Singapore Airlines warned of “protests by university students developing in Dhaka” as we boarded the plane. But emails from Delower and Rahnuma during the brief stopover in Singapore talked of the curfew in place in the six main cities. This was no longer a small skirmish in Dhaka University. Joshim was going to be at the airport with my accreditation card and we would try and find a way back home.
Students at Dhaka University under teargas attack, throwing bricks at police. 22 August 2007. Dhaka Bangladesh © Munir uz Zaman/DrikNews
Students at Dhaka University shielding themselves with sheets of tin, during fights with police. Photographer anonymous.
Protesting students gather at Dhaka University campus during violent clashes with police. Photographer anonymous.
Student hit by police shotgun bullet being carried away by fellow students. Photographer anonymous.
Enraged students burn a car at the Teacher’s Student’s Centre (TSC). Photographer anonymous.
Members of Dhaka University Teacher’s Association protesting against the attacks on campus by police and army, and demanding withdrawal of the state of emergency. Two of the teachers in the front row have since been arrested. 22 August 2007. Dhaka Bangladesh © Munir uz Zaman/DrikNews
Rocketing prices of essentials create extreme distress for people with low earnings, like the people pictured in the foreground. The military of Bangladesh, which has not had to fight since the birth of the nation in 1971, has in the meanwhile, had increasing budgetary allocations in each successive regime. Numerous allegations about corruption in military purchase, has gone uninvestigated. 22 August 2007. Dhaka Bangladesh © Munir uz Zaman/DrikNews
The government had taken all mobile networks off the air. With only official press releases for information, the person in the street was in for a rough time. It was easy to find Joshim in the empty car park. Only the occasional long distance truck plied VIP road. I put the video camera on record mode, but relied on my less conspicuous LUMIX to photograph the empty streets. Though I stopped on the Mohakhali flyover to take pictures, I was nervous when the RAB vehicles passed below. There was never a good time for being arrested, but this was as wrong a time as it could get.
Aaasteeey! The policeman strode over lazily. Ki bapar? I did have my card dangling from my neck, and from previous experience, used my confident, ‘I belong here’ approach. That usually worked best with low tier security people.
The Mohakhali Junction, one of Dhaka’s busiest traffic spots, is empty on the night of the 22nd August, when the government called an indefinite curfew. Dhaka Bangladesh. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
I’d stopped to take pictures by the near-empty Tejgaon rail station. Stepping carefully through the people sleeping on the floor, I came up to Shahjahan and Neela. Unaware of the curfew, they had brought their sick child Shamim from Tangail, but got stranded in Tejgaon. There was no food, no doctor, no place to sleep, no way of knowing how long this would go on. Each visit to the toilet cost 5 Taka.
Shahjahan and Neela tend to their sick child Shamim, whom they had brought to Dhaka for treatment. Along with other stranded passengers at Tejgaon Railway Station, the family had no food or drink, or a place to sleep. 22 August 2007. Dhaka Bangladesh. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
The next checkpost was slightly more hostile, but the expired accreditation card dangling from my neck was working overtime. We passed without much harassment. Dropping Joshim home, I went past the Shonar Bangla Market in Karwan Bazaar. The busy market place had a haunted look. No cackle of chickens, haggling for prices, or calls from vendors. Just one man counting loose change.
The brightly lit Square Hospital in Panthapath stood out in the dark. Government orders to turn down the lights after dusk to save electricity was presumably for commoners only. The street was empty, but this time as I approached with my camera police converged from all directions. I fumbled a bit, but recovered in time to get one shot. This was not the time to look for best angles. Rattling off important sounding words like ministry of information, and dropping the occasional names I could think of, I got into the car and drove off before the uniformed men had gathered their wits. A government adviser’s business interests in Square Pharmaceuticals – while undeclared – was well known. Students had already attacked the building the previous day. The approaching police knew whose business interests to protect.
The Square Group, one of the wealthiest business enterprises in Bangladesh owns the Square Hospital. Government regulations prohibit the excess use of electricity and non-essential shops are required to close by 8 pm. Several people were killed by the police when they came out in protest, demanding adequate electricity. The Square Group is owned by the family of one of the advisers of the caretaker government. 22 August 2007. Dhaka Bangladesh. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
The road through Dhanmondi was eerie. The women who walked the streets near Abahani playground were nowhere to be seen. Like the many others who struggled to make a living, they too would not be earning tonight.
The junction near ULAB was scarred by burnt tyres. The convoy of police vans deterred me from getting my camera out and I turned into road 4A. It was time to go home. Kamaler Ma, Joigun, Zohra and Rahnuma were all up waiting. With the mobile network off, they didn’t have any news about me. There must have been others in many more homes who were up worrying.
Rahnuma and I talked of the events over the last two days, of the army camp in Dhaka University. Of a soldier slapping a student. Of the vice chancellor (acting) being beaten up by police. This had never happened before, not even during the Ayub or Ershad military regimes. The reference to ‘evil doers’ in the chief adviser’s speech to the nation was worryingly close to the ‘axis of evil’. Independent media channels were then still defiant. That night the information adviser advised the media to practice ‘self censorship’.
Despite their claims, this government had never been called in by the people. We had no say in who the advisers would be. It was not military rule the people had welcomed, but the cessation of violence and the fear of further anarchy if the rigged elections were held. Banana trees would have made equally good replacements. However, banana trees would not have sold national interests. Closed down environmentally-friendly jute mills. Made slum dwellers homeless, or tortured and killed adibashis protesting the military acquisition of their ancestral lands. So while there was initial relief, as the price of essentials soared, news of nepotism and the partisan manner in which Jamaat -e-Islami was being shielded soon made people realise this banana tree would never bear fruit, let alone run a government.
Warrantless arrests by plainsclothes army under the cover of curfew. Dissenting teachers picked up in the middle of the night. Making threats to independent channels ETV and CSB are hardly the character of a saviour government pledged to the return of democracy. As the behind-the-scene military decides it will now take centre stage. As Bangladeshis realise that a democratically elected autocratic government has simply been replaced by an unelected autocratic one, the tune in the streets is changing.
Symbols of fascist oppression drawn on university road. 21st August 2007. Dhaka Bangladesh © Munem Wasif/DrikNews
Multiple demands of students and teachers have been whittled down to one – withdraw emergency rule. Underground pamphlets are spreading like wildfire. With the Internet down, text messages are filling up the ether. The information adviser’s suave statements to the media faltered as he snapped, “why such a fuss about a slap or two?”
The photograph that was being shown here has been removed on the request of the photographer
“In unprecedented scenes, soldiers in uniform were seen being chased out of the Dhaka university campus by students. In two days, the myth of the army’s omnipotence was all but laid to rest.” BBC. Photographer Anonymous.
The US has declared support for the chief adviser’s statement. What he lacks is the support of the people.
It was nearly twenty years ago when I had written this. After one of my first photojournalistic assignments:
What does one photograph to depict a flood? A submerged house, a boat on a highway, people wading in water?
As we boated through the branches in Jinjira we found a wicker basket in a tree. The family had long since abandoned their home, and their worldly belongings, gathered in that basket, waited patiently for their homecoming.
The worst flood in a hundred years? That statistic is hardly relevant. They, as those before them and after them will always face the floods. How does it matter whether they are 60% starved or 75% starved? How does it matter what country the relief wheat comes from? They themselves are mere statistics to power hungry politicians.
The family still needed to be fed. When I went back the next day to this place in Jinjira, the water had risen another three feet. I never saw her again. 2nd September 1988. Dhaka Bangladesh. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
What is relevant are the feelings that have been kindled, that half kilogram of rice that has been shared, that solitary dry house that has warmly welcomed all who have needed the shelter. That others have shared the pain.
I look back and merely feel the ineffectuality of my images.
Nearly twenty years on, the floods are with us again. They are a part of our natural agricultural cycle. They irrigate the land, replenish the topsoil, remove the toxins. But deforestation in the mountains, illegal constructions, ill planned roads and ill caring leaders make floods take on a violent form. The waters get angry.
This year, when the waters had risen, our adviser advised that it was not yet a calamity. When the waters reached danger levels, the decree came that because of the state of emergency, ‘[political] banners were banned’ so while people struggled for food and shelter, banner rights became the issue. Now as the waters engulf the land and people flounder in need of relief, our adviser advises us ”we don’t have to help the people, they’re going to their relative’s house by themselves”.
Before the floods. People affected by cyclone Akash. Mohishshoiri River. Khulna. 21 May 2007. © Tanvir Ahmed/DrikNews
Woman fishes in the flood waters. 13 June 2007. Comilla Bangladesh. Kalim Shantu/DrikNews
Twenty villages had been affected at the junction of the rivers Ghagot, Brahmaputra and Teesta making numerous people homeless. 31 July 2007. Gaibandha. Bangladesh © Quddus Alam/DrikNews
Woman in search of dry land. 30 July 2007. Sirajgonj Bangladesh © Tanvir Ahmed/DrikNews
Villagers rescuing mother and child. 30 July 2007. Sirajgonj Bangladesh © Tanvir Ahmed/DrikNews
Woman feeding goats in makeshift tent. 30 July 2007. Sirajgonj Bangladesh © Tanvir Ahmed/DrikNews
Diarrheal patients at hospital in Dhaka. 11 August 2007. Dhaka Bangladesh © Munir uz Zaman/DrikNews
Spontaneous relief operations organised by citizen groups. 30 July 2007. Sirajgonj Bangladesh © Tanvir Ahmed/DrikNews
While one third of the country was flooded, people inside the DND (Dhaka Narayanganj Demra) embankment faced the stagnant water cause by rains. 25 July. Narayanganj Bangladesh © Tanvir Ahmed/DrikNews
700,000 people were marooned in Sirajgonj. 64 people had already died when this photograph was taken. 5 August 2007. Sirajgonj Bangladesh © Tanvir Ahmed/DrikNews
Boats are the only means of communication during floods. July 2 2007. Rangpur, Bangladesh. © Ador Rahman/DrikNews
A family looks for shelter using a raft made of banana trees. 31 July 2007. Gaibandha Bangladesh © Quddus Alam/DrikNews
And across the border, viewed from afar:
The Rains Reach Kolkata
When I was just a little boy, I watched the clouds advance
From rooftop high above the streets and bustle of Calcutta.
Up there, I watched the hawks soar high, and saw the palm fronds’ dance,
In wind that blew before the storm, and banged each window shutter.
It was in June, when summer’s heat had risen to its height,
That clouds approached, as though for war, advancing in a line,
Their heads held high, dark wall beneath — a fear-instilling sight,
With lightning streaks, and thunder-growls of warriors divine.
The sparrows, crows and pigeons fled, in haste to get away
And find refuge, as dust was blown from streets by gusts so strong
That palm trees bent, and tossed their heads, and back and forth did sway,
As leaves and clothes, and sailing fronds, with birds were swept along.
Then from the heat, we knew respite, as cool winds did descend
>From belly of the thunderhead, which bore a mist so fine,
With ions, whose electric charge did minds and bodies mend
And lift from summer somnolence like clear celestial wine.
And I would run and scramble down, from perch on highest roof,
To shelter in a doorway, where I still could watch the storm
Without myself being blown away, or struck by lightning hoof,
As racing clouds obscured the sky, like wraiths in equine form.
And then the dark, the greenish gloom, the flash more bright than sun,
The crack so loud it seemed the earth was cloven by the sky,
And pelting rain in slanting sheets, like bullets from a gun,
On roofs of tin, and wooden shades, and roll of thunder high!
And so the chariots of the gods would roll by overhead,
And we could hear the neighs and roars, and see the sparks that flew
As titans battled in the skies, by trumpet blowers led,
And sword of land pierced mail of sea, and blood of rain then drew.
And all the kids would venture out, unheeding of the scolds,
To jump with glee and leap and splash, in dance as old as time,
And yet as freshly bold that day, as in the eons old,
When sea would come to land to fight, and mate, in yearly rhyme.
Babui / Arjun Janah*
2007 August 11th, Sat.
*Arjun has an identity of his own, but for us photographers, he is the son of the legendary Indian photographer Sunil Janah.
Portraits of commitment
Why people become leaders in the AIDS response
Challenges help us find our true selves. They take us on a journey within the depths of who we are, leaving us at a destination we hope is worthy. Some people find themselves at lesser places.
AIDS is one of those challenges.
The South Asians in this book tell how AIDS has made them a better doctor, researcher, legislator, citizen or person. We know AIDS affects our daily life—but because of it we now have more respect for human rights and individual choice where once there was little or none. AIDS has helped us to see who we want to be.
Photographs by Shahidul Alam. Interviews by Karen Emmons. Commissioned by UNAIDS.
A story from Sri Lanka on WAD: Positive & Strong Princey Mangalika on HIV/AIDS
Shilpa Shetty. Actress, Big Brother Winner. Mumbai India. “Being a celebrity has advantages – people hear you. I thought I should make use of this position and speak out.” © Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
Sabina “Putul” Yeasmin, Daughter of a sex worker. Tangail Bangladesh. “I gave wrong information to make others afraid, as I had been. I had to go back and give correct information.” © Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
Dr. Ananda Wijewickrama. Doctor. Colombo Sri Lanka. “I had to do something for the patients …they needed a place to go, to be consoled and, if dying, to die with dignity.” © Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld
An exhibition supporting the book opens at the Barefoot Gallery, in Colombo at 7:00 pm on the 18th August. 704 Galle Rd. Colombo 3.