TAMPACO: Getting away with murder

By rahnuma ahmed

Tampaco Foils Ltd, BSCIC industrial area in Tongi, early hours of September 11, 2016. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Unlike Rana Plaza where the stench of corpses wafted over when we were still half a mile away, there was no such smell at Tampaco.
Unlike Rana Plaza where the workers got a minute or so before the nine-storey building collapsed, at Tampaco it was just a matter of seconds, a firefighter told me. A huge explosion, the whole thing was burnt to a cinder.
Unlike Rana Plaza where news of the collapse led to worker protests in the industrial areas of Dhaka, where thousands of garment workers walked out, set fire to at least two factories, smashed vehicles and demanded death penalty for the building owner Sohel Rana and the owners of the garment factories (five) located in the building, where workers in neighbouring Narayanganj city vandalised five garment factories, where workers clashed with police who fired rubber bullets and tear gas? nothing happened at Tampaco. Daze, shock, horror, grief, of course. But nothing else, no protests. Continue reading “TAMPACO: Getting away with murder”

Quelling anti-Rampal protests (with South Korean assistance)

rahnuma ahmed

It was a peaceful procession.
We had gathered under the aegis of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, outside the National Press Club in Dhaka, on October 19, 2016. After a brief rally, where speakers described the harm that the Rampal coal power plant would cause the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest straddling both sides of the Bangladesh-India border, we formed a procession, raised slogans and proceeded toward the Indian High Commission in Gulshan to deliver an open letter for the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.
Since India is the major partner in building the Maitree Super Thermal Power Project, i.e., the Rampal coal power plant, the National Committee’s open letter called on the Indian prime minister to scrap the project.
It’s not only us. Forty-one Indian people’s movements, green and civil rights organisations have called on Narendra Modi to scrap the the project. So has the Unesco and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). A Unesco statement recommended the ‘Rampal power plant project be cancelled and relocated to a more suitable location’ as it could damage the world heritage site, home to 450 Royal Bengal tigers, expose downriver forests to pollution and acid rain, threaten the breeding grounds of Ganges and Irrawaddy river dolphins, far worsen the already liminal ecosystem which is being threatened by rising sea levels (The Guardian, October 18, 2016). Three large French banks, including BNP Paribas, a sponsor of the Paris climate summit in 2015, have refused to invest, while two Norwegian pension funds have withdrawn their investment. Continue reading “Quelling anti-Rampal protests (with South Korean assistance)”

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”

Save Sunderbans: Global Protest 7th Jan 17

The Price of Gratitude
It is where the Bengal Tiger, now close to extinction, still stalks. It is where deer roam and hummingbirds fly. It is the richest terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem anywhere. Sunderbans (?beautiful forest? in Bangla), the world?s largest single tract mangrove forest is a UNESCO-declared World Heritage that has sheltered 50 million coastal people from ravaging storms. The beautiful forest is in danger. The joint project of PDB (Bangladesh) and NTPC (India) for 1320 MW Rampal imported coal-fired power plant spells disaster for Bangladesh. Thousands have taken to the streets in protest, braving arrest and torture, but the government, who have already killed protesters of other energy projects are determined to bludgeon through. We need you and we need you now.
On the 7th January 2017, we have called for a global protest. You have a role to play. Join the movement.
Stage demonstrations/human chains and send written appeals to the embassies of Bangladesh and India.
Organise bicycle rallies, boat rallies, use theatre, songs, cartoons, masks or just hold up placards. Send us your protest/solidarity video messages and photographs.
Appeal to United Nations.
Campaign to International Press/Media
Find other creative ways to resist.
Send them to: shahidul@drik.net and kallol_mustafa@yahoo.com. Share this message and make it go viral.

Why Biman Fails

The long queue outside is nowadays usual. But I was unperturbed. I had come in early and there were the Hajj passengers to photograph. The cat strolling through the airport was somewhat amusing. A man, who could have been Chinese, gave it some food. The cat knew his way around the place. I had found cat pooh on several occasions before, but now I had the source file!
Alarm bells should have rung when I found no notice of the flight on the electronic board. The lack of people at the Biman counter was a bigger case for alarm. My friend Porimol, a journalist from the Daily Star, who was also going to Kathmandu was in the queue. At least I was in the right place! It could have just been “Biman Time” I convinced myself. When no one had turned up by 10:00 am, we all went off to the Biman Sales counter. At least there was a Biman employee there. “We have had nothing official” they said, but hear that the flight might be cancelled. They had no arrangements for rerouting, or any other arrangement. Their excuse for not letting passengers know had some logic. Since they themselves hadn’t been told, what could they tell us?

No attempt to inform passengers that flight BG701 to #Kathmandu cancelled #whybimanfails #eavig #Biman #bangladesh

A photo posted by Shahidul Alam (@shahidul001) on

Continue reading “Why Biman Fails”

Didi. The Street Fighter

MAHASWETA DEVI (JANUARY 14, 1926 -?JULY 28, 2016), WRITER AND SOCIAL ACTIVIST

Mahasweta Devi looking at photo exhibition catalogue "Nature's Fury" by Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Mahasweta Devi looking at photo exhibition catalogue “Nature’s Fury” by Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Protocol wasn?t Didi?s thing.?Shoitan! (Satan) she would say lovingly. And then grab you and plonk you on her lap. The fact that both Rahnuma and I were far too old, and I was certainly much too heavy, to be sitting on anyone?s lap wasn?t something she worried much about. She didn?t care much for people?s age, and what other people thought, was something that had never bothered her. If you love someone, they sit on your lap. ?You have a problem with that??
Mahasweta Devi (Didi ? elder sister ? to all of us) had been a giant of a figure in South Asian literature for as far back as I can remember.?Jhansir Rani?(The Queen of Jhansi, 1956), Hajar Churashir Maa (Mother of 1084, 1975) and?Aranyer Adhikar?(The Occupation of the Forest, 1977) her powerful novel about the Santal uprising were what we knew this celebrated writer and activist by. That she was a tease and loved to sing, and didn?t mind the odd practical joke, was a side to her that had remained private. What should have been apparent was the rebel in her; her uncompromising stand for the oppressed, and her clear position as to which side of the fence she belonged. Continue reading “Didi. The Street Fighter”

HUMAN CHAIN: Protest against the murder of Photographer and Drik Employee 'Irfanul Islam'

Irfanul Islam
Irfanul Islam

 
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Dear All,
Drik Picture Library and Pathshala South Asian Media Institute will initiate to form a Human chain at T.S.C, Dhaka University on 9th?April, 2016,?Saturday?at?3.30pm?for the protest against the murder of Photographer and Drik Employee ?Irfanul Islam? who was kidnapped and murdered on 2 April, 2016. Photographers will wrap black cloth on their camera and other participants will wear a black badge and show protest placard.
We are requesting you all to take part in this protest and please note your presence and support is?VERY IMPORTANT.?

The spirit of a ghostly fabric

Rare depiction of terracotta weaver. Terracotta art was at its peak from 4th - 8th century. Courtesy of Ruby Ghuznavi, Dhaka. Bangladesh. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Rare depiction of terracotta weaver. Terracotta art was at its peak from 4th – 8th century. Courtesy of Ruby Ghuznavi, Dhaka. Bangladesh. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Having heard Saif speak of muslin over the last three years, I had gained some knowledge, albeit second hand. Going out filming with him to museums, arboretums and libraries, I had met some of the world?s leading experts. Lived part of the history. A surprise awaited me. It is not a book written by an expert, but a labour of love, written by a hungry enthusiast, not yet jaded by the weight of authority. It has all the facts. The rigour of research. The scholarly precision. The concern for one?s fellow human. Continue reading “The spirit of a ghostly fabric”

Postdoctor in Photography, Photography and Human Rights

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 06.46.27

University of Gothenburg

Type of employment: Fixed-term employment, 2 years
Extent: 100 %
Location: Valand Academy, Gothenburg
First day of employment: 2016/9/1
Reference number: PER 2016/54
Valand Academy at the University of Gothenburg and the Hasselblad Foundation have a long-term partnership developing critical reflection on photography and its mediation. As part of this partnership, the Hasselblad Foundation is launching a research project on photography and human rights in Autumn 2016, and photo-based artists holding a PhD can apply to a two-year Post-Doctoral position at Valand Academy starting September 2016. The number of positions available is one.
Continue reading “Postdoctor in Photography, Photography and Human Rights”

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
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

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”