What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?
I had an initial impression about the condition of the tea plantation workers and their communities. But as I started to visit the tea gardens to do a systematic investigation about them and tried to understand how the tea industry is run, I began to learn stunning facts about the tea workers and the industry.
One day, some four years back, Rambhajan Kairi, a young trade union leader who previously was a tea worker, was giving me a tour through the graphic tea gardens in Maulvibazar, a district that has the highest number of tea gardens. We stopped by one place to talk to the women who were working. I also took pictures of them in the garden. In the meantime the manager of the garden arrived and angrily told Rambhajan Kairi that he had made a big mistake bringing me to the garden. A school teacher in a company tea garden school who was standing by, whom we did not know, was also blamed and lost his job (!), which he got back through our intervention. I tried to explain to the manager that it was not anybody’s fault. I came to see the tea gardens and if he had any grievance, it should be with me. With anger he said no one was allowed to take pictures of the tea gardens or the workers and that I should leave his garden immediately. I realized a man with camera is a suspect and is very unwelcome to the tea gardens. I was shocked. It was at this moment I realized that the story of the tea workers must be told to the rest of the country. We initiated an in-depth investigation of their situation. We began to work on a documentary film and photography exhibition(s) on the condition of the tea workers. After three years of investigation, research, filming, and photography, we developed books, reports, film and thousands of photographs and went public in 2009. The owners became angry at the exposure but participated en masse in book launching, photography exhibitions, and seminar on the tea workers that we organized.
We continue to come across stunning facts and stories about the workers and the tea industry relating to land abuse, profit margins that the owners make, and manipulation within the tea workers’ union, and understand there is lot more work to be done.
Tell us about the social innovator—the person—behind this idea.
During the past two decades I have worked as an investigative reporter, writer, and editor. I also established [in 1993] the Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD), a non-profit Bangladeshi organization to promote investigative reporting, engage in action-oriented research, assist people think and speak out against injustice. Since establishment of SEHD we have been through complex times and risks while attending to issues of national and community interest. However, we remain vocal about the danger of control of nature that happens in different facets and we have always advocated political protection of the marginalized and excluded groups.
As an investigative reporter I have worked on many issues at personal risks. Achievements in some instances have been landmark as in my work on forest and indigenous peoples. Twenty years of reporting in this particular field has generated scores of investigative reports, several books, documentary films, and photography exhibitions with a focus on the negative effects of monoculture plantations funded by Asian Development Bank and World Bank. These two international financial institutions have completely withdrawn from the forestry sector in Bangladesh since 2007. This is a satisfying development for me as we had been telling these international financial institutions that they were ruining the forests by funding forestry projects. The most recent area of my investigation has been the miseries of the tea workers. Our investigation and analysis have played a clear role in the significant increase in the cash pay of the tea workers who are now more visible.
The investigative research that I have been associated with has broadened the access of the public and media to information; influenced public policy and the policy of the international financial institutions; and assisted people make informed opinions and choices on different issues. As of 2010 my productions include 30 books, a few hundred investigative reports, five survey reports, five documentary films, five photography exhibitions, and a few hundred thousand photographs—all available for public use.
Furthermore, an important mission in my life and for SEHD has been to train a new generation of professional journalists, community leaders, human rights activists, environmentalists, and young minds. So far we have trained about 1,000 journalists of more than 100 newspapers and almost equal number of community leaders and activists.
Three important fellowship awards—Ashoka, Alfred Friendly Press Fellowship, and Yale World Fellows Program—affirmed my ideas and assisted me enormously to achieve the accomplishments I can mention today.
How did you first hear about Changemakers?
Personal contact at Changemakers
If through another source, please provide the information.
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