“There’s been a coup d’état,” said Cherrie breaking into our meeting at the Imperial Tara Hotel in Bangkok. Some of the participants have just returned from shopping and there were little signs of the unrest that it implied. My camera had been handed in for repairs, and my first instinct was to see who had one I could borrow. Suvendu kindly and only half reluctantly offered his. Zaheer and I decided to go out, but he returned soon afterwards, seeing the pouring rain.
There was some housekeeping to be done. Several participants were due the next day and decisions needed to be made as to whether they should make the trip. Spending as little time as I could get away with, I clutched Suvendu’s camera and broached the rain. Some shops had closed, but there were people in the streets. The Japanese restaurant at the end of Sukhumvit Soi 26 wasn’t full, but did have customers.
Zaheer needed a SIM card, but the girl in the 7/11 simply said ‘no card’. Military takeover, or political unrest didn’t seem to pervade the air.
The train station was closing, perhaps a bit earlier than usual as it wasn’t midnight yet, but the traffic in the streets seemed normal. People outside the 7/11 waited for the bus as they normally do.
Must try and sneak out of the meeting tomorrow to go downtown where the tanks are meant to be, but here the only sign a conspiracy theorist could use as ammunition was the Securicor car waiting outside the bank. Perhaps an ominous sign.
Imperial Tara Hotel
“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