A Flag Fails to Flutter

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It was a bad day for cows
meat-outside-museum-0511.jpg Korbani meat being distributed outside National Museum during Eid. 21st December 2007. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
But the Bangladesh government had a supreme sacrifice in mind. When the most prized of your possessions needed to be sacrificed, and when the gods have changed to western powers, the four-legged creatures simply wouldn't do. The nation's most prized archaeological possessions were therefore bundled away in Homebound chariots to distant museums. The door to heaven's gate might not have opened, but a Schengen visa and perhaps a few trips to Paris for some, had surely been assured.
It was well timed. The Eid holidays meant there would be no newspapers for two days. Most reporters would be away. The streets of Dhaka would be empty. Holidays meant there was no rush. No pesky public to worry about at opening hours. Still one needed to be sure. Bus no Dhaka Jo 11 1767, was on standby with riot police. The police jeep Dhaka Jo 11 4364 followed behind. Then the media that got in the way. With so many Eid events to cover, why had they gathered round the national museum? The sanctity of sacrifice should surely have been respected. Reinforcements in the form of another busload of riot police came in via bus number Dhaka Jo 14 1799.
balloon-man-0516.jpg Balloon man outside National Museum. Friday 21st December 2007. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
eid-passengers-0532.jpg Family out on Eid. Friday 21st December 2007. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
aisha-0504.jpg Aisha outside National Museum. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
museum-closure-0500.jpg Sign says the museum is closed from the 20th till the 22nd on account of Eid. Friday 21st December 2007. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Aisha had come with her parents to visit the museum. Like many others they were turned away. The museum was closed, at least to the public. The Eid holidays of museum officials had however been cancelled. The shippers were working overtime.
dgfi-0498.jpgriot-police-on-standby-0556.jpgriot-police-leaving-museum-0573.jpg Police returning to station, after staging the 'escape'. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Police and plainclothes intelligence officials were present in abundance, their riot gear jarring with the bright new clothes of Dhakaites. Then it took another turn. Spitting and booing had failed to stop the Homebound trucks earlier. This time the protesters changed tack. Chains were put on the gate of the national museum. Visions of the Chipko Resistance
protester-chaining-museum-gate-0536-d.jpg Protester chaining front gate of National Museum. Friday 21st December 2007. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
police-breaking-museum-lock-8277.jpg Police breaking padlock at front gate of National Museum. Friday 21st December 2007. ? Gazi Nafis Ahmed/DrikNews
burning-shirt-in-protest-0775.jpg Burning shirt in protest outside National Musuem. Friday 21st December 2007. ? Munir uz Zaman/DrikNews
media-0526.jpg Despite emergency rule and government efforts to bury the story, media continued to give the event full coverage. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
sprang to mind. In place of burglars breaking in, the comic view of government officials breaking their way out of the national museum to escape with museum valuables would have brought laughter in a trirotno drama (popular Bangladeshi sitcom). In the theatre of Bangladeshi governance, it was yet another tragedy.
"The benefits, for both countries, are cultural: it is a win-win situation where France gains a better knowledge of Bangladeshi heritage and Bangladesh gains a better image on the international cultural scene," the French embassy handout had clarified.
The partially demolished Rangs building continues to be a grave for the buried Bangladeshi workers far down the priority chain. Presumably, that is a 'Bangladeshi heritage' the Parisians will not get to see.
The last time round, they had been playing one of my favourite Bhupen Hajarika songs. This time there was no music, and no one was smiling. Even the Bangladeshi flag failed to flutter on this Eid day. Video of trucks carrying artefacs out of museum. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
unfluttering-flag-0531.jpgembed> Bangladeshi flag refuses to flutter as prized Bangladeshi objects are taken out of museum. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World





Video of trucks carrying artefacs out of museum.

Author: Shahidul Alam

Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018. A photographer, writer, curator and activist, Shahidul Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. His seminal work “The Struggle for Democracy” contributed to the removal of General Ershad. Former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the Drik agency, Chobi Mela festival and Pathshala, South Asian Media Institute, considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world. Shown in MOMA New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Royal Albert Hall and Tate Modern, Alam has been guest curator of Whitechapel Gallery, Winterthur Gallery and Musee de Quai Branly. His awards include Mother Jones, Shilpakala Award and Lifetime Achievement Award at the Dali International Festival of Photography. Speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, TEDx, POPTech and National Geographic, Alam chaired the international jury of the prestigious World Press Photo contest. Honorary Fellow of Royal Photographic Society, Alam is visiting professor of Sunderland University in UK and advisory board member of National Geographic Society. John Morris, the former picture editor of Life Magazine describes his book “My journey as a witness”, (listed in “Best Photo Books of 2011” by American Photo), as “The most important book ever written by a photographer.” His recent book “The Tide Will Turn” published by Steidl in 2020, is listed in New York Time’s ‘Best Art Books of 2020’. Alam received the “International Press Freedom Award” for 2020 from ‘The Committee to Protect Journalists’.

7 thoughts on “A Flag Fails to Flutter”

  1. Nothing could stop it, the leak, the screaming, the protest, the shame, every civilized effort of foreboding. Those hell bent to steal, cheat and hoodwink entire people of their heritage, dignity and past have won (http://www.thedailystar.net/story.php?nid=16279). Thanks to all those who fearlessly worked to bring the story out despite the fact that powerful groups get what they want, be they oil under someones feet, priceless paintings in someones drawingroom or stale justices to smoke screen the real tragedies (theft of power in 1/11).

  2. This caretaker government has failed miserably. The French government also cannot shed itself of its responsibility in the theft since it had actively pressed for clandestine passage of the valuables by Air France. The CTG was so deep ino this conspiracy that it had arranged the secretive operation on our holy Eid day. The outgoing French ambassador and the foreign advisor of the unconstitutional military-backed junta should immediately be fired and taken into custody for interrogation by the joint interrogation cell and Interpol. There is definitely something sinister about this fiasco. All including the French and Bangladesh high-ups must have received huge kickbacks from global museum piece robbers and dacoits who have links and agents working under international agencies, embassies and NGOs to steal precious priceless historic relics from poor countries. This crime syndicate must be busted as it has creeped it?s way into the caretaker setup in Bangladesh.
    After this incident, I have developed strong distaste and disgust for anything French. To me the French have disgraced and insulted our culture and heritage. It is unpardonable.

  3. Who gave the so called caretaker govt of Bangladesh the mandate to sign the agreement with the french emabassy? is this government legal and constitutional? does it have any right to decide on handing over– even though temporarily–of our national treasures to foriegn countries?

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