No space for love in Bangladesh

Bangladesh is currently suffering from, perhaps not a wave but more of a persistent flood of extremist attacks, manifesting in the form of assassinations of various free-thinking, secular or atheist bloggers, publishers, writers and journalists. While this trail of blood may be linked to a point of origin with the murder of blogger Avijit Roy in February last year, this is something that has existed under the surface of Bangladeshi society for much longer. Conservatism, the quashing of more progressive ideals, rising belief in Islamic homogeneity, and a vicious intolerance for anything that does not fit the Sunni, Bengali Muslim identity. As mysterious men, armed with machetes chip away further and further at all opposing ideologies with violence, the space for liberal and progressive ideals in my country is disappearing. The latest in this bloody spree of “divine” executions came on April 25, when gay rights activists and editor of the country’s first and only LGBT magazine, Xulhaz Mannan, along with his friend, colleague, and fellow activist, Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy were brutally murdered by unknown assailants, linked with larger, global Islamic terrorist outfits.


The two murdered activists – Xulhaz Mannan (left) and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy (right)

(Source: Dhaka Tribune)

Mannan started the magazine, Roopbaan, to promote LGBT rights in Bangladesh. This by itself is an amazing achievement in such a conservative country. In the face of such disapproval and adversity, Roopbaan took off in 2014. Long an advocate in the development sector, especially working with LGBT rights, Mannan’s work went from strength to strength. In fact, on 14 April 2015, when Mannan successfully organized a “rainbow rally”, Bangladesh’s version of a pride parade, during the Bengali New Year celebrations, for a second, Bangladesh’s liberals believed again that the country was moving forward and for the LGBT community, especially the gay and lesbian communities who are legally oppressed, it was a landmark achievement – an announcement that these people not only exist, but are unafraid to stand up and be counted, as people, in Bangladeshi society. For me as well, long having been frustrated by regular news of tragedy, misfortune, oppression and intolerance, reading about the “rainbow rally”, during the New Year celebrations no less, brought me immense pride, and in one of those rare moments, I may have felt something akin to patriotism.


Pride parade in Dhaka, 2015


I could swell with pride for how far my country has come, and like the rest of Bangladesh’s liberals, once a proud tradition in its own right, feel hope for the future. Mannan’s murder feels like a nail on the coffin for a dream that I once thought could be reality.

This dream now seems a long way away. This year, the second “rainbow rally” was cancelled due to death threats and intimidation from a section of society that cannot bring themselves to respect (or even tolerate) other human beings. And the worst part is, this seething hate is winning. And we, Bangladesh as a nation, are allowing it to win. A Buddhist monk had his throat slit earlier this week. University professors, a profession held in such high esteem in my society, are being hacked down for no good reason. The violence is more senseless than usual. The government refuses to acknowledge that we have a terrorist crisis on our hands for fear that we start remembering that their role in how we got here. So they tell us that these murders are unrelated. That we should stay quiet. They tell us to be silent and let hate win. But for Xulhaz, for the LGBT community in my country that have now had to flee for their safety, we cannot. The pride parade is a symbol of love triumphing over everything else, and I hope, for our sake, I see it next New Years. Only then will I remember the dream that me, Xulhaz and everyone that looks forward and looked forward in my country once dreamt.


Cover photo source: Wikipedia Commons


6 Ways to Reduce Commuter Stress

Commuting has been found to be one of life’s least enjoyable activities and has been labeled “the stress that doesn’t pay”. Longer commutes are systematically associated with lower rates of well-being. As the summer approaches, many of you will be commuting to work, internships, and volunteer opportunities. And therefore, here’s an illustrated article on ways to reduce the commuting stress!

  • It is important to relax and try to be one with nature during travelling. Try to feel the wind and generate positive thoughts.

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  • Switching off mobile devices and just spending time with yourself will do you loads of good! It’ll allow you to gather positive energy, plan your day and reflect on life.

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  • Commutes can be productive too. Just bring your planner so you can go over meeting points, figure out what you’ll cook for dinner or make a shopping list! Those 10-20 minutes you get while commuting can serve as a good break where you can gather your thoughts.

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  • A lot of us are sleeping with open eyes during commuting! While being immersed in thoughts is acceptable, it is also necessary to pay attention to your body. Feel the rhythm of the moving vehicle, the sounds, sight and smells around you. Being more aware of your surroundings will make you feel alive.

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  • Everyone is late once in a while, but there’s always a great way to cover it up. Your co-workers will neglect your slip-up if you are already to throw yourself into work as soon as you reach the workplace. Instead of being frazzled, take control of the situation and show leadership!

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  • Sometimes, people travelling with you might cause troubles. Crying babies, loud music, and too much talking or just bad vibes. The reasons could be anything, but remember to be polite because you don’t want to start your day on a bad note.

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Thus, by taking a mindful approach to commuting, you’ll learn how to deal with stress effectively. It’ll provide you with a smooth and stress-free time, all to yourself, where you can grow as an individual.

Hope you found this article insightful!


Source for all images: Auto Insurance Center

Throwback Thursday: Institutionalized Racism Unnoticed

The world of fashion and beauty is incredibly tough and biased – cutthroat and highly opinionated. Models seem to conform to a strict set of guidelines that are set by the industry; rarely do outsiders make it big. From their often-unrealistic notions of what the ideal body type is, it is not difficult to see that the industry is in serious need of expanding their vision.

Roughly 20% of models are women of color. For this, designers should be also held accountable, as they choose who models their shows. According to Annie Walshaw, a model booker, designers have a certain ‘look’ in mind when they hire models. The implications of this are disconcerting: white models are considered dainty and pretty, whilst darker models are exotic and ‘edgy’ (only able to pull of certain looks – most likely tribal). It seems hard to believe that this still occurs today.

Instead of highlighting these issues, however, the media, and Hollywood, only seem to play into the beauty industry’s hands. Very rarely do we even see a leading lady of color.

That is why when Lupita Nyong’o – though not playing a leading lady – emerged, many were overjoyed to find that the media immediately fell in love with the girl-who-seems-to-do-no-wrong. An amazing actress (her performance in 12 years a Slave proving it), smart, and statuesque, it’s no mystery why they did. Lupita Nyong’o, a grounded and elegant lady, who is able to pull off any designer’s look, certainly has a wonderful way with words.

The most impressing thing about her – more so than her Oscar – has to be her acceptance speech for Best Breakthrough Performance at the Essence Magazine awards. Instead of launching into a typical acceptance speech, she spoke about her experience with beauty, being dark-skinned, in response to a letter she received from a young girl.

The beauty industry is not accommodating to those of a darker skin tone, with many companies encouraging the idea that ‘lighter is better’. Few makeup and skin companies even have a decent selection of products for dark skin. Instead, they advertise harmful skin-bleaching products. This in itself is refined racism; together with the media, they collectively brainwash people into thinking that they need to look a certain way – that it’s the only way to be beautiful and appreciated.

However, her message was an even deeper one, one that undermines a lot of what the beauty industry has to say:

“What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul… And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation for your beauty, but also get to the deeper business of feeling beautiful inside. There is no shade in that beauty.”

People come in all colors and sizes, and the beauty sector needs to wake up and realize that they need to become representative. Color is not ugly, but rather, it is marvelously beautiful.

Back to Clark

It’s that time of year again. Your horrible farmer’s tan is somewhat less noticeable, your fingers are weak and no longer used to writing notes for hours at a time—fall semester is here. For me this will be my fifth and final year at Clark and looking back, I can’t believe I’m that grad student saying, “four years really did go by fast.” But it did, and it was great. The horrors of 25 page papers and sleepless nights all seem much less significant and in retrospect are regarded much more warmly.

This morning I was seated at the last booth in Annie’s joined by some old suitemates. We talked about nothing really for a while, but then I abruptly asked “what do you wish you had known, four years ago, when we were the incoming freshmen?” This is what we came up with:

  • In regard to the meal plan, you really don’t know what you have until it’s gone. As soon as you’re off the meal plan, you’ll start realizing how much cooking and cleaning up after yourself can be a hassle in the midst of a busy school year! Appreciate!
  • Make connections and take advantage of your professors. We have faculty members known well throughout the global academic community—get to know them!
  • Try to get off campus. Worcester has a lot to offer: hikes at Purgatory Chasm, rock climbing at Central Rock, getting a little lost in The Worcester Art Museum… (every Clark student has a discount).
  • The Sackler Science Library is a wonderful place for quiet study.
  • There are so many teams, organizations and clubs on campus…get involved!

Of course these suggestions might already be common sense to many of you already, but the point is: take advantage of what our school, and city, has to offer. I personally value my liberal arts degree because it allowed me the opportunity to explore a wide breadth of knowledge while still focusing on a career path. So remember, look up from your books every now and then, pursue even the faintest of interests, and best of luck this upcoming school year!

-Alexander Santos