Thursday, April 30, 2009

We Remember: Mob-Attack on Catholic Church and School and Two Protestant Churches in Dhaka

The mob-attack on St. Francis Xavier's Girls' High School
at Luxmibazar, Dhaka, on April 28, 1998

(L-R): Attackers did not spare the statues of Virgin Mary (broken
hands) and St. Francis Xavier, the patron saint of the school

(broken head and torso)

Newspaper reports of the attack

Photos Courtesy: The Book Luxmibazarer Lojjajonok Ghotona
(Shameful Incident of Luxmibazar), 1998

It happened 11 years ago on Tuesday, April 28, 1998. It was a planned attack of Muslim fundamentalists on the Holy Cross Catholic Church and St. Francis Xavier's Girls' High School as well as on St. Thomas Anglican Church and Sadarghat Baptist Church. All these churches and the school are in the Luxmibazar area of old Dhaka.


The issue was the question of ownership of a small piece of land in between St. Francis Xavier's Girls' High School and the Shahi Mosque. This land, with a small room, belonged to the nearby Catholic Church. Long ago it was used as a reading room for the public. Catholic religious books and publications were available there for non-Christians. Later, it was used as the office of the Pratibeshi, the monthly mouthpiece of the Catholic Archdiocese of Dhaka. Then it was used a sewing training centre of the Catholic Women's Association of Luxmibazar. Finally, for a good number of years, this room remained locked due to precarious condition of the old walls and roof of the room. From the purchase of this land by the church in 1876 until December, 1996, there was no claim of the adjacent mosque on this property.

As the Girls' school did not have a sufficient space for the waiting parents and guardians of girl students, the Sisters of the school, in cooperation of the church, decided to renovate and use the room for school purpose. On December 10, 1996, when the renovators went to work on the room, the Shahi Mosque committe members with some rowdies interfered with the renovation work and laid a claim on the property concerned. Later, in agreement of the School authority and the mosque committee, the Dhaka City Corporporation Estate Officer was engaged to check the ownership documents and measure the land. The Estate Officer, after a thorough scrutiny of the documents and measurement, gave his opinion in favour of the school. The Mosque committee was not satisfied at this and they even threatened to forcefully occupy the land.

As there was no agreement on the matter, ultimately the school authority filed a lawsuit on June 8, 1997. The court, on April 22, 1998, gave judgment in favour of the school and placed a temporary injunction on the mosque committee forbidding their interference in the renovation work of the room. Basing on this judgment, the school authority, in presence of some policemen, started renovation work around 10:00 a.m. on April 28, 1998 by cutting some trees that grew on the roof and walls. The President of the Mosque committee with some of his men, in front of the police, interfered in the renovation work and roughened up some of the labourers. When the school authority showed them the judgment of the court and other papers, the opponents left the place announcing: "Sister, you've already created the public sentiment. You have no idea as to how dangerous the public sentiment can be. Those, who got the news over the phone, have already begun their work." Then the renovation work also stopped.

After one-o'clock prayer in the mosque, there was an announcement from their mike (public address system): "Muslim Brothers of the locality, come forward. Jewish Christians are demolishing the mosque. Come to protect the mosque." This announcement was repeated for sometime.

After this call, agitated Muslims began to come in groups shouting slogans and assembled near the front gate of the school. Around five in the afternoon, they began to throw brickbats at the school gate. What happened then is now part of the history. The following press release of the Church leaders, given to the newspapers next day, gives a pen-picture of the attack.

Press Release

We, the leaders in the Christian community of Bangladesh, strongly condemn the unwarranted and scandalous attack on Christian church property in Luxmibazar on 28 April 1998. A large unruly crowd ransacked St. Francis Xavier Girls' High School, Holy Cross Church and nearby Baptist and St. Thomas churches. They threatened the lives of several priests, Sisters and staff workers. The damage to religious freedom and the mental anguish caused is immeasurable.

We recognize that this was not an attempt by the majority Muslim community to persecute Christians. Rather it was the motivated action of a group of people who are interested to destroy religious harmony in the country. We wish to express our appreciation to Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Rafiqul Islam, for attending the place of occurrence immediately after the incident. He assured us of his assistance and that of the government.

This was a deliberate attempt by a group of fundamentalists to arouse the religious sentiments of common people by making a false announcement over the loud speaker of the adjacent mosque. The announcement falsely claimed that the mosque was being dismantled. The instigators of this riot acted in total disregard for the judicial and legal system of Bangladesh.

On 28 April 1998 the St. Francis Xavier Girls' High School began renovating the vacant building and clearing the trees on their property adjacent to the Shahi Mosque. This area is not a mosque or holy area. It lies within the designated property of the school. This was not a sudden action. The school authorities have been stating their intention to do this work for some time. Police were present as they started the work. However, this proved to be of little value as the police failed to control the crowd. The crowd was initially obstructed by the police. But they broke through the police lines and rampaged through the school buildings and area, and church building. They caused extensive damage to property. They terrorized Sisters and residents of the girls' hostel. They were led by people who wished to attack the Christian institution for their selfish purposes.

The crowd was then instigated to attack the 200-year old St. Thomas church. They smashed windows of the church buildings and broke down the back wall of the church compound. They threatened the lives of the residents, who were forced to seek police protection.

Around 6:30 p.m. the crowd attacked the nearby Sadarghat Baptist church compound, smashing the gate to gain entrance. Entering the houses of the residents they smashed furniture and threatened the occupants. The destruction only ceased when a severe rain storm swept over the area.

We appeal to the government to strongly condemn this incident and to take action against the instigators. We further urge the government to initiate a full investigation by a High Court judge. The Christian churches have served the local and wider community for several hundred years. They enjoy close relationships with all the local community regardless of religion. This action by a few communally motivated persons was an attempt to destroy the peace of the area.

This incident has created fear in the locl Christian community and indeed in the total Christian community of the country. But the instigators are continuing to stir up trouble. They have called public meetings on 2 and 5 May, 1998. We urge the government to take immediate steps to protect the Christians and Christian property in the immediate and surrounding areas.

Finally, we ask all people to join us in prayer for peace, a just and reasonable settlement, and wisdom for the Government authorities.

--Fr. Benjamin Costa
Catholic Church of Bangladesh

--Mr. Samson Chowdhury
National Christian Fellowship of Bangladesh

--Mr. Albert A. Samaddar
Church of Bangladesh

--Mr. Susanta Adhikari
Bangladesh Baptist Sangha

--Mr. Dennis D. Datta
Bangladesh Baptist Fellowship

The cover of the book, Luxmibazarer Lojjajonok Ghotona(Shameful Incident of Luxmibazar), published in 1998.
This book documented the events from different angles
and compiled various newspaper clippings and photos
of the sad incident of April 28.

It may be noted that, although some government officials at the time had promised to officially investigate into the mob attack on the churches and school, it was never realized. Later the Catholic Church officials, however, in consideration of future communal peace and harmony in the locality, donated that piece of land to the mosque.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Photo Meditation of the Month (April, 2009): RACISM


A graffiti, announcing "The White Man Is God," on a wall
in downtown Portland, Oregon, USA

Photo (Portland, Oregon, USA: 1976) © Jerome D'Costa


By Jerome D'Costa

Racism is the belief that one's race or ethnic stock is superior to another. Racism is everywhere -- more or less. Everyone is a racist -- more or less. Some can contain their racist proclivity while dealing with others, others cannot. That's why we see so many laws in "advanced" countries to curb or contain racism.

Racism is basically a strong fear of a person or group of people belonging to another ethnic stock. This fear leads to prejudice, rabid hatred, discrimination, segregation or even oppression.

Racism is based on the wrong notion that one person or group is superior to another -- physically and intellectually. There was a time when the white people of Europe and Americas strongly felt that non-whites, especially the blacks, were not fully humans. We know from history how the whites treated the blacks. In other continents, too, there are plenty of examples of their own versions of internal racism.

Modern scientists have found out that there is no basis for racism. Genetically, there is a minute difference between ethnic groups except for some genes that give particular features (colour of skin and hair, shape of face, head and body, etc.) to a group.

We find babies of any race cry the same. People of any race feel the same hunger pangs. They have the same number of limbs and organs with similar functions. They get sick the same way as others. Flu epidemic affects persons of any race. Mosquitoes bite them all with the same vengeance! Persons of different races may have different body colour, but they have the same colour of their blood! So why should one feel superior to the other?

What happens when one practises racism?

  • He or she becomes poorer quality-wise or virtue-wise because racism is negativity -- nothing positive comes out of it, except enhancement of fear, greed, and discriminating behaviour.
  • He or she stoops down very low -- lower than the person he or she hates.
  • He or she always have to think of putting down the other person -- he or she won't have time to think about himself or herself. The sense of love will fly away out his or her window.
  • To pracise racism, one has to be always alert and tense in dealing with others. Health-wise this behaviour is not helpful.
The antidote of racism is the concerted change of one's mind and heart. Respect for others, sharing equally with others and love of neighbours as Jesus Christ has taught: "Love your neighbour as yourself" (Matthew 19:19).

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Brother Flavian Laplante Declared 'Servant of God' - 3

Brother Flavian showing off a big 'lakwa' fish
that his fishermen caught in the Bay of Bengal.
Lakwa fish are one of the most profitable catches.

(Photo Courtesy: The Great Flavian by Brother Alberic Houle, CSC, p.118)

Women's Development Centre

When Sister Pauline Nadeau, CSC, expressed her willingness to work among the Hindu and Muslim women, Brother Flavian was extremely happy to invite her to start her work at Diang in February 1973. She began to work in literacy education -- reading, writing and counting and then expanded to sewing. Then through a women's health centre, assisted by Sister Monique Desnoyers, CSC, women were being taught about health and childcare and their minor illnesses were being treated. Sister Nadeau also taught women to form savings groups and keep accounts. Through these works, a new life came to these poor and neglected women. Before Sister Nadeau left Diang in 1979, she brought some RNDM Sisters to work for these women.
Technical School for the Young
Brother Flavian also saw to it that local young men get technical training in different trades including making and repairing motorized boats. For this purpose, he set up a technical school at Diang.

Miriam Ashram

Brother Flavian was contemplating to spend his retired days in prayer and contemplation at Diang. To his relatives in Canada he mentioned: "No more errands, no more visits to Dhaka to meet with officers, nothing but prayer and manual work in the orchards of Diang, in the gardens around the hills that I climbed so often and came down as often....Therefore, I shall spend the last years of my life at the feet of the Master." (The Great Flavian by Brother Alberic Houle, CSC, p.134)

During his return from Canada, Brother Flavian visited some ashrams (hermitages) in Europe and India in December 1976. After arriving at Diang, he got rid of his earthly possessions, tools, and documents -- the last relics of his active life at Diang. Brother Alberic Houle writes in his book (p.140): "On December 24, he entered his cell (8'x8') covered with a thatch roof. As furniture, he had a bed, a small table, a chair, three "poufs" for visitors, two small shelves to keep a few books and his small portable typewriter. The ashram is situated between three hills, with an opening on one side; formerly, it was a "Hatir Kheda," a trapping enclosure where many years ago people would capture herds of wild elephants. Bro. Flavian began his new life as "Shadhu," hermit, in the orchard of Miriam Ashram at a distance of 1,500 feet from the Brothers' residence. He did not cook: Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians brought him food (fruits, biscuits, bread...). He did have, however, a small stove to make tea and warm up his food." His ashram life was very intense and austere -- prayer, contemplation, spiritual reading, reading, writing, meeting visitors who came for his spiritual advice and encouragement, work in the gardens, and finally only a few hours' sleep.

On October 1, 1977, he got the 5'3" statue of Our Lady of Lourdes officially erected on the hill of the ashram. People began to come to visit the grotto and pray. On February 11, 1979, he organized a day of prayer and feast in honour of the Our Lady. Eight hundred pilgrims from different parts of Bangladesh attended it. From that year onwards, each February sees a huge gathering of thousands of pilgrims at the ashram shrine. Now it is one of the most famous Catholic pilgrimage sites in Bangladesh.

His Death

In early 1981, Brother Flavian's health began to deteriorate. On March 19, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. On June 19, 1981, he made his last confession and received Holy Communion from Father Shaha. At 9:20 p.m. he died muttering: "Come, Lord Jesus." He was buried solemnly at Diang by Bishop Joachim Rozario of Chittagong. On his death, messages of condolence and appreciation poured in from all over the world where Brother Flavian had friends, donors, and colleagues.

Sources: The Great Flavian by Brother Alberic Houle, CSC
Dhaka: 2003

My Acquaintance with Brother Flavian

In the first half of the 1970's, I came in contact with Brother Flavian at Caritas office in Dhaka where he used to come to submit projects for the development of the fishermen. Then I met him at his place in Diang several times when I took several foreign donors and workers to visit his project. Lastly, Mr. Jeffrey Pereira and I were accompanied by Brother to visit actual deep-sea fishing around midnight in the Bay of Bengal, about 70 miles away from the shore.

In all these interactions, I found Brother to be a real gentleman with ready smile and humour. He had so much kindness and empathy for the poor and marginalized that he just could not help doing something positive and uplifting for them. For this reason, he went to the doors of donors again and again without tiring and losing hope. He was a man of patience in spite of all sorts of rejections, non-cooperation and, at times, a threat to his life. He was fully focused to his goal -- the goal of giving voice to the voiceless, strengthening the economic life of the poor and marginalized. Ultimately, he was a man of prayer, which sustained his spiritual life. He was especially devoted to the Virgin Mary through his daily rosary prayers. At his request, I had compiled a booklet on Our Lady of Lourdes, called Dhannya Lourder Raani O Shaddhi Bernadette, which is being used at the Miriam Ashram shrine for the visiting pilgrims.

I am positive that, one day, Brother Flavian Laplante, CSC, will be canonized and declared a 'saint' after the Catholic Church's proper scrutiny of his life and heroic virtues.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

The Poem of the Month (April, 2009): RELIGION & INJUSTICE

Religion and Injustice

By Jerome D'Costa

In the name of religion --
There can also be the most naked display of power and arrogance.
-- all these follow automatically.

Religion does not guide him,
But religion becomes the vehicle of injustice in the hands of the perpetrator.
Negativity dominates, positivity recedes to the background.

The victim: the weak, the voiceless, the powerless.

If you want, you may watch this gruesome video to see how religion is used to perpetrate injustice. (Warning: sensitive and weak-hearted persons should not see this video)

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Brother Flavian Laplante Declared 'Servant of God' - 2

The cover of the book The Great Flavian by Brother Alberic Houle, C.S.C.
(In the photo above: Brother Flavian taking a nap on the way to visiting
fishermen engaged in deep-sea fishing in the Bay of Bengal)

Work Among the Fishermen

After the Second World War (1942-1945), the fishermen community was in desperate situation after losing their boats and nets and also finance. The boats that the government had confiscated either rotted completely or were in total disrepair. These fishermen mainly lived in the eastern coastal region of the Bay of Bengal -- fishing in rivers, canals and ponds -- and, in winter (November to February), they went for deep-sea (seventy or so miles away from the southern coast of Bangladesh) fishing in the Bay of Bengal.

These fishermen were Hindus and their social position was at the lowest stratum. They were sort of untouchables, pariahs. They were illiterate, ignorant of hygienic living, steeped in constant poverty due to indebtedness to the money-lenders, and victims of all sorts of injustices.

Brother Flavian was really moved to do something positive to change the sad plight of these people. As part of the rehabilitation, he contacted Mr. Stuart, the District Magistrate of Chittagong, and secured money to purchase several hundred 50 to 80-feet long trees from the Forest Department and build fishing boats.

For hundreds of years, piracy was a constant problem in the parts of the Bay of Bengal adjacent to greater Noakhali, Chittagong and Arakan district coastal areas. When fishermen return with their catch, pirates attack them and snatch away fish and other stuff from them. The same thing happened with the fishermen who were given new boats. Brother Flavian was very upset when he got the news. He met with the fishermen and told them to face the pirates and not to give up so easily. Later he even went with them for fishing and caught a few pirates. He also took government officials with him and fishermen and caught more pirates who got jail sentences. In spite of all these efforts, piracy could not be rooted out totally.

He started cooperative system among the fishermen and introduced motorized boats for bringing the daily catches to the market and making more money (previously, fishermen would go for deep-sea fishing and return after several months with only dried fish). Brother had to face a lot of problems with the fishermen. Being illiterate and short-sighted about their future and economoic prospects, they would bicker among themselves and were uncoperative many times. Moreover, frequent cyclones in the Bay of Bengal would sometimes wipe out a number of fishermen with their boats. Brother Flavian had to face gargantuan task and exercise endless patience in keeping things moving. Every year he had to raise funds for the fishermen to have their costly boats and gears replaced or repaired before the start of the winter fishing season in the sea. After years of efforts the situation of the fishermen changed for the better.

The Orphanage at Diang

After the World War II, Brother Flavian planned rehabilitation of the 200 orphans who were at the camp at Chaktai. For this purpose, he purchased 80 acres of sandhills, that were covered with jungles, near the Christian village at Diang, 10 miles south-east of Chittagong. People of the surrounding areas -- both Muslims and Christians -- used to gather firewood from the hills. When Brother started his orphanage construction project, Muslim neighbours put up a stiff resistence first by disrupting construction work, then stealing materials from the compound as well as from houses, setting fire in different houses and the like. Brother had to put up with this harassment for long eight years. Ultimately, when these people realized that Brother was really doing good for the people through the orphanage and school, they stopped the disturbances.

In 1946, he also started a primary school for these orphans and neighbouring children. He then gradually expanded the classes to Grade 10. Now it is the full-fledged high school , called Miriam Ashram High School, teaching Arts, Science and Commerce.

Besides this school, Brother Flavian is also the founder of several other primary schools and boarding houses for students in different parts of the Chittagong diocese.

A section of the 80-acre land also was given for rehabilitating more than 120 families who came to the area for work from Chittagong, Raozan, Barisal and other places. They now live in two villages -- Joseph Para and Maria Para.

He also planted thousands of fruit trees (mango, pineapple, papaya, banana, and others) of different variety in the vast area.

Brother Flavian Roughened Up by West Pakistani Soldier

During the War of Independence of Bangladesh in 1971, Miriam Ashram School gave refuge to hundreds of internal refugees who fled from their villages that were attacked by the West Pakistani soldiers and their local collaborators. Brother Flavian helped these people, too, including giving the men work on cash payment. Brother Alberic Houle, CSC, writes: "Bro. Flavian carried on his work among the fishermen in this atmosphere of terror and insecurity. In May, 1971, he kept 120 to 150 workers to cut the jungle on the hills of Diang. In the school, the attendance was very poor because the students feared the rough treatment of the army. Bro. Flavian managed to bury three of the eleven fishermen who had been shot by the military; on another occasion, he had two young Christian girls released from their camp. The soldiers resented the courageous interventions of this foreigner and one day, one of them openly sought a quarrel with him when he was about to cross the river. The soldier ordered Bro. Flavian to come down from the boat, searched him from head to foot, slapped him in the face a few times and told him to be gone...." (The Great Flavian, p. 103).

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Brother Flavian Laplante Declared 'Servant of God' - 1

(L-R): Brother Flavian Laplante, C.S.C. in front of Our Lady of Lourdes
Grotto at the Miriam Ashram at Diang, Chittagong District, Bangladesh;
Brother Flavian as a sannyasi (hermit) at the Miriam Ashram

Photos Courtesy: The Orient magazine (April & May, 2009), Montreal, Canada

Bishop Patrick D'Rozario, CSC, of the Diocese of Chittagong, Bangladesh, recently opened the cause of sainthood and declared Brother Flavian Laplante, CSC, a servant of God at a Mass at the Marian shrine at Diang attended by more than 6,000 pilgrims, including many priests and Religious. The Bishop also at the same time elevated the shrine, founded by Brother Laplante in 1976, to the status of a parish.

Brother Flavian Laplante, CSC, (1907-1981), popularly known as "Brother Flavian", was a Holy Cross Brother and a missionary who worked in Bangladesh from 1932 to until his death in 1981. Initially he was a teacher and then a headmaster in different Catholic schools in the districts of Barisal, Noakhali and Chittagong. Later he was greatly involved with the socio-economic development of the Jolodash (servant of the water or sea) community whose members were Hindus, always facing social exclusion from others and economic hardship. In the last stage of his life, he founded Miriam Ashram (a house of prayer) at Diang, 10 miles south-east of Chittgong on the Karnaphuly River. In the ashram, he also built a grotto with the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes and turned it into a shrine in 1976.

Life of Brother Flavian

Brother Flavian, named Doria, was born on July 27, 1907, at St. Louis de Bonsecours in the valley of Yamaska in Quebec, Canada. He was the seventh of the nine siblings -- three girls and six boys. He studied in a village school, about an hour's distance from his home. He proved to be a very good student in the school, especially in Mathematics.

He then joined Holy Cross Juniorate and studied at nearby St. Cesaire College (high school). At the age of 16, he joined the novitiate of the Congregation of Holy Cross at Ste. Genevieve-de-Pierrefonds. On August 15, 1923, he received the religious habit (long white dress) and took the name 'Brother Flavian'.

On August 16, 1924, he took his first religious vows (of poverty, chastity, and obedience). From 1924 to 1927, he was at St. Joseph's Scholasticate studying at the university and at the same time doing household chores, caring for the flower beds, repairing sports equipment and nursing sick scholastics as an infirmarian.

From 1928 to 1932, he was a games teacher and supervisor of the students' dormitory besides being a part-time teacher at the Notre Dame College in Quebec. On August 16, 1928, he took the permanent vows to dedicate himself fully as a Brother in the service of God.

Missionary in East Bengal (later Bangladesh)

On October 17, 1932, Brother Flavian accompanied veteran missionary Father Omer Desrochers, CSC, and Brother Ambrose Dion, CSC, and a fresh missionary Father Eugene Poirier, CSC, to East Bengal. Before his departure, of course, he made it a point to meet with Brother Andre, CSC, the holy man who was renowned for his miracle-works at St. Joseph's Oratory, Montreal. When he requested for his prayers and blessings, Brother Andre blessed him saying: "You are leaving for the Mission! I truly envy you."

Teacher and Headmaster

From 1932 to 1943, Brother Flavian served as a teacher and headmaster at different Catholic schools in the districts of Barisal, Noakhali and Chittagong. His genial behaviour, initiative, sportmanship, organizing capacity, hard work and mentoring ability left a lasting impression on the students of these schools.

Among the Famine Victims

During the World War II, the Indian subcontinent, including East Bengal (present Bangladesh) was part of the British empire. In 1942, the Japanese occupied Burma (Myanmar) and came upto Cox's Bazar. They also bombed parts of Chittagong city from the air. The British government at the time told missionaries to move away to the villages and let their soldiers use Catholic Bishop's House, Catholic mission and school buildings and compounds in Chittagong for war purposes.

To prevent the Japanese advance, the British government had confiscated most of the people's boats and trawlers and strictly controlled the supply of rice in the country. Moreover, about 60,000 people from East Bengal would go to Arakan of Burma every year at the times of plantation and harvest to work as farm labourers. This was a good source of earning. Ship loads of Burmese rice would also be imported to East and West Bengal. Due to the war, farmers' earning in Burma and import of rice from there stopped. All these caused a terrible famine in Bengal in 1943. Millions of people were affected and thousands upon thousands died due to lack of food.

The British government through its military personnel opened relief centres in different parts of the country to feed the famished people. At the request of Mr. Stuart, the District Magistrate of Chittagong, Brother Flavian opened a centre in Chittagong city where he was living (at Mr. Leonard Moreino's house). Brother took the offer most gladly. In fact, there were two relief camps: one was run by Brother Joseph, C.S.C. on one side of the road for Christians and Muslims who ate beef and, on the other side, Brother Flavian ran another for the Hindus -- mostly fishermen -- who, for religious reasons, did not eat beef. There were many cases of most famished people, who somehow managed to come to the relief centres so exhausted, that they fainted and died while eating their first meal in the camp after a gap of several days!

Brother Flavian and his colleagues worked day and night for taking care of the famine victims. Father Godfroy Danis, C.S.C., wrote in the Bulletin Missionnare of January, 1952 under the title "La Famine et la charite": "A crowd of destitutes could be seen going towards Bro. Flavian's headquarters; they were coming from all directions and in every possible condition; they were coming by day, by night. Bro. Flavian's lodging and the grounds around the house became a real caravansary. Bro. Flavian himself occupies a small room in one corner for a few hours at night when falling from exhaustion, he crumbles so to say among his beloved famished people."

Brother Flavian also had opened a dispensary in a corner of the house to nurse the wounded and the skin-diseased persons.

The British army needed 500 fishing nets to camouflage the military vehicles and artillery equipment. At their request, Brother Flavian engaged a group of local fishermen, their wives and children to produce these nets on cash payment. At the beginning of May, 1943, at the request of Colonel Delgardo, Army Chief Director of Chittagong port, Brother Flavian engaged 1,000 fishermen to work as dock workers for loading and unloading army supply and materials. In addition, Brother also opened the first school for about 200 orphans, who were children of fishermen and lost one or both parents or were born illegitimate.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ekushey February and the Catholic Monthly 'Pratibeshi'

(L-R): A sample cover of the monthly Pratibeshi (December, 1949)
and Father Jacob Mongla Dessai, its Managing Editor

Photos Courtesy: The Pratibeshi

Layout by Joachim Romeo D'Costa

We have already said in our write-ups on the Ekushey February how the Bangla language movement started and how it came to a head on Ekushey (21st) February of 1952. The government of East Pakistan, headed by Chief Minister Nurul Amin, at the instruction of the West Pakistani ruling elite, was out there on the streets of Dhaka in force to suppress the activists of the Bangla language movement.

So, on February 21, 1952, when the University of Dhaka students along with members of the general public began to defy the ban on processions and gatherings, the armed police fired upon them. On this day, three students got killed and many were wounded. Numerous other students willingly let the police arrest them. In protest to this killing and wounding of many, February 22 was declared a hartal (all-out strike) day all over East Pakistan.

In response to this call as well as lending their support to the cause, offices and shops remained closed and there was no movement of vehicles on the streets. On reading the Morning News of February 22, some students and people got so enraged at the biased news of the previous day's killing that they attacked the Jubilee Press, from where this daily was printed and set it on fire. Printing machines and the type-setting section along with the manuscripts were severely damaged in the fire. The police again resorted to firing on the enraged crowd, killing at least two persons and wounding others.

The Monthly Pratibeshi on the Ekushey February

The Bengali section of the Jubilee Press used to print the Pratibeshi (neighbour), the monthly mouthpiece of the Catholic Archdiocese of Dhaka on contract basis. All its hand-composed types and manuscripts were also destroyed in the fire. In spite of its losses, this monthly paid a tribute to the language martyrs and supported the language movement.

Father Jacob Mongla Dessai, a Bangali (Bengali) priest, was the editor-in-charge of the Pratibeshi at the time. Dealing with the February 21 events, the monthly in its March 1952 issue mentioned: "Getting the education in one's mother language and giving recognition to the peoples' tongue as the state language are integral to freedom. To snatch away the people's tongue and keeping it repressed is tantamount to doing away with the freedom of the people. A thinking and living nation can never let it happen. The struggle of the students of East Pakistan for making Bangla the state language will remain as a glorious history."

Father Dessai in the editorial wrote: "On February 22, Friday, our printing press -- the Jubilee Press -- has been burnt down as a result of the Dhaka students' rage. All the materials of the Pratibeshi were also destroyed in this fire. As a result, it has taken a very simple presentation. No one should think that the students' rage fell on our innocent monthly Pratibeshi. Their rage was against the Morning News daily that was printed in the Jubilee Press. The news it published on the previous day's events was against the interest of the students. As a result, there was the fire. In this fire, all composed matters of the Pratibeshi and its manuscripts for the March issue have been destroyed. We regret that we have to deprive our readers of reading the remaining portions of the "to be continued" articles of the last issue. For these very reasons, we got delayed in publishing this issue. In spite of its poor presentation, the Pratibeshi deeply sympathizes with the dead, wounded and imprisoned and their bereaved families. Our Pratibeshi's mother tongue is Bangla and its only pride is also Bangla. Those who sacrificed themselves for this language will automatically receive our sympathy...."

It is noteworthy that, at this critical juncture, when most of the large newspapers failed to play a courageous role, the Pratibeshi, by lending its all-out support to the Bangla language, left an important contribution in the national life of the Bangalis.

Source: Bangladeshey Catholic Mondoli (The Catholic Church in Bangladesh) by Jerome D'Costa (Dhaka: Pratibeshi Prakashani, 1988), pp.213-216.

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Psychological Cost of the War in Afghanistan


Canadian soldiers searching for Al Qaeda and Taliban
insurgents in the rugged hills of Afghanistan

Photo Courtesy: (wikimedia)

War, any war, is not a cakewalk. Once late Pope John Paul II had said that in a war no one is a winner. All the parties to a war are losers.

The Toll on the Canadian Forces

The Toronto Star reports that more than one in five Canadian soldiers and police officers engaged in Afghanistan war efforts leave the force with post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) or other psychiatric problems. By the end of March, 2009, the personnel discharged on these grounds rose to 1,053, representing an increase of more than 50% from that of 2008.

It has been learnt from documents, released released under the Access to Information Act, that longer, multiple and more dangerous deployments "have led to an increase in the prevalence of operational stress injuries among the members of these organizations.,"

The paper also reports that the federal government has spent millions of dollars on clinics across the country to treat military and police veterans after years of criticism that it was failing those who risk their lives in the country's defence.

Impact of War on the U.S. Soldiers

The Science Daily reports that, according to a new RAND Corporation study, one in five Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in the USA suffers from PTSD or major depression. Nearly 20% of military service members (about 300,000) returning from Iraq and Afghanistan report symptoms of PTSD or major depression and only a little more than half of them have sought any treatment.

The researchers also found that 19% of the returnees report that they experienced a possible traumatic brain injury while deployed, with 7% reporting both a probable brain injury and current PTSD or major depression.

Many of these returnees do not seek treatment of their psychological problems fearing that it will harm their careers or they will be avoided by the society.

Incidences of Violence Among the Veterans

In Canada, they have found that "untreated cases in the past have resulted in tragic and horrifying cases of drug addiction, assault, rape and even suicide."

In the New York Times report it has been mentioned that there have been 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed killing in the USA, or were charged with one, after their return from war. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment -- along with alcohol abuse, family discord and other attendant problems -- appear to have set the stage for a tragedy that was part destruction, part self-destruction. Half of these killings involved guns, and the rest were stabbings, beatings, strangulations and bathtub drownings. About a third of the victims were spouses, girlfriends, children or other relatives. Although this number is not that remarkable in relations to the total number of returnees, these incidences require our attention to be placed in the total welfare of the soldiers and their families. According to the US Veterans Administration, veterans with PTSD are two-to-three times more likely to commit intimate partner violence than veterans with the disorder.

"50- or 60- or 70-year problem"

The Associated Press in its April 3, 2009 report mentions that US Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that homelessness, family strains and psychological problems among returning veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars would persist in the US for generations to come. "This is not a 10-year problem. It is a 50- or 60- or 70-year problem," he said. He was speaking to a lunchtime audience at the Hudson Union Society, a group that promotes nonpartisan debate.

The Impact of the Afghan War on Soviet Soldiers

The Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan started in December, 1979 and ended in 1988 with the withdrawal of their troops by Mikhail Gorbachev. In thoses years, 15,000 Soviet soldiers were killed and many others were wounded.

The war had a very negative impact on the Soviet soldiers. Many became invalids, many felt unwanted by the State, and many did not get rehabilitated as expected. Women serving in Afghanistan, worked as nurses, office workers, cooks and other support staff. Many of these women got raped by their own soldiers in Afghanistan. On their return, many of these women were looked down upon by the society. They were thought to be prostitutes, cheap women who "amused" their own soldiers.

Forty-six percent of the civilians thought that the Afghan war was a national shame and only 6% said that they were proud of their soldiers who had fulfilled their international duty in Afghanistan.

Among the long-term effectson the Soviet soldiers were: alcohol and drug addiction, physical disability, PTSD with symptoms including "flashbacks, emotional numbness, withdrawal, jumpy hyperalertness or overcompensatory extroversion."

Afghanistan War: A Clueless War -- Get Out of It!

In traditional warfare, you know the enemy -- their identity, their location, their movement. In guerrilla warfare, as in Afghanistan, you do not know the enemy because they blend and mix up with the common folks. This "unknowingness" and "no-clear-frontline" create fear among the regular soldiers. They have to be battle-ready all the time without any sleep or rest. This definitely cause psychological drain on the regular soldiers. Many of them cannot cope with this situation.

Initially, the Afghanistan war was a worthy cause. Gradually it lost its worthiness, as the bulk of the enemy is no longer in Afghanistan. They come from another country that favours their presence and, in most reports we see, that even actively aids the very terrorists that the NATO soldiers are fighting with.

No, No, No, No, No, No, No, Yes, Yes

Is the Afghanistan war worth it? No.
Is it valorous to fight this war? No.
Can our Canadian soldiers feel patriotic in fighting this war? No.
Do our parents of soldiers feel proud of sending and letting their children die in this war? No.
Are we fighting Canada's war? No.
Are we able to search and destroy the enemy in their dens? No.
Are we, with limited and "humane" fighting, able to defeat terrorism? No.
Are we letting our dear soldiers die for nothing? Yes.
Are we there only to save our skins and working as security guards of the Afghan government personnel and infrastructures, instead of really fighting the enemy? Yes.

Canada needs to take a quick and serious decision on its war in Afghanistan. We can no longer hide our head in the sand like the ostrich bird. We can no longer be the "see-nothing, say-nothing and hear-nothing monkey!"

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Friday, April 17, 2009

PeteGraphy's Photostream Has Some Amazing Photos


Photos Courtesy: PeteGraphy's Photostream

There are some amazing photos in PeteGraphy's Photostream. Photos -- macrographs (extreme close-ups), normal photos and wide-angles -- taken especially in Bangladesh and Canada adorn the screens. Other countries would get added as the photostream grows.

You may take a little time out of your busy schedule to visit these photos and have a visual feast indeed!

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Peoples: Aborginal, Ethnic, First Nation, Indigenous, Native, Tribal


A woman and her child, belonging to the Garo (Mandi) ethnic group,
is going to fish in a canal at Chengni village in Netrakona District, Bangladesh

Photo (March, 2009) © Raphael Palma

A group of people having a common cultural identity is called variously in different parts of the world. They are called aboriginals (in Australia, aborigines), the first nations (in Canada), ethnic people, indigenous people, native people, or tribals.

The whites or Europeans used these terms to mean the people living in a place before their arrival. Some of these terms gradually became depreciatory or pejorative. In the use of some of the terms, the dominant culture's parochialism and marginal existence of these people became aloud. For these reasons, these people do not want themselves to be called natives or tribals any more. They want an equal footing and status with any other race or ethnic group. They prefer the terms the aborginals, the first nations, the ethnic people (or groups) and the indigenous people.

We should give them proper respect, dignity, recognition and opportunities. They could be in the same position as us if they had got the equal treatment and same opportunities. In literacy, science or otherwise, they may be "behind us" but that does not mean that they are "primitive", "uncivilized" or "unteachable". Like different species of flowers, ethnic differences make this world a wonderful and beautiful place as no other in the unverse.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Two Holy Cross Brothers Visit Their Compatriots in Toronto


(L-R) Brother Prodip Louis Rozario, C.S.C. and Brother Binoy Gomes, C.S.C. in Toronto
Photo (April 13, 2009) © Ujjal Peter D'Costa

Brother Binoy Gomes, C.S.C., Provincial of the Holy Cross Brothers in Bangladesh, and Brother Prodip Louis Rozario, C.S.C., Headmaster of Holy Cross High School, Bandura, recently paid a seven-day visit to Toronto to meet with Bangladeshi Catholics.

They participated in the Holy Week liturgies in different Catholic churches, visited the C.N. (Canadian National) Tower, Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and the Niagara Falls. On the Easter Sunday evening, they attended the gathering of the Bangladesh Catholic Association of Ontario (BCAO). They especially enjoyed meeting with some of their friends, relatives and former students.

"I like meeting people whom I did not see for some years. I am thrilled to see the Niagara Falls. I had the idea that the Falls really fell from a mountain! Now I see that it is not so. The greenhouse in the Niagara Falls area was a wonderful experience for me," muses Brother Binoy Gomes.

Before coming to Toronto, the Brothers visited Connecticut, Notre Dame in Indiana, Austin and San Antonio in Texas, and Montreal in Quebec. In Connecticut, they visited relatives and friends and led the Stations of the Cross in Bangla in a church. In Notre Dame, they met with retired American Holy Cross Fathers, Brothers and Sisters who had served as missionaries in Bangladesh.

In Austin, Texas, they went to St. Edward's University, run by the Brothers of Holy Cross. They attended the convocation ceremony of the Holy Cross Institute where priests, Brothers and Sisters, engaged in education in schools and colleges in different countries, participated. Brother Prodip Louis Rozario, C.S.C., presented a paper on dialogue, proclamation and education in Bangladesh. They also had the occasion to meet with the Bangladeshi Brother Bijoy Rodrigues, C.S.C., who is completing his doctoral study on Educational Leadership at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas.

After their U.S. trip, they flew to Montreal in Quebec, Canada, and met with Holy Cross priests, Brothers and Sisters who worked in Bangladesh. Their visit to St. Joseph's Oratory was a memorable one.

The Holy Cross Brothers in Bangladesh

The Catholic Church in Bangladesh is a small but growing Church with a Catholic population of about 310,000. There are 77 Holy Cross Brothers, of whom three are Americans and one Canadian.

Brothers run eight Catholic high schools and two technical schools, two rehabilitation centres for drug addicts (Apon and BARACA) and administer boys' hostels in Catholic schools. They are also involved in counselling, spiritual direction, writing books and doing translations, helping out in different diocesan and national commissions, and youth movements (YCS and SCM). They also assist in different seminaries and Relgious formation houses. Bookmark and Share

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Today is the Easter

The resurrection of Jesus Christ
Graphics Courtesy: Don Bosco's Madonna (April, 2009)

Happy Easter to you all! Easter is the most important religious feast day of the Christians. On this day, they observe the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity.

According to the Bible, Jesus was sent to this earth to expiate for the sins of mankind. For this purpose he died on the cross and made reparation for our sins. On the third day, he resurrected. This way he brought salvation and hope to mankind. He gave a new life to mankind.

The resurrection is the climax of the salvation history that starts with the Adam and Eve. It also proves the divinity of Christ and affirms the teachings and life of Jesus Christ. Bookmark and Share

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Bishop Francis A. Gomes Witnesses Formation of Bangladesh Government-in-Exile

Bishop Francis Anthony Gomes
(now Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Mymensingh)

Photo Courtesy: The Catholic Directory of Bangladesh, 2003

Bishop Francis Anthony Gomes, in 1971, was Father Francis Anthony Gomes. He was the parish priest of Bhoborpara Catholic Church in the then Kushtia District. He was fortunate to witness the history of the newly-declared independent Bangladesh unfold in front of his very eyes at the Baiddyanathtola mango grove, just five-minutes' walk from his church. He witnessed the formation and swearing in ceremony of the Bangladesh government-in-exile on April 17, 1971.

Around 11:00 p.m. on March 25, 1971, the West Pakistani army started their nine-month long crackdown on the East Pakistanis, beginning from Dhaka. Before his arrest around 1:30 a.m. of March 26, 1971, the Awami League leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared independence of Bangladesh. On March 27, at 7:45 p.m., Major Ziaur Rahman, in-charge of the East Bengal Regiment in Kalurghat area of Chittagong District, announced the declaration of independence of Bangladesh over a makeshift radio station on behalf of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He repeated the announcement next day.

Baiddyanathtola Was an Enclave of East Pakistan, Later Renamed 'Mujibnagar'

In the absence of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the new government of Bangladesh was formed and the oath of office of the members of the new cabinet was performed at the Baiddyanathtola mango grove, later renamed 'Mujibnagar'. Paddy fields were around this mango grove, an enclave of East Pakistan, surrounded on three sides by Indian territory.

From early morning of Saturday, April 17, people were crowding at the mango grove. Some former East Pakistan district and thana (police station) level government officers were busy preparing the venue for the unprecedented ceremony to be held at late morning.

Church Items Were Used During the Ceremony

Since the church was nearby, some of the organizers borrowed a table, flowers with vases, flower tubs and a table cloth for use during the oath-taking ceremony.

Bishop Francis in an interview published in the Pratibeshi, the national Catholic weekly from Dhaka, on March 23, 1997, said: "It was Saturday, April 17, 1971. Around 10 a.m., when I reached Baiddyanathtola mango grove, I found it crowded. The ceremony has just started with the reading of the Quran. Many foreign correspondents and photojournalists were also present. In absence of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Acting President Syed Nazrul Islam declared the names of the cabinet ministers... the Chief Whip of the Awami League officially read out the Declaration of Independence" and led the swearing in ceremony.

Bishop Francis again mentioned, "I then realized that an important historic event was unfolding. So I ran to my church residence and brought my camera." Then he took photos of Prime Minister Tajuddin delivering his speech, the crowd and foreign journalists.

The First Cabinet of Bangladesh

The newly-announced cabinet was formed with the following persons: Sheikh Mujibur Rahman -- President in absentia, Syed Nazrul Islam -- Acting President, Tajuddin Ahmed -- Prime Minister, Monsur Ali -- Finance Minister, Quamruzzaman -- Minister for Relief and Rehabilitation, and M.A.G. Osmani -- Commander of the three forces.

After the oath of office, the green flag with red disc and golden map of Bangladesh in the middle was raised in synchronization of the national anthem, Amar Sonar Bangla, Ami Tomai Bhalobashi (O my golden Bengal, I love you). The crowd then raised Joy Bangla (Victory to Bangladesh) slogan. Then a few Bangali soldiers present there, at the direction of Mahbubudiin Ahmed (who later became a Bir Bikram), raised their rifles and saluted the Acting President present in the dais and M.A.G. Osmani one step behind him on the right.

Bishop Francis met with the new Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed and requested for his autograph. "I had a small diary where the Prime Minister gave his autograph in Bangla in beautiful handwriting. It is my unforgettable and invaluable memento of the War of Liberation," he said.

That very day Bishop Francis raised the Bangladesh flag on the priest's residence and he has kept the flag with him ever since.

Among the East Pakistani Refugees in India

Bishop Francis ultimately could not stay in his parish as the West Pakistani soldiers were advancing in Kushtia district. He took shelter with Bishop Motilal Baroi of Krishnagar, Dt. Nadia of West Bengal. He worked for the East Pakistani refugees at different capacities in the larger camps at Antolia, Bahadurpur, Bhaluka, Dhuplia and Haringhata and the smaller camps at Maliapota, Domepukur, Begunpara, Betbari, Poragaccha, Ranaghat, Bongaon, Barashat, Begopara, Debgram, Madanpur, Panchpota and others. He also helped refugees in procuring ration cards. Missionaries of Charity Sisters (Mother Teresa's nuns) served refugees giving medicines, food and taking care of children who lost their parents in West Pakistani crackdowns.

He also mentioned that in the nine months, many priests, Brothers and Sisters of India worked day and night in the service of East Pakistani refugees. A good number of churches and chapels were used for safekeeping of movable properties and goods of refugees.

As a Bangali, Bishop Francis feels extremely proud of witnessing the formation of the first Bangladesh government and also of being of service to the East Pakistani refugees in India.

Sources: The Pratibeshi weekly (Dhaka: March 23, 1997 ) and

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Saturday, April 4, 2009

Bangladesh War of Independence: Christian Muktijuddhas (Freedom Fighters) -- 2

  • Thomas Ashish Bepari (1952 - 1971):
Thomas Ashish Bepari, belonging to the Anglican Church, was born in Barisal town in 1952.

In 1971, he was a college student doing Intermediate studies. After the March 25 West Pakistani army crackdown on the Bangalis, he decided to do something for his homeland. In June, he went to India with his friend Arunesh Pandey, who after the independence, became an Anglican minister with the name 'Father Francis Pandey'.

First they went to Bongaon of West Bengal, India, and got themselves registered for guerrilla training. Then they went to Toki Camp where they had a month-long training. From there they were sent to Chakunia Camp in Bihar State for commando training. He had a wish to work under Major M. A. Jalil in Sector No. 9, but his wish was not fulfilled. He was selected for a small group of commandos to work under the Muktibahini camp at Shyampur Village under Bakerganj Thana. The West Pakistani soldiers through their spies had already come to know of the oncoming operation plan of this commando group. The soldiers were prepared to finish the group.

Thomas Ashish Bepari and his group reached Shyampur at night. One local political leader, who was also a school headmaster, gave leadership of this muktibahini (liberation forces) camp. Considering security risks, Thomas Ashish Bepari expressed his disagreement with the plan of letting all the commandos spend the night in one single house, but, out of respect for the camp leader, he did not press for it.

It was November 22, 1971. West Pakistani soldiers made a pre-dawn preemptive strike on the muktibahini camp. The sleeping commandos were caught unaware. As they had reached the camp at night, they were not familiar with the locality. Yet they tried to fight it out, but were surrounded by the enemy. At one point, Ashish's overheated gun did not work and he was ordered to surrender.

Thomas Ashish Bepari was seized and taken to the West Pakistani army camp. After torturing, he was killed. His corpse was never found.

The Oxford Mission School at Barisal commemorate the death of this brave muktijuddha (freedom fighter) every year. Students are told and retold the events of the Bangladesh War of Independence of 1971.

  • Porimol Drong (1952 - 1971):
Porimol Drong, a Roman Catholic belonging to the Garo (Mandi) ethnic group, was born in 1952 at Monikura Village of Haluaghat Thana in the then Mymensingh District. He was an accomplished football player in his school.

In 1971, he as an S.S.C. (Grade 10) examinee. After March 25, 1971 West Pakistani army crackdown, Kudrat Ullah Mondol, a local member of the provincial parliament and an organizer of muktibahini (liberation forces), and Promode Mankin, the first Garo headmaster of Biroidakuni Catholic High School (later an Awami League M.P.) inspired young men to join the muktibahini. Porimol Drong and other Garo boys went to India for guerrilla training.

After a month-long training at Tura town of the Meghalaya State, India, he was sent for operations in the Sector No. 11, where Hamidullah Khan was the Sector Commander. In June, 1971, Porimol participated in the operation on the Nagla Bridge under the leadership of Company Commander Abdul Gafur. By the end of June, they did operations at Kashiganj under Nokla Thana. As their ammunitions were depleted, they had to make a retreat. At the village of Ramnagar, Porimol Drong was captured by the local Rajakars (West Pakistani army-sponsored paramilitary forces of collaborating Bangalis). He was handed over to the enemy soldiers, who tortured him with blades, razors and bayonets for a number of days and shot him to death on the bank of the Kongsho River in Fulpur Thana.

After the independence, one market at Maddhyabazar in Haluaghat Thana has been named after Porimol Drong. The Shaheed Minar (martyr's memorial) at Biroidakuni Catholic High School is dedicated to him as well. In memory of this muktijuddha, Garo students at the Kanchijhuli Students' Hostel in Mymensingh annually organize the 'Shaheed Muktijuddha Porimol Drong Football Tournament'.

Christians in Bangladesh are proud to be an integral part of the Bangladesh War of Independence. They are proud of being the citizens of this 'Golden Bengal'.

Photo Courtesy: Muktijuddhe Amra: Christander Obodan, edited by Sunil Pereira et al, (Dhaka: Pratibeshi Prakashani, 1995).

(The End)

[To go to the beginning of this write-up, please click here]

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