“WE’RE going for a trip”, Sakina remembers her older sister saying. Orphaned and poor, the girls were happy to leave their home in Kolkata. Taken 1 ,300 km to Kotla, a village on the wheat plains south of Delhi, the 12- year-old Sakina was dumped in the arms of an older man while her sister fled. The man, a wage labourer, had paid over 5 ,000 rupees ($100 , today) to a dalal , or broker, who arranged to ship unwanted girls to places short of them. Sakina, now taking a break from the first harvest of the year, recalls the early misery of her new home. A Bengali forced into marriage, she was jeered at as a paro , a term for female outsider in Haryana, and shunned. We are treated as goats, mutters another woman, imported from Hyderabad. “It was when I started having children that I realised I had no time to be upset,” Sakina says. She has produced nine offspring, eight of them boys. Now she worries about getting brides for them— and says she is even ready to repeat her own sad history by contacting a dalal . She may have to. Early data from February’s national census, published on March 31 st, show India’s already skewed infant sex ratio is getting worse. Nature provides that slightly more boys are born than girls: the normal sex ratio for children aged 0-6 is about 952 girls per 1 ,000 boys. Since 1981 , the ratio has steadily fallen below that point: there were 945 girls per 1 ,000 boys in the 1991 census, 927 in 2001 and now 914. Fast growth, urbanisation and surging literacy seem not to have affected the trend. The ratio is most distorted in the states of the northern Gangetic Plain, such as Punjab. Haryana, Sakina’s home, remains the direst of all, with only 830 girls per 1 ,000 boys. More worrying, places that used not to discriminate in favour of sons, such as the poorer central and north-eastern states, have begun to do so. Economic success, argues Alaka Basu, a demographer, “ seems to spread son preference to places that were once more neutral about the sex composition of their children.” The new census showed a worsening sex ratio in all but eight of India’s 35 states and territories (though those eight include some of the most extreme examples, for instance, Punjab). The “missing girls” are usually aborted, shortly after the parents learn of their sex. A short drive from Kotla to Nuh, a typical trading town, shows how. The main road is dotted with clinics that boast of ultrasound services. Requests for a scan to check the sex of a fetus are turned down at “Bharat Ultrasound” and “City Care Hospital”, but a nervous medic at one does recommend a place that would do it. In fact, says Gaushiya Khan, a local activist, medics are ready to reveal a fetus’s sex for as little as 600 rupees. Doing so is illegal, and discouraged by various campaigns, but the law is almost impossible to enforce. Slapping the father on the back and saying “you’ re a lucky man” is hint enough. Demand for scans is rampant. Entrepreneurs are said to tour villages with scanners on bicycles. The impact on Indian society is grim. You might have thought that scarcity would lead to girls being valued more highly, but this is not happening. One measure is the practice of giving dowries. Almost no one, rich or poor, urban or rural, dreams of dispensing with these. Rather, as Indians grow wealthier, dowries are getting more lavish and are spreading to places where they were once rare, such as in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, in the south. In Kotla women huddled around Sakina shake their heads when asked to imagine life without dowries: “then nobody would find a husband”, they say. A skewed sex ratio may instead be making the lot of women worse. Sociologists say it encourages abuse, notably in the trafficking of the sort that Sakina first suffered from but is now ready to pay for. Reports circulate of unknown numbers of girls who are drugged, beaten and sometimes killed by traffickers. Others, willingly or not, are brought across India’s borders, notably from Bangladesh and Myanmar. “Put bluntly, it’s a competition over scarce women”, says Ravinder Kaur of the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi. Men, especially if poor and from a low caste, suffer too. Women in India are sometimes permitted, even encouraged, to “marry up” into a higher income bracket or caste, so richer men find it easier to get a bride. The poor are forced into a long or permanent bachelorhood, a status widely frowned upon in India, where marriage is deemed essential to becoming a full member of society. Poor bachelors are often victims of violent crime. Yet, bad as things are, sex selection may slowly be turning around. Though the sex ratio has been worsening for decades, it is doing so more slowly. The figure in 2001 was 1.9 % worse than it had been in 1991. The figure in 2011 was 1.5 % worse than in 2001 —an improvement of sorts. Moreover, the ten-year census may not capture what has been happening recently. For that, go to the sample surveys that India carries out more often. These show a different pattern. The figures are not strictly comparable, because sample surveys show the sex ratio at birth, whereas the census gives it among infants up to the age of six. Still, it is significant the sex ratio at birth is improving, not worsening. In 2003-05 the figure was 880 girls born per 1 ,000 boys. In 2004-06 , that had risen to 892 and in 2006-08 , to 904. It is not clear why this should be. The samples could be misleading. But perhaps they reveal a recent change in Indian attitudes towards the value of daughters. The fears about India’s sex ratio are not merely of the harm that today’s level will cause when children become adults. People also worry that the ratio will get ever worse, deteriorating towards Chinese levels (which are even more extreme: on a comparable basis, China’s sex ratio at birth is about 833). This fear, thinks Monica Das Gupta of the World Bank, may be exaggerated. Not only are there signs of an incipient national turnaround, but regional figures give further reasons for hope. The states with the worst ratios, Haryana and Punjab, seem to have had skewed ratios for decades, going back to the 1880 s. They now show some of the biggest improvements. The national average is worsening thanks to states which once were more neutral with regard to sex, such as Tamil Nadu and Orissa. But because they have not had the historical experience of a strong preference for sons, Ms Das Gupta suggests, they also seem less likely to push the sex ratio to the extremes that it reached in Punjab or China. If so, the next census in 2021 could show the beginnings of a shift towards normality. With luck, the deterioration in north-east and central India—damaging though it will certainly be—may not mark the start of a fresh erosion in the value of Indian girls.
Friday, April 8, 2011
The regional political parties in Northeast (NE) Indian states have decided to launch a common platform under the banner of North East Democratic Front ( NEDF) after the Assam general election. Interacting with media persons on April 2 , Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio said all the regional political parties in the Northeast will come together to supplement each other and raise a common voice for the regional development. Earlier, the political parties of the region at a joint meeting in Delhi on February 20 decided to come together in order to raise a common voice while expressing that ‘unless we raise our voice together our voice is not heard’. Meanwhile, spreading its wings to the Naga-inhabited areas of other NE states, the Naga People’s Front (NPF) has announced the formation of its units in the states of Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. High voltage campaign The high-voltage campaign for 62 Assembly constituencies in Assam was marked by the presence of Indian political leaders including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressing two rallies. In the high pitched campaign on the last day before April 4 elections, despite a bandh called by the Paresh Barua- led anti-talk faction of ULFA to protest the Prime Minister’s visit, bad weather in some areas and the World Cup cricket final, candidates made hectic last minute efforts to woo the voters in the constituencies spread over 13 districts. The BJP, in particular, has put in an aggressive campaign with the help of most senior national leaders including former Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani, party president Nitin Gadkari, Leaders of Opposition in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, former party President M Venkaiah Naidu, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Jharkhand Chief Minister Arjun Munda. The AGP’s campaign was muted with Party President Chandramohan Patowary and former Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta pitching in for candidates in the party strongholds. The BJP brought in glamorous Bollywood stars such as Hema Malini and Shatrughan Sinha and television star Smriti Irani to campaign in different constituencies while the Congress had only Raj Babbar to match and canvass for the party. The banned ULFA, which has been calling for a boycott of all polls for the last three decades, has not done so this time with a section led by Chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa coming for talks but Paresh Barua anti-talk faction has threatened Congress workers. Congress and BPF (Bodoland Progressive Front) are the ruling party in Assam for the last 10 years and many people opine that this time they will face anti- incumbency factor. But as major opposition parties like AGP (Asom Gana Parishad), BJP (Bhratiya Janata Party), AIUDF etc. are not in alliance, many feel that Congress- BPF combine has an advantage. Meanwhile, with an increase in voter percentage in the first phase of polls, the Asom Gana Parishad ( AGP) claimed it would bag the maximum number of seats in this assembly polls. The AGP said it was confident of winning at least 30 seats out of the 62 seats from the first phase of polls. According to party members, the Congress was upset with the first phase of polls and the regional party was confident of getting the maximum number of seats in upper Assam. The regional camp tagged the Congress government as the most corrupt in the country and said lower and middle Assam were forts of the AGP. “Today, a great Gandhian like Anna Hazare has expressed his anger against the UPA government because of rampant corruption which has pushed the country into darkness. In Assam, too, people have not yet received any clear picture of the NC Hills scam,” said AGP spokesperson Bijon Mahajan. Bangladesh factor In the Assam election campaign, regional political parties did not make insurgency a major issue. However, Bangladeshi issue surfaced as an important factor especially to BJP, a communalist party. During the campaign, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi alleged that illegal infiltration by Bangladeshis had created “havoc” in Assam and neither the Congress nor Asom Gana Parishad governments had made any effort to stop the influx. “Gujarat has borders with Pakistan while Assam has with Bangladesh. In my state Pakistanis have not been able to create any problem, but in Assam Bangladeshis have created havoc,” he said. “BJP will never allow Assam to become a Bangladesh-controlled state. The party is committed to resolving the issue of Bangladeshi migrants and the problem can be solved only if the party comes to power,” Modi said addressing two BJP campaign rallies at Naoboicha in Lakhimpur district and in neighbouring Dhemaji. Pointing that BJP has always been accused of being a communal party, he said, “Yes, I admit we are communal but only on the issue of illegal Bangladeshis and not on any other case.” However, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said her party will not compromise on the security and integrity of Assam and the country and dismissed charges of encouraging influx in the state. “ Congress has often been accused of encouraging influx from Bangladesh but this is not the truth,” she said. “It (Congress) has never compromised on the security of Assam and the country and will not ever do so in the future,” she told a campaign rally at Neelam Bazaar in Karimganj district bordering Bangladesh. It was the Congress government in Assam that had taken up updating of the National Register of Citizens with March 21 , 1971 as the cut-off date, she said. Indo-Bangla border dispute India and Bangladesh are holding negotiations to resume the stalled joint survey of disputed border areas between the two nations. A mutual Indo-Bangladesh agreement last year decided to jointly survey the disputed areas along the Indo-Bangla border as part of a confidence building measure. The areas of differences are often referred as “adversely possessed” areas and inherited from the days of partition of the two countries. The survey began on December 7 last year, but sixteen days later, it abruptly came to a halt in the Meghalaya sector amidst claims and counter-claims that border guards of the two nations were interfering in the survey works. In fact, it was Bangladesh’s Directorate of Land Record and Survey which insisted on resuming the stalled process. Two teams from both the countries held talks last week at Muktapur and Pyrdiwah along the international border in East Khasi Hills district to chalk out modalities to resume the survey. The major point of difference is in nine areas in the Meghalaya sector which is “adversely held by India” and claimed by Bangladesh. The nine areas include, Pyrdiwah, Lyngkhat, Amki-Amjalong, Ranghong, Naljiri, Tamabil, Kurinala and Muktapur mostly in East Khasi Hills and Jaintia Hills districts of Meghalaya and Sylhet district in Bangladesh. India claims Lobacheera being “adversely held by Bangladesh.” Incidentally, the survey of Lobacheera, a tea growing area, has been completed last year, although details are yet to be exchanged between the two nations. Fencing affect Indians Meanwhile, thousands of displaced people on Wednesday blocked the Assam-Agartala National Highway (NH-44) at Reshambagan area demanding proper rehabilitation for the families affected owing to erection of barbed wire fencing along the Indo-Bangla border. Displaced villagers under the banner of Tripura Shimanta Bhoomi Suraksha Committee (TSBSC) gathered there and chanted slogans against the Left Front government and then stalled the vehicular movement on the NH-44 for around 4 hours amid tight security.
THE PERSONIFICATION of climate change, unimaginable poverty and simmering religious extremism; Bangladesh doesn’t really have much going for it. And now we have even less. The Supreme Court’s decision to back the Central Bank’s dismissal of Grameen Bank Managing Director Mohammad Yunus, the pioneer of highly- controversial microcredit, has stunned civil society in Bangladesh and potentially done the country more harm them good. The Nobel Laureate was unceremoniously relieved of his duties last month with a letter from the Central Bank (on request from the Ministry of Finance) citing a breach of contract. The septuagenarian, self-proclaimed “ banker to the poor” was kicked out for being 10 years past the required age of retirement, 60 , civil servants said. Internationally, the government’s actions have been frowned upon and seen as arbitrary and capricious – an embodiment of governance in today’s Bangladesh. Yunus first came under attack late last year after a Danish documentary accused him of embezzling Norweigen government aid money. Oslo later cleared Yunus and Grameen Bank of any financial impropriety, but the damage had been done. The Bangladesh media lashed out and the government pounced to remove the man they linked closely with the interim (military- backed) government of 2007 , which arrested the current Prime Minister on allegations of extortion. Yunus further exacerbated the situation by forming his own political party. His campaign failed; the gloves came off. The Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who in 2009 brought her arch-rival Khaleda Zia to tears on national television, was now after Yunus’s neck. In 2010 she publicly proclaimed him as “blood-sucker of the poor.” However, Mohammad Yunus we have to understand is more than just a managing director of a bank. He is, and I fear I am stating the obvious, MOHAMMAD YUNUS, a Bengali and a Muslim, who until now was the only squeaky clean ambassador of the nation. His high-profile removal from office ( for which he must partly share the blame) has done more to tarnish the image of Bangladesh than the 2005 serial bomb attacks or the countrywide protests against women’s inheritance rights earlier this week by religious extremists. Similarly, microcredit is more than just a service that provides small loans to the poor. It’s an idea, home grown, to help deal with one of society’s biggest challenges, rural poverty. It is as quintessentially Bangladeshi as cucumber sandwiches and industrialisation were British, and we ought to be proud of it. Today, we stand to lose all that. As a sombre Grameen Bank recovers from the shock of losing its public face, others in the microfinance industry wait nervously to see the impact the Central Bank’s order will have on foreign aid flow into Bangladesh. Last month, the World Bank froze over $500 million of funding because of concerns over governance. Microfinance institutions too will no doubt come under tougher scrutiny. Time to reflect on the last 20 years of exponential growth though is perhaps just what the industry needs. Bangladesh microfinance has a long, hard battle ahead to make sure it doesn’t fall victim to mission drift as has been the case in India and Mexico where privatisation has capitalised on the helplessness of the poor. Whilst the national media and the government attacked Yunus’s integrity and legitimacy, the international press now took a swing at microcredit itself. From the start, microcredit was hugely misunderstood as a concept. It was never meant to be a panacea to alleviate poverty. It was part of a multi-faceted approach and as such, it worked. However, when the money came rolling in from donors, nobody checked the expansion of the industry. Microcredit stole the limelight and bullied other equally important development issues off the agenda and became the lone silver bullet in the hunt to end poverty. When that bullet missed its mark, the onslaught began from all quarters. The government, instead of protecting the country’s most well respected celebrity, only dug its knife in deeper. Yunus’s response to the controversy that has surrounded him since the Danish documentary, Caught in Microcredit, has been calm and measured. His uncharacteristic silence and humility over the last few months has risen above the belligerence of a government that practises bulldozer politics, and not diplomacy. Consequently, most hope that Yunus will clear his name and gracefully step down from office, allowing fresh thinkers to mould the future. The question now is whether the 65- year-old Prime Minister will follow in his footsteps.
Come on, India. Grow up! If the Great Soul was indeed attracted to another man, is that so hard to accept or understand? Which century are we living in? This column is being written on April Fool’s Day. We are looking like the biggest fools on earth right now. One can expect bachelor boy Narendra Modi to instantly cash in on the ‘sentiments’ of the people of his state and ban the controversial book after dubbing it ‘perverse’. Paradoxically enough, those same people are free to visit the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad and read those ‘ perverse’ letters for themselves. I wonder how many people from Modi’s city bother to go to the ashram in the first place, forget about examining the many Gandhi volumes that it houses. Yes, the same archival material used by the author (Joseph Lelyveld) for the book “Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India.” The biggest slap in the face has come from Gandhiji’s own — his grandson Rajmohan Gandhi, and great-grandson Tushar Gandhi, both of whom have described the ban as ‘un-Gandhian.’ Any sensible policymaker would let it go at that. And chances are the book will find its own level, its own takers and detractors, as should happen in a democracy. By attempting to suppress it, the one fallout will be this - “Great Soul” will register even greater sales! Censorship is always counter-productive — the more you suppress, the higher the curiosity. We saw that with the James Laine book on Shivaji (thank you Supreme Court, for showing better sense than the government of Maharashtra). We shall see the same happening with this book as well. But, hello! Who can think of reading a red-hot book, when the collective focus of the country is on the red-hot game of cricket? Let’s face it, what’s the single most startling disclosure in the book? That the author has claimed our revered Mahatma (and perhaps the world’s most famous, self- declared celibate) had a long-term relationship with a German-Jewish architect and body builder called Hermann Kallenbach? Which makes Kallenbach, not Kasturba, the great love of his life! So? Since this ‘juicy’ tidbit was carried in nearly all the mainstream newspapers in India, it has been met with a rather tepid reaction that may surprise the more conservative elements of our society. “Really? Interesting!” said a slightly bored 20- year-old reading the news, before turning away. That was it. No rioting on the streets. No demand to ban the book. No baying for Lelyveld’s blood. We have grown up! That is the best news ever! Today, homosexuality is no longer a taboo subject and is out there, along with other aspects of sex. Whether Gandhiji’s subsequent ‘ experiments’ with various truths were a part of his mission to come to terms with his own inclinations will remain a topic for future historians to tackle. But, according to this well-researched book ( Lelyveld has based his work on material that is easily accessible, and quotes from “The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi” - supplementary volume 5 from the archives at the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad) there are several controversial nuggets that suggest Gandhiji was indeed in a relationship of sorts with Kallenbach, with whom he shared a home for two years. He quotes from one of Gandhiji’s letters to Hermann, in which he confesses, “ How completely you have taken possession of my body. This is slavery with a vengeance.” A reader is free to interpret those passionate lines any which way and even disregard sexual implications when Gandhiji jokingly refers to himself as “Upper House” and Kallenbach as “Lower House”. I have yet to read the book, but I would think an author with such impressive credentials would have done his homework scrupulously before going into print. In any case, Gandhiji’s sexuality has always been a subject of such complexity and debate that one more tome shouldn’t matter. Unless, of course, some overzealous politician with nothing better to do, decides to make an issue out of it. Whether the Mahatma preferred men over women is nobody’s business but his. We in India have such idiotic standards when it comes to sex. If Gandhiji wrote, “I cannot imagine a thing as ugly as the intercourse of men and women,” he is entitled to his opinion. So, it’s best we keep scholars, intellectuals and academics out of this. And please, let’s also leave out his great-grandchildren, assorted grandnephews, grandnieces and other descendants. Nobody can possibly speak on behalf of the Mahatma and ‘clarify’ anything. It’s not necessary either! There is this book and no doubt, there will be many more in the future. Nothing can take away from Gandhiji’s greatness, least of all his love for another man. It’s amusing to read Gandhian scholar Tridip Suhrud’s ‘ defence’ of the Mahatma, in which he says, “In the late 19th and early 20 th century men addressed each other in a way that can be construed now as lovers.” That’s pretty twee. Who needs such justifications? Suhrud also explains that the two had “a deep bond that borders on attraction of the platonic kind.” Okay, buddy. If you say so. Let’s hope whatever it was that Gandhiji shared with Kallenbach brought joy and fulfilment to their lives. Gandhiji as a gay icon? Why not? I think that’s pretty cool! Perhaps it will drive young Indians to read more about the man who altered their destiny and gave India freedom.
Little bits of India are in Bangladesh, and little bits of Bangladesh are in India. The existence of enclaves on either side of the border is a bizarre anomaly that might finally be solved by a swap. The islands of land result from ownership arrangements made centuries ago between local princes, surviving partition of the sub-continent in 1947 after British rule, and Bangladesh's 1971 war of independence with Pakistan. Many thousands of people live in the enclaves -- often without basic services such as electricity, schools and hospitals because they are cut off from their national governments. Most historians believe the messy situation originates from 18 th-century peace treaties between the kingdom of Cooch Behar (now in the Indian state of West Bengal) and the Mughal empire, which ruled much of South Asia. But local folklore suggests some enclaves were wagers during chess games between the Maharaja of Cooch Behar and the Fauhdar of Rangpur, who then ruled northern Bangladesh. Rezanur Rahman Reza, 46 , is the headmaster of a primary school in Dahagram, a large and relatively well- served Bangladeshi enclave inside India where about 15 ,000 residents live. "None of my parents' generation could even go to school, so they can't read or write," he said. "And residents in other enclaves still live in dark ages without electricity, legal rights or any land deeds." The exact number of people in the enclaves is uncertain, but estimates range from 150 ,000 to 300 ,000. There are no marked borders separating the enclaves from the surrounding land, but there are checkpoints and the movements of those who live in them are controlled by guards. "Now is the time to settle this problem because the ties between the two nations are the best since 1975 ," said Akmal Hossain, a professor of international relations at Dhaka University. "I have been to an Indian enclave located in Bangladesh and the residents are some of the most unfortunate, stateless people, without any basic facilities," he said. "This should have been settled a long time back." The residents of the enclaves and the surrounding areas are all Bengalis, whether they technically hold Indian or Bangladeshi citizenship. All speak the same language with local dialects and could be either Hindu or Muslim. Officials in New Delhi and Dhaka are now working to negotiate a deal over the 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and 55 Bangladeshi enclaves in India. "Both sides have begun a land survey of the enclaves and other border lands illegally possessed by the other. We shall also launch a headcount of enclaves' residents very soon," said senior Bangladeshi official Kamal Uddin Ahmed. The largest enclave is about 1 ,900 hectares (4 ,700 acres) while the smallest is just the size of a couple of football fields. And there are even enclaves within enclaves, making the puzzle fiendishly difficult to solve. "Swapping is the most practical solution," said Ahmed, who leads the Bangladesh side of the joint group of officials now working to find a solution. He said the negotiations are based on unimplemented parts of a 1974 border agreement. The deal, signed by India's then-prime minister Indira Gandhi and Bangladesh' s founding leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, has been revived in part because Rahman's daughter Sheikh Hasina is now prime minister. Under Hasina, cross-border relations have improved after decades of mistrust, with Bangladesh gaining favour with India by handing over fugitive Indian rebels. "Our aim is to sign an agreement during the Indian prime minister's visit here," Dhaka's foreign secretary Mijarul Quayes told AFP. He could not give a date for the visit but officials said Manmohan Singh is expected in May or June. Indian officials are more coy about any talks on the subject of swapping enclaves, though they confirm discussions have been taking place. The Indian enclaves in Bangladesh are bigger in total than the Bangladeshi enclaves in India, and any net loss is likely to infuriate India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, a Hindu nationalist group which is antagonistic towards Muslim Bangladesh The border itself also remains a cause of friction, with India erecting barbedwire fences along much of the divide to prevent mass migration from impoverished Bangladesh.
A SENIOR United States official once again warned that its bitter battle between Muhammad Yunus and the Bangladesh authority could dent diplomatic ties between two countries. US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O Blake warned that failure to find a compromise that respects Dr Yunus’ global stature and maintains the integrity and effectiveness of Grameen Bank “ could affect our bilateral relations. ” The apex court on Monday confirmed the High Court ruling that backed the sacking of the Nobel Peace laureate from Grameen Bank as its managing director. Nobel laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus unceremonious exit from the bank he founded for having no legal authority to act as the micro-lender's managing director, since its board had not obtained the Bangladesh Bank's sanction to re-appoint him beyond the bank's official retirement age of 60. A day later Blake made the remark on Tuesday in his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington, reports private wire service United News of Bangladesh. The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is a close friend of Yunus, who has won the two highest civilian honors of the US — American Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal. Last month in Dhaka, Blake issued a thinly-veiled threat that if a compromise was not reached at on the Yunus issue, the US- Bangladesh relationship would get 'impacted', writes news agency bdnews24. com. “Dr. James Wolfensohn and I pressed the government of Bangladesh to protect the integrity of civil society and the autonomy of the Grameen Bank, and I warned that a failure to find a compromise that respects Dr. Yunus’ global stature and maintains the integrity and effectiveness of Grameen could affect our bilateral relations, ” Blake told the Congressional Committee. Finance Minister AMA Muhith last month said the government would be open to some compromise – such as to allow Yunus to remain an emeritus fellow at Grameen – but not, however, to his proposal that he should step aside as managing director and be made chairman instead. As a democratic and moderate Sunni Muslim majority nation of 165 million people, the US State Department official said Bangladesh is a country with which the United States has a vested interest in maintaining close relations. Blake said Bangladesh is a secular democracy, with a history of religious and ethnic tolerance. It also can be proud of its vibrant and innovative civil society, which has produced such outstanding global citizens as microcredit celebrity Muhammad Yunus, who’s Grameen Bank, was a pioneer of the concept of “microcredit” - providing small loans to tens of millions of Bangladeshis, especially women, who possess little or no collateral. Despite success in economic growth and outmatched US trade with Bangladesh in recent years, but he said country still remains among the poorest countries in Asia.