Shouts of “Mobile!” “Radio!” “Badminton!” coming from all directions would have confounded anyone who did not know what was going on in this town.
So I'm here at Chashara, Narayanganj. Last day of election campaigning here before the NCC polls pic.twitter.com/H8dqRMiaJr— Shegufta Hasnine (@SheguftaHasnine) December 20, 2016
The streets are full of last minute processions, all moving fast, all one-word chanting pic.twitter.com/vZciWAkVV2 — Shegufta Hasnine (@SheguftaHasnine) December 20, 2016The port city of Narayanganj is split in the middle by the Shitalakkhya River. West side is more industrial while east is more commercial. Officially there are about 800,000 people in Narayanganj - but the 73 square km city may be home to many more. I asked Ward 15's councilor and current favourite Asit Baran Biswas how many voters and how many people he had. He said there were about 16,000 voters, but heck, there must be 50,000 people living here.
Narayanganj is an ancient town, over 150 years old. pic.twitter.com/NdIZzzki2lDecember 20, 2016
But it's also very modern, growing rapidly pic.twitter.com/JyQ7PAE45Q — Shegufta Hasnine (@SheguftaHasnine) December 20, 2016The trade city is home to many migrant workers who live in densely populated slums and move about too often to be captured by any census or survey, which are few and far between. Under Bangladeshi law you cannot vote from two places. What about Motaleb Hossain then, a tiles store manager who has been living in this city for 25 years? He is registered in his village in Bagerhat, where his family lives, and therefore is not a voter in the city corporation. If about half the residents of the city do not have any say in its election process, how is this process inclusive and reflective of their will? While this is a big problem, it isn't a unique one, of course, and the solution isn't in the hands of these local politicians. [caption id="attachment_41162" align="aligncenter" width="800"] A town completely covered by campaigning poster poster Dhaka Tribune[/caption]
At least three or four bridges should connect the two sides of the city, some people told me. "This crossing is so dangerous. Everyday at least 20-25,000 people cross the river to get to work and back. Every once in a while there is some tragedy.” One of the stranger things about this city is the absence of young people in the evening. There are no hangouts, no tea stalls full of young males, no teenage crowds moving together in shopping malls, of which there are quite a few. The reason is that this isn't a youth-friendly town. Narayanganj is all business, all the time. I spoke with a theatre activist who lamented that the lack of any form of cultural expression was pushing young people to drugs. The only auditorium in town is broken down and home to drug addicts, he said. There is no park, no sports ground, no recreation centre that the people can go to. His friend Amal Datta, a pharmacist, said since Narayanganj is a historic town, there are many old forts and buildings that can be turned into public attractions. But the city has paid no attention to these needs. "People have become more conscious. It's not about politics anymore, it's about the services we need," he said. Asit Baran, who has served as councillor for five years, said that since the corporation was formed by merging three municipalities, duties and responsibilities have gone up but resources haven't. Nevertheless, the council and the mayor had worked hard to make the corporation accessible to the public, he argued, and would continue to work for the city. And it seems that they have the public's confidence, for now at least.
If you ask Narayanganj citizens what's their main concern they have one word for you: traffic. pic.twitter.com/pIY29q7ngn— Shegufta Hasnine (@SheguftaHasnine) December 20, 2016
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