Profits versus the Poor

?I have lost a son, maybe I?ll lose another, but I won?t let them setup a coalmine here.? To Tahmina Begum who had lost her son Toriqul to police bullets, her land was also her family. It could have been a ?B? rated western except that it is set in the east. People wanting to hang on to their ancestral land versus mining companies wanting huge profits. There have been only minor changes from previous scripts. When farmers wanted fertilizers and seeds, the police had opened fire killing them, when they wanted electricity to irrigate their soil, the police had opened fire killing them. Now that they want to retain their land rather than have it converted into coal mines again the police have opened fire killing them. The Shaotals, being indigenous minority groups, find themselves even more vulnerable within this persecuted community. In the shootings on the 26th September 2006, in Phulbari, Dinajpur, in northwestern Bangladesh, at least six villagers are known to have been killed, over a hundred are said to be missing.

Reminiscent of his predecessors on this land, Gary Lye, the CEO of the British company Asia Energy Corporation (Bangladesh) Pty Ltd, which wants the mining rights, denied the Phulbari project would harm the environment saying it would benefit local people instead. He did add ?It is up to the authorities to determine exactly what happened, but it would appear that the unforgivable events and the needless loss of life and suffering that took place yesterday in Phulbari are entirely the fault of the organisers (of the protest).”

It had been the fault of the farmers when they wanted fertilizers and seeds, it had been their fault when they wanted electricity to irrigate their lands. It was now the fault of Tahmina Begum and her son Toriqul, for wanting to stay on land that was their own.

The poor deal that Bangladesh appears to be getting, the massive profits predicted for Asia Energy, The foot dragging on the investigation of Nasreen?s death, are suspicious on their own. The close friendship between Asia Energy and Bangladeshi government officials that has emerged looks ominously close to Shell?s friendship with General Abacha. Despite this friendship, faced by the massive protest of over 20,000 people, the government has again had to back down, but with the increasing appetite for energy of war hungry nations, and with pliant governments ready to please in the hope of hanging on to power. Tahmina Begum might well lose the other family member that she has nurtured and tilled all her life. The west meanwhile continues to promote ‘freedom and democracy’ worldwide.

Photos: Munim Wasef/DrikNews.

Text: Shahidul Alam

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.”

18 thoughts on “Profits versus the Poor”

  1. When will we all stand up… everywhere… as big companies and big government annihilate us at every turn. Is it worse now, or has it always been this way and I have not “seen” it.
    Every day there are 50 transgressions and perhaps one rectification, then 50 more transgressions the next day and so on.
    These photographs are so important.

  2. I scrolled down your website and photo after photo..your work has ceased to impress me…. I am a freelance artist with a passion for the paints on canvas but your frozen flats of life are powerful have instilled a new appreciation within me..i look forward to seeing more. Keep up the stimulating work. x

  3. Your countrys impoverished state continues because you will not let development and economic modernisation progress. With a proportion of the revenues generated from the mine going to the local people, why would you not want to capitalise from this project and let your lives prosper? Foreigners are continuously stopped from investing in countries like Bangladesh and trying to assist in the economic modernisation of the country, this looks poor on you and until this stance changes you will always suffer from the consequences. Unfortunately things have to be forfeited for the rest of your country to progress and achieve at least self sufficient power generation. You cant have it both ways unfortunately.

  4. If this project does not go ahead then it will look terribly bad to foreign investors in Bangladesh. Countries and companies are waiting on standby to invest in the future of Bangladesh and bring prosperity to the peoples. This is not the right image you should be portraying to foreign parties right now.

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