Why should the poor always have to pay for the misdeeds of the government, of the rich?
This question surfaced yet again when I stood outside Rangs building on the morning of Dec 12.
Rangs, one of the largest business houses in Bangladesh, had their building plans approved by Rajuk (Rajdhani Unnoyon Kortripokkho, i.e., Capital Development Authority), and they built a huge edifice. Approval for high rises are generally not given in this area due to flight restrictions. Six storied buildings are the limit. However, Rangs built a 22 storied building which no one could miss. Except Rajuk, of course.
That is how things stood until the present caretaker government came into power and rushed headlong into its drive against corruption.
? Which officials in Rajuk had okayed these plans? And why? That has remained a secret. Has anyone in Rajuk been punished for approving these plans?
? The Supreme Court ordered the demolition of the building, and Rajuk appointed Six Star, a ship-breaking company to carry out the work. Who made the decision? On what basis? What qualifications did Six Star have? Was any corruption involved? If so, will those involved be tried?
? After the demolition disaster, Six Star, Rajuk, Rangs — will they be made accountable for their misdeeds?
Is a life worth only one lakh taka — the sum that the government will pay as compensation for those who have died?
‘They don’t give us our dead’
An elderly man sat 50 feet away from the Rangs building on a second floor veranda of a shopping market. After the innards of the building had collapsed, many workers had taken shelter in this veranda. The elderly man had come to Dhaka early this morning with his son-in-law, in search of his son’s body. He muttered something when I asked him if he had spoken to anyone here. I couldn’t make sense, and repeated my question. I could barely make out what he said, “They don’t give us our dead.” He told me he had come from Gaibandha, and I thought to myself, now we can be sure that one of those who have died is from Gaibandha.
A woman has rushed over from Modhukhali. Her brother has suffered a head injury. But thankfully, he is alive, and he will live. At least ten people from Modhukhali are thought to have died in the demolition disaster.
Hajari, one of the workers hired for demolition said, one of the building’s security men is missing. He had last been seen on one of the topmost floors of the building. “It all happened in less than 30 seconds.” Hajari and the other workers had scrambled down the floors to save themselves.
I spoke to some of the workers and it seemed that no one from Rajuk or Six Star, at least not any one in a position of authority had contacted them, or spoken to them, let alone reassured them. Class distances are such that the workers themselves had not gathered the courage to talk to Rajuk officials.
Six Star company, Hajari told me, had brought the main group of workers from Chittagong. Being a port city, Chittagong is a place where people from different parts of the country migrate to in search of work. Hajari’s home is Barisal but he has lived for many years in Chitagong. “Six Star,” he said, “they will provide compensation. They are ever-ready. In Chittagong dock, every month you get to see one or two workers die, such accidents keep happening.” Most of those who had survived the Rangs disaster had been sent back by Six Star. Only 50 workers had been kept back for the rescue effort.
Six Star was paying the workers daily wages and also providing meal charges. From tonight (Dec 12) , the company would also arrange workers’ boarding. This is what Hajari had told me but when I spoke to two other workers, they said they were not being paid their regular wages. Neither were labour shordars giving them money to buy food.
On the market verandah I came across another worker, who was released yesterday from Dhaka Medical College. He had received back injuries, so said the hospital slip. He did not have the money to buy the medicine that had been prescribed. Painkillers on an empty stomach would do him more harm than good. He told me that he had slept on a thin sheet of cloth the night before, and that his pain had increased.
An old story of anguish and suffering
As we talked with the workers and their relatives, I noticed an elderly, bearded man speaking nearby. He was noticeably agitated. I took him to be a demolition worker. I moved closer to where he stood and heard him say, “If they had been the sons of MPs and Ministers, would the dead bodies have been left hanging? People would have been running around breathlessly. We are cchotolok, why should anyone bother?” I later found out that he didn’t work for Rangs, that he worked somewhere else nearby. Listening to him was like listening to a broken record. I was reminded yet again of how helpless poor people are.
It should not have happened. It should not have been allowed to happen. It is something that should have caused a government’s downfall. It is amazing that such things keep happening. Almost daily. And ceaselessly.
At home, we read Prothom Alo. In terms of reporting, it is one of the finest newspapers in the country. I quickly skimmed the reportage on Rangs, once again today. None of the reports focus on who is to blame for the disaster, they tend to highlight the accident-al nature of the disaster. I see an editorial, but I do not have the time to read it. Those who read other newspapers will know how it has been reported in other dailies. Some may cite cyclone Sidr, or the harassment of university teachers as reasons for such reporting but I find it difficult to agree. I think the un-focused reporting is deliberate.
But I must not be too harsh. After all, it is news reporters who keep the story alive as those who are guilty hide behind screens of authority.
Tonight I have learnt that 14 coffins have been taken inside. Since then, family members of the workers have refused to leave the area. Many of them think that the authorities will get rid of the bodies. They have come from outside Dhaka, they do not belong here, they have no networks of familial or social support in this city. They can only gather and resist with whatever they have.
Will the authorities really get rid of the dead bodies? Will they not hand over to grieving family members the bodies of their beloved ones? You may think I am jumping to conclusions but it is true that the whole process is shrouded in secrecy, and that those in authority are trying to save their skin.
Yesterday afternoon as I stood outside Rangs Bhaban, I could catch the faint smell of decomposing bodies. The smell will get stronger. Fire Brigade workers, who are on standby, do not know when rescue efforts will begin.
I belong to the ranks of the ordinary people, I belong to those who are toothless and clawless. Yet I cannot help but think, those who are guilty must not be allowed to get away. At least, not this time.
Dec 13, 2007
[translation: rahnuma ahmed]
Bangladeshi journalists Priscilla Raj and Saleem Samad, who had worked for the Channel 4 team as interpreter and fixer, respectively, were also detained and charged with involvement in ?anti-state activities.? Raj was released on bail in December 2002.
Collapsed floor of Rangs Building. December 9. 2007 ? Munir uz Zaman/DrikNews
Body released by Fire Brigade being sent to morgue. ? Azizur Rahim Peu/DrikNews
We rushed as soon as we received the tip off, sneaking away from our workshop on “Investigative Journalism for Television.” Working our way round the devotees praying on Panthapath we rushed to the National Museum.
Jumma prayers on Panthapath. Friday December 7. 2007. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Hajis at Zia International Airport. Saturday December 8. 2007. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
It was a false alarm. The trucks had left, and the artefacts that were still left in the National Museum were safe. At least for the moment. The remaining week, my book launch in Glasgow,
Glasgow. December 10 2007. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World Glasgow. December 10 2007. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Glasgow. December 10 2007. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Taxi driver Robert who had worked at Port Glasgow. Ships later taken apart in Chittagong, Bangladesh, started their journey here. December 10 2007. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
the Prince Claus Fund Award ceremony in Amsterdam and the conference “Visible Rights” at Harvard, took me from a sunny afternoon in Scotland to the snow covered streets of Cambridge.
Though Jon Husband had helped me setup my blog, I had never met him before. Jeroen picked me up at Schipol, and Jon, Jeroen and I had dinner at the Bazar Middle Eastern restaurant in Amsterdam. December 10. 2007. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
The ornate loo at the Bazar Middle Eastern restaurant in Amsterdam. December 10. 2007. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Diners seen through the glass floor at Muziekgebouw. Amsterdam. Dec 12. 2007. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Queen Beatrix at Prince Claus Fund Award Ceremony at Muziekgebouw. Amsterdam. Dec 12. 2007. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Network meeting of Prince Claus Fund at Grand Hotel, Amsterdam. December 13th 2007. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Train at Boston December 14. 2007. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Outside Harvard train station at 2:00 am. December 14. 2007. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Stairs at Irving House. December 14. 2007. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
There was good news in between. The Rajshahi University teachers being released was a great relief, but the deaths of workers at Rangs Building, and the slum fire in Begunbari reminded me how far my own life was from the reality of workers and slum dwellers of my land.
Detained Rajshahi University teachers, released after being granted a presidential pardon. December 10. 2007. ? Iqbal Ahmed/DrikNews
Fire in Begunbari slum. December 15. 2007. ? Zaid Islam/DrikNews
Fire in Begunbari slum. December 15. 2007. ? Zaid Islam/DrikNews
While the gatekeepers who rule our land remain untouched by the death of the poor. While media houses remain in the hands of wealthy business people. While opulent adverts by Grameen, Banglalink and Warid influence what gets reported in mainstream, the lives of media professionals like Priscilla Raj, Tipu Sultan, Probir Shikdar and Tasneem Khalil will continue to be under threat, The war criminals supporting the Pakistan Army had killed our intellectuals on the month of victory in 1971. December has another meaning for the workers and the slum dwellers who live under different military rulers.
Orphaned girl by the remains of what was her home. Anwara. Bangladesh. 1991. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
“The dark cyclone shelter was packed with people, mostly women and children, some crying, some screaming. It was chaos. And then there was the loud knock. We struggled to open the door against the wind, The whole night sky tried to get in through the small gap we had made. The man pushed his way in as we struggled to lock the door again. He was a strong burly man, but he was shaking. “Give me a biri (hand rolled cigarette)” he said. I got angry. “Can’t you see what is happening here? What state people are in? And you want a biri?” He wasn’t harsh, but his stare was cold. “Agaro jon re puita aisi. Biri de.” (I’ve buried eleven. Just hand me a biri).”
This had been 1991. We had crossed into Hatia, and the ride across the choppy sea had left us all rattled. Slowly people spoke of their experiences on the night of the 29th April 1991, when the sea had become a wave.
This time I was stranded in Kathmandu when I received the news from Rahnuma. She was dreading the worst. The ticker tape on CNN said the storm was 100 kilometres from Dhaka, when I finally went to sleep in the early hours of the morning. This was the time of Internet and mobile phones, but the Net was down and the network was too congested to get calls through. Irfan managed to send a text the next day asking me to charge my mobile. Dhaka had no electricity.
Cyclone SIDR. Dublar Char, Bagerhat, Bangladesh. November 26 2007. ? Asad/DrikNews
Joshim was waiting as usual at the airport. At least there was electricity there. Some of the street lamps were lit. I managed to make it home in the early hours of the morning. Most of Dhaka was then in darkness. We did have electricity in the flat, but it soon went. Ragni and Nunni (two of our many children) were both fast asleep. Ragni went off this morning to an FK meeting, an exchange partnership we are involved in. The Net is up again, at least partially. Nipun is designing the majority world flyer. Life goes on. We don’t yet know the extent of the damage, but the figures are undoubtedly high. We are fine. Many others sadly are not.
Women in a cyclone shelter centre at Coxbazar, Bangladesh. Cyclone SIDR. November 16 2007. ? Munir uz Zaman/DrikNews
A woman weeps for her lost relatives. Cyclone SIDR. Khulna. Bangladesh. 17th November 2007. ? Tanvir Ahmed/DrikNews
Relatives and neighbours bury their dead by the Rupsha River. Cyclone SIDR. Khulna. Bangladesh. 17th November 2007. ? Tanvir Ahmed/DrikNews
A man carries his grandchild?s dead body from debris of the house. Cyclone SIDR. Shoronkhola, Bagerhat, Bangladesh. November 19 2007. ? Tanvir Ahmed/DrikNews
My bike was at Drik, so I took a rickshaw to the office. The rickshawalla’s name was Shah Alam. Our similar names added to our camaraderie. He was from Bhola. They had lost twelve. “But I have a mobile” he said sheepishly. Almost apologising for this perceived opulence. “At least this way I can talk to my parents.”
Abir and Munir are already out there. Jessica is preparing to leave for Patuakhali. In 1991, I had rushed back from Feni and managed to bluff my way into a military helicopter to do a story with Barbara Crossette for the New York Times. Sending the picture through the old fax transmitter in the T&T office took hours. With most connections down, we had struggled to get the picture through. And then I was out again. It was only when I met James Nachtwey in Chittagong that I found out that my picture had made the front page of the Herald Tribune. Now as I sit behind a computer screen typing text and booking tomorrow’s flight to Sri Lanka, other photographers are headed for the coastline.
Sunset on the outskirts of Kathmandu. Nepal. 16th November 2007. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Last night as we waited for yet another hugely delayed GMG flight, Nayantara took Tutul and I to catch the last glimpse of sunlight in the mountains outside Kathmandu. The chanting of the priests, and the gentle bells from the stupa below made Dhaka seem far away. We even stopped to give an interview on CJMC’s new FM station. Back home Bazlu bhai and his team have been pushing for permission for community radio for years. A much needed tool in times of crisis. The airwaves here have been reserved for propaganda. A once outspoken media sings the glory of the military and the untiring efforts of the government. Some with reluctance.
Saving people’s lives seems a far lesser priority.
Find link for interview on Radio France Internationale (streaming)
Afsan Chowdhury’s interview on climate change in Bangladesh
or download file: sa-2nd-clip-from-french-radio-on-cyclone.mp3
article-on-natures-fury.pdf (from the Book: Communicating Disasters, by TVEAP and UNDP)
The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) were setup as a crack team to support law enforcement. Numerous accusations of extra judicial killings have been attributed to RAB, usually followed by a government press release about people having died in a ‘crossfire’. ? Munem Wasif/DrikNews
Dark glasses, black bandana, arrogance in his face. ‘The Protector’ strides with purpose. A new word enters our lexicon. You can now ‘crossfire’ a person. No questions asked.
Hanif, a mill worker, was shot dead by the police during a protest rally organised by the workers. Two hundred workers were injured. Crescent jute mill, Khalishpur, Khulna, 11 September 2006. ? Munem Wasif/DrikNews
She mourns in silence. Her man, a worker in a mill, is no more. His crime? Demanding payment for his labour.
Workers protest on the streets of Khalishpur, even during emergency. ? Munem Wasif/DrikNews
A child screams.
Soon after coming to power, the caretaker government ordered all illegal constructions and slums be torn down. Those affected do not know where to find shelter since laws and their interpretations are mostly anti-poor. Dhaka Bangladesh. 24 January 2007. ? Munem Wasif/DrikNews
Evicted from a slum that offered little, his parents in search for even less.
Muslim and Adivasi women unite in their fight against multinationals. Phulbari Bangladesh. 30 September 2006. ? Munem Wasif/DrikNews
These green fields will disappear if coal mining starts. Phulbari Bangladesh. ? Munem Wasif/DrikNews
Angry women protest the illegal hand-over of their land to multinationals.
Choles Ritchil killed in custody
And the missing photograph. The one we cannot show. The one of the Adivashi leader tortured and killed in custody. He too had the temerity to resist government takeover of his ancestral land.
A member of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB, Bangladesh’s elite security force), checks the grounds with a dog squad to ensure security of the 14 party led Awami League’s grand rally the next day. Paltan, Dhaka Bangladesh. December 17 2006.
? Munir uz Zaman/DrikNews
Ratan Kumar, suspected of stealing a gold necklace, was tortured at Bogra Police Station. This photograph (taken with a mobile phone) was published in a daily newspaper, resulted in police officials seen in the picture (the officer-in-charge, three sub-inspectors and a constable) being suspended from active duty. Bogra Bangladesh. 28 January 2007. ? DrikNews
Police fired tear gas shells and rubber bullets to stop agitated students at Dhaka University campus. As protests engulfed the nation, curfew was declared in 6 divisional cities from 8 at night. A student hurls back a tear gas shell. Dhaka Bangladesh. 22 August 2007.? Azizur Rahim Peu/DrikNews
Now is a difficult time. A time for reflection, a time for retrospection, a time for defiance. Sadly for most Bangladeshis, now has always been difficult. Apart from the brief euphoria after independence in ’71, there were the lesser joys when the autocrat left in ’90, on winning a Nobel peace prize in ’06 and even temporary relief when emergency was declared in January ’07. But those feelings have been short-lived. Particularly for the poor. When elephants clash it is the grass that gets hurt.
Soldiers and rescue workers recover a child’s body from landslides caused by heavy rains on the deforested hills of Chittagong city. One hundred and six people died, many more were injured. Chittagong Bangladesh. 12 June 2007. ? Tanvir Ahmed/DrikNews
A woman mourns the death of her family members, all of whom died as a result of the mudslide. Chittagong Bangladesh. 12 June 2007. ? Tanvir Ahmed/DrikNews
Life is fearful for a slum-dweller. When will she face the next eviction? Dhaka Bangladesh ? Munem Wasif/DrikNews
Arrests in the night, the brutality of high prices and the daily grind of poverty are the realities that wear people down. But they are warriors. Despite the weight of unjust governance, despite the price they always end up paying, they still protest. And the photojournalists? When justice is compromised. When the poor are trampled under the march of ‘reform’. When fear evokes silence. When familiar faces turn away. To stay ‘neutral’ is to stay aloof. They stand on the side of the oppressed. Unashamedly so.
Rickshaws without proper licenses seized by police and dumped near Police Control room. Rickshaws are environment-friendly and affordable by the middle class and often the only source of paid work for men migrating from villages in search of work. 17 February 2007. Dhaka Bangladesh. ? Munem Wasif/DrikNews
A village woman dries dhan (husked rice grain) as flood waters recede. Chilmari, Rangpur. August 8 2007. A village woman dries dhan (husked rice grain) as flood waters recede. Chilmari, Rangpur. August 8 2007. ? Munem Wasif/DrikNews
On Tuesday the 4th of September 2007 DrikNews will hold its inaugural photographic exhibition “Bangladesh Now”. The photographs shown are a selection from the exhibition.
The exhibition will be opened by Nurul Kabir, editor, New Age, who will share his views about the current situation in Bangladesh,
before the opening. The program starts at 5.00 pm.
Drik will be 18 years old on that day. We’d like you to be with us
Singapore Airlines warned of “protests by university students developing in Dhaka” as we boarded the plane. But emails from Delower and Rahnuma during the brief stopover in Singapore talked of the curfew in place in the six main cities. This was no longer a small skirmish in Dhaka University. Joshim was going to be at the airport with my accreditation card and we would try and find a way back home.
Students at Dhaka University under teargas attack, throwing bricks at police. 22 August 2007. Dhaka Bangladesh ? Munir uz Zaman/DrikNews
Students at Dhaka University shielding themselves with sheets of tin, during fights with police. Photographer anonymous.
Protesting students gather at Dhaka University campus during violent clashes with police. Photographer anonymous.
Student hit by police shotgun bullet being carried away by fellow students. Photographer anonymous.
Enraged students burn a car at the Teacher’s Student’s Centre (TSC). Photographer anonymous.
Members of Dhaka University Teacher’s Association protesting against the attacks on campus by police and army, and demanding withdrawal of the state of emergency. Two of the teachers in the front row have since been arrested. 22 August 2007. Dhaka Bangladesh ? Munir uz Zaman/DrikNews
Rocketing prices of essentials create extreme distress for people with low earnings, like the people pictured in the foreground. The military of Bangladesh, which has not had to fight since the birth of the nation in 1971, has in the meanwhile, had increasing budgetary allocations in each successive regime. Numerous allegations about corruption in military purchase, has gone uninvestigated. 22 August 2007. Dhaka Bangladesh ? Munir uz Zaman/DrikNews
The government had taken all mobile networks off the air. With only official press releases for information, the person in the street was in for a rough time. It was easy to find Joshim in the empty car park. Only the occasional long distance truck plied VIP road. I put the video camera on record mode, but relied on my less conspicuous LUMIX to photograph the empty streets. Though I stopped on the Mohakhali flyover to take pictures, I was nervous when the RAB vehicles passed below. There was never a good time for being arrested, but this was as wrong a time as it could get.
Aaasteeey! The policeman strode over lazily. Ki bapar? I did have my card dangling from my neck, and from previous experience, used my confident, ‘I belong here’ approach. That usually worked best with low tier security people.
The Mohakhali Junction, one of Dhaka’s busiest traffic spots, is empty on the night of the 22nd August, when the government called an indefinite curfew. Dhaka Bangladesh. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
I’d stopped to take pictures by the near-empty Tejgaon rail station. Stepping carefully through the people sleeping on the floor, I came up to Shahjahan and Neela. Unaware of the curfew, they had brought their sick child Shamim from Tangail, but got stranded in Tejgaon. There was no food, no doctor, no place to sleep, no way of knowing how long this would go on. Each visit to the toilet cost 5 Taka.
Stranded passengers at Tejgaon Railway Station, sleep on the floor. 22 August 2007. Dhaka Bangladesh. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
Shahjahan and Neela tend to their sick child Shamim, whom they had brought to Dhaka for treatment. Along with other stranded passengers at Tejgaon Railway Station, the family had no food or drink, or a place to sleep. 22 August 2007. Dhaka Bangladesh. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
The next checkpost was slightly more hostile, but the expired accreditation card dangling from my neck was working overtime. We passed without much harassment. Dropping Joshim home, I went past the Shonar Bangla Market in Karwan Bazaar. The busy market place had a haunted look. No cackle of chickens, haggling for prices, or calls from vendors. Just one man counting loose change.
Shonar Bangla Market at Karwan Bazaar is one of the busiest market places in Dhaka. The shops are empty on the night of 22nd August 2007. Dhaka Bangladesh. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
The brightly lit Square Hospital in Panthapath stood out in the dark. Government orders to turn down the lights after dusk to save electricity was presumably for commoners only. The street was empty, but this time as I approached with my camera police converged from all directions. I fumbled a bit, but recovered in time to get one shot. This was not the time to look for best angles. Rattling off important sounding words like ministry of information, and dropping the occasional names I could think of, I got into the car and drove off before the uniformed men had gathered their wits. A government adviser’s business interests in Square Pharmaceuticals – while undeclared – was well known. Students had already attacked the building the previous day. The approaching police knew whose business interests to protect.
The Square Group, one of the wealthiest business enterprises in Bangladesh owns the Square Hospital. Government regulations prohibit the excess use of electricity and non-essential shops are required to close by 8 pm. Several people were killed by the police when they came out in protest, demanding adequate electricity. The Square Group is owned by the family of one of the advisers of the caretaker government. 22 August 2007. Dhaka Bangladesh. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
The road through Dhanmondi was eerie. The women who walked the streets near Abahani playground were nowhere to be seen. Like the many others who struggled to make a living, they too would not be earning tonight.
The junction near ULAB was scarred by burnt tyres. The convoy of police vans deterred me from getting my camera out and I turned into road 4A. It was time to go home. Kamaler Ma, Joigun, Zohra and Rahnuma were all up waiting. With the mobile network off, they didn’t have any news about me. There must have been others in many more homes who were up worrying.
Rahnuma and I talked of the events over the last two days, of the army camp in Dhaka University. Of a soldier slapping a student. Of the vice chancellor (acting) being beaten up by police. This had never happened before, not even during the Ayub or Ershad military regimes. The reference to ‘evil doers’ in the chief adviser’s speech to the nation was worryingly close to the ‘axis of evil’. Independent media channels were then still defiant. That night the information adviser advised the media to practice ‘self censorship’.
Despite their claims, this government had never been called in by the people. We had no say in who the advisers would be. It was not military rule the people had welcomed, but the cessation of violence and the fear of further anarchy if the rigged elections were held. Banana trees would have made equally good replacements. However, banana trees would not have sold national interests. Closed down environmentally-friendly jute mills. Made slum dwellers homeless, or tortured and killed adibashis protesting the military acquisition of their ancestral lands. So while there was initial relief, as the price of essentials soared, news of nepotism and the partisan manner in which Jamaat -e-Islami was being shielded soon made people realise this banana tree would never bear fruit, let alone run a government.
Warrantless arrests by plainsclothes army under the cover of curfew. Dissenting teachers picked up in the middle of the night. Making threats to independent channels ETV and CSB are hardly the character of a saviour government pledged to the return of democracy. As the behind-the-scene military decides it will now take centre stage. As Bangladeshis realise that a democratically elected autocratic government has simply been replaced by an unelected autocratic one, the tune in the streets is changing.
Symbols of fascist oppression drawn on university road. 21st August 2007. Dhaka Bangladesh ? Munem Wasif/DrikNews
Multiple demands of students and teachers have been whittled down to one – withdraw emergency rule. Underground pamphlets are spreading like wildfire. With the Internet down, text messages are filling up the ether. The information adviser’s suave statements to the media faltered as he snapped, “why such a fuss about a slap or two?”
The photograph that was being shown here has been removed on the request of the photographer
“In unprecedented scenes, soldiers in uniform were seen being chased out of the Dhaka university campus by students. In two days, the myth of the army’s omnipotence was all but laid to rest.” BBC. Photographer Anonymous.
The US has declared support for the chief adviser’s statement. What he lacks is the support of the people.
It was nearly twenty years ago when I had written this. After one of my first photojournalistic assignments:
What does one photograph to depict a flood? A submerged house, a boat on a highway, people wading in water?
As we boated through the branches in Jinjira we found a wicker basket in a tree. The family had long since abandoned their home, and their worldly belongings, gathered in that basket, waited patiently for their homecoming.
Wicker basket in tree. Jinjira. 2nd September 1988. Dhaka Bangladesh. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
The worst flood in a hundred years? That statistic is hardly relevant. They, as those before them and after them will always face the floods. How does it matter whether they are 60% starved or 75% starved? How does it matter what country the relief wheat comes from? They themselves are mere statistics to power hungry politicians.
The family still needed to be fed. When I went back the next day to this place in Jinjira, the water had risen another three feet. I never saw her again. 2nd September 1988. Dhaka Bangladesh. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
What is relevant are the feelings that have been kindled, that half kilogram of rice that has been shared, that solitary dry house that has warmly welcomed all who have needed the shelter. That others have shared the pain.
Wading down a street near Kamlapur railway station. “Dreamland Photographers”, the local studio, was still open for business. 2nd September 1988. Dhaka Bangladesh. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
What is relevant is that now the roads are dry and the walls repainted and that a nation that once so cared has so quickly forgotten.
I look back and merely feel the ineffectuality of my images.
Nearly twenty years on, the floods are with us again. They are a part of our natural agricultural cycle. They irrigate the land, replenish the topsoil, remove the toxins. But deforestation in the mountains, illegal constructions, ill planned roads and ill caring leaders make floods take on a violent form. The waters get angry.
This year, when the waters had risen, our adviser advised that it was not yet a calamity. When the waters reached danger levels, the decree came that because of the state of emergency, ‘[political] banners were banned’ so while people struggled for food and shelter, banner rights became the issue. Now as the waters engulf the land and people flounder in need of relief, our adviser advises us ?we don?t have to help the people, they?re going to their relative?s house by themselves?.
Now that is a solution Bangladesh can offer to all the distressed people in the world. Just go find a relative.
Before the floods. People affected by cyclone Akash. Mohishshoiri River. Khulna. 21 May 2007. ? Tanvir Ahmed/DrikNews
Woman fishes in the flood waters. 13 June 2007. Comilla Bangladesh. Kalim Shantu/DrikNews
Twenty villages had been affected at the junction of the rivers Ghagot, Brahmaputra and Teesta making numerous people homeless. 31 July 2007. Gaibandha. Bangladesh ? Quddus Alam/DrikNews
Woman in search of dry land. 30 July 2007. Sirajgonj Bangladesh ? Tanvir Ahmed/DrikNews
Villagers rescuing mother and child. 30 July 2007. Sirajgonj Bangladesh ? Tanvir Ahmed/DrikNews
Woman feeding goats in makeshift tent. 30 July 2007. Sirajgonj Bangladesh ? Tanvir Ahmed/DrikNews
Diarrheal patients at hospital in Dhaka. 11 August 2007. Dhaka Bangladesh ? Munir uz Zaman/DrikNews
Spontaneous relief operations organised by citizen groups. 30 July 2007. Sirajgonj Bangladesh ? Tanvir Ahmed/DrikNews
While one third of the country was flooded, people inside the DND (Dhaka Narayanganj Demra) embankment faced the stagnant water cause by rains. 25 July. Narayanganj Bangladesh ? Tanvir Ahmed/DrikNews
700,000 people were marooned in Sirajgonj. 64 people had already died when this photograph was taken. 5 August 2007. Sirajgonj Bangladesh ? Tanvir Ahmed/DrikNews
Boats are the only means of communication during floods. July 2 2007. Rangpur, Bangladesh. ? Ador Rahman/DrikNews
A family looks for shelter using a raft made of banana trees. 31 July 2007. Gaibandha Bangladesh ? Quddus Alam/DrikNews
And across the border, viewed from afar:
The Rains Reach Kolkata
When I was just a little boy, I watched the clouds advance
From rooftop high above the streets and bustle of Calcutta.
Up there, I watched the hawks soar high, and saw the palm fronds’ dance,
In wind that blew before the storm, and banged each window shutter.
It was in June, when summer’s heat had risen to its height,
That clouds approached, as though for war, advancing in a line,
Their heads held high, dark wall beneath — a fear-instilling sight,
With lightning streaks, and thunder-growls of warriors divine.
The sparrows, crows and pigeons fled, in haste to get away
And find refuge, as dust was blown from streets by gusts so strong
That palm trees bent, and tossed their heads, and back and forth did sway,
As leaves and clothes, and sailing fronds, with birds were swept along.
Then from the heat, we knew respite, as cool winds did descend
>From belly of the thunderhead, which bore a mist so fine,
With ions, whose electric charge did minds and bodies mend
And lift from summer somnolence like clear celestial wine.
And I would run and scramble down, from perch on highest roof,
To shelter in a doorway, where I still could watch the storm
Without myself being blown away, or struck by lightning hoof,
As racing clouds obscured the sky, like wraiths in equine form.
And then the dark, the greenish gloom, the flash more bright than sun,
The crack so loud it seemed the earth was cloven by the sky,
And pelting rain in slanting sheets, like bullets from a gun,
On roofs of tin, and wooden shades, and roll of thunder high!
And so the chariots of the gods would roll by overhead,
And we could hear the neighs and roars, and see the sparks that flew
As titans battled in the skies, by trumpet blowers led,
And sword of land pierced mail of sea, and blood of rain then drew.
And all the kids would venture out, unheeding of the scolds,
To jump with glee and leap and splash, in dance as old as time,
And yet as freshly bold that day, as in the eons old,
When sea would come to land to fight, and mate, in yearly rhyme.
Babui / Arjun Janah*
2007 August 11th, Sat.
*Arjun has an identity of his own, but for us photographers, he is the son of the legendary Indian photographer Sunil Janah.
Portraits of commitment
Why people become leaders in the AIDS response
Challenges help us find our true selves. They take us on a journey within the depths of who we are, leaving us at a destination we hope is worthy. Some people find themselves at lesser places.
AIDS is one of those challenges.
The South Asians in this book tell how AIDS has made them a better doctor, researcher, legislator, citizen or person. We know AIDS affects our daily life?but because of it we now have more respect for human rights and individual choice where once there was little or none. AIDS has helped us to see who we want to be.
Photographs by Shahidul Alam. Interviews by Karen Emmons. Commissioned by UNAIDS.
Viewers watching “Portaits of Commitment” at Fort Station in Colombo on the 21st August 2007, as part of ICAAP8. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
A story from Sri Lanka on WAD: Positive & Strong Princey Mangalika on HIV/AIDS
Reviews: IPS. Daily Mirror
Shilpa Shetty. Actress, Big Brother Winner. Mumbai India. “Being a celebrity has advantages – people hear you. I thought I should make use of this position and speak out.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
Tahir Baig Barlas. Corporate Manager. Karachi Pakistan. “We have the opportunity to do something now before it’s too late. Let’s not be reactive.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
Sabina “Putul” Yeasmin, Daughter of a sex worker. Tangail Bangladesh. “I gave wrong information to make others afraid, as I had been. I had to go back and give correct information.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
Sapana Pradham-Malla. Advocate. Kathmandu Nepal. “I can’t turn away.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
Sally Hulugalle. Community Worker. Colombo Sri Lanka. “I want a better deal for those who are voiceless.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
Rev. Alex Vadakumthala. Priest. New Delhi India. “The church finds its meaning when it responds to the challenges of the times.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
Rajiv Kafle. Former Drug User. Kathmandu Nepal. “I saw a need and an opportunity where I could step up and really make a difference.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
Noor jehan Penazai. Partliamentarian. Islamabad Pakistan. “These politicians have to realise it’s a very serious disease and we have to talk about it.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
Dr. Ananda Wijewickrama. Doctor. Colombo Sri Lanka. “I had to do something for the patients …they needed a place to go, to be consoled and, if dying, to die with dignity.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
Arif Jafar and Anis Fatima, MSM and mother. Lucknow India. “I am grateful to Allah he gave such a son to me.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
Habiba Akter. Dhaka Bangladesh. Positive Counsellor.
“I have no choice. If I don’t do it no one will.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
An exhibition supporting the book opens at the Barefoot Gallery, in Colombo at 7:00 pm on the 18th August. 704 Galle Rd. Colombo 3.
I am the rage I am the storm
My path I leave barren and shorn
Swaying in my crazy dance
I rejoice at all I face
Move at my own pace
I grapple my foe
I wrestle to die
I am the warrior, head held high*
He was a dreamer, a rebel, a lover, a poet. He moved strong men to tears and woke a nation to unite against tyranny. The British imprisoned him only to find his pen spewing venom from the prison cell. Yet, Kazi Nazrul Islam was a romantic, and his lilting songs, magical stories and even his fiery verse did more to bring together Muslims and Hindus than any peacemaker had ever done. The poor turned away from God?s door, the lover spurned, the weak, the meek, the downtrodden, all found refuge in his words and his music. Unlike the literary giant of the time – Tagore, Nazrul was uncompromising. He spoke of strife, and the peace of acquiescence was never his mettle. Mixing Persian, English and Hindi with his majestic repertoire in his native language Bangla, Nazrul called a nation to war against its occupiers, but also spoke out against the tyranny of religion and class. It was his haunting love songs however, that made Nazrul inimitable. Living the life he preached, he refused to conform. Marrying outside religion, shunning material comfort, and eventually rejecting our carefully defined sanity, he rebelled against a peace that required the acceptance of the status quo. Conflict was his muse.
Lalon, long before him, had traversed a very different terrain. The journey between the body and the soul. The metaphors of the bird and the cage, with the soul flirting with the body, elusive. tantalizing and ever so ephemeral. The sufi saint dealt with the conflict between the material world and the spiritual realm. But for Bangladeshis it wasn?t Tagore or Lalon or even Nazrul, but the struggle for language itself that galvanized the nation. Separated from India on the basis of religion when the British were forced to leave, East Pakistanis had always felt exploited by the West wing and discontent had been brewing, but it was when Jinnah declared that Urdu would be the national language of Pakistan that people took to the streets. The violent birth of Bangladesh, gave a nation with its own language, but Bangali nationalism too became the oppressor of other cultures and the indigenous people of the Hill Tracts have been brutally reminded ever since that they are the other. Their peace could only be earned at the cost of their identity.
Surendra Lal Dewan, was sad that his song had been stolen by the president, but that was not what pained him most. As director of the Tribal Centre in Rangamati, he was required to bring out Pahari women dressed in ethnic garb at regular intervals. They would dance in bright tribal costumes for tourists, visiting dignitaries and even curious Bangalis whenever the state needed to demonstrate Bangladesh?s tolerance and its ethnic diversity. In his song Dewan had spoken of a Bangladesh free of oppression and torture. That a military general, claiming the song to be his own, would use the same words to chant of an egalitarian Bangladesh pierced Surendra with his own words.
Even the naked halogen lamp that shone on the creaky planks that made up the stage near Ispahani Gate 1 had gone. It was the port town of Chittagong and there was no electricity. It didn?t affect Mustafa Kamal and the UTSA theatre group. A string of candles lit up the actors. The children came up close. Kamal wasn?t involved in national issues. He and his group performed to children and their parents, in the slums around Gate 1, and in many other parts of the country. The plays would talk of HIV/AIDS, dowry and land rights. The team would go out to villages and settle land disputes, or fights over someone?s loss of face, by getting the villagers to enact their strife in public. Their participatory plays used humour, love and the occasional risqu? dialogue to enthrall a rapt audience who found a momentary outlet from their tortured lives. But the plays were not simply about temporary relief. They introduced strategies for dealing with the tensions that built up between the landed and the landless, between the buyer and the seller, but also between friends, relatives and neighours. Kamal understood that conflict was a natural product of relationships. While controversies and grievances resulting from differences in values, competition for resources, or perceived threats, often result in conflict, its mitigation rarely depends entirely upon the solution of the problem, but might only require a release through rituals of protest.
Artificial barriers between nations, illegal occupation of lands, the struggle between the worker and the employer, the exploitation of women and children, and the suppression of minorities generate sparks that might set ablaze communities, and the fires needed to be doused. But there was more to art than being the key to the cage. Kamal worried that while his art might allay the tension, it might, through appeasement – like the empty rhetoric of politicians, like the opium fed to the hungry child, like the comfort assured in afterlife, like the promises of peace by generals – help perpetuate the greater wrong.
24th May 2007
* Translated and adapted from the poem ?The Rebel? by Kazi Nazrul Islam
Abridged from an essay written for the Prince Claus Fund for the 2007 Award Book on the theme ?Culture and Conflict?.
Kazi Nazrul Islam (b. May 25, 1899 ? d. August 29, 1976 ) was a Bengali poet, musician, revolutionary and philosopher who is best known for pioneering works of Bengali poetry. He is popularly known as the Bidrohi Kobi ? Rebel Poet ? as many of his works showcase an intense rebellion against oppression of humans through slavery, hatred and tradition. He is officially recognised as the national poet of Bangladesh and commemorated in India.
The birth date of Kazi Nazrul Islam, originally recorded on the basis of the Bangla calendar, is considered by some to be the 24th May 1899.
It was 1985, when Jun Jun and I came over for our first trip to Nepal. I had nearly died of hypothermia in our trip to the Everest Base Camp, and Jun and a Japanese explorer had saved my life. My subsequent trips to Nepal have been marked by other drama. As I left for the airport yesterday, Navaraj, the tutor at Pathshala from Kathmandu reminded me that I was going to a new Nepal, one no longer under the rule of the king. Sapna, the human rights lawyer we interviewed in Kathmandu today, remarked wryly, that it was a Nepal ruled by many kings. With the Moaists now in government, one hopes that at the least the violence will go down. Too many lives have been lost.
The killings and disappearances in Nandigram in the largest democracy in the world, and the recent killing of the Adivashi Garo activist Choles Ritchil in the most brutal manner imaginable – ?Choles?s two eyes plucked, testicles removed, anus mutilated, two hand palms smashed , nails of 3 fingers of the right hand removed, left hand thump finger nail removed, two palms had holes, upper right hand had severe wound, several blood stains on the back part of the body, in both thighs middle part there had been two holes, back part of the body had several black marks, several deep marks of wounds on both lower legs, there had been black marks on feet, no nail on thump of right foot, all fingers of two hands were broken.? – by the much lauded new regime in Bangladesh are worrying signs. With conventional media under threat, bloggers become the lonely and marked whistle blowers.
Majority world photographer and All Roads winner from Guatemala Sandra Sebastian is one of many activists in search for solutions.
I couldn?t believe that passers-by weren?t killed when a shooting occurred between drug traffickers on a busy day in one of the principal avenues in Guatemala City. Two presumed drug traffickers were murdered in their car, which had lots of AK-47 bullet-holes. There were hundreds of bullet-holes all around the avenue. The walls of a school and a bus stop where many people usually sat, were also riddled. Unfortunately two men died, but it could have been a massacre. How many people have to be killed before something is done?
I wasn?t the only astonished person. I took the picture because I want to document and leave a testimony of the time I live in and show the danger that ordinary people face. In the last year alone (2005) more than 5,000 people were killed in street violence in a country of 13 million people. The reasons? Delinquency, organized crime, drug trafficking, poverty, broken homes. I want to talk of the inefficient justice system and the impunity with which some operate. I want to point to the consequences, and hope people can understand and search for solutions.
Thirty five year ago, even longer perhaps, just a camera in hand, they had gone out to bring back a fragment of living history. Today, those photographs join them in protest. Peering through the crisp pages of the newly printed history books, they remind us, ?No, that wasn?t the way it was. I know. I bear witness.?
The black and white 120 negatives, carefully wrapped in flimsy polythene, stashed away in a damp gamcha, have almost faded. The emulsion eaten away by fungus, scratched a hundred times in their tortuous journey, yellowed with age, they bear little resemblance to the shiny negatives in the modern archives of big name agencies. They too are war weary, bloodied in battle.
So many have sweet talked these negatives away. The government, the intellectuals, the publishers, so many. Some never came back. No one offered a sheet of black and white paper in return. Few gave credits. The ones who risked their lives to preserve the memories of our language movement, have never been remembered in the awards given that day.
35 years ago, they fought for freedom. They didn?t all carry guns, some made bread, some gave shelter, some took photographs.
(c) Abdul Hamid Raihan
Abdul Hamid Raihan is one such photographer. A.S.M. Rezaur Rahman came upon him through a small interview on television. Unlike many other photographers, Raihan had preserved his negatives. And unlike many researchers, Reza had doggedly pursued. The exhibition, ?1971, as I saw it? is not a record of momentous events, but a rare glimpse of what everyday people might have witnessed under occupation and through victory.press-release-english-bangla.doc
Autograph ABP presents: The John La Rose Talk Series
Documentary Photography & Social Change: Mark Sealy in conversation with Lyndall Stein and Shahidul Alam at Amnesty International UK
Amnesty International UK
The Human Rights Action Centre
17 ? 25 New Inn Yard
London EC2A 3EA
6.30pm ? 8.00pm 29th March 2007, Phone +44(0)20 7033 1500, Nearest Tube: Old Street, Moorgate & Liverpool Street
In an age where our daily lives have been saturated by images of globalization there has been a revolt by NGO?s and arts organisations who are beginning to forge links and alliances to explore new ways of using visual culture to discuss issues that address a human rights agenda in the 21st century. It is in this context that Mark Sealy the Director of Autograph ABP will explore a conversation that looks specifically at the role photography has played in helping to bring global human rights issues to a wider constituency.
A student screams out to friends from a police van at Jagannath Hall, Dhaka University, after a police raid. 31 January 1996. (c) Shahidul Alam/Drik
Meanwhile Bangladeshi photographers shine at the 3rd China International Press Photo (CHIPP) Contest held in Shanghai from March 21 to 25, 2007
Former Pathshala student Munem Wasif, now working with www.driknews.com wins the bronze prize in the Daily Life category with a powerful piece showing modern forms of slavery, through his story on the workers in the tea gardens of Bangladesh.
Former student of Pathshala and University of Bolton and currently tutor of Pathshala – Andrew Biraj – wins the bronze prize in the Topical News category with his timely piece about the attempts by multinational companies to take over land of indigenous communities,
while photographer Shafiqul Islam wins an honourable mention in the same category for his piece on police brutality against women. Biraj and Shafiq are both contributing photographers of DrikNews.
Meanwhile on it?s independence day, Bangladesh moves towards the final eight in the ICC World Cup! However, while we celebrate these wins and the recent arrests of godfathers and the ongoing cleaning up operations, the new laws curbing public freedom continues to worry. The death of Garo activist Cholesh Ritchil (http://www.drishtipat.org/blog/2007/03/19/urgent-modhupur-eco-park-activist-killed-2/) in the hands of ?Joint Forces? makes us fearful of the consequences of absolute power.