslim society, and it took Yunus six years to reach his initial goal of a 50-50 gender distribution among borrowers. Today, 96% of Grameen’s borrowers are women. "If banks made large loans, he made small loans. If banks required paperwork, his loans were for the illiterate. Whatever banks did, he did the opposite," marvels Sam Daley-Harris, director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign. "He’s a genius."

In some cases, Yunus has been able to attract private capital to fund socially driven businesses. GrameenPhone, a for-profit telecom outfit, is 51% owned by Norway’s Telenor (TELN ). It works with the not-for-profit Grameen Telecom to provide bulk airtime for so-called village phones. Funded by loans to individual women, these systems — built from simple handsets and solar chargers — function as pay phones in many rural areas. Now the idea of a "village phone lady" is catching on, along with other low-cost, high-tech systems, in other parts of Asia and Africa. An energy enterprise, Grameen Shakti, sells around 1,500 home solar-panel systems per month throughout rural Bangladesh and is growing 15% a year without subsidies, says Yunus.

The professor’s most recent innovation is still an experiment: Grameen Danone Food Co. is a proposed partnership between Grameen and France’s Group Danone (DA ) to make a nutritious and inexpensive baby formula. Next on his list are low-cost eye care and rural hospitals with video-conferencing between villagers and doctors in Dhaka. "In Bangladesh, where nothing works and there’s no electricity," Yunus says, "microcredit works like clockwork."



November 3, 2007 – The Times of London

15
Transsexual host breaks TV taboo

by Jeremy Page in Delhi
When Ramesh Venkatesan realised that he wanted to be a woman as a teenager he was too ashamed to tell his family and friends. He even pretended to be in love with a girl at his college in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Today, aged 28, he not only wears a sari and make-up openly in the street, but next month he will become the first transsexual host of an Indian television programme.
Using his female identity, Rose, he will anchor a Saturday evening talk show addressing sexual and other traditionally taboo issues on Star Vijay, a popular Tamil television channel.

“I want to set an example,” Mr Venkatesan, who plans to undergo sex reassignment in Thailand in the next few months, told The Times. “The transgender community here is totally disempowered. It is very closeted and doesn’t integrate at all. I wanted to join mainstream society.” His show, called Ippadiku Rose (Yours Rose), is a sign of how Indian economic growth and integration with the West are slowly breaking down social taboos. Transsexuals have been part of Indian society for hundreds of years and traditionally sing and dance for money at weddings and birthday parties. Though many still perform this way, declining demand and higher living costs have driven them to begging and sex work in recent years.

Mr Venkatesan, who comes from a middle-class family in Madras, said that he had no desire to live such a life. Knowing that his father, a property dealer, would disapprove, he suppressed his identity to complete his education at engineering college. When he went to do a masters degree in the US and his parents started looking for a wife for him, he came out. “My mother broke down in tears and couldn’t handle it for a long time,” he said. When he returned to India in 2004 his father threw him out of the home but eventually allowed him to return. He can now wear women’s trousers, but not saris, at home. Dressed as a man, he found work as an American-accent coach at a call centre but later became a freelance software engineer so that he could work from home in women’s clothes.

Mr Venkatesan’s ambition, however, was to work in the media, and he approached several television stations with his talk-show idea. The first two laughed him off, but the third, Star Vijay, embraced the concept. “We were planning a late-night talk show and Rose just walked into our office. We were really impressed,” Pradeep Milroy Peter, the channel’s head of programming, said. Star Vijay is watched by more than 60 million people in Tamil Nadu and is available all around India as well as in the US and Singapore.

“We want to push the envelope, but we don’t want to go overboard,” Mr Peter said. “India is still very conservative. We have cryogenics and space rockets, but are still discussing whether to have sex education in schools.”



November 2008 – iasociety.org

16
A Jihad of the Heart a study with practicing Muslim MSMs to see impact of religious belief on them

by A. Jafar1, S. Khan2
Background: Sexual identities, masculinities and sexualities take shape within psychosocial and historical processes, which in turn are contextualised by religion, culture and language. Different cultures will often contextualise similar words and phenomena so as to take on different meanings with inherent subtleties typical of that culture. This is true of the South Asia region.

Methods: Through focus group discussions and one on one interview 150 muslim self identified MSMs i.e. kothis, were accessed in 4 cities in India and 1 city in Bangladesh (30 per city).

Results: For Muslim kothi-identified MSM, the daily conflict between sexual practice, desire and gender performance and their Muslim beliefs leads to an emotional life that swings between pleasure and depression as a constant experience. They believed they could never be true to themselves, resulting in very low level of self esteem and self worth. Faced with an either or choice, kothis often expressed their low self worth upon themselves as a form of physical self-damage along with suicidal depression and low condom usage believing that possible HIV infection is upto Allah.

Conclusions: Further studies are planned towards developing resources that will empower Muslim self identified kothis and other muslim MSMs in regard to their religious belief.



December 29, 2008 – PinkNews

17
Transgender Bangladeshis to vote today

by Rachel Charman
Today’s general elections in Bangladesh will be the first ever to allow transgender people to cast ballots. A Bangladeshi court ruled that transgender people are fully-fledged citizens and must have the right to vote. 100,000 transgender people are expected to be amongst the 81 million voters predicted to turn out to vote.
Transgender social worker Joya Shikder said: "We’ve always been overlooked in previous elections. It’s exciting to be given this recognition but the authorities have stopped short of acknowledging us as a third gender."

Security has been tightened ahead of the election, following an outbreak of violence at a motorcade on Saturday which injured nearly 200 people. 500,000 army troops and thousands of security personnel have been deployed to keep the peace. The election will end a two-year period of emergency rule by an army-backed administration. Other minority groups have been granted the right to vote, including 40,000 Urdu-speaking Muslims, who originally migrated from Bihar after the partition of India in 1947, but were excluded from voting. Members of traveller communities and over 50,000 prisoners have also been enfranchised.



18 March 2009 – www.fidh.org

18
Bangladesh/Shipbreaking: High Court Halts Deadly Shipbreaking on the Beaches of Bangladesh

As a result of a petition filed by the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), the Bangladeshi High Court has directed the Department of Environment (DoE) to ensure that all shipbreaking yards operating without environmental clearance close their operations within two weeks. None of the 36 shipbreaking yards in Chittagong currently have an environmental clearance. The decision therefore effectively shuts down an industry that has been highly criticized by environmentalists and human rights activists for many years for operating with complete disregard for the law, human health and the environment. The court also ordered that no ship listed on the “Greenpeace list” of dangerous ships can be allowed into the country. BELA and Greenpeace are member organizations of the NGO Platform on Shipbreaking, a global coalition working to promote safe and environmentally sound ship recycling.

The Court further ordered that no end-of-life vessel shall be imported by Bangladeshi shipbreakers without having been pre-cleaned of hazardous materials such as asbestos, PCBs, heavy metals and oily sludges before arriving in Bangladesh. This “pre-cleaning” requirement is in accord with Bangladesh’s national toxic waste import ban as well as its responsibilities as a Party to the Basel Convention – a UN treaty which decided in 1995 to ban the export of toxic wastes to developing countries for any reason. Pre-cleaning has been one of the demands of the NGO Platform on Shipbreaking in order to avoid developing countries receiving a deadly and disproportionate burden of toxic ship waste from the global shipping industry.

“This decision to finally enforce existing international and Bangladeshi law on this very dangerous and damaging industry is long overdue,” said Rizwana Hassan of BELA. There are ways to import and recycle steel without having to accept the gross pollution of our fragile coastal zone, nor the exploitation and extremely dangerous working conditions that have killed so many of our young men,” said Rizwana Hassan from BELA.

The Court decision was based on a startling report submitted by the Department of Environment (DoE) on 11 December 2008 which revealed that none of the 36 shipbreaking yards operating on the beaches near Chittagong, Bangladesh have the required environmental clearance. The Court stated that it was appalled to learn that the Department of Shipping has illegally facilitated the import of toxic ships and has directed the Ministry of Environment to frame, within three months, necessary rules on ship breaking based on the obligations of Bangladesh under the Basel Convention, the Environment Conservation Act and the Environment Conservation Rules. It also called for the formation of a committee to monitor the implementation process.

“Minimum age requirements, trade union rights and safety regulations are completely disregarded on the yards. New rules for shipbreaking must take into account not only pollution prevention, but also the International Labour Organisation Conventions ratified by Bangladesh. Only then will there be an end to gross violations of workers’ rights we are witnessing today” said Souhayr Belhassen, President of FIDH.

The decision comes just a few months before the adoption of a new Convention on Ship Recycling negotiated by the International Maritime Organization that has been roundly criticized as doing far too little to prevent toxic ship scrapping on South Asian beaches.

“This ruling sends an unmistakable signal that Bangladesh will no longer compromise the welfare of its poorest workers, nor its environment for the sake of narrow industrial interests that refuse to recognize that it is impossible to safely dismantle ships containing toxic wastes on a tidal beach,” said Ingvild Jenssen, Platform coordinator. “It is indeed time for the rest of the world and in particular the International Maritime Organization to similarly draw a line in the sand and once and for all demand an end to the dumping of toxic ships on the beaches of the poorest countries of the world,” she said.

For more information:

Rizwana Hassan of BELA, for legal situation in Bangladesh: +88 02 8612957, bela@bangla.net

Ingvild Jennsen of the NGO Platform on Shipbreaking: +32 2 6094 419 / +32 485 190 920, ingvild@shipbreakingplatform.org

Shipbreaking Yard



March 29, 2009 – LGBT bangladesh’s Blog

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Gays and Lesbians: the hidden minorities of Bangladesh

by Pinku
Bangladesh has been on the pages of the western media of late, mostly due to political violence, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, and attacks on minorities. One of the minorities rarely mentioned in any media, Bangladeshi or western is the gay/lesbian population of the country. It is a topic seldom discussed anywhere, very rarely even in progressive circles. It is not that the estimated more than 10 million gay/lesbian Bangladeshis are having a great time in Bangladesh. Instead, they are constantly on the vigilance, having to watch behind their backs for fear of being found out. In the process their lives and those who are dependent on them are being ruined.

A new visitor from abroad may be struck by the open display of physical affection between same genders in Bangladesh. On the surface it can appear to be quite a friendly environment for gay people. After all, in how many western countries would you be able to see grown men walking hand in hand throughout the city streets? In the early evenings the scene is even more romantic where a stroll in the park reveals groups or pairs of young men singing love songs to each other, some of them even acting out some scene from a Bangla movie. How can one not be moved watching a man lying on the grass resting his head on another man’s lap while listening to his love songs? One would think this is the paradise that gay men talk about. If only it were to be so.

homosexual acts are an offense, a remnant of the British penal code from the days of British domination of India. However, there is hardly any necessity of invoking those legal codes for the persecution of gay/lesbians in Bangladesh. The social approbation is strong enough to push these acts deep in the closet – so deep that gay people prefer to let the society ruin their lives rather than risk humiliation which is sure to follow any revelation. This is nothing new; most of us have experienced the trauma of ‘coming-out’ and many of us have taken a different route to mitigate its harshness. What is interesting in Bangladesh is that the culture is incredibly homo-social, i.e. there is a strong affectionate bond between the same genders that is allowed in this gender-segregated society. In that sense it would be too simplistic to define the culture as being homophobic – there is really no fear of intimacy between same sexes. Even Islam, the dominant religion, puts emphasis on the brotherhood (literally) of men.

The threat perceived both by society and religion is the exclusive adult union between the same sexes that would threaten the procreation oriented hetero family structure. Parents feel an absolute obligation to marry off their children before their own death. As if driven by a genetic imperative towards procreation Bangladeshis feel that they haven’t fulfilled their duty as parents if they have not carted off their children to the altar of hetero matrimony. And, of course, the next step is the push for grandchildren. Within this context it is very rare that gay men or lesbians can resist the pressure to marry and to procreate. They marry, have children and then have furtive sex on the side. Gay and lesbian relationships are pretty much out of the question. Not much different than how millions of gay men and lesbians are coping with intolerant societies all over the world. However, there is also an aspect of “I refuse to see it unless you shove it in front of my face” which tacitly accepts the semi-secretive extramarital sex life of married gay men. I don’t know much about how married lesbians cope but I doubt that it’s any easier than for gay men.

But I do know many gay men who are married with children. For the most part they live a very secretive life, hiding their innermost feelings from those who are supposed to be the closest to them; their wives, their best friends, their parents, their children. Surrounded by their families and their straight friends they are completely isolated. Nobody knows them, though they are seen by everybody. At least, that is what everyone wants to believe.

What is the social price of such invisibility? To be continued …



6 August 2009 – Guardian

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Gay, straight or MSM?

In Bangladesh, how you define your sexuality can depend on class, education and family circumstances

by Delwar Hussain
There are many in Bangladesh who inhabit a grey area that is neither public nor private, where things that are illegal or socially and religiously taboo are permissible so long as they are not discussed openly. Drinking alcohol, falling in love and disbelieving in God are areas where people rarely disclose their thoughts or activities except in like-minded circles.

Living in such a way protects them from conservative elements of society and allows them to maintain cordial relationships with family and friends. Suleman, an imam at one of the largest mosques in Dhaka, lives with this kind of contradiction every day. None of his family or colleagues suspect anything about his relationship with his male partner, who is publicly acknowledged as "just a friend". This is not so difficult to comprehend. A few years ago Suleman married a woman. Having fulfilled his social and religious obligations in both public and private matters (they have two children together), he is free to continue his relationship with his "friend".

Suleman is well aware of the consequences if knowledge of his "friend" became public. He could be thrown out of the mosque or physically punished; there are many who think a man loving another man is among the worst sins a person can commit. Suleman himself believes it is very important that gay Muslims be allowed to marry, as a way to avoid promiscuity. Called upon by gay friends to bless their relationships, he performs readings from the Qur’an and prayers at such ceremonies.

In this regard Bangladesh is hardly any different from other conservative societies around the world, but new ideas are cautiously surfacing. The Bandhu ("friend") organisation provides healthcare and support for men who have sex with men. It says that 7%-15% of Bangladeshi men over the age of 15 (that is between 2.5 million and 5.25 million people) have sex with another man at least once a month (most will do so while they are single and stop once they get married).

Saleh Ahmed, who runs Bandhu, stresses that the people it works with are not "gay" but fall within the looser category of "men who have sex with men" (MSMs). According to Ahmed, there are two main differences between the categories: MSMs have sex just for "fun" or "physical release", without the emotional and identity implications of a gay relationship. The second difference between being gay and MSMs is that of class. MSMs generally have low-paid, menial jobs. Gay men come from a middle and upper class background; they tap into a wider, global gay identity and its trappings.

MSMs have very few choices in life, hemmed in as they are by poverty, social exclusion and threats from STIs including HIV/AIDS. This is exacerbated by marginalisation at the hands of their wealthier brethren, and has even spawned terms such as "LS" (low status) to refer to working class gay men and "HS" (high society) to indicate the more affluent.

Although Bangladesh’s anti-sodomy law (section 377 of criminal code) seems to have fallen into disuse, the police regularly stop, harass and even arrest working-class MSMs under other laws, according to Ahmed – so repealing Section 377 will not prevent any of this. For Ahmed, it is more important to focus on fighting for access to healthcare and educational services. Education at the grassroots levels is the key to this. Bandhu holds "sensitisation workshops" where the police, local elected bodies, journalists, doctors and lawyers are educated on the problems MSMs face. It also provides training on HIV/AIDS, and international and human rights laws.

"Our kind of work is far more crucial to the everyday lives of men who have sex with men than attempting to repeal this outdated law," Ahmed says. While most MSMs are poorly educated, the internet has become a crucial resource for the middle and upper classes. Boys of Bangladesh (BOB) is an online group with 1,700 members who explicitly define themselves as gay. The forum allows people to make friends, meet potential partners and disseminates information and advice.

Shakhawat Hossain, the group’s "moderator", is typical of the young Dhakaias that BOB appeals to: in tune with international fashions and technology, privately educated, taking foreign holidays and preferring sushi to shutki (the traditional Bengali dried fish). BOB’s aim is to develop a lifestyle first and then discuss rights and equality. Hossain says "MSM" refers just to sexual behaviour – which he finds insulting. To be gay on the other hand refers to sexual attraction, emotions, partnership and love, "far more complicated and less palatable for the orthodoxy". He wants section 377 to be repealed, since from the offset it considers gay people to be criminals.

Whatever the result of BOB’s coming-out or Bandhu’s efforts to stay in the grey area, this will not stem the tide of educated, middle-class gay people leaving Bangladesh. One reason for this is for simple economics. Attracted to wealth, status and a particular kind of consumer-obsessed lifestyle, middle-class gay people are no different from their heterosexual counterparts.

The other reason is the perceived freedoms western countries offer homosexuals. At the turn of the 20th century gay men from the west, writers such as William Burroughs and Tennessee Williams for example moved, ironically by today’s standards, to Muslim countries where they found the atmosphere to be much more liberal towards homosexuality. Now, the movement is in the opposite direction.

The problem with this rainbow exodus is that the very group of people who are in a position to confront the issue of inequality in Bangladesh, to bring about change by using their influence, are the ones leaving. I ask one gay man leaving for Australia whether he is willing to publicly declare his boyfriend in Bangladesh. His answer is frank. "I’d die if my parents and friends knew I was gay. Not because they’d kill me, but because of shame. I’m leaving so that I can do what I want without anyone here knowing about it."



2009 August 27 – ICDDRB.org

20a
Living on the Extreme Margin: Social Exclusion of the Transgender Population (Hijra) in Bangladesh

Sharful Islam Khan, Mohammed Iftekher Hussain, Shaila Parveen, Mahbubul Islam Bhuiyan, Gorkey Gourab, Golam Faruk Sarker, Shohael Mahmud Arafat, and Joya Sikder

Abstract
The transgender people (hijra), who claim to be neither male nor female, are socially excluded in Bangladesh. This paper describes social exclusion of hijra [The term is used in this abstract both in singular and plural sense] focusing on the pathway between exclusion and sexual health. In an ethnographic study, 50 in-depth interviews with hijra, 20 key-informant interviews, and 10 focus-group discussions (FGDs), along with extensive field observations, were conducted. The findings revealed that hijra are located at the extreme margin of exclusion having no sociopolitical space where a hijra can lead life of a human being with dignity.

Their deprivations are grounded in non-recognition as a separate gendered human being beyond the male-female dichotomy. Being outside this norm has prevented them from positioning themselves in greater society with human potential and security. They are physically, verbally, and sexually abused. Extreme social exclusion diminishes self-esteem and sense of social responsibility. Before safer sex interventions can be effective in a broader scale, hijra need to be recognized as having a space on society’s gender continuum. Hijra, as the citizens of Bangladesh and part of society’s diversity, have gender, sexual and citizenship rights, that need to be protected.

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13 October 2009 – The Star Observer

21
‘Prove you’re gay’

by Ani Lamont
Bangladeshi couple may have to have sex in front of witnesses to prove they are gay in order to secure asylum in Australia. The couple, who cannot be named, have been told to prove they are gay when they appear before the Refugee Tribunal for the fourth time in more than 10 years. Their barrister, Bruce Levet, said short of forcing the couple to have sex in front of witnesses, physically proving their sexuality was difficult.

“I’ve been bending over backwards to try and think of some way to prove these guys are gay,” Levet told Sydney Star Observer. “They don’t frequent gay bars, they are in a monogamous relationship — so it’s not like we can do what would be easiest to do, to get stat decs from different blokes they’ve slept with. One of them is a particularly private person, and they don’t live in mainstream gay society — so it’s incredibly difficult trying to prove this.

“They don’t really know anyone in gay society. They’re not frequenters of gay establishments, they came here together, they’ve lived together exclusively for 20 years.” The couple came to Australia in 1998 and have been fighting for asylum since then on the grounds that, as gay men, their lives would be at risk if they returned home.

Originally, the Refugee Tribunal ruled the pair would be safe to return to Bangladesh if they lived discreetly. That decision was overturned by the High Court. However, afraid of a pink tide of refugees, the Commonwealth tried to prove the couple were not gay. At their second tribunal appearance the men were forced to undergo DNA testing to prove they were not related after it was suggested they were brothers. The tests proved they were not related on the maternal side, but paternal tests were inconclusive and the tribunal ruled the pair were not gay.

At the third tribunal appearance one of the men was asked if he had sex that day and, when he answered yes, if he had used lubricant. When he refused to answer, he was ruled a dishonest witness and the application was again denied. Levet said he may attempt to get a gay or lesbian psychiatrist to provide evidence or, as a last resort, ask the couple to have sex in front of a witness. “They’ve said, if worst comes to worst, they’ll do it but they’d regard it as horribly embarrassing and terribly intrusive,” he said.

“I think the assumption is, because these guys are gay, they must live in some sort of bathhouse environment. I want to find a way to disprove this without subjecting them to that.”



October 13, 2009 – LGBT Bangladesh

22
Evergreen Documentary Project receives French funding

by Ashok DEB
Sebastian Rist and Aude Lerox are two dedicated individuals working on an educational documentary project on Bangladeshi Transexuals, namely the Hijra community ,who are worst affected by societal anti-pathy and Transphobia. Sebastian and Aude have been staying in Dhaka for over an year now and runs three schools for the Hijra Communities. In fact these two individuals could be perceived as the next generation Hijra experts on Bangladesh,who have gained considerable insight of this impoverished and highly margnalised community.

Recently they have released a demo version of their documentary where few glimpses of societal atrocities and rejection on Bangladeshi Trans community were framed.They have received assistance from a French production House for their project which was announced in this email below.

Hey people,
We’ve been waiting for the right moment to tell you, but we just recently signed a contract with a French production company. This is great news because it means that we will be guided by a team of professionals who will be there to give us support and advice along the way. We still have total creative control over the project and idea; the only difference is that the budget is slightly higher and the 52 minute Documentary has to be completed by the end of the year.

That said, after a few delays we can officially say that the shoot will begin Sunday. We’ll try to post some production stills along the way. We’re really excited, Salma and Pinky are too! Thanks to everyone (Both in Canada and in Bangladesh) who have helped us get to where we are now, Stayed tuned, there will be more to come,

Seb and Aude



December 9, 2009 – IGLHRC

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Updates from One Day, One Struggle: Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies

On November 9, 2009, a diverse group of nongovernmental organizations, academic institutions and activists across the Middle East, North Africa, and South and Southeast Asia carried out "One Day, One Struggle" events to promote sexual and bodily rights as human rights. Below are some of the campaign updates, including the national launch of a pioneering research on sexuality and rights; a panel and cultural show on what it means to be a hijra (transgender) in Bangladesh, a discussion on the place of sexuality and pleasure in the Koran, and a queer-straight alliance meeting in Pakistan.

Bangladesh: Pioneering research is being done on sexuality and rights in Bangladesh
The Center for Gender, Sexuality and HIV/AIDS (CGSH) at the James P Grant School of Public Health (JPGSPH) of BRAC University shared the findings of a trailblazing research project on sexuality and rights in urban Bangladesh. This exploratory study, the first of its kind, maps the manifold and changing understandings of sexuality, identity and rights among university students, factory workers, and sexual and gender minorities in Dhaka city. Dr. Dina Siddiqi, Sexuality Network Coordinator and Visiting Professor at the CGSH presented research findings on sexuality and rights in Dhaka. Other speakers were Dr. Sabina Faiz Rashid and Dr. Anwar Islam from the James P. Grant School of Public Health, Dr. Hilary Standing from the Realizing Rights Research Consortium, and Dr. Firdous Azim from the BRAC University Department of English and Humanities. A total of approximately 100 participants including journalists from the Bangladesh media, leaders of groups representing people of marginalized sexual orientations, independent researchers, anthropologists, public health professionals and NGO representatives were also present at the panel.

Bangladesh: Discussing the place of sexuality and pleasure in the Koran
Naripokkho organized a panel discussion entitled "Sexuality and Our Rights" which was moderated by Naripokkho member English professor Firdous Azim. Tamanna Khan, the president of Naripokkho and Shuchi Karim, a doctoral student at ISS in the Netherlands working on female sexuality in Bangladesh gave short presentations that were followed by an open discussion on the place of sexuality and pleasure in the Koran. Approximately 30 Naripokkho members participated in this event.
Bangladesh: Being hijra (transgender) in Bangladesh

Rangberong and Shochaton Shilpa Shangha organized a panel followed by a cultural show, both of which addressed specifically the hijra (transgender) community in Bangladesh. The panel hosted the speakers Ivan Ahmed Katha, the transgender president of the Shochetan Shilpa Shangha Association, Roksana Sultana, a journalist from BBC World, Nasrin Akhter Joli, the Deputy Director of the Hunger Project – Bangladesh and Mumtaz Begum, the former president of the Sex Workers’ Association. Police brutality and other problems faced by hijras on a daily basis were the main discussion topics of the panel. The cultural show afterwards included a musical performance specific to the hijra community that documented "why and how they became hijras, how this played havoc with their lives and how it is that they still love men."

Indonesia: New Aceh law violates Islam and women’s right to bodily autonomy

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December 2009 – Himal

24
Between invisible friends

by Delwar Hussain
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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