Exposed: US press 'freedom'


Middle East
Nov 22, 2011
THE ROVING EYE

By Pepe Escobar

Last week, independent journalist Sam Husseini went to a news conference by Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia at Washington?s National Press Club – where Husseini is a member.
Then he did something that is alien to United States corporate media culture. He behaved as an actual journalist and asked a tough, pertinent, no-holds-barred question. Here it is, as relayed by Husseini’s blog:

I want to know what legitimacy your regime has, sir. You come before us, representative of one of the most autocratic, misogynistic regimes on the face of the earth. Human Rights Watch and other reports of torture, detention of activists, you squelched the democratic uprising in Bahrain, you tried to overturn the democratic uprising in Egypt and indeed you continue to oppress your own people. What legitimacy does your regime have – other than billions of dollars and weapons? [1]

Prince Turki, former Saudi intelligence supremo, former pal of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, former Saudi ambassador to the US, reacted by changing the subject. [2]
Continue reading “Exposed: US press 'freedom'”

Wearing her ghoonghat a few inches higher

Image and text contributed by Sreenivasan Jain, Mumbai

Some text is paraphrased from a recent Book ? Civil Disobedience, Sreenivasan?s father Late. Shri LC Jain, noted economist and Gandhian.

Chameli Devi Jain and her husband Phool Chand shortly after they were married. Photographer unknown

This image was photographed in Delhi, shortly after my Paternal grandparents Chameli and Phool Chand, got married. She was 14 and he was 16. It was unusual for couples in our family to be photographed, especially holding hands, which turned out to be an indication of the unconventional direction their lives would take. They were both Gandhians and Freedom fighters. Continue reading “Wearing her ghoonghat a few inches higher”

They rise in unison

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Earlier this month as we drove along the 6th of October Bridge in Cairo, my friend Gamal reminded me that below the surface the cauldron was boiling. That things could flare any minute. That he was certain, the US and it’s puppet Mobarak could not keep the lid on the public any longer. With Egypt following Tunisia’s path, it is no longer impossible to dream that the end of the US supported tyrants is near.

Ken is a former U.S. Marine who served in the 1991 Gulf War and subsequently spoke out about the use of depleted uranium as a “crime against humanity” and the US military using soldiers as “human guinea pigs” with experimental drugs that were directly linked to Gulf War syndrome. He is also a social entrepreneur utilizing direct action marine conservation, he is more widely known for leading the human shield action to Iraq and as a survivor of the Israeli attack on the MV Mavi Marmara in which he participated in “defending the ship” and “disarming two Israeli Commandos”. On January 7, 2004, O’Keefe burned his US passport in protest of “American Imperialism” and called for US troops to immediately withdrawal from Iraq. He replaced his US passport with a “World Passport”, subsequently proclaiming himself a “Citizen of the World” with ?ultimate allegiance to my entire human family and to planet Earth.” His is also legal citizen of Ireland and Palestine citizenship.

About a dozen members of a pro-Islamic human rights group and a leftist party hold a joint protest in a show of solidarity with protesters in Egypt, outside the Egyptian embassy in Ankara, Turkey, Jan. 28, 2011. The large banner reads: "Yesterday Tunisia, today Egypt" The placards read: "Egyptian people will! Revolution and Freedom!"

An Egyptian anti-government activist kisses a riot-police officer following clashes in Cairo, Jan. 28, 2011. Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters poured into the streets of Egypt Friday, stoning and confronting police who fired back with rubber bullets and tear gas in the most violent and chaotic scenes yet in the challenge to President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule.

Statement on the Binayak Sen Judgement

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Posted by Radical Notes

December 31, 2010 at 8:44 am in India

Sanhati

We are deeply anguished by the convictions and sentences of Dr. Binayak Sen, Piyush Guha, and Narayan Sanyal by the additional district and sessions judge of Raipur for sedition. We also note that in a separate case, Asit Sengupta was convicted and sentenced to eight years imprisonment for his work as magazine editor and publisher. Sanhati strongly condemns their convictions and sentences.
Convicting Dr. Sen of sedition and treason against the country, when he has devoted his life to service for the poorest citizens of India, yet again illustrates the disdain of the state towards its citizens and democracy. The real crime of Dr. Sen in the eyes of the government has been his protest against the state-sponsored vigilante force of Salwa Judum, and his efforts to bring to light the atrocities committed by this vigilante army on the indigeneous population of Chattisgarh. The state has attempted to make an example of Dr. Sen to all dissenting against its policies or protesting repression. Nevertheless, the state will fail in its attempt to create a fear psychosis among political and social activists; its efforts will only lead to the strengthening of resistance against state repression.
The charge made out by the prosecution against Dr. Sen was that he was responsible for passing letters from Narayan Sanyal lodged to Piyush Guha. Examination of witnesses and evidence presented by the defence demonstrated that the meetings in prison between Dr. Sen and Narayan Sanyal, the jailed Maoist leader, followed all legal norms and were based on the capacity of Dr. Sen as a physician and a human rights activist. When the accusations against Dr. Sen could not be supported by evidence in court, the government brought up other trumped-up charges and falsified evidence, much of which was glaring in its absurdity. That the court chose to overlook all this, has exposed the nature of our judicial system to the entire world.
It is necessary at this juncture to also mention that numerous undertrial political and social activists are today incarcerated in various prisons in India or languishing in jail for prolonged periods without trial, charged under various draconian state or central laws. These laws, and various draconian provisions of the criminal penal code, are being used to clamp down upon resistance movements against various anti-people policies pursued by the Indian state. The charges against Dr. Binayak Sen, and the travesty of justice in the name of his trial, have brought this hard truth to the fore.
We strongly condemn the convictions and sentences against Binayak Sen, Piyush Guha, Narayan Sanyal, and Asit Sengupta. We demand that the injustice meted out to them in the name of dispensing justice be rectified immediately. We also demand that the state immediately stops the systematic usage of various draconian laws and charges of sedition against activists to silence all voices of dissent.

Media and Mobs

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By Arundhati Roy

Monday, November 01, 2010

(Courtesy: Znet)

New Delhi, October 31: A mob of about a hundred people arrived at my house at 11 this morning (Sunday October 31st 2010.) They broke through the gate and vandalized property. They shouted slogans against me for my views on Kashmir, and threatened to teach me a lesson.
The OB Vans of NDTV, Times Now and News 24 were already in place ostensibly to cover the event live. TV reports say that the mob consisted largely of members of the BJP?s Mahila Morcha (Women?s wing).
After they left, the police advised us to let them know if in future we saw any OB vans hanging around the neighborhood because they said that was an indication that a mob was on its way. In June this year, after a false report in the papers by Press Trust of India (PTI) two men on motorcycles tried to stone the windows of my home. They too were accompanied by TV cameramen.
What is the nature of the agreement between these sections of the media and mobs and criminals in search of spectacle? Does the media which positions itself at the ?scene? in advance have a guarantee that the attacks and demonstrations will be non-violent? What happens if there is criminal trespass (as there was today) or even something worse? Does the media then become accessory to the crime?
This question is important, given that some TV channels and newspapers are in the process of brazenly inciting mob anger against me.
In the race for sensationalism the line between reporting news and manufacturing news is becoming blurred. So what if a few people have to be sacrificed at the altar of TRP ratings?
The Government has indicated that it does not intend to go ahead with the charges of sedition against me and the other speakers at a recent seminar on Azadi for Kashmir. So the task of punishing me for my views seems to have been taken on by right wing storm troopers.
The Bajrang Dal and the RSS have openly announced that they are going to ?fix? me with all the means at their disposal including filing cases against me all over the country. The whole country has seen what they are capable of doing, the extent to which they are capable of going.
So, while the Government is showing a degree of maturity, are sections of the media and the infrastructure of democracy being rented out to those who believe in mob justice?
I can understand that the BJP’s Mahila Morcha is using me to distract attention from the senior RSS activist Indresh Kumar who has recently been named in the CBI charge-sheet for the bomb blast in Ajmer Sharif in which several people were killed and many injured.
But why are sections of the mainstream media doing the same?
Is a writer with unpopular views more dangerous than a suspect in a bomb blast? Or is it a question of ideological alignment?
Arundhati Roy
October 31st 2010

September 22 is for remembering

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Daily Mirror

THURSDAY, 23 SEPTEMBER 2010 00:00


The 4th article of the Dasa Raja Dharma, Lord Buddha?s incomparable treatise on good governance is about Ajjava, i.e. honesty and integrity. The ruler, the Buddha said must be absolutely straightforward and must never employ any crooked means to achieve ends. This week I planned to dwell on this particular aspect of good governance but am compelled to employ the idea to dissect something more specific. I write about honesty and integrity but only in terms of how they relate to the month of September.
I am writing this on September 22, 2010. September 22 is significant for a specific and personal reason. It marks an anniversary. On this day, exactly one year ago, the Daily Mirror published an article by me titled ?Welcome to Sri Lanka Ms. Patricia Butenis?. Ms. Butenis had just assumed duties as the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka. My comment followed a statement she issued to the press subsequent to presenting credentials to President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
She said in that note, ?No country, including the United States, has a perfect record in safeguarding human rights? but said that even while addressing its own shortcomings, the USA has a responsibility to advocate for the rights and freedoms of people worldwide. Ms. Butenis is aware I am sure of the adage that charity begins at home. I expressed in my response to her ?note? the hope that once she recovers from jet-leg, Ms. Butenis would write a lengthy piece informing Sri Lankans about what exactly the USA has been doing by way of addressing shortcomings.
A lot has happened since September 22, 2009. We?ve had Nick Clegg of Britain?s Liberal Democratic Party confessing while acting as Prime Minister that the invasion of Iraq was illegal. We?ve had ?Wikileaks? telling us of the horrendous and systemic perpetration of atrocities by US troops in Afghanistan. We?ve had the US justice system virtually giving a green light to torture of prisoners as long as it happens outside the borders of that country. We?ve had President Barack Obama wanting photographic evidence of excesses perpetrated by US troops in Iraq suppressed in the name of ?national security?. We?ve not had Ms. Butenis saying a word about these things.
Continue reading “September 22 is for remembering”

We Protest

?Into Exile ? Tibet 1949 ? 2009,? an exhibition organised by the Bangladeshi chapter of Students for a Free Tibet, in partnership with Drik, was symbolically opened by Professor Muzaffer Ahmed, former chairman of Transparency International?Bangladesh, on 1 November 2009. Despite pressure on Drik to cancel the exhibition, first by officials of the Chinese embassy in Dhaka, and later by Bangladesh government officials, special branch, police, and members of parliament, the opening took place outside, on the street, as Drik’s premises had been locked up by the police. The police had insisted that we needed official permission to hold the exhibition but were unable to produce any written document to that effect.

Police enters Drik's premises even after exhibition is cancelledPolice insisted on entering the private premises of Drik even after they were unable to produce any documentation to show they were authorised to do so. A day after blocking the entrance to the gallery to prevent an exhibition on Tibet from taking place, police said they had orders from the Home Ministry to guard the place for seven days. Dhaka, Bangladesh. November 2, 2009. ? Shehab Uddin/DrikNews/Majority World

We went ahead with the opening as it is part of Drik’s struggle for the freedom of cultural expression. We are particularly affronted at being asked by officials of a foreign state, to cancel the exhibition. We strongly believe that governments should have the courage to present their views at cultural platforms and to try and convince people by arguing their case, in other words, acting democratically, rather than using intimidation and heavy-handed tactics.

Shahidul with police 7067 Tibet Exhibition SeriesShahidul Alam insisting that police leave the premises of Drik and not intimidate visitors to the gallery. Police positioned themselves outside the gate leaving some of their riot gear prominently displayed inside. Upon further resistance the riot gear was removed. 2nd November 2009. Dhaka. Bangladesh. ? Saikat Mojumder/DrikNews/Majority World

The forced closure of Drik affects many people, which includes members of the public, clients and those working at Drik. Public interest is our concern. We also want to continue working as an internationally acclaimed media organisation with both national and international commitments. Hence, having registered our indignance, at the actions of the Bangladesh government, and those of Chinese embassy officials we will be closing the exhibition 2 November 2009.
We express our thanks to members of the public and the media, for being present at the street opening, for demonstrating their deep disgust at governmental interference, and at their show of solidarity.

Stop Press: Police have been evicted from Drik and have positioned themselves outside the gate.

Leaning on Friendly Nations

?You speak good Chinese?, said Qian Kaifu, Cultural Councellor of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Bangladesh. A soft-spoken elderly gentleman. Standing beside him was a quiet, smartly dressed woman, Cao Yanhua the Cultural Attache, who passed him a bag. ?We?ve brought some presents for you.? The 2010 calendar would be useful, but a silk tie was probably not the most appropriate gift for me. The tea was not so unreasonable. How were they to know I was not a tea drinker?
Irfan knew the meeting with Free Voice, regarding the media academy was very important and wouldn?t normally have disturbed me. So when Mr. Kaifu, instead of showing interest in our sole Chinese member Jessica Lim in the library, insisted that we find a quiet place to talk, I realized it was more than a courtesy call.
tibet banner.
He got straight to the point. ?We would like you to cancel the Tibet exhibition? he said. Reminding me that Tibet was a part of China, he went on to explain how the Bangladesh China relationship would be affected if the show went on. He also spoke of the many things we could do together, the exhibitions we could bring. About how such a famous organisation like Drik would find many partners in China. It seemed churlish to remind him that my recent application for a visa when I was to judge the TOPS photojournalism contest in China, had been rejected.
As politely as I could, I reminded Mr. Kaifu that ours was an independent gallery. I asked him how he felt he had the right to tell us, what we could show. I invited him to the show and assured him that he would be free to present his own opinion at the opening. We would be happy to show a Chinese exhibition, if the quality was right. He wanted to see the gallery and a colleague showed him around as I went back to the meeting.
I was reminded of the time when the director of the British Council in Dhaka had demanded that we take down Roshini Kempadoo?s exhibition, the European Currency Unfolds, as he felt it showed Britain in a bad light. Of the midnight call by the minister, on the eve of the first Chobi Mela, when he felt ?certain? images that didn?t support the official version of the war of 1971, should be taken down from the National Museum walls. Of the fact that the Alliance Francaise, had backed out of their sponsorship of my show criticising general Ershad?s rule. Of how every major gallery, including the ?progressive? Art College gallery had refused to show the work. Of the civil society protest against the government, when they had used the military to round up opposition activists, that had taken place in our gallery. Of why we needed a gallery of our own.
On that last occasion, people with knives, under military protection, had attacked me in the street the following day. I had no illusions about the implications of our action, but this small organisation was going to hold its ground. We had relocated from the National Museum, and put up the 1971 show at Drik instead. Despite the threats, our curatorial freedom is something we have staunchly protected, every time.
It was evening before the phone call from the ministry of culture came in. ?China was a friend, you mustn?t show pictures of Dalai Lama? the high ranking official went on. ?No no we are not talking of censorship, but?? This was followed by some artist who spoke as if he was a friend. I couldn?t place either of the callers, though I could place the ministry official by his rank. I could see it was to be a multi-pronged attack.
I was in a meeting with two Korean professors that Gitiara Nasreen, the chairperson of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication,? Dhaka university had brought over to Drik when Hasanul Huq Inu MP, the president of JSD (Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal) called. He reminded me of how supportive Bangladesh was of the ?One China Policy?, the implications that holding the exhibition would have for the nation.
The next visitors from Special Branch were perhaps to be expected. Speeding up the staff meeting in the studio, I went down to try and handle this next ?situation?. Mr. Khairul Kabir did most of the talking while Mr. Palash nodded from the side. They wanted details of the organisers. I asked for an official request. It wasn?t simply my concern for the organisers, I also wanted to test out the ground rules. ?Khamakha jotil kore phelchen? (you are making it unnecessarily complicated) was his veiled threat. I was familiar with this language, but decided to hold my ground. A few calls to ?higher ups? followed, made more for me to hear than anyone else. ?He is not being cooperative? Yes he is here? I have explained the gravity of the situation? We have done nothing else yet?? went the conversation.
The responses to the text messages I had been sending out in between began to come in. ?Would you like some tea?? I offered. Mr. Kabir?s smile was not as sweet as mine as he declined. A lawyer friend?s response was heartening. I was within my rights to refuse to provide information until an official request had been made. I knew such technicalities might not help if the situation became more awkward, and decided to send out a twitter alert, just in case. A few more calls followed, to more ?higher ups? and the pair walked out to make more calls. That gave me the opportunity to call my lawyer friend and to mobilise more support. Just in case.

Police personnel visit the exhibition about Tibet at Drik gallerMohammad Enamul Huq of the Special Branch, inspecting the show on Tibet, at Drik Gallery. ? Shehab Uddin/Drik/Majority World

The Special Branch do like me. They came to visit again. Initially it was Mohammad Enamul Haq the Chief of City Special Branch Dhanmondi Zone. He had been sent by SS Additional IG. Shah Alam Officer in Charge Dhanmondi Thana, joined us later. The initial cordial conversation, turned sharp when I ref
Police personnel visit the exhibition about Tibet at Drik galler

? Shehab Uddin/Drik/Majority World

used to divulge the contact details of the organizers. They reminded me of how it would become difficult for Drik to operate in the future if we didn?t take the side of the government. I reminded them that I was siding with the law. That the law applied to the police, was an unknown concept to Shah Alam.
?The show has to be stopped? were his passing words, along with a terse instruction to pass on this message to the organizers. As we wait for the opening later this afternoon, I am unsure of where the next call is going to come from.? Reports are coming in of the Bangladesh police preventing a journalist from filing torture allegations against paramilitary soldiers, I wonder what the implications are for Drik in the days to come. After 25 years of working to promote photography in Bangladesh, it is interesting to find the government suddenly taking an interest!
Update by Rob Godden
Update by David Brewer
More pictures on DrikNews the site appears to have been hacked. A virus warning as you enter the site will deter you. Just ignore the sign.

Judge on the docks

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army-at-dhanmoni-top-view-f5-85-frame-no-0.jpg
?Come out we won’t shoot?, they had yelled out over the megaphone. Not the most alluring of invitations, particularly when it is from a police van surrounding your flat at midnight. They had thought we were hiding someone and after searching our rooftop had come into our flat. As they left, I had gone out to take pictures from our verandah. Rahnuma had turned up the television volume to hide the sound of the shutter on my Nikon 501, but it still seemed to make a very loud click. Luckily, I wasn?t noticed. It was the 2nd December 1990. Ershad?s autocratic government was feeling the heat. inside-baitul-mukarram-mosque-f7-118-frame-no-24.jpg
Two days earlier, after the Friday prayers, they had opened fire on the Baitul Mukarram mosque killing a man.
Lawyers had played an important role in our democracy movement. They had upheld writ petitions against the government, and when the government tried to flex its muscles, they came out in protest, united in their stand.
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On this day, exactly sixteen years ago, barrister Shahjahan, Sarah Hossain and other lawyers were meant to meet at Drik. We were monitoring the government action, and were ourselves under scrutiny. My colleagues had warned me that plain clothed detectives were looking for me at the office. The detectives seemed to know we lived in Lalmatia, and my colleagues suggested that we stay elsewhere that night. Ma (Rahnuma?s mum), Rahnuma, Tehmina (a lawyer friend of ours) and I went over to Saif and Rini?s flat in Dhanmondi Rd 8. This was not the time for taking chances. The media too had played their role. When censorship became intolerable, they refused to publish. It was that night that Ershad had announced on television that he was going to step down. People were rejoicing in the streets. The following morning the first newspaper was out.
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We all went out into the streets. Altaf on his motorbike, me on my bicycle, and the others in whatever transport they could find.
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A little girl walked down Mirpur road with a bouquet of flowers in her hand. She too was celebrating the return of democracy. People were dancing in the streets. In Paltan, too often the scene of violence, people gathered in ones and twos.
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Men and women in their sleeping clothes, some with children, gathered in the winter night. Chatpati wallas sensing a business opportunity appeared out of the fog. At about 1:30 am Shimul Billa, Bangladesh’s Shirley Temple, sang out ?Bichar poti tomar bichar korbe jara, aj jegeche ei jonota?.
paltan_f5_n83_30.jpg
The song ?O judge, the people have risen, it is now the day of your judgement?, was strangely prophetic.
And now in 2006, the chief justice of the supreme court intervenes to prevent a decision
going against a political party, lawyers ransack the court, a president with zero credibility heads a caretaker government, and of all people, Ershad himself is in the streets, demanding the removal of the current president, while Moudud, the chameleon survivor, then Ershad’s right hand man, now holds hands with the chief justice.
4th December 2006
Delhi

Online Lifeline

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ON-LINE
LIFELINE

Photo by SHAHIDUL ALAM / DRIKFeminist writer Taslima
Nasreen in hiding after receiving
a death threat from Islamic fundamentalists
Third World activists
are using global
connections to pressure
the powers-that-be
and even save lives.
Bangladeshi photographer
Shahidul Alam
has little doubt
about the subversive
potential of the Internet
in his country.

Come out, we won’t shoot. The sound of a police megaphone jolted us to attention. After they left our little flat in Dhaka I went up to the roof to try and find the person they thought we were hiding. I found no-one, but the raid made us realize that the nine-year-old dictatorship of General Ershad was feeling the pressure.
Running Drik, a photo library set up to promote a more positive view of developing countries, we were already in the business of disseminating information. Up to this point we had managed quietly to distribute our photographs abroad through helpful friends. Now the need was more urgent: we had to prevent further bloodshed. We couldn’t phone or fax since none of us had an overseas line. Two days later in December 1990, when General Ershad did finally step down, we began collecting the money for the line.
The need came quickly. The new government elected a few months later turned out to be less than democratic after all. So in 1994 we decided finally to take the leap into high-tech communications. We linked up with TOOL, an overseas NGO, and set up our own electronic mail network, called DrikTAP. There was no way we could afford faxes, let alone telephone calls and mail was much too slow. Now with an ordinary telephone line we could send messages overseas cheaply.
We soon discovered that others were keen to jump into e-mail too, so we began to offer it as a service to local NGOs and activists. UNICEF and the Grameen Bank were amongst the first to join. Grameen was in the business of giving loans to the poor and had a wide rural base. UNICEF had field offices all over the country. They used our network to link up all their offices country-wide. Then Drik began to send photographs via e-mail. Something that could only be done earlier by big Western agencies like AP, AFP and Reuters.
Now our little network was beginning to connect to other like-minded groups and Drik was becoming known as an organization out to change the way the poorer countries were perceived. Our ‘bulletin boards’ were useful for everyday things like renting a flat or locating an expert but crucial when we needed to stay in touch in times of danger.
Two months later the Bangladeshi feminist writer Taslima Nasreen received a death threat from Islamic fundamentalists and was charged with blasphemy by the Government. We needed to move quickly – to create national and international pressure so Taslima could come out of hiding and defend herself in court. We managed to alert PEN (the international writers support group) and Amnesty International and the campaign took off. Our fragile network was working. Later one of our members showed us how to use traditional ‘search engines’ to locate human-rights groups and Bangladeshi ‘newsgroups’ overseas (Bangladesh.Soc.Culture is a good one). We knew things were going to get rougher politically and we needed a way of getting information out fast and cheap. If some of us got arrested, others could mobilize enough pressure to stop us simply ‘disappearing’.
Our network became more popular by the month. Major NGOs, universities, research groups, UN agencies, even government organizations and embassies all joined. Conferences on a wide range of subjects sprang up: music, child rights, job applications, even buy-and-sell. We had begun talking to each other and to learn to be comfortable with the medium. We started to use Bangla (albeit in roman script) so we could at least speak our own language. Overseas friends were posting our human-rights messages in the popular Bangladesh newsgroups. When police raided the university to arrest student leaders the news was round the world in hours. Letters to the Prime Minister poured in from all over giving us some breathing space and sparing some lives.
Golam Kasem, 103, Bengal's first Muslim short-story writer and the oldest user of Drik's electronic post office. Photo by SHAHIDUL ALAM / DRIK.Realizing how fragile our link was (a single telephone line connected up all our users, local and overseas) we campaigned for treating e-mail providers as special clients requiring quality lines. Though we were the leading e-mail provider in Bangladesh, DrikTAP was not fully legal – we had no ‘official’ government permission. On the other hand we were surprised that despite the amount of critical information we were pumping out over the network we had not faced any direct censorship. There had been doubts when one Drik worker was attacked and wounded and again when our server telephone line had been cut for a week. But on the whole we were getting away with it. I suppose shutting down the largest and most popular e-mail network in the country was something even the Government was reluctant to do, particularly with an election looming.
Gradually we began to find other uses for the technology. We set up training programs and eventually an e-mail club where we would meet and discuss problems. We would share the responsibilities of the network and decide collectively on future plans. It was a strange mix. The computer whiz kids and the computer illiterate, both came. Those comfortable with the technology took turns training newcomers. Political activists took on the role of lobbying for extra telephone lines and Internet access.
When Drik could no longer cope with the demand for technical support many of our more experienced members volunteered to help out answering queries. Some set up a system so users outside the capital could access the network using local calls. We began to work more as a family and the network took on a more human shape. We put up a notice for help from a local school that was struggling and a doctor offered his services. Others provided teaching aids, some gave money.
However, e-mail is still very expensive for most Bangladeshis – even local ?lites. A computer costs as much as half a year’s average salary and a modem costs more than a cow, never mind the price of a telephone line. So we began performing like an electronic post office. People come in with a floppy disk; we send their e-mail and they come back later to collect their reply. And not everyone who uses the service is an activist. Our oldest user, Golam Kasem, had just turned 103 and had never seen a computer before. I would cycle over to his house in Indira Road with a printout of a message from his grandson in Canada and next day pedal up to collect his reply. I remember the frail old man, straightening up the computer printout and adjusting his thick glasses as he held the paper by his tungsten lamp.
There are some areas though where we totally failed. Our ‘bulletin boards’ were entirely dominated by men and many of the jokes were sexist. Some even racist. When a woman user objected to a sexist statement the men retaliated viciously. A few loud voices dominated the bulletin boards. The technology was new to many people. Often private mail would get posted accidentally on a bulletin board, sometimes with embarrassing consequences – making the system scary for novices.
On the whole however, DrikTAP has become a powerful way of talking to the outside world. And, more importantly, to each other. When our ‘node’ in Bangladesh grew bigger than the one in the head office of our Northern partner in Amsterdam we argued, for political reasons, that the head office should be in the developing world. Last July we proposed re-locating the head office of our global network in Bangladesh. In a small way we are witnessing a shift in the balance of power.