This article was written in September 2017, and published in The New Age, but couldn’t be uploaded on ShahidulNews as a result of a series of cyberattacks on sites related to me. It is prescient now, given the protest in the streets by garment workers demanding minimum living wages. Ironically, I myself was arrested for my facebook comments, a year later.The building still stands tall.
The illegally built BGMEA building continues to block Dhaka city waterways, despite numerous orders by the court to demolish the building. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
In any other situation it would have been considered contempt of court, but common rules don’t apply to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association. An organisation that boasts such a large number of lawmakers amongst its membership is unlikely to worry too much about court orders. Their actions (or rather inaction), certainly don’t suggest they are shivering with fear.
An apology for mass mailing in this way, but as someone who has seen the Shadow World film (http://shadowworldfilm.com/) and/or knows my work on the global arms trade, I wanted to share these thoughts with you. In terms of the issues I have devoted myself to over the past 17 years, tomorrow?s election in the UK is the most crucial for decades. For the first time in a very long time one of the leadership candidates of the main parties has a history of campaigning for a better regulated, safer, less corrupt arms trade.
The global trade in weapons is not only riddled with corruption, but it?s deadly consequences are if anything getting worse, as we witness in the slaughter of thousands of innocent civilians in Syria and Yemen. In the case of Yemen over 4,000 civilians have been killed, many of them by jets, bombs and missiles sold to Saudi Arabia by the UK government (over ?3.3bn worth since March 2015 when the Saudi-led coalition bombings started). British advisers are supposed to be working with the coalition forces on targeting, but according to the UN a third of the targets hit are schools, hospitals, places of worship, residential buildings and agricultural land. Given the huge subsidies for British arms manufacturers (including BAE & Rolls Royce who are amongst the most corrupt companies on the planet) these atrocities are being committed in our name with our tax pounds.
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.
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”
Last year, I stopped travelling to Indonesia. I simply did? I just could not bear being there, anymore. It was making me unwell. I felt psychologically and physically sick. Indonesia has matured into perhaps the most corrupt country on Earth, and possibly into the most indoctrinated and compassionless place anywhere under the sun. Here, even the victims were not aware of their own conditions anymore. The victims felt shame, while the mass murderers were proudly bragging about all those horrendous killings and rapes they had committed. Genocidal cadres are all over the government.Continue reading “The Ruin of Indonesian Society”
It is time to protest the ruling Awami League?s self-publicity through billboards at a staggering cost of more than Tk.3 crore (one senior minister would possibly say taxpayers? Tk.3 crore is ?rubbish? as he ?rubbished? the 4,000 crore stolen by Hall-Mark). I am really shocked and saddened by the government?s overwhelming ?billboard campaign? ? whose impact will be grossly under-whelming though ? and the deafening silence of our civil society, intellectuals, politicians and youths over this scandalous act of the ruling party. The removal of commercial billboards to the detriment of commercial firms by the government is also shockingly unwarranted.
Tariq Ali, in this exclusive interview, seamlessly switches from contemporary historian to scholar-at-large to polemicist to raconteur, as he tackles many of the impinging issues of our times. By SASHI KUMAR, Frontline
He was in southern India after nearly 30 years. He had come to Kerala to deliver the Chinta Ravindran Memorial Lecture at Thrissur. My friend, the well-known writer Paul Zacharia and I were showing him the sights and we had just been to the site of the archaeological dig at Pattanam near Kodungalloor where he saw the unearthed pottery and artefacts that were reconstructing the fascinating story of an early society in these parts, already in maritime contact with West Asian ports and ancient Rome. From there we proceeded to the nearby Cheraman juma masjid, considered the first mosque in India, and perhaps the second in the world, dating back to A.D. 629. There was only a little evidence of that ancient patrimony left; the quaint old native structure had been all but pulled down some 50 years back and a more commodious, more standardised edifice built around it. All that was left were some pillars, a section of a doorway, another of a beamed ceiling and a crumbling staircase leading up to the attic, all in wood. But a photograph of the structure, as it was in 1905, hung on the wall. Continue reading “The New World Disorder”
DHAKA, Bangladesh ? Inside Courtroom 21, the two judges peered down from high wooden chairs as lawyers in formal black robes presented their motions. Activists and victims watched from the back. And a few steps away, a portly man with a thick black beard remained silent. He was the suspect. He did not seem especially nervous. Continue reading “Justice Still Elusive in Factory Disasters in Bangladesh”
An exhibition of observations, both witnessed and imagined of the Rana Plaza collapse.
24th April, 2013. 1127 garment workers perished in the collapse of Rana Plaza in Savar. Excluding natural disasters this is the single largest cause of death, post-independence. Hundreds of workers have been injured. Hundreds still missing.
The rescue operation at Rana Plaza continued for 21 days. The loved ones of the victims held their vigil without respite, twenty four hours a day, scrambling from Odhor Chondro Park to Enam Clinic, to the morgue and back. As tiring bodies wore down, they slept in nearby coffins. It is of course a tragedy of enormous proportions, but by calling it a tragedy, we are shielding the guilt. Making it appear as if no one was to blame. That this is the destiny of the poor and the downtrodden. Is that how it was?
The history of the garment industry in Bangladesh is littered with incidents of fire and collapsed buildings. 27 workers were trampled to death in Sharaka Garments in 1990, while trying to flee a fire. There have been many deaths since, some through faulty construction, some due to the absence of fire exits. The fire in Lucas Garments took away 10 lives in 1995. 14 died in Suntex Garments in 1996. 22 in Rahman and Rahman Garments in 1997. Another 27 in Tamanna Garments the same year. We lost 53 in Chowdhury Knitwear Limited in 2000. It is a longer list including the recent fire in Tazreen Fashions, with Rana Plaza being the latest addition. Drik had invited photographers, activists and other artists to submit work and register their protest. Their observations, recorded and imagined, form the basis of this exhibition. Murder, not tragedy. ??
The exhibition?“Tragedi Noi Hottakando”?will be opened at Drik Gallery tomorrow Friday, 31 May 2013 at 5 pm. The exhibition will continue till 5 June 2013. Please get your friends, family and clients to come and voice their support. This cannot, must not, go on.