Monday, August 29, 2016

[Multiculturalism in Action Project 2016-17] Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan Culture Workshop

On 6 August, 2016, the Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan Culture Workshop invited Mr. Dewan Saiful Alam, former President of the Bangladesh Association of Hong Kong, to give a talk on Bangladeshi Culture and the Bangladeshi Community in Hong Kong.

Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Over 90% of the population are Muslims, other are Hindus, Christians, and Buddhist. Geographically speaking, Bangladesh is a plain country and flooding is common during the monsoon season. In rush hours and festival times, Mr. Dewan said using waterways is more convenient and reliable than road transportation. 

Mr. Dewan presenting an overview on Bangladesh

One of the most important days in Bangladesh is the International Mother Language Day. It has been observed annually since 21 February 1952. At that time, Pakistan was planning to impose Urdu as state language in East Pakistan (later became Bangladesh after the independence in 1979). University students and politicians demonstrated for the recognition of Bengali and oppose the imposition of Urdu, and in the process some students were shot dead. Nowadays, it is still an important and emotional day for many Bangladeshis. 

Martyr Monument at the University of Dhaka, commemorates those who were killed in 1952.
Photo source: Essay and Paragraph

Since 2005, the economy in Bangladesh has been rapidly developing. The garment industry in Bangladesh ranks second in the world. Mr. Dewan told us that more than 70% of the businesses owned by Bangladeshis in Hong Kong are related to this field. Tea production is another essential industry in Bangladesh. It owns three of the world’s largest tea gardens, which are all located in the Sylhet Division in the eastern Bangladesh.

According to Mr. Dewan, there are around 2,000 Bangladeshis living in Hong Kong. Most of them have started their businesses in Hong Kong since 1985 as middle people between the textile factories in Bangladesh and the raw material suppliers in China. Nowadays, Bangladeshis are working in various occupations as well, such as bankers, editors, and mobile phone traders. 

The Bangladesh Association of Hong Kong was established in 2003 to support the Bangladeshis living in Hong Kong. Mr. Dewan felt that as the first generation in Hong Kong, it is his duty to help pass down Bengali traditions to the future generation. Every year, the Association organizes various activities, such as celebrations for the Bengali New Year and National Day, to keep their traditions alive in Hong Kong. Besides, there is a weekend school for children to learn Bengali.

Carnival for Bengali New Year
Photo credit: AFM Tariq

Dance performance on National Day
Photo credit: AFM Tariq

Mr. Dewan said language barriers and getting a job are the biggest challenges for Bangladeshis living in Hong Kong. It is not easy to get a job in Hong Kong due to the Chinese language requirement. Many Bangladeshis who have graduated from the universities in Hong Kong have chosen to work in other countries such as Singapore and the US. To Mr. Dewan, it is a loss of human capital for Hong Kong. He said the Association have been negotiating with the government to resolve these issues, and it is hoped that Bangladeshis can truly integrate in Hong Kong, which is home for them. 

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