A photographer, writer, curator and activist, Shahidul Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. His seminal work “The Struggle for Democracy” contributed to the removal of General Ershad. Former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the Drik agency, Chobi Mela festival and Pathshala, South Asian Media Institute, considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world.
Shown in MOMA New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Royal Albert Hall and Tate Modern, Alam has been guest curator of Whitechapel Gallery, Winterthur Gallery and Musee de Quai Branly. His awards include Mother Jones, Shilpakala Award and Lifetime Achievement Award at the Dali International Festival of Photography.
Speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, TEDx, POPTech and National Geographic, Alam chaired the international jury of the prestigious World Press Photo contest. Honorary Fellow of Royal Photographic Society, Alam is visiting professor of Sunderland University in UK and advisory board member of National Geographic Society.
John Morris, the former picture editor of Life Magazine describes his book “My journey as a witness”, (listed in “Best Photo Books of 2011” by American Photo), as “The most important book ever written by a photographer.”
Last year, when I’d asked Nurul Kabir if he knew that America’s central bank, the Federal Reserve, ?was privately-owned (New Age, November 14, 2011),? I’d slipped in a mention of the Bilderberg Club as well. Have you heard of it? No, he replied.
The same reply from another journalist friend, who works for one of the largest-circulation Bangla newspapers, when I met him recently. ‘The Bilderberg Club, does that ring a bell?’ ‘Uh-uh,’ accompanied by a puzzled look on his face.
Not surprising given that the Club, also known as the Bilderberg Group, has been excessively secretive about its existence. In the more than fifty years of their meetings, writes investigative journalist Daniel Estulin — who has relentlessly hunted their secret meeting places for nearly the last two decades, has gained access to insider information of what goes on ‘behind closed doors,’ has photographed those who have attended their annual conferences, and divulged it all in his book The True Story of the Bilderberg Club (2007) — the ‘press has never been allowed to attend, no statements have ever been released on the attendees’ conclusions, nor has any agenda for a Bilderberg meeting been made public.’ Continue reading “THE BILDERBERG CLUB – Part I”
To all those in the United States currently occupying parks, squares and other spaces, your comrades in Cairo are watching you in solidarity. Having received so much advice from you about transitioning to democracy, we thought it’s our turn to pass on some advice.
Indeed, we are now in many ways involved in the same struggle. What most pundits call ?The Arab Spring? has its roots in the demonstrations, riots, strikes and occupations taking place all around the world, its foundations lie in yearslong struggles by people and popular movements. The moment that we find ourselves in is nothing new, as we in Egypt and others have been fighting against systems of repression, disenfranchisement and the unchecked ravages of global capitalism (yes, we said it, capitalism): a System that has made a world that is dangerous and cruel to its inhabitants. As the interests of government increasingly cater to the interests and comforts of private, transnational capital, our cities and homes have become progressively more abstract and violent places, subject to the casual ravages of the next economic development or urban renewal scheme.
An entire generation across the globe has grown up realizing, rationally and emotionally, that we have no future in the current order of things. Living under structural adjustment policies and the supposed expertise of international organizations like the World Bank and IMF, we watched as our resources, industries and public services were sold off and dismantled as the ?free market? pushed an addiction to foreign goods, to foreign food even. The profits and benefits of those freed markets went elsewhere, while Egypt and other countries in the South found their immiseration reinforced by a massive increase in police repression and torture.
The current crisis in America and Western Europe has begun to bring this reality home to you as well: that as things stand we will all work ourselves raw, our backs broken by personal debt and public austerity. Not content with carving out the remnants of the public sphere and the welfare state, capitalism and the austeritystate now even attack the private realm and people’s right to decent dwelling as thousands of foreclosedupon homeowners find themselves both homeless and indebted to the banks who have forced them on to the streets. Continue reading “Letter of solidarity to Occupy Wall Street, from Tahrir”
DHAKA: Renowned writer, researcher and activist Rahnuma Ahmed asks who is a ?foreign agent?, Anu Muhammad, member-secretary of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, or Dr. Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, advisor to the Prime Minister on energy affairs?
Rahnuma was talking to banglanews24.com in an exclusive interview against the backdrop of the National Oil and Gas Committee`s siege of the energy ministry on June 14, 2011, police prevented the seige from taking place, Rahnuma was injured in clashes when police resorted to clubbing and lathi charge.
She raised this question when asked about the recent comments made by Dr. Hasan Mahmud, state minister for environment and forest, in the parliament about the oil and gas national committee, and about Anu Muhammad in particular.
Dr Hasan Mahmud told lawmakers, Anu Muhammad is a ?foreign agent,? and that the Oil and gas Committee was formed by `tokais` (street urchins) after the committee called a half-day hartal on July 3 in protest against the deal inked between the government and the US-based company ConocoPhillips for offshore oil and gas exploration. The contract includes the provision of gas export.
banglanews24.com?s Output EditorMahmood Menon took the interview. banglanews: Why do you think Bangladesh should not export its oil and gas? rahnuma ahmed: I will mention only one reason because of space and time constraints, but before that I want to draw your attention to a basic issue. Natural energy resources are limited. They are non-renewable. They get depleted. And that`s why it`s essential that these should be made use of in a planned manner, that we need to seriously consider the issue of national reserves, our needs, how the national interest can best be secured, you know, these matters, that policies and plans of action should be well-thought out, well-planned.? Let`s talk of gas, national reserves are estimated to be 7.3 trillion cubic foot. According to the latest estimates, the daily shortfall of national energy needs is 450 million cubic foot. The demand for gas is increasing at an annual rate of 10%. According to government forecasts, gas reserves are likely to run out by 2014-2015. This is the picture. Continue reading “Rahnuma asks: Who is foreign agent, Anu Muhammad or Tawfiq Elahi?”
In the end, treachery will betray even itself.
When the prime minister, the finance minister etc., not known for being democratically-oriented, feel obliged to respond publicly according to the terms and conditions set by the National Oil-Gas Committee, it is clear that the tide is shifting.
It is clear that? the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports (NCPOGMR) has made a significant impact on public consciousness. That there is a growing national awareness of the issue of ownership of natural resources; of the terms on which production sharing contracts are signed with international oil companies (IOCs); a growing suspicion that exporting extracted gas may not be the best way of solving the nation’s energy shortfall. More precisely, of the hollowness of the government’s reasoning as to why gas blocks need to be, must necessarily be, leased out to multinational companies.? More broadly, of whether the nation’s ruling class, regardless of which political party is in power, does act in the interests of the nation, of its people.
It is clear from what top ruling party leaders are now obliged to say, to repeatedly say, we are patriotic, we are not treacherous, that they have been forced to cede ground.
It is clear that a moral battle has been won. Continue reading “De-energising Bangladesh”
by Abbas Faiz, Bangladesh researcher at Amnesty International
Last Friday, Rahima Khatun, a 35-year-old woman, was shot in the head during a Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) operation in a slum near the central Bangladesh district of Narsingdi.
As the RAB were arresting her husband, Rahima objected. Seconds later, she was severely injured by a bullet fired from a RAB weapon.
Hardly a week goes by without civilians being shot during RAB operations. These incidents are rarely investigated by an independent and impartial body.
Since it was created in 2004, the RAB has been implicated in the extrajudicial execution of around 700 people. There have also been reports of torture and the excessive use of force.
Despite these persistent allegations, none of the RAB?s personnel are known to have been brought to justice. Continue reading “Who will end impunity for the Rapid Action Battalion in Bangladesh?”
London, 1969: The worldwide reaction to the Biafran war gave rise to the modern humanitarian-aid industry.
In Biafra in 1968, a generation of children was starving to death. This was a year after oil-rich Biafra had seceded from Nigeria, and, in return, Nigeria had attacked and laid siege to Biafra. Foreign correspondents in the blockaded enclave spotted the first signs of famine that spring, and by early summer there were reports that thousands of the youngest Biafrans were dying each day. Hardly anybody in the rest of the world paid attention until a reporter from the?Sun, the London tabloid, visited Biafra with a photographer and encountered the wasting children: eerie, withered little wraiths. The paper ran the pictures alongside harrowing reportage for days on end. Soon, the story got picked up by newspapers all over the world. More photographers made their way to Biafra, and television crews, too. The civil war in Nigeria was the first African war to be televised. Suddenly, Biafra?s hunger was one of the defining stories of the age?the graphic suffering of innocents made an inescapable appeal to conscience?and the humanitarian-aid business as we know it today came into being.
?There were meetings, committees, protests, demonstrations, riots, lobbies, sit-ins, fasts, vigils, collections, banners, public meetings, marches, letters sent to everybody in public life capable of influencing other opinion, sermons, lectures, films and donations,? wrote Frederick Forsyth, who reported from Biafra during much of the siege, and published a book about it before turning to fiction with ?The Day of the Jackal.? ?Young people volunteered to go out and try to help, doctors and nurses did go out to offer their services in an attempt to relieve the suffering. Others offered to take Biafran babies into their homes for the duration of the war; some volunteered to fly or fight for Biafra. The donors are known to have ranged from old-age pensioners to the boys at Eton College.? Forsyth was describing the British response, but the same things were happening across Europe, and in America as well. Continue reading “A Critic at Large – Alms Dealers: Can you provide humanitarian aid without facilitating conflicts?”
`A state within the state is now ruling the country.‘ Recently uttered by Dr Mizanur Rahman, National Human Rights Commission chair, these words, ominous as they sound, are of immense concern to the nation’s citizenry.
To those who love this country. Who feed off its soil, off the labour of those who plant, grow, nurture, feed us. What sense can one make of his words?
Dr Mizan was speaking at a roundtable on granting constitutional recognition to indigenous people but his words were occasioned by something else. An incident which is proving to be the turning point.
Yes, Limon. People across the nation are outraged. At the shooting. If possible, more so, at the subsequent cover-up attempts by some ministers, by a senior civil-military leadership nexus.
Cover-up? How else but by `criminalising’ the victim? Limon is a `terrorist’, his father’s a `terrorist’. The whole family is nothing but a bunch of terrorists.
Limon’s left leg had to be amputated after the 16-year old Jhalokathi college student, the son of an agricultural day-labourer, was allegedly shot in the leg by RAB’s officers on March 23. RAB claims, the shooting occurred during an `encounter’.
But the real problem, from RAB’s perspective, is that Limon has lived to tell the tale. Unusual, for RAB’s victims generally don’t. Human rights activists allege, since the formation of the elite anti-crime, anti-terror force in 2004, the number of extra-judicial killings has crossed a thousand. Continue reading “`State within the state.' Militarisation, and the women's movement”
A `death squad’ was the BNP-Jamaat government’s gift to the nation, a gift that has been nurtured and defended by two successive governments, each claiming to be vastly different to the previous one.
Claiming not only to be better, but morally superior.
The death-knell was struck more than seven years ago, on June 2, 2003, when the cabinet committee on Law and Order decided to form the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). Those present were the committee president Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, law minister Moudud Ahmed, home minister Altaf Hossain Chowdhury, education minister Omar Farooq, and state minister for home affairs Lutfuzzaman Babar.
RAB was formally created eight months later, in March 2004, a composite force comprising elite members from the army, navy, air force, the police, and members of other law enforcement groups. It began full operations in June, the same year.
Remember Fakhruddin Ahmed, the ex-World Bank guy who led the military-installed caretaker government (2007-2008), who claimed to be driven by the objective of “holding a free, fair and credible election” which will truly reflect the “will of the people”? Who saw himself as a “champion or leader” motivated by the aim of “strengthening Bangladesh’s democratic order”? (Time, March 22, 2007).
Well, if you search the records, it turns out that around 315 persons were killed extra-judicially under his, and general Moeen U Ahmed’s, 23-month long emergency rule. Of these, the deaths of more than 250 persons were allegedly crossfire killings (`Bangladesh 2008. Insidious militarisation and illegal emergency,’ Asian Human Rights Commission, December 2008).
Even if, for arguments sake, these persons were hardened criminals, how is the democratic functioning of state institutions strengthened by officials of its elite anti-crime, anti-terror force behaving exactly as criminals do? Continue reading “The gift of a `death squad'”
The problem with Limon — from RAB’s point of view — is that he has lived to tell the tale. Usually, RAB’s victims don’t.
Take Rasal Ahmed Bhutto, for instance. A 34-year old shopkeeper, he was picked up by men in plainclothes outside a friend’s shop in Dhaka on March 3, 2011. A week later, men in vehicles, including ones marked RAB, brought Bhutto back to his neighbourhood. A volley of gunshots. Family members rushed out, they found him slumped against a wall. Dead.
RAB insists, there had been a shootout.
Or take Mohiuddin Arif, a? 32-year old surgery technician at Apollo Hospital, Dhaka. He was picked up from his home on January 24, 2010 by 3 plainclothes men who claimed to be officers from RAB-4. Arif died 10 days later, after having been transferred to police, after having been sent off to Dhaka Central Jail. When jail authorities informed his father that his son was dead, he rushed to the DMCH morgue. Arif’s legs were `smashed,’ `flattened.’ They had turned green. From repeated beatings? His skin had been scraped off from parts of his body. His feet were swollen, they looked as if they were falling apart.
According to police, Arif had been sacked from work on charges of corruption. Not true, say hospital authorities. According to police, Arif had taken part in a robbery. Not true. Arif’s time punch card shows he was on hospital duty when the alleged robbery took place.
Thirty-two thousand taka poorer — 16,000 allegedly to Pallabi police station in exchange for assurances that he wouldn’t be tortured, another 16,000 reportedly to a court clerk, CMM court, Dhaka in hopes of getting early bail — his family has decided not to file a case. What’s the use? I won’t get my son back, says his father (Human Rights Watch report, Crossfire, May 10, 2011). Dead men don’t tell tales.
But there are other problems with Limon. I mean, `problems’ from RAB’s perspective.
His innocence shines through, there’s no denying that. Thick black hair, a steady, unwavering look. Sad, but with a tinge of indictment. Look at what you’ve done to me. How could you? He comes from a humble background. His father, Tofazzel Hossain, a share-cropper cum day-labourer, left Saturia village (Rajapur upazilla, Jhalokathi district) this February in search of better work, better pay. He managed to find work in a wholesale fruit market in Savar EPZ, Dhaka.
A college student, Limon’s HSC finals were days away when the incident occurred. Bent on getting good grades, he’d been studying harder. He wanted to fulfill his mother’s dreams. To be educated, to make her proud of him. He worked in a neighbouring brick kiln, lowly work, menial work, which upper class kids in cities, heady with lifestyle concerns, the `d-juice’ generation, cannot imagine. Neither can their parents. Limon also tutored children, meagre earnings to supplement an unsteady household income. Limon Protest from Shahidul Alam on Vimeo. Continue reading “LIMON HOSSAIN: Shattered dreams, ruthlessness, and the govt's spinning factory”
As the idea gradually took hold, I thought, horror of horrors, what on earth will I tell Zaman (deputy editor, New Age)?
`Reflections on Women Development Policy and IOJ hartal’ had expanded. Initially, I’d thought of writing two parts but ended up writing five. Before that, my Weather series had kept unfolding week after week. It took more than two months to complete, and had, in all, 9 parts!
Given my infamous track record, it is no wonder that Zaman repeatedly asks me whenever I begin a series, as opposed to my one-off pieces, `Are you sure you’ll be able to finish it in so-many parts? Are you absolutely sure that the next one will be the last one?’
But to return to the Women Development Policy series, beside my embarassment over what to tell Zaman, there were practicalities involved as well. What could I call this new one? A sequel to the Conclusion? A post-Conclusion? Ohhh!
As I began devising excuses, I thought, why not blame it on my reader-friends. After all, one of them had sms-ed me, shesh hoeo jeno shesh holo na lekhata,it seemed not to end even after ending. Another had said on g-chat: I think you should write a post-script. If not right now, then later. The last section of your concluding part left me in a state of suspense. Post-script, hmm.
As I toyed with the idea, I thought of all the things that had gotten left out of the 5-part series because of space and time constraints. I also thought of a male friend’s playful banter about the name of the platform, `ShomoOdhikar Amader Nunotomo Daabi’ (SAND). `Hey, if equal rights is the minimum, what’s the max? Us guys are undoubtedly very supportive, goes without saying, but we need to know don’t we? For God’s sake, there are male interests at stake.’ To which the best answer I felt was to yell that his wife, who’d wandered away in search of something, come over and join us.
Laughter all around forced me to give up the idea of trying to explain that the ShomoOdhikar movement was not only about rights. Not merely about achieving equality with men. At least, that’s the way I see it. That men are not the standard, the norm, which frame women’s aspirations and struggles. That inequality is not only gendered, but is also class-ed, is ethnic (aspects of which are racialised). That it is built along communitarian lines. That these interweave in complex ways. No neat fits. No easy solutions. Given our long histories of deeply-founded, well-entrenched and overlapping systems of exploitation and social injustice, a mere overhauling will not do. Continue reading “A post-script”