Jamaat?s farce unravels

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By Rahnuma Ahmed

A national convention of freedom fighters organised by supporters and activists of Jamaat-e-Islami and its students? wing Islami Chhatra Shibir. An outright appropriation. The only problem is, Mohammad Ali saw through it. A single glance told him the truth. And, as Jamaat?s pack of cards came crashing down, the reaction was instant. It was violent. This, for me, was the second moment of truth. It testifies to Jamaat?s unchanged character, violence, an inability to engage with history, and to confront truth,
writes

Be what you would seem to be ? or, if you?d like it put more simply ? Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.

The Duchess, in Lewis Carroll, Alice?s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865

IT WAS to be a convention of freedom fighters, his neighbour had told him. They had both fought against the genocidal onslaught unleashed by the Pakistan army in 1971.
On Friday, a weekly holiday morning, veteran freedom fighter Sheikh Mohammad Ali Aman had gone to the Diploma Engineers Institute in Dhaka. He had peeked into the auditorium. He had expected to see familiar faces, to hear cherished stories of loss and courage. Of a victory achieved, of justice denied. Of betrayals. Of trying the collaborators ? the local accomplices of Pakistan army?s genocidal campaign ? to right the wrongs, at least some. There were collaborators thought to be guilty of committing war crimes, but they had gone scot-free. Their political rehabilitation and brazenness in the last three and a half decades was like a wound that festers. Yet another brazen act, yet another shameless lie brings the pus to the surface. It keeps oozing out. Again, and again.
He was puzzled at the faces that he saw. None of the Sector Commanders were present. No familiar faces, faces that symbolise for him the spirit of the struggle, the spirit of the nine-month long people?s war. Mohammad Ali is a man of modest means, he earns a living by painting houses and buildings in Badda, Dhaka. Unable to recognise any of the imposing figures present inside the auditorium ? ex-chief justice Syed JR Mudassir Hossain who was chief guest, energy adviser to the previous government Mahmudur Rahman, ex-director general of the Bangladesh Rifles Major General (retd) Fazlur Rahman, Wing Commander (retd) Hamidullah Khan, ex-director general of the Bangladesh Press Institute Rezwan Siddiqui, who was the special guest, New Nation editor Mostofa Kamal Mojumdar, general secretary of the Federal Union of Journalists Ruhul Amin Gazi, journalist Amanullah Kabir ? he felt alarmed. And left. One can hardly blame him.

`So I went and sat on the lawn,? Mohammad Ali said in an interview given later. ?I saw some people come out, I heard them say, we don?t want to be part of a meeting that demands the trial of Sector Commanders. An ETV reporter came up to me and asked, are you a freedom fighter? Yes, I replied. I belonged to Sector 11, First Bengal Regiment, D Company, led by Colonel Taher. What about the trial of war criminals, what do you think? I said, I think that those who had opposed the birth of the nation, those who had committed rape, razed localities to the ground, murdered intellectuals, they are war criminals. They should be tried. Those who were chairman and members of the Peace Committees, they belong to Jamaat, and to the present Progressive Democratic Party. They should be tried, they should be hung. I think this is something that can be done only by the present government, a non-party government? (Samakal, July 13).

?Who cares for you?? said Alice (she had grown to her full size by this time). ?You?re nothing but a pack of cards!?

At this the whole pack rose up into the air, and came flying down upon her…

They swooped down on Mohammad Ali. He was kicked and locked in a room for three hours. Before his release, his voter ID card was photocopied. ?I do not wish to say what they did to me. It will bring dishonour to the freedom fighters,? was all he said of his ordeal. ETV reporter Sajed Romel, also made captive, was released an hour later, after his colleagues rushed to his rescue. The camera crew, fortunately, had escaped earlier, with its recorded film intact.

Engineer Abdur Rob, a vice-president of Jatiya Muktijoddha Parishad ? the organisers of this farce ? was asked why a veteran freedom fighter and an electronic media journalist had been locked up. He replied, ?Impossible. Such a thing could not have happened.? Prothom Alo?s reporter was persistent, it was filmed. We have it. ?Well then,? came the immediate reply, ?it was an act of sabotage. Our people could never have done such a thing.?

New lies. Emergency lies

Soon enough, press releases were handed out by Jatiya Muktijoddha Parishad detailing the sabotage story: Prothom Alo, Samakal, Jugantor, Inquilab, and Daily Star were guilty of spreading lies. Some persons had come to the national convention without any delegate cards, they had tried to barge in, JMP volunteers had wanted to see their invitation cards, their responses had been unsatisfactory. Instead of covering the main event, the ETV news crew had shot something else, it was staged by hired people and instigated by yellow journalists. These acts, deliberate and pre-planned, were aimed at wrecking the convention. They had failed. Jatiya Muktijoddha Parishad is an authentic organisation of freedom fighters. It is not affiliated to any political party. The liberation struggle is above party affiliation. Journalists are demeaning the honour of freedom fighters by propagating lies. They are creating disunity.
A later press release added more details: no one by the name of Mohammad Ali had been invited to the national convention of Freedom Fighters. The ETV?s interest in interviewing him proves that it was staged, it was a conspiracy aimed at foiling the convention. Politicians are attempting to capitalise on the incident. The JMP calls on all freedom fighters to stay united (Naya Diganta, 13, 15 July).
Newspaper reports, however, provide concrete details. Jatiya Muktijoddha Parishad was formed on January 26 this year. After the Sector Commanders Forum had demanded the trial of war criminals. The JMP?s office is located in a room rented out by an organisation headed by ATM Sirajul Huq, ex-amir, Paltan thana, Jamaat. It is not registered with the liberation war ministry. This, according to legal experts, makes it illegal. Three high-ranking members of the Parishad claim that they had fought in 1971. These claims are false. Muktijoddha commanders of the respective areas do not know them. Executive committee members of the Parishad include men who contested parliamentary elections on behalf of Jamaat-e-Islami. Vice-president Engineer Abdur Rob had admitted to journalists, yes, the Parishad did receive ?donations? from Jamaat-e-Islami.
The story about Jamaat?s role in the liberation struggle, the liberation struggle itself, whether it was genocidal or not, whether war crimes should be tried or not, who was on which side, is an evolving one. What interests me particularly is how Emergency rule, and its raison d?etre of removing corruption and corrupt political practices for good, has impacted on Jamaat?s story. On its warped sense of history. Last October, as Jamaat?s secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid was leaving the Election Commission after talks on electoral reforms, he was asked about the growing demand for declaring anti-liberation forces, and war criminals, disqualified from contesting in the national elections. He had replied, the charges against Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh are ?false?, and ?ill-motivated?. There are no war criminals in the country. He had added, ?In fact, anti-liberation forces never even existed.? A day later, in an ETV talk show (26.10.2007) Jamaat-sympathiser and former Islami Bank chairman Shah Abdul Hannan had said, there was no genocide in 1971. Only a civil war.
And now this. A national convention of freedom fighters organised by supporters and activists of Jamaat-e-Islami and its students? wing Islami Chhatra Shibir. An outright appropriation.
The only problem is, Mohammad Ali saw through it. A single glance told him the truth. And, as Jamaat?s pack of cards came crashing down, the reaction was instant. It was violent. This, for me, was the second moment of truth. It testifies to Jamaat?s unchanged character, violence, an inability to engage with history, and to confront truth.

Old truths

Historical research which includes newspaper reports, speeches and statements made by those accused of war crimes, attests to the fact that Mujahid, as president of East Pakistan Islami Chhatra Sangha, and as chief of the Al-Badr Bahini, collaborated with the Pakistan army in conducting massacres, looting and rape. Also, that he had led the killings of renowned academics, writers and poets, doctors, engineers, and journalists, which occurred two days before victory was declared on December 16. Senior Jamaat leaders Abdus Sobhan, Maulana Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, Abdul Kader Molla and Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, who accompanied Jamaat?s secretary general to the Election Commission for talks on electoral reforms last October, are also alleged to have committed war crimes. According to the People?s Enquiry Commission formed in 1993, Jamaat?s amir Matiur Rahman Nizami, as commander-in-chief of Al-Badr, is also guilty of having committed war crimes.

Who needs Jamaat?

Both the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party had accepted Jamaat as an ally during the anti-Ershad movement. After the national elections of 1990, Jamaat support had ensured the BNP its majority in the fifth parliament. The Awami League, which claims to have led the liberation struggle, joined forces with Jamaat to help oppose and oust the sixth parliament. In the seventh parliament, the Awami League inducted at least one identified war collaborator in the cabinet. And, in the eighth parliament, the BNP paid the ultimate tribute by forming government with Jamaat as a coalition partner.
But what about now? That this government, the Fakhruddin-led, military-controlled government, is giving Jamaat-e-Islami a kid gloves treatment has not escaped unnoticed. Jamaat?s amir Matiur Rahman Nizami was one of the last top-ranking leaders to be arrested. He was also one of the earliest to be released, that too, on bail. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of party supporters were allowed to gather on the road to cheer his release last week, while the banner of Amra Muktijuddher Shontan activists, who had formed a human chain the next day, to protest against the assault on Muhammad Ali, was seized by the police. The Bangla blogging platform Sachalayatan could no longer be accessed after a strongly worded article on the assault of Muhammad Ali was posted. Was it a coincidence? Or, are the two incidents related? When asked, ABM Habibur Rahman, head of BTCAL internet division, refused to comment. One of the founders, who lives in Malaysia, has confirmed that the blog can be accessed from all other parts of the world.
As the US expands its war on terror, its venomous civilisational crusade of establishing democracies in the Middle East, one notices how Bangladesh has gradually been re-fashioned as a ?moderately? Muslim country, in an area considered to be ?vital to US interests?. Jamaat-e-Islami, in the words of Richard Boucher, US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, is a ?democratic party?. James F Moriarty, US ambassador to Bangladesh, in his congressional testimony (February 6, 2008), said US interest in Bangladesh revolved around the latter denying space to ?terrorism? (mind you, Islamic, not US, not state-sponsored).
Moriarty?s ideas echo Maulana Matiur Rahman Nizami?s. In an interview given last year, Nizami said, Jamaat was important to keep Bangladesh free of militancy and terrorism (Probe, June 27-July 3, 2007). Interesting words coming from a person who had, three years earlier, as amir of the then ruling coalition partner and industries minister, denied the existence of militancy in Bangladesh. Bangla Bhai was the ?creation of newspapers?, it was ?Awami League propaganda?.

The US and Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh fashioning a new partnership on war on terror? chorer shakkhi matal, many Bengalis would say. The drunkard provides testimony for the thief.

———–

First published in The New Age on Monday 21st July 2008

Of Roses and Sexual Harassment

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by rahnuma ahmed

`You should not have written about such sensitive issues in such indecorous language,’ faculty members at Jahangirnagar University (JU) told me and my ex-colleague, Manosh Chowdhury. It was 1997, four years before I left JU to become a writer.
We had written about the Provost of a Women’s Hall of Residence. He would target first year women Anthropology students. They handed in a memorandum to the University authorities detailing his abuse of power: he was rude to their family members when they dropped in for visits, he ridiculed what they were taught, and the teachers who taught them (this included us). What was not mentioned in the memorandum however, was that he would often barge into their dormitories. Sometimes, also into the wash rooms. The Provost’s misconduct later made it to the newspapers but what got left out was that he had dubbed three women students ‘lesbians,’ and another, ‘a cigarette smoker.’ We had included these in our article to map out the institutionalised nature of the Provost’s power, to draw attention to the systemic character of sexual harassment on campuses. We had written, The issue is not whether these women are `lesbians’. Women have been scorned on other occassions because they have ‘boyfriends’. Women returning to the halls in the evening are taunted, they are told they were `having fun in the bushes.’ Institutional sexual harassment is not about hard facts alone, it takes place through language, through words that ridicule and scorn. (`Oshustho Pradhokkho na ki Pratishthanik Khomota,’ Bhorer Kagoj, 9 July 1997).
We received no printed response, but hate mail instead. And a genteel comment on our `indecorous’ use of language. Our next piece was entitled, ‘What then does one call Sexual Harassment — A Rose?’ (Bhorer Kagoj, 24 August 1997).
The next year witnessed a student movement on Jahangirnagar campus, at forty plus days, the longest anti-rape campaign in South Asia. The University authorities gave in to student pressure, a Fact Finding Committee was formed. As events unfolded it became clear that a group of male students had been involved in successive incidents of rape which had taken place over several months, and that the University authorities had been reluctant to take action because of their political connections to the regime then in power, the Awami League. The movement was strong and unrelenting and gained tremendous popular support. Later, the university authorities meted out token punishment to those very students whom they had earlier protected, rather reluctantly.

A sit-in protest against rape in campus, brought out by the students union, in Jahangir Nagar University, in Dhaka, Bangladesh. August 24, 1998. ? Abir Abdullah/Drik/Majority World
One of the demands of the 1998 movement had been the formation of a Policy against Sexual Harassment. Dilara Chowdhury, Mirza Taslima Sultana, Sharmind Neelormi and I had worked long hours for weeks on end, to produce a working draft. I remember, our draft had said, sexual harassment is any unwelcome physical contact and advance, declaration of love accompanied by threat and intimidation if not reciprocated, sexually coloured remarks, display of pornography, any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature…

Policy Against Sexual Harassment: A Torturous Journey

Ten years later.
It’s Friday night, well after ten, Anu Muhammod has just returned from Munshiganj, and I am fortunate to get hold of him. `So Anu, I hear that the Policy has not yet been ratified by the University Syndicate?’ I ask the professor of economics at Jahangirnagar University, a well-known public intellectual and activist, and a good friend of many years. With a twinkle in his eyes and a deprecating smile, Anu launches into the story.
Naseem Akhter Hossain and I forwarded the Draft Policy to the university administration in 1999. Naseem, as you well know was the Provost of a women?s hall, and one of the most dedicated members of the Fact Finding Committee. The university administration was absolutely terrified of the anti-rape movement. For them it was finally over, some of the students had been punished, they wanted to forget the matter. The next year, 17 of us forwarded it to JU administration, with a signed letter. And in those days, the 8th of March Committee was alive, teachers and students would sit and discuss women’s issues and male power, we would hold a rally on International Women’s Day, left groups, cultural groups would join in. It was an annual ritual, each year we would send the draft to the University administration requesting that they take steps to ratify it, to enforce it, each year they would tell us that it had been misplaced. This went on for several years.
Two years later the BNP led alliance came to power, and the elected Vice-Chancellor was removed from his position. Jahangirnagar University Teachers Association (JUTA) protested against the government action. Anyway, to cut a long story short, JUTA initiated a movement in protest against the government’s high-handedness, a common platform was formed, I was present at one of the Teachers Association meetings and took the opportunity to place the Draft policy. Everyone was charged, and the Draft was approved, so you now had JUTA forwarding it to the University administration for ratification. I inquired again the next year but by then we were back to the old ritual, it had been misplaced. But soon, there was another incident of sexual harassment, a BBA teacher, the accusations were proven to be true, he lost his job. We raised the Policy issue again, each movement helped to revive it. I spoke to Professor Mustahidur Rahman, who was then the Vice-Chancellor.
`Yes Anu, what did he say?’ I am very curious about the reasons forwarded on behalf of institutions, by people in positions of power, the language in which they resist measures aimed at ensuring justice. ‘What did Mustahid bhai say?’
Anu’s smile deepened. ‘He said, yes, of course, we must look into it. But we have so much on our hands. I spoke to other teachers as well, why do we need a special Policy, they said. The country has criminal laws, University rules stipulate that teachers must not violate moral norms, we also have a Proctorial policy. So why do we need a separate Policy against Sexual Harassment? In 2007, another movement began, against a teacher in Bangla department. He also lost his job later, and talk of the Policy was revived again. Actually, the women students went on a fast unto death programme, this was very serious, later Sultana Kamal, Rokeya Kabir, Khushi Kabeer, these women’s movement leaders came and pleaded with the students to break their fast. They did, but on the condition that I would personally take up the matter with the University administration. They said, we trust you, we don’t trust the administration.
After this, the University set up a Committee to review the Policy. I was on that Committee, so was Sultana Kamal. Legal points were added, the draft was brushed up, student organisations were invited to comment on it, also, the Teachers Association. But the teachers are not happy, many think that false allegations will be made, that it will be used by those who have influence, on grounds of personal enmity. I tell them that the Policy has clauses to prevent this from happening, any one who brings false allegations will be severely punished, no law of the land, against murder, kidnapping, theft, whatever has such built-in-clauses. Surely, that will be a deterrent? But it falls on deaf ears. The draft was sent to the Syndicate, it was not ratified. The members felt that it required more consideration.
And now, the latest incident, the one involving a teacher of the Dramatics department. I believe the Fact Finding Committee has submitted its report, there is yet again talk of instituting the Policy, but this time it’s serious. There is new VC now, but this time I think they can no longer avoid it. There is strong support for the Policy.
This is how things stand at present. I think the Policy, once ratified, will create history. It will set a strong precedent for similar policies at other places of work. In garments factories, I often say, for women, it’s not only a question of wages but being able to work in a safe and secure place, free of harassment and sexual advances.
`And what about other public universities,’ I ask, knowing fully well the answer. No, says Anu, there is no talk of a Policy, let alone a finalised Draft.
Jahangirnagar has a strong tradition of protest and resistance, our conversation ends on this note. I forget who said it. Was it Anu? Or, was it me? Maybe, both of us?

Voices of Female Students

Four women students of Drama and Dramatics department have accused the departmental chairperson, M Sanowar Hossain (Ahmed Sani), of harassing them.
One of them confided to her classmates, Sir has asked me to go and see him. Well, why don’t you? I am afraid. Why? Another woman said, he has asked me to go and see him too. You too? I don’t want to. Why not?
They talked and discovered that they were not alone in their experiences of sexual harassment, that it was shared. One of them said, as is the practice in the department, I had bent to touch his feet to seek his blessings, as I rose up he pulled me and kissed me on my forehead. Another woman student, similarly abused but silent until the four junior women stepped forward, spoke of how he had grabbed her and kissed her cheek. Another woman said, I was so scared when he said I would have to go to his office, but I was angry too, I knew what was going to happen, I told a friend, I’ll carry a brick in my bag. I want to mark him, so that people kow.
But the women also spoke of how they themselves felt marked. When I went back to the hostel and told the girls they wanted to know, what did he do to you? where did he touch you? how long did he hold you? I wept inside, she said. Why didn’t anyone say, where’s that bastard? Let’s go and get him. Such responses make it so difficult to come out. Why should I take on this social pressure?
The girls also said, if it had just happened to me, if I hadn’t discovered that there were other victims, I would never have spoken out. I don’t think anyone would have believed me.

Male Academia and Its Insecurities

Why do University authorities resist the adoption of a policy that will help institute measures to redress wrongs? That will afford women protection against unwanted sexual advances, thereby creating an environment that is in synchrony with what it claims to be, an institution of greater learning and advancement.
I think what lies hidden beneath academic hyperbole is, although the university, as other public and private institutions, appears to be asexual, in reality, it is deeply embedded with sexual categories and preferences. Men are superior, both intellectually and morally, this is assumed to be the incontrovertible truth. For women, to be unmasking and challenging male practices, aided by a Complaint Cell, members of which will listen to their grievances, extend support, advocate sanctions if allegations are proven to be true, is a threat that terrifies the masculine academic regime of power and privileges.
But sexual harassment is not a bunch of roses. It is serious, it needs to be taken seriously.
———————————-
An open letter to the Chancellor of Jahangirnagar University
First published in New Age on 7th July 2008

Re-visiting

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Rahnuma Ahmed

Thirtyfive years later

“Thirtyfive years? You will be meeting her after thirtyfive years?”
No contact in between?
Well, I would reply, we escaped from Pakistan in 1972. There were no official contacts between the two countries for many years so there was no question of any letter-writing, but in the late 1970’s, one of my father’s colleagues at Radio Bangladesh had gone to Pakistan, to attend a seminar. I remember asking my father hesitantly, can your colleague take a letter from me for Imdad uncle’s daughter? My father had said, `For Naghma? Well, I’ll ask him, but go ahead. I’m sure, he can.’ He had brought back a letter from Naghma. I remember that I had read it over and over again.
When we met last October, after thirty-five long years, she reminded me that I had also sent a maroon cotton sari with my letter. With her letter had come a set of studded buttons, a Sindhi piece of jewellery that village women wore. That I remember clearly. I had worn it for many years.
In the late 1980s, I had received a phone call. The caller said he was Naghma’s husband, he was in Dhaka for a conference. It was over, could we meet up? I dragged Shahidul over to where Haseeb was, we spent what remained of the day together. I wanted to know all about Naghma, we had a meal, we showed him parts of Dhaka. I remember he had said, y’know Dhaka’s quite funny, such stark differences right next to each other, next to a two-storied house you get a scraggly plot, and then suddenly you see a pretty posh building, and then again, right next to it, a government office. I remember looking at Dhaka anew, through his eyes. I remember looking at Haseeb, again and again, wanting to find bits of Naghma in him. I missed her. His presence made it acute.
After that, no contact. Four years earlier, we were in touch again. A spurt of e-mails, followed by another long silence, broken last year by a letter. She had been invited to a conference in Dhaka at the end of October, would I be in Dhaka then? We frantically wrote to each other. Until the last minute. Until she caught her flight to Dhaka.
I walked into the hotel lobby and asked for her at the reception but before the person behind the counter could reply, a man walked up to me and said, “Are you Rahnuma?” I nodded, and he said, “There’s Naghma.” I turned to see a woman in a white kameez and churidar, seated in a sofa facing the high glass walls. Her back was turned to me. She was looking at the fountain outside.
No words can describe what I felt in that first exchange of glances. Tahseen gave us a minute or two before joining us. Naghma introduced us to each other, he was also from Pakistan, he was here for the same conference. An old friend of her and her husband. Tahseen said I needed no introduction. Naghma had never tired of talking about me in the thirty-or-so odd years he knew her. He teased us as we sat facing each other. As we calmly spoke to each other. We had been misty-eyed, but only for fleeting moments. “If I had been in your place,” said Tahseen, “I would have wept my heart out, I would have been rolling on the floor of the hotel lobby by now.” We laughed.
Later, one evening when we were having dinner together, Tahseen spoke of his visit to his ancestral village in East Punjab, India, a few years ago. He spoke of how he had navigated his Indian friend who was driving the car right down to the village, of how he had known of each turn to the doorstep of their paternal home from stories that his mother had repeatedly told him. Stories of sorrow, and loss and longing. It was the first time since 1947 that anyone from Tahseen’s family had been to the village. But older people, he said, had known who he was. We shared in his amazement when he said, you know, I didn’t have to introduce myself, they knew right away, they said you are so-and-so’s puttar, right?
He quietly added, the whole village had turned out and wept.

In 1972, I did not look back

Afsan Chowdhury had insisted that the experiences of those of us who had been in Pakistan during 1971, was also part of the history of muktijuddho. I had contributed a piece to his edited four-volume Bangladesh 1971. This is what I had written about leaving Naghma, about leaving Pakistan. `I do not remember exactly how I came to discover that we were leaving, that we were escaping, that it would happen not in the distant future, but soon. Very soon. I was told of the exact date at the very last moment. My parents had strictly forbidden us, we were not to tell anyone, we must keep our mouths tightly sealed, it was not safe. But how could I not tell my dearest friend Naghma? Her father, like my dad, also worked in Radio Pakistan, they were Punjabis, they also lived in Garden Road officer’s colony. In my circle of friends spreading from colony to school and back, Naghma was the only one who strongly supported Bangladesh’s struggle for liberation. She was the only Pakistani with whom I could share tales of atrocities being committed by the Pakistani army, with whom I could share stories of West Pakistan’s exploitation of its eastern wing.
When I told her of our family’s plans to escape, I remember that I had shut the door tightly, that I had sat down next to her, that I had whispered in her ear, “We are leaving…”
I remember she had wept. I remember I hadn’t.
I was leaving Pakistan for my own country. I remember feeling proud. We were going to be free of Pakistan. I did not look back.’
Last October, when we met after thirty-five years, Naghma reminded me of that evening. She reminded me that I had turned the bedroom lights off and on before leaving. Their house had been right behind ours. It had been our pre-arranged signal. She had waited for that last sign.

Pakistan now

After her conference was over, she came and stayed with me for a night before leaving for Islamabad. We talked about politics. Continuously. Just like the old days.
We talked about Musharraf in Pakistan. About the military-backed caretaker government in Bangladesh. She repeatedly spoke of the institutionalisation of the military. It was this that had warped all possible democratic hope for Pakistan. For the majority peoples of Pakistan. For a long time to come. Being a client state of the US never helped democratic longings, she said.
I spoke of Bangladesh, of the changes that had taken place, pre- and post- January 11 last year. She replied with foreboding. She could see similarities, she said.
I found it disconcerting. We had left Pakistan. I did not want to turn back.
And then, a few weeks ago, Ikram Sehgal, defence editor of Pakistan, said the same thing while speaking to journalists at Dhaka Reporters’ Unity. He could see “commonalities” between Bangladesh now, and pre-election Pakistan. He termed these “disturbing.” Running the country was not a Captain, a Major, or a Brigadier, or a General’s business. It is not part of their training, he said. Their duty was to protect the sovereignty of a state. To help during times of national crisis. This, he added, could only be for “a short period.” (The New Nation, March 17, 2008).
I become curious. I want to explore “commonalities.” I turn to Ayesha Siddiqa’s Military Inc. Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy (2007). I come across a discussion of Bangladesh. “The military’s role can only be limited to arbitration in cases such as Bangladesh, where the government has systematically encouraged the armed forces to look at other options for their financial survival. One of the reasons for the Bangladeshi military’s abstinence from taking over direct control lies in the source of the armed forces’ financial autonomy. Dhaka’s military depends on UN peacekeeping missions to earn financial benefits, and as a result it has remained out of power since 1990-1.” (p. 50).
I read on. “Over the years, Dhaka’s armed forces have built stakes in the hotel industry, in textile and jute manufacturing, and in education. Bangladeshi civil society is, perhaps naively, not alarmed by such developments.”
Bangladeshi armed forces investing in the hotel industry? How little one knows. I delve and come up with some bits of information. The Radisson Water Garden Hotel is jointly owned by Sena Kalyan Sangstha and Army Welfare Trust. It earned 9.52 million US dollars in the first year of its operation (2006-2007). In the second year, it generated a revenue of 13,377,424 US dollars, earning a gross operating profit of 6,721,356 US dollars. I come across other information. The 2007-2008 earnings were “the highest recorded hotel revenue in the history of Bangladesh.” Ian R Barrow, the General Manager of the hotel, thought it was Radisson’s “location” that was crucial. Being close to Zia International Airport, it had not been much affected by the political turmoil that had swept the nation, that had affected other businesses last year. But then, I thought, businesses close to the seat of power have thrived under any regime.
I return to Ayesha Siddiqa. She thinks if the military’s role in the economy expands, its influence in politics deepens. She thinks we should be alarmed.
I remember 1972. I remember being excited. We were going to be free of Pakistan.
——————–
First published in New Age on 1st April 2008

Distances

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Rahnuma Ahmed

WHENEVER I approach her, I feel numb. I feel speechless. I want to know who she is. But I don?t know who to ask. How to ask.

This photograph has always haunted me. I don?t remember when I first saw it. Probably in a book of war photographs. And later in the Muktijuddho Jadughar, where I have gone many a times with relatives and friends, visiting from abroad.
?She was pulled out. Dragged out from the Pakistani army?s bunker,? said Naibuddin Ahmed, the photographer.
naibuddin-ahmed-woman-in-mymensingh-mw013723-600-px.jpg Woman recovered from Pakistani Army bunker at Mymensingh. 12th December 1971. ? Naibuddin Ahmed/Drik/Majority World
I spoke to Naibuddin Ahmed on Sunday night (March 23), over the telephone. ?Why don?t you come and get a print? It?s only an hour, or a one and a half hour?s drive.?
The next morning Shahidul and I went off to Paril Noadha in Shingair, Manikganj, to Naibuddin bhai?s idyllic home, where he leads a retired life. Thirty-eight years later.

The Pakistani army, he said, had camped at the Bangladesh Agricultural University in Mymensingh. They had captured and occupied Mymensingh on April 19. When the army left in December, when they were forced to flee, people rushed to the BAU campus. Looting began, army bunkers, storeroom, there was looting all around, everywhere. Common people were looting, they were all over the place. ?I do not know whether it was from rage, or what…,? he gently added.

That?s when we heard the news, he said. Girls had been discovered in the bunkers, which were next to the university guesthouse. He went on, I went and found her, she was lying like that. People were milling around her, they were in front of her, they were behind her. I asked them to move, I made some space, and then I took photographs. It was the twelfth of December, that was the day Mymensingh became free. The Indian army had entered the town, they had entered the campus, they had taken control.

When I approached her, she seemed to be in a trance. There were others. I heard eight to ten girls had been found in the bunkers, some had already left. I found her alone. She did not respond when we called out. Her hands were raised. She was holding on to the pole behind her. Was that all that was left, nothing else to hold on to?
We returned to Dhaka with the print. Naibuddin bhai?s words kept ringing in my ears. Of course, it was a tamasha, a spectacle, he had said. There were people, both men and women who had come in search of their daughters, and their sisters. But there were onlookers, too. They had stood and stared. They did not share their pain and suffering, their helplessness. They looked on and thought, the military has done it to them. Nothing left. They are finished.

War rape intimidates the enemy, says Sally J Scholz. It demoralises the enemy. It makes women pregnant, and thereby furthers the cause of genocide. It tampers with the identity of the next generation. It breaks up families. It disperses entire populations. It drives a wedge between family members. It extends the oppressor?s dominance into future generations.

The context of war makes it different from peacetime rape. Although there are, often enough, compelling links between the two. The context of war alters perceptions. War turns rape into an act of a state, nation, ethnic group, or people. Atrocities committed by soldiers against unarmed civilians during wartime are always considered to be state acts, the Pakistani state against the Bengali peoples. Rape is an act of violence. It is an act of power and domination, rather than an act of sex. Rape is a demonstration of prowess, of male bonding, especially within the military. War rape, at times, becomes an end in itself. It creates a war within a war, by targeting all women simply because they are women.
Normal lives, distanced lives

?In Britain, you would never find such violent images in museums, or exhibitions. Generally speaking, no. Never, ever.? David, my niece Sofia?s Scottish husband, and a journalist, uttered these words slowly and thoughtfully, as we left the Muktijuddho Jadughor. Of course wars were violent affairs, he nodded in agreement, as I went on to ask which particular images had reminded him of Britain?s rules of museum display. Was it the photo of vultures eating human carcass? Was it photographs of dead bodies half afloat in the water? Rayer Bazar intellectual killings? Dead bodies of men, women and children struck down by the December 1970 cyclone? Rape victims of 1971?

I thought of the care with which images are graded in Britain, the consideration that goes into classifying cinemas into those not suited for viewing by children (above 12 years only, 15+ years).

But violence is cloaked in many ways. War machines kill. I thought of the care with which Blair had been sales agent to 72 Eurofighters to Saudi Arabia. Of the appreciation showered on India for its ?1-billion order with British Aeropace for Hawk trainer jets. An island of normalcy that outsources violence?

What if violence sown elsewhere manages to come home, to find its way onto TV channels? The chief military spokesman for coalition forces in Iraq Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt had been asked what if one comes across images of Iraqi civilians killed by Americans on TV? ?Change the channel,? had been his advice.

Those whose lives are devastated by war struggle to reconstruct a normal life after war. But recreating normal relationships is not easy. Much less so, for women. Marium, the central character in Shaheen Akhtar?s Talaash (novel), had been a rape camp inmate during 1971. After liberation, and many episodes, Momtaz marries her. He is a nouveau riche businessman, and amazingly enough, not at all concerned about Marium?s wartime experience. Momtaz does not worry about fathering children. Let us enjoy life first, he says. But the act of enjoyment is fraught with difficulties. If Momtaz holds her passionately, Marium?s eyes float like a dead fish. She is ready. Too ready. She starts breathing from her mouth. Her heart beats rapidly, like a mouse caught in a rat-trap. In the beginning, Momtaz was not worried. The women in the park would do the same, one hand outstretched to take cash, while the other would part clothes while she lay down. Petting, caressing were not required. The quicker the better, especially before the police appeared. But this is home, not a park. This is a conjugal bed, not one made of grass. Why does Marium behave like a whore? Why does she never say ?no?? Why does she not take part? Why is she inert? Why does she act surrendered, as if someone was holding a gun to her head, was forcing her to have sex? Momtaz begins drinking heavily. He wants to make his wife sexually active, he gradually turns into a rapist. He is physically abusive. He starts to behave like a member of the Pakistani army. The marriage does not survive.

War fractures the lives of survivors, often in ways that cannot be repaired. War rape creates a war within a war. It can outlive war. Pre-war normalcy often eludes the survivors forever.

Closer to truth. Closer to freedom

Thirty-eight years on and I look at myself. I look at us women. I look at our normal, peacetime lives. And I wonder, if justice had been done, if the war criminals had been tried, if women had returned to their families, to their parents, husbands, lovers, brothers, if they did not have to go to Pakistan, or to brothels, or to Mother Teresa?s in Kolkata, if those pregnant could have their babies if they had wished, would my life, would our lives have been differently normal? If justice had been done, would the rape of hill women have been a necessary part of the military occupation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts? Would the offenders have enjoyed impunity? Would there not have been independent judicial investigations? Would those guilty have gone unpunished? Would the Chittagong Hill Tracts have been militarily occupied at all?

Would we have been closer to freedom?
First published in New Age 26th March 2008

Of pet dogs (and bitches)

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rahnuma ahmed

Last year, in June, she had left Dhaka and her pet dogs to take up her new assignment in Baghdad. Patricia Butenis has returned, this time on a private visit, to fetch her dogs, and to visit her old workplace.?Amader Shomoy, March 3, 2008??

Political speculation was rife. Was she on a special assignment? Was her visit timed to coincide with the ex-president of Pakistan Wasim Sajjad?s visit to Dhaka? Had Sajjad gone to Geeta Pasi?s home, the US charge d?affaires, where Butenis was staying, to meet with the latter? After all, Butenis had earlier been posted in Pakistan. Was she here to hold meetings with the opposition party leaders of Bangladesh? Or was it secret meetings with top military and civilian officials?

Not many newspapers had reported the pet dog story. US embassy sources had stressed that it was strictly a private visit, that she was not here on any special assignment, that her itinerary had not been made public out of security considerations. That she would return directly to Baghdad.

I read and re-read the newspaper reports. Butenis, it seems, had attended both private and official programmes. She had gone to a dinner given in her honour by the Canadian high commissioner. She had gone to a US embassy organised lunch at Dhaka?s Westin hotel. She had gone to the UNDP-organised ?Celebrating the Halfway Mark of Voter Registration? programme, attended by top Election Commission officials, senior-most military and civilian officers, political party leaders, heads of diplomatic corps, and foreign diplomats. I read the newspaper reports carefully. Renata Dessallien, the UNDP resident representative, had profusely thanked both the Election Commission and the army for the progress made. Bangladesh, she had said, was on its way to rescuing democracy, to putting it back on track. The UNDP would advise other countries to follow Bangladesh?s example, to make a similar ?golden voter list,? complete with voter photographs and national ID cards. Interesting. I returned to tracking Butenis, and found that she had also attended a meeting with US embassy officials in Dhaka. She had spoken of her seven-month-long experiences as the deputy chief of the Baghdad mission.?

But it was the pet dog story that intrigued me. I carefully went through some more newspapers. According to a high-up government source, before leaving Dhaka middle of last year Butenis had said she was leaving her ?pet dogs? behind. She would return to fetch them after she had settled down in Baghdad. Could this be the reason for her visit??The reporter didn?t seem convinced?(Shamokal, March 2, 2008).??

It seemed trivial, but I was piqued. One dog? Or two? Some reports had said ekta kukur (Jaijaidin, March 3, 2008). Others did not mention numbers. They used kukur, which is a collective noun. It could well mean several. A couple of other reports, these were later ones, made specific mention of two, duti posha kukur (Amader Shomoy,?Jaijaidin).???

Were they she-dogs? Or, he-dogs? Maybe one of each? I remembered Butenis had been a strong advocate of gender equality. I remembered the introductory words of her 2007 International Women?s Day speech, ?As we celebrate International Women?s Day this month, I hope everyone will take the time to recognise that women are uniquely valuable and productive members of our society?? I remembered her condemnation of economic discrimination against women, her stand against women?s trafficking, against domestic violence. But then I thought, surely this was stretching it too far? One may well be pro-women, but does that necessarily mean, one of each, in selecting pet dogs? And of course, pet-lovers have to take other things into account (whether they want their pets to have puppies, or get them neutered, a whole load of things).???

I was also worried over my choice of words. The female of the canine species? Terribly outdated. She-dogs? Clumsy. And then I remembered, the word ?bitch? is thought to be less offensive nowadays. I remembered that earlier meanings of malicious, spiteful, domineering have given way to feminist attempts to appropriate the word. Such as?Bitch magazine?(1996), billed as a feminist response to pop culture. I remembered third wave feminist attempts to inscribe new meanings. Bitch, as in women who are strong-minded. Assertive. In total control.??

But I speak of she-dogs. Not women.

Loving dogs

?

I grew up watching Lassie, an American TV serial in the mid- to late-sixties. Lassie, a Yorkshire collie, had seemed incredibly beautiful. Very dignified. Almost human.

It was later, much later that I tried to develop a critical appreciation of modern pet-hood as a western cultural phenomenon. As a kinship phenomenon. I thought of what Marc Shell, an anthropologist, had said. Pets in the west give their owners, ?pleasure, companionship, and protection, or the feeling of being secure.? Shell was writing of the mid-1980s. But was it always like this in western culture? From time immemorial??Jenkins?says, no. Lassie, says Jenkins, was a creation of 19th-century bourgeois imagination, of those who viewed the onset of modernity with a sense of nostalgic loss. As old social commitments gave way to ?alienated and individualistic urban life,? a dog became a ?man?s best friend.? Eric Knight?s Lassie, says Jenkins, stands at the nexus of two new ideas. Children, no longer sources of productive labour, are re-imagined as sacred and innocent. As repositories of parental affection. Dogs are also re-imagined. They are no longer domesticated animals valued for their productive labour, or their exchange prices. They are transformed into pets. Into repositories of sentimental value.?

I am still curious. Of course, I have nothing against pets, I have nothing against dogs, but I fee
l there is more to know. What about today, the 21st century? The love for pets, for dogs seems to have grown more intense, deeper. I want to know what western scholars, those who examine their own social and cultural practices, think. I want to know how intense love and murderous rage can coexist in the modern subject.?

I come across an article by?Heidi Nast, a critical animal geographer. Nast speaks of the here-and-now. She says pet animals have emerged in the 1980s, and more so in the 1990s, as ?highly commodified and valued objects of affection and love.? This, she says, coincides with the rise of post-industrial spaces, and with intense consumption, in the US, and other western countries (spreading outside the west too, in Hong Kong, China, Mexico, South Korea). She writes, the allure of pet animals resides in part ?because they can be anything and anyone you want them to be.? Pets, specially dogs, supersede children as ?ideal love objects.? They are more easily mobilised, need less investment, and to quite an extent, can be shaped into whatever you want it to be, a best friend, an occasional companion. Nast speaks of new shared-experience activities that bond pets and their owners (some prefer the word ?guardians?): dog yoga (or doga), which started in the US, in 2001. And, formal dancing with dogs, this began in Canada and England in the late 1980s. Nast agrees that pet-animal ownership is not radically new. That elites have pampered pet-animals for millennia. But, what is new is the degree of financial, emotional and cultural investment in pet-animals, its geographical scale, and the level of intensity. Things unheard of even twenty years ago.???

Reading Nast I learn that popular support for a national ?No-Kill? movement in US pet shelters emerged in the 1990s (where four million animals are annually killed). That the movement aims to stop euthanising adoptable dogs and cats, by spaying and neutering animal-pets, and working towards greater pet health and adoption rates. I learn that these social tendencies have led to a much greater popular interest in animal rights, a much broader popular participation in animal rights activities. And that this broadened interest has used the rights of animals to treat cultural groups with different sensibilities about the animal world, as the ?other.? Nast reminds us of Bridget Bardot, ex-actress, later a celebrity animal rights activist, who had spoken hatefully of the savagery of Muslims. Because of their slaughtering practices. All in the name of animal rights.???

Nast does not think that the affection-love with which pet-animals are treated is unproblematic. She thinks that the ?escalation in human cruelty to, and dominance over, humans? that the 21st century is witnessing is not un-connected to intense pet-love. She thinks, it derives from, it operates together with ideologies and logics of violence toward humans.??

I return to tracking the former US ambassador Patricia Butenis, but this time in Iraq. Tracking is now virtual, made much easier by the internet and its search engines.

Killing Iraqis

?

Baghdad – Mohammed Hafidh says he refused to accept an envelope filled with $12,500 in cash from Patricia Butenis, deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Baghdad, as compensation for the death of his 10-year-old son, Ali.?

?I told her that I want the courts to have their say,? says Mr. Hafidh, whose son was among 17 Iraqi civilians killed in a Sept 16 shooting involving Blackwater USA security guards ? private contractors who were escorting a US diplomat at the time.???

Haythem al-Rubaie, who lost his son and wife in the same shooting, says he won?t even meet with Ms. Butenis, who offered cash compensation on Wednesday to seven of the victims? families, including Hafidh (The Christian Science Monitor, October 25, 2007).

I wasn?t sure I had read it right. I rubbed my eyes. Ms Butenis herself going round offering cash compensation? The deputy head of mission herself? And I, in my utter na?vet?, had thought suchlike duties were performed by CIA officials. A?Washington Post?story helped explain matters: the Nisoor Square massacre had sparked outrage in Iraq. The embassy offers were unusual but reflected ?the diplomatic and political sensitivities raised by the shootings.? Hmm, I thought, rather quaint language. You wouldn?t think they were talking of massacres.

The Post story provided further information. A State Department official had asked Haitham (name differently spelt) what he thought was fair compensation for his wife and son. He had replied, ?They are priceless.? On being pressed, he had said, ?Like Lockerbie.? The families of victims of the Pan American bombing over Scotland had reportedly received $8 million dollars in compensation from the Libyan government. He had added, ?And you would have to deliver the criminals to an Iraqi court just like Libya delivered the criminals to the British.???

Being appointed the second-in-command of the Baghdad mission was undoubtedly a promotion. But being there sounds rather wretched, what is the English phrase? It?s a dog?s life

War diplomats

?

US diplomats would seem to agree.

?State Department employees serving in Iraq get their full salary plus 70% differentials for danger and hardship service. Got a family living in, say, western Europe as part of your last assignment? No problem. The State Department says they can stay there in housing provided by the government as you serve in Iraq. Or, if you like, move the family to a U.S. location of your choice with an allowance that comes on top of the other financial incentives. And for those Foreign Service strivers thinking of a posh future post in some place like London, Paris or Madrid, keep in mind that State Department employees who volunteer for Iraq are now guaranteed one of their five top picks for the next assignment following Iraq. And the U.S. embassy and Baghdad definitely wants you to know that Iraq duty will do you well in promotion consideration down the road? (Times, November 5, 2007).

But the perks were not enough. Forty-eight positions remained vacant. Late last year, the State Department was forced to issue a warning to more than 200 officers. Unless they volunteered, they would be forced into ?compulsory Iraq se
rvice.? Since then, 15 individuals have come forward, but 33 spots still remain vacant.?

I was amused. Not many seem to have been taken in by the US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice?s idea of??transformational diplomacy??(January 18, 2006). ?We must begin to lay new diplomatic foundations to secure a future of freedom for all people.?

Wanted: dogs of war

The United States has always wished that Bangladesh take part in the Multi-National Force in Baghdad. We have always welcomed Bangladesh?s participation. But, [Butenis] added, the people internal to Bangladesh, the common people of Bangladesh are against the idea. It is a difficult decision for Dhaka. Had Dhaka been asked? Butenis did not give any clear-cut answer (Manab Zamin, March 4, 2008).?

In English, ?dogs of war? is an archaic term for soldiers, coined by Shakespeare. ?Cry ?Havoc!?, and let slip the dogs of war? (Julius Caesar, Act III, scene 1, line 270).???

The US needs dogs of war. Bangladeshis will not agree to their armed forces joining American-led occupiers in Iraq. Not in their name, no. But there may be other ways. Talk of?setting up a Muslim UN peacekeeping force?has been gently circulating for the?last couple of years. At some stage, that will probably be voiced as a compromise solution. Everybody will heave a sigh of relief. US forces will hunker down in?US mega-bases in Iraq, they will lead safe lives of occupation. Less body bags to be shipped home, while UN peacekeepers from moderate Muslim countries like Bangladesh maintain peace above ground.

If it so happens, they will be the dogs of war in an imperial occupation that has ravaged the cradle of civilisation.

First published in New Age 17th March 2008

Bangladesh 1971

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They had risked all to hold on to this moment in history. The scarred negatives, hidden from the military, wrapped in old cloth, buried underground, also bore the wounds of war. These photographers were the only soldiers who preserved tangible memories, a contested memory that politicians fight over, in their battle for supremacy. These faded images, war weary, bloodied in battle, provide the only record of what was witnessed. Nearly four decades later, they speak.
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Women marching in the streets of Dhaka. 1971. ? Rashid Talukder/Drik/Majority World
A photographic exhibition and film season that focuses on one of South Asia?s most significant political events: the foundation of Bangladesh as an independent state.
pakistani-soldiers-surrendering-aftab-ahmed-1161.jpg Pakistani soldiers surrendering on the 16th December 1971. ? Aftab Ahmed/Drik/Majority World
The Bangladesh war of independence in 1971 was one of the bloodiest conflicts in living memory. In an attempt to crush forces seeking independence for what was then East Pakistan, the West Pakistani military regime unleashed a systematic campaign of violence that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Bangalis. Many of the photographs from the unique collection of the Drik archives will be shown in the UK for the first time.

dismembered-head-in-rayerbajar-rashid-talukder-1111.jpg Dismembered head at the Rayerbajar Killing Fields where intellectuals were slaughtered on the 14th December 1971 ? Rashid Talukder/Drik/Majority World
victorious-muktis-returning-home-523.jpgVictorious Mukti Bahini returning home at the end of the war. ? Jalaluddin Haider/Drik/Majority World
mujib-returns-to-bangladesh.jpg Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on his return to Bangladesh from Pakistan. 10th January 1972 ? Rashid Talukder/Drik/Majority World
In 266 days Bangali, hill people and Adivasi resistance fighters and their allies defeated the military forces of Pakistan. The result was the birth of a new nation – Bangladesh – and the dismemberment of Pakistan.
It was only after the 16th of December 1971 when Pakistani troops surrendered in East Pakistan, that Bangladeshis began to realise the scale of the atrocities committed during the previous nine months.
children-and-shells.jpg Children amidst shells. ? Abdul Hamid Raihan/Drik/Majority World
1971 was a year of national and international crisis in South Asia. The history of Bangladesh is implicitly tied to the partition of India in 1947 and therefore the tragic events of 1971 are linked to Britain?s colonial past. For Bangladesh, ravaged by the war and subsequent political turmoil, it has been a difficult task to reconstruct its own history. It is only during the last few years that this important Bangladeshi photographic history has begun to emerge.
Now decades after the war, Autograph ABP in collaboration with Drik presents a historical photographic overview of Bangladesh 1971 at Rivington Place.
Project Description
A major documentary photographic exhibition of primarily Bangladeshi photographers that focuses on the independence struggle in 1971. The exhibition is produced in partnership with Shahidul Alam, Director of Drik, a media activist and journalist from Bangladesh. This will be the first comprehensive review in the UK of one of the most important conflicts in modern history. It is recognised that over a million people died in 266 days during the struggle for an independent Bangladesh.
UK partner Autograph ABP. Curator Mark Sealy, director of Autograph ABP.
Exhibition open to public April 4th ? 31st May 2008
Press View – Both curators will be available to meet the press 11.30am ? 1pm April 3rd
The exhibition is accompanied by the Bangladesh 1971 Film Season throughout April 2008 in partnership with Rich Mix and The Rainbow Film Society. Please see attached document for full details.
For further information or images, contact Indra Khanna 020 7749 1261 or David A Bailey 020 7749 1264.
Autograph ABP, Rivington Place, London EC2A 3BA.
Notes:
VENUE
Rivington Place
off Rivington Street
London EC2A 3BA
020 7749 1240
April 4th ? 31st May 2008
Open Tuesday – Friday 11am – 6pm
Saturday 12pm – 6pm
Entry is free. Venue is wheelchair accessible.
? Shahidul Alam: Curator, photographer, activist. Gallery Talk (in Bengali) 2pm April 5th
? Mark Sealy: Director of Autograph ABP. Gallery Talk (in English) 6.30pm April 17th
? Many other talks and events to be confirmed
? Bangladesh 1971 Film Season throughout April 2008 in partnership with Rich Mix and The Rainbow Film Society
? Special screening of documentaries and artists? films at Rivington Place to be announced
Photographers included in the exhibition: Abdul Hamid Raihan, Aftab Ahmed, BegArt Collection, Golam Mawla, Jalaluddin Haider, Mohammad Shafi , Naib Uddin Ahmed, Rashid Talukder, Sayeeda Khanom and Bal Krishnan.
—–
press-release-bangladesh-1971.doc

Of Mayors and Mice

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karzai-mush-fakhruddin.jpg Afghanistan’s Ahmed Karzai (left), Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf (centre) and Bangladesh’s Fakhruddin Ahmed at the World Economic Forum at Davos. ? AFP
The smile would warm the cockles of your heart. Especially if you were a CIA agent. This was exactly what was wanted. Happy obedient leaders. Democracy simply got in the way. Karzai, Musharraf, Fakhruddin. The new alliance. One new poodle.
It was summer 2006. The Talibans were getting ever closer to Kabul. Sitting in the Aina office in Choroi Malek Asghar, I was listening to Reza, founder of the Afghan media organisation. The recent anti-drug campaign was bound to have failed he claimed. Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president’s younger brother was the chief beneficiary of the drug trade. The US $ 500 million or so spent on combating drugs, was more likely to have been spent on the now famous ‘corrupto mansions’ than on alternative livelihood for opium farmers.
I had felt at ease walking the streets of Kabul. My Arafat scarf and beard also helped. It was different for the ‘saviours’ of Afghanistan. They stepped from their secure offices into their secure vehicles and went to their secure homes. The saviours spend a lot of time in secure cars. The Lexus car that took me to the Serena hotel had five television sets. My Afghan friends call Karzai “The Mayor of Central Kabul.”
A month later I was across the border, in the earthquake zone in Muzaffarabad, Azad Kashmir. I spotted flags with Iqbal, Jinnah and Mickey Mouse flying above one of the refugee camps. The significance of the cartoon character had escaped me. Chatting with my friend Zaheer back in Karachi, I brought up the subject. “Mushy Mouse” was his smiling reply.
mushy-mouse-1195.jpg Poet Iqbal, Founder of Pakistan Jinnah, and Mickey Mouse on a flag flying in Muzaffarabad. August 2006. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Mushy had come into power through a military coup, ousting an elected prime minister. He had suspended the constitution twice and arrested the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. On 3rd November 2007, days before a bench of the Supreme Court was to decide on a petition challenging the constitutional validity of his re-election as president, he had shut down all private television channels. He had also failed to protect the life of his chief political opponent, Benazir. The real Mickey might have run the country better.
There seemed to be no malice or sense of competition between the three US stooges in Davos. Emerging out of the darkness, hands held together in their solidarity of servitude, they positively glowed. Mushy was candid and genuine when he advised his peer Fakhruddin, the Chief Adviser of Bangladesh. “I think you are doing a great job. Carry on doing it no matter what anyone thinks, irrespective of human rights.”
This comedy of errors is a tragedy in the making and our adviser is being true to his script. Mushy would have been proud of Fakhruddin’s human rights record. The ban on media coverage of indigenous rights groups. The more recent ban on the outspoken journalist Nurul Kabir from TV talk shows and the written ban on the popular live programmes on Ekushey TV, neatly slot in with the suppression of free media that both Mushy and Karzai have practiced. Like most other bans, Kabir’s had no paper trails. No written instructions to deny. Just the phone calls from Uttor Para (the cantonment) that we have come to recognise. Our Chief Adviser might even be trying to get ahead of his senior poodles by teaming up with the Myanmar generals.
But Mushy Mouse and the mayor of central Kabul have already staged their sham elections. Our adviser’s play is yet to be played out.

Portraits of Commitment

Portraits of commitment
Why people become leaders in the AIDS response

Challenges help us find our true selves. They take us on a journey within the depths of who we are, leaving us at a destination we hope is worthy. Some people find themselves at lesser places.
AIDS is one of those challenges.
The South Asians in this book tell how AIDS has made them a better doctor, researcher, legislator, citizen or person. We know AIDS affects our daily life?but because of it we now have more respect for human rights and individual choice where once there was little or none. AIDS has helped us to see who we want to be.
Photographs by Shahidul Alam. Interviews by Karen Emmons. Commissioned by UNAIDS.
Tuk Tuk in Fort, Colombo
Viewers watching “Portaits of Commitment” at Fort Station in Colombo on the 21st August 2007, as part of ICAAP8. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
A story from Sri Lanka on WAD: Positive & Strong Princey Mangalika on HIV/AIDS
Reviews: IPS. Daily Mirror
shilpa-shetty-6957-b.jpg

Shilpa Shetty. Actress, Big Brother Winner. Mumbai India. “Being a celebrity has advantages – people hear you. I thought I should make use of this position and speak out.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
tahir-baig-barlas-3956-a.jpg
Tahir Baig Barlas. Corporate Manager. Karachi Pakistan. “We have the opportunity to do something now before it’s too late. Let’s not be reactive.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
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Sabina “Putul” Yeasmin, Daughter of a sex worker. Tangail Bangladesh. “I gave wrong information to make others afraid, as I had been. I had to go back and give correct information.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
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Sapana Pradham-Malla. Advocate. Kathmandu Nepal. “I can’t turn away.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
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Sally Hulugalle. Community Worker. Colombo Sri Lanka. “I want a better deal for those who are voiceless.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
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Rev. Alex Vadakumthala. Priest. New Delhi India. “The church finds its meaning when it responds to the challenges of the times.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
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Rajiv Kafle. Former Drug User. Kathmandu Nepal. “I saw a need and an opportunity where I could step up and really make a difference.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
noor-jehan-panezai-3589-a.jpg
Noor jehan Penazai. Partliamentarian. Islamabad Pakistan. “These politicians have to realise it’s a very serious disease and we have to talk about it.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
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Dr. Ananda Wijewickrama. Doctor. Colombo Sri Lanka. “I had to do something for the patients …they needed a place to go, to be consoled and, if dying, to die with dignity.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
arif-jafar-and-mother-7104.jpg
Arif Jafar and Anis Fatima, MSM and mother. Lucknow India. “I am grateful to Allah he gave such a son to me.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
habiba-akter-0739-a.jpg
Habiba Akter. Dhaka Bangladesh. Positive Counsellor.
“I have no choice. If I don’t do it no one will.” ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld

An exhibition supporting the book opens at the Barefoot Gallery, in Colombo at 7:00 pm on the 18th August. 704 Galle Rd. Colombo 3.

The Month of Victory

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14th December 1971. The stark dismembered face stared from the bricks in the Rayerbazar graveyard. It was a last ditch attempt by an occupation army to leave a nation they had been unable to subdue, crippled intellectually and culturally. Rashid Talukder’s iconic image was one of numerous outstanding photographs taken by Bangladesh’s best known photojournalist. The lifetime achievement award given to him was long overdue. Rashid Bhai joins other Bangladeshi photographers featured in the Festival of Photography in Asia Chobi Mela IV, whose images grace the much awaited Drik Calendar 2007.

Meanwhile a self appointed head of caretaker government chooses the month of our victory, to call in the military against the wishes of his own cabinet. Kudos to the caretaker advisers who chose to resign rather than going against the interests of the nation. Where ministers have shamelessly stayed on despite blatant exposures of corruption and malpractice, it is a rare example of self-respect.

The Drik calendar 2007 is in the press and is out next week when it will also be available on our website: http://www.drik.net/html/calendar.htm and in our online shopping mall: http://kiosk.mdlf.org/estore/publisher?id=21
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Autumn was unkind, rude and remorseful
Spring become unmerciful, rude and murderous
Butterflies don?t die, they don?t live either
Photo: Momena Jalil
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Dried Kash flowers at the bank of the Old Brahmaputra. “When I had my legs I could cross the river in one go.” Rajib. Bangladesh/Photo: Saiful Huq Omi.
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People fishing in a group using traditional techniques. The fishing usually takes place in the dry winter season. Wetlands of Bangladesh/Photo:Rashid Talukder.

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Enticing a prospective client. With roughly 25 customers needed for daily upkeep, competition is intense. Kandupatti brothel, Dhaka. Bangladesh/Photo: Shehzad Noorani.

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Every morning After Fazr, Keramat Ali sat here. His work ended at around 10 pm. After 22 years of service, he went back to his home town and his family. No pension and no savings/Photo: Syed Mahfuz Ali

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?Mama, take my picture,? my niece Pinki asked me. It was already nearing dusk. I held my breath with the aperture open just enough, and pressed the shutter/Photo: Sheikh Motiar Rahman

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Sheep head for shelter at the onset of a storm in the Himalayan range in the Yarlung Valley. Eastern Tibet. China/Photo: Shahidul Alam

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She migrated from the Northern district to Dhaka for livelihood. As a sand worker at Gabtoli, she works dawn to dusk for seventy taka. Bangladesh/Photo: Partha Prathim Sadhu

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Men saw a large tree trunk in the naked afternoon sun. They don?t pick leaves in the gardens. Kapai Garden, Lashkarpur Tea Estate. Bangladesh/Photo: Munem Wasif

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Traders import cows from India prior to the Muslim festival Eid Ul Azha. A cow falls in the water while being unloaded from a boat. Aricha. Bangladesh/Photo: Abir Abdullah

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?These are the shacks we live in ? we call them ?Tali? ? there are 1873 families living here at this moment.? Rohinga refugees from Myanmar. Teknaf. Bangladesh/Photo: Mahbub Alam Khan

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This is a Road I have been seeing for ages, while I have been happy, sad, upset, romantic, high, low & while growing up. It fills me with memories. They call it the VIP Road/Photo: Gazi Nafis Ahmed (Adnan)

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Dipa Thapa, 75, has two pet cats in Pashupati Bridhashram (an Old People?s Home). They are her only friends. Nepal/Shehab Uddin
In the countdown to the election the newly launched DrikNews, promises to challenge the stranglehold of western agencies AP, AFP and Reuters. www.driknews.com is the site to watch.
14th December 2006. Amsterdam

I hear the screams

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Even after years of playing Pied Piper with a camera, I am still taken aback by children insisting on being photographed. It was September 1988, and we had had the worst floods in a century. These people at Gaforgaon hadn?t eaten for three days. A torn saree strung across the beams of an abandoned warehouse created the only semblance of a shelter. Their homes had been washed away. Family members had died. Yet the children had surrounded me. They wanted a picture.
It was dark in that damp deserted warehouse, but the broken walls let in wonderful monsoon light, and they jostled for position near the opening. It was as I was pressing the shutter that I realized that the boy in the middle was blind. He had pushed himself into the centre, and though he wasn?t tall he stood straight with a beaming smile.
Blind Boy in Goforgaon
? Shahidul Alam/Drik/CARE

Clip on story of the blind child, from keynote presentation on citizen journalism at 50th Anniversary of World Press Photo in Amsterdam.
I?ve never seen the boy again, and today I question the fact that I do not know his name. But he has never left my thoughts and often I have wondered why it was so important for that blind boy to be photographed.
It?s happened elsewhere, in boat crossings at the river bank. In paddy fields heavy with grain, in busy market places. A shangbadik (literally a journalist, but in practice any person with a half decent camera) was hugely in demand. They refused to take the fare from me at the ferry ghat. Opened up their hearts and told me their most personal stories. Confided their secrets, shared their hopes. Never having deserved such treatment it has taken a while for me the photographer, to work out why being photographed meant so much to that blind child.
The stakeholders of Bangladeshi newspapers are the urban elite. Consequently stories from the village are about the exotic and the grotesque. Village people exist only as numbers, generally when plagued by some disaster and only when figures are substantial. A photograph in a newspaper, regardless of how token the gesture, is the only time a villager exists as a person. A picture on a printed page would have lifted that blind boy from his anonymity. That humbling thought stays with me whenever I am feted as a shangbadik in some small village. I receive their gift of trust gently, careful not to break the delicate contents.
It was as a photographer of children that I had begun my career. It was way before 9/11 and one could make appointments with strangers and go to their homes. I took happy pictures of kids, and parents loved them. It was easy money, except when I would photograph the children of poor parents. They loved the pictures but couldn?t afford to pay, so I would quietly leave the pictures behind and pay the studio out of my pocket. Back in Bangladesh, the only way I could make money was as a corporate photographer, but something else was happening. We were in the streets, trying to bring down a general who had usurped power. I didn?t know it then, but I was becoming a documentary photographer. Suddenly taking pictures of children meant more than smiling kids on sheepskin rugs.
As the pressure against the general mounted, I photographed children who joined the processions. The night he stepped down, I photographed a little girl with a bouquet of flowers. She was out with her dad in the middle of the night, celebrating the advent of democracy.
I am back in Kashmir eight months after I had been here photographing the advent of winter. The valleys of this fertile land are green with new crops, but many of the homes Child in Siran Valley rubble
? Shahidul Alam/Drik/CONCERN
are still to be rebuilt. As I walked through the rubble, the kids again wanted to be photographed.
NAJMA
? Shahidul Alam/Drik/CONCERN
Najma came running, her bright red dress popping out of the green maize fields.Unsure at first, she smiled when I told her she had the same name as my sister.
Zaheera singing nursery rhymes
? Shahidul Alam/Drik/CONCERN
Zaheera, a cute girl with freckles, gathered her friends and sang me nursery songs.
But my thoughts are far away. Despite the laughter and the nursery songs very different sounds enter my consciousness. I remember the children screaming on the night of the 25th March 1971, when I watched in helpless anger as the Pakistani soldiers shot the children trying to escape their flame throwers. The US had sent their seventh fleet to the Bay of Bengal, in support of the genocide. Today, as I remember the Palestinians and the Lebanese that the world is knowingly ignoring, I can hear the bombs raining down on Halba, El Hermel, Tripoli, Baalbeck, Batroun, Jbeil, Jounieh, Zahelh, Beirut, Rachaiya, Saida, Hasbaiya, Nabatiyeh, Marjaayoun,Tyr, Jbeil, Bint Chiyah, Ghaziyeh and Ansar and I hear the screams of the children. Piercing, wailing, angry, helpless, frightened screams.
News filters through of the children killed in the latest bombing. The photographs have kept coming in, horrific, sad, and disturbing. Mutilated bodies, dismembered children, people charred to ashes. But none as vulgar as those of Israeli children signing the rockets. Death warrants for children they?ve never known.
I remember my blind boy in Gaforgaon. The Lebanese and the Palestenians are also people without names. Their pain does not count. Their misery irrelevant, their anger ignored. Sitting in far away lands, immersed in rhetoric of their choosing, conjuring phantom fears necessary to keep them in power, hypocritical superpowers fail to acknowledge the evil of occupation. The ?measured response? to a people?s struggle for freedom will never in their reckoning allow a Lebanese or a Palestinian to be a person.
When greed becomes the only determining factor in world politics. When the demand for power, and oil and land overshadows the need for other people?s survival, I wonder if those screams can be heard. I wonder if those Israeli children will grow up remembering their siblings they condemned. I wonder if through all those screams the war mongers will still be asking ?why do they hate us??
11th August
Siran Valley, North West Frontier Province, Pakistan