RESISTING RAMPAL

‘Go back NTPC, get out India’
rahnuma ahmed

Dhaka, Bangladesh, August 20, 2016. ? Taslima Akhter
Dhaka, Bangladesh, August 20, 2016. © Taslima Akhter

Of all the slogans raised in protest against the coal power plant being built at Rampal in Bagerhat, this one’s the best. Continue reading “RESISTING RAMPAL”

Kalpana's Warriors

Remarkable: Noam Chomsky

Absolutely stunning: Jess Worth. New Internationalist Magazine (Oxford)

E-Invitation card

They told me you were quiet. But I felt the rage in your silence. That when you spoke, they rose above themselves. But I felt their fear. That they held you amidst them. But I felt their loneliness. They pointed to the Koroi tree where you would all meet. The banyan tree under which you spoke. Ever so powerfully. They pointed to the mud floor, where you slept. I touched the mat that you had rested upon, and I knew I had found the vessel that must hold your image.

New settlements with glistening tin roofs dot the hillsides. According to Amnesty International as of June 2013 the Bangladeshi government had still not honored the terms of the peace accord nor addressed the Jumma peoples concerns over the return of their land. Amnesty estimate that there are currently 90,000 internally displaced Jumma families. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
New settlements with glistening tin roofs dot the hillsides. According to Amnesty International as of June 2013 the Bangladeshi government had still not honored the terms of the peace accord nor addressed the Jumma peoples concerns over the return of their land. Amnesty estimate that there are currently 90,000 internally displaced Jumma families. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

They had tried to erase you, your people, your memory. They had torched your homes and when coercion failed, when you remained defiant, they took you away, in the dead of night.

Abandoned typewriter in the room where Kalpana and her comrades used to meet. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Abandoned typewriter in the room where Kalpana and her comrades used to meet. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

The leaves burned as the soldiers stood and watched. The same leaves they weave to make your mat. The same leaves I shall burn, to etch your image. Will the burning mat hold your pain? Will the charred leaves hold your anger? Will the image rising from the crisp ashen leaves reignite us? Will you return Kalpana?

Pahari protestors could previously go to the GOC's office to express their grievances. Today, in Khagrachori, they no longer have that access. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Pahari protestors could previously go to the GOC’s office to express their grievances. Today, in Khagrachori, they no longer have that access. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
The Shapla Mor in Khagrachori was also a centre of protest. Pahari protesters are no longer allowed there, though Bangali settlers have access, says Kabita Chakma, former president of the Hill Women's Federation. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
The Shapla Mor in Khagrachori was also a centre of protest. Pahari protesters are no longer allowed there, though Bangali settlers have access, says Kabita Chakma, former president of the Hill Women’s Federation. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

For nineteen years I have waited, my unseen sister. For nineteen years they have waited, your warriors. Pahari, Bangali, men, women, young old. Was it what you said? What you stood for? Was it because you could see beyond the land, and language, the shape of one?s eyes and see what it meant to be a citizen of a free nation? For pahari, bangali, bihari, man, woman, hijra, rich, poor, destitute, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Atheist, Agnostic, Animist.

Posters in the meeting room where Kalpana and her comrades used to gather. Khagrachori. CHT. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Posters in the meeting room where Kalpana and her comrades used to gather. Khagrachori. CHT. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

You had reminded us that a nation that fought oppression, could not rule by oppressing. That a people that fought for a language, could not triumph by suppressing another’s. That the martyrs who died, so we might be free, did not shed their blood, so we could become tyrants. That we who overcame the bullets and bayonets of soldiers, must never again be ruled through the barrel of a gun.

That Kalpana is what binds us. That is why Kalpana, you are not a pahari, or a woman or a chakma or a buddhist, but each one of us. For there can be no freedom that is built on the pain of the other. No friendship that relies on fear. No peace at the muzzle of a gun.

These Kalpana are your warriors. They have engaged in different ways, at different levels, sometimes with different beliefs. Some have stayed with you from the beginning. Others have drifted. They have not always shared political beliefs. But for you Kalpana, my unseen sister, they fight as one.

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The Process

The process involved in creating these images are rooted to the everyday realities of the hill people, the paharis. Repeatedly, the interviewees talked of the bareness of Kalpana’s home. That there was no furniture, that Kalpana slept on the floor on a straw mat.

Rather than print on conventional photographic media, we decided we would use material that was part of pahari daily lives. The straw mat became our canvas. The fire that had been used to raze pahari homes, also needed to be represented, so a laser beam was used to burn the straw, etching with flames, the images of rebellion.

It was the politics of this interaction that determined the physicality of the process. The laser beam consisted of a binary pulse. A binary present on our politics. In order to render the image, the image had to be converted in various ways. From RGB to Greyscale to Bitmap, from 16 bit to 8 bit to 1 bit. To keep detail in the skin tone despite the high contrast, the red channel needed to be enhanced. The Resolution and intensity and duration of the laser beam needed to be brought down to levels that resulted in the straw being selectively charred but not burnt to cinders.

A screen ruling that separated charred pixels while maintaining gradation had to be carefully selected. And then, working backwards, a lighting mechanism needed to be found that broke up the image into a discrete grid of light and dark tones, providing the contrast, the segmentation and the gradation, necessary to simulate the entire range of tones one expects in a fine print. This combination of lighting, digital rendering, printing technique and choice of medium, has led to the unique one off prints you see in this exhibition. A tribute to a unique woman that had walked among us.

Drik’s 25th Anniversary

The dot matrix Olivetti printer was noisy. The XT computer came without a hard drive: two floppy disks uploaded the operating system. When the electricity went (as it often did), we had to reload it. Our bathroom doubled as our darkroom. A clunky metal cabinet housed our prints, slides, negatives and files. Anisur Rahman and Abu Naser Siddique were our printers; I was photographer, manager, copy editor and part-time janitor. Cheryle Yin-Lo, an Australian who had read about us in a magazine, joined as our librarian. We offered and she happily accepted a local salary.
Screenshot 2014-09-04 13.14.44
The New Internationalist Magazine in Oxford, has been a long time friend and supporter. This two page spread was put together by them to commemorate Drik’s 25th anniversary. Thanks NI. Continue reading “Drik’s 25th Anniversary”

Not Just Another Brick In The Geopolitical Wall

By leveraging its ties with non-western powers, BRICS can check US hegemony

A different worldview?BRICS leaders profess a shared vision of inclusive global growth and the rapid socio-economic transformation of their own nations. Photo: Roberto Stuckert Filho/PR

Building blocks The BRICS bank will give priority to loans for developing countries to finance infrastructure projects and environmentally sustainable development. Photo: Media Club South Africa

Leaders of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) held their sixth annual meeting on 15-16 July in Fortaleza, Brazil. The major deliverable from the summit was economic in form and content, but its significance is primarily geopolitical. From a turn of phrase by Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs in 2001, a grouping was born in 2009. It is not the product of diplomatic negotiations based on shared political values or common economic interests. They make up 40 percent of world population, 20 percent of world GDP, 15 percent of world trade and account for two-thirds of world growth. They enjoy the competitive edge in different areas from abundant natural resources to strengths in manufacturing, it and biotechnology.

By 2025, the G-8 — the world’s eight biggest economies — is likely to be, in order, the US, China, India, Japan, Germany, UK, France and Russia. BRICS serves as the key tag of the major emerging markets whose economic growth will outstrip and anchor the rest of the world. But it has been viewed with scepticism because of the diversity and spread of continents, political systems, values and economic models.

The natives are getting restless
Last October, President Dilma Rousseff was to be the first Brazilian leader in two decades to attend a White House dinner. Instead, angered by revelations that her personal phone calls and emails had been intercepted by the US National Security Agency (NSA), she became the first leader to cancel a State dinner hosted by a US president, lambasting American surveillance as a violation of international law and a “totally unacceptable” infringement of Brazil’s sovereignty. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is routinely demonised these days by American political leaders and media commentators as the second coming of Hitler (the downed Malaysia Airlines plane won’t help). Narendra Modi was on the US visa denial list for nine years (2005-14). It takes a particular skill to position oneself offside with leaders of three of the most important emerging powers.

Russia is being subjected to sanctions for its annexation of Crimea — which was Russian for several centuries and was voluntarily “gifted” to the Ukraine by Nikita Khrushchev — despite the very concrete threats to its Russian-speaking population and to Russia’s core vital national security interests, a referendum whose margins of results may be questioned but not the overall outcome, and not one fatality.

The countries censuring Russia and imposing sanctions on it were responsible for the 2003 Iraq War whose legal and security justification was far more tenuous, the theatre was geographically distant not contiguous, and whose humanitarian and geopolitical consequences were far more horrific and destabilising.

Last December, a junior Indian diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, was arrested and strip-searched over labour laws and wage disputes in a deliberate subordination of international conventions to domestic US law, when American diplomats posted abroad have been muscularly shielded from domestic laws even when they have killed host nationals. Chinese officials have been charged with cyber-espionage after the public revelations of the industrial-scale mass surveillance activities of the NSA. Beijing is told to solve its maritime disputes in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas — to which Washington is not party.

The hubris and arrogance of the US-led West is so breathtaking as to be scarcely believable, as though they are blind or indifferent to how others see them.

BRICS-5 as a counterpoint to G-7
That same contempt for others’ voices, values and interests lies behind the creation, consolidation and evolution of the BRICS and their key decisions at the Fortaleza summit. The term was coined as a shorthand proxy to describe the shift in market power and geopolitical clout from the developed economies of the G-7 towards the large and populous emerging market economies. As last year’s Human Development Report put it, “The rise of the South is unprecedented in its speed and scale.” Moreover: “For the first time in 150 years, the combined output of the developing world’s three leading economies — Brazil, China and India — is about equal to the combined gdp of the long-standing industrial powers of the North — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and United States.”

BRICS is among the confetti of ‘G’ groups that dot the contemporary international political, security and economic landscape. In the constellation of G groups, the G-7 is the body that brings together the big rich economies (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US); BRICS brings together the big emerging powers; the G-77 is the international trade union equivalent of the poor developing countries; and the G-20 tries to ensure that the big countries from the global North and South work collaboratively rather than confrontationally to address common global challenges. In its logic, although not in practice, the G-20 is meant to be the forum of the countries of the world with global clout: all countries that have global clout and only those countries with clout.

The BRICS comprise those emerging powers whose rapidly growing economies, substantial populations, military capabilities and expanding diplomatic reach translate into rising power profiles. They pose a challenge to the US-dominated global architecture comprising the United Nations, World Bank and IMF trinity. On the eve of the first summit in Russia in 2009, Brazil’s then president, Lula da Silva, wrote of “broken paradigms and failing multilateral institutions”. The deficiencies have eroded the legitimacy and credibility of the international institutions and fostered mistrust between the global North and South. However, can the BRICS morph from a countervailing economic grouping to a powerful political alternative? Or is BRICS a construct of the social media-driven marketplace of ideas — an attention-grabbing glib phrase in which speed is a substitute for and trumps quality and depth of analysis?

Lack of unity, coherence and focus
Similar stances on a few contentious international issues are not enough to offset the crisis of identity caused by differing and sometimes clashing national priorities. The BRICS-5 are far from homogeneous in interests, values and policy preferences that leaves them open to the dismissive comment that the BRICS lack the necessary cement to bind them together. On some issues they have common interests with one another, while on others they compete against one another and collaborate with selected western powers. For example, India might join the US in a hedging strategy against China’s rapidly growing military footprint and assertive behaviour across Asia-Pacific, but team up with China against Europe and the US on greenhouse gas emission targets. The G-7 spread of per capita incomes (purchasing power parity dollars for 2013, using World Bank data) ranges from a low of $34,303 for Italy to $53,143 for the US. By contrast, for the BRICS, the per capita annual income goes from a low of $5,410 for India to a high of $24,120 for Russia, with China, South Africa and Brazil in the $12,000-15,000 range.

The BRICS-5 are totally different countries with separate histories, contexts, political and economic systems, needs, opportunities and development trajectories. In all, domestic priorities and problems trump club solidarity. They are riven with rivalries over borders, resources and status. India and Russia have border problems with China. The anxiety of India and China about rising energy prices must be set against Russia being a beneficiary, while Brazil is both a cause and beneficiary of rising food prices. China’s highly competitive exports inflict material harm on Brazil. Two are authoritarian States. The three democracies have their own subset called IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa), although they too have a tradition of reticence in global democracy-promotion efforts. Most are stuttering economically. All retain deep and specific ties with the pivotal northern countries and for all, bilateral relations with the US are more critical than with one another.

The most potent source of BRICS cohesion is geopolitical: the common interest in checking US/western power and imperialist impulses by leveraging collaboration with the other nonwestern powers. All have a strong vested interest in protecting strategic autonomy vis-à-vis the US in global affairs. But they are divided on reform of the UN Security Council, with China’s interest lying more in a bipolar than a genuinely multipolar global order, and on the global economic effects of China’s currency value. While strong enough to veto western action, they lack the political clout and economic muscle to remake the status quo. Nor do they always act as a concerted bloc within other institutional settings. Even after the 2012 summit, a European and an American were chosen as IMF and World Bank chiefs.

Unrepresentative, yet representatives of global South
On those issues where there is a shared view among them, the BRICS can exert more significant leverage in combination than separately. Their natural constituency is the global South. Many developing countries remain worried that the forces of globalisation impinge adversely on their economic sovereignty, cultural integrity and social stability. “Interdependence” among unequals can mean the dependence of some on international markets that function under the dominance of others in setting norms and enforcing rules. The BRICS are anything but representative of the typical developing country in terms of size, area, power, economic weight, interest, capacity and resources. Only India is typical of the levels of poverty, illiteracy, low life expectancy and health indicators, etc. But what the BRICS can do and have done is to reflect and represent the interests and priorities of most developing countries, and leverage their atypical attributes of market power and geopolitical clout to negotiate with the developed countries, on many global challenges. Few other developing countries can match the BRICS in their market size and power, or legal, scientific, research and technology base. In other words, it is precisely the attributes making them atypical — size of population, GDP, military power, diplomatic reach, intellectual infrastructure — that gives the BRICS the capacity to represent the views, interests and concerns of the typical developing countries in international forums and negotiations.

But the BRICS do have the ability and will to represent the interests of developing countries on those issues where the global North-South division is salient. They can help to shape a new, post-2015 global development agenda of poverty alleviation, sustainable development and inclusive growth. They can share and learn from one another’s more relevant development experience, from China’s successes in reducing poverty and developing infrastructure to Brazil’s in clean fuel generation. And they can act as a counterweight to the West’s excesses in the UN, WTO, World Bank and the IMF. They reject militarisation of disputes and conflicts, promote political resolutions through diplomatic talks, work to soften the West’s interventionist impulse in the internal affairs of States, and are strongly opposed to infringements of territorial integrity and sovereignty. They share concerns about the financial and geopolitical dominance of the US-led West and support a rebalancing of the current global trade and financial system to reflect developing-country concerns and interests. They can give voice to developing country concerns on new rules for healthcare, pharmaceuticals, intellectual property rights, etc. Most developing countries view environmental, labour and human rights standards as disguised non-tariff barriers to protect uncompetitive western agricultural and manufacturing sectors. On intellectual property, whether it be with respect to generic lifesaving drugs and seeds for agriculture or traditional medicine, they can team up to take on the lobbying power of Big Pharma (e.g. Pfizer) and global agribusiness (Monsanto) to robustly protect the rights of poor people to affordable medicines, of poor farmers to affordable seeds, and of indigenous peoples to retain ownership of their traditional knowledge.

Global economic governance
The BRICS are at the forefront of demanding changes to both the institutions and the rules regulating the global economic order, including greater voice and vote in writing the rules and designing and controlling the institutions. They profess a shared vision of inclusive global growth and the rapid socio-economic transformation of their own nations in which no village is left behind. They come to the global governance table with a mutually reinforcing sense of historical grievances and claims to represent the interests of all developing countries. They share a commitment to State sovereignty and non-intervention. They proclaim the need for a rules-based, stable and predictable world order that respects the diversity of political systems and stages of development.

The biggest common interest of the BRICS is in global economic governance. There is an unsustainable disconnect between the highly indebted but politically dominant industrialised economies and, following that, between the distribution of decision-making authority in the existing international financial institutions and the realignment of economic power equations in the real world. Or, to put it another way, in the emerging new global balance of power, the old global political imbalances need to be readjusted to the new global economic imbalances.

The BRICS called for more responsive, flexible and rapid financing to low-income countries to help them ward off the contagion effects of the global financial crisis and shore up their national developmental objectives. They also called for reforming the international monetary system, to consider diversifying beyond the dollar as the de facto global currency, to take gradual steps in expanding the role of the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights as a supplemental global reserve asset option, and to give increased voice and vote on issues of global finance to developing countries. The G-20 had tried to redress the IMF’s democratic deficit by agreeing in 2009 to a 5 percent quota shift from developed to developing countries, which would have raised the latter’s share to 48 percent. The proposal has languished in the US Congress for five years and counting, effectively also sabotaging the planned further review and revisions of quotas that was to have begun in January 2013.

The New Development Bank
The system that privileges western powers and their biases is trapped in the old paradigm and out of sync with the new realities. Developing countries have noted how Europe was treated much differently during the Eurozone crisis from the harsh medicine meted out to Asia and Latin America in earlier crises. At the summit in New Delhi in 2012, BRICS advanced from being simply an expression of frustrated entitlement to sketching the outlines of an alternative configuration of global governance. The criticisms of the voting formula, funding priorities and executive directorship of the IMF and World Bank reflect both frustrations at how they are run, and growing self-confidence in their own roles as responsible stakeholder-managers of the system of global economic governance. They underlined the urgency of enhancing “the voice and representation of emerging market and developing countries” in the Bretton Woods institutions in order to “better reflect economic weights”. One critical test of whether BRICS can make the transition from a critic of the West-led system of global economic governance to a leader-cum-manager of an alternative system of, by and for developing countries, would be whether the idea of a BRICS bank floated for study in New Delhi bore fruit.

The BRICS move to set up their own development bank was a reaction to the West’s doublespeak. In 2012, Lula da Silva bluntly said the global financial crisis “was created by white men with blue eyes”. At the 2013 Durban summit, South Africa’s then finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, remarked that the “roots of the World Bank and the IMF still lie” in the post-1945 equations. The five could not agree on the amount of seed money to start the bank nor on its location. South Africa put in a strong bid based on physical and financial infrastructure strengths, including corporate governance, auditing and accounting.

At Fortaleza, the five leaders reached consensus on the objectives, functions, capital subscription size, distribution among the member countries, governance structure and operational mechanisms. Four issues were up for discussion about the proposed bank: name, location, presidency and shareholding. It will be called the New Development Bank. It will be headquartered in Shanghai (with an African Regional Centre to be based in Johannesburg). The inaugural president will come from India, which claims credit for having first floated the idea. And the five countries agreed to equal shareholding. The bank is to be capitalised initially at $50 billion (and subsequently at double that amount), with each country contributing $10 billion over the next 7-8 years. It will give priority to loans for developing countries to finance infrastructure projects, industrialisation and productive, inclusive and environmentally sustainable development.

In addition, there will be an emergency reserve pool, called the Contingency Reserve Arrangement, with a $100 billion capital, of which $41 billion will come from China, $18 billion each from Brazil, India and Russia, and $5 billion from South Africa. Its purpose will be to help developing countries avoid short-term liquidity pressure, strengthen the global financial safety net, complement existing international arrangements, and foster more cooperation among the BRICS. Developing countries will be able to draw on the reserve if they face balance of payments crises or if their currency is under pressure. Russia and Brazil get the chairmanships of the two supervising boards.

The New Development Bank is bound to create competition for the World Bank and similar regional funds like the Asian Development Bank. The World Bank’s numerous critics are quick to charge that the institution has failed to lift any country out of poverty and instead has generally deepened poverty and created dependency. Only foreign creditors have done well from its projects. The original core missions of the IMF and World Bank targeted financial stability, employment and development. As the Washington Consensus of deregulation, liberalisation and privatisation held sway after the 1980s, the conditionality attached to the “assistance” provided by the two Bretton Woods institutions inflicted significant economic cost and often grave political damage on many developing countries in trouble. Their operations and governance structures came to be seen as rigged against the voice, vote and interests of developing countries and skewed towards the industrialised bloc.

Jim O’Neill rightly commented that the establishment of the BRICS New Development Bank highlights the problems with the current system of global assistance and governance. Global governance just got a lot more interesting.

letters@tehelka.com

(Published in Tehelka Magazine, Volume 11 Issue 31, Dated 2 August 2014)

Where will India's poor go?

Arundhati Roy
Arundhati Roy
IN Pakistan, apprehensions are rife about Narendra Modi’s flamboyant success. But fervent Modi supporters in the Indian middle classes prefer to place him in the economic governance arena. Dawn recently talked to renowned Indian writer, Arundhati Roy, in Delhi to explore what Modi’s rise means for India.
“The massive, steeply climbing GDP of India dropped rather suddenly and millions of middle-class people sitting in the aircraft, waiting for it to take off, suddenly found it freezing in mid-air,” says Ms Roy. “Their exhilaration turned to panic and then into anger. Modi and his party have mopped up this anger.”

India was known for its quasi-socialist economy before it unfettered its private sector in 1991. India soon became global capital’s favourite hangout, sending its economy on a high. The neo-liberal roller coaster ride, however, hit snags. The Indian economy, after touching a peak of over 10pc growth in 2010, tapered down to below 5pc in the last three years. The Indian corporate class blames this lapse solely on the ruling Congress party’s ‘policy paralysis’. Its ‘meek’ prime minister, Manmohan Singh, was now identified as a hurdle. The aggressive Modi thus provided the ultimate contrast.

“What he [Modi] will be called upon to do is not to attack Muslims, it will be to sort out what is going on in the forests, to sweep out the resistance and hand over land to the mining and infrastructure corporations,” explains Ms Roy. “The contracts are all signed and the companies have been waiting for years. He has been chosen as the man who does not blink in the face of bloodshed, not just Muslim bloodshed but any bloodshed.” India’s largest mining and energy projects are in areas that are inhabited by its poorest tribal population who are resisting the forcible takeover of their livelihood resources. Maoist militants champion the cause of these adivasis and have established virtual rule in many pockets.

“Bloodshed is inherent to this model of development. There are already thousands of people in jails,” she says. “But that is not enough any longer. The resistance has to be crushed and eradicated. Big money now needs the man who can walk the last mile. That is why big industry poured millions into Modi’s election campaign.”

Ms Roy believes that India’s chosen development model has a genocidal core to it. “How have the other ‘developed’ countries progressed? Through wars and by colonising and usurping the resources of other countries and societies,” she says. “India has no option but to colonise itself.”

India’s demographic dynamics are such that even mundane projects, such as constructing a road, displace thousands of people, never mind large dams and massive mining projects. The country has a thriving civil society, labour unions and polity that channel this resistance. The resistance frustrates corporate ambitions. “They now want to militarise it and quell it through military means,” she says. Ms Roy thinks that the quelling “does not necessarily mean one has to massacre people, it can also be achieved by putting them under siege, starving them out, killing and putting those who are seen to be ‘leaders’ or’ ‘instigators’ into prison.” Also, the hyper Hindu-nationalist discourse which has been given popular affirmation will allow those resisting ‘development’ to be called anti-nationals. She narrates the example of destitute small farmers who had to abandon their old ways of subsistence and plug in to the market economy.

In 2012 alone, around 14,000 hapless farmers committed suicide in India. “These villages are completely resourceless, barren and dry as dust. The people are mostly Dalits. There is no politics there. They are pushed into the polling booths by power brokers who have promised their overlords some votes,” she adds, citing her recent visit to villages in Maharashtra that has the highest rate of farmer suicides in India.

So is there no democracy in India then? “It would be too sweeping to say that,” she retorts. “There is some amount of democracy. But you also can’t deny that India has the largest population of the poor in the world. Then, there hasn’t been a single day since independence when the state has not deployed the armed forces to quash insurgencies within its boundaries. The number of people who had been killed and tortured is incredible. It is a state that is continuously at war with its people. If you look at what is happening in places like Chhattisgarh or Odisha, it will be an insult to call it a democracy.”

Ms Roy believes that elections have become a massive corporate project and the media is owned and operated by the same corporations too. She opines that “some amount of democracy” in India is reserved for its middle classes alone and through that they are co-opted by the state and become loyal consumers of the state narrative of people’s resistances.

“The 2014 elections have thrown up some strange conundrums,” she muses. “For eg, the BSP, Mayawati’s party, which got the third largest vote share in the country, has won no seats. The mathematics of elections are such that even if every Dalit in India voted for her, she could have still not won a single seat.”

“Now, we have a democratically elected totalitarian government,” she continues. “Technically and legally, there is no party with enough seats to constitute an opposition. But many of us have maintained for several years that there never was a real opposition. The two main parties agreed on most policies, and each had the skeleton of a mass pogrom against a minority community in its cupboard. So now, it’s all out in the open. The system lies exposed.”

India’s voters have given their verdict. But the blunt question that Ms Roy raises remains unanswered: where will India’s poor go?

Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2014

South-South Coope Award: Reality or imagination?

M. Shahidul Islam in Toronto

“Propaganda must be planned and executed by only one authority,” said Adolf Hitler’s chief propagandist, Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945). In today’s cyber world, such a strategy holds little water given that the ordinary people too have access to what is deemed as secrets by the ruling coterie.

No wonder whispers and whining have begun to echo around the world about the news that Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was honoured with a ‘poverty reduction award’ during the UN General Assembly’s (UNGA) 68th session by the UNDP’s South-South Cooperation (SSC).

The controversy follows publication of news in the Bangladesh media, quoting Bangladesh’s official news agency BSS and the private news agency UNB as sources, that the award was given for the PM’s commendable role in poverty reduction.

South South Award AL 1000 pix

A picture captioned “For her special contribution in poverty alleviation, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina receives an award from South-South News Honorary President Ambassador Francis Lorenzo at the headquarters of International Organisation for South-South Cooperation in New York on Monday (September 23)” added much fuel to the fire.
The South-South News is an appendage of the SSC, launched in February 2010, to distribute news of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) among the members of the Southern (developing) nations.
Award: an investigation
An exhaustive investigation reveals that the news of the Bangladesh PM receiving such an award is either false or twisted. In a press statement issued on September 19 by the SSC in its official websites the organization declared that “The 2013 South-South Awards ceremony will be held on Sunday, September 22 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. The awards recognize governments and private and public sector leaders who have made significant contributions to sustainable development.”
The statement added, “This year’s Global Governance Leadership award recipients include: Her Excellency Laura Chinchilla Miranda, President of Costa Rica; His Royal Highness Khalifa bin Salman Al – Khalifa, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Bahrain; and His Excellency Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji.”
The Press Release further states, “The Global Governance Leadership Awards are presented to individuals who have made distinctive contributions to sustainable development, the youth, e-governance, and information and communications technology. Other award recipients this year include His Excellency Nelson Mandela, Madame Graça Machel, and Mr. David Paich.”
Nowhere the name of the Bangladesh PM is found, either in the Press Releases, or by any other searches; except in the news published by Bangladesh media outlets.
New York-based News One reported on September 23 that: “The 2013 South-South Awards were held in Midtown Manhattan’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel Sunday evening. The awards honored global leaders who’ve made contributions to sustainable development in their countries, with a particular nod to technology and innovation. The award recipients included Fiji Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, President Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica, and Bahrain Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, but the primary focus was on Nelson Mandela, who, along with Madame Graca Machel, was honored with a Humanitarian Award for his decades-long struggle against apartheid in South Africa.”
Confusion confounded
Confusion and controversy relating to the Bangladesh PM having received the award arose due to some other obvious reasons. First: The PM flew for New York on September 22 and arrived on September 23, a day after the awarding ceremony’s conclusion. Second: Viewers failed to find the name of the Bangladesh PM in this year’s recipients list, as well as in the pictorials made available in http://southsouthawards.com/southsouthawards. The third reason is: Neither the SSC and its affiliates’ websites, nor any other internet searches, yielded any result of the Bangladesh PM receiving the SSC’s poverty reduction award, except in the cited Bangladesh media.
Concerns are growing why the Bangladesh media not only did not verify the authenticity of the news, quoting the UNB and the BSS as the main sources, while one of the leading English language dailies of the country published on September 25 that, “Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has received an award for Bangladesh for its stellar performance in poverty reduction during the present government’s tenure. The International Organisation for South-South Cooperation (IOSSC) gave the award at a function at its headquarters in New York on Monday. Ambassador Francis Lorenzo, president of the South-South News, handed over the award to Hasina, PM’s Press Secretary Abul Kalam Azad said.”
For sure, the award given by the South South Cooperation’s main body and the South South News are quite different in content and context, and, Ambassador Francis Lorenzo, who’s shown in the published picture as giving the award to the Bangladesh PM, is a Honorary President of South South News (SSN), not South South Cooperation (SSC). The picture published in the Bangladesh media too clearly shows the background banner reading, “South South News.”
Yet, the State-owned news agency, BSS, reported that, “The International Organization for South-South Cooperation (IOSSC), an initiative of the UN to advance the implementation of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals through the sharing of best practices in the area of South-South and Triangular Cooperation, handed over the award to the Bangladesh Prime Minister at a function at the IOSSC headquarters here in the evening.”
Spinning wheel?
From such published reports, one is tempted to surmise that the spin has been primed by the PM’s own aides. Especially the UNB’s quoting of the PM’s Press Secretary, Abul Kalam Azad, as the main and the only source of the news makes such an apprehension likely. It also seems surprising and surreal that, of the five journalists who comprised the PM’s 140-strong entourage, none was present in the reported award winning gala which was perhaps the most important event of the PM’s eight- day- long tour to New York.
In order to control the flow of information, something else also happened. The UNB-sourced report claimed, “PM’s son Sajeeb Wazed Joy, her daughter Saima Hossain Putul, AL leaders Amir Hossain Amu, Tofail Ahmed, and Workers’ Party President Rashed Khan Menon, among others, were present on the occasion.”
Upon being contacted to shed lights on the swirling confusions, an SSC official referred to the Press Releases available on their official websites and refused to make any further comment. Asked about the news already published in the Bangladesh media, the official responded: “We’re not answerable for what the Bangladesh media writes or says.”
The SSC itself being silent on the issue, analysts can hardly be blamed for sprouting wild and imaginative theories about what exactly happened. That suspicion has been heightened by the publication by the Dhaka Tribune newspaper, along with its news item titled ‘AL to celebrate Hasina’s South-South Award,’ a 2-year old photo, instead of the one reportedly taken during the latest UNGA session.
Others say, it may as well be that the PM was awarded by the SSC in the sideline for her contributions in other fields of MDG’s targets, not for poverty alleviation in particular. A survey of the SSC literature revealed that such a plausibility does exist; given that the SSC had already recognized Bangladesh as a ‘high achiever’ of MDGs and supported a proposition earlier to establish an ‘International Institute on Southern Development’ in Bangladesh.
In making that recommendation the SSC opined, “Bangladesh’s success in achieving many of the MDGs is internationally recognized. Bangladesh deserves a right position in the SSC as it has got many good practices to offer especially in the areas of disaster management, adaptation of climate change, women and child development and using IT for public service delivery at grass-root level. People are resilient and innovative here. Therefore, the proposed international institute on southern innovation would certainly add new dimension to the innovative efforts of Bangladesh in managing the development challenges and moving forward.”
None of such admiration can help overcome the budding conjectural assertions and the swirling of hyperbole around. The SSC and the Bangladesh government can do themselves better services by clearing the obfuscations that have begun to taint their respective images.

DrikNews RVJN wins World Summit Award

The Rural Visual Journalism Network (RVJN) is an innovative initiative where trained district correspondents use Apple i-Pod Touch technology to produce multimedia stories from rural Bangladesh. The correspondents’ multimedia stories focus on addressing specific issues faced by media and by rural citizens of Bangladesh.

In pictures: India coal fires

Underground fires have been burning in the small dusty coal town of Jharia in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand for more than 80 years now. All efforts to put out the fires have been in vain. Photos: ©Arindam Mukherjee: BBC

Jharia coal fires
In places like Laltenganj, the fires are now burning overground. Continue reading “In pictures: India coal fires”

Change the world, one photo at a time.

2013 PhotoPhilanthropy Activist Awards

A stone crasher worker. Jaflong, Sylhet, Bangladesh. January 18, 2008. Photo: Khaled Hasan/Drik/Majority World MWC000752

THE ACTIVIST AWARDS  next submission period opens October 1, 2013

The PhotoPhilanthropy Activist Awards identify outstanding work done by photographers in collaboration with nonprofit organizations worldwide and awards prizes ranging from $2,000-$15,000. In previous years, work was submitted on behalf of 435 nonprofit organizations from 88 different countries.

This year, PhotoPhilanthropy will be honoring professional, amateur, and student photographers. Each photographer whose work is accepted receives a page on our website and exposure to a growing audience of concerned and committed global citizens.

additional information

  • Before entering the Activist Awards, please review our Submissions Guidelines.
  • Once the guidelines have been reviewed, you may submit your essay.
  • If you have additional questions, please refer to our list of FAQs.
  • If you have questions regarding how to create an effective photo essay, please refer to our Photo Essay Tips.
  • If you would like more information about how to further distribute your photo essay, please refer to our tips to Share Your Work.
  • If you have additional questions that were not answered with the above information, you can email us at submissions@photophilanthropy.org.

winning tips for submitting to photo contests

Ami Vitale is an award winning photojournalist whose long and distinguished career has taken her to more than 85 countries, and garnered her exhibitions and assignments worldwide. She’s also spent considerable time entering her images and serving as a judge for numerous photo contests including PhotoPhilanthropy’s 2010 Activist Awards. Her work has won multiple awards from World Press Photo, POYi, and The Lucie Awards, among others.

In a recent conversation with PhotoShelter co-founder Allen Murabayashi, Ami shares her key tips and insights for submitting work to photo contests, including:

  • Which contests are worth your time and effort
  • The most common mistakes photographers make when submitting work
  • The importance of properly researching contests and tailoring your submission
  • How to determine the right photo contest for you

Watch Ami’s webinar here:

Winning Tips for Submitting to Photo Contests with Ami Vitale from PhotoShelter.com on Vimeo.

Change the world, one photo at a time.