Khushi Kabir – Bangladesh

Linked with Nijera Kori.

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

She says: “It is the people themselves who have resisted this invasion into their communities and their lives. We came to strengthen the movement, add voice, and support it”.

Read: In celebration of friendship.

Kushi Kabir - Bangladesh three.jpg

Khushi Kabir (left) – Bangladesh, with Karen Seabrooke

She works for Nijera Kori.

Khushi Kabir (born 1948) embodies the very spirit of the socioeconomic empowerment of women, peace, and democracy in Bangladesh. For more than 30 years, she has been involved with working-class rural communities on issues ranging from people’s control over their own resources, challenging antipeople policies and programs, secularism, and human rights. She has been integral to the forging of strong national coalitions of civil society groups, and the creation and sustenance of global networks and coalitions for human rights, gender equality, and democracy.

Khushi Kabir was born in 1948 into a progressive, middleclass Muslim Bengali family. Her father was an upright, respected civil servant, her mother, Selima Zebunnesa, from a respectable, conventional family. Selima, an avid reader, lived a very low-key life. But Khushi often saw her helping young women cope with their new dispensations.

Khushi’s early education was in Karachi in a Convent school. She had the familial freedom to choose the subjects she wanted to study: her parents did not discriminate among the siblings, a fact that Khushi believes has helped her become what she is today. She passed her school finals in 1964 from Dhaka, and in 1969 graduated in Fine Arts from Dhaka University. She joined an advertisement firm soon after completing her studies, but the work left her cold.

These were years when Bangladesh was going through political turmoil: the country had just won its independence from Pakistan in January 1972. Two years earlier, when Bangladesh had been hit by a megacyclone, Khushi had jumped into relief work wholeheartedly. The experience shook her up: she saw the ugly side of bureaucracy, the misuse of power, the people’s consequent miseries, and the corruption and exploitation by the government’s instruments. It was then that Khushi decided that she would work with the people whose human rights were being regularly violated.

Khushi joined Fazlay Hasan Abed, founder of BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee). In 1974, she was among the first middleclass, educated – and jeans-clad – women to live and work in the villages. “Everyone thought that the villagers would not accept me, very urban, jeans-clad, elite,” she says, “and that I also would not stick around in the villages for long. But the villagers accepted me, it changed my whole life. Over there, I had to share everything with my male colleagues; I learnt to live with unknown men. My male colleagues were also very supportive.” The village people also accepted her as a city-bred woman and did not mind that she wore jeans; nor did they differentiate between her and her male colleagues. Even the women in the villages were benignly consentient that she was “different from them”.

To Khushi, it didn’t matter what she wore: what was important was how she acted and dealt with issues. In the beginning, the obstacles were fleeting, with the villagers calmly accepting the fact that she was not religious, but nevertheless having great faith in her integrity and honesty. Khushi maintains that she is not a pioneer. The trailblazers, she says, are the village and semi-urban women who took the giant step of coming out from their “protected homes and spaces” to work in the fields with unknown men in unfamiliar environments.

Until 1980, she worked with BRAC in various capacities – developing programs, education materials, and training modules; and implementing training for development workers, particularly in mobilizing and organizing the poor, with a strong emphasis on women’s empowerment.

In 1980, joining Nijera Kori (Doing It Ourselves), Khushi revitalized the embattled organization. The organization, which started in a small way in 1974, today works in 38 thanas and 1282 villages, organizing 213,690 landless women and men in their socioeconomic struggles, and facilitating better access to rural services and available resources.

Nijera Kori has also been supporting the people’s resistance to the industrial takeover of Bangladesh’s ecologically-fragile littoral areas. It creates awareness in the fight against people who are harming the environment through their export-oriented aquaculture in southern Bangladesh. So successful has its public mobilization been that today any attempt to appropriate land is met by thousands of resisters, even in the face of violence. “It is the people themselves who have resisted this invasion into their communities and their lives,” says Khushi. “We came to strengthen the movement, add voice, and support it. Producing luxury food at the expense of the coastal poor, and making it affordable to overseas consumers, doesn’t make sense. Our priority is to produce food for our own people.”

Khushi and Nijera Kori believe in mobilizing the rural poor into strong groups at the village, thana, and district levels. Nijera Kori does not deliver credit-based services because it believes that this depoliticizes people’s struggles and divides the people: it emphasizes people’s rights through strong community-based groups. Not does Nijera Kori work with women alone – it believes that no change is possible unless men’s attitudes are reconstructed.

Since its inception in 1980, Nijera Kori has, under Khushi’s leadership, emerged as a “non-conventional activist” NGO: its very approach to, and understanding of the problems of the poor are distinctive. It is a continuous and diverse movement, primarily because of its focus on social mobilization, democratic management structure, non-credit policy, its staff’s pro-people role, its targeting of the most marginalized groups, its development of autonomous landless organizations, and its approach to gender equality.

In 2003-04, members of landless people’s groups led 1181 movements on various issues, of which 977 were successful and 204 are ongoing. The landless groups also participated in 128 movements waged by different professional and civil society groups.

Khushi also understood very early the need to build common platforms, networks, and coalitions of civil society groups. She played an important role in augmenting the Association of Development Agencies in Bangladesh (ADAB) into a strong network of NGOs and constructing links to other networks, citizen’s forums, and the government. It is all in line with her formulating, evolving, and sustaining global networks and coalitions, and peoples’ movements for human rights, justice, gender equality, and democracy.

None of this has come without attendant criticism, threats, and attacks for and on her political stance, and her work among the dispossessed. Women in conservative Bangladesh involved with civil societies find the going tough. Since Khushi’s work also directly affects many vested interests, they react sharply to her intervention: a village-level woman leader, associated with Nijera Kori, was, in fact, murdered for her opposition to prawn cultivation.

The groups and individuals that oppose Nijera Kori’s work, usually powerful vested interest gang-ups, constantly file false cases and incite the police to harass and intimidate the landless. Over the years, many of Khushi’s colleagues – Korunamoyee Sardar, Kachmoti Begum, Joynal Abedin, to name a few – have been “eliminated”. Fundamentalist forces have also targeted Khushi for her personal religious beliefs.

But it is a question of not letting go: despite all these travails, Khushi has inspired, sensitized, and supported people from many walks of life – the dispossessed in the villages, women seeking to assert themselves, journalists, artistes, writers, and people involved with rights movements. Nothing good comes without a price. (Read all on 1000peacewomen).

The budget is not women or poor friendly, rather it attempts to satisfy donors. Since this budget will be implemented partly by the present government, the caretaker and the next elected government will never done it. So nobody will take the liability of failure. It appears to be a pre-electionnary budget and there is a clear attempt to appease everybody. (See on bd research).

… held at the Zila Parishad auditorium, it was addressed by Khushi Kabir, Coordainator of Nijwera Kori, an NGO … (Read all on the

Read: Making Rights Work for the Poor: Nijera Kori and the Construction of Collective Capabilities in Rural Bangladesh.


The Environmental and Social Impact of Commercial Shrimp Farms;

The Strength to Believe in Themselves;


Canadian Environmental Network;

Alochona Magazine.

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