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Bangladeshi philosopher, feminist author, and social activist Hasna Begum dead at 85

Hasna Begum, former professor of philosophy at the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh, has died. She was known for her work in feminist, social, and moral philosophy, her poetry, and her love and kindness toward others.

Hasna was born on February 24, 1935 in Dhaka in what was then the British Raj. She went to school in Kolkata and Dhaka until her family arranged for her to get married at the age of only thirteen. For the next thirteen years, during which she gave birth to six children, she dedicated all of her time to her family. She then resumed her education and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Dhaka in 1968, followed by a master’s degree from the same university in 1969. In 1978, she was awarded a PhD in Philosophy by Monash University in Australia, where she was the first doctoral advisee of Peter Singer, now the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University. For her dissertation, which was later published as a book, she investigated the moral philosophy of British philosopher G. E. Moore.

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Housewife to Professor, by Hasna Begum

Almost everything about my birth as a girl from a middle class family in the subcontinent presaged my life as a dutiful daughter, a good wife and mother. I was the elder of two daughters of Abdul Hafiz, a man of extraordinary scholarly achievement, and his wife Rabeya Khatun, modestly educated but an independent thinker. She saw no reason why her children’s gender should hold them back. My life began in 1935 in Dhaka, East Bengal, at the home of my mother’s elder brother, Dr. Momtazuddin Ahmed, House Tutor of Salimullah Muslim Hall. Dr. Shahanara Husain is my only sister.

As a young girl, I was enrolled in school in Kolkata. These were years of extreme political upheaval and communal strife among Hindus and Muslims at the conclusion of British colonial subjugation. Thus my early education was mostly home tutoring. When my family moved to East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, I actually completed an entire school year. My schooling was once again interrupted when my 39 year old cousin requested my hand in marriage when I was barely fourteen. My mother did not wish this for me and with her brother’s help, hastily arranged my marriage to the eldest son of Professor Kazemuddin Ahmed, Nuruddin Md. Selim. I became a young wife in 1949 and a mother to my first daughter within a year.

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Self-imposed exile is simply a matter of degree

Australian Women’s Weekly, January 16, 1974

Leaving behind family and friends in Bangla Desh, a grandmother has come to Australia to satisfy her longing for higher education.

A very young grandmother, Hasna Begum, who was 36 last month, was married at 13, which is unusual even in Bangla Desh.

“Arranged marriages are really no longer the custom in my country now,” she said when I called to see her in the outer Melbourne suburb of Clayton, where she is staying.

“Mine was the last in my family as my younger sister did not marry until after she gained her Master of Arts degree.”

Hasna Begum (which means Beauty Queen) was married to a cousin, Selim, who is ten years older but, she said, “very considerate.”

Her first child, a daughter Shama, was born when she was 14. “I was a child with a child,” she said rather ruefully. “But we had no sex education and had to cope the best way we could.”

Shama now has a six-month-old son of her own.

Continue reading “Self-imposed exile is simply a matter of degree”

Mahojiano: WanaLGBT Tanzania

🇺🇸 Please click here to find an English version of this interview.

Wasagaji, mashoga, wapenda jinsia mbili na wabadilisha jinsia (LGBT) wanakumbwa na ubaguzi na vurugu ambazo zimesababisha madhara makubwa pamoja na ubinywaji wa haki zao za msingi. Niliwahoji wanaharakati watatu wa LGBT wa Tanzania ambao ni wanachama wa jamii hii ili kujua zaidi kuihusu. Lulu ni msagaji mwenye zaidi ya miaka ishirini, Grace ni mwanamke aliyebadilisha jinsia mwenye umri wa kati ya miaka ishirini na Baraka ni shoga mwenye umri wa miaka thelathini na nusu. Haya sio majina yao halisi, maana wanaishi Tanzania na hawahisi salama kujitokeza hadharani. Wanayopitia ni ya kuhuzunisha kwakweli. Nawashukuru kwa kuwa na ujasiri wa kuhojiwa. Natumaini kusoma kuhusu gharama ya maovu ya chuki dhidi ya wapendao jinsia moja na wabadilisha jinsia itamsaidia msomaji kuelewa umuhimu wa kupigania haki za wanaLGBT nchini Tanzania.

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Interview: The LGBT community in Tanzania

🇹🇿 Tafadhali bonyeza hapa kupata toleo la mahojiano haya kwa Kiswahili.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Tanzania experience substantial prejudice, discrimination, and violence, which has a significantly negative impact on their well-being, and are being denied their most basic human rights. I talked to three Tanzanian LGBT activists who are themselves members of Tanzania’s LGBT community to learn more about the lives of LGBT people in Tanzania. Lulu is a lesbian woman in her late twenties, Grace is a trans woman in her mid-twenties, and Baraka is a gay man in his mid-thirties. These are not their real names, as they live in Tanzania and do not feel safe coming out to the general public. Their experiences, however, are painfully real. I am grateful to them for having the courage to speak up, and I hope reading about the human cost of the evils of homophobia and transphobia will help the reader better understand the urgency of LGBT rights advocacy in Tanzania.

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A license to rape

Sudha was a healthy 16-year-old student in South India. Now she is dead. It was not COVID-19 that killed her – not directly anyway. She was found hanging in the village of Ranganathapura at the end of last month, and died shortly afterwards at a nearby hospital. Sudha committed suicide, after being forced to marry a relative. Allegedly, police initially attempted to hush up the case, but eventually the parents of both the bride and the groom were arrested. The groom is still at large. The government body tasked with the prevention of child marriage told local press that the marriage remained unnoticed by the authorities for longer than usual because the responsible officer was not working, due to India’s coronavirus lockdown. If the marriage had come to the attention of the authorities earlier, maybe Sudha would still be alive.

Each year, 12 million female children across the world are married. That is nearly one girl every three seconds. Countries in West and Central Africa as well as South Asia have the highest prevalence of child marriage. In Niger, for example, 76 percent of women between the age of 20 and 24 were first married before they were 18 years old. In Bangladesh, it is 59 percent. While there are differences in prevalence within and across countries, child marriage remains a universal challenge, and occurs across regions, cultures, and religions. Continue reading “A license to rape”

An evolutionary argument against exclusively human dignity

Traditional morality assumes that there is something morally special about being human. The fact that someone is a human being, rather than, say, a dog or a cow, makes a big difference in how he or she may be treated. Humans have full and equal moral worth or dignity and thus may not be killed, even if doing so would promote the greater good, whereas non-human animals have a lesser moral status and can be sacrificed for even the most trivial human pleasures.

This moral worldview fits well with the Aristotelian idea of a hierarchy of being, according to which each species is a static group of organisms with a distinct essence. The philosophical line that morally distinguishes humans from other animals corresponds to the empirical line that Aristotle thought distinguishes the human species from other animal species. Since the publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species in 1859, however, we know that there is no such line on the empirical side of things. We now understand that all life is interrelated, and that biological characteristics come in degrees and continually evolve as a result of natural selection. As the principle of evolutionary continuity informs us, any differences between species are differences in degree, and not in kind. The real picture looks something like this:

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Philosophy Tanzania mailing list

Philosophy Tanzania is a Tanzania-based mailing list for everyone, everywhere with an interest in philosophy.

The list features philosophical discussions, book and article recommendations and reviews, philosophy videos, news, and events, calls for papers, information about graduate programs and scholarships in philosophy, and more.

To join, send an email to philosophy-tanzania+subscribe@googlegroups.com, wait for the response, and follow the instructions. Karibu sana!

Child domestic labor: We must refuse to accept the unacceptable

Moyna cannot sit at the table and eat with the rest of the household. She is the other — in the house, but not a member of the house. Her humanity is reduced to the work she does. Who she is as a person, those around her do not know. She functions in the background, keeps the household running. She is a six-year-old domestic worker in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. “I wake up at six in the morning and go to bed at midnight. My daily chores include sweeping and wiping the floors and stairs, doing the dishes and laundry, opening the main gate downstairs, switching on machines, a little bit of shopping, cleaning the toilet.” In the morning, her workload is particularly heavy, Moyna tells a researcher with the Bangladesh-based Alternative Movement for Resources and Freedom Society. “I help to prepare breakfast, and I eat two breads for myself in a hurry. The same situation arises during lunch and dinner time; I always eat last.” Moyna has no father, and her mother remarried a man who beat her for no reason, which is why her grandmother sent her to Dhaka to work. She has never been to school. Her employer does not allow her to watch TV or talk to outsiders, and makes her wear worn-out clothes. She is slapped or verbally abused for small mishaps, and brutally beaten and locked up for up to 24 hours without food for what her employer considers more severe offenses. Continue reading “Child domestic labor: We must refuse to accept the unacceptable”

For the love of postcards

Before Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Twitter, there was the postcard. Many young people have never sent one to anyone. Communication today is mostly instant, and mail is derogatorily called “snail mail” by the digital crowd. Since the world’s first picture postcard was sent to London-based writer Theodore Hook in 1840, the postcard has enjoyed much popularity as a means to share images and thoughts across regions and cultures. In recent times, that popularity has rapidly declined, mostly due to the rise of mobile phones and social media. Sending a postcard takes more time and effort than sending an email, or a message on social media, which makes postcards even more meaningful now than they were when there was no instant alternative. Continue reading “For the love of postcards”

Let Paul Makonda come to America

Should active enemies of freedom be allowed into free countries? In 2007, speaking at Columbia University in New York City, then-President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad memorably declared that there are no homosexuals in Iran, drawing derisive laughter from the audience. He also made similarly outrageous remarks about the Holocaust and women’s rights in Iran. Thousands protested, and the world saw him for what he is – an ignorant bigot who as president exhibited “all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator,” as the university’s president put it in his introduction. Untrue and immoral speech tends to discredit itself, especially under scrutiny, and that is precisely why it should not only be permitted but welcomed.

Secretary Mike Pompeo last week declared Paul Makonda and his wife, Mary Massenge, ineligible for entry into the United States. In a statement released by the U.S. State Department, Pompeo said he was banning Makonda “due to his involvement in gross violations of human rights, which include the flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons.” He did not state which right violations specifically led to the decision. I say, let him come, and treat him to some good old American free speech. Continue reading “Let Paul Makonda come to America”

Mapenzi ya kadi za posta

Kabla ya Facebook na Instagram, kulikuwa na kadi ya posta. Vijana miongoni mwetu huenda hawajawahi kutuma hata moja kwa mtu yeyote yule. Mawasiliano leo hii ni ya haraka, na barua huitwa kwa dharau “barua ya konokono” na umati wa kidijiti. Tokea kadi posta ya kwanza ya picha itumwe kwa mwandishi wa London-Theodore Hook mnamo mwaka 1840, barua ya posta imepata umaarufu kama njia ya kutumiana picha na kushirikiana kimawazo katika maeneo na tamaduni mbalimbali. Katika siku za hivi karibuni, umaarufu huo umepungua sana, kwa sababu ya simu za rununu na mitandao ya kijamii. Kutuma kadi za posta huchukua mda mwingi na nguvu kuliko kutuma barua pepe, au ujumbe kwenye mitandao ya kijamii, ambayo inafanya kadi za posta ziwe na maana zaidi kuliko ilivyokuwa wakati hakukuwa na njia mbadala ya papo kwa hapo. Continue reading “Mapenzi ya kadi za posta”

Jagannath University students discuss the philosophy of animal rights

On Tuesday, December 3, 2019, the Department of Philosophy at Jagannath University in Dhaka, Bangladesh hosted a day-long workshop on the life and philosophy of American philosopher Tom Regan. The workshop was conducted by Wilson John Simon, a researcher at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, and me. We were invited by the Chairperson of the Department of Philosophy, Professor Siddhartha Shankar Joarder, who also moderated part of the discussion. Continue reading “Jagannath University students discuss the philosophy of animal rights”

Kile Unapaswa Kujua Kuhusu Mapenzi ya Jinsia Moja

Bonyeza hapa kupata mahojiano na mwanamme shoga na mwanamke msagaji kutoka Tanzania.

Mwelekeo wa kimapenzi ni nini?

Mwelekeo wa kimapenzi humaanisha muundo wa kudumu wa kimhemko, kimahaba, na/au mivuto ya kimapenzi kwa wanaume, wanawake, au jinsia zote. Mwelekeo wa kimapenzi unaweza kuwa wa toka kuvutiwa na jinsia tofauti tu hadi kuvutiwa na jinsia moja tu. Japokuwa, mwelekeo wa kimapenzi kwa kawaida hujadiliwa katika makundi matatu: mpenda jinsia tofauti (kuwa na mvuto kwa wahusika wa jinsia nyingine), shoga/msagaji (mwanaume anayevutiwa na wanaume/mwanamke anayevutiwa na wanawake), na mpenda jinsia mbili (mwanaume au mwanamke anayevutiwa na jinsia zote mbili; “bisexual”). Continue reading “Kile Unapaswa Kujua Kuhusu Mapenzi ya Jinsia Moja”

Kill Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill: Love is not a crime

Last Thursday, Uganda announced plans to resurrect the infamous “Kill the Gays” bill, possibly within weeks. A version of the bill was first signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni, and then ruled invalid on a technicality by the courts, in 2014. If passed by the parliament, the new bill would impose the death penalty not only for gay sex, but also for “promotion and recruitment,” effectively criminalizing vital rights and health advocacy work. This will only serve to increase anti-gay hate and violence in a country where acceptance of homosexuality is already much lower than in most parts of the world, and cause suffering for thousands of innocent Ugandans. Continue reading “Kill Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill: Love is not a crime”

Ubaguzi mubashara: kadhia ya maadili dhidi ya uwepo wa mipaka

Jaalia katika fikra zako kwamba: leo ni siku muruwa ya mwezi wa Septemba. Hakuna joto wala baridi, upepo mwanana unapepea na mawingu yanang’ara angani. Unachukua blanketi lako na kuelekea katika moja ya fukwe huru za jiji la Dar es salaam. Unajiandaa kwenda kujipumzisha ufukweni hapo na kufurahia machweo jua. Bali unapofika ufukweni mipango yako inatibuliwa bila ya kutegemea. Unaelezwa na afisa ulinzi kuwa serikali imeweka sheria mpya za matumizi ya fukwe. Unaambiwa kwamba huwezi kutumia ufukwe huo kwa vile wewe ni mtu mweusi. Watu wengine wowote wanaruhusiwa kutumia fukwe hizo isipokuwa watu weusi tu, na iwapo mtu mweusi yeyote angekaidi amri hiyo basi nguvu ingeweza kutumika. Continue reading “Ubaguzi mubashara: kadhia ya maadili dhidi ya uwepo wa mipaka”

Philosophy means business

If you study engineering, medicine, law, or almost any of the other subjects taught at university, you learn this, and you learn that, and in the end you know some things that others do not. Philosophy is different, and rather unique in that regard. After studying it for many years, I feel like I know not more but less than when I started, and I suspect the feeling is common among philosophers. That is because philosophy is not so much about providing answers as it is about asking questions. A consequence, unfortunately, is that the value of studying philosophy is easily underestimated. After all, what use is an academic discipline that cannot provide definite answers? With so many mundane yet significant day-to-day problems, why waste time and resources on splitting hairs and pondering in abstract thought? The concern behind these questions might seem particularly relevant in Tanzania, where a large portion of the population still lives in poverty and there is an understandable longing for immediate practical results, and it might be part of the reason why the Department of Philosophy at Tanzania’s oldest public university, the University of Dar es Salaam, was finally established only five years ago, in 2013. Continue reading “Philosophy means business”

Discrimination in plain sight: The moral case against borders

Consider the following thought experiment: It is a pleasant day in September. It is not too hot, not too cold, and not too windy, and the sky is clear. You grab a blanket and head to one of Dar es Salaam’s public beaches, intent to make yourself comfortable by the seaside and enjoy the sunset. Once at the beach, however, your plans are rudely thwarted. You are informed by a law enforcement officer that the government has put a new policy in place. You are told that you may not access the beach – because you are black. Black people and only black people are no longer allowed on the beach. If necessary, that policy will be enforced by the use of physical force. Continue reading “Discrimination in plain sight: The moral case against borders”

Bangla translation of Tom Regan’s The Philosophy of Animal Rights published

Dyu Publication, a Dhaka-based press, published a Bangla translation of Tom Regan‘s The Philosophy of Animal Rights (ISBN: 978-984-93197-6-4; English original available here), which offers an accessible and compelling introduction to the philosophy of animal rights. This is the first time any of Regan’s work has been translated into Bangla. Continue reading “Bangla translation of Tom Regan’s The Philosophy of Animal Rights published”