BOSTON, April 11, 2012 – Last evening the AIC Center hosted “Bangladesh: The Politics of Diaspora, Religion and Gender,” a panel discussion by local experts who took a fresh look at how religion and immigration are influencing the state of human rights and women’s rights in Bangladesh and in the extensive Bangladeshi diaspora. The event was co-sponsored by the Center for Gender Security and Human Rights at UMass Boston.
Bangladesh has the fourth largest Muslim population in the world and is among the major sources of global migrants along with Mexico, India, China and Russia. The discussion was moderated by Dr. Bandana Purkaysatha, professor of sociology and Asian-American studies at the University of Connecticut and the co-author of “Living Our Religions: Hindu and Muslim South Asian American Women Narrate Their Experiences.”
Two fascinating and thoroughly accomplished women comprised the panel. Dr. Elora Chowdhury is an assistant professor of women’s studies at the University of Massachusetts. Her recent book “Transnationalism Reversed” examines the state of women’s movement through a focus on acid attacks and organizing against acid violence in Bangladesh. Dr. Nazli Kibria is an associate professor of sociology at Boston University. She analyzed the effects of migration and the variety of migrant experiences in her book “Muslims in Motion: Islam and National Identity in the Bangladeshi Diaspora.”
The forum began with the panelists reading from their books and went on to illuminate some critical issues within the global Bangladeshi community.
Dr. Kibria shared her motivation to write a study of the Bangladeshi migrant experience. “I was deeply disturbed by the way in which Muslims were homogenized in scholarship and in public discourse,” she said. In reality, Muslim community within a single country is extremely diverse, and diasporic communities are even more complex. A migrant experience is different for a Bangladeshi moving to a Muslim-majority or a Muslim-minority country. Perceptions are also shaped by one’s gender and class. Islam’s role in migrants’ new lives differs as well, Kibria said.
Dr. Chowdhury discussed the problem of acid-throwing in Bangladesh and the issues in cooperation among local activists and international organizations. Acid-throwing must be seen as both gender violence and structural violence, Chowdhury emphasized. Two thirds of victims are women. However, rejection of sexual advances and romantic love motivate only 17% of attacks. While Bangladesh passed legislation specifically aimed towards criminalizing acid-throwing, enforcement of the law lags and perpetrators often go unpunished.
The event concluded with book signings and one-on-one interactions between the authors and attendees.