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People at a little char

Char Nidjam (Kalkini)

A one-hour boat trip by speedboat today brought us to a so-called char, a sandbank that appears everywhere in the delta and sometimes remains for centuries, but can also become submerged within a rainy season period. A char (sandbank) differs from an island in that it is in a provisional and indeterminate situation.
Sometimes, after decades, state power slowly moves onto such a sandbank, and then roads, schools and wells are built. When the island formation is advanced, such a sandbank also also produces its politicians, who then lobby for the further development of the char into an island. Our conversations on the char revolved mainly around the concerns of
of the char people about not getting enough attention from politicians, even though the then Prime Minister Ershat had already visited the island in 1985 and promised help on a grand scale. But of course, the talks of the Char residents were mainly for our ears. Outside help was expected. What were the concerns and arguments of the residents during the talks?

There are 10,000 residents on the island, all more or less self-organised. There is one main settlement, which got a central road a few weeks ago. Next to the road are fishermen who, in addition to fishing, practise subsistence farming and can more or less cope with the salty conditions for agriculture. The main income, however, comes from fishing. In addition to the garden and field crops, there are a number of farm animals: many geese, ducks and chickens – every second family owns a cow. There are no dogs.

In recent years, some fortification measures have been undertaken. Dams have been built, foundations heaped up, cyclone shelters built, a primary school run in the shelters. Since this year there are also 18 police officers, a new police station, which is used as a town hall and a new school. Next to the primary school, there is a madrasa that offers Quran classes. The Char residents were not quite sure whether they should call it Maktab – primary school with Quran lessons or Madrasa — High school for Quran Kids.

In the fields they try to grow paddy and rice, which is only moderately successful because of the salt content.

Salt makes agriculture difficult here, Photo: Claudius Guenther, 2019

Plants that can digest the salt well are palm trees, coconut palm, bread tree and jackfruit. Electric light is available to those who can afford a solar panel. Health care is only available outside the island. If you need something from outside, you can get it on Bhola, the nearest island. The forestry authority has also built a cyclone shelter tower on Char, which serves as an office and residence for the forester here. Mobile phones and internet do not reach the island. The forestry department is trying to carry out reforestation work with trees. These are grown in tree nurseries on site. Deer have been released, but the forest grows only moderately, so the deer are hand-tame due to their proximity to humans and can almost be stroked.
One of the most important achievements of the people is their communitarian constitution carried out in councils. This means that people build together, use property (building material) of the community
(such as roads and dam construction) is made available to the community.
Even though the char has elected representatives, these representatives are often anchored by seniority. Many of the current speakers have had fathers in the same offices.
Families marry their daughters off to the outside world. This intermarriage happens early and is organised through marriage brokers. Sons get the daughters of other families on their . The garden and house grounds are shared, an extension of the living space is only possible through further sand fundaments. One such fill has just been made for 200 more settlements. Although there are two and a half hectares of unused land under the forest department, it is not distributed to the villagers. This is where the Forest Department has a hand in it. The Forest Department is also accused of cutting down trees and selling them on the black market. It is also said that it eats the deer.

Straw shovelers, most of the inhabitants are fishermen but there are a lot of farmers. large number of farmers, but they have to struggle against the salt water. Picture Claudius Guenther, 2019

In 1971, there was the last big storm in the area. At that time, there were only 13 fishermen living on the char, all but one of whom died. The latter then went to live on another island. The population
of the char has grown rapidly in the last 50 years. The conversation with the elders of the island – assembly enshrined the following points:

There are no roads.
There are no secondary schools.
There are no deep groundwater wells (tube wells).
There is no hospital.
There is no electric generator.
There is no mobile phone network or internet.
There is no stable police station.

A separate harbour facility was not mentioned, so that smaller ships could also call at the island. When we asked why this was not a big issue, they replied that the ground around the island was too shallow to provide a channel for a larger ferry. So, if we add up the demands that the community made, we see that the community is not concerned with improving its access to other islands, but with improving the infrastructure of its community. None of the interview participants gave a reason for wanting to leave the island. They are on their way with their boats to where they can sell their fish anyway.

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