Shifting the Lens

06 December 2018 The Caravan

The Drik gallery was host to South Asia’s first World Press Photo exhibition in 1993. The exhibition was opened jointly by the deputy leader of BNP Dr. Badruddoza Chowdhury (later president of Bangladesh) and Mr Abdus Samad Chowdhury (later foreign minister). It was the only time these top leaders opened an event together/DRIK

On the night of 5 August, a couple of dozen men turned up at the photographer Shahidul Alam’s house in Dhaka. They dragged him from his apartment, bound and screaming, smashing surveillance cameras on the way out. Alam’s partner, Rahnuma Ahmed, was with a neighbour, so she could not react in time. By the time anyone fully realised what was going on, Alam had been thrown into a white van and driven off into the night’s darkness.

The following is an excerpt from “The Man Who Saw Too Much: Why the Bangladesh government fears Shahidul Alam,” by Kaamil Ahmed, published in The Caravan’s latest issue, alongside Alam’s visual account of Bangladesh’s extrajudicial killings. Subscribe now to read in full. Continue reading “Shifting the Lens”

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”

What Joy Bangla means today

Originally published in New Age

By Shahidul Alam

Joy Bangla in those days had not been commandeered by any political party. It was a slogan we all used. Some took it more to heart than others. I was on a rickshaw heading towards mejo chachi’s house, (she is mother of my footballer cousin Kazi Salahuddin, better known by his nickname Turjo). Seeing a friend on the road I shouted out Joy Bangla. Joy Bangla, he waved back. At mejo chachi’s the rickshawala refused to take my fare. “Joy Bangla bolsen na. apnar thon bhara loi kemne” (You said Joy Bangla. How can I take fare from you?). Despite my insistence he wouldn’t budge. The rallying cry belonged to us all. He saw me as a fellow warrior.

On the 16th December, I had gone into a burning military convoy opposite Sakura hotel and took a partially charred Browning light machine gun as a trophy. Almost at the same site where I had seen, nine months ago, people being gunned down as they ran from the flames on the night of the 25th March. They lived in the slums near the Holiday office. Their brutal death part of a statistical count we still argue about.

Years later, I tried to put together a visual chronicle of the war. Collecting photographs from great photographers from far away lands and many local ones who had witnessed our pain, and shared our victory. There were moments of great bravery and greater sacrifice. There were moments of immense pain. The weight of great loss. Rashid Talukder’s image of the dismembered head in Rayerbazar was one of the most striking. Kishor Parekh?s sculpted frames showing, dignity, honour, elation and loss. Raghu Rai?s monumental images of seas of people seeking shelter. Captain Beg’s rare photographs of the mukti bahini during battle. Mohammad Shafi?s striking image of women smuggling grenades in half-submerged baskets. Aftab Ahmed’s image of the final surrender, stoic and significant.

A woman emerges out of hiding for the first time, carrying a rifle and accompanied by her children. The family were hiding from Pakistani troops during the Bangladesh War of Independence in 1971. Photo: Penny Tweedie/Chobi Mela archives/Drik

The image that stood out from all the others however, was by Penny Tweedie. Freelancing and without an assignment, Penny had neither the luxury of a client?s budget, nor the assurance of a publishing slot. She did the best she could, getting lifts from fellow photographers, flitting between areas of conflict and stress, she stayed close to ordinary people. People like my rickshawala friend, or the people I saw dying on the night of the 25th March. People who resisted, people who fled, people who sheltered others. People who fed people when they had little food themselves. The image of a woman, carrying a gun walking through a paddy field, with children in tow, was for me the image that encapsulated the war. These were ordinary people who had war thrust upon them. They made do, as best as they could. Bearing their pain with dignity. Fighting with no hope for return. Unlike me, they were not trophy hunters. I doubt if that woman ever made it to a muktijoddha list. I have no way of knowing if she, or her children made it through the war alive. They gave us this nation where we had all hoped we would be free. Continue reading “What Joy Bangla means today”

HISTORY AS ETHICAL REMEMBRANCE

Dhaka University, Shaheed Minar and CP Gang’s ‘bessha’ banner
by Rahnuma Ahmed

Prologue
The online group CP Gang's banner reads (translated) 'Resist these so-called civil [society] liars and anti-Independence intellectual prostitutes in order to uphold the true history of the liberation war to the younger generation.' Those whose faces are crossed out are, from left to right, journalist Mahfuzullah, Dhaka University professors Asif Nazrul and Amena Mohsin, North South university professor Dilara Chowdhury, lawyer Tuhin Malik, writer and columnist Farhad Mazhar, Saptahik editor Golam Mortuza, New Age editor Nurul Kabir, and daily Manabzamin editor Motiur Rahman Chowdhury. A human chain at the Central Shaheed Minar organised by the Muktijoddha Sangsad Santan Command, Dhaka on October 17, 2014.
THIS story begins with the sudden and unexpected death of professor Piash Karim on October 13, 2014, of cardiac arrest. Piash, who had returned to Dhaka in 2007 after teaching for nearly two decades at an American university, had joined BRAC University and was teaching in the department of economics and social sciences. Dr Amena Mohsin, professor of international relations at Dhaka University, and Piash Karim got married in March 2013; high-school student Drabir Karim, Piash’s son from his first marriage, was part of their family. Earlier known in his circle of friends for his left-leaning views, Piash gradually gravitated towards the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, a centrist party and the ruling Awami League’s arch-enemy. He began frequenting television talk shows, popular, as no real debate takes place in the parliament. (The popularity of TV talk shows has drastically declined, however, with the silent black-listing of dissident voices; a couple of analysts have reportedly left the country). His comment that the Ganajagaran Mancha, initially composed of a small group of bloggers and activists calling for the hanging of war criminals of 1971, later mushrooming into a sea of people at Shahbagh square in Dhaka city and spreading nationwide, was developing ‘fascist’ undertones, earned him widespread denunciation. The movement was then riding high. Continue reading “HISTORY AS ETHICAL REMEMBRANCE”

Rare and Unseen photographs of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from the Drik archives

The iconic Parliament Building of Bangladesh, designed by Louis Kahn. Site of the landmark exhibition on rare and largely unseen photographs of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from the Drik archives on Rashid Talukder. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
The iconic Parliament Building of Bangladesh, designed by Louis Kahn. Site of the landmark exhibition on rare and largely unseen photographs of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from the Drik archives on Rashid Talukder. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

A self-taught photographer with a strong sense of humour Rashid Talukder received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Chobi Mela international photography festival in Dhaka, in 2006. His images of the war of liberation of Bangladesh and the political events leading up to it, are the most comprehensive visual documentation of Bangladesh’s political history on record. Rashid Talukder handed over his entire collection of negatives to the Drik Picture Library in Dhaka before he passed away.
With support from Drik’s long standing partner, the Prince Claus Fund Drik has been scanning the Talukder archives of over 165,000 original negatives. The archives contain rare images, many of them never previously seen. These include major political events, everyday life and photographs of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh, whom Talukder was especially close to. The photographs show Mujib, not only as a statesman, but also as someone close to his people. There are also private and intimate moments which give insights not only to the public figure, but also to the individual.

Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with girl scouts. Photo: Rashid Talukder/Drik/Majority World
Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with girl scouts. Photo: Rashid Talukder/Drik/Majority World

While Talukder is virtually unknown outside of Bangladesh, he was one of the foremost chroniclers of the struggle for independence, photographing its origins in the language movement of the 1950s and continuing through the war’s aftermath.


Now hailed as a founding father of Bangladeshi photojournalism, Mr. Talukder made some of the most important images of the war, which by some estimates claimed one million lives and turned 10 million of his countrymen into refugees. He also documented everyday life in Bangladesh during his 46-year career, during which he worked for the newspapers The Daily Sangbad and The Daily Ittefaq. Through an initiative of the new mayor of Dhaka North Annisul Huq, and his council members, a massive outdoor exhibition has been arranged at the iconic parliament building of Bangladesh, designed by Louis Kahn, based largely on the Drik archives. Special access has also been arranged for the general public where even rickshas will be allowed into the parliament complex.
Commemorating the 40th death anniversary of the father of the nation, this provides a rare opportunity for visitors not only to see these previously unseen photographs, but also visit this landmark building, considered one of the architectural masterpieces of the 20th century.

Invitation to the exhibition of rare and largely unseen photographs of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, largely based on the archives of Drik Picture Library
Invitation to the exhibition of rare and largely unseen photographs of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, largely based on the archives of Drik Picture Library

The honourable Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, will inaugurate the exhibition today the 13th August 2015 at 5:00 pm.

Tolerating Death in a Culture of Intolerance

Another blogger. Ananta Bijoy Das, murdered today. Police too busy beating up students to notice:
Anonto blogger killed with text———————————————————————————————————-
Tolerating Death in a Culture of Intolerance | Economic and Political Weekly.

COMMENTARY Economic & Political Weekly EPW MARCH 21, 2015 vol l no 12 11 by Shahidul Alam

The daylight murder of Bangladeshi blogger Avijit Roy in Dhaka on 26 February reflects the culture of fear and intolerance that has built up in the country over the last few decades. As a result, the middle ground between the extremes has disappeared.

Returning home with your wife, from a book fair where you have been signing autographs, seems a peaceful enough activity. It was in the heart of the university area, and it was not late. The footpath next to Ramna Park, where the 1971 surrender document had been signed, was full of people. Shahbagh Police Thana was nearby, and a police barricade designed to keep visitors to the mela safe, was only a few yards away. Hardly the scene crime stories are made of.

Location of murder of Dr. Avijit Roy near Dhaka University Teachers Students Centre (TSC) roundabout. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World Continue reading “Tolerating Death in a Culture of Intolerance”

50 years of independence

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.

Shahidul Alam.

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:

THE RETURN TO BANGLADESH OF SHEIKH MUJIBUR RAHMAN, RELEASED FROM CAPTIVITY IN PAKISTAN. PHOTO: RASHID TALUKDER/DRIK/MAJORITY WORLD

The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide.

By Gary Bass. The Economist

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.

THE LEGACY OF MADHU’S CANTEEN

By Ananta Yusuf in The Daily Star

Photo: Prabir Das

Taking a stroll around Madhur Canteen, named after Madhu Sudan Dey, a visitor would come across various spots – where students of Dhaka University sit in rows, chatting and possibly planning their future. It is a place where the streets widen to make room for creative minds and the walls are covered with political graffiti and posters. Chairman of Workers Party of Bangladesh, Rashed Khan Menon considered it as a parallel school of progressive thought, politics and rational debates, and till date he believes, “its yard is filled with the leaders of tomorrow.”Family members and former students of Dhaka University remember Madhu Da and the vibrant centre that he unwittingly created that became the epicentre of many significant movements.
There are also amusing stories about this legendary canteen. Madhu Da’s son Arun Kumar Dey talks about a ledger called ‘Na Diye Udhao’ (‘disappeared without paying’) that has a rather eminent list of debtors including the likes of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Ataur Rahman Khan and so on. The historical ledger, however, was lost after Madhu Da’s death in 1971.
Rashed Khan Menon recollects: “I heard that Madhu Da had a ledger called Na Diye Udhao. It contains many well-known names of today.” “Perhaps my name is also there!” he laughs.
“Madhu Da used to visit different government offices to collect his dues. Most of the time such efforts were in vain” he adds. “But still he used to do it cheerfully because I know that he enjoyed visiting old faces.”
Madhu Da was far more than just the canteen operator. Arun Kumar, now the director of Madhur Canteen says that his father always used to help the students and never very particular about retrieving the dues the students owed him.

Today’s Madhur Canteen was once used as a ‘Darbar Hall’ of Nawabs for formal and informal meetings. Photo: Fritz Kapp

He tells the Star, “Sometimes, students mockingly complained that Madhu Da, you charge extra. My father would relply, ‘give me less when you will pay all the dues, it is not possible for me to keep correct accounts all the time’. He was very simple man and always tried to help the students. I believe his long presence among the student leaders made him a political analyst as well.”
During the rule of East Pakistan, before every political movement, student leaders and activists used to gather at Madhur Canteen. It was for this that after the military crackdown by the Pakistani army, Madhu Sudan Dey was killed in the dark night of March 26, 1971.
Arun recalls the agonising incident, “My brother and his wife were the first victims. When they arrested my father, my mother tried to save him. But, they did not care and started firing. My mother died instantly while my father fell to the ground with one bullet hitting himone of his hands. And then they dragged my father to Jagannath Hall playground. There he was killed with many students.” Since then, Arun Kumar Dey has been running the canteen.
Like a fresco, the canteen’s ceiling is painted in green and red stretching from east to west. Today’s Madhur Canteen once used as a ‘Darbar Hall’ of Nawabs for formal and informal meetings. Built as a skating rink and a ballroom for the Nawabs, it was later converted into a dining hall and meeting place for students and faculty of Dhaka University. This is where the Muslim League of India was formed in 1906.

Like a fresco, the canteen’s ceiling is painted in green and red stretching from east to west. Photo: Prabir Das

The history of Madhur Canteen dates back to 1921, late Aditya Chandra Dey, started the Canteen with his fifteen-year-old sons Madhu. At that time they used to sell different types of sweets and confectionary. In 1935, soon after Aditya Chandra’s death, Madhusudan Dey began to run the Canteen. Gradually he became a popular figure among the student leaders and became fondly known as “Madhuda”. His towering popularity changed the Canteen’s billboard and within years it was renamed Madhur Canteen.
In the late 1960s, Madhur Canteen became a focal point for planning student protests against the West Pakistan regime. Flanked on one side by the Arts Faculty of Dhaka University and on the other by the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), till date the Madhur Canteen remains a powerful political symbol in the country.
In 1995, Toufiq Hosen Khan a second year student of fine arts engraved a sculpture of Madhu Sudan Dey, which remains as a reminiscence of Madhu Da, who connect himself with the protest and struggle of the people in 1971. In an interview with the Star Toufiq says, “Madhu Da is one of the inspiring figures and a role model for the students and he is also a martyr of the Liberation War. So I wanted to do something that will stay as a permanent mark of respect and to tell the students about Madhu Da.”

BLACK NIGHT 1971 Bangladesh

By Monirul Alam

The black night of March 25, 1971 when the Pakistani occupation forces kicked off one of the worst genocides in history that led to a nine-month war for the independence of Bangladesh in 1971.
On this black night in the nation?s history, the Pakistani military rulers launched ?Operation Searchlight?, killing some thousand people in that night?s crackdown alone.?As part of the operation, tanks rolled out of Dhaka cantonment and a sleeping city woke up to the rattles of gunfire as the Pakistan army attacked the halls at Dhaka University, the then East Pakistan Rifles (now Border Guard Bangladesh) headquarters and Rajarbagh Police Lines, killing the several thousand unarmed Bengalis on the single night. The planned and designated centres of offensive operations under that plan were Dhaka, Khulna, Chittagong, Comilla, Jessore, Rajshahi, Rangpur, Saidpur and Sylhet? areas, where West Pakistani army units were concentrated. Continue reading “BLACK NIGHT 1971 Bangladesh”