Long March

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Day One

Dhaka to Gazipur

Bangladeshi citizens began a long march from Dhaka to Dinajpur to protect the country’s natural resources. The march began at Muktangon in Dhaka with a rally and the first day ended in Gazipur with a cultural programme. People joined along the way. The march will end with a rally at Phulbaria in Dinajpur on the 30th October 2010

Latest update from Taslima Akhtar: 9:43 am. 25th Oct 2010: Rally now headed for Tangail District. Via Konabari and Chondra.
Update from Taslima Akhtar: 12:01 pm 26th October 2010: Rally left Sirajgonj, heading to Bogram via Hotikimrun and Gurkha Point. Stopping soon for lunch.
Long March leaving Sherpur for Bogra Shodor. Source Taslima Akhter 16:35 pm. 26th Oct 2010
Arrived at Bogra. Public Meetings. Overnight in Bogra: Source Taslima Akhter 19:48 pm. 26th Oct 2010
Heading 2 Mahasthangar, St. rally n Mokomtola upazila. lunch @ Gobindogonj then 2ward Gaibandha: Source Taslima Akhter 11:58 am 27/10/2010
Arrived in Gaibandha. Source Taslima Akhter 14:35 pm 29/10/2010
Left Gaibandha for Rangpur at 10:00 am. Will be passing through Sadallahpur and Madargonj upozilas before stopping at Peergonj where we will have lunch at noon: Taslima Akhter 11:42 am 28/10.2010
Left Rangpur. Expect to arrive in Sayedpur around noon via Paglapeer and Taragonj. Numbers steadily growing as more people join the procession: Taslima Akhter 10:49 29th October 2010

Concert along the way. Long March. Photo: Taslima Akhter

More recent photos by Taslima Akhter of Long March

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- The Long March of the National Committee to Protect Oil-Gas and Power-Port. reached Bogra on Tuesday. The committee started their Long March to Phulbari Coal Mine in Dinajpur from Dhaka on October 24 to press home its 7-point demand. The demands include expulsion of Asia Energy from Bangladesh and cancel its deal with the government on Phulbari coal mine. The March reached Dinajpur on October 30. Bogra, Bangladesh. October 27, 2010 ? Mahabub Alam Khan/DrikNews

Garment worker leader Moshrefa Mishu amongst many other leaders who attended the rally. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World


Towards the beginning of the march as it goes past the secretariat. Paltan. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

The March as it goes through Shantinagar in Dhaka. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

The Long March makes its way through Dhaka city. At Moghbazaar before turning toward Rampura. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Others join the group as it goes through Tejgaon. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Construction workers looking on. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Part of the march was by bus, with rooftops used as there were too many people. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Vegetable Khichuri for lunch. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Many others join in Gazipur where an evening cultural programme is also held, before more speeches. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Onlookers trying to get a peek at the stage. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World


Drik: Photo power

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By Satish Sharma

The shutting-down of two photographic exhibitions in Dhaka?s Drik Gallery in just the last few months proves that Bangladesh?s censors, unlike lightning, can strike at the same place more than once ? especially where Drik?s photographic practices are concerned. But then, Drik seems to have become a lightning rod inviting censure, and this will not be the last time either. Not if I know Shahidul Alam and his commitment to pushing photography in what he calls ?the majority world?. If actually being knifed has not stopped him, nothing will.
The British Council in Dhaka had once tried to shut down a Drik exhibition by Roshini Kampadoo because it ?hurt the image of Britain?. And in November last year it was the turn of the Chinese embassy in Dhaka that wanted an exhibition on Tibet, also in Drik, to be closed. When a personal visit by the Chinese Cultural Counsellor and his cultural attach? bearing gifts (calendar, a silk tie and tea) didn?t work, they invoked worsening diplomatic relations and brought to bear the weight of the Bangladeshi government, Special Branch police and even parliamentarians. But Alam didn?t buckle, instead inaugurating the exhibition in the street after the gallery was locked up by the police. He shut it down the next day, however, as a protest against the interference.
Alam?s new exhibition and installation, ?Crossfire?, should have been safer from threats of closure. It was not photojournalistic documentary or even an Americanised ?documentary style?. It showed no dead or disappeared people. Much more conceptual, it allegorically invoked the disappeared through subtler and quieter means. But because it dealt with ?crossfire? deaths by specially raised Rapid Action Battalions (in India, one would call these ?encounter deaths?), it drew fire ? and closure, and protests against the closure.

The ever defiant Mahashweta Devi, confronts Shah Aalm, the officer in charge of Dhanmondi Thaka, outside the Drik entrance. ? Taslima Akhter

Armed police barricaded the gates of Drik Gallery to prevent the exhibition Crossfire, organisers opened the exhibition on the streets outside of the Drik Gallery.?March 22, 2010. ??Saikat Majumder/DrikNews/Majority World

There is something about photography that invites censorship. The power of the photographic image simply has to be controlled, it seems ? one way or another. If ideas of aesthetics, beauty and spiritual values don?t work, governments pass and use anti-terror laws. And internationally applicable anti-terror laws, with the attendant globalised cultural control, are now beginning to have a universal presence, reach and influence.
Shahidul Alam steals a kiss from Mahasweta Devi after the roadside opening of Alam's Crossfire exhibit. CNN reporter Ric Wasserman and New Age Editor Nurul Kabir, look on. ???Saikat Majumder/DrikNews/Majority World

Shahidul Alam speaks at roadside opening of "Crossfire" exhibition outside Drik Gallery. Guest speakers Mahasweta Devi (centre) and Nurul Kabir (right) were also present. ??Taslima Akhter

The symbolic opening of "Crossfire" was through Mahasweta Devi unlocking handcuffs on Shahidul Alam's hands, to cries of "To the end of crossfire" from the crowds. ??Saikat Majumder/DrikNews/Majority World

Any critical photography is subtly suppressed by evoking ideas of photography as a ?fine art?, and by inducing self-censorship before it is more pointedly and politically policed through action by the state?s security services. Self-censorship, I believe, was at the heart of the lack of any decent coverage, by Indian photographers, of the Emergency and the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
The desire to control the photographic message is, however, universal. And that desire is as old as the medium itself. From colonial control of the photography during the 19th century to anti-terror laws in the era of the global ?war on terror? to control the photographic images of the 21st century, little seems to have changed. The power of photography to control and manipulate perception of the world?s raw realities is too important to be left unchallenged. It is noteworthy that these do not even have to be powers from one?s own country. Perception management is a global political strategy with a global reach; it is globally practiced.
Alam managed to evade police and sneaked inside Drik Gallery to join a video conference with Jean Francois Julliard, secretary general of Reporters sans fronti?res (RSF) in Paris. ??Saikat Majumder/DrikNews/Majority World

Enraged students from Charukola, the Fine Arts Institute in Dhaka University formed a human chain to protest to forced closure of Drik gallery. March 23, 2010. ??Amdadul Huq/DrikNews/Majority World

Human chain by students of Charukala. March 23, 2010. ??Amdadul Huq/DrikNews/Majority World

"Closing down Drik Gallery is the same as banning painting" says poster at human chain outside Charukala. March 23, 2010. ??Amdadul Huq/DrikNews/Majority World

In February, Uzbekistan convicted a photographer for ?slandering the Nation?. Umida Akhmeddova had been documenting the daily struggles of ordinary people, and was accused of ?portraying the people as backward and poor?. Her ?photo album [did] not conform to aesthetic demands? and ?would damage Uzbekistan?s spiritual values?, said the expert panel appointed to look at her work.
The Abu Ghraib photos were not shot by professional photojournalists, yet special laws were passed by the US Congress to prevent their dissemination. Most of the pictures and video footage still remain out of reach ? legally secured, not only by the special acts of the US Congress, but also through the raising of issues such as the right to privacy of the ?victims? and their oppressors, and by wives of the soldier-photographers who raised issues of personal copyright to prevent these photographs from being seen more widely.
Anti-terrorism laws are also being used to prevent photography in Britain?s streets. Photographing the most well-known monuments has become suspect, with even professional press photographers being harassed by local police. Street photography, we have to remember, has a long and proud tradition, and the streets have a central space in the practice of urban photography. Even photography as a safely sanitised art form, a documentary style, is not a safe practice. But then, safety is not what should drive photography. It needs to recover and secure its critical spaces ? its critical power.
Satish Sharma is a photographer, critic and occasional curator. He was a former tutor at Pathshala and currently lives in Kathmandu.
The article was published in Himal Southasian
Related links:
Sri Lanka Guardian
Earlier post on Crossfire

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.

Violence against Women and Girls: Breaking Taboos

rahnuma ahmed

She jumped down from the police van and tried to escape. It stopped, they hunted her down by torchlight, dragged her back and drove off. Men, gathered around the tea stall, wondered why the car had stopped. Curious, they walked up to the spot. A golden coloured sandal, a handkerchief, and broken bits of bangle lay there.

Yasmin: raped and murdered by the police

She was only fourteen years old, her death was brutal. Gang-raped by policemen, and later, killed. Yasmin, a domestic wage worker, employed in a Dhaka city middle class home, longed to see her mother. Leaving her employers home unannounced, she caught the bus to Dinajpur, got down at Doshmile bus stoppage, hours before dawn on 24 August 1995. A police patrol van driving by insisted on picking her up. Yasmin hesitated. One of the police constables barked at those gathered around the tea stall, We are law-enforcers, we will drop her home safely. Don?t you have any faith in us?
Hours later, a young boy discovered her bloodied dead body, off the main road. The police who came to investigate stripped her naked. Bystanders were outraged. Recording it as an unidentified death, they handed over her body to Anjuman-e-Mafidul Islam for burial.
The dead girl was the same girl who had been picked up by the police van, when this news had spread, a handful of people took out a procession. In response, the police authorities held a press conference where a couple of prostitutes turned up and claimed that the dead girl Banu, was one of them, she had been missing. District-level administration and local influentials joined in the police?s attempts to cover up.
Spontaneous processions and rallies took place demanding that the police be tried. Yasmin?s mother recognised her daughter from a newspaper photo, lifeless as she lay strewn in an open three-wheeled van. As a peoples movement emerged, police action, yet again, was brutal. Lathi-charge, followed by firing, killed seven people. Public outrage swelled. Roadblocks were set up, curfew was defied, police stations were beseiged, arrested processionists were freed from police lock-ups by members of the public. Outrage focused on police superintendent Abdul Mottaleb, district commissioner Jabbar Farook, and member of parliament Khurshid Jahan (?chocolate apa?), the-then prime minister Khaleda Zia?s sister, perceived to be central figures in the cover-up. Shommilito Nari Shomaj, a large alliance of women?s organisations, political, cultural and human rights activists joined the people of Dinajpur, as Justice for Yasmin turned into a nationwide movement.
In 1997, the three policemen, Moinul Hoque, Abdus Sattar and Amrita Lal were found guilty. In 2004, they were executed.
Yasmin of Dinajpur is, for us, an icon symbolising female vulnerability, and resistance, both her own (she had tried to escape), and that of people, both Dinajpur and nationwide. She serves as a constant reminder that the police force, idealised in state imaginings as protector of life and property should not be taken for granted, that women need to test this each day, on every single occasion.
In the nation?s recent history of popular struggles, Yasmin?s death helped to characterise the police force as a masculine institution, it gave new meanings to the Bangla proverb, `jey rokkhok shei bhokkhok,? he who claims to protect women, is the usurper, the aggressor. A taboo, sanctioned by state powers, was broken.

Bidisha in remand: sexual abuse

`Go and get a shard of ice. Insert it. It will all come out.?
In her autobiography, Bidisha, second wife of ex-President Hussain Mohd Ershad, later-divorced, writes, I wondered, what will they do with that? Insert it where? (Shotrur Shonge Shohobash, 2008).
Under the influence of what she assumes was a truth serum, injected during remand at a Joint interrogation cell housed in Baridhara, Bidisha writes, the pain was unbearable. A horrible burning sensation coursed through my body, my eyes threatened to burst out of their sockets. If I opened them, it felt like chilli powder had been rubbed in. If I closed them, balls of fire encircled my pupils. My breathing grew heavy. I felt like I was dying, but I couldn?t, I was falling asleep, but I couldn?t. My tongue grew thick. I wanted to say everything that I knew, and things that I didn?t. Questions flew at me from all directions, some of them pounded me from inside my head.
But, Bidisha writes, I stuck to what she knew. I stuck to the truth. Her interrogators got tired. One of them ordered the ice, and ordered someone to leave the room. Was it the policewomen, Bidisha wonders. A strong pair of hands gripped her shoulders, another climbed up her legs, up her thighs, ?like a snake.? But they stopped, disappointed. `I don?t think we can do it. She?s bleeding.?
She writes, but my periods had ended days earlier, why should there be blood? I remembered, it must be the beatings at the Gulshan police station, by the officer-in-charge Noore Alam. She was pushed and as she fell, someone grabbed hold of her orna. Pulled and pushed, her orna soon turned into a noose, she could no longer breathe, her tongue jutted out. She was hit hard with a stick on her lower abdomen, through the daze she could see that he was uniformed. I fell on the floor like a sack. I was barely conscious. I was kicked and trampled with boots on my chest, head, back, and lower abdomen.
During interrogation, the chief interrogator Joshim had repeatedly shouted at her, Do you know who I am? Do you know what I can do to you? Ten-twelve men had been present when the truth serum was injected. Well-dressed, fashionable clothes, expensive watches. Whiffs of expensive after-shave. Trim hair, cut very short. As she repeatedly stuck to the truth, Joshim threatened to hang her upside down, like Arman, he said, who was being tortured in the next room. She was threatened with rape by members of RAB (Rapid Action Battalion). During another round her left thumbnail was prised open and torn away, by something like a pair of pliers. They held my eyelids open so that I could see. Relief came only when the call for prayers sounded, since the men scurried away to pray.
Interrogation sessions were video-recorded, each interrogator had an audio recorder. I remember hearing, be sure to get all the details on camera. I remember someone adding, Who?ll think she?s had three kids? What a figure! The cassette?ll make him happy. Make who happy? she wonders. Toward the end of the three-day remand, one of the men entered and said, It?s over. I?ve talked. To who? asked one of the interrogators. One of the Bhaban men. (I presume, Bidisha means Hawa Bhaban). She was forced to declare on camera that she had not been tortured, to sign written declarations, and also blank sheets of paper.
She was in custody for 23 days in June 2005, because of two cases filed by her husband, and two by the government. What were the allegations? Her husband, the ex-President, first accused her of stealing his cell phone, money from his wallet, and vandalising household furniture. Then she was accused of having different birth dates on two different passports. And lastly, of having stashed away large amounts of money in foreign bank accounts.
Interested quarters tried to make light of the incident, they said, it was a ?purely family affair.? Those in the political know, for instance Kazi Zafarullah, Awami League presidium member, claimed that the ruling BNP had masterminded the event to prevent Ershad from forging unity with opposition political parties since elections were due next year (New Age, 6 June 2005). I was repeatedly asked during interrogation, writes Bidisha, why had I said that the Jatiya Party should form an alliance with the Awami League? Why not with the BNP? (`because they were unable to govern properly, people were furious, Jatiya Party popularity was bound to fall?). Bidisha was expelled from Jatiya party membership, she lost her post of presidium member.
Parliamentary elections under the present military-backed caretaker government are scheduled to be held in December 2008. Jatiya Party (JP) has joined Awami League (AL) led grand alliance for contesting the elections. According to newspaper reports, Ershad is eyeing the presidency.

Pahari women: rape under occupation

Even after the signing of the 1997 Peace Treaty between the government and the PCJSS (Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti), the Chittagong Hill Tracts remains one of the most militarised regions of the world. During the period of armed conflict, according to international human rights reports, sexual violence was inflicted on indigenous women and their communities as part of military strategy. Bangladesh Army personnel have been accused by paharis of having committed extrajudicial killings, rape, torture and abduction. In August 2003, over 300 houses in 7 pahari villages of Mahalcchari were razed to the ground by the army, aided by Bengali settlers. Paharis claim, ten Chakma women were raped, some of them gang-raped. This includes a mother and her two daughters, aged 12 and 15, and two daughters of another family, aged 14 and 16 years. Victims allege, armed personnel alongwith Bengali settlers took part in the rapes. Paharis claim, state-sponsored political and sexual violence still continues.
There is no public evidence that the Bangladesh army has investigated those claims in any way. Nor do we know if the Bangladesh army has charged any soldier as a result of the alleged assaults. Nor is there any public evidence that any military personnel has been punished for any of the alleged rapes.
Tomorrow, November 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. We need to break more state sanctioned taboos.