‘You are guilty because we say so.’ 

The imprisonment of Odhikar’s Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan 

The humiliation of being put in that cage was not lost on anyone. Odhikar’s Secretary Adilur Rahman Khan and Director ASM Nasiruddin Elan had been there before, as indeed had I. Multiple times, on some occasions because the judge wanted to see me inside again. His sadistic pleasure in putting me back in the cage, on public display. The rambling judgement at the end of Odhikar’s case could have been reduced to two sentences. “You are guilty because we say so. You will go to jail, because we can.” 

I knew Adil and Elan through my crossfire exhibition, a show I had produced in 2010 based on extensive research by Momena Jalil, Fariha Karim and others of the Drik team. We were to open the show on 22nd March 2010, but the government intervened. Apparently, we had no right to show our own artwork in our own gallery without special government permission. We had asked which law this was stipulated by, but they weren’t able to produce any. Riot police came over anyway and closed down our gallery. Mahasweta Devi, the fiery Indian writer and activist had flown over to open the show. Nurul Kabir, one of the bravest editors Bangladesh has seen and one who still has the spine to resist publishing government propaganda, was also one of the speakers. With armed police surrounding the gallery, we resorted to opening the show in the streets of Dhanmondi outside our office.  

Police prevent human rights defender Adilur Rahman Khan from raising his fist in a show of defiance, as he enters prison van. Adil succeeded in breaking free and raising his clenched fist. 14th September 2023. Outside Judge Court. Dhaka. Photo: Dipu Malakar/Prothom Alo
Continue reading‘You are guilty because we say so.’ “

As Mujib Watches Helplessly

I entered the giant graveyard. It was quiet except for my own footsteps but, in my head, I could hear the screams. Rows of blackened sewing machines, still in orderly lines, reinforced the sense that I was looking at tombstones. There were no flowers here. No epitaphs. No mourners.

Stitched photo of burnt remains of Tazreen Fashions. Photo Shahidul Alam

A fire had raged through the Tazreen Fashions garment factory in Ashulia on 24 November 2012. Workers stationed on the building’s third and fourth floors had rushed to the exits, only to find them locked, a regular practice in many Bangladeshi garment factories. Fires and worker deaths were, sadly, all-too-common. The owners justified the locking of the doors as a ‘security measure’ but workers were effectively prisoners during working hours. As the heat and smoke built up, the panic-stricken labourers, who were unable to break down the iron gates, rushed to the windows and somehow managed to remove the metal grills. It was a long way down, but one by one they jumped. Some screamed with pain as they fell; others were silent. Each landed with a dull thud, their bodies crumpled on the uneven ground below. Possible death was still a better choice than certain death. And some did survive.

Continue reading “As Mujib Watches Helplessly”

Who lives, who dies, who decides?

The Councillor of 26 No Ward of Dhaka South City Corporation, Mr Hasibur Rahman Manik who led a ruling party procession to the venue to disrupt a peaceful performance by Drik Picture Library at Raju Bhaskorjo at the Dhaka University on 4th September 2020, Drik’s 31st Anniversary. © Habibul Haque/Drik

‘PAPA, are you crying?’ were the last words popular Awami League councillor Akramul Haque’s daughter had said to him. The family then heard the gunshots. The groan. Then more shots. The sounds, recorded on their phone, and later released to the media, reverberated across paddy fields, along the undulating Chittagong Hill Tracts, across swampy marshlands, on the waves of the Padma and Jamuna, in fancy apartments of Gulshan and Baridhara, and now in the cantonment. It reaffirmed what we all knew, and what the government has consistently denied. That it was the law enforcing agencies of our country, rather than the courts, who decide whether a citizen should live or die.

Continue reading “Who lives, who dies, who decides?”

Bicycle Rally Against Rape

Bangladesh is reeling under a spate of attacks against women. This includes rape, murder and sexual harassment. By far the majority of perpetrators are people affiliated with the ruling party. The police is known to actively support and protect the perpetrators. A bicycle rally from Shahbag to Manik Mia Avenue in protest against rape. 15th October 2020.

করোনাকালের করুণা খান

এই গল্পের সাথে কেউ কোন চরিত্র মিলাইবেন না। যে মিলাইবেন দায় তার… কয়া দিলাম কিন্তু….
করোনার প্রকোপে আর কিছু না হোক আমি যে পাগল হইতেছি এইটা তার বড় প্রমান। সো পাগলে কী না বলে…🧟‍♂🧟‍♂🧟‍♂🧟‍♂
Nahida Ashrafi_ by rahnuma ahmedNahida Ashrafi. Photo: Rahnuma Ahmed

করোনাকালের করুণা খান

নাহিদা আশরাফী

-আপা, শইলডা বালো?  একখান কতা ছিলো।
করুণা খান চোখ বড় বড় করে চম্পার দিকে তাকালেন, শইলডা কি চম্পা? বলেছি না ঠিক করে কথা বলবে? বলো শুভ সকাল আপা, আপনার শরীর ভালো? বলো বলো। কষ্ট হলেও সময় নিয়ে বলো। তবু শুদ্ধ বলবে। যাও চা নিয়ে এসো, আর রান্না শেষ করে আবার আমাকে শুদ্ধ করে কথাটা শোনাবে। তোমাদের নিয়ে আর পারি না।
কিছুটা বিরক্তি নিয়ে বিছানা থেকে উঠে এক ঘন্টা বাথটাকে বডিশপের শাওয়ার জেলে নিজেকে ডুবিয়ে রেখে রেডি হয়ে নীচে নামলেন তিনি । আড়াইটায় তার ওয়ার্কারদের সাথে মিটিং ফিক্সড।যদিও তা ভিডিও কনফারেন্স এর মাধ্যমে। গতকালের সিদ্ধান্ত নিয়ে দারুণ খোশমেজাজে আছেন । নিজের আপত প্রতিভায় নিজেই মুগ্ধ!
খাওয়া শেষ করে ডাইনিং টেবিল ক্লিয়ার করতে করতেই চা নিয়ে ঢুকলো চম্পা। কাচুমাচু করে দাঁড়িয়ে থাকতে দেখে নিজে থেকেই চম্পাকে কথাগুলো শুদ্ধ করে বলতে বল্লেন৷ চম্পা গলা কেশে শুদ্ধ করে বলার চেষ্টা করলো –
-আপা, আপোনার শরীলটা ভালো?
– উফ! আপোনার নয় চম্পা বলো আপনার। আর শরীলটা নয়। বলো শরীরটা৷ বলো, আবার বলো
চম্পা এই দুই লাইনেই আটকে রইলো টানা পনেরো মিনিট। তারপর খানিকটা খুশী হলেন মালকিন৷
– ওকে, এবার পরের লাইন বলো। তাড়াতাড়ি বলো। আমার আবার মিটিং আছে৷
– জ্বি আপা বলেছিলাম কি আমার পাঁচদিন ধ…ধ… ধইরা।
– উহু ধইরা নয়, বলো ধরে। হ্যাঁ বলো। পাঁচ দিন ধরে কি?
– জ্বর। গলায় বেদনা।
– আহা বেদনা না। বলো ব্যাথা।…  কী!!!
ব্যাথা শব্দটা উচ্চারণের সাথে সাথে ভয়ংকর শীতল এক স্রোত তার শিরদাঁড়া বেয়ে নামতে লাগলো। তিনি চিৎকার করে উঠলেন,
– তুই আগে বলিস নাই ক্যান? বেয়াদব কোথাকার।
– আপা ক্যাম্নে বলবো?  সকাল থেকে শুদ্ধ শুদ্ধ খেলায় আপ্নে আমারে যে ধমকের উপ্রে রাখছেন।
এই চম্পা তার বিছানা ঝাড়পোঁছ করেছে, রান্না করেছে, কাবার্ড থেকে শাড়ি নামিয়ে দিয়েছে, শাওয়ারের পর চুল আচঁড়ে দিয়েছে। আর এখন চা ও বানিয়েও খাইয়েছে৷ উফ!  আর ভাবতে পারে না করুণা খান। এক দৌড়ে বাসা থেকে বেরিয়ে ডাক্তারের কাছে যাবেন বলে গাড়িতে ওঠেন। চেনা পরিচিত সব ডাক্তার কল করে ফেলেছেন ততক্ষণে। হল কী এই মরার দেশে। কেউ ফোন ধরে না। ভাবতে ভাবতে অফিসে ঢোকেন। কী আশ্চর্য!  কেউ নেই কেন? ফিরে গিয়ে ড্রাইভারকে জিজ্ঞেস করতে যাবেন দেখেন ড্রাইভার নেই চম্পা ড্রাইভিং সিটে বসে দাত কেলিয়ে হাসছে। তিনি ভয়ানক আর্তচিৎকার দিয়ে গাড়ি থেকে ছিটকে  রাস্তার দিকে যান। গেটের কাছেই ড্রাইভার কাসেমের দেখা পান। কাশেম তার জন্য লাশবাহী গাড়ি এনে তাতে  উঠতে বলছে। সব কী পাগল হয়ে গেল। লাশবাহী গাড়িতে তিনি কেন উঠবেন?
তিনি দৌড়াতে শুরু করলেন,
দৌড় মিইয়ে এসে জোরে হাঁটায় রুপ নিলো।
জোরে হাঁটাও মিইয়ে এসে একসময় বসে পড়লেন।
পিছনে তাকিয়ে দেখলেন একদল মানুষ তাকে অনুসরণ করে হাটছে। হাঁটছে তো হাঁটছে… সামনে গোরস্তান, ডানে চম্পা,বায়ে কাশেম মিয়া ও তার লাশবাহী গাড়ি।
সরো, সরে যাও। দূরে যাও। আমার কাছে কেউ আসবে না বলছি। আমাকে ছোঁবে না। সাইকিক পেসেন্টের মত ভয়াবহ চিৎকার করতে লাগলেন তিনি।
– কই যাবো ম্যাডাম ? ডেকে এনে চলে যেতে বলছেন? একবার এলে আর তো যাওয়া যায় না । এটা তো একমুখী রাস্তা। তাই ঠিক করেছি সবাই একসাথে এই লাশবাহী গাড়িটাতেই থাকবো৷ ভালো হবে না ম্যাডাম?  কী বলেন?
তিনি হাতপা ছুঁড়ে মানসিক রোগীর মত চিৎকার করতে থাকেন। দিগবিদিক ছুটতে থাকেন কিন্তু বুঝতে পারেন না কোন দিকে যাবেন।
এগিয়ে আসছে চম্পা…
এগিয়ে আসছে কাশেম মিয়া…
এগিয়ে আসছে একদল পায়েচলা শ্রমিক…
আর তিনি একটু একটু করে এগিয়ে যাচ্ছেন গোরস্তানের দিকে …
দূরে কোথাও কৈলাশ খেরের গান বাজছে,
’জয় জয় কারা জয় জয় কারা সোয়ামি দে না সাথ হামারা।’

The virus doesn’t but the powerful do

LOUD and angry, the child’s voice reverberates along the Dhanmondi streets. Unlike the other cries, this one quickly recedes before I can turn on my audio recorder. The incessant pneumatic horns, the screeching of brakes, the dust spewing up from potholed worn tarmac that bedraggled buses bump their way through have gone. With factories and offices closed, load sheddings have also gone down, though the transformer blowing up as the kal boishakhi storm hit, did lead to a power outage. Above the cawing of a crow that has built its nest close to our verandah, we can hear other birds sing. Sounds interspersed with calls of small time vendors, trading what they can, selling what they can. While they can. Despite the other sounds, the child’s cry keeps echoing in my mind.

Hungry woman walking the streets of Dhanmondi, in search of food 280039Running down the street as she cries for food, Dhanmondi. — Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Continue reading “The virus doesn’t but the powerful do”

The Gonoshasthya Kendra’s Corona Test Kit. Cui Bono?

Cui bono is often a good starting point in an investigation. Literally meaning ‘who benefits?’ Whoever appears to have the most to gain from a ‘crime’ is probably the culprit. Stepping back from the ‘whodunnit’ nature of the drama that is playing out, we could be less dramatic and just look at the meaningfulness or advantages of carrying out an important function.

At this point in Bangladesh, as in many other countries, there are few things more important to do, than to detect whether or not one has been infected by the Covid-19 virus. For many, it could literally be a matter of life and death. It is beyond dispute that an efficient, accurate and affordable kit that could be made readily available would be of immense value to the country.

Zafrullah Chowdhury 6506Zafrullah Chowdhury (born December 27, 1941) is a Bangladeshi public health activist. He is the founder of Gonoshasthaya Kendra (meaning the People's Health Center in Bengali), a rural healthcare organisation. Dr. Chowdhury is known more for his work in formulating the Bangladesh National Drug Policy in 1982. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Continue reading “The Gonoshasthya Kendra’s Corona Test Kit. Cui Bono?”

The journalist who got too close

‘REPEAT a lie often enough and it becomes the truth’, is a law of propaganda often attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels. The Bangladesh government seems to have studied Goebbels’ book well. The lies generally come in the form of denials. ‘No, we have not been involved in “crossfire” and “disappearances”.’ ‘There is no political motive.’ ‘No one will be spared.’ ‘The elections were fair.’ ‘The judiciary is independent,’ the list goes on. The lies are repeated ad nauseam in political rallies, in talk shows, in press briefings and through social media trolls.

Shafiqul Islam Kajol photographed by his son Monorom Polok

‘We do not condone any such incident and will bring the responsible officials to justice’ said the foreign minister Dipu Moni at the Universal Periodic Review of Bangladesh at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on February 4, 2009 in response to accusations that the government was involved in ‘crossfire,’ a Bangladeshi euphemism for extra-judicial killings. She added that the government would show ‘zero tolerance’ to extra-judicial killings, or torture and death in custody. Indeed, doing so was part of the election campaign for the Bangladesh Awami League when they were in the opposition. As often happens however, once elected, their position changed, and ‘crossfire’ has become so integral to the Bangladeshi lingo that MPs now use the term in parliament, ‘You are allowing crossfire as part of a fight against drugs. Then why aren’t you doing the same in case of rape?’ Continue reading “The journalist who got too close”

The Price of Social Distancing

Rahnuma forwarded me Laily’s wrenching FaceBook post. Her father is dying, far away in a UK hospital. Heart breaking, holding back tears, she and her family watch from afar. Unable to touch, to hold, to caress the person who is dearest to them. This is what Corona means in real terms. It was through her research on one of my heroes, the peasant leader Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, and later through them staying at the Pathshala Guest House, that we got to know her. Bhashani’s principle of putting nation before self and his simple lifestyle is a very distant reality from the ruling politicians of today. Despite its pain, Laily’s post reminded me of my own dad and my childhood. I remembered dad resting in his easy chair. His belly just the right slope for us kids to use as a living slide. We used to call him bhalluk (bear), and every day as he rested after lunch, my cousins and I would line up behind the easy chair, clamber up to his shoulders and slide down his belly. Mum would freak out, as my dad had osteomyelitis as a child and had never fully recovered. His shins were always exposed and very fragile. Quite apart from wanting him to rest, the idea that we might aggravate his injury worried her. Abba was unperturbed, happy to be teddy bear to a room full of kids. We’d run back to the end of the queue to slide down again. We were always tired before Abba ever did. We didn’t think of it as physical contact in those days. When Abba died, I remember feeling the stubble that had grown on his soft skin, as I stroked him before we laid him down.

Newcomers to Bangladesh are overwhelmed by the generosity of our village folk. They love it when strangers clasp their hands, but are somewhat unsure when seconds, sometimes minutes pass, before their hands are reluctantly released. Years ago, when we at Drik were trying to improve our English skills, we struck a deal with the local office of the British Council. Unable to pay for the expensive English classes, we negotiated a barter. We would do their photography. They in turn, would teach us English. It wasn’t just language skills though, it was learning English culture. One of the first things our English teachers told us was to release the hand quickly! Prolonged physical contact could make the English squirm.

Workers sleeping in shipbreaking yard in Rahman Yard in Chittagong. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Continue reading “The Price of Social Distancing”