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Staring Tyranny In The Face

Jamila Begum, Bulbuli Begum, and Sunetra Rani labor at the ABC brick kiln in Gaibandha, enduring six months each year in its dusty confines. Earning only BDT 400 per day, their daily lives are sustained around these meager incomes that barely meet basic expenses. 
 
ABC brick kiln, Gaibandha, 23 December 2023 
Quddus Alam/ Focus Bangla 

No headline-grabbing news event unfolds before our eyes. There is no decisive moment here. No celebrities. The stillness in the photograph is deceptive, for time flows eternal in this stage. Nothing changes. The women appear suspended in time. Their toil, wages, status within a deeply hierarchical society, and tenuous existence are all frozen in an immutable societal structure. Factory owners may change, and new coal dust may pass through their lungs, but their lot is unchanging. They will always be paid below the minimum daily wage, set way below that required for basic living. The fine mist of charcoal that swirls around the women wraps them in a gentle light. There is no comfort in this optical blanket. Asthma, bronchitis, cancer if they live long enough, will take their toll. Some workers will die, new ones will seamlessly take their place. Express highways and shiny city lights, the outward display of ‘development’ will matter little to them. Increased per capita income will not translate to food on their plate. They toil, because they must. 

Protests erupted at Tushuka Garments Limited in Gazipur’s Konabari during the 2023 garment workers’ minimum wage movement. As the factory declared an immediate closure, workers gathered at the entrance faced aggressive baton charges by police. Demonstrations spread across three areas of Gazipur, leading to injuries for at least 15 workers, the arrest of 27, and damage to an RMG factory and three police vehicles. In response, owners shut down 22 factories. On November 7, the government set the minimum wage at 12,500 taka, roughly only half of what workers had demanded. 
 
Konabari, Gazipur, November 9, 2023.  
Md. Sazid Hossain. 

Other photographs adorning the walls tell different stories, largely denied by politicians. Police, guns pointed, baton in hand, charge at unarmed protesters and kick over wheelchairs while a young man, defiant as he stands bare-chested, dares them. His singularity against a wall of helmeted publicly-funded oppressors is a stark reminder of the distance public service has moved away from the public. Sometimes, tables are turned, and another policeman cowers under a makeshift shield, protected by the very public who bear the brunt of police brutality. When the law itself is a means of coercion, the rule of law loses meaning. 

50-year-old Khukumoni seen atop an electric tower in Dhaka’s Hatirjheel area. Firefighters were able to bring her down after a two-hour long effort. It was later let known by the authorities that she was apparently mentally unwell. 
 
Hatirjheel Lake, Dhaka, August 18, 2023. 
Syed Mahamudur Rahman/Dainik Bangla 

Some resist eviction. Nearing midnight, a four-year-old, tired from a day’s toil selling flowers, steals a moment to sleep by the wayside, perhaps to dream. Rudely awakened, she returns to her chore. A disturbed mind, precariously perched on an electric pole, reaches out to a society ill-equipped to understand her. Pollution, waste, and sheer disregard, the ills we have failed to curb, stare us in the face. Amidst this chaos, this utter helplessness, people find different ways to pray, play, and say. Farmers trade, firemen recover, a cat-owner walks on a catwalk. Life goes on. 

Ahmed Umar (18), a student of Birshreshtha Noor Mohammad Public College, waves the Palestinian flag in the capital’s Dhaka University area during a live screening of the India-Bangladesh Cricket World Cup 2023 match. 
 
University of Dhaka, October 19, 2023. 
Nayem Ali. 

This is the resilience this exhibition tries to capture. The indomitable spirit that will not be subdued by stolen elections, corrupt officials, or warlords disguised as leaders. The dreams of a proud people pitted against the reality they face. Their rights and their aspirations against the greed of representatives they are said to have appointed. The veneer of democracy versus the brutality of autocrats. Despite Pegasus, despite weapons deals, students still wave Palestinian flags. Rocketing food prices and vanishing farmlands fail to dampen religious festivals, boat races, or village sports. The photographs represent a will to live, to overcome and hopefully to prevail. It is tyranny stared in the face. The resistance of a people who will not be denied. 

Fires are increasingly common in Dhaka, where many commercial buildings lack reasonable safety measures. When a fire broke out in New Market, firefighters bravely minimized the damage, though several fell ill from the intense heat and smoke. The photograph captures three firefighters splashing water on their faces for relief amidst the chaos. 
 
New Market, Dhaka, 15 April 2023 
Abdul Goni/The Daily Ittefaq 
A scene from the ‘3rd Novices Mass Ordination, 2023’ at Shantipur Aranya Kutir in Panchari, Khagrachari. Spanning 14 days, the event engaged 350 novices. During this ceremony, common Buddhist people, particularly youth, are ordained as Samanera/Sramon, marking their initial step towards becoming full-fledged Bhante/Buddhist Monks. The final stage of the ceremony involved Bhantes and novice Sramons meditating in the tranquil woods, as depicted in the photo. 
 
Shantipur Aranya Kutir, Panchari, Khagrachari, 17 February 2023 
Kazi Golam Quddus Helal 
A crowd gathers to witness the traditional cow racing event in Manikganj. In the photograph, two individuals are caught in a tense moment as they dodge a bull charging with intense speed and force, while others attempt to restrain it. Despite a decline over the years, this centuries-old tradition of cow racing persists in select districts across the country. 
 
Mantar field, Sadar Upazila, Manikganj, 16 January 2023 
Piyas Biswas/ NewsBangla24.com 

Shahidul Alam

July 2024

Published inPhotographyBangladeshcultureDemocracyDrik and its initiativeseconomyEducationenvironmentHuman rightsLawmediaPhotojournalismphotojournalistpoliticsPovertyShahidul AlamSports

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