Written by Louis Werner Photographed by Shahidul Alam / DRIK
Split not quite in half by the border between India to the west and Bangladesh to the east, crowning the Bay of Bengal, the world’s most complex river delta works like South Asia’s showerhead, one the size of Lebanon or Connecticut. Fed by Himalayan snowmelt and monsoon runoff, carrying a billion tons a year of Asian landmass suspended as sediment, the three great flows of the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna rivers all end in one vast estuarial tangle, one of Earth’s great water filters, the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans. Continue reading “Forest of Tides: The Sundarbans”
The photographs I had shortlisted for exhibit in the Robi Photo School Contest
The photographer wins a one year scholarship to study at Pathshala
The 1971 memory project
I am starting this project with the hope that people across the globe can help me identify and hopefully trace as many people as possible in these photographs. I shall be regularly uploading images and linking them up with my social media. Please comment, link, tag, share these images and help me locate the people in them. Please also feel free to share insights into the situation, particularly if you happen to have been present.
I would like to complete this by 2021, when I would like to curate a major show to commemorate 50 years of Independence. Please feel free to send me pictures to. Please try to provide as much information as you can about the photograph and the photographer. Ideally we would like all the photographs to be credited.
Thanks for your help.
Here is the first image. It was taken by one of our finest photojournalists, and a dear friend, Rashid Talukder. The photograph was taken on the 10th January 1972, when Mujib returned to an independent Bangladesh upon his release from captivity in Pakistan. The person dangling from the jeep with the Rollei hanging is another famous Bangladeshi photographer Aftab Ahmed:
UNTIL 1971 Pakistan was made up of two parts: west and east. Both Muslim-dominated territories were born out of India’s bloody partition 24 years earlier, though they existed awkwardly 1,600km apart, divided by hostile Indian territory. Relations between the two halves were always poor. The west dominated: it had the capital, Islamabad, and greater political, economic and military clout. Its more warlike Pashtuns and prosperous Punjabis, among others, looked down on Bengali easterners as passive and backward.
The split into Pakistan and Bangladesh was perhaps inevitable. It began in late 1970, after Pakistan’s first national elections. To the shock of West Pakistanis, an easterner, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, won a sweeping victory, and was poised to lead the country. His Awami League wanted greater rights for Bengalis. But the army chiefs and politicians in Islamabad would not countenance his taking office. They arrested him and the army began repressing eastern protesters.
Bengalis flocked to join the rebel forces who were fighting for independence. West Pakistani soldiers stationed in the east, plus a few local supporters, began targeting students, writers, politicians; especially the Hindu minority. Soldiers massacred civilians, burned villages and sent millions fleeing to India. Eventually some 10m became refugees, mostly Hindus. At least 300,000 people were killed; some say the death toll was over 1m.
Seen from America, where Richard Nixon was president, the war was a domestic Pakistani affair. India’s leader, Indira Gandhi, claimed otherwise. She called the floods of refugees a humanitarian disaster that threatened regional stability. She wanted international action, demanding that America tell Pakistan’s leaders to stop the killing. Nixon, urged by his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, refused.
In “The Blood Telegram” Gary Bass, a Princeton academic (who once wrote for The Economist), sets out to assess America’s handling of the war. He argues that the killings amounted to a genocide: Hindus, as a distinct minority, were chosen for annihilation and expulsion. He asks why Nixon continued actively to support the Pakistani leaders who were behind it.
At the behest of Mr Kissinger, Nixon sent military planes and other materiel to Pakistan, even though he knew this broke American law. He deployed an American naval task force to the Bay of Bengal to intimidate India, which had begun helping rebels in East Pakistan. Most extreme, he secretly asked China to send troops to India’s borders. He did so accepting a risk of Soviet retaliation, even that nuclear bombs might be “lobbed” around in response.
Nixon and Mr Kissinger stood with Pakistan, even as they knew of the extent of the slaughter. Their own diplomats told them about it. The centrepiece of Mr Bass’s gripping and well-researched book is the story of how America’s most senior diplomat in East Pakistan, Archer Blood, the consul-general in Dhaka, sent regular, detailed and accurate reports of the bloodshed. Early on he stated that a “selective genocide” was under way.
Blood and his colleagues protested that America should not support Pakistan’s rulers. Then, 20 of them sent a dissenting telegram (the “Blood telegram” of the book’s title) condemning America’s policy. It was an extreme and idealistic step for a diplomat, whose career was soon cut short. Though the telegram did not change American policy, it rates as an historic document. Such open dissent is extremely rare.
Mr Bass does a good job of explaining Nixon’s wilful support of Pakistan. Using newly released recordings of White House conversations between the president and Mr Kissinger, he sets out with admirable clarity what else was at stake. In part it was personal. Nixon, a man of few friends, was notably fond of Pakistan’s military ruler, Yahya Khan, a gruff, dim-witted, whisky-drinking general. Nixon compared the Pakistani favourably to Abraham Lincoln. By contrast he despised India’s wheedling civilian politicians, reserving a particular dislike for Gandhi, whom in private he frequently called a “bitch” and “witch”.
More important, Pakistan was a loyal cold-war ally, whereas India was seen as leaning towards the Soviet Union. Crucially, Mr Kissinger early in 1971 was using Pakistan as an essential secret conduit to China. He flew via Islamabad to Beijing to arrange for Nixon to make his own trip to see Mao Zedong. Better relations with China would allow America to wind down the war in Vietnam.
Ultimately, Mr Kissinger did much to set America’s course. He argued that America should pay no heed to domestic horrors in Pakistan, saying “you can’t go to war over refugees”, and warned that India was a greater threat to international order. Indian “bastards”, he agreed with Nixon, needed a “mass famine” to cut them down to size.
Mr Bass depicts Mr Kissinger as increasingly erratic, perhaps overworked, as East Pakistan’s secession became inevitable. He is quoted calling the conflict “our Rhineland” (in reference to the start of the second world war) and warning that India would “rape Pakistan”.
Mr Kissinger adopts a magisterial tone in the one chapter he devoted to the India-Pakistan crisis in his 1979 work, “The White House Years”. He refused to speak to Mr Bass for this book, and glosses over the Blood telegram in his memoirs, never explaining why he ignored the entreaties of the diplomats on the ground. That is a pity, because America’s response to the war has reverberated over the years.
The 1971 war poisoned regional affairs for decades. It ended when India’s army intervened, having supported East Pakistan’s rebels for months, and crushed the Pakistani forces within days. Pakistan was humiliated, yet no Pakistani soldier has been held to account for the mass slaughter that provoked the war. Pakistanis by and large prefer not to discuss it. The war did convince them that India might next try to break up the remaining western rump of their country, perhaps by supporting Baluchi separatists on the border with Afghanistan. A sharp mutual suspicion still lingers between the neighbours, helping ensure that Pakistan’s army dominates—and damages—the country still.
Nor did the war do much for India. Eventually the refugees went home, but relations with Bangladesh soon soured. At home Gandhi became suddenly more popular. But she then descended into authoritarianism, even suspending democracy. Inside Bangladesh the war remains a live political issue as alleged collaborators in the conflict (all opposition leaders) are being tried by a flawed, local war-crimes tribunal. This week, one defendant was sentenced to death by the Supreme Court.
Could things have been different if America, having listened to Blood, had pressed Pakistan not to slaughter its own people in 1971? Mr Bass does not speculate directly. Yet if a peaceful secession of Bangladesh had been possible, many lives would have been saved and a source of deep division in a troubled region would have been removed.
Most people today do not live in Europe or North America, or have white skin. Yet the world’s economy and media are dominated by a handful of Western countries, and the reporting on developing nations is not always done by people who know their subjects well. Continue reading “Wresting the Narrative From the West”
A collective exhibition featuring stories from Queensland College of Art and Pathshala South Asia Media Institute students.
Thursday 23 May – Saturday 25 May
Opening night 6pm Thursday 23 May
Guest Speaker: Dr Shahidul Alam
RSVP 07 3735 6106 or email@example.com
Gallery opening hours Tuesday to Saturday 9 – 5pm
Bangladesh Exhibiton Flyer(1)
Hundreds of thousands of marchers call for law that would include death penalty for bloggers who they say insult Islam.
Hundreds of thousands of people?have held?protests in Bangladesh to demand?that the government introduce an anti-blasphemy law that would include the death penalty for bloggers who insult Islam.
Protest organisers called Saturday’s rally the “long march”, with many travelling from remote villages to the capital, Dhaka’s Motijheel area that became a sea of white skull caps and robes. Continue reading “Al Jazeera: Bangladesh protesters demand blasphemy law”
Want to take a sneak preview of the contents of Positive Light? This preview shows the introduction plus the first five spreads of each section of the book. The original contest was broken down into Culture, History, Place and People.
DO NOT BUY THE BLURB COPY from the link above! We are only using Blurb for preview purposes.
Pledge to buy a copy (or copies!) of Positive Light
Don’t forget, up until 31 March 2013 you can pledge to purchase Positive Light at our pre-sales crowdfunding campaign at this link. Every little bit helps — and more importantly this campaign will help Drik continue its work in social justice in Bangladesh.
We are immensely pleased to announce that proceeds from Positive Light will also support WildTeam’s efforts to protect nature, particularly the Royal Bengal Tiger. Bangladesh has one of the last remaining strongholds of tiger populations. Tigers are an endangered species, which has lost 97 percent of its population over the last century. There are 3,200 magnificent tigers left in the world and these face huge poaching pressure as the demand for tiger parts continues to rise with rising incomes across Asia.
The Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest on earth, can hold approximately 400 tigers. This remote corner of India and Bangladesh is a unique stronghold for tigers. Here, WildTeam is working alongside the local people to overcome tiger threats and build a future for tigers in Bangladesh.
The founders of Crowdsourced Travel cannot imagine a world without tigers. And that?s why we?ve committed a part of the proceeds of Positive Light project to raising funds and awareness for Bangladesh? premiere tiger conservation organization WildTeam.
By purchasing Positive Light you are also supporting the efforts of WildTeam in Bangladesh. Thank you. Ten percent of Positive Light’s profits are going to WildTeam’s work in preserving tigers.