Irfanul Islam: My quiet friend

Irfanul Islam
Irfanul Islam

The moon was low over the city lights at 4:30 in the morning in Mexico City. A dull orange thin sliver, it too was in mourning. I was heading to the airport, but had just heard the news. Rahnuma had been keeping me updated. Ever since Irfan?s disappearance, we had feared the worst, but hoped upon hope that this time it would be different. They had the money, why did they need him? The news hit very hard.
I had joined the Bangladesh Photographic Society in 1984. Irfan had been part of our small administrative team. After serving as secretary general and three terms as president, I left the BPS to start up the Drik agency. Irfan soon decided to follow me to Drik. He worked in the darkroom with Anisur Rahman. The giant prints we had made in those days of Bangabandhu, in that tiny darkroom, with improvised troughs and hand mixed chemicals, were the handiwork of these two fine technicians.
Quiet and somewhat reclusive, Irfan was also slightly self-conscious as he had a mild stammer. He was a photographer, though he was not employed as one at Drik. He still joined us on photo shoots. He made friends easily with his disarming smile, but was less comfortable with more public roles. Once we closed the wet darkroom at Drik, a lab technician was no longer needed. Given his interest in photography, we tried Irfan out at our school of photography, Pathshala, but it was Drik, where he felt at home, and while he was not normally the person to say no or be defiant, this was one instance where he put his foot down. He was not going to budge from Drik. We had to find a new role for him. Continue reading “Irfanul Islam: My quiet friend”

How many more Avijit's must we mourn?

Mourning Avijit Roy

Avijit Roy, wife Rafida Ahmed Banya and daughter Trisha in holiday in New Orleans
Avijit Roy, wife Rafida Ahmed Banya and daughter Trisha in holiday in New Orleans

It was a few yards away from where Dr. Milon had been killed. Then it had been?suspected the police were involved. This time, the police were a silent witness. Blogger and human rights activist Dr. Avijit Roy and his wife?Rafida Ahmed Banna?were returning home after visiting the Amar Ekushey Book Fair. Their ricksha was stopped, they were dragged out and Avijit was hacked to death. Banya?was severely injured and lost a finger.? Continue reading “How many more Avijit's must we mourn?”

And Yet She Smiles

And yet she smiles. Gang raped numerous times as a child. Forced into pick pocketing. Caned till she was unconscious. Sold to a madame. Hajera Begum?s life has little that would give cause to smile. Yet she smiles. She cries too. Not because of the gang rapes, or the beating, or the many years she lives in the streets as a rag picker, but when she remembers that a man who worked in an NGO, refused to work in her team because she was a sex worker.
It was that moment that Hajera decided she would make sure it was different for others like her. She had earlier set up a self-help group for sex workers, but eventually, with the help of some university students and other friends and a generous journalist, set up an orphanage for abandoned kids. They are mostly children of sex workers. Some are children of drug addicts. A few are children of parents who simply couldn?t afford to keep them. Hajera and her thirty children live in five small rooms near Adabor Market 16, on the edge of Dhaka. Run entirely by volunteers, she has only one paid staff, the cook. ?What will I do with a salary?? she says. We share what food we have. I have a roof over my head and I have my children.
Remarkably, Hajera is not bitter. While she remembers every detail of her nightmarish life, she also remembers the friends who believed in her, and helped her set up the orphanage. Instead of remembering that she is incapable of bearing children because of brutal unwanted sex, she basks in the warmth of the 30 children who now call her mother.

Hajera (right) and her friends by Crescent Lake in the parliament grounds. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Hajera (right) and her friends by Crescent Lake in the parliament grounds. 1996. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

When I first met Hajera, back in 1996, she was a sex worker based in the grounds of the house of parliament. We became friends, and she and her friends would often visit us in our flat, an unacceptable act in most homes.
Hajera was a sex worker who set up a self help group for sex workers called Durjoy. She now runs an orphanage for 30 children, who are mostly children of sex workers. Some are children of drug addicts, a few are children of other low income families. They have all been abandoned. 16 Adabor Market. Dhaka. Bangladesh. Oct 2014
Hajera at her orphanage. 16 Adabor Market. Dhaka. Bangladesh. Oct 2014. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

?You hugged me today when you saw me in the street, just like the old times. That?s something men will never do. They will have sex with me, grope me in the dark, rape me if they get the chance, but they will never hug me, as a sister, as a friend. That is what I want for my children. That they will grow up with dignity, in a world where they will be loved.?
Hajera with her kids. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Hajera with her kids. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

As the kids get older, there is more need for money, particularly for schooling. Some of the students who support her have graduated and now have jobs. One works in a telecom company. With their help this February, they ran for the first time, a FaceBook campaign to raise money for the centre. The oldest girl Farzana is 13. The daughter of a mutual friend Hasna – who still works in the streets ? she has just been admitted into the respectable boarding school, Bharoteshshori Homes. Two of the boys are also being sent to good schools. She has high hopes for the other kids too, though she worries about Shopon who is deaf and mentally ill. But she takes great pride in showing me the bunk beds she?s had made, so the kids no longer have to sleep on the floor.
The new bunk beds. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
The new bunk beds. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

As I look back at Hajera peering through the little window, bidding me goodbye, I realise how lucky the kids are, to have her as their mother.
Shahidul Alam
7th October 2014
Dhaka
More pictures here

Mishu in police custody

File photo of Moshrefa Mishu, president of Garment Workers Unity Forum.
File photo of Moshrefa Mishu, president of Garment Workers Unity Forum.

Moshrefa Mishu, president, Garments Sromik Oikko Forum, who was leading the fast-unto-death hunger strike of Tuba Group workers demanding 3 months arrear wages, festival allowance & overtime since July 28 was picked up by police today post-midday. She is being held by Detective Branch police at Minto Road. There is concern for her safety as?she has been remanded (Bangladeshi euphemism for police torture) earlier, and has narrowly escaped attempts on her life. Please raise your voice to demand her immediate release, and immediate payment of all workers’ dues.
Saydia Gulrukh (sitting) in Badda Thana where she was detained after being beaten by police and government thugs. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Saydia Gulrukh (sitting) in Badda Thana where she was detained after being beaten by police and government thugs. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Yesterday the 6th August, police and government goons carried out an unprovoked attack on garment workers and activists.
Armoured truck outside Tuba Garments
Armoured truck outside Tuba Garments. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

More?Photos at Tuba Garments
Related links:
Earlier updates on Mishu by Rahnuma Ahmed
Statement of protest for earlier arrest of Mishu
Earlier hospitalisation of Mishu after being beaten?by police
 

Black July

30 Years Ago: An unprecedented look at Black July (via Ground Views)

Photo by Natalie Soysa, for Groundviews In August this year, Groundviews will launch a compelling collection of content to commemorate 30 years since Black July. The content will feature original podcasts, photography and writing on a dedicated website?

Continue reading “Black July”

In Defense of Hezbollah, a ?Terrorist? Organization

We had gone past the iconic shelled out buildings of central Beirut. It was soon obvious we were in Hezbollah territory. My guide and guardian angel Yasmine had told me about how the city was clearly divided, but I hadn’t expected as clear a demarcation as the one I’d seen in Falls Road in Northern Ireland many years ago.

Yasmine, my guide and guardian angel, walking me safely through the streets of Beirut. June 2009. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Yasmine, my guide and guardian angel, walking me safely through the streets of Beirut. June 2009. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Continue reading “In Defense of Hezbollah, a ?Terrorist? Organization”

Prothom Alo journalist attacked

by Firoz Gazi, DrikNEWS Correspondent, Jessore, April 2013

Journalist Masud Alam was attacked after he reported a corruption story.??He is the Abhaynagar Correspondent for Daily Prothom Alo. On 28 March, his assailants attacked him at Ulobottola, situated in Dhopali Village, Shundori Union, Abhaynagar Upazilla, Jessore.?His left hand was broken from the attack and his muscles flattened from the beating. The Police have arrested six men who were involved in this attack.??Masud Alam is now receiving treatment at Jessore Medical College Hospital. Continue reading “Prothom Alo journalist attacked”

Airport blues

The hartal (general strike) today put a spoke in the works. Our driver Joshim needed to drop me off at the airport and be back at base before sunrise. The young tailor Biswajit Das having been brutally murdered in full view of the police and the media, meant we could take no chances. Joshim had been sleeping downstairs in order to be at ours at such a ridiculous hour. Rahnuma rang him at 4:00 am, and soon a groggy Joshim, Rahnuma and I were off to the airport. Rahnuma and I have never had the luxury of seeing each other off, but it didn’t feel safe for Joshim to be heading home on his own. So Rahnuma volunteered to be body guard on the return trip.

Passengers walking to the Shahjalal International Airport. Early morning, Tuesday the 11th December 2012. Dhaka. Bangladesh. Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

There was no traffic. At least none that we could see through the incredibly dense fog. The headlights made things worse with the fog itself being lit up by the headlight and shining the light right back at us. Without the headlights, once could at least barely make out the edges of the road. The risk of being beaten up by thugs in the street, had been replaced by the risk of getting run over by a fog blinded truck. At least we had a vehicle of our own and the option of travelling as we pleased. Continue reading “Airport blues”