Intimidation is a hazard of the job for Nurul Kabir. The outspoken newspaper editor faced it during his first days on the beat as a reporter, and even before, as a student activist. ?Intimidation by the powers that be is a part of my life, and it has always been that way,? he said.
It was days after he had been warned to leave the country, and Kabir was back behind his desk at the New Age office, a slightly framed man behind a towering pile of books, papers and letters, a twist of smoke curling up from the cigarette in the ashtray beside him.
Most recently, his opponents have included the Bangladeshi military. He has been a vocal critic of the military-controlled caretaker government of the last two years, a consistent thorn in their side, doing his job as a responsible journalist and shining a spotlight on those who wield power.
And his comments, repeated again and again in his newspaper and during talkshows on private TV channels, have included demands for a strong army in the interests of the security of the nation state. For this to happen, he argues, military leaders need to stop meddling with politics.
Now, unconfirmed reports say he is being threatened by the military. Sources claim his life is in danger, and he has heard that army officers have demanded ?Nurul Kabir has to be taken care of?.
A few days ago, his fresh-faced young driver, Nazib, 20, was threatened at gunpoint during a terrifying car chase which left him barely able to breathe. As he made his way home alone after dropping off his boss, he was followed and criss-crossed by six men riding two super powered Honda motorbikes.
?I thought they were going to kill me,? Nazib said. ?All of them were wearing green helmets, and the guy in the middle, he had something sticking out of his arm, like a gun, and was pointing it at me. I was driving at over 100 miles per hour, and I still felt like the car wasn?t working.?
But why is it that a man who is trained to write is seen as a threat by men who are trained to kill?
Maybe it’s because Nurul Kabir has built up his own following of unwavering supporters disciplined by facts and argument instead of military drill, largely through appearing on talkshows. And this has taken place because of the courage of his colleagues who have given him the airtime. Before the military-controlled caretaker government, public criticism of the military was largely taboo. But the last couple of years have shown that journalists are prepared to resist in the most dangerous of circumstances. When ex-President Iajuddin Ahmed declared a state of emergency, threatened censorship and longer prison sentences, coverage of the more unwanted aspects of the regime grew.
And there was a cost ? journalists were arrested, tortured, and in the case of Dainik Giri Darpan correspondent Jamal Uddin, feared killed (though the official explanation was suicide). The country?s first 24-hour news channel, CSB, was pulled from the airwaves following footage of violent clashes between students and police at Dhaka University, and Ekushey was also heavily leaned on.
None of the perpetrators were brought to justice, and the attacks continued. So did the journalists. Private broadcasters defied bans to stop airing news and current affairs programmes. despite the risks. And of course, the public tremendous desire to consume current affairs, aided by the growth of television in rural areas, spurred them on.
Now, the guns are trained on Kabir ? and his poor, innocent driver ? at one of the most sensitive of times, in the wake of the BDR rebellion which claimed the lives of four civilians, six BDR soldiers, and 56 officers. It is one of the greatest losses of officers suffered in the history of the country. But, according to Kabir, “they?re conspiring to harm me when they?re not in power. Now there is an elected government. If I?m killed tomorrow, the government will get the blame. And they?re using this [the aftermath of the rebellion] as an opportunity, when officers are emotionally charged.?
From their most recent record, journalists and their co-workers have shown they are prepared to fight against the harshest of odds. When the state has upped the ante, so have they. Condemnation of the car chase has come not only from colleagues in the Dhaka Union of Journalists but also other quarters, including architecture, anthropology, women?s rights activists and judges.
As long as the state continues to try and silence this man, they?re in for the big fight. The battle lines have been drawn.
Flowers blossom, but with bullets in place of stigma. Bullets signal the end of fertility, the end of life. They signal death and destruction (After the end of time – 3).
A chess board. The king wears Stars and Stripes, his minister is dressed in the Union Jack. Soldiers litter the board, two have holes in their hearts. The path to a target practising board is strewn with eyes, un-seeing eyes. Dead targets. One eye, may be half-alive, stares at us unblinkingly. An eagle, hovering above, stops in its flight of extending the empire, to oversee American-style democracy take root in a faraway land (Before the end of time – 2). This is how Bangladeshi artist Dilara Begum Jolly captures the present moment on her canvas.
Bodies fractured by wars of the present, dismembered limbs, single hands — coloured red, yellow, blue, purple — lie lifeless. Others are raised upwards, they seem to be imploring. Stop this madness, stop the war. A human body folded, her head and pair of legs buried beneath the soil, her arms too. The trunk of her body and her fingers are visible. Fingertips stretched outward, towards the sun, towards light. A flaming red petal of a bird of paradise springs forth like a knife from the navel of a human body as she lies face upwards, her hands tied in a knot. A pair of army boots remind us of how it happened (Before the end of time – 4).
An Iraqi flag interweaves between dead bodies lying in a heap. Mother Teresa grieves silently as a furious red hand, gloved in Stars and Stripes, hangs over — and above — everything else. Once again, a Union Jack, this time in the background (Before the end of time – 1).
Other canvases, other images. Naked bodies, imprisoned bodies heaped on each other, surveilled by an eagle eye, the new owners of Abu Ghuraib. Autumn leaves falling on a white background as women, dressed in hijab, some in brown, others in purple, or blue, grey, white, stand shoulder to shoulder to the right of the canvas. They seem to be grieving. May be for a lost husband or a daughter. May be a son, a grandmother or a lover. For people, obscured by words spun by the invader — safe and secure in Pentagon, Washington, Fort Benning, and Downing Street — “collateral damage.” May be for the loss of national independence and freedom.
Other canvases, other images. Not any civilisation, but the cradle of civilisation itself destroyed. Army vehicles advancing on monuments. Statues and sculptures lying scattered as blank pages of history waft down. A Buddha head looks impassively as a shot is fired into its right eye. A broken cuneiform tablet.
And yet, in the midst of all the death, destruction and havoc, a pink lotus blooms. And that, as we who are familiar with the artist’s work know, is Dilara Begum Jolly’s signature. A flower, a sapling, a shoot springing forth in the midst of ruins. Signalling life, its force and energy. Its beauty. Signalling the will to live. The death of forces of evil.
Dilara Begum, known more by her nickname Jolly than her proper name, has always produced art that is social, and political. That is keenly critical of the prevailing order, whether at home or abroad. Or, as her exhibition Excavating Time (Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts, 4 – 17 September 2006) shows, of the new order that has not only destroyed the cradle of civilisation, but threatens to destroy all vestiges of life on the planet. An inexorable war machine, spinning lies and deceit to the heavy rounds of applause by western politicians, generals, defence analysts and journalists.
Other canvases in the exhibition drew on the womb, on foetuses, on the pain of giving birth. Or, of not giving birth, of an embryo that retreats into the womb, repelled by the patriarchal order that controls and regulates life outside (Embryo withdrawn – 1).
Jolly’s more recent work draws on the the nokshi kantha (quilt-making) tradition of Bangladeshi women, quilts that are made from worn-out saris, two to three sewn together, richly embroidered from folk tales, myths, everyday artefacts, and daily village life as seen by, and as intrepreted by, women. Always. Instead of strokes and brushes, Jolly paints short stitches that weave tales, of women as mothers, as sisters, and as friends, drawing on traditions of weaving to tell stories of the pain and wonderment of giving birth. Of creating, and re-creating, bonds of solidarity.
Landslides are dangerous. Things get buried. People get hurt. The 9th parliamentary elections was to return Bangladesh from a two year military backed caretaker rule to an elected Government. The gathering on the last campaign day was massive, but there were fewer women and more people with white caps than one expected. The BNP candidate in Paltan Maidan boasted of how EVERY household in his candidacy, had assured him of their vote. Awami League candidates, the previous day, postured similarly, but both sides probably felt there was a reasonable chance of winning. The two-year gap between BNP’s misrule and the elections, might have eroded some of the moral gains that Awami League would otherwise have had. Voters sometimes have short memories. A landslide election win for anyone was not on the cards.
The Bangladeshi voter however, is remarkably savvy. They voted out Bhutto in 1971. Despite genocide, it did lead to independence. Since then, in every reasonably free and fair election they have had, they have voted with their heads. Hasina’s lack of repentance about BAKSHAL and previous Awami League misrule cost her the 1991 elections. Khaleda’s police fired upon farmers demanding fertilisers. Even a rigged election didn’t help her in 1996. ‘Safe’ seats of numerous ministers were lost in the re-taken polls. Hasina blew it in her term with her thugs causing havoc on campus and her ministers demanding that journalists be beaten up. The votes went to BNP. Khaleda went overboard yet again, with corruption reaching new heights, and her sons unleashing terror. Rising prices didn’t help. Khaleda made an attempt at apology. It was too little too late. The pendulum swung. History does not appear to be either party’s strong point.
There has however, been a change in the recent script. Political skirmishes in the past, were largely between political cadre, and localised. A few cocktails might have been thrown, but since the killing of general Zia, there had been few assassination attempts. Until recently. Bomb attacks were a new thing. The capture of trucks laden with small arms. The vigilante groups in the rampage in the north. The targeted attacks on secular scholars, were new. Assassination attempts on Hasina took political violence to new levels. The BNP brought in its own vigilante. The black bandanas of the Rapid Action Battalion became another source of terror with hundreds of ‘crossfire’ deaths to their credit.
Against this backdrop, the landslide win of the Awami League, had analysts gushing with excitement. The superlatives flowed. People cheered this ‘historic victory’. A change of government generally starts with a witch-hunt, traditionally meted out to the opposition party previously in power. This caretaker government had stayed rather longer than usual. Given the documented torture of ‘rajkumar’ Tariq Zia (Khaleda’s son and the general secretary of her party), BNP’s return to power would not have been so comfortable for the incumbent government and its unofficial backers. Hasina’s promise of ratifying the misdeeds of this government meant she was the safer bet.
Accusations of the military having actively engineered the Awami League win is probably exaggerated, though news of intimidation was not infrequent, particularly in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. But that too is history. Hasina’s position regarding her neighbours is more pertinent. She has already declared solidarity towards Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi. The relationship towards big brother India, will probably have more to do with the relationship with bigger brother USA. The US has always played a major role in recent subcontinental politics. The 7th fleet in the Bay of Bengal was needed when the USSR was dominant. Today, the US, Israel and India are close allies, the war on terror being a collective pet project. A pliant military and a grateful Hasina will both play the game. The routing of Jamaat in the elections has to do with people’s sentiments. The war on war criminals to the war on terror is a small bridge to cross. The fluttering flag of democracy will obscure a few indiscretions along the way.
I?m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.?
? Antonio Gramsci, Marxist theorist, politician, founder of the Italian Communist party
It was a victory for electoral democracy.
I was the first one to cast my vote. We had gone, en famille. My mother was next. Rini, my sister-in-law and Saif, my brother, had taken their precious national ID cards with them, only to be told by polling centre officials that these were not needed, that they should go to the stalls opened by political parties outside the polling centre grounds to get their voter registration number. That updated and complete voter lists were to be found there. Rini was astounded and kept repeating, even after she had cast her vote, `But it is the national Election Commission that registered me as a voter, I didn?t register with any political party?. Someone else?s photo, name, and father?s name graced the space where Saif?s should have been. After a lot of running around and long hours of waiting, he gave up. It was close to four, the polling booths were closing. He was dismayed, and perturbed.
Shahidul, made wiser by their experiences, ran off to a political party booth to collect his serial number. After quickly casting his vote, he rushed back to take pictures. A handsome young man, showing-off with a thumbs-up sign, caught his eye. He was proud. He had voted for a return to democracy.
A landslide victory for the Grand Alliance and its major partner, the Awami League. As the results emerged through the night, I remained glued to the TV screen, hopping from one channel to another, listening to election reporting, news analysis, and discussions. As votes in favour of Abul Maal Abdul Muhit tipped the scales, I watched seasoned journalists debate over whether political superstition ? whichever party candidate wins Sylhet-1 forms the government ? would prove to be true. And it did, yet again. The BNP candidate, ex-finance minister Saifur Rahman lost to Abdul Muhit by over 38,000 votes.
In the early hours of the morning, as AL?s massive victory became apparent, I watched Nurul Kabir voice strong words of caution on one of the election update programmes on a private channel: given the rout of the opposition, the biggest challenge for the incoming Awami League government would be to not lose its head. Words to be repeated by others, later. Sheikh Hasina herself, in the first press conference, pronounced it to be a victory for democracy. A victory for the nation. People had voted against misrule and corruption, against terrorism and criminal activities, and against fundamentalism. They had voted for good governance, for peace, and secularism. Poverty, she said, was enemy number one. Expressing her wish to share power with the opposition, Sheikh Hasina urged ex-Prime Minister Khaleda Zia to accept the poll results. Our government, she said, will be a government for all. It will initiate a new political culture, one that shuns the politics of confrontation.
Congratulations poured in, in both the print and electronic media. A new sun had risen over the political horizon. December 29th were the best elections ever, kudos to the Election Commission. Awami League?s charter for change was a charter for the nation. It was a charter that had enabled the nation to dream again. To wake up again. A historic revolution ? a ballot box revolution ? had taken place. Let 2009 herald new political beginnings for Bangladesh. Let darkness be banished, let peace and happiness engulf each home. Let insecurities and turmoil be tales of yester-years. Let us, as a nation, build our own destiny.
There were more cautious, discerning voices too. Promising to lower prices of daily necessities is easy, effect-ing it, is harder. Democracy is much more than voting for MPs, it is popular participation, at all levels of society. In order to change the destiny of the nation, the AL needs to change itself first. Landslide victories can herald landslide disasters.
I turned to analysts who sought to explain the victory. What had brought it about, what did it signal? It was the younger voters, a whole new generation of voters. It was women voters. It was the Jamaat-isation of the BNP, and that the anti-India vote bank, the Muslim vote bank, were now proven to be myths. Khaleda Zia?s pre-election apology had not been enough, people had not forgiven the four-party alliance government?s misrule, and its excesses. The BNP party organisation at the grassroots level had failed to perform their duties with diligence, during the election campaign, and also later, when votes were being counted. The spirit of 1971 had returned, thanks to the Sector Commanders Forum, and to writers, cultural activists, intellectuals, media. People had cast their votes for a separation between state and religion, for the trial of war criminals, for re-building a non-communal Bangladesh. I watched Tazreena Sajjad on television argue that we should not go into a reactive mode, that we should not pre-judge that the AL, since it had gained victory, would now forget the war crimes trial issue. It was important, she said, that war crimes trials be adopted as a policy approach, that the government review the available expertise, the institutional infrastructure, and witnesses needed etc. It was important, added Shameem Reza, another panelist on the programme, that the social pressure for holding the trials should continue unabated.
At a record 87 per cent, the voter turnout was the biggest ever. International poll monitoring groups, including Washingtonbased National Democratic Institute, Commonwealth Observer Group, Asian Network for Free Elections, an EU delegation and a host of foreign observers, unanimously termed the polls free and fair, the election results as being credible. There was no evidence of ?unprecedented rigging,? or of the polls having been conducted according to a ?blueprint?. But, of course, observers maintained, ex-Prime Minister Khaleda Zia?s allegations should be carefully investigated. At a press conference, the leader of the 33 member NDI delegation, Howard B Schaffer, also an ex-US ambassador to Bangladesh, said that these elections provide Bangladesh an opportunity to nourish and consolidate democracy. As I read reports of the press conference, I think, neither the US administration, nor its ruling classes are known for nourishing and consolidating democracy. The NDI delegation had also included a former USAID official, an organisation that is known for promoting US corporate interests, rather than democracy. Most of USAID?s activities are, as many are probably aware, concentrated in Middle Eastern countries. Many Arabs regard US foreign aid as ?bribe money?, offered to governments willing to overlook Israel?s policies of occupation. Larry Garber had served as Director of USAID?s West Bank and Gaza Mission from 1999-2004, a period that was partially preceded by four years (1996-200) of USAID withholding $17 million in assistance for a programme to modernise and reform the Palestinian judiciary. The Israelis did not want an independent judiciary. They were afraid it would lead to a sovereign Palestinian state. USAID obliged. And of course, there are other, much worse, US administration stories of felling rather than nurturing democracy. After Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian legislature in January 2006, the Bush administration had embarked on a secret project for the armed overthrow of the Islamist government.
Will the victory for electoral democracy in Bangladesh be a victory for long-term, deep-seated democratic processes? This, of course, remains to be seen. I myself, have two serious misgivings.
A ?smooth transition?: impunity in the offing?
Reporters had asked Sheikh Hasina as she came out after her meeting with Fakhruddin Ahmed, chief adviser, on December 31: will your government legitimise the caretaker government? The reply, highlighted in nearly all newspapers, was: it will be discussed in the parliament. Parliament will decide. I have initiated discussions with constitutional experts. A committee will be formed to discuss the matter. Sheikh Hasina also added, government is a continuing process. It is the duty of a new government to continue processes that have been initiated by the preceding government, in the interests of a smooth transition. But I had watched news reports on TV, and had noticed the slip between the cup and the lip, between what was said, and what was reported in the print media: the ordinances passed by the government will be discussed, those that are good will be accepted, and those that are not…
How can something as grave, as sinister as the takeover of power by a coterie of people who were backed by the military, a government that was unelected and unaccountable, the suspension of ?inalienable? fundamental rights of the people during a 23 month long period of emergency, the abuse of the judiciary, the intimidation of the media by military intelligence agencies, illegal arrests leading to already bursting-at-the-seams prisons, custodial tortures, crossfire deaths, the destruction of means of livelihood of countless subsistence workers, the closure of mills, the havoc wreaked on the economy ? be referred to as a bunch of ordinances that need to be discussed and separately reviewed, maybe some of these are to be accepted, others not?
Diluting? Diverting? As I said, I have misgivings.
Allying with bigger terrorists
The separation of religion and politics subsumes the issue of the trial of 1971 war criminals, the local collaborators, the rajakars. But as I watch AL parliamentarians talk on TV channels, I notice a linguistic elision, a seepage occur into discussions of the trials of war criminals. The present is carried over into the past, the past slips into the present. Those who had collaborated in the Pakistan army?s genocide take on Bush-ian overtones: rajakars are religious extremists are Islamic militants are ?terrorists.? A seamless whole seems to be in the making.
And, as I read of Sheikh Hasina?s support for the US war on terror (expressed to the US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Richard Boucher, 25th of July 2008), and her more recent pledge to work for the formation of a joint anti-terrorism taskforce by SAARC countries, I wonder whether ?the spirit of 1971? will be cashed-in to manufacture support for the US-led war on terror, one that has killed millions, and made homeless several more. All in the name of democracy.
Reinhard Siekaczek was half asleep in bed when his doorbell rang here early one morning two years ago. Still in his pajamas, he peeked out his bedroom window, hurried downstairs and flung open the front door. Standing before him in the cool, crisp dark were six German police officers and a prosecutor. They held a warrant for his arrest.
At that moment, Mr. Siekaczek, a stout, graying former accountant for Siemens A.G., the German engineering giant, knew that his secret life had ended. ?I know what this is about,? Mr. Siekaczek told the officers crowded around his door. ?I have been expecting you. “To understand how Siemens, one of the world?s biggest companies, last week ended up paying $1.6 billion in the largest fine for bribery in modern corporate history, it?s worth delving into Mr. Siekaczek?s unusual journey.
A former midlevel executive at Siemens, he was one of several people who arranged a torrent of payments that eventually streamed to well-placed officials around the globe, from Vietnam to Venezuela and from Italy to Israel, according to interviews with Mr. Siekaczek and court records in Germany and the United States. What is striking about Mr. Siekaczek?s and prosecutors? accounts of those dealings, which flowed through a web of secret bank accounts and shadowy consultants, is how entrenched corruption had become at a sprawling, sophisticated corporation that externally embraced the nostrums of a transparent global marketplace built on legitimate transactions.
Mr. Siekaczek (pronounced SEE-kah-chek) says that from 2002 to 2006 he oversaw an annual bribery budget of about $40 million to $50 million at Siemens. Company managers and sales staff used the slush fund to cozy up to corrupt government officials worldwide. The payments, he says, were vital to maintaining the competitiveness of Siemens overseas, particularly in his subsidiary, which sold telecommunications equipment. ?It was about keeping the business unit alive and not jeopardizing thousands of jobs overnight,? he said in an interview. Siemens is hardly the only corporate giant caught in prosecutors? cross hairs.
Three decades after Congress passed a law barring American companies from paying bribes to secure foreign business, law enforcement authorities around the world are bearing down on major enterprises like Daimler and Johnson & Johnson, with scores of cases now under investigation. Both companies declined comment, citing continuing investigations. Albert J. Stanley, a legendary figure in the oil patch and the former chief executive of the KBR subsidiary of Halliburton, recently pleaded guilty to charges of paying bribes and skimming millions for himself. More charges are coming in that case, officials say. But the Siemens case is notable for its breadth, the sums of money involved, and the raw organizational zeal with which the company deployed bribes to secure contracts. It is also a model of something that was once extremely rare: cross-border cooperation among law enforcement officials.
German prosecutors initially opened the Siemens case in 2005. American authorities became involved in 2006 because the company?s shares are traded on the New York Stock Exchange. In its settlement last week with the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, Siemens pleaded guilty to violating accounting provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which outlaws bribery abroad.
Although court documents are salted throughout with the word ?bribes,? the Justice Department allowed Siemens to plead to accounting violations because it cooperated with the investigation and because pleading to bribery violations would have barred Siemens from bidding on government contracts in the United States. Siemens doesn?t dispute the government?s account of its actions.
Matthew W. Friedrich, the acting chief of the Justice Department?s criminal division, called corruption at Siemens ?systematic and widespread.? Linda C. Thomsen, the S.E.C.?s enforcement director, said it was ?egregious and brazen.? Joseph Persichini Jr., the director of the F.B.I.?s Washington field office, which led the investigation, called it ?massive, willful and carefully orchestrated.?
MR. SIEKACZEK?S telecommunications unit was awash in easy money. It paid $5 million in bribes to win a mobile phone contract in Bangladesh, to the son of the prime minister at the time and other senior officials, according to court documents. Mr. Siekaczek?s group also made $12.7 million in payments to senior officials in Nigeria for government contracts. In Argentina, a different Siemens subsidiary paid at least $40 million in bribes to win a $1 billion contract to produce national identity cards. In Israel, the company provided $20 million to senior government officials to build power plants. In Venezuela, it was $16 million for urban rail lines. In China, $14 million for medical equipment. And in Iraq, $1.7 million to Saddam Hussein and his cronies.
The bribes left behind angry competitors who were shut out of contracts and local residents in poor countries who, because of rigged deals, paid too much for necessities like roads, power plants and hospitals, prosecutors said. Because government contracting is an opaque process and losers don?t typically file formal protests, it?s difficult to know the identity of competitors who lost out to Siemens. Companies in the United States have long complained, however, that they face an uneven playing field competing overseas.
Ben W. Heineman Jr., a former general counsel at General Electric and a member of the American chapter of Transparency International, a nonprofit group that tracks corruption, says the enforcement of some antibribery conventions still remains scattershot. ?Until you have energetic enforcement by the developed-world nations, you won?t get strong antibribery programs or high-integrity corporate culture,? he said.
Afghanistan, Haiti, Iraq, Myanmar and Somalia are the five countries where corporate bribery is most common, according to Transparency International. The S.E.C. complaint said Siemens paid its heftiest bribes in China, Russia, Argentina, Israel and Venezuela. ?Crimes of official corruption threaten the integrity of the global marketplace and undermine the rule of law in the host countries,? said Lori Weinstein, the Justice Department prosecutor who oversaw the Siemens case.
All told, Siemens will pay more than $2.6 billion to clear its name: $1.6 billion in fines and fees in Germany and the United States and more than $1 billion for internal investigations and reforms.
Siemens?s general counsel, Peter Y. Solmssen, in an interview outside a marble-lined courtroom in Washington, said the company acknowledged that bribes were at the heart of the case. ?This is the end of a difficult chapter in the company?s history,? he said. ?We?re glad to get it behind us.? Mr. Siekaczek, who cooperated with German authorities after his arrest in 2006, has already been sentenced in Germany to two years? probation and a $150,000 fine. During a lengthy interview in Munich, a few blocks from the Siemens world headquarters, he provided an insider?s account of corruption at the company. The interview was his first with English-language news outlets.
?I would never have thought I?d go to jail for my company,? Mr. Siekaczek said. ?Sure, we joked about it, but we thought if our actions ever came to light, we?d all go together and there would be enough people to play a game of cards.?
Mr. Siekaczek isn?t a stereotype of a white-collar villain. There are no Ferraris in his driveway, or villas in Monaco. He dresses in jeans, loafers and leather jackets. With white hair and gold-rimmed glasses, he passes for a kindly grandfather ? albeit one who can discuss the advantages of offshore bank accounts as easily as last night?s soccer match. SIEMENS began bribing long before Mr. Siekaczek applied his accounting skills to the task of organizing the payments.
World War II left the company shattered, its factories bombed and its trademark patents confiscated, according to American prosecutors. The company turned to markets in less developed countries to compete, and bribery became a reliable and ubiquitous sales technique. ?Bribery was Siemens?s business model,? said Uwe Dolata, the spokesman for the association of federal criminal investigators in Germany. ?Siemens had institutionalized corruption.? Before 1999, bribes were deductible as business expenses under the German tax code, and paying off a foreign official was not a criminal offense. In such an environment, Siemens officials subscribed to a straightforward rule in pursuing business abroad, according to one former executive. They played by local rules.
Inside Siemens, bribes were referred to as ?NA? ? a German abbreviation for the phrase ?n?tzliche Aufwendungen? which means ?useful money.? Siemens bribed wherever executives felt the money was needed, paying off officials not only in countries known for government corruption, like Nigeria, but also in countries with reputations for transparency, like Norway, according to court records. In February 1999, Germany joined the international convention banning foreign bribery, a pact signed by most of the world?s industrial nations. By 2000, authorities in Austria and Switzerland were suspicious of millions of dollars of Siemens payments flowing to offshore bank accounts, according to court records.
Rather than comply with the law, Siemens managers created a ?paper program,? a toothless internal system that did little to punish wrongdoers, according to court documents. Mr. Siekaczek?s business unit was one of the most egregious offenders. Court documents show that the telecommunications unit paid more than $800 million of the $1.4 billion in illegal payments that Siemens made from 2001 to 2007. Managers in the telecommunications group decided to deal with the possibility of a crackdown by making its bribery procedures more difficult to detect.
So, on one winter evening in late 2002, five executives from the telecommunications group met for dinner at a traditional Bavarian restaurant in a Munich suburb. Surrounded by dark wood panels and posters celebrating German engineering, the group discussed how to better disguise its payments, while making sure that employees didn?t pocket the money, Mr. Siekaczek said.
To handle the business side of bribery, the executives turned to Mr. Siekaczek, a man renowned within the company for his personal honesty, his deep company loyalty ? and his experiences in the shadowy world of illegal bribery. ?It had nothing to do with being law-abiding, because we all knew what we did was unlawful.? Mr. Siekaczek said. ?What mattered here was that the person put in charge was stable and wouldn?t go astray.? Although Mr. Siekaczek was reluctant to take the job offered that night, he justified it as economic necessity. If Siemens didn?t pay bribes, it would lose contracts and its employees might lose their jobs. ?We thought we had to do it,? Mr. Siekaczek said. ?Otherwise, we?d ruin the company.?
Indeed, he considers his personal probity a point of honor. He describes himself as ?the man in the middle,? ?the banker? or, with tongue in cheek, ?the master of disaster.? But, he said, he never set up a bribe. Nor did he directly hand over money to a corrupt official. German prosecutors say they have no evidence that he personally enriched himself, though German documents show that Mr. Siekaczek oversaw the transfer of some $65 million through hard-to-trace offshore bank accounts. ?I was not the man responsible for bribery,? he said. ?I organized the cash.?
Mr. Siekaczek set things in motion by moving money out of accounts in Austria to Liechtenstein and Switzerland, where bank secrecy laws provided greater cover and anonymity. He said he also reached out to a trustee in Switzerland who set up front companies to conceal money trails from Siemens to offshore bank accounts in Dubai and the British Virgin Islands. Each year, Mr. Siekaczek said, managers in his unit set aside a budget of about $40 million to $50 million for the payment of bribes. For Greece alone, Siemens budgeted $10 million to $15 million a year. Bribes were as high as 40 percent of the contract cost in especially corrupt countries. Typically, amounts ranged from 5 percent to 6 percent of a contract?s value.
The most common method of bribery involved hiring an outside consultant to help ?win? a contract. This was typically a local resident with ties to ruling leaders. Siemens paid a fee to the consultant, who in turn delivered the cash to the ultimate recipient. Siemens has acknowledged having more than 2,700 business consultant agreements, so-called B.C.A.?s, worldwide. Those consultants were at the heart of the bribery scheme, sending millions to government officials.
MR. SIEKACZEK was painfully aware that he was acting illegally. To protect evidence that he didn?t act alone, he and a colleague began copying documents stored in a basement at Siemens?s headquarters in Munich that detailed the payments. He eventually stashed about three dozen folders in a secret hiding spot. In 2004, Siemens executives told him that he had to sign a document stating he had followed the company?s compliance rules. Reluctantly, he signed, but he quit soon after. He continued to work for Siemens as a consultant before finally resigning in 2006. As legal pressure mounted, he heard rumors that Siemens was setting him up for a fall. ?On the inside, I was deeply disappointed. But I told myself that people were going to be surprised when their plan failed,? Mr. Siekaczek recalled. ?It wasn?t going to be possible to make me the only one guilty because dozens of people in the business unit were involved. Nobody was going to believe that one person did this on his own.?
The Siemens scheme began to collapse when investigators in several countries began examining suspicious transactions. Prosecutors in Italy, Liechtenstein and Switzerland sent requests for help to counterparts in Germany, providing lists of suspect Siemens employees. German officials then decided to act in one simultaneous raid. The police knocked on Mr. Siekaczek?s door on the morning of Nov. 15, 2006. Some 200 other officers were also sweeping across Germany, into Siemens?s headquarters in Munich and the homes of several executives. In addition to Mr. Siekaczek?s detailed payment records, investigators secured five terabytes of data from Siemens?s offices ? a mother lode of information equivalent to five million books. Mr. Siekaczek turned out to be one of the biggest prizes. After calling his lawyer, he immediately announced that he would cooperate. Officials in the United States began investigating the case shortly after the raids became public. Knowing that it faced steep fines unless it cooperated, Siemens hired an American law firm, Debevoise & Plimpton, to conduct an internal investigation and to work with federal investigators.
As German and American investigators worked together to develop leads, Debevoise and its partners dedicated more than 300 lawyers, forensic analysts and staff members to untangle thousands of payments across the globe, according to the court records. American investigators and the Debevoise lawyers conducted more than 1,700 interviews in 34 countries. They collected more than 100 million documents, creating special facilities in China and Germany to house records from that single investigation. Debevoise and an outside auditor racked up 1.5 million billable hours, according to court documents. Siemens has said that the internal inquiry and related restructurings have cost it more than $1 billion.
Siemens officials ?made it crystal clear that they wanted us to get to the bottom of this and follow it wherever the evidence led,? said Bruce E. Yannett, a Debevoise partner. At the same time, Siemens worked hard to purge the company of some senior managers and to reform company policies. Several senior managers have been arrested. Klaus Kleinfeld, the company?s C.E.O., resigned in April 2007. He has denied wrongdoing and is now head of Alcoa, the aluminum giant. Alcoa said that the company fully supports Mr. Kleinfeld and declined to comment further.
Last year, Siemens said in S.E.C. filings that it had discovered evidence that former officials had misappropriated funds and abused their authority. In August, Siemens said it seeks to recover monetary damages from 11 former board members for activities related to the bribery scheme. Negotiations on that matter are continuing. Earlier this year, Siemens?s current chief executive, Peter L?scher, vowed to make Siemens ?state of the art? in anticorruption measures. ?Operational excellence and ethical behavior are not a contradiction of terms,? the company said in a statement. ?We must get the best business ? and the clean business.? Siemens still faces legal uncertainties. The Justice Department and German officials said that investigations were continuing and that current and former company officials might face prosecution. Legal experts say Siemens is the latest in a string of high-profile cases that are changing attitudes about corruption. Still, they said, much work remains.
?I am not saying the fight against bribing foreign public officials is a fight full of roses and victories,? said Nicola Bonucci, the director of legal affairs for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which is based in Paris and monitors the global economy. ?But I am convinced that it is something more and more people are taking seriously.? For his part, Mr. Siekaczek is uncertain about the impact of the Siemens case. After all, he said, bribery and corruption are still widespread.
?People will only say about Siemens that they were unlucky and that they broke the 11th Commandment,? he said. ?The 11th Commandment is: ?Don?t get caught.? ?————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–
Source: Robin Khundkar and Pedro Meyer
Original in The New York Times
December 21, 2008
At Siemens, Bribery Was Just a Line Item
By SIRI SCHUBERT and T. CHRISTIAN MILLER
This article is a joint report by ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization, PBS?s “Frontline” and The New York Times. A related documentary will be broadcast on ?Frontline? on April 7.
She jumped down from the police van and tried to escape. It stopped, they hunted her down by torchlight, dragged her back and drove off. Men, gathered around the tea stall, wondered why the car had stopped. Curious, they walked up to the spot. A golden coloured sandal, a handkerchief, and broken bits of bangle lay there.
Yasmin: raped and murdered by the police
She was only fourteen years old, her death was brutal. Gang-raped by policemen, and later, killed. Yasmin, a domestic wage worker, employed in a Dhaka city middle class home, longed to see her mother. Leaving her employers home unannounced, she caught the bus to Dinajpur, got down at Doshmile bus stoppage, hours before dawn on 24 August 1995. A police patrol van driving by insisted on picking her up. Yasmin hesitated. One of the police constables barked at those gathered around the tea stall, We are law-enforcers, we will drop her home safely. Don?t you have any faith in us?
Hours later, a young boy discovered her bloodied dead body, off the main road. The police who came to investigate stripped her naked. Bystanders were outraged. Recording it as an unidentified death, they handed over her body to Anjuman-e-Mafidul Islam for burial.
The dead girl was the same girl who had been picked up by the police van, when this news had spread, a handful of people took out a procession. In response, the police authorities held a press conference where a couple of prostitutes turned up and claimed that the dead girl Banu, was one of them, she had been missing. District-level administration and local influentials joined in the police?s attempts to cover up.
Spontaneous processions and rallies took place demanding that the police be tried. Yasmin?s mother recognised her daughter from a newspaper photo, lifeless as she lay strewn in an open three-wheeled van. As a peoples movement emerged, police action, yet again, was brutal. Lathi-charge, followed by firing, killed seven people. Public outrage swelled. Roadblocks were set up, curfew was defied, police stations were beseiged, arrested processionists were freed from police lock-ups by members of the public. Outrage focused on police superintendent Abdul Mottaleb, district commissioner Jabbar Farook, and member of parliament Khurshid Jahan (?chocolate apa?), the-then prime minister Khaleda Zia?s sister, perceived to be central figures in the cover-up. Shommilito Nari Shomaj, a large alliance of women?s organisations, political, cultural and human rights activists joined the people of Dinajpur, as Justice for Yasmin turned into a nationwide movement.
In 1997, the three policemen, Moinul Hoque, Abdus Sattar and Amrita Lal were found guilty. In 2004, they were executed.
Yasmin of Dinajpur is, for us, an icon symbolising female vulnerability, and resistance, both her own (she had tried to escape), and that of people, both Dinajpur and nationwide. She serves as a constant reminder that the police force, idealised in state imaginings as protector of life and property should not be taken for granted, that women need to test this each day, on every single occasion.
In the nation?s recent history of popular struggles, Yasmin?s death helped to characterise the police force as a masculine institution, it gave new meanings to the Bangla proverb, `jey rokkhok shei bhokkhok,? he who claims to protect women, is the usurper, the aggressor. A taboo, sanctioned by state powers, was broken.
Bidisha in remand: sexual abuse
`Go and get a shard of ice. Insert it. It will all come out.?
In her autobiography, Bidisha, second wife of ex-President Hussain Mohd Ershad, later-divorced, writes, I wondered, what will they do with that? Insert it where? (Shotrur Shonge Shohobash, 2008).
Under the influence of what she assumes was a truth serum, injected during remand at a Joint interrogation cell housed in Baridhara, Bidisha writes, the pain was unbearable. A horrible burning sensation coursed through my body, my eyes threatened to burst out of their sockets. If I opened them, it felt like chilli powder had been rubbed in. If I closed them, balls of fire encircled my pupils. My breathing grew heavy. I felt like I was dying, but I couldn?t, I was falling asleep, but I couldn?t. My tongue grew thick. I wanted to say everything that I knew, and things that I didn?t. Questions flew at me from all directions, some of them pounded me from inside my head.
But, Bidisha writes, I stuck to what she knew. I stuck to the truth. Her interrogators got tired. One of them ordered the ice, and ordered someone to leave the room. Was it the policewomen, Bidisha wonders. A strong pair of hands gripped her shoulders, another climbed up her legs, up her thighs, ?like a snake.? But they stopped, disappointed. `I don?t think we can do it. She?s bleeding.?
She writes, but my periods had ended days earlier, why should there be blood? I remembered, it must be the beatings at the Gulshan police station, by the officer-in-charge Noore Alam. She was pushed and as she fell, someone grabbed hold of her orna. Pulled and pushed, her orna soon turned into a noose, she could no longer breathe, her tongue jutted out. She was hit hard with a stick on her lower abdomen, through the daze she could see that he was uniformed. I fell on the floor like a sack. I was barely conscious. I was kicked and trampled with boots on my chest, head, back, and lower abdomen.
During interrogation, the chief interrogator Joshim had repeatedly shouted at her, Do you know who I am? Do you know what I can do to you? Ten-twelve men had been present when the truth serum was injected. Well-dressed, fashionable clothes, expensive watches. Whiffs of expensive after-shave. Trim hair, cut very short. As she repeatedly stuck to the truth, Joshim threatened to hang her upside down, like Arman, he said, who was being tortured in the next room. She was threatened with rape by members of RAB (Rapid Action Battalion). During another round her left thumbnail was prised open and torn away, by something like a pair of pliers. They held my eyelids open so that I could see. Relief came only when the call for prayers sounded, since the men scurried away to pray.
Interrogation sessions were video-recorded, each interrogator had an audio recorder. I remember hearing, be sure to get all the details on camera. I remember someone adding, Who?ll think she?s had three kids? What a figure! The cassette?ll make him happy. Make who happy? she wonders. Toward the end of the three-day remand, one of the men entered and said, It?s over. I?ve talked. To who? asked one of the interrogators. One of the Bhaban men. (I presume, Bidisha means Hawa Bhaban). She was forced to declare on camera that she had not been tortured, to sign written declarations, and also blank sheets of paper.
She was in custody for 23 days in June 2005, because of two cases filed by her husband, and two by the government. What were the allegations? Her husband, the ex-President, first accused her of stealing his cell phone, money from his wallet, and vandalising household furniture. Then she was accused of having different birth dates on two different passports. And lastly, of having stashed away large amounts of money in foreign bank accounts.
Interested quarters tried to make light of the incident, they said, it was a ?purely family affair.? Those in the political know, for instance Kazi Zafarullah, Awami League presidium member, claimed that the ruling BNP had masterminded the event to prevent Ershad from forging unity with opposition political parties since elections were due next year (New Age, 6 June 2005). I was repeatedly asked during interrogation, writes Bidisha, why had I said that the Jatiya Party should form an alliance with the Awami League? Why not with the BNP? (`because they were unable to govern properly, people were furious, Jatiya Party popularity was bound to fall?). Bidisha was expelled from Jatiya party membership, she lost her post of presidium member.
Parliamentary elections under the present military-backed caretaker government are scheduled to be held in December 2008. Jatiya Party (JP) has joined Awami League (AL) led grand alliance for contesting the elections. According to newspaper reports, Ershad is eyeing the presidency.
Pahari women: rape under occupation
Even after the signing of the 1997 Peace Treaty between the government and the PCJSS (Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti), the Chittagong Hill Tracts remains one of the most militarised regions of the world. During the period of armed conflict, according to international human rights reports, sexual violence was inflicted on indigenous women and their communities as part of military strategy. Bangladesh Army personnel have been accused by paharis of having committed extrajudicial killings, rape, torture and abduction. In August 2003, over 300 houses in 7 pahari villages of Mahalcchari were razed to the ground by the army, aided by Bengali settlers. Paharis claim, ten Chakma women were raped, some of them gang-raped. This includes a mother and her two daughters, aged 12 and 15, and two daughters of another family, aged 14 and 16 years. Victims allege, armed personnel alongwith Bengali settlers took part in the rapes. Paharis claim, state-sponsored political and sexual violence still continues.
There is no public evidence that the Bangladesh army has investigated those claims in any way. Nor do we know if the Bangladesh army has charged any soldier as a result of the alleged assaults. Nor is there any public evidence that any military personnel has been punished for any of the alleged rapes.
Tomorrow, November 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. We need to break more state sanctioned taboos.
Photographers the world over know the late afternoon light. The warm glow, the soft slanting shadows, the delicate glancing sheen that brings everything alive. In Bangla, this light has a special name. kone dekhano alo [the light for showing off the bride.] Apart from the universal issues of brides being seen as commodities, and of marriage being a social spectacle, it speaks of how the environment in which things are displayed, reflects upon what is displayed. Photographs are visual representations. Exhibitions are collective displays of photographs. Festivals are displays of exhibitions. Within this biennial Chobi Mela is a display of a festival. At each level, the alo [light] that we use to display the festival, the exhibition, the print, has a bearing on how we see it.
The choices made as the photograph is taken, as an exhibition is put together, as a festival is assembled, as a biennial is visualized, take into account the way each entity will be perceived by the intended audience. The relationship between the viewer and the viewed. This is impossible to pre-visualize at the moment of photography. So there are several authors who play with this alo. The political space within which an exhibition operates is tempered by the tertiary meaning that a festival director imparts, in choosing to display a body of work. In determining how it is shown, and how it relates to other work on display. The alo is not static. A festival put together when the world witnesses unjust war and an illegal occupation, will be seen differently from a festival that is viewed at a time of peace. The same exhibitions (though exhibitions are never the same and change with each displacement), seen in a different venue, nation or continent, with different proximities to zones of tension, will change in meaning even when the images remain the same. Relocating a festival allows further interpretations. So what alo do we use for showing off this festival?
Chobi Mela was conceived in a nation that was far removed from the established capitals of photography. Bangladeshi photographers did not feature in the classical books on this medium. The images of Bangladesh seen worldwide were images produced largely by white western photographers. There had been no festival of photography in Asia. In much of Asia and most of the majority world, photography is not considered an art form. So several issues were being tackled. The ignorance about non-western photographic practice (this was true even within Bangladesh, where photographers knew about Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, but were unaware of important work being done in neighboring countries.) The non-recognition of photography as a valid profession and an art form. The limited opportunities that Bangladeshi and regional photographers had of seeing photography.
There was another significant but very localized goal. In a nation where the majority of people cannot read or write, photography provided one of the few means through which ordinary people could be reached. As the festival migrates to Brussels, several of these goals diminish in importance. Others, however, take on greater relevance. An ignorance of photographic practice outside Europe and North America is perhaps a greater ailment in Brussels than it is in Dhaka. A critique of western lifestyles is perhaps of greater importance to Europeans. An understanding of majority world cultures outside their stereotypical representation in the West is certainly a more crying need in a culture fed largely on fast-food photography.
There are commonalities too. Belgium is in a state of flux with internal tensions that threaten to divide the nation. Bangladesh also has its internal politics of dominance, and the power struggles between the major political parties have taken it to the brink of civil war. While the show goes on in Brussels, Bangladesh will continue to be in a state of emergency with fundamental freedoms curtailed. The streets of Dhaka were in flames while Chobi Mela IV was being held. An evening presentation was interrupted by the news that the military were in the streets and the government had announced a curfew. The future of the national state is very much in question in both countries. Tiers ?tat, the term for the commoners of France, has now become the defining expression for the majority of humankind. The Third World is not a name we chose for ourselves. The G8 countries make decisions that have a profound effect on our lives, yet we never chose to be represented by them. So we call ourselves the majority world, for that is indeed who we are, the majority of this world. Our portrayal as icons of poverty is one chosen by the West, through image-makers who are free to roam a world where boundaries exist only for this excluded majority. Europe builds a fortress around itself, choosing carefully whom to include. Chobi Mela evolved from the need for self-representation of this excluded majority, for the creation of its identity, and for the expression of its creativity. The themes for Chobi Mela have reflected this need. Differences. Exclusion. Resistance. Boundaries. Freedom. These are words that circumscribe our existence. It is through our engagement with what the words represent that we look for our space in a rapidly globalised world.
The selection of Contacts 30 presented a problem. It was clearly one of the key exhibitions in the festival. Isolated in the Bangladesh National Museum, it could be seen in its entirety without casting a shadow on smaller intimate exhibits, which were as important, but with a substantially smaller footprint. The intimacy of one did not impinge on the volume of the other. With that separation removed, could they coexist? Were we in danger of drowning the quieter voices? Would the imposing presence of one, prohibit the quiet reflection necessary for the other? What about the show itself? Would the thirty images presenting thirty years, work in year thirty-two? Given the same images but a changed global dynamic, would the same images have been chosen? One never knows, and perhaps it doesn?t matter. What is being shown is a display in a certain time and space and it is only within that time/ space matrix that it can be negotiated. Festivals are live, as exhibitions are. The historical context of an earlier showing, planned in the same venue and by the same curator, having been removed in protest against censorship, adds a layer of complexity that might escape the viewer, but adds to the legacy of the festival and its history of resistance. Kwaito Culture
Photographs: Neo Ntsoma
Neo Ntsoma cried at the Goethe Institut Auditorium as she spoke of her isolation in Apartheid South Africa. But they were strong tears. Neo?s personal struggle as a black woman in a white male space, allowed her to look for the changing culture in today?s black South Africa. Her personal project on the SA Youth ID-Kwaito Culture speaks of much more than just the changes within the youth of her nation. The lions have found their storyteller. Ntsoma is a complex person. Highly strung, energetic, intense, passionate, laughing, crying, running, leaping, she is in the middle of everything and everywhere. A spring ready to uncoil. She is also deceptively perceptive. Having faced racism in every guise, she has toughened herself to face life?s challenges. But it is her black identity that has emerged as the soul within her work. She rejoices in her color and rejoices in color. Her search for identity within the black South African youth scene is no nostalgic trip down memory lane, but rather a buoyant leap at the crest of the wave of youth which captures the energy, the dynamism and the joy of a youth determined to find its own expression. Not surprisingly, it is the raw energy of her work that attracts. The Tigers
They call her a terrorist. Gajaani?s work has been rejected by many, as she is a fighter in the LTTE, a listed terrorist organization. The label has of course been given to the ANC, and hence Nelson Mandela, while many who continue to terrorize the world, do so with abandon, knowing there will be no labels to tarnish their image. The labels do not concern me, and while I was intrigued by her history, it was the images I saw that provided the excitement. Never before had I seen the every day lives of the LTTE. Women fighters dancing, combing each other?s hair in the bunkers. Playing musical instruments. The children in bunkers, mines being planted, snipers in camouflage, reminded me it was a war zone I was peering into. For over seventeen years, Gajaani has photographed the war as seen by a Tamil Tiger. I have never met her, and our only contact has been through a mutual friend we both trust. The friend carries our greetings and ferries pictures back and forth. War changes people, but the changes in Gajaani are not simply due to war. She now sees beyond images of war. Her films are lyrical, but also reminiscent of the battle drums of old, strident, passionate and one-sided. She takes still life and sunsets, and photographs abstract shapes in the sand. This is not a photojournalist reporting on a war, but a warrior taking pictures. We may not like it. It might make us uncomfortable. But we cannot deny its existence. This is her war, her life and her call to freedom. In a world dominated by spin and propaganda, I recognize that seeing this work will be disturbing for many. But this is a disturbance that must not be avoided. The work romanticizes a war where many have died, on both sides. Most of them civilians. But to deny this work denies the fundamental inequalities that lead to such wars.
She first showed me her early work. She has sent more work since, along dangerous routes. Films, still photographs, hard images of the devastation of war, gentle images of soldiers being ordinary men and women, children in fear and in play. And she has written letters. I don?t know if Gajaani is her real name. I read again the lines that take on new meaning as the war moves to a more violent chapter. I know she will soon be on the front lines. The photographer will become a warrior again. She will trade her lens for guns.
Dear Shahidul Vanakkam,
…I hope that if our liberation war lets me live then I would love to meet you… Even after an artist?s death, art lives. After death it will be so. I have that small belief…
Gajaani Modern American Segregationists
Photographs: David Holloway
He hails from a long line of farmers, carpenters, truck drivers, and mechanics. But the storyteller David S. Holloway has gone beyond the farmlands of Oklahoma and forests of Arkansas. The first multiparty elections in Tanzania, the SARS outbreak in Toronto, and the punk rock and politics of Washington D.C. provide the backdrop for the social tensions that his photography explores.
The struggle of working-class Americans give us a window into the realities of a nation so obsessed with world domination that it has forgotten who it is fighting the war for. Race, poverty and violence make their way into Holloway?s lens. His stark black and white images, frightening but beautiful, seduce you with their form before baring their crude baggage. Raw greed, manufactured fear, calculated indifference. Family gatherings fueled by hate. Contacts 30
Photographs: Contact Press Images
What makes an icon? What does a celebrity fashion photographer choose, to depict the ravages of war? How does a Salgado contact sheet look? The giant contact sheets, reincarnated by the very digital technology that rings its death knoll, reveal the structured approach and the inconsistencies that mark a photojournalist?s quest to find the perfect image. The viewer, like a giant magnifying glass, follows the journey frame by frame. The chosen image separated by curatorial treatment, becomes history. Its neighbors perhaps finding only oblivion. Thirty images. Thirty years. The contacts of the celebrated Contact Press agency span the quintessential moments of the times. Exhibited by curator, president and co-founder Robert Pledge, the contacts span the great moments of history. The death of Chairman Mao Zedong, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the measured tryst between Gorbachev and Reagan, George Bush with his poodle, a distraught Mary Decker photographed by Contact?s other co-founder David Burnett who in a contact sheet of his own, indulges in a self portrait. It makes the complex kaleidoscope that this exhibition mixes and pulls off with gusto. Nowhere People
Photographs: Swapan Nayak
India is the new darling, and negative stories about the nation refuse to surface. While a caste system refuses to lie down and die, a growing economic disparity amidst growing economic growth, fails to leave an invisible trail. The nation burns. The seven states in the geographically isolated and economically underdeveloped North-East India are home to 200 of the 430 of its tribal groups. With the poor moving to the less poor zones, an influx of migrants from neighboring areas leads to ethnic conflicts over land and fighting for political autonomy or secession.
The numerous political parties and armed groups that have mushroomed resort to ?ethnic cleansing? in order to defend their interests against a real or perceived enemy. ?Divide and Rule? rules. Violence has broken out in the states of Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh, involving at least eight different ethnic groups (Bodos, Nagas, Kukis, Paites, Mizos, Reangs, Bengalis and Chakmas). The largest forced displacement movements have occurred in the states of Assam, Manipur and Tripura.
Swapan Nayak operates within this unpredictability. Spending days on boats that navigate the treacherous waters of the Sunderbans, and mixing with the tribes that want revenge for their displacement, he travels along with his photographs. Together, they take the viewer into an unknown India. Naxal Women
Photographs: Shahidul Alam; Interviews: Nesar Ahmed; Translations: Rahnuma Ahmed
They had left their village homes to join the class struggle. They were young. Some were, so to speak, ?born? to the party. Communist party members were frequent (albeit clandestine) visitors to their homes, which acted as party ?shelters.? For some, there were no restrictions but for others, it wasn?t easy. Daughters wanting to go into politics, and underground politics at that? Never. Several were severely beaten by their families. The women rebelled. A woman in her early teens, whose marriage was being hurriedly arranged, left home and went to the Party-controlled ?free? zone. One was forced to leave home when the Awami League?s para-military forces, the Rakkhi Bahini dowsed their house with petrol and set fire to it. Party members had been frequent visitors there. It was 1973.
They worked mostly as Political Commissars, doing organizational work. Some took part in armed conflicts. Two were chiefly couriers, one also cooked for Party members. Most married Party comrades. The Party vetted friendships. Conditions were attached: a year?s separation, no letters, monitored visits. Weddings were simple affairs, a few comrades present, signing on a piece of paper, which belonged to the Party. A handshake, an exchange of garlands. Perhaps a meal. But some weddings?maybe that of a party leader?were extravagant.
State repression continued. Cooption also occurred. In late 1979, the Party disavowed armed struggle. Its policy of annihilating class enemies had meant… ?we created enemies in our own villages.? Women comrades were asked to return to their families, or to marry and settle down. Some feel there was no other option since the party was organizationally shattered, with many of its members either dead, or imprisoned.
It?s an open question. These women?s? recollections help flesh out the actual lives and concerns of Bangladeshi Naxal women, women who are largely absent from Party literature and male-centered traditions of history-writing. A tradition that I have tried to challenge. Tears Cloud Peace
Photographs: Masaru Goto
Even in the paradise on earth, there is a line of control. Bullets kill, shrapnel maims. People ?disappear.? Forever. Mothers mourn children?s death. Lovers part. 80,000 dead. Men, women and children from both sides. The 440 kilometer line of control. Masaru Goto works on the Michael village of border district Kupwara. A few miles from this line of death. The line of control becomes the line of fire. They are engulfed in flames. They die from each other?s bullets. Indians. Pakistanis. Kashmiris. In death they finally unite. Away from the romantic Shikara rides, the Shalimar Gardens, the snowcapped mountains. Away from the polarized depictions of freedom fighters/terrorists. Away from the militancy and the occupation. Goto shows us the lives of ordinary people not searching for paradise, but seeking survival on earth. Not Your New York
Photograph: Pablo Garber
Digital postcards in a digital age. Fleeting snapshots of Pablo Garber?s images. He gingerly places his feet on a moving, shifting, amorphous earth. Unsure of his presence. Indignant in his reasoning for making pictures, Garber is a stranger in a city he longs to call his own. The exuberance of a city that is larger than life. Here fortunes are made. Careers launched. But Garber rejoices in serendipity. He soaks in the larger than life city that is the Big Apple, rejoicing in its excesses, chuckling at its follies. He remembers the city streets as he had last walked them, nearly twenty years ago. He recognizes the shadow of 9/11.
He hears the city weeping as he looks for the missing World Trade Center. Garber?s work has always dealt with relationships. In the streets he searches for his own relationship with a long lost city. A River Has Two Sides
Photographs: Jerome Ming
The photographs by Jerome Ming are rarely ?decisive moments.? Rather they reflect the seemingly timeless character of people?s struggle to survive. What is decisive, are the circumstances, often beyond their control, that shape their lives. As many other concerned photographers have done, Ming documents the plight of disenfranchised communities, but in doing so he neither sensationalizes their presence, nor disengages them from the evolving cultural shifts that have become a permanent characteristic of people in transition. They are subdued photographs that seep into you, rather than images that scream for attention. They are photographs that beg reflection, which rarely scream, but are always there. Echoing in some ways the inevitability of the changes and the relentless march of ?progress? as defined by others. The War Rooms
Photographs: Tarek Al-Ghussein and Chris Kienke
It is an unusual mix. Tarek Al-Ghussein and Chris Kienke. A Palestinian and an American. But it is a war that belongs to us all. In a globalized world, the invasion of Iraq affects all our lives. The images, seemingly arranged at random, become the pixels of war. Choosing not to choose, they let a mechanical selection determine the sequence. Yet another dehumanization in this ?clinical? war game. Like the old telex machines churning out ticker tape, these mobile images converted to still life are like corpses of movies. Segments of life frozen by war. Pop stars, sports fields, cartoons, most view programs on spin, smart bombs homing in on target. Yet there is no cynicism depicted in this collage. The cynicism is implied. Saddam, Nighthawks, Bush and his poodle, all serve to create a relationship with the viewer, which is both complex and riveting. Are we awed, enraged, disillusioned, relieved? None of these. In this image-saturated world of ours, we have become desensitized to the messages. Engulfed in a war room, we whisper. Careful not to annoy the generals. Displaced from its roots, this festival within a biennial-festival, tries to recreate a sense of place, a sense of community and a sense of struggle. The passions that gave rise to Chobi Mela, the need for such a festival, the photographic family that has grown around it, has a collective identity that will not be diluted in a bigger event. It draws on the inherent story exhibiting qualities to which the photography lends itself. While the work shown encompasses the globe, the photographers address issues that are universal in themselves, regardless of their geography.
Brussels 19th October 2008 Festival dates: 19th October 2008 – 4th January 2009
Special thanks to: Nesar Ahmed, Rahnuma Ahmed, Abdullah Al-Faruque, Refanur Akhtar Moli, Md. Shafiul Azam Khan Tushar, Dominique Deschavanne, Mohammed Harun Ur Rashid Nipun, Irfanul Islam and Tanvir Murad.
The project Heresies is a retrospective of one of the most innovative artists of the world, comprising five decades of photographic work. The exhibition ?Heresies: a retrospective by Pedro Meyer? will open simultaneously in nearly 60 museums around the world in October, 2008, and it will be a major breakthrough in the way photographic work is exhibited.
Mexican photographer Pedro Meyer is recognized widely both for his provocative and powerful images and his pioneering work of in the digital imaging era. The photographs of Meyer consistently question the limits between truth, fiction and reality. With the advent of digital technologies at the early 90’s, Meyer evolved from a documentary photographer, who created what is known as “direct images”, to a digital documentary maker, who combines elements of different photographs to arrive to a higher or different truth. His famous statement that every photograph, either digitally manipulated or not, is both truth and fiction, has earned him being called a ?Heretic? in the orthodox world of documentary photography. Hence the origin of the title, ?Heresies: a retrospective by Pedro Meyer?. Amongst the personal contributions of Meyer to the development of digital photography we should underscore: the creation of the first CD-ROM that combined images with sound, the first digital printings in the world, in 1994; and more recently, the creation of the photographic forum zonezero.com, the most visited photography website -content-wise-in the Internet.
Official: ?You ought to have some papers to show who you are.?
Protagonist: ?I do not need any papers. I know who I am.?
Official: ?Maybe so. But others are also interested in who you are.?
— Kafkaesque journey of American sailor who has lost his identity papers, B. Traven, The Death Ship (tr. 1934)
A non-fraudulent voter list, `a priceless gift to the nation’
Praise was due. And it was given.
Ms Renata Dessallien, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, at a function marking the celebration of the successful completion of voter registration, organised by the Election Commission on July 22, spoke of it in glowing terms. It was “a truly historic achievement,” because never before “have so many people been electronically registered in such a short time” in any other country in the world. What was impressive was the immense scale of the undertaking, the accuracy of the list, the elimination of duplicate and fraudulent entries. “If there were a Nobel Prize for voter lists, Bangladesh would be the clear winner!”
The Chief Advisor Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed termed it a “milestone,” one that would enable not only the upcoming elections to be “free, fair and credible” but also, future ones, by setting high standards. The Chief Election Commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda, called it a “memorable event in the annals of country’s history.” At an earlier event, “Celebrating the Halfway Mark of Voter Registration” held in early March, the Chief of Army Staff General Moen U Ahmed had voiced hopes that it would “lay the foundation for building a meaningful democracy.”
A similar nationwide voter registration venture had failed in 1997 because the names and pictures of most people did not match, and many had failed to turn up to register at the appointed time. The nation, as a result, had been Tk 115 crore poorer. A proposed integrated project of Machine Readable Passports (MRP) and National Identity Cards (NID) in 2005 had been budgeted at Tk 1,400 crore. Its completion would take 5 years, the first year would be a “test” period. The 2006 voter list, prepared by the past EEC Justice MA Aziz for the 2007 elections had been faulty, it had registered an excess of 1.2 crore voters, leading to a political impasse that helped usher in the current military-backed Fakhruddin government.
In comparison to all previous efforts, the current effort has yielded a faultless voter list, one that is computerised, consisting of a data-base of 80 million 500 thousand 723 voters with photographs and fingerprints. It has cost only Tk 424 crore, one-third of the 2005 estimate, and has been successfully completed in a mere 11 months. The Election Commission was the sponsor and the coordinating agency, the Bangladesh army was the operational agency. Together they coordinated the huge logistics in a “very tight time frame”, as Major General Shafiqul Islam, Military Secretary, Bangladesh Army, said in an interview to find Biometrics, `we required 12,000 laptops to be deployed throughout the country, 8,000 printers, paper, toner, train a staff of 18,000 computer and enrollment personnel, in a situation where on an average data was collected on 300,000 to 400,000 people daily.’ The resulting electoral rolls, perhaps one of the largest electronic databases in the world, will definitely be the largest among developing countries.
A survey of the voter registration process funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) announced it to be of international standard, in the words of one of the consultants, “a list of quality no less than that of America or England.” The UN is said to be considering replicating this model in other developing countries.
The current voter list, as one of the national English dailies commented in its editorial, is “a priceless gift to the nation.”
The National ID Card, `an offshoot’
The EC project was titled the Preparation of Electoral Roll with Photographs and Facilitating the Issuance of National Identity (ID) Card. In the words of Mike DePasquale, Chief Executive Officer of BIO-Key International Inc, a US-based company which is a leader in finger-based biometric identification and wireless public safety, the NID was “an offshoot” of the voter registration project — a “co-operative venture” between BIO-Key in the US, Tiger IT in Bangladesh, and the Bangladesh army.
Brigadier General (Retired) Shahedul Anam Khan, a defence analyst, thinks the government did well to undertake both projects simultaneously. Up to a stage, “the modalities involved for the preparation of both” like basic data collection and cross checking, are similar. The ID Card was a “spin-off,” which, if it had been put off for later, would have cost more.
But, for people on the ground, the two were not as separable. M Sakhawat Hussain, one of the Election Commissioners, puts it in words closer to how we, as potential voters, experienced it, “No one will be listed as a voter without the registration of the name on the electoral roll and no one will get the national ID card.”
Advocates of e-government are also advocates of national ID cards, for instance Farooq Sobhan, M. Shafiullah and others write in a Study of eGovernment in Bangladesh (Bangladesh Enterprise Institute, April 2004), “Bangladesh should take active steps to initiate a project for national ID” because it will provide an important base for the provision of eGovernment services “efficiently and in a personalized way,” to citizens who will have unique ID numbers. I came across several Bangladeshi bloggers who seemed to hold similar views. According to one, it would be “a solution to many problems,” a national database would hold information from voter lists to tax records, it would make easier many tasks from machine-readable passports to criminal investigations. According to another, the digitisation of national-level information would make governance procedures “more scientific.”
The EC has drafted an ordinance making national ID cards mandatory for citizens, ?for getting any services from the government, its departments and institutions or from any statutory government offices.’ Twenty two services are listed, these include the issuance and renewal of passport, driving licence, trade licence, tax identification number, business identification number and bank account. It also states that nobody will get government subsidy facilities, allowance and relief if they do not have identity cards. Very recently, the council of advisors approved the formation of the National Identity Registration Authority Ordinance 2008. It authorises the home ministry to provide national ID cards. Under the proposed ordinance, the EC will hand over all information that has been collected — data and biometric features of the citizens — to NIRA, a statutory body. The ordinance declares false information, forgery, having more than one ID card a criminal offence, punishable by three months to seven years rigorous imprisonment, along with monetary fines.
That confusion exists among people in general — the beneficiaries of the national ID card — was revealed during the four city corporation and nine pouroshobha elections held recently. Voters had come to the polling centres with their national ID cards, and were confused over why the serial number of their ID cards did not tally with the voter serial numbers. This resulted in delays in vote casting, and in long queues. Voter identity cards had been given in the 90s, or torn-off slips containing registration numbers, and as a newspaper report states, during the recently-held local-level elections, the common perception had been that the `ID card was to be used for voting purposes.’ Reports say, polling officers had been similarly confused. M Shakhawat Hossain, Election Commissioner, blamed the media for publicising what in effect was a `national ID card’, as a `voter ID card’, even though, according to him, the EC had carried out a huge campaign to clarify the differences between the two.
The ‘largest biometric database in the world’
What is less public knowledge is that the four fingerprints of each voter that was captured with BIO-key’s fingerprint ID software, and FBI-certified fingerprint readers, has already generated over 300 Million ISO fingerprint templates. Combined with the 400 million projected to be generated, it will become by far the largest biometric deployment in the world.
Duplicate registrations are being accurately identified says Ziaur Rahman, Managing Director of Tiger IT BD Ltd. (Tiger IT), a company that is a leader in both prepackaged and customized software solutions and was BIO-Key’s “systems integrator on the ground,” at a speed of “one million matches per second on a single processor.” Tiger IT Bangladesh’s website provides further information on the national ID card (by the way, the domain tigeritbd.com was registered as recently as August 2007). The card includes a standard barcode which is encoded with ISO fingerprint templates, and PKI digital hash. These can be used to quickly verify the identity of the cardholder while ensuring the integrity and authenticity of the ID card. The Cognitec Facial Recognition Software has been used to capture facial images.
While Renata Dessallien enthuses over how “modern technology” enables the prevention of vote theft, and DePasquale prides on how BIO-Key’s patented technology is “performing better than anything else in the market for finger matching,” I have simple questions to ask: who owns my fingerprints? how will it be used? can NIRA transfer it to government departments within Bangladesh without my knowledge? or, maybe even outside the country’s borders? As the British government did when it passed more than 500 samples of DNA to foreign agencies, but when asked “no one seemed to know” to which countries.
The European Comission recently proposed the harmonisation of security features on passports across the European Union. The proposal, introduced in October 2007, requires Member States to take measures to introduce biometric features, including fingerprinting, on passports and travel documents. The fingerprints would be stored in a centralised database. The European Union Data Protection Supervisor, Peter Hustinx, who is in charge of safeguarding the personal data and the right to privacy of EU citizens, has expressed his concern since it fails to “adequately safeguard the right to privacy of EU citizens.” He says, the Commission failed to consult with his office prior to submitting the proposal, as required by EU law.
The current regime’s voter registration list has, in all probability, lessened the likelihood of fraudulent votes. But it also has, in all likelihood, laid the groundwork for installing a new regime of surveillance, one that will be deployed against the citizens of Bangladesh.
First published in New Age on Monday the 29th September 2009
They sing in harmony. Rhythmic tunes with simple lyrics. The lilting songs and the dance-like-footsteps have a deceptive beauty. The metal sheets balanced on their shoulders may weigh tons. Bare feet on slippery clay weaving through scrap metal, is dangerous at the best of times. In pouring rain, and with the loads they carry, the smallest slip could spell disaster. They gently sway in careful steps singing to stay in synchrony. It is a song of death.
Online Norwegian version in Dagbladet shipbreaking-magazinet1?PDF in Norwegian Magasinet dagbladet-nyhet?PDF in Norwegian Nyhet
“You wouldn’t have the time” he’d said. It was a polite conversation. Salahuddin, the cousin of Jahangir Alam, had rung me to thank me for helping him get an ambulance at the Apollo Hospital in the elite Bashundhara Complex in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, 250 kilometres from the port city Chittagong. Despite the hospital’s motto of “Bringing healthcare of international standard within the reach of every individual,” it was understood that all patients were not equal. Jahangir and his family had been waiting for over five hours. The hospital was for rich people and Jahangir, a worker at Ziri Subeder Shipbreaking Yard was undeniably poor. Even though the money had been paid, Jahangir, on his deathbed was not going to get the same treatment the other VIP patients at Apollo were given. Eventually the presence of a pesky journalist taking pictures had enough nuisance value for the hospital to dredge up an ambulance. Jahangir would arrive at a cheaper, less equipped hospital in Chittagong, in the early hours of the morning. Knowing I was interested in the plight of the workers, Salahuddin had rung to tell me there had been another accident. A worker was in hospital and they were going to amputate his leg. He felt my presence might save the man’s leg. I was due to go to London the following day, for a brainstorming meeting with Amnesty International. Going to and from Chittagong that day would have been difficult. I had things to do before leaving. Salahuddin was right. Even though I knew that my presence might perhaps have made a difference to a man’s life. I didn’t have the time. We never have the time. Not for some people.
The working conditions at the shipbreaking yards of Chittagong are well known. It is the usual story. In order to get the ships, the Bangladeshi shipbreakers pay the best rates to the ship-owners. To retain their profits, they pay the workers the lowest rates in the world, and provide virtually no safety. Workers die and suffer injuries on a regular basis. Some receive modest compensation, others don’t. According to workers, many deaths are simply not registered with the bodies being ‘disappeared’ by the owners.
I had wanted to do a story on the shipbreaking yards for some time. When Halldor Hustadnes of the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet approached me I was immediately interested. I rescheduled a short assignment in Manila so that we could work together for the entire period. A loophole in the Basle Convention was allowing ship-owners to continue dumping ships with toxic waste with abandon in majority world countries that had little regulation.
The new International Maritime Organisation, convention was about to be ratified, but environmentalists felt it would not result in better conditions for workers. Norwegian ship-owners, who benefitted the most from loopholes in the convention (like the ships not being declared waste, and therefore not falling under waste jurisdiction), were a powerful lobby. Even Lloyds the insurers, who register and control the world’s shipping, felt the new convention would not have an effect.
We were hoping our story, timed to appear before the ratification of the convention, would bring attention to the plight of the workers. Getting access to the yard was going to be the main stumbling block. My student Sourav Das, put me in touch with Wahid Adnan. Adnan had good links with Rahman yard. We had been told that the Norwegian ship UMA was berthed at Rahmania yard. The slightly different name might just have been due to a mistake in communication. There was a ship UMA near Rahman yard. This was a breakthrough. Adnan managed to get me in, but though it was the right ship, it was the wrong yard. UMA was going to be broken at Royal, the yard next to Rahman, where we had no access.
So we started with the access we had, and worked our way across the porous beach. It was a Friday. The weekend in Bangladesh. We utilised the absence of the manager to bluff our way into the ship. The abundance of asbestos, the open chemical store, the sacks of Potassium Hydroxide pellets and other toxic chemicals left unprotected, were all fairly visible. One of the workers talked of the films they had been shown about how asbestos was toxic, and had to be buried under concrete and that workers needed to wear protective clothing. “But that was just a film” he said.
Shujon was the smallest of the workers. With marigolds dangling from his ears, he insisted on being photographed. He behaved like a child, though we found out he was older than he looked. Only wealthy Bangladeshis have birth records. And with most children being malnourished, looks can be deceptive. Shujon was a helper. Hirolal, the cutter he was helping, didn’t look much older than him. They were cousins. Shielding his eyes from the intense heat with his hands, Hirolal, broke down larger pieces of metal into more manageable shapes. Shujon cleared the debris, oblivious to the sparks that flew around him. Both boys wanted to find work overseas. Singapore was their dream destination. I didn’t tell them that Bangladeshi workers in Singapore, often found themselves in similar bonded labour. At least Shujon and Hirolal had a dream. The contractor came over and started beating up Shujon. He needed to get on with his work. We were getting him into trouble and kept our distance.
Early the following morning I saw Rubel, bailing out the water from a lifeboat. Rubel was 14 and had been a ferry ‘man’ since he was 11. His mother didn’t really want him to be doing risky work, but they needed the money. We left before sunrise, before the manager arrived. Rubel was well into his day’s work.
That night when the manager had left, we went back into the yard and slept with the workers. We were guests and had the luxury of having a metal sheet to ourselves for a bed. They sung for us that night. Not the pop songs that we heard on television, or the Tagore songs that the wealthy elite took as a sign of culture. They were haunting songs of longing and parting. One was a song about visas:
With a two day visa
To this false world
Why did Alla send me
Why send me here
With the pain of seeking comfort
He sent me on my own
What game did he play
What game does he play
Using metal sheets for beds, workers sleep in crowded huts with no toilets. 11th August 2008. Chittagong. Bangladesh ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MW/Dagbladet
With an empty water bottle and a wooden box as a drum, we sang into the night. Their raw voices blending with the steady rain on the tin roof. “We are poor folk. There’s work tomorrow. We need to sleep.” The foreman said abruptly. We knew the songs had been sung for the entertainment of the guests, at the cost of much needed rest. I walked out into the rain. The tide was coming in. UMA was glistening in the yard searchlight. The guards in their yellow raincoats stood out in the darkness.
Captain Inam was a boisterous jovial man. He was the most experienced beach captain, and the de-facto spokesperson for the shipyard owners. He was much in demand. When we wanted to speak to the owners, they insisted that the good captain be around. The owners spoke little, leaving it up to the articulate seaman to fend our questions. They invited us over to Bonanza, a posh restaurant in downtown Chittagong. One of the many businesses owned by Mr. Amin, in whose yard two other Norwegian ships, the Gold Berge and New Berge were also being stripped. Captain Inam explained how the ship-owners who made the bulk of the profit took no responsibility for the situation of the workers. How they should allocate a percentage of their profits to building a modern shipyard in Chittagong. How these environmentalists were in collusion with the Northern ship-owners and working towards increasing their profits. Of how the shipyard owners really felt for the workers. Of how they provided helmets, and gloves and shoes to all workers, but that workers didn’t want to wear them. None of this matched with what the workers had to say. “A pair of shoes cost us 500 Taka” they said. That was four days’ wages for the average worker. Odfjell the Norwegian owner of UMA had made 7.5 million dollars from the sale of the dying ship.
The foreman cutter talked of how he had escaped death but the person next to him had died due to poisoned gas in the hull of a ship. He took us to his one room house where the parents and the two children shared a bed that almost occupied the entire room. He talked of the four times they had tried to set up a union. Each time the local goons were used to beat them into submission. The main organisers were tortured and lost their jobs. Captain Inam, has a different version. “There are no restrictions to forming unions.” He says. “The workers are simple people and don’t think in those terms.”
The number of injuries have gone down enormously says the captain. Now there are hardly one or two a year. They take us to the hospital they are building, to reduce medical fees paid to external hospitals. We never went into the logic of requiring to build a hospital to reduce costs if only one or two deaths and a few injuries were taking place all year.
One of the workers Saiful takes us to a nearby village. Walking a few hundred metres, we come across several families of injured workers. A few say they have received modest compensation. Some say they’ve received nothing. Even though these injuries were from a few years ago, the frequency of injuries has little in common with the captain’s figures.
Shahin, an NGO worker who has been campaigning for the rights of shipyard workers, rings us to tell us of an accident that has just taken place. We rush over to Chittagong Medical Hospital (CMH). As all other public hospitals in Bangladesh, CMH is overrun. The three workers were carried up the five flights of stairs and lay on the hospital floor. There were no spare beds. Jahangir was the most badly injured. His head was bleeding, and he couldn’t move. He was barely conscious. The other two workers had broken limbs but would survive. There were no stretchers and Jahangir’s family and friends, took him across to a less busy part of the hospital floor, carrying him on a stretched sheet.
We contact Al Hajj Lokman Hakim, the owner of Ziri Subedar Yard. Mr. Hakim is angry. “They have accidents because of their own stupidity. Sometimes they have minor injuries, and we have to pay for it. If these foreigners care so much about our workers why don’t they build a new dock for us?” Cursing everyone in sight as we go down the lift of his highrise building, the Lokman Tower, Mr. Hakim drives off in his shiny car. A 5.5 million Taka car according to our driver.
The news was more than Jahangir’s mother Nurjahan could take. Her eldest son had an accident a year ago. Two months ago her husband had died. Two weeks later, Alamgir, Jahangir’s younger brother had been injured while working in a different yard. The yard owner had paid for Alamgir’s treatment, but there was no knowing if he would ever be able to work again, or how long the owner would keep paying for the treatment. Jahangir had been the only earning member of the family. As it was, the family depended upon the generosity of the neighbours for their survival. Jahangir’s injury had left the family in tatters. “It is poverty that has driven my sons to this life,” says Nurjahan. “If my Jahangir returns, I will never send him to the yard again.”
Jahangir never returned. On the night of the 6th September, Jahangir had spoken. He seemed to be on the verge of recovery. He would never walk again, but at least he would live. The following morning Shahjahan heard he had died. Shahjahan knew that the company had been concerned about the rising medical bills, and wondered if Jahangir’s death had been necessary to keep the bills down. One thing was certain. His two day visa had expired.
The ship owners in Norway, will never know he lived.