Global Voices new South Asia editor, Rezwan, from Bangladesh has been with Global Voices as a volunteer author since 2005. Memorable posts by Rezwan include a report on Twittering’ an earthquake in Bangladesh, and a story of colorful but expensive Bangladeshi weddings. He replaces the illustrious Neha Viswanathan as South Asia editor.
His personal blog, The Third World View portrays Bangladeshis and Bangladesh in English to a global audience.
Eager to help create more content in Bangla on the web, Rezwan initiated the Lingua website Global Voices in Bangla with fellow translators.
He is also Features Editor on Rising Voices, a Global Voices project that gives micro-grant funding to new blogging projects in some of the most marginalized communities of the world. Here, Rezwan writes about the internet connectivity problems facing REPACTED bloggers in Kenya, the explosive energy of young bloggers in La Loma, Colombia, and shares the beautiful photos taken by Bangladeshi women-bloggers of Nari Jibon.
A scenic sunset at Bangladesh's Cox’s Bazar sea beach by Nari Jibon blogger Nilufa Anne.
Why did you start your personal blog in 2003 and what was the reason you chose to write in English?
I was in Dhaka then, and I read a story in a local newspaper about the famous Iraqi blogger Salam Pax, who was writing an online diary about the Iraq war and the effect it was having on his everyday life. I started reading his blog and also came across some other interesting blogs.
This inspired me to start my own blog sometime in April 2003. At first I could not figure what to write. But I soon found out from the other blogs that there are huge misconceptions about Bangladesh, mainly due to the absence of Bangladeshi voices on the Internet. And I found my focus: topics on Bangladesh and following the Bangladeshi blogosphere.
In those days Bangla Unicode was only in the development stage so I could not blog in Bangla (as the reader had to have the same Bangla software/fonts I used). My focus was to communicate with the world, so English was the ready choice.
How did you first hear about Global Voices?
I probably first came across the site because my blog was being linked by Global Voices. I was already doing small roundups in my blog and guest-blogging in a couple of regional ones.
Then in July 2005 I received a mail from Global Voices co-founder Rebecca MacKinnon : “We find that we've been linking to you quite frequently over at Global Voices and would love to know a little more about you…” She requested me to post on Global Voices.
I was thrilled to write for Global Voices, and the rest is history.
What is your most memorable blogging experience?
I've have a lot of interesting experiences. I remember in April 2004 I traveled to Sri Lanka and blogged about it. I remember how desperate I was to find an Internet-connected PC to upload my pictures and post my daily report. This urge makes one a passionate blogger.
I also get my share of amusements from the comments in my blog posts. I wrote about the national ID card implementation process in Bangladesh, and sometimes I still receive comments from people who have specific queries like “My ID is lost. Please tell me how can I get a new one.”
What persuaded you to start Global Voices in Bangla?
Bangla-blogging is relatively a new phenomenon. It really took off in December 2005 when a Bangla blogging platform was launched, breaking all technical barriers (it's now the largest). Bangla is spoken by 230 million people in the world, but because of absence of a unified Bangla computing platform (unicode) hundreds of Bangla online sites/publications in Bangladesh and India are not searchable and there is really a shortage of quality, Bangla content on the web.
That is why I was interested in translating Global Voices content in my mother tongue. I knew that soon, more and more people would have access to the Internet, and I wanted them to be introduced to blogs around the world in their own language. We have 15 translators on board but only 4-5 are regulars. I hope we we will be able to find additional enthusiastic volunteers to join the team.
The only thing you need to do now to read Bangla fonts is set your browser's character encoding to Unicode (utf8). Earlier you needed to download at least one unicode Bangla font, but now most recent operating systems come with everything pre-installed. Check here if you face problems either typing or reading Bangla fonts (https://bn.globalvoicesonline.org/bangla-settings/).
What have you learned about citizen media through your writing about the Rising Voices projects?
I enjoy following the developments of the various Rising Voices grantees. I come from a developing country myself and can relate to many of the challenges they face, like getting connected to the Internet, or just to be able to sit in front of a computer. I still hear from bloggers back home that sometimes they open a web page, and it takes so much time to load, they can grab a cup of tea and finish it while they wait. But these people are still passionate to blog, and this is true for participants in every Rising Voices project, whether in Madagascar, Kenya or Dhaka. Highlighting their efforts makes me realize more and more, that what we are doing is right.
What do you feel are some of the most important developments in Bangla citizen media in the past year?
The first one was the Bangla blogging platform I discussed above. Now we have 4-5 platforms with thousands of users and many, many readers, and they have a growing competition between them. The blogs on other multilingual platforms like Blogger, WordPress etc. are also coming up.
Soon a popular Bangla news daily from Bangladesh will be introducing blogging services and others will follow suit. The Bangladeshi government has declared that it will install computers and Internet connections in almost 10,000 schools across the country. I think we will soon see an explosion of blogging in Bangla.
In South Asia as a whole, do you think citizen media has had any impact on people's attitudes or understanding of cultural and political differences?
Yes of course. We had different developments in the blogospheres in those countries but more or less the people have come to know about the power of blogging.
The Pakistani blogosphere has shown their diversity and openness breaking through the stereotypes portrayed in the media. The Indian blogosphere is so huge and its regional language blogosphere are growing to emphasize the country's multicultural, multi ethnic heritage. In Bangladesh, where the traditional media ignore blogs and are more prone to self-censorship to protect themselves, the bloggers have broken all barriers to voice their opinion fearlessly and some journalists now prefer blogs to publish their investigative reporting.
It also is fascinating to get perspectives from the bloggers about the Sri Lanka's ethnic disputes, Nepal's journey towards democracy, Bhutanese culture, and Maldivians opposition to their long serving President.
The traditional media of these countries often follow the politics of acrimony which sometime augment nationalism and hatred between these countries. You just need to look at a common incident (e.g. the border dispute in India and Pakistan) and follow the newspaper coverage of both the countries, and you see how skewed the reports are. The bloggers are bridging the gap by adding a human touch to the issues, and are in fact creating more friends than enemies between those countries.
Photo of Rezwan above, was taken by Jen Brea and is shared under a Creative Commons license.