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Portraits of Commitment

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.

Tuk Tuk in Fort, Colombo

Viewers watching “Portaits of Commitment” at Fort Station in Colombo on the 21st August 2007, as part of ICAAP8. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld

A story from Sri Lanka on WAD: Positive & Strong Princey Mangalika on HIV/AIDS

Reviews: IPS. Daily Mirror


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


Tahir Baig Barlas. Corporate Manager. Karachi Pakistan. “We have the opportunity to do something now before it’s too late. Let’s not be reactive.” © 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


Sapana Pradham-Malla. Advocate. Kathmandu Nepal. “I can’t turn away.” © Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld


Sally Hulugalle. Community Worker. Colombo Sri Lanka. “I want a better deal for those who are voiceless.” © Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld


Rev. Alex Vadakumthala. Priest. New Delhi India. “The church finds its meaning when it responds to the challenges of the times.” © Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld


Rajiv Kafle. Former Drug User. Kathmandu Nepal. “I saw a need and an opportunity where I could step up and really make a difference.” © Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld


Noor jehan Penazai. Partliamentarian. Islamabad Pakistan. “These politicians have to realise it’s a very serious disease and we have to talk about it.” © 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


Arif Jafar and Anis Fatima, MSM and mother. Lucknow India. “I am grateful to Allah he gave such a son to me.” © Shahidul Alam/Drik/MajorityWorld


Habiba Akter. Dhaka Bangladesh. Positive Counsellor.
“I have no choice. If I don’t do it no one will.” © 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.

August 15, 2007 Posted by | Sites of Drik and Pathshala photographers | 4 Comments

Profits versus the Poor

“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

September 4, 2006 Posted by | Sites of Drik and Pathshala photographers | 24 Comments

These strangers are family now



Most people find shelters for senior citizens depressing and avoid visiting them. But working on this photo feature at the Pashupati Bridhashram over the past six months, I have been inexplicably uplifted. I forget the stress of living in Kathmandu and my homesickness for my native Bangladesh. I feel fortunate that I have a family, as many of the senior citizens once had. But what gives me hope is that even though they have lost families and possessions, they still care. They care for each other and they retain a deep sense of humanity. The story of how they landed up here is almost always the same: in their old age they became a burden on their families who dumped them at Pashupati. For the elderly, it’s sometimes a relief that they are in such a holy place and don’t have to bear the taunts of a home where they are no longer welcome. None of them came here willingly and no one has anywhere to go. The Pashupati Bridhashram is run by the government so its budget is limited, it is congested, short-staffed and shows signs of mismanagement. There are 230 residents, 140 of them women.

“Namaste, aram?” That is how Sankule Lati, 77, greets strangers with a namaste and a quick tilt to her head.

Til Kumari Khatri, 71, and Yadongba Tamang, 70, laugh and play like children. Til Kumari has been here since 1998. Her daughter-in-law brought her to the shelter one day and left saying: “I’ll be back soon.” She never came back.

Every morning and evening residents gather for bhajans. Those who can’t walk to the prayer room chant from their own beds.

Dhana Kumari Ranabhat, 99, takes a bath with the help of her husband Dil Bahadhur Ranabhat, 90. The couple is lucky, few here still have their spouses. Dhana Kumari was forced here after her husband died but married Dil Bahadhur, a retired soldier.

Tirtha Maya Thapa, 75 and Man Kumari Thapa, 75, sit and chat. Tirtha Maya was so busy taking care of her parents, she never married. But after they died, her relatives evicted her from her house. Man Kumari’s long lost son came and took her home a few months ago.

Bishnumaya Lati, 72, takes her evening meal with her two favourite dogs in attendance. She lives here with her husband.

Kanchi Khatri cooks food in the shelter. She was the maid servant at the home of an astrologer and when she was no longer able to work nine years ago, her employer brought her here.

Laxmi Thapa, 68, prays to a wall full of pictures of the gods. She doesn’t remember where she was born or her family since she was married very young. Laxmi worked as a domestic all her life. Her alcoholic husband used to beat her up. When she broke her arm, her employer abandoned her so she came here. Now she prays all the time. “I spent all my life helping others,” she says, “now there is no one to help me.”

Dipa Thapa, 75, has two pet cats in the shelter. They are her only friends. She used to sell flowers in Pashupati and when her husband died, she came here.

Ratna Maya Katiwada, 68, has kept to herself since she came here three years ago. No one knows the whereabouts of her family or where she is from.

Shanti Tuladhar recites a poem from her book, Unko Samjhana. She loves poetry and is still writing. Married at 30, her husband was in the army and when he died 12 years ago, she was sent here. Shanti doesn’t like to talk about her son. She reads us her favourite poem:

In my old age
Shanti Tuladhar

My sons have grown up
Huts have turned into high-rises
They’re adding floors one by one
For me, there is just the pyre left

As the house grew taller
We were pushed lower
Lower than the staircase dark and dank
My son has grown up but what has he done?

I became a burden and he brought me here
My family is foreign forever,
These strangers are family now.


to publish these pictures or others from Drik Picture Library, please contact:


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Drik Picture Library Ltd.
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July 2, 2006 Posted by | Sites of Drik and Pathshala photographers | 3 Comments

Brahmaputra Diary


A gentle trickle

A surging river

A gentle plain

A delta

Four long years

Three thousand kilometres


Cormorants, sea gulls

Sparrows at dusk

A flurry of wings

Moody clouds

La brume matinale

Boats bathed in twilight red


Wild blossoms

In narrow paths

A banyan tree

Tall strong shady

A forlorn reed

In amber garb


Bamboo groves

Reaching for the sky

Arching along the water

Coconut palms

Betwixt the land and the sea

A river rests, a delta speaks


Older than the mountains, it is a river that forces its way across

the towering Himalayas. The Tibetans know it as the Yarlung Tsang Po

(the purifier). In India it is known as the Brahmaputra. In

Bangladesh it is also known as the Jamuna, the Padma and finally the

Meghna before it opens into the sea. No one is known to have

traversed the entire run of the river. We take you on this journey,

across the millenium, across three nations, through Buddhism,

Hinduism and Islam. From the icy trickle in the glaciers. Along Pei

in China, where the river narrows into a rapid-filled gorge reaching

phenomenal depths and amazing cascades. Through the crystal clear

waters in Arunachal Pradesh. Across the We take you sailing along

the Brahmaputra.


The Brahmaputra Diary. An exhibition based on my journey along this

majestic Asian river opens at the Sutra Gallery in Kuala Lumpur

tonight (Sunday the 7th September) at 8:00 pm.


Shahidul Alam

Sun Sep 7, 2003

September 7, 2003 Posted by | Sites of Drik and Pathshala photographers | Leave a comment