<%-- Page Title--%> Endeavour <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 121 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

September 5 , 2003

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Migration: Truth in Sharp Relief
Mustafa Zaman


Migration looked at from a broader perspective, is a subject that will certainly overwhelm many. The documentary of female migrants and a photographic show on the same subject do the very thing of trying to wake us up to the facts of migration and its bearing on the economic and social landscape of Bangladesh.

The British Council lent a hand to Media-mix Enterprise, an affiliate of the Grey Worldwide Bangladesh since early March 2003, in their effort to make their first venture. The result is a documentary that strove to give voice to both the travails and the prospects that concerns the act of migration. The film is titled 'Another Horizon'. It was screened for the first time on 27 August at the British Council auditorium.

The inauguration was marked by a no-frills ceremony, which provided a chance for its makers to shade some light on the motive of their product.

Concurrent with the screening of the documentary there was a smallish photography show titled Stories of the Soil. This show mostly charts the female day-labourers within the national boundary.

At the inauguration, Dr. Tasneem Siddiqui of RMMRU (Refugee and Migratory Movement Research Unit), hoped that the film that was produced with the support of the British Council would advocate the issues of female migration in both grassroot and policy-making level. Bearing this invocation in mind, one should take stalk of the fact that even though women in their effort to eke out a living crossing borders and taking up jobs in alien lands, the government is still in the throes of some arcane ideas. These ideas have their roots in gender bias and stringent social morals. They manifest in the existing laws that prevent women from going abroad. One of the speakers portrayed in the film who took issues with this stringency, believes that this has been a major catalyst in the rise of women trafficking.

The dream of a prosperous life is not only the prerogative of the educated. There are less-educated ones who also have the drive and the capability to venture out in search of a better livelihood. The film, through interviews with experts and with a number of women who went abroad to change their fate and then came back, hammer this point home.

Though not as extensive as it could have been, the film well geared in inculcating in the viewers a positive sense of the act of migration and its economic possibilities. The script is sufficiently loaded with proof of women who successfully completed their stay in the Middle Eastern countries. Although, the film portrays a couple of women who met with a devastating fate, its general appeal was that of a positive connotation and it is appropriately partial to the families that gained from migration.

The ignorant migrants, whose plight the film also brought into light, were caught in the web of the middlemen. In absence of government regulations and supervision, they were sent overseas with forged passports and false contract papers and then they had to take a U-turn, loosing money and property in the process,-- property that they sold in the first place to meet the demand of the dalal or the middlemen. As a whole, the film explores avenues to make migration easier for one with lesser or no opportunities in one's own socioeconomic setting.

The realities, in the film, emerge in all its emotional shades. The narrator, the male voice that describes the success and failures of women workers, emphatically draws our attention to 'remittance'. It is significant to note that remittance is a vast source of our foreign currency and women can and are ready to take part in augmenting it.

In his address, the film's director Sharifuddin Palash pointed out that it was made in a short period of time. Still the film makes a strong case in support of the women migrants. It calls our attention to how they can be facilitated with the government support and how changes in policy towards migrant women belonging to the lower strata of our society will benefit the nation. T. Siddiqui, in her speech, mentioned the disparity between the figures of official migrants which now stands at one per cent only and the flux that goes on unofficially.

As for the still photographs displayed in the makeshift cubicle in th middle of the auditorium, they primarily focus on the internal migratory women. The day-labourers in the outskirts of Dhaka, as well as in many other places, are in action in most of the pictures. The realities that are hidden from our sights, as we are lost in our day-to-day living, are eloquently expressed in this show by two young photojournalist: Momena Jalil and Azizur Rahman.

While covering a series of actions that bring into view the lives of migrant workers within the country, they resort to textual references. Each batch explores on-the-spot survey of women workers in images backed by a text a short statement that enable the viewers to know the workers by name and to see them from their perspective.

After the documentary, the exhibition, that is to go on for another two days, seemed a bit mellow in its representation of realities. Perhaps still image has its own way of engaging the viewers on a visual level only, which often has a decontextualist effect.

Talking of decontexulity, the address of the chief guest at the inauguration only reflected the perceptual stutters and black holes that manifest in government's lack of understanding the changing realities of this nation. The secretary, Ministry of Expatriates' welfare and Overseas Employment, Dalal Uddin Ahmed, as the chief guest had considerablly shook the house while digressing to childhood memories, irrelevant facts and figures, naive social as well as global views and what not in weird, garbled English. The reason behind the roars of laughter from the audience seemed as ambiguous as the speech.

The programme was presented under the rubric: Migration and Media, yet in its construct the issue of the media remained under-stressed. Had a portion of it been dedicated only to the initiation of the journalists to the very concept of how the subject of women migration needs media coverage to nudge the government, perhaps then the organisers would not have faced the puzzling queries from the members of the press in the end. Few of them were inquiring about the link between migration and media. A dialogue between the press and the organisers could have helped things to get registered.