Interview with Hasna Jasimuddin Moudud by
Hasna received B.A from University of Dhaka in 1965 and M.A from University of Dayton, Ohio, in 1969. She received International Writing Programme Grant, from the University of Iowa in 1969-1970. Hasna was awarded United Nations Environment Programme Global 500 Laureate, at UN Earth Summit in 1992. She was a Visiting Scholar at University Oxford, George Washington University, Harvard University. And Professor at the University of Development Alternative, Dhaka.
Her publications included Selected Poems of Jasimuddin, Women in China, Women for Water Sharing, Royal Bengal Tiger, A Thousand Year Old Bengali Mystic Poetry, Eastern Himalayan Culture, Ecology and People, Revisiting China after 32 Years, Forest in Cloud, PEN Bangladesh, Mystic Poetry of Bangladesh, New Delhi and Where Women Rule: South Asia.
1). Tell me more about your family, childhood, growing up, schooling and higher education.
ANSWER: I was privileged to be born into a family of teachers, scholars and poet. My father was one of the greatest Bengali poets, scholar and humanist who is respected in South Asia and beyond. My mother was very beautiful. She made a great home for my poet father and their six children. She passed her matriculation after her fifth child. I have an image of my mother stirring the cooking pot and holding her book on another. Her mother can be compared to a modern liberal lady. My education is most important to them. The women in my family sacrificed everything for their family and children.
My childhood was the happiest. I was trained as a singer, dancer and encouraged to participate in sports, read, write and debate beyond schooling. I had both modern upbringing and education with a strong traditional foundation. As a teenager, I had to go on a hunger strike to be allowed to go to the USA for higher studies on scholarship. I was afraid I would be married off before I finished my studies. My father spent sleepless nights but in the end, he agreed.
All through my studies, I tried to follow what my father would have expected of me. After my Masters from Dayton, I was invited as the youngest writer by Paul Engle, founder of International Writing Programme at the University of Iowa. There I was recognized as a fellow writer and poet among many senior participants.
2). Tell me more about your early career and involvement in politics – from the beginning.
ANSWER: In 1970 I joined Columbia University and lived at International House which transformed me from a poet to an activist for nationalism and environment. Due to Liberation War of Bangladesh, I left university and got a job at the United Nations perhaps as the first highest officer held by someone from East Pakistan because of practised discrimination by ruling West Pakistan at that time. I left the job and my citizenship and worked for the freedom of my country. After liberation, I left everything in the USA and returned to Bangladesh. I was accepted at the Bangladesh Foreign Service Ministry which changed its rule and introduced women in the service.
I met my husband and decided to stay back and taught at Dhaka University. The cyclones and the beauty of the coastal area and its people moved me. I was elected in my husband’s seat which he had to give up as he had won two seats. In the parliament, I tried to speak for coastal areas people and environment and on women and drug abuse in a bi-partisan manner for which parliament elected me as Chairperson of Special Parliamentary Committee on Coastal Area and later Environment was added to my portfolio.
I devoted myself to caring for issues rather than party line politics. So you can say I am not a politician but I try to do whatever is right and to seek peace in this dangerous world. Recent genocide and atrocities on Rohingya women, children and men have made me bitter and I put together a document based on findings in 2017 taking lots of risks. You can’t say it is politics, it is whatever I could do I tried to do in person with help from my own organization NARI members.
3). Tell me more about your writing. When did you start and what inspires you into writing? How many books you had written?
ANSWERS: In school, I translated Burmese Folk Tales. Then translated my father’s poems. My poems had appeared in Anthology at The University of Iowa, in PEN magazine published from Columbia University, newspapers and journals. I have published more than 10 books and I have one ready to be published on the Silk Road. I have edited books on Environment, Climate Change, Water Sharing, The Royal Bengal Tiger and Coastal Area of Bangladesh. Few people asked for my poems to be published and translated and I am honoured for that. My poems are private and you can say ‘undisturbed’.
4). What about your involvement in Environmental movements in Bangladesh and at International level?
ANSWERS: As a member of the First World Youth Environment Conference in 1970 I was deeply moved by environmental challenges. When I was twice elected to Bangladesh Parliament I helped to enact policies and laws. My role in promoting the Law of the Sea and my campaign for conservation of marine and coastal ecosystem won me the United Nations Environment Programme Global 500 Roll of Honour at the Rio Summit. My early involvement with the International Union of Conservation of Nature has empowered me and keeps me engaged in Bangladesh and in the region. I have also co-Chaired with Late Mr Kuldip Nayar of India on Peoples Initiative for Water Sharing and we set up the guidelines for Ganges Water Treaty which was signed between India and Bangladesh.
I have organized and taken part in Farakka Long March to highlight the deterioration of downstream Ganges River due to withdrawal in India at Farakka point. I have presented my case to Indian River experts in Gandhi Peace Institute in Delhi and to Ganga Mukti Andolon in Patna. It is my last wish to help bring forth a regional water sharing and management plan involving all co-riparians in this vast Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna Basins to ensure environmental justice, sustainability and peace for all. We have planted over 50,000 trees in the coastal area of Bangladesh.
We now started Conservation of Olive Ridley Turtle in St.Martin’s Island in the Bay of Bengal.
5). Tell me more about your involvement in charities organizations especially concerning the Rohingyas etc. What are the challenges?
ANSWERS: How can the Rohingya issue become just a complex political issue? It is a case of genocide and human rights abuses. We must go to the International Court of Justice or United Nations for not only justice but seek compensation. The Rohingyas should be taken in by the world community not pushed back to Myanmar where the problem will not be solved nor do the Rohingyas want to go back. Bangladesh cannot keep them, they should be settled in other parts of the world with dignity and citizenship.
6). Concerning the Rohingyas, how to solve the problems? What must and could be done at United Nation, at OIC or at ICJ level?
ANSWER: By all means, the whole issue should have been from the beginning sent to UNHCR. It is not a migration issue. It is an issue of genocide, war and rape against unarmed civilians, women and minor girls. How can the world remain silent? Every country should come forward. OIC should first solve burning issues in the Arab World. Rohingya issue is not a religious issue. It is an issue of gross human right abuse and violation. It should be taken up at the International Court of Justice.
At last, UN is coming up with stronger language. The horror of Rohingya suffering is not known to the world.
7). What are the problems and challenges faced in Bangladesh especially in economic, political and Social areas?
ANSWER: Democracy is our main problem. Our women garment workers and our remittance earners abroad are moving the economic wheel for which Bangladesh is now economically moving forward. The political and social condition cannot improve without human rights, democracy and a credible election. A national election is due at end of this year. There should be the level playing field for all parties.
Yesterday I sent fruits to young political workers and my tree planters who have been sent to jail to keep them out of the election process. A one-party sided election is in order.
8). What are your hopes and dreams?
ANSWERS: To get all the strong men and women leaders in the democratic world to do more.
What will men understand of rape of such vicious nature? Do you know that now the raped women (Rohingyas) who were impregnated are now carrying or giving birth to these babies?
9) How is life treating you?
ANSWERS: Alhamdullilah. I shall survive if God is willing.
10). Is there anything else you want to say?
ANSWER: Save the world.
Thank you, Madam Hasna Jasimuddin Moudud, Chairperson of Bangladesh National Committee of IUCN
Siti Ruqaiyah Hashim: A freelance writer, poet, human rights and environmental activist originally from Malaysia. Now residing in Balkans, Europe.