ROMEL CHAKMA II: Is custodial killing heroic?

by rahnuma ahmed

Official versions conflict about why Romel Chakma – a 20-year old HSC examinee and student leader of the Pahari Chatra Parishad – was picked up by the army, whether he was transferred from army to police custody while in Naniachar, whether his admission to, and 2-weeklong treatment at, the Chittagong Medical College and Hospital (CMCH), occurred under police custody, and lastly, whether the Naniachar police station’s officer-in-charge (OC) was physically present when Romel’s body was burnt (not cremated, for his body was not handed over to his family), a few hundred yards away from his home in Purba Hatimara village, Naniachar.

Romel was not ill, nor was he suffering from any kind of injury when he was picked up. I have not come across any such media reports, nor does Romel’s father Kanti Chakma, in his letter to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC, dated April 6, 2017), make any such mention. One can therefore assume that he was reasonably fit and healthy (beside the stresses and strains of appearing for his exams), when he was picked up.
Continue reading “ROMEL CHAKMA II: Is custodial killing heroic?”

Reply to Arundhati: Yes, We Will Rise

Dearest Arundhati,

It was a letter I read and reread long before it appeared before my eyes. It was through layers of metal bars that I strained to listen to Rahnuma’s words. At over 130 decibels, the noise made by us screaming prisoners, straining to hear and be heard, was akin to a crowded stadium or a fire siren. As she repeated her words over and over again, I faintly heard, Arundhati. Letter. It was just over a hundred days that I had been incarcerated. A hundred days since I’d slept on my own bed, fed my fish, cycled down the streets of Dhaka. A hundred days since I’d pressed my shutter as I searched for that elusive light.

Arundhati Roy with Maati Ke Laal in her flat in Delhi. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Those words, screamed out but barely heard was the nourishment I needed. Did you write it by hand? What was the paper like? In this digital age, you probably used a keyboard. What font had you used? What point size? And the words. Words that you so gracefully string together. I relished the imagined words. Your words. I missed words as I missed my bed, my fish and Rahnuma’s touch. When they asked me what I needed in jail, books were on top of my list. The first lot of books came in. Mujib’s prison diaries, Schendel’s History of Bangladesh, and the book you’d given me when we last met, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. I’d been meaning to read it ever since we said goodbye in Delhi, but our lives had been taken over by the immediacy of our struggles. Now I had the time. Continue reading “Reply to Arundhati: Yes, We Will Rise”

Justice for Shahidul Alam

By Mahfuz Anam: The Daily Star

Who is this man whose arrest has sparked outrage and condemnation from global bodies and media, including Amnesty International, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), PEN International, SAMDEN (South Asia Media Defenders Network) and publications such as the Guardian, The Washington Post and many South Asian media?

Shahidul Alam. Photo Courtesy: Rahnuma Ahmed

He is one of the most respected photographers in the world. Very few Bangladeshi of his profession has reached his present global stature. His pictures have been published in almost all the global newspapers and magazines in the world. He is among that elite corps of global photographers who is regularly hired by the most renowned global publications to do assignments in various parts of the world. The Guardian (London) while carrying news of his arrest (Aug 6) wrote “his photographs have been published in every major western media outlet, including The New York Times, Time Magazine and National Geographic in a career that has spanned four decades.” Only those in the world of professional photography can really appreciate the honour and prestige of getting published in the media of such renown. Continue reading “Justice for Shahidul Alam”

Shifting the Lens

06 December 2018 The Caravan

The Drik gallery was host to South Asia’s first World Press Photo exhibition in 1993. The exhibition was opened jointly by the deputy leader of BNP Dr. Badruddoza Chowdhury (later president of Bangladesh) and Mr Abdus Samad Chowdhury (later foreign minister). It was the only time these top leaders opened an event together/DRIK

On the night of 5 August, a couple of dozen men turned up at the photographer Shahidul Alam’s house in Dhaka. They dragged him from his apartment, bound and screaming, smashing surveillance cameras on the way out. Alam’s partner, Rahnuma Ahmed, was with a neighbour, so she could not react in time. By the time anyone fully realised what was going on, Alam had been thrown into a white van and driven off into the night’s darkness.

The following is an excerpt from “The Man Who Saw Too Much: Why the Bangladesh government fears Shahidul Alam,” by Kaamil Ahmed, published in The Caravan’s latest issue, alongside Alam’s visual account of Bangladesh’s extrajudicial killings. Subscribe now to read in full. Continue reading “Shifting the Lens”

ROMEL CHAKMA. PART-I: Is custodial killing heroic?

by rahnuma ahmed

Romel Chakma, 20 year-old HSC examinee and student leader of Pahari Chatra Parishad,
was picked up by army personnel on April 5, 2017. Allegedly tortured, he died in hospital two weeks later.

Romel Chakma ? Photographer not known.

How does one restore dignity to the memory of a youth who was picked up and tortured, who died of torture, whose body was not handed over to family members for cremation, but burnt after pouring petrol and kerosene? Continue reading “ROMEL CHAKMA. PART-I: Is custodial killing heroic?”

RESISTING RAMPAL

‘Go back NTPC, get out India’
rahnuma ahmed

Dhaka, Bangladesh, August 20, 2016. ? Taslima Akhter
Dhaka, Bangladesh, August 20, 2016. ? Taslima Akhter

Of all the slogans raised in protest against the coal power plant being built at Rampal in Bagerhat, this one’s the best. Continue reading “RESISTING RAMPAL”

What Joy Bangla means today

Originally published in New Age

By Shahidul Alam

Joy Bangla in those days had not been commandeered by any political party. It was a slogan we all used. Some took it more to heart than others. I was on a rickshaw heading towards mejo chachi’s house, (she is mother of my footballer cousin Kazi Salahuddin, better known by his nickname Turjo). Seeing a friend on the road I shouted out Joy Bangla. Joy Bangla, he waved back. At mejo chachi’s the rickshawala refused to take my fare. “Joy Bangla bolsen na. apnar thon bhara loi kemne” (You said Joy Bangla. How can I take fare from you?). Despite my insistence he wouldn’t budge. The rallying cry belonged to us all. He saw me as a fellow warrior.

On the 16th December, I had gone into a burning military convoy opposite Sakura hotel and took a partially charred Browning light machine gun as a trophy. Almost at the same site where I had seen, nine months ago, people being gunned down as they ran from the flames on the night of the 25th March. They lived in the slums near the Holiday office. Their brutal death part of a statistical count we still argue about.

Years later, I tried to put together a visual chronicle of the war. Collecting photographs from great photographers from far away lands and many local ones who had witnessed our pain, and shared our victory. There were moments of great bravery and greater sacrifice. There were moments of immense pain. The weight of great loss. Rashid Talukder’s image of the dismembered head in Rayerbazar was one of the most striking. Kishor Parekh?s sculpted frames showing, dignity, honour, elation and loss. Raghu Rai?s monumental images of seas of people seeking shelter. Captain Beg’s rare photographs of the mukti bahini during battle. Mohammad Shafi?s striking image of women smuggling grenades in half-submerged baskets. Aftab Ahmed’s image of the final surrender, stoic and significant.

A woman emerges out of hiding for the first time, carrying a rifle and accompanied by her children. The family were hiding from Pakistani troops during the Bangladesh War of Independence in 1971. Photo: Penny Tweedie/Chobi Mela archives/Drik

The image that stood out from all the others however, was by Penny Tweedie. Freelancing and without an assignment, Penny had neither the luxury of a client?s budget, nor the assurance of a publishing slot. She did the best she could, getting lifts from fellow photographers, flitting between areas of conflict and stress, she stayed close to ordinary people. People like my rickshawala friend, or the people I saw dying on the night of the 25th March. People who resisted, people who fled, people who sheltered others. People who fed people when they had little food themselves. The image of a woman, carrying a gun walking through a paddy field, with children in tow, was for me the image that encapsulated the war. These were ordinary people who had war thrust upon them. They made do, as best as they could. Bearing their pain with dignity. Fighting with no hope for return. Unlike me, they were not trophy hunters. I doubt if that woman ever made it to a muktijoddha list. I have no way of knowing if she, or her children made it through the war alive. They gave us this nation where we had all hoped we would be free. Continue reading “What Joy Bangla means today”

Rare and Unseen photographs of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from the Drik archives

The iconic Parliament Building of Bangladesh, designed by Louis Kahn. Site of the landmark exhibition on rare and largely unseen photographs of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from the Drik archives on Rashid Talukder. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
The iconic Parliament Building of Bangladesh, designed by Louis Kahn. Site of the landmark exhibition on rare and largely unseen photographs of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from the Drik archives on Rashid Talukder. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

A self-taught photographer with a strong sense of humour?Rashid Talukder?received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the?Chobi Mela?international photography festival in Dhaka, in 2006. His images of the war of liberation of Bangladesh and the political events leading up to it, are the most comprehensive visual documentation of Bangladesh’s political history on record. Rashid Talukder handed over his entire collection of negatives to the Drik Picture Library in Dhaka??before he passed away.
With support from Drik’s long standing partner, the Prince Claus Fund?Drik has been scanning the Talukder archives of over 165,000 original negatives. The archives contain rare images, many of them never previously seen. These include major political events, everyday life and photographs of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh, whom Talukder was especially close to. The photographs show Mujib, not only as a statesman, but also as someone close to his people. There are also private and intimate moments which give insights not only to the public figure, but also to the individual.
Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with girl scouts. Photo: Rashid Talukder/Drik/Majority World
Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with girl scouts. Photo: Rashid Talukder/Drik/Majority World

While Talukder is virtually unknown outside of Bangladesh, he was one of the foremost chroniclers of the struggle for independence, photographing its origins in the language movement of the 1950s and continuing through the war?s aftermath.


Now hailed as a founding father of Bangladeshi photojournalism, Mr. Talukder made some of the most important images of the war, which by some estimates claimed one million lives and turned 10 million of his countrymen into refugees.?He also documented everyday life in Bangladesh during his 46-year career, during which he worked for the newspapers The Daily Sangbad and The Daily Ittefaq.Through an initiative of the new mayor of Dhaka North Annisul Huq, and his council members, a massive outdoor exhibition has been arranged at the iconic parliament building of Bangladesh, designed by Louis Kahn, based largely on the Drik archives. Special access has also been arranged for the general public where even rickshas will be allowed into the parliament complex.
Commemorating the 40th death anniversary of the father of the nation, this provides?a rare opportunity for visitors not only to see these previously unseen photographs, but also visit this landmark building, considered one of the architectural masterpieces of the 20th century.

Invitation to the exhibition of rare and largely unseen photographs of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, largely based on the archives of Drik Picture Library
Invitation to the exhibition of rare and largely unseen photographs of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, largely based on the archives of Drik Picture Library

The honourable Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, will inaugurate the exhibition today the 13th August 2015 at 5:00 pm.

Protecting Freedom of Expression in Bangladesh

Following is the English translation of the statement made by academics, writers, women?s rights, human rights and cultural activists, including freedom fighters, on December 18, 2014 regarding the conviction and sentencing of British journalist David Bergman by the International Crimes Tribunal-2, in Dhaka. The statement was published in Prothom Alo, the largest Bangla daily, the next day. One of the statement makers, Khushi Kabir, withdrew her name from the statement the following day.
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On January 14, 2015, the Tribunal served notice on the 49 statement makers asking them to explain their statement: ?Prima facie it appears that the core content of the ‘statement’ questions ‘transparency and openness’ of the judicial proceedings before the tribunal and also justification of the order sentencing a journalist [Bergman] for the act of scandalising the tribunal constituting the offence of contempt.?
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Over the next two months, 26 statement makers tendered in writing their ?unconditional apology? before the Tribunal. These were accepted as they ?upgraded the majesty of the Tribunal? (Order No 11, dated 18.03.2015), and the 26 were exonerated from further proceedings.
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The remaining 23, who had expressed their ?regret? for any inadvertent impression the Tribunal may have received about it?s ?authority and institutional dignity? having been belittled, have failed to satisfy the Tribunal as their explanation lacks ?true remorse and repentance.? And, in the eyes of the Tribunal, they have, on the contrary, sought to ?defend? their statement by citing the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution of Bangladesh.
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The Tribunal has now decided (Order No. 12, dated 1.04.2015) to initiate contempt proceedings against Masud Khan (consultant), Afsan Chowdhury (liberation war researcher, university teacher), Ziaur Rahman (lawyer), Hana Shams Ahmed (writer, rights activist), professor Anu Muhammad (university teacher), Anusheh Anadil (singer, rights activist), Muktasree Chakma Sathi (rights activist), Lubna Marium (cultural activist, freedom fighter), Farida Akhter (women?s rights activist), Shireen Huq (women?s rights activist), Dr. Zafrullah Chowdhury (public health activist, freedom fighter), Ali Ahmed Ziauddin (freedom fighter), Rahnuma Ahmed (writer), Dr. Shahidul Alam (photographer), Dr. C. R. Abrar (university teacher), Dr. Bina D’ Costa (peace and conflict analyst), Mahmud Rahman (writer), Dr. Zarina Nahar Kabir (university teacher), Leesa Gazi (cultural activist), Shabnam Nadiya (writer), Nasrin Siraj Annie (anthropologist and film-maker, Tibra Ali (physicist), and Dr. Delwar Hussain (anthropologist).
 
If found guilty they face a fine or imprisonment of up to 1 year. Continue reading “Protecting Freedom of Expression in Bangladesh”

Tolerating Death in a Culture of Intolerance

Another blogger. Ananta Bijoy Das, murdered today. Police too busy beating up students to notice:
Anonto blogger killed with text———————————————————————————————————-
Tolerating Death in a Culture of Intolerance | Economic and Political Weekly.
COMMENTARY Economic & Political Weekly EPW MARCH 21, 2015 vol l no 12 11 by?Shahidul Alam
The daylight murder of Bangladeshi blogger Avijit Roy in Dhaka on 26 February reflects the culture of fear and intolerance that has built up in the country over the last few decades. As a result, the middle ground between the extremes has disappeared.
Returning home with your wife, from a book fair where you have been signing autographs, seems a peaceful enough activity. It was in the heart of the university area, and it was not late. The footpath next to Ramna Park, where the 1971 surrender document had been signed, was full of people. Shahbagh Police Thana was nearby, and a police barricade designed to keep visitors to the mela safe, was only a few yards away. Hardly the scene crime stories are made of.
Location of murder of Dr. Avijit Roy near Dhaka University Teachers Students Centre (TSC) roundabout. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World Continue reading “Tolerating Death in a Culture of Intolerance”