Hooked to drugs at 13, she clawed her way back from oblivion and addiction into the mainstream of society to emerge as a popular singer in Bangladesh. Founder of Bangla, a fusion music band, Anusheh Anadil from Dhaka was on Wednesday conferred with the first Meeto Memorial Award, constituted to honour young South Asians who demonstrate a commitment towards communal harmony, peace and human rights. The award has been instituted by Kamla Bhasin in the memory of her daughter, Meeto (1978-2006), who was a young scholar, dancer and a human rights activist.
Recounting her fight with drugs and her resolve to come out of it, Anusheh said: “I got addicted to heroin at 13 and continued with it till the age of 24. At 19, I decided to return home to Dhaka after living in Canada. My parents were fed up with me and threw me out of house. I actually stayed in the slums (Toongi) for a while, that’s when I hit my rockbottom.”
It was then that the song-writer and cultural activist decided to kick the habit. “I had already started my band but because of drug addiction my music was suffering. When I started losing friends to overdose of drugs, it scared me to death. I then decided that I have to quit,” she said.
She moved to India as there were no rehab centres in Bangladesh. “I was in a rehab a few kilometres from Mumbai in Rishi Valley in 2001 for a year,” said Anusheh, who also campaigned extensively against drug abuse. The first popular musician to speak about her personal struggle against drug addiction, she said that her music rebels against religious intolerance. Though trained in classical music, she is also greatly influenced by club music of Canada, where she lived for several years as a teenager. Her music draws inspiration from Lalon Shai, the great Bangladeshi Baul philosopher and poet. Now a mother of two, Anusheh also runs jatra, a successful crafts outlet that promotes Bangladeshi products and fashion wear.
The other recipient of the award was Laxmi Ben Vankar, an intrepid dalit woman from Vyaseda, 25km from Godhra in Gujarat. Laxmi realised early in life that her journey would be tough. After the demise of her father in 1992, she joined her mother as a daily wage labourer to help raise her younger siblings. In spite of several financial hurdles she graduated in 1997 and decided to commit her life to the well being of society. This came to fruitition in 2001 when she formed and registered “Triveni Anusuchit Jati Education Trust”, a hostel for dalit girls where they could stay and study for free. However, lack of adequate funding forced her to shelve her dream.”I ran the hostel for 2 years but had to shut it down because of lack of funds,” said Laxmi. But she continued with her social commitment and and in 2003 joined Aman Samudaya, a campaign for peace and communal harmony. It was started as a response to the Gujarat carnage in 2002.