Eighteen

“I think it is natural to expect the caged bird to be angry at those who imprisoned her. But if she understands that she has been imprisoned and that the cage is not her rightful place, then she has every right to claim the freedom of the skies!” Kalpana Chakma

Dress belonging to Kalpana Chakma. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Dress belonging to Kalpana Chakma. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Eighteen. The legal age to vote. The age of sexual consent. The threshold of adulthood when one ceases to be a child. Eighteen. The sections of the Mahabharata. Eighteen armies fighting over eighteen days. Eighteen, the number of years we have waited for justice. Eighteen years that you have been gone Kalpana, my sister.

Newspaper collage of Kalpana's portrait and a page from her diary. Bhorer Kagoj
Newspaper collage of Kalpana’s portrait and a page from her diary. Bhorer Kagoj

I wonder what you’d look like today? Would you have mellowed with age, become wiser, more astute. Would you have spoken out with the same raw courage, or would you now have waited for the right moment, biding your time.

What did you see on that fateful last walk? Did the bark you leaned on respond to your touch? The mud on your shoes, the hole on your orna, the folds of your petticoat, what secrets do they bear? Did the words echo in the woods as you cried out to your brother? What did they do to you my sister? What made you, who fought for justice and freedom, the enemy of the state? 18 years we’ve waited Kalpana. For justice, for the truth.

Lenin: From Kalpana's desktop
Lenin: From Kalpana’s desktop. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

There is no grave in Lallyaghona. No monument for its most famous daughter. But your voice still reverberates in the hills. They call out to rise. To resist.

As the streams glisten in the moonlight, they hear your call:

No more settlers
No more soldiers
No more murders
No more cowering in fear as muddy boots tread over freshly caked mud floors.
No more constitutions that deny equal rights.
No more waiting for justice. No more disappearances.

They await your return

Hole in Kalpana's orna
Hole in Kalpana’s orna. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

———————-

Designed by Nipun/Drik
Designed by Nipun/Drik

The exhibition ‘Eighteen’ is a continuation of Searching for Kalpana Chakma, a collaborative study begun last year by photographer Shahidul Alam and anthropologist Saydia Gulrukh. Last year’s exhibition was sub-titled “A Photo-Forensic Study” (12-21 June 2013), this year’s is “Eighteen.”

Kalpana Chakma, a young leader of the Hill Women’s Federation, was abducted from her home by military personnel and civilian law-enforcers on 12 June 1996 at gunpoint. She remains missing.

“18″ is part of the “No More” public awareness campaign of Drik.

The exhibition opens at 6:00 pm on the 12th June 2014, exactly 18 years on from her disappearance. The show will stay up till the 18th June 2014 (including Fridays) from 3 – 8 pm.

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’.

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