Driving success: How a poor Bangladeshi woman became a community role model

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Swapna Rani carrying the passengers on the streets of her home town Kurigram district. (AN photo)
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Swapna Rani carrying the passengers on the streets of her home town Kurigram district. (AN photo)
Updated 13 January 2018
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Driving success: How a poor Bangladeshi woman became a community role model

BANGLADESH: In the highly conservative, poor district of Kurigram in northern Bangladesh, Swapna Rani, 32, has risen from poverty by becoming an auto-rickshaw driver.
“There was a time when I couldn’t even provide two meals a day for my children. For years, there were no new clothes for us. But now things have changed. Now I don’t need to fight poverty like that,” she told Arab News.
A mother of two, she got married at a very early age. Her husband Ratan Chandra Barman disappeared soon after the birth of their second child.
She now raises her 13-year-old daughter Radha Rani and 11-year-old son Hridoy Chandra Barman as a single parent.
“Although it was very tough, I was still optimistic that someday I’d come out of poverty,” Swapna said.
“I got the chance two years back when our local Union Parishad Chairman Aminul Huq offered the village women the opportunity to become auto-rickshaw drivers in the locality. I instantly took the offer, and now my monthly income is around 40,000 taka ($500),” she added.
“Initially, people were reluctant to sit in my three-wheeler since I’m a female driver. They feared an accident, thinking I might not be able to drive the rickshaw properly,” she said.
“I’d assure them that they’d experience a safe and comfortable ride with me. After a few days the locals felt confident, and now the commuters enjoy my driving.”
Swapna’s income covers her children’s education, which costs around 3,000 taka per month. Her daughter feels proud that her mother is a role model in the community.
“My mother initiated something extraordinary that other women couldn’t think of before her,” Radha said.
“Now she can provide us with proper food, education, clothes and medicines. This was unthinkable two years ago.”
Swapna’s mother Sabitri Rani, 70, said her daughter “has become an example in our society. Her unconventional efforts have given us a different identity and a very good source of income.”
When asked about future aspirations, Swapna replied: “My next plan is to buy a pick-up van since there are so many auto-rickshaws on the street nowadays.”
She added: “A pick-up van will increase my income, and I’ve decided to have a female helper from the community as my assistant.”
Huq said: “Swapna became an icon for our locality, inspiring others with her success. Now many women are planning to come out of their homes and take up this kind of income-generating activity.”
He added: “At the beginning, we marked Swapna’s auto-rickshaw as only for women passengers. That’s why society leaders didn’t react negatively. Later they got used to seeing a female driver, and now everyone is riding with her.”
Dr. ASM Amanullah, professor of sociology at Dhaka University, said: “It’s an example that if mainstream society helps, women in developing countries can elevate their position in their communities both financially and socially.
He added: “Women in rural areas of Bangladesh are more progressive than their counterparts in urban areas. We should ensure equal opportunities and extend our support, mostly financial, so they can initiate their own ventures.”
Amanullah said: “Swapna’s success shows that we can empower our 80 million womenfolk if we extend a little support to them.”


Indonesian university wages war on Daesh — with animations

Updated 20 April 2018
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Indonesian university wages war on Daesh — with animations

  • Films tapped to counter radical propaganda after earlier efforts to publish two short comics largely failed because of the poor reading habits of Indonesian teenagers
  • 20-year-old Syrian war veteran says she regrets falling victim to Daesh online propaganda

JAKARTA: Ahmad met his friends Udin and Ari at a mosque, and Ari asked him why he had not been around for some time. 

When Ahmad said he had just returned from Syria, Ari replied in awe that he, too, wanted to go there to wage "jihad".

When a teacher approached them and asked Ahmad the same question, Ari replied, saying: “He (Ahmad) just returned from Syria to wage jihad. Isn’t that cool?” But Ahmad told both men the caliphate propaganda was false and many innocent people had been killed in the name of the caliphate.

“They were Muslims just like us,” he said. The teacher closed the conversation by saying that Ari had learned his lesson and should understand he did not have to go far to wage jihad. The teacher then asked Ari to join him assisting elderly people.

“This is also jihad,” he said.

Ahmad, Udin and Ari are characters in an animated film entitled “Kembali dari Syria,” or “Returning from Syria,” produced by the Center for the Study of Islam and Social Transformation (Cisform) at Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University in Yogyakarta. The short film — one of 20 animated clips produced to counter extremism among teenagers — was launched in Jakarta on Wednesday, following the February release of the other productions in Yogyakarta.

Mohammed Wildan, Cisform’s director, told Arab News the films had been made to counter radical propaganda after earlier efforts to publish two short comics largely failed because of the poor reading habits of Indonesian teenagers.

“We decided to develop these animated short clips to expand our reach. They will be more accessible through social media,” Wildan said.

Most of the clips are between 90 seconds and three minutes long, depending on the content.

Wildan said the real challenge was to condense the message with the correct reference to Qur’an and package it in a maximum three-minute clip.

“We are careful when choosing our arguments that cite the Qur’an and the Hadith,” Wildan said.

Lecturers from the university had offered their expertise on specific subjects, he said.

Also present at the film launch was 20-year-old Nur Shadrina Khairadhania, who went to Syria as a teenager with her extended family. She shared her own account of emigrating to the so-called caliphate and explained why going to Syria to wage jihad was wrong.

Speaking to an audience of high school students, Khairadhania said that after her interest in Islam began to grow, she fell victim to Daesh online propaganda introduced to her by an uncle.

“I watched their videos, which showed that life would be really good in the caliphate. I was enticed to join,” Khairadhania said.

She convinced her father, Dwi Djoko Wiwoho, a high-ranking civil servant in Batam, Riau province, as well as her mother and two siblings, to migrate to Syria.

A group of 26 extended members of her family, including two uncles and a grandmother, left for Syria in 2015. After 19 managed to cross the border with Turkey, they quickly discovered that life in the caliphate was very different to the propaganda.

“Everything is contrary to Islamic teaching. A male family member was forced to fight and was put in detention for months when he refused,” she said. 

The family tried for a year to leave and finally returned to Indonesia in August 2017. 

Family members completed a rehabilitation program run by the national counterterrorism agency, but now her father and uncle are facing terrorism charges. 

Rebuilding her life had been difficult because of the stigma of her past, she said.

“But God gave me a second chance to live. This is probably my jihad, to tell the truth to people so no one will be deceived like us,” she said.