These Bangladeshis helped revolutionize the state of animal rights and cruelty in the country

News, People

Interviews by Faria Ahmed

Even fifteen years ago, the general population of Bangladesh did little to nothing to promote animal rights or to fight animal cruelty. Whether it was to help rescue and rehabilitate stray animals, abused and injured animals, or those living in the wild. When a few scattered animal rights proponents would speak up, they would often be shut down with the dialogue that there is no room for animal rights in a land where many humans don’t receive basic rights to safety, food, or shelter. Nonetheless, the online and offline community of animal rights activists has grown significantly over the past decade. From individual volunteers feeding stray cats and dogs to full-fledged non-profit organizations pushing for legislative change – the animal rights scene has undergone drastic changes. I was lucky to have been able to track down and interview some of these key individuals and organizations who have helped make significant progress on this issue. Today, I am excited to introduce them to my readers at Millennial Things to demonstrate the power of our generation and what we can achieve despite socio-political and economic challenges.

Rubaiya Ahmed

Founder, Obhoyaronno

My first over the phone interview was with Rubaiya Ahmed, who founded Obhoyaronno in the year 2009 as a way to heal from a very personal loss. After spending 10 years in the United States of America, Rubaiya returned to Dhakaand began to work at her full-time job, unaware of the system then implemented in Dhaka to control the stray dog population. In 2009, Rubaiya’s own pet dog was killed by Dhaka City Corporation workers, as part of their program to ‘control’ the population of stray and thus reduce the risk of rabies. With the loss of her furry friend who was confused for a stray dog and killed, Rubaiya first became aware of the inhumane practice which didn’t need to be the solution to prevent Rabies.

That incident motivated her to look deeper into the problems of this system and try to come up with better and alternative solutions. By founding Obhoyaronno, Rubaiya and her team of trained vets are now able to implement a system of Rabies prevention called CNVR (Catch Neuter Vaccinate Return). “Since then, Obhoyaronno has been running the country’s first CNVR programme in Dhaka with support from Dhaka City Corporation, Humane Society International and FAO”, explained Rubaiya. 

She elaborated on how the team of  3 veterinary surgeons and 14 animal welfare officers (all of whom refresh and update their training every year) helped make this program a reality. “It is not done in random areas based on requests but rather it is very methodical. Say we work on Ward No. 46, at least 80% dogs in this ward need to be covered  before moving on to ward no. 47. We cannot respond to complaints of stray dog populations out of order as we need to follow the schedule and continue in that manner.Till date 17,000 dogs have been processed by our CNVR program.”

Obhoyaronno team
Photo Credit: Allison Joyce Source: Facebook

The CNVR program has since then been well-accepted and appreciated by the government of Bangladesh, local authorities, the local community and has received several local and international awards including the “Humane Society International Animal Advocate of the Year” award in 2012.

When asked if this is a model that should be copied and implemented by other volunteer groups, Rubaiya also explains the risks associated with it. The importance of trained, skilled and certified professionals to carry out the surgical procedures is paramount to bring about good health outcomes for the animals. Furthermore, there are unique aspects of the type of surgery performed so the animals can be quickly released back into their natural habitat without requiring extensive post-op care. All these coupled with the essential collaborations with local authorities make it a slightly more strategic project that may not be possible for civilian volunteers to necessary partake in. However, the overwhelming support of civilians through small donations and acceptance of the program symbolizes their appreciation of what Obhoyaronno has achieved.

Advocacy from individuals, online communities of animal activists and non-profits have helped change the general attitude of the average Bangladeshi on the issue, although a lot more work remains to be done. The animal cruelty act of 1920s was the only piece of legislation that covered this issue and needless to say it required updating. Finally, 100 years later in July of 2019, this became a reality in Bangladesh.

Rakibul Haq Emil

Founder, PAW FOUNDATION

In the year 2012, Rakibul Haq Emil found himself rescuing stray animals, often injured and tormented by automobile accidents or direct civilian abuse. Rakibul felt an innate moral obligation to do something for pets who didn’t deserve to suffer at the hands of humans desperate to urbanize and self-preserve.

In particular, Rakibul recalls a paralyzed dog named Maloti, whom he had rescued and attempted to give a better life to. Unfortunately, he was not able to give Maloti a better life, but he became determined to find friends and community members who felt the same way he did. In 2014, he began to organize people who also supported animal rights and preservation of their lives. Finally, in 2015, he was able to form PAW FOUNDATION.

While the main goal of this foundation is to promote compassionate values towards animals and fight for legislative change, there are many different “wings” of the foundation which are helping to work towards the goal. One such wing of this foundation is the non-profit veterinary clinic called “PAW LIFE CARE.” The in-patient part of the clinic is great for rescue and rehabilitation of animals, while the out-patient wing allows community members to bring in their pets for swift treatments and consultations from the trained vets.

Photo Credit: Shafiqul Alam Kiron

Apart from that, there is a legal wing of the foundation which actively engages perpetrators of animal cruelty by using legal avenues and tools. This wing has filed multiple police cases against animal abusers, sent legal notices threatening to file cases against communities who actively torture or cull animals.

“We have sent A Demand of Justice to the Forest Department and Rural Electrification Board to remove and stop the electric lines passing through the reserve forest of Modhupur. It caused the injuries of local monkeys by electrification”, said Rakibul.

In order to encourage other young animal rights activists to get involved across the country, the foundation has started an award for the most compassionate animal lover working at the root level. The award is named “Pranibondhu Award” and it is a way to encourage the humanity and compassion among the youth for stray animals who face the brunt of abuse from civilians.

Stray animals were referred to as “Bewarish”, a slang for unwated and orphaned, by local authorities and even in legislation. Through advocacy from organizations like these, the term has been replaced to “unowned” animals, who do not belong to any particular human, but are free. Changes like these, accompanied by legal proceedings followed up by the foundation are helping to pressurize authorities to begin to take animal cruelty seriously. Every positive verdict in support of animal rights groups that brings animal abusers to justice adds to the power of this movement.

Dipanwita Ridi

Founder, Animal Lovers Bangladesh

At the age of 12, Dipanwita Ridi rescued her first kitten when she saw some children bothering and hurting her. A week later, she rescued a puppy from a similar situation. It didn’t take long for Dipanwita to realize that she has a special spot in her heart for these furbabies and that she needs to do something to help them.

As the number of rescue animals kept increasing, it became difficult for her to house them in her apartment in Dhaka city. Soon enough, people were bringing rescued animals to her to foster while they figured out how to house them with loving families. In 2013, Dipanwita moved to a spacious village home which she transformed into an animal shelter.

General people;s understand of animal cruelty was still limited and so cases of abuse and cruelty were rampant. She was getting dozens of injured animals who had been rescued. The goal of the Animal Lovers Bangladesh shelter is to temporarily house rescued animal and helped them find good, loving and permanent homes.

Many people use pets to breed them, many then try to sell them for a profit like commodities. These are aspects of the pet industry that Dipanwita and other activists find deeply disturbing. This is why their shelter’s slogan is “Don’t buy, Adopt!” With that in mind, her goal is to help find loving homes for all the hundreds of rescued animals that end up at her shelter. Dipanwita also points out that simply adopting isn’t enough. Any responsible pet parent would need to cat-proof or dog-proof their homes so the pets do not leave the home. Often run-away pets get lost, injured, pregnant, or infected when domestic pets end up on the streets.

Source and Photo Credit: Animal Lovers of Bangladesh Shelter Website

“The purpose of my shelter in Narayanganj is to shelter cats and dogs in need who won’t survive on the street by themselves. Most of them were extremely sick, injured or abandoned by their owner. We rescued orphans without a mother cat, pregnant mother cats and dogs, handicapped animals with permanent physical or mental injuries. We have paralyzed, blind cats, and cats with epilepsy or nerve problems. They get to have safe place, food and treatment at the shelter until we can find a loving home for them. Since 2013 I sheltered around 2000 animals. And there are always 50/60 cats and 20 dogs at the shelter at any given time. They get their monthly routine check up, defleeing and dworking medication here and all of them are vaccinated and neutered”, said Dipanwita.

With her enthusiastic group of youth volunteers from the community, she is hopeful that things will turn around with awareness. Purchases of pets are dropping and adoption rates are increasing, according to Dipanwita’s personal experiences. These shine a ray of hope that someday every cat and dog in her shelter will have a loving home to return to.

Fahim Zaman

Wild Animal Conservation Activist & Facility Manager

Creative Conservation Alliance (CCA)

Since his childhood, Fahim Zaman was awestruck by the beauty of wild animals of channels like National Geography. In 2013, Fahim would go out for adventures in the wild where he would observe wild animal in their natural habitat. As much as he adored them, he knew that the wild if where these animals belonged.

“In terms of conservation the first real project I volunteered for was with Creative Conservation Alliance (CCA). They were radio tracking wild pythons and Elongated tortoises in north east Bangladesh. We would go out to the fields to track those animals to know further about how they behave when relocated form/near villages. Later I did volunteer for them quite a few more time in some other projects.”

Fahim is currently working for Creative Conservation Alliance as a facility manager for their Turtle Conservation Center. It is a Captive breeding facility for critically endangered turtles and tortoises of Bangladesh, who are bred to increase and reinstate their normal population for future release into the wild.

Photo Credit: Fahim Zaman

“Our main focus is the forests of Chittagong hill tracks. The bio diversity is incomparable to any other forest in the country and the government pays very little attention to it due to its remote location. We take both a top down and a bottom up approach to save the forest, the wild life and the communities living there”, explained Fahim. In his case, Fahim is mostly working with Asian Gaint Tortoise species which is almost on the brink of extinction. His favourite part is to see the released tortoises laying eggs and those eggs eventually hatching to make more babies in the wild. “It’s takes a long time to see the fruit of this work since these animals take about 20 years to reach sexual maturity.”

Photo Credit: Fahim Zaman

The CCA also focuses on awareness and education. “We do speech and presentations in schools and universities to inspire youth to come forward and work in this field. Out center is open to them to know further about how conservation work being carried out in Bangladesh. We even teach kids in our remote school located deep inside Bandarban about the importance of the forest for their survival and how the symbiotic relation can help both parties. We believe teaching the next generation will ensure the forest stays protected by the communities living in them. For tourism it’s a totally different issue, bigger things like that need policy changes which is a whole other chapter,” mentioned Fahim.

All animals, be they stray animals on the streets of Dhaka or wild ones on the sandy beaches of our country deserve to live, grow and continue the existence of their species. Human intervention, be it in the form of cruelty and abuse or taking away their breeding grounds essential for the survival of their progeny, have ultimately endangered these creatures and trampled on their rights as a member of the ecosystem. Nonetheless individuals, organizations, volunteers and donors of such initiatives give us hope to a changing landscape when it comes to animal rights in Bangladesh.

Canada’s Millennials Speak Up: Who’s voting for who and why!

Adulting, News

By Faria Ahmed

Photo Credit: Hasan Ul Mokaddes

For the first time on Millennial Things Blog, I interviewed four Canadian Millennial Voters, each voting for one of the four major political parties in the upcoming Federal Election (unfortunately I could not find anyone from Bloc Quebecois). These four individuals, all between the ages of 18-30, shared their perspectives on the political party they had decided to vote for and the issues that were driving that decision. 

As I began the interviews, I was curious to find out how four young men, all with similar levels of education, all living in the same part of Canada, with similar personal and economic goals in life, could have such different takes on what is best for Canada and how to get there. 

*Disclaimer: All four participants interviewed requested to remain anonymous. All four individuals interviewed are Canadian Citizens, eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 30, they are all male and they all plan on voting in this upcoming federal election in October 2019. The interviewed individuals were from various ethnic and religious backgrounds. All four participants reported that their ethnic or religious background had some level of influence in their voting decisions.* 

For the first portion of the interview, I asked them questions to better understand who they are voting for, their alternate choices, and the policy issues that were guiding their decision-making process this election. 

Q.1. Which three issues are the most important for you, on the basis of which you haven chosen to vote for a candiate/political party this year:

It was interesting to see that there wasn’t a specific set of issues that my millennial peers were prioritizing. Income taxes, environmental policies and healthcare were among the top three issues that seemed to come up among all four voters, yet they paid varying degrees of importance to them. Unsurprisingly, the conservative voter believed that balancing the country’s budget and improving upon economic growth should be a priority. So, I went ahead to ask exactly what about these core issues was driving them towards their preferred political party.

Q.2. Please explain what positions they have taken on these issues which convinced you to vote for them:

Liberal Voter: “I’m voting for Liberals because in my home riding, the toss-up is between the Liberals and the Conservatives. While my political views generally align with the NDP, the potential personal costs of a Conservative government simply outweigh any harm done by the Liberals. In a toss-up race I would always vote for the leading left option.”

I wasn’t the least bit surprised to hear this take. Many many liberal voters who weren’t very happy with Trudeau’s past term had told me the same thing. They would much rather have an NDP victory, however, the NDP numbers were nowhere close enough. They feared a conservative victory much more than they were disappointed by the Liberals. It saddened me to see that, much like the last US election, people were being asked to choose a ‘lesser evil’ than being asked to vote for who they truly admired or who they believed proposed the best policies. People in the US who were then disappointed in the Democratic Party, were then being asked to vote for Hillary Clinton, in fear of allowing a greater evil (i.e. Trump) from gaining access to the While House. I do not support the idea of placing that burden on the public to ensure the worse candidate does not get power, but that’s a rant for another day. 

Conservative Voter: “I believe their platform compared to others is the least committed to regulating the freedom of citizens. Compared to other parties they are more committed to free expression, low taxes, protecting the life of babies in the womb and are business friendly. Also, compared to other conservative parties like the Libertarian party and People’s party of Canada, the progressive conservatives actually have a shot at winning.”

Again, a voter was making a choice (partialy) on the basis on who has a chance of winning while being representative of their ideologies. Nonetheless, I enjoyed this statement from the conservative voter because it made me realize how differently we view ‘freedom’. This voter was absolutely correct about how the CP party as well as their values may promote freedom of speech and other such rights devoid of government regulation. The voter is probably also indicating the lax regulations when it comes to industry, community, and so on under a CP government. At the time time, I couldn’t help but take into consideration my own ideas of freedom. Freedom of religious practice and freedom of choosing my own sexual or gender identity devoid of harassment or hate speech is something I can only enjoy when the ‘rights’ of some citizens to share ‘hate speech’ is curbed. I also noted that the voter’s idea of freedom did not extend to the right of a woman to choose an abortion, and instead focused on the right of the fetus. I won’t go too deep on this issue in this article today as I want to share a more general overview of who is voting for who and why. Overall, it is apparent that individual freedom and religious principles did play an important role in the voting perception of this voter and it’s something that we need to understand better to making policies that can truly represent the whole population.   

NDP Voter: “I’m hoping for a minority government as I do not want either Liberals or Conservatives with majority”. 

I absolutely understand this position. I can clearly see how unhappy people are with both liberals are conservatives, and voting NDP is a strategic way to ensure neither of the two main political parties can gain unchallenged power through the formation of a minority government. NDP on the other hand is a party that has had a fair amount of influence in Canadian politics as one of the three main political parties, but never won the election. Some consider them a bit too left leaning, other think they make absolute sense but have no real shot at winning the election for many years to come. 

Green Voter: “Generally speaking, I don’t trust the Liberal or Conservative Party enough to keep their promises. I don’t support enough Conservative policies anyway. I generally trust the NDP, but, they’re too similar to the Liberal Party. The Green Party has costed their platform and proposed a 20-step plan for tackling climate change; the NDP has no emissions target, Jagmeet takes no clear stance in the debates, and they don’t even have a climate plan.”

Again, what I could see was the distrust and disappointment of the two major political parties among my millennial peers. I felt throughout this interview that the NDP had a perfect opportunity this election to come in and deliver to the public what the liberals and conservatives had been failing to do, but they had simply missed the mark. While this particular green voter had gone with their rationale and decided to vote for a party with the most elaborate environment policy platform, many others who I had spoken to had told me that while they agree with green, their vote would be ‘wasted’ on a party with no chance of actually winning. 

This brings me back to the understanding that voters no longer vote on the basis of actual policies and their admiration of politicians. People now vote strategically. They look at the current reality of who have the most chances of actually taking power as the elected government. They use their votes strategically based on the desired outcome. If they want a party with a small lead to win, they will vote for an opposition or one of the smaller parties, in order to ‘waste’ the vote. If they want a balance of power, they will vote for a chance at getting a minority government. Even if they love a party’s platform, they may not vote for them just because that party is polling at 5% leading up to the election. 

While this attitude towards voting may be quite realistic, I personally find it upsetting. The reason it bothers me is that the smaller parties who may have great ideas for policy reform may not be able to grow through increased seats each election year, simply because of this voting attitude. This will keep our larger parties in power despite their failures and keep our smaller parties struggling to find some limelight.  

Q.3. If your chosen party was not running in this election, which party would you have alternatively voted for? 

Liberal Voter: I would vote NDP

Conservative Voter: I would vote Liberal

NDP Voter: I would vote Conservative

Green Voter: I would vote NDP

Q.4. Which is the one party in Canada’s Federal election that you would never vote for (e.g. you disagree with some of their fundamental platforms)? Please explain briefly why.

Liberal Voter: I would never vote for the PPC (People’s Party of Canada) based on their purposed policies regarding social security, taxation, immigration. As well as the bigoted language and beliefs of their leader and many of their candidates.

Conservative Voter: NDP, although never say never. NDP are explicitly Socialist and Socialism is a failed ideology.

NDP:   No party. They all make ‘some’ degree of sense in their own ways. This is the problem with a “right vs left” mentality. 

Green Voter: Conservative. Broadly speaking, I don’t like how averse to change, in a word- conservative, the Conservative Party is. 

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For the second part of the interview, I didn’t add remarks to share the most unbiased and raw form of the voters’ responses. I kept their responses entirely unedited. It was pretty much a rapid fire round about what each candidate’s take on some of the hottest political issues facing millennials this election. Read this second part here.

Who are Canada’s Millennials voting for in the end? Here’s is our review of the published statistics leading up to the election!