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Lucifer in Mumbai

Babui / Arjun

2008 November 29th, Sat.
Brooklyn, New York

Mumbai, city of such wealth,
And of such poverty!
Today, the jet-set here have felt
A new anxiety.

And yet, when we have sorted through
The bodies bathed in red,
How many workers will we view
Among the ones now dead?

******

Be it from bombers in the sky,
Or gunmen treading earth,
It is the poorer ones, who die
The most, yet leave no dearth.

And even when he seeks out those
In Oberoi and Taj, *
The gunman, with his bullets, mows
The lowly of the Raj.

The ones, who went from Mumbai slum
To earn their few rupees,
Lie murdered. Who will forward come
To help their families?

Now death unites the ones, who were
By birth and wealth divided.
For just a day, has Lucifer
All privileges voided.

And she, who partied at the clubs,
And swam in bluest pool,
Now lies, and rusting shoulder rubs
With maid, as fires cool.

******

The firemen came, at last, to quench
Those fires that long had raged.
And now, we smell the awful stench
Of corpses that have aged.

Whence came those ones, so zealot eyed,
With guns that spewed out death?
They did not know, the ones who died,
In Mumbai’s horror met.

* The Oberoi and Taj are names of famous hotels in Bombay.
The Taj is in a historic building by the sea-front. The Oberoi is
in a modern one, and is part of a chain, with branches in major
Indian cities as well as elsewhere.
========================================

Unusual interview, on CNN, with the materialistic “guru” and physician, Deepak Chopra, regarding the recent horror in Mumbai (Bombay).

Video CNN – Deepak Chopra on Mumbai Attacks

Video CNN – Farid Zakaria on Mumbai Attacks

Tariq Ali in Counter Punch on Mumbai Attacks

Bangladesh Open Source Intelligence Monitors

Stills and videos from Mumbai

November 29, 2008 Posted by | Global Issues | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Home and the architecture of occupation

Rahnuma Ahmed

Homes, sweet homes

WHAT does home mean for Palestinians driven away from their land in recurring waves of Israeli onslaught — 1948, 1949 to 1956, and again in 1967, due to the six-day war? What does home mean for first generation Palestinian refugees, and for their descendants, for people who ‘yearn for Palestine’?

It is a yearning that permeates, in the words of David McDowall, the ‘whole refugee community’, one that stretches from 986,034 in the Gaza Strip, 699,817 in the West Bank, 1,827,877 in Jordan, 404,170 in Lebanon and 432,048 in Syria (2005 figures). What does home — something that ‘exists only in the imagination’ — mean for Palestinians who are subject to Israel’s ongoing colonisation of Palestine?

‘What, for you, is home?’ ‘How would you represent it?’ ‘How would you represent it if you were to take one single photograph?’ Florence Aigner, a Belgian photographer, put these three questions to Palestinian refugees living in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. She gave them time to think and returned with her camera and notebook the next day to take two photographs: a portrait of the person, and a representation of what home meant for that person, both visually, and through words. Personal narratives are often lost in collective narratives, and Aigner says she wanted to explore both diversity and particularity through the experiences of daily living. Her approach, she says, allows her to create a dialogue between the person and her or his idea of a home, between the photograph and the photographer, and also, between photography and writing. And thus we find images of home in exile interspersed with images of home in Palestine, images where one home is often projected on the other. These images form her exhibition, Homes, sweet homes.

I had always felt homeless, says Eman, and had refused to cook, `to practise home’. But now, even though our house in Ramallah is temporary, I have started to cook, cooking for me is ‘an act of love’. For Oum Mahmoud, home is her husband who was killed in a Mossad air attack. Her house in Ramallah was destroyed in a recent Israeli missile attack, the new flat has ‘no memories’, ‘no furniture’, it is like living in a hotel. For Wisam Suleiman, home is orange trees and lemon trees, and the faces of martyrs who have given their lives to assert their right to return. The way home, says Suleiman, is ‘sweeter than home itself’. For Abu Majdi, forced to flee in 1948, home is the ‘key of our house in Jerusalem.’

———————————————————————

Photographs and interviews by Florence Aigner

Iman Florence Aigner

Eman from Jerusalem. She lives in Ramallah, West Bank. © Florence Aigner

Being on the margin, following my own footsteps, I always felt homeless. It made me develop a sense of rejection mainly for the kitchen, the heart of practising home. So I refused psychologically and practically to cook.

Last year, I had to move with my husband and our two children to Ramallah when passing back and forth between Ramallah and Jerusalem became an Odyssey trip due to the Calandia checkpoint and the harsh siege imposed on the city. Our house in Ramallah is temporary, I started to cook and feel good about it, cooking became an act of love I dedicate to my family. Is this home?

Oum Mahmoud from Hebron. She lives in Ramallah, West Bank.

Oum Mahmoud from Hebron. She lives in Ramallah, West Bank. © Florence Aigner

My home is my husband. I have only a few photos of him left. He was killed during an air attack by Mossad on the office of the PLO in Tunis in 1986. In the 90’s I could return to Palestine with the Palestinian Authority. Since then I live in Ramallah.

I have recently lost everything, my house burned when an Israeli missile hit it. I could only rescue some books and photos from the flames. Now I live in a new flat, but I have no memories or furniture left. I buy little by little some stuff to furnish it. I have the feeling to live in a hotel.

Wisam Suleiman, from Haifa. He lives in the refugee camp.

Wisam Suleiman, from Haifa. He lives in the refugee camp. © Florence Aigner

When I hear the word ‘home’ orange trees and lemon trees come to my mind as well as faces of hundreds of martyrs who have given their life for the right of return. For me, the way of return has to go through education, education, education…and books.

As Palestinian refugees we have to prepare the new generation to return to Palestine in a human way. We have to carry our culture and science with us, and work hard. The way home is more beautiful than home itself.

Abu Majid

Abu Majdi, from Malha. He lives in Beit Jala in the West Bank. © Florence Aigner

My home is my house in Malha near Jerusalem that we had to flee in 1948. I hope to return there one day, but I am not very optimistic, because Israel wants a land without its inhabitants. Sometimes I don’t understand anything. Before 1948 we had Jewish friends, we were living together. In 1948 we had to leave everything behind and we became refugees in Aida camp, Bethlehem.

An Iraqi Jewish family, the Rajwan moved then into our house in Jerusalem. We were friends and were giving gifts to each other. We saw them until 1967. I remember the grandfather used to say that he wanted to return to Iraq and to give us back our house. He said that they were keeping it for the day we could return. Eventually the old man died without having been able to return to Iraq. Me, I have kept the keys of our house in Jerusalem all my life.

————————————————————————————–

The architecture of occupation

Migron in occupied West Bank is a fully-fledged illegal settlement of Israelis, comprising 60 trailers on a hilltop that overlooks Palestinian lands below. In 1999, several Israeli settlers complained to the mobile phone company Orange about a bend in the road from Jerusalem to their settlements that caused disruption to their phone service. The company agreed to put up an antenna on a hill situated above the bend. The hill was owned by Palestinian farmers, but their permission was not required since mobile phone reception is a ‘security’ issue. Mast construction began, while other companies agreed to supply electricity and water to the construction site on the hill. In May 2001, an Israeli security guard, soon followed by his wife and children, moved to the site and connected his cabin to the main water and electricity supply. Less than a year later, five other families joined him. This is how the settler outpost of Migron was created. Soon, the Israeli ministry for construction and housing helped build a nursery, while a synagogue was built from donations from abroad.

The Migron settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The Migron settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. © Milutin Labudovic/Peace Now

Eyal Weizman, dissident Israeli architect and architectural theorist of the relationships and exchanges between architectural and military planning, documents the processes of illegal Israeli settlement — in his words, ‘a civilian occupation’. His book Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation provides a detailed and exact account of ‘how occupation works in practice’. Weizman had, at the invitation of the Palestinian authority, also been involved in planning houses for Palestinians, in re-using settlements after the Israeli evacuation of August 2005. What is to be done with settlements after evacuation? Are they to be abandoned, reused, converted, or recycled? The Palestinians, he says, had rejected these single family homes as suburbs. After intense discussions, it was finally agreed that the evacuated shells of settlement would be spatialised into a set of public institutions: an agricultural university, a cultural centre, a clinic for the Red Cross, etc. But the project of re-using the illegal settlements collapsed after the Israelis destroyed them.

Settlement planning and building of the Israelis, says Weizman, emerges out of ‘organisational chaos’. The very nature of Israeli occupation is one of ‘uncoordinated coordination’ where the government allows ‘degrees of freedom’ to rough elements, to a whole host of actors — Israeli settlers, mobile phone companies, utility firms, state institutions, the army, etc — and then denies its involvement. Micro-processes, such as that of an Israeli civilian moving a cabin to an illegal site, settling down, home-building, foreign donations pouring in to build a synagogue become wheels in larger processes of occupation of Palestinian lands. In the Israeli government’s colonial policies.

And as these occur, home-building for Palestinians — even in the sixtieth year of their mass exodus — remains something that exists ‘only in the imagination’.

November 29, 2008 Posted by | Global Issues, Rahnuma Ahmed | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Violence against Women and Girls: Breaking Taboos

rahnuma ahmed

She jumped down from the police van and tried to escape. It stopped, they hunted her down by torchlight, dragged her back and drove off. Men, gathered around the tea stall, wondered why the car had stopped. Curious, they walked up to the spot. A golden coloured sandal, a handkerchief, and broken bits of bangle lay there.

Yasmin: raped and murdered by the police

She was only fourteen years old, her death was brutal. Gang-raped by policemen, and later, killed. Yasmin, a domestic wage worker, employed in a Dhaka city middle class home, longed to see her mother. Leaving her employers home unannounced, she caught the bus to Dinajpur, got down at Doshmile bus stoppage, hours before dawn on 24 August 1995. A police patrol van driving by insisted on picking her up. Yasmin hesitated. One of the police constables barked at those gathered around the tea stall, We are law-enforcers, we will drop her home safely. Don’t you have any faith in us?

Hours later, a young boy discovered her bloodied dead body, off the main road. The police who came to investigate stripped her naked. Bystanders were outraged. Recording it as an unidentified death, they handed over her body to Anjuman-e-Mafidul Islam for burial.

The dead girl was the same girl who had been picked up by the police van, when this news had spread, a handful of people took out a procession. In response, the police authorities held a press conference where a couple of prostitutes turned up and claimed that the dead girl Banu, was one of them, she had been missing. District-level administration and local influentials joined in the police’s attempts to cover up.

Spontaneous processions and rallies took place demanding that the police be tried. Yasmin’s mother recognised her daughter from a newspaper photo, lifeless as she lay strewn in an open three-wheeled van. As a peoples movement emerged, police action, yet again, was brutal. Lathi-charge, followed by firing, killed seven people. Public outrage swelled. Roadblocks were set up, curfew was defied, police stations were beseiged, arrested processionists were freed from police lock-ups by members of the public. Outrage focused on police superintendent Abdul Mottaleb, district commissioner Jabbar Farook, and member of parliament Khurshid Jahan (‘chocolate apa’), the-then prime minister Khaleda Zia’s sister, perceived to be central figures in the cover-up. Shommilito Nari Shomaj, a large alliance of women’s organisations, political, cultural and human rights activists joined the people of Dinajpur, as Justice for Yasmin turned into a nationwide movement.

In 1997, the three policemen, Moinul Hoque, Abdus Sattar and Amrita Lal were found guilty. In 2004, they were executed.

Yasmin of Dinajpur is, for us, an icon symbolising female vulnerability, and resistance, both her own (she had tried to escape), and that of people, both Dinajpur and nationwide. She serves as a constant reminder that the police force, idealised in state imaginings as protector of life and property should not be taken for granted, that women need to test this each day, on every single occasion.

In the nation’s recent history of popular struggles, Yasmin’s death helped to characterise the police force as a masculine institution, it gave new meanings to the Bangla proverb, `jey rokkhok shei bhokkhok,’ he who claims to protect women, is the usurper, the aggressor. A taboo, sanctioned by state powers, was broken.

Bidisha in remand: sexual abuse

`Go and get a shard of ice. Insert it. It will all come out.’

In her autobiography, Bidisha, second wife of ex-President Hussain Mohd Ershad, later-divorced, writes, I wondered, what will they do with that? Insert it where? (Shotrur Shonge Shohobash, 2008).

Under the influence of what she assumes was a truth serum, injected during remand at a Joint interrogation cell housed in Baridhara, Bidisha writes, the pain was unbearable. A horrible burning sensation coursed through my body, my eyes threatened to burst out of their sockets. If I opened them, it felt like chilli powder had been rubbed in. If I closed them, balls of fire encircled my pupils. My breathing grew heavy. I felt like I was dying, but I couldn’t, I was falling asleep, but I couldn’t. My tongue grew thick. I wanted to say everything that I knew, and things that I didn’t. Questions flew at me from all directions, some of them pounded me from inside my head.

But, Bidisha writes, I stuck to what she knew. I stuck to the truth. Her interrogators got tired. One of them ordered the ice, and ordered someone to leave the room. Was it the policewomen, Bidisha wonders. A strong pair of hands gripped her shoulders, another climbed up her legs, up her thighs, ‘like a snake.’ But they stopped, disappointed. `I don’t think we can do it. She’s bleeding.’

She writes, but my periods had ended days earlier, why should there be blood? I remembered, it must be the beatings at the Gulshan police station, by the officer-in-charge Noore Alam. She was pushed and as she fell, someone grabbed hold of her orna. Pulled and pushed, her orna soon turned into a noose, she could no longer breathe, her tongue jutted out. She was hit hard with a stick on her lower abdomen, through the daze she could see that he was uniformed. I fell on the floor like a sack. I was barely conscious. I was kicked and trampled with boots on my chest, head, back, and lower abdomen.

During interrogation, the chief interrogator Joshim had repeatedly shouted at her, Do you know who I am? Do you know what I can do to you? Ten-twelve men had been present when the truth serum was injected. Well-dressed, fashionable clothes, expensive watches. Whiffs of expensive after-shave. Trim hair, cut very short. As she repeatedly stuck to the truth, Joshim threatened to hang her upside down, like Arman, he said, who was being tortured in the next room. She was threatened with rape by members of RAB (Rapid Action Battalion). During another round her left thumbnail was prised open and torn away, by something like a pair of pliers. They held my eyelids open so that I could see. Relief came only when the call for prayers sounded, since the men scurried away to pray.

Interrogation sessions were video-recorded, each interrogator had an audio recorder. I remember hearing, be sure to get all the details on camera. I remember someone adding, Who’ll think she’s had three kids? What a figure! The cassette’ll make him happy. Make who happy? she wonders. Toward the end of the three-day remand, one of the men entered and said, It’s over. I’ve talked. To who? asked one of the interrogators. One of the Bhaban men. (I presume, Bidisha means Hawa Bhaban). She was forced to declare on camera that she had not been tortured, to sign written declarations, and also blank sheets of paper.

She was in custody for 23 days in June 2005, because of two cases filed by her husband, and two by the government. What were the allegations? Her husband, the ex-President, first accused her of stealing his cell phone, money from his wallet, and vandalising household furniture. Then she was accused of having different birth dates on two different passports. And lastly, of having stashed away large amounts of money in foreign bank accounts.

Interested quarters tried to make light of the incident, they said, it was a ‘purely family affair.’ Those in the political know, for instance Kazi Zafarullah, Awami League presidium member, claimed that the ruling BNP had masterminded the event to prevent Ershad from forging unity with opposition political parties since elections were due next year (New Age, 6 June 2005). I was repeatedly asked during interrogation, writes Bidisha, why had I said that the Jatiya Party should form an alliance with the Awami League? Why not with the BNP? (`because they were unable to govern properly, people were furious, Jatiya Party popularity was bound to fall’). Bidisha was expelled from Jatiya party membership, she lost her post of presidium member.

Parliamentary elections under the present military-backed caretaker government are scheduled to be held in December 2008. Jatiya Party (JP) has joined Awami League (AL) led grand alliance for contesting the elections. According to newspaper reports, Ershad is eyeing the presidency.

Pahari women: rape under occupation

Even after the signing of the 1997 Peace Treaty between the government and the PCJSS (Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti), the Chittagong Hill Tracts remains one of the most militarised regions of the world. During the period of armed conflict, according to international human rights reports, sexual violence was inflicted on indigenous women and their communities as part of military strategy. Bangladesh Army personnel have been accused by paharis of having committed extrajudicial killings, rape, torture and abduction. In August 2003, over 300 houses in 7 pahari villages of Mahalcchari were razed to the ground by the army, aided by Bengali settlers. Paharis claim, ten Chakma women were raped, some of them gang-raped. This includes a mother and her two daughters, aged 12 and 15, and two daughters of another family, aged 14 and 16 years. Victims allege, armed personnel alongwith Bengali settlers took part in the rapes. Paharis claim, state-sponsored political and sexual violence still continues.

There is no public evidence that the Bangladesh army has investigated those claims in any way. Nor do we know if the Bangladesh army has charged any soldier as a result of the alleged assaults. Nor is there any public evidence that any military personnel has been punished for any of the alleged rapes.

Tomorrow, November 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. We need to break more state sanctioned taboos.

November 24, 2008 Posted by | Bangladesh, governance, Rahnuma Ahmed | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Jamaat’s farce unravels

rahnuma ahmed

A national convention of freedom fighters organised by supporters and activists of Jamaat-e-Islami and its students’ wing Islami Chhatra Shibir. An outright appropriation. The only problem is, Mohammad Ali saw through it. A single glance told him the truth. And, as Jamaat’s pack of cards came crashing down, the reaction was instant. It was violent. This, for me, was the second moment of truth. It testifies to Jamaat’s unchanged character, violence, an inability to engage with history, and to confront truth,
writes

Be what you would seem to be – or, if you’d like it put more simply – Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.

The Duchess, in Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865

IT WAS to be a convention of freedom fighters, his neighbour had told him. They had both fought against the genocidal onslaught unleashed by the Pakistan army in 1971.

On Friday, a weekly holiday morning, veteran freedom fighter Sheikh Mohammad Ali Aman had gone to the Diploma Engineers Institute in Dhaka. He had peeked into the auditorium. He had expected to see familiar faces, to hear cherished stories of loss and courage. Of a victory achieved, of justice denied. Of betrayals. Of trying the collaborators – the local accomplices of Pakistan army’s genocidal campaign – to right the wrongs, at least some. There were collaborators thought to be guilty of committing war crimes, but they had gone scot-free. Their political rehabilitation and brazenness in the last three and a half decades was like a wound that festers. Yet another brazen act, yet another shameless lie brings the pus to the surface. It keeps oozing out. Again, and again.

He was puzzled at the faces that he saw. None of the Sector Commanders were present. No familiar faces, faces that symbolise for him the spirit of the struggle, the spirit of the nine-month long people’s war. Mohammad Ali is a man of modest means, he earns a living by painting houses and buildings in Badda, Dhaka. Unable to recognise any of the imposing figures present inside the auditorium – ex-chief justice Syed JR Mudassir Hossain who was chief guest, energy adviser to the previous government Mahmudur Rahman, ex-director general of the Bangladesh Rifles Major General (retd) Fazlur Rahman, Wing Commander (retd) Hamidullah Khan, ex-director general of the Bangladesh Press Institute Rezwan Siddiqui, who was the special guest, New Nation editor Mostofa Kamal Mojumdar, general secretary of the Federal Union of Journalists Ruhul Amin Gazi, journalist Amanullah Kabir – he felt alarmed. And left. One can hardly blame him.

`So I went and sat on the lawn,’ Mohammad Ali said in an interview given later. ‘I saw some people come out, I heard them say, we don’t want to be part of a meeting that demands the trial of Sector Commanders. An ETV reporter came up to me and asked, are you a freedom fighter? Yes, I replied. I belonged to Sector 11, First Bengal Regiment, D Company, led by Colonel Taher. What about the trial of war criminals, what do you think? I said, I think that those who had opposed the birth of the nation, those who had committed rape, razed localities to the ground, murdered intellectuals, they are war criminals. They should be tried. Those who were chairman and members of the Peace Committees, they belong to Jamaat, and to the present Progressive Democratic Party. They should be tried, they should be hung. I think this is something that can be done only by the present government, a non-party government’ (Samakal, July 13).

‘Who cares for you?’ said Alice (she had grown to her full size by this time). ‘You’re nothing but a pack of cards!’

At this the whole pack rose up into the air, and came flying down upon her…

They swooped down on Mohammad Ali. He was kicked and locked in a room for three hours. Before his release, his voter ID card was photocopied. ‘I do not wish to say what they did to me. It will bring dishonour to the freedom fighters,’ was all he said of his ordeal. ETV reporter Sajed Romel, also made captive, was released an hour later, after his colleagues rushed to his rescue. The camera crew, fortunately, had escaped earlier, with its recorded film intact.

Engineer Abdur Rob, a vice-president of Jatiya Muktijoddha Parishad – the organisers of this farce – was asked why a veteran freedom fighter and an electronic media journalist had been locked up. He replied, ‘Impossible. Such a thing could not have happened.’ Prothom Alo’s reporter was persistent, it was filmed. We have it. ‘Well then,’ came the immediate reply, ‘it was an act of sabotage. Our people could never have done such a thing.’

New lies. Emergency lies

Soon enough, press releases were handed out by Jatiya Muktijoddha Parishad detailing the sabotage story: Prothom Alo, Samakal, Jugantor, Inquilab, and Daily Star were guilty of spreading lies. Some persons had come to the national convention without any delegate cards, they had tried to barge in, JMP volunteers had wanted to see their invitation cards, their responses had been unsatisfactory. Instead of covering the main event, the ETV news crew had shot something else, it was staged by hired people and instigated by yellow journalists. These acts, deliberate and pre-planned, were aimed at wrecking the convention. They had failed. Jatiya Muktijoddha Parishad is an authentic organisation of freedom fighters. It is not affiliated to any political party. The liberation struggle is above party affiliation. Journalists are demeaning the honour of freedom fighters by propagating lies. They are creating disunity.

A later press release added more details: no one by the name of Mohammad Ali had been invited to the national convention of Freedom Fighters. The ETV’s interest in interviewing him proves that it was staged, it was a conspiracy aimed at foiling the convention. Politicians are attempting to capitalise on the incident. The JMP calls on all freedom fighters to stay united (Naya Diganta, 13, 15 July).

Newspaper reports, however, provide concrete details. Jatiya Muktijoddha Parishad was formed on January 26 this year. After the Sector Commanders Forum had demanded the trial of war criminals. The JMP’s office is located in a room rented out by an organisation headed by ATM Sirajul Huq, ex-amir, Paltan thana, Jamaat. It is not registered with the liberation war ministry. This, according to legal experts, makes it illegal. Three high-ranking members of the Parishad claim that they had fought in 1971. These claims are false. Muktijoddha commanders of the respective areas do not know them. Executive committee members of the Parishad include men who contested parliamentary elections on behalf of Jamaat-e-Islami. Vice-president Engineer Abdur Rob had admitted to journalists, yes, the Parishad did receive ‘donations’ from Jamaat-e-Islami.

The story about Jamaat’s role in the liberation struggle, the liberation struggle itself, whether it was genocidal or not, whether war crimes should be tried or not, who was on which side, is an evolving one. What interests me particularly is how Emergency rule, and its raison d’etre of removing corruption and corrupt political practices for good, has impacted on Jamaat’s story. On its warped sense of history. Last October, as Jamaat’s secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid was leaving the Election Commission after talks on electoral reforms, he was asked about the growing demand for declaring anti-liberation forces, and war criminals, disqualified from contesting in the national elections. He had replied, the charges against Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh are ‘false’, and ‘ill-motivated’. There are no war criminals in the country. He had added, ‘In fact, anti-liberation forces never even existed.’ A day later, in an ETV talk show (26.10.2007) Jamaat-sympathiser and former Islami Bank chairman Shah Abdul Hannan had said, there was no genocide in 1971. Only a civil war.

And now this. A national convention of freedom fighters organised by supporters and activists of Jamaat-e-Islami and its students’ wing Islami Chhatra Shibir. An outright appropriation.

The only problem is, Mohammad Ali saw through it. A single glance told him the truth. And, as Jamaat’s pack of cards came crashing down, the reaction was instant. It was violent. This, for me, was the second moment of truth. It testifies to Jamaat’s unchanged character, violence, an inability to engage with history, and to confront truth.

Old truths

Historical research which includes newspaper reports, speeches and statements made by those accused of war crimes, attests to the fact that Mujahid, as president of East Pakistan Islami Chhatra Sangha, and as chief of the Al-Badr Bahini, collaborated with the Pakistan army in conducting massacres, looting and rape. Also, that he had led the killings of renowned academics, writers and poets, doctors, engineers, and journalists, which occurred two days before victory was declared on December 16. Senior Jamaat leaders Abdus Sobhan, Maulana Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, Abdul Kader Molla and Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, who accompanied Jamaat’s secretary general to the Election Commission for talks on electoral reforms last October, are also alleged to have committed war crimes. According to the People’s Enquiry Commission formed in 1993, Jamaat’s amir Matiur Rahman Nizami, as commander-in-chief of Al-Badr, is also guilty of having committed war crimes.

Who needs Jamaat?

Both the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party had accepted Jamaat as an ally during the anti-Ershad movement. After the national elections of 1990, Jamaat support had ensured the BNP its majority in the fifth parliament. The Awami League, which claims to have led the liberation struggle, joined forces with Jamaat to help oppose and oust the sixth parliament. In the seventh parliament, the Awami League inducted at least one identified war collaborator in the cabinet. And, in the eighth parliament, the BNP paid the ultimate tribute by forming government with Jamaat as a coalition partner.

But what about now? That this government, the Fakhruddin-led, military-controlled government, is giving Jamaat-e-Islami a kid gloves treatment has not escaped unnoticed. Jamaat’s amir Matiur Rahman Nizami was one of the last top-ranking leaders to be arrested. He was also one of the earliest to be released, that too, on bail. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of party supporters were allowed to gather on the road to cheer his release last week, while the banner of Amra Muktijuddher Shontan activists, who had formed a human chain the next day, to protest against the assault on Muhammad Ali, was seized by the police. The Bangla blogging platform Sachalayatan could no longer be accessed after a strongly worded article on the assault of Muhammad Ali was posted. Was it a coincidence? Or, are the two incidents related? When asked, ABM Habibur Rahman, head of BTCAL internet division, refused to comment. One of the founders, who lives in Malaysia, has confirmed that the blog can be accessed from all other parts of the world.

As the US expands its war on terror, its venomous civilisational crusade of establishing democracies in the Middle East, one notices how Bangladesh has gradually been re-fashioned as a ‘moderately’ Muslim country, in an area considered to be ‘vital to US interests’. Jamaat-e-Islami, in the words of Richard Boucher, US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, is a ‘democratic party’. James F Moriarty, US ambassador to Bangladesh, in his congressional testimony (February 6, 2008), said US interest in Bangladesh revolved around the latter denying space to ‘terrorism’ (mind you, Islamic, not US, not state-sponsored).

Moriarty’s ideas echo Maulana Matiur Rahman Nizami’s. In an interview given last year, Nizami said, Jamaat was important to keep Bangladesh free of militancy and terrorism (Probe, June 27-July 3, 2007). Interesting words coming from a person who had, three years earlier, as amir of the then ruling coalition partner and industries minister, denied the existence of militancy in Bangladesh. Bangla Bhai was the ‘creation of newspapers’, it was ‘Awami League propaganda’.

The US and Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh fashioning a new partnership on war on terror? chorer shakkhi matal, many Bengalis would say. The drunkard provides testimony for the thief.

———–

First published in The New Age on Monday 21st July 2008

July 21, 2008 Posted by | Bangladesh, Rahnuma Ahmed | , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Ghosts

By Ian Buruma

Volume 55, Number 11 · June 26, 2008

The New York Review of Books

Two photographs, taken by digital camera at Abu Ghraib prison, on the night of November 5, 2003. The first picture shows a person in a ragged black poncho-like garment standing precariously on a tiny box. Hairy legs and arms suggest that this person is a man. His head is covered in a pointed black hood, his arms are spread, and his fingertips are attached to wires sticking from the concrete wall behind him. The pose hints at a crucifixion, but the black poncho and hood also suggest a witch or a scarecrow.

The second picture shows a young woman hunched over the corpse of a man. The corpse lies in a half-unzipped black body bag filled with ice cubes wrapped in plastic. His mouth is open; white bandages cover his eyes. The young woman grins widely at the camera. She holds up the thumb of her right hand, encased in a turquoise latex glove.

The photographs look amateurish, a crude mixture of the sinister and lighthearted. When they were published, first in The New Yorker magazine, we were provided with some background to them, but not much. The anonymous man in the first picture had been told that he would die of electric shock if he fell off the box. Hence the wires, which were in fact harmless. Information about the second picture was sketchy, but the woman seemed to be gloating over the man’s death. The bandages suggested serious violence. There were other Abu Ghraib photographs, published widely on the Internet: of terrified Iraqi prisoners, stripped of all their clothes, being assaulted and bitten by dogs (“doggie dancing”); of a naked prisoner on all fours held on a leash by a female American guard; of naked men piled up in a human pyramid; of naked men made to masturbate, or posed as though performing oral sex; of naked men wearing women’s panties on their heads, handcuffed to the bars of their cells; of naked men used as punching bags; and so on.

The photographs evoked an atmosphere of giddy brutality. The reputation of the United States, already tarnished by a bungled war, hit a new low. But interpretations of the photographs, exactly what they told us, varied according to the observer. After he was criticized for failing to apologize, President Bush said in a public statement that he was “sorry for the humiliation suffered by the Iraqi prisoners, and the humiliation suffered by their families.” But he felt “equally sorry,” he said, “that people who have been seeing those pictures didn’t understand the true nature and heart of America.” Donald Rumsfeld deplored the fact that the pictures had been shown at all, and then talked about charges of “abuse,” which, he believed, “technically is different from torture.” The word “torture” was carefully avoided by both men. President Bush, confronted much later with questions about a damning Red Cross report about the use of torture by the CIA, spelled out his view: “We don’t torture.”[1]

Susan Sontag, writing in The New York Times Magazine, had a different take on the pictures. She thought the “torture photographs” of Abu Ghraib were typical expressions of a brutalized popular American culture, coarsened by violent pornography, sadistic movies and video games, and a narcissistic compulsion to put every detail of our lives, especially our sexual lives, on record, preferably on public record. To her the Abu Ghraib photos were precisely the true nature and heart of America. She wrote:

Soldiers now pose, thumbs up, before the atrocities they commit, and send the pictures to their buddies. Secrets of private life that, formerly, you would have given anything to conceal, you now clamor to be invited on a television show to reveal. What is illustrated by these photographs is as much the culture of shamelessness as the reigning admiration for unapologetic brutality.[2]


Many liberal-minded people would have shared instinctively not only Sontag’s disgust but also her searing indictment of modern American culture. One of the merits of Errol Morris’s new documentary on the Abu Ghraib photographs, and even more of the excellent book written by Philip Gourevitch in cooperation with Morris, is that they complicate matters. What we think we see in the pictures may not be quite right. The pictures don’t show the whole story. They may even conceal more than they reveal. By interviewing most of the people who were involved in the photographic sessions, delving into their lives, their motives, their feelings, and their views, then and now, the authors assemble a picture of Abu Ghraib, the implications of which are actually more disturbing than Sontag’s cultural critique.

At first no one knew the dead man’s name. He was one of the “ghost prisoners,” brought into the “hard site” of Abu Ghraib by anonymous American interrogators, dressed in black, also known to the MPs as “ghosts.” These ghosts belonged to the OGA, Other Government Agency, which usually meant the CIA. Ghost prisoners were not formally registered before their interrogation in shower cubicles or other secluded parts of the prison. They disappeared as swiftly as they came, after the ghost interrogators were done with them. All that the MPs heard of their presence were screams in the night. If the Red Cross visited, the ghost prisoners were to be hidden away.

The man who would soon die arrived in the night before the photographs published in The New Yorker were taken, with a sandbag over his head, and nothing but a T-shirt on. MPs were told to shackle his hands to a window behind his back in “a Palestinian hanging position” (a technique allegedly used but certainly not invented by the Israelis). The man was breathing heavily. Then the MPs were dismissed. An hour or so later, they were called back in to help. The prisoner was no longer responding to questions. They hung him higher and higher, until his arms seemed at breaking point. Still no response. A splash of cold water. His hood was lifted. The MPs noticed that his face had been reduced to a bloody pulp. He had been dead for some time. The ghosts quickly left the scene. Medics were called in to clean up the mess, bandages were put over his puffed-up eyes, and the corpse was zipped into an ice-filled body bag and left in a shower room until it could be removed. The officer in charge of the MPs at Abu Ghraib, Captain Christopher Brinson, declared that the man had died of a heart attack.

Meanwhile, in the same prison block, another torment was taking place. Another nameless prisoner had been brought in, suspected of having killed an agent from the US Army’s Criminal Investigative Division (CID). He refused to divulge his name, so he was handed over to Specialist Charles “Chuck” Graner, an army reservist. Graner, a hulking mustachioed figure, seen laughing at the misery of Iraqi prisoners in many Abu Ghraib pictures, was not trained as an interrogator; nor did he have more than the vaguest idea of the rules and conventions that are supposed to guide interrogations. A corrections officer in civilian life, Graner enjoyed a “bad boy” reputation, with a taste for sinister pranks and an eye for the girls. He should never have been put in charge of terror suspects. He did not even have the security clearance to be a military policeman with custody over prisoners.

Nonetheless, Graner was put in charge of the nameless prisoner and told by CID agent Ricardo Romero to “make his life a living hell for the next three days and find out his name.” Graner did his best, aided by Sergeant Ivan Frederick and other members of their Maryland reserve unit who happened to be around and were equally untrained in interrogation work. The prisoner was stripped of his clothes, yelled at, made to crawl on the floor, deprived of sleep, forced to stand on a tiny box, hooked up to wires sticking from the wall and told he would die if he so much as moved. This last game lasted for about fifteen minutes, long enough for Graner to take his photographs.

Morris didn’t manage to interview Graner. He is still in a military prison. But other witnesses of what happened that night, such as Specialist Sabrina Harman, claim that not much harm was done to the prisoner they nicknamed “Gilligan.” She said that he ended up laughing at the Americans, and actually became a popular guy of sorts, being given the privilege of sweeping up the prison cells. “He was just a funny, funny guy,” she said. “If you were going to take someone home, I definitely would have taken him.”


Sabrina Harman also happens to be the young woman in the second picture, hunched over the corpse. Like Graner, she worked as a guard on the night shift at Abu Ghraib. Harman is described by other interviewees in Morris’s film as a sweet girl who, in the words of Sergeant Hydrue Joyner, “would not hurt a fly. If there’s a fly on the floor and you go to step on it, she will stop you.” The reason she joined the army was to pay for college. Her dream was to be a cop, like her father and brother. Not just a cop, but a forensic photographer. She loved taking pictures, with a special interest in death and decay. Another prison colleague, Sergeant Javal Davis, said: “She would not let you step on an ant. But if it dies, she’d want to know how it died.”

So when water started seeping out of the locked shower cell, and she and Graner uncovered the dead man in his body bag, her first instinct was to take pictures. She told Morris and Gourevitch that she

kind of realized right away that there was no way he died of a heart attack, because of all the cuts and blood coming out of his nose. You don’t think your commander’s going to lie to you about something. It made my trust go down, that’s for sure.

This is when Graner asked her to pose with the body. Harman adopted the pose she always did in photos, with her friends, with prisoners, in the morgue, and now in the shower: she grinned and stuck her thumb up.

Later, she returned to the same place alone, curious to find out more. She took off the gauze over the dead man’s eyes and “just started taking photos of everything I saw that was wrong, every little bruise and cut.” She realized how badly the man had been beaten up:

It looked like somebody had either butt-stocked him or really got him good, or hit him against the wall…. I just wanted to document everything I saw. That was the reason I took photos. It was to prove to pretty much anybody who looked at this guy, Hey, I was just lied to. This guy did not die of a heart attack. Look at all these other existing injuries that they tried to cover up.

In her interview with Morris, Harman looks rather impressive: intelligent, articulate, plausible. The interviews are actually more like monologues, for with rare exceptions Morris’s questions are never heard. His genius is to get people to talk, and talk, and talk, whether it is Robert McNamara in The Fog of War or Sabrina Harman in Standard Operating Procedure. The fact that he paid some of his interviewees for their time has been held against Morris by some critics. It seems of little importance. There is no reason to believe that cash changed their stories. If only the film had stuck to the interviews. Alas, they are spliced together with gimmicky visual reenactments of the scenes described in words, which take away from the stark air of authenticity. But perhaps that is Morris’s point. Authenticity is always elusive. Nothing can be totally trusted, not words, and certainly not images, so you might as well reimagine them.

But I think we are meant to believe that Harman is telling the truth. Her letters from Abu Ghraib to her lesbian partner, Kelly, suggest as much. On October 20, 2003, she wrote about a prisoner nicknamed “the taxicab driver,” naked, handcuffed backward to the bars of his cell, with his underwear over his face:

He looked like Jesus Christ. At first I had to laugh so I went on and grabbed the camera and took a picture. One of the guys took my asp and started “poking” at his dick. Again I thought, okay that’s funny then it hit me, that’s a form of molestation. You can’t do that. I took more pictures now to “record” what is going on.


Two pictures, then. The first one, of Gilligan and the electric wires, was analyzed by Brent Pack, a special forensic expert for the CID. After much thought, he concluded:

I see that as somebody that’s being put into a stress position. I’m looking at it and thinking, they don’t look like they’re real electrical wires. Standard operating procedure—that’s all it is.

He was technically right. A memo drawn up by the Pentagon’s general counsel, William J. Haynes, on November 27, 2002, recommending authorization of interrogation techniques in Category II—which included humiliation, sensory deprivation, and stress positions—was formally approved by the secretary of defense. Donald Rumsfeld even scribbled his famous quip at the bottom of this memo, stating: “However, I stand for 8–10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours? D.R.”[3]

And yet this picture, more than any other, including the ones featuring attack dogs and wounded naked bodies, became the most notorious, an icon of American barbarism, the torture picture par excellence, perhaps because, as Gourevitch writes, it left so much to the imagination. That, and its evocation of the crucifixion, Christ at Abu Ghraib. And Sabrina Harman? She was sentenced to six months in prison, a reduction in rank to private, a forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and a bad conduct discharge. None of the men who were responsible for her subject’s death were ever prosecuted. No one above the rank of sergeant was even tried. As Morris said in an interview to promote his film, Harman and her friends caught in the photographs

were punished for embarrassing the military, for embarrassing the administration. One central irony: Sabrina Harman was threatened with prosecution for taking pictures of a man who had been killed by the CIA. She had nothing whatsoever to do with the killing, she merely photographed the corpse. But without her photographs we would know nothing of this crime.

It was just another death of a ghost delivered by ghosts.

2.

Morris has been faulted for not pointing his finger more directly at people more senior than Harman, Graner, Frederick, or Lynndie England, Graner’s girlfriend at the time, who held the naked prisoner on a leash. But this is missing the point of the film. For it is not about Washington politics or administration lawyers, or at least not directly, but about a particular kind of concealment, the way photographs which seem to tell one story actually turn out to hide a much bigger story. Compared to what was really happening at Abu Ghraib, where men were tortured to death in hidden cells, where children were incarcerated with thousands of other prisoners, most of them blameless civilians, exposed to daily mortar attacks, living in unspeakable conditions of filth and squalor, where there was no way out even for men who had been declared innocent, where unarmed prisoners were shot dead by nervous guards—compared to all that, the photograph of Gilligan was just fun and games.

The first thing human beings do when the unspeakable becomes standard operating procedure is to change the words. Even the Nazis, who never seemed to have been unduly bothered by what they did, invented new words, usually of a cold bureaucratic nature, to conceal their crimes: “special treatment” and so on. In public, the US policy toward “security detainees” or “unlawful combatants,” to whom, according to White House and Pentagon lawyers, the Geneva Conventions did not apply, was couched in the kind of language favored by Vice President Dick Cheney: “We need to make certain that we have not tied the hands, if you will, of our intelligence communities in terms of accomplishing their mission.”

The phrase “the gloves are coming off” gained currency. As in an e-mail, quoted by Gourevitch, sent to MI unit commanders in Iraq by Captain William Ponce of the Human Intelligence Effects Coordination Cell: “The gloves are coming off gentlemen regarding these detainees. Col. Boltz”— Colonel Steven Boltz, the deputy MI commander in Iraq—”has made it clear that we want these individuals broken.” The likes of Harman, Graner, England, and Frederick were at the very bottom of the chain of command. They were told to “soften up” the prisoners, to make their lives hell. They should “treat the prisoners like dogs,” in the words of Major General Geoffrey Miller, commander of the prison and interrogation camp at Guantánamo Bay. He said this before the photographs were taken, during a visit to Abu Ghraib, where he felt the prisoners were treated too well. His methods, honed at Guantánamo, were soon adopted. One of Morris’s (or Gourevitch’s) more arresting ideas is that the photographs of the treatment meted out to the prisoners are evidence that the people who were ordered to take their gloves off, if you will, had not entirely lost their moral way. Gourevitch writes:

Even as they sank into a routine of depravity, they showed by their picture taking that they did not accept it as normal. They never fully got with the program. Is it not to their credit that they were profoundly demoralized by their service in the netherworld?

Credit is perhaps not the mot juste. Nazis who took pictures of naked women lined up in front of their own mass graves might not have considered the scene quite normal either, but this does not mean that they were not with the program. Heinrich Himmler was well aware that what he was asking from his SS men was not normal. That is why he told them to steel themselves against any feelings of humanity that would hamper them in their necessary task.

That Harman, for one, was often disgusted with what she saw at Abu Ghraib is indeed clear from her letters to her partner, Kelly. And even Graner, the baddest of the bad apples, was apparently taken aback when he was told by “Big Steve” Stefanowicz, a contract civilian interrogator, just how roughly prisoners were to be “broken.” Graner was reminded of 24, the popular television series, starring Kiefer Sutherland, about the necessity of using any means, including torture, to stop terrorists. Graner claims that he told Big Steve: “We don’t do that stuff, that’s all TV stuff.” Graner was surely unaware that 24 had actually been discussed in all seriousness at brainstorming sessions at Guantánamo led by the staff judge advocate, Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver. She recalled the mounting excitement among her male colleagues, including men from the CIA and the DIA, as different interrogation techniques were being bandied about. She told Philippe Sands, author of Torture Team: “You could almost see their dicks getting hard as they got new ideas.”


That was in Guantánamo, where ideas were hatched, noted on legal pads, recorded in memos, debated in air-conditioned offices. Now back to Graner in the filth, noise, and menace of constant violence in Abu Ghraib prison. As the authors point out, there is a kind of pornographic quality to many of the pictures which would indicate that Susan Sontag’s cultural critique was not entirely off beam.

The deliberate use of women, for example, in the humiliation of Arab prisoners is striking. Graner may have asked his girlfriend, Lynndie England, to pose for a picture holding a prisoner on a leash. This might have given him, and possibly her, an erotic frisson. And Sabrina Harman, too, is seen to have been a grinning accomplice in several of Graner’s pranks with naked prisoners. That is why she ended up being convicted. But in fact these games—some clearly staged for the camera as cruel photo-ops—were also part of the program. The women’s panties, the nudity in front of women, the poking of the genitals, the enforced simulation of sexual acts, were all part of the program. Graner was told in writing by his commander, Captain Brinson, that he was “doing a fine job.” He was told: “Continue to perform at this level and it will help us succeed at our overall mission.”

The MPs at Abu Ghraib, as Gourevitch rightly observes, knew little about Middle Eastern culture, but they were given “cultural awareness” training at Fort Lee, before being flown out to Iraq. They were told that sexual humiliation was the most effective way to “soften up” Arab detainees. A person does not have to be corrupted by the popular culture deplored by Susan Sontag to be vulnerable to feelings of pleasure when the sexual humiliation of others is officially sanctioned, even encouraged. Graner’s real sin for the administration was not that he went too far (which, measured by any moral yardstick, of course he did), but that he took pleasure in what should have been a grim job. As Dick Cheney said: “It is a mean, nasty, dangerous, dirty business out there, and we have to operate in that arena.” Hard dicks should have been kept strictly out of sight, under conference tables. But Graner turned the dirty business into his own pornographic fantasies; and what is worse, he recorded them on film, for all the world to see.

Lynndie England played a walk-on part in these fantasies. She loved Graner. She would have done anything he wanted. That was her tragedy. England was sentenced to three years in a military prison for maltreating detainees. “All I did was what I was told to do,” she said, in the oldest defense of men and women landed with the dirty work. “I didn’t make the war. I can’t end the war. I mean, photographs can’t just make or change a war.”

Harman, too, acted out her fantasies, of being a forensic photographer, of recording death. As a result, she made the program public, and forced the president of the greatest power on earth to issue a public apology. As Morris says, in his interview: “Under a different set of circumstances, you could imagine Sabrina winning a Pulitzer Prize for photography.” Instead, she was charged not only with dereliction of duty and maltreatment, but with destroying government property and “altering evidence,” by removing the bandages from the dead man’s eyes. She told Morris: “When he died, they cleaned him all up, and then stuck the bandages on. So it’s not really altering evidence. They had already done that for me.” Since her pictures revealed the truth of this statement, these particular charges were eventually dropped.

Both Morris’s film and the book based on it by Gourevitch are devastating, even without going into detail about the complicity, or indeed responsibility, of top officials in the Bush administration. The photographs embarrassed the United States, to be sure. But for the US government, this embarrassment might have actually helped to keep far greater embarrassments from emerging into public view. Preoccupied by the pornography of Abu Ghraib, we have been distracted from the torturing and the killing that was never recorded on film and from finding out who the actual killers were. Moral condemnation of the bad apples turned out to be a highly useful alibi. By looking like a bunch of gloating thugs, “Chuck” Graner, Ivan Frederick, et al. made the law-yers, bureaucrats, and politicians who made, or rather unmade, the rules—William J. Haynes, Alberto Gonzales, David S. Addington, Jay Bybee, John Yoo, Douglas J. Feith, Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney—look almost respectable.

And Gilligan, by the way, was probably not the man anyone thought he was after all, but an innocent who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Just like up to 90 percent of the men and boys locked up in Abu Ghraib.

June 17, 2008 Posted by | Photography, Photojournalism, Photojournalism issues | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘We want to know’

Kalpana Chakma’s unresolved abduction 20 years on…

Photographs and interviews by Saydia Gulrukh

Kalindikumar Chakma (Kalicharan)
Kalpana’s eldest brother
‘The hill people do not get justice, look at Yasmin, some justice was done, but people of the hills don’t get any justice. It’s been twelve years…The VDP [Village Defence Party] member Nurul Huq, and Saleh came with Lieutenant Ferdous to this house that night. They still strut around. They live in the neighbouring Bengali village. Go there. You will find them. I have told the BDR [Bangladesh Defence Rifles] commanding officer, you say you can’t find him, well, his accomplices are around, why don’t you question them?


Kalpana’s clothes kept in her brother Kalicharan’s home
‘She had a black bag, she took it to Dhaka. I have kept all her things in it. All these years. But the mice have been at it. She had many books… I educated her up to I.Com, I got her admitted to the degree classes, I thought our lives would become a bit better, but no, they came and took her away… I do not know to this day whether she is dead or alive… They should at least tell me that she has died so that we can give dharma, do what religion asks of us. People of all religions have a right to do what should be done.’


Mithun Chakma
Kalpana Chakma’s comrade
‘I was picked up by the army when I was delivering a speech at a PCP rally, on the 6th of August 2004. They took me to Khagrachari camp, blindfolded me, took me to a room, asked me to lie down [on a bench], put up my legs, then they began beating me on the soles of my feet with the butt of a hockey stick. They beat me for a long, long time, they said things like, “What is your name? What do you do?… [Why do] you take up arms? What are your ideals?” Lots of other things, “You do not know that we – the army – have learnt how to torture, we have had training from the US.” They also said other things, “And the Kalpana thing, well we did that, but nothing happened, right?”’


The well in New Lallyaghona village, in front of Kalpana’s house
‘They brought Kalpana and her two brothers to this well, and blindfolded them… I think they pushed them over to that beel [marshes]. They got her to enter the waters, and then shot her… [The next day] villagers scoured the waters all day long with fishing nets. But her dead body was not found.’


Kalpana’s lasting contribution

by Meghna Guhathakurta


Kalpana, a first year graduate student of Baghaichari College, was a conscious, vocal and hardworking activist who fulfilled her role as organising secretary of the Hill Women’s Federation with commitment and resolve. Systematic and pervasive military presence in the hill tracts has made Pahari women more conscious of their rights. This is vividly borne out by what Kalpana writes in her diary, recovered by journalists from her home after her disappearance. Parts of this diary were serially published in the Bengali daily Bhorer Kagoj. Later, it was reprinted along with other writings in an anthology, Kalpana Chakma’s Diary, published by the Hill Women’s Federation (2001).
Kalpana introduces her ‘daily notebook’ through the following lines: ‘Life means struggle and here are some important notes of a life full of struggle.’ In depicting the life of a woman in the CHT, she writes, ‘On the one hand, women face the steam roller of rape, torture, sexual harassment, humiliation and conditions of helplessness inflicted by the military and Bengalis. On the other, they face the curse of social and sexual discrimination and a restricted lifestyle.’ However, Kalpana’s understanding of oppression embraces all women of Bangladesh, ethnic and Bengali. She writes elsewhere: ‘I think that the women of my country are the most oppressed.’ In expressing her yearnings for freedom from oppression she uses a beautiful metaphor: ‘When a caged bird wants to be free, does it mean that she wants freedom for herself alone? Does it also mean that one must necessarily imprison those who are already free? I think it is natural to expect the caged bird to be angry at those who imprisoned her. But if she understands that she has been imprisoned and that the cage is not her rightful place, then she has every right to claim the freedom of the skies!’
Kalpana’s reading of the woman question is a feminist one. Her feminism allows her to look at the woman question in terms of Bengali domination, as well as in terms of sexual politics within her own community. This is striking and unique since in most nationalist or ethnic movements the gender question becomes a subtext to the larger ‘national’ one. Kalpana’s feminism differs sharply from that of her middle-class Bengali sisters. Her struggle, unlike theirs, pitches her to confront military and racial domination in a manner incomprehensible to most privileged Bengalis. ***

Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures: Family, Law and Politics

Brill Academic Publishers, 2005

By Suad Joseph and Afsaneh Najmabadi

IN THE late 1980s conflicts of state versus community were sharply on the rise. In Bangladesh problems over the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) from 1980 led to a series of massacres, plunders and destruction of villages… [this conflict] had historical roots [it] became particularly violent in the 1980s and 1990s…in all these movements women played an important role in conflict resolution.
People in the CHT were antagonistic toward the government of Bangladesh from the time the Kaptai dam was built (1957-62) and thousands of people became homeless. In the early 1970s the whole of CHT was brought under military control. The original inhabitants of the CHT were the Jumma (tribal) people. They were aggrieved not just because of the dam but also because the state had undertaken to change the demographic balance of the region through a policy of settling Bengali Muslim people from the plains in the CHT. The protest of Jumma people brought forth severe counter-insurgency measures leading to extra-judicial killings and massacres by the state. The rebels also formed a military unit called the Shanti Bahini. In all of this the tribal women were targeted; this was dramatically brought to the fore by the abduction of Kalpana Chakma in 1996. While the region was being torn apart the Hill Women’s Federation (HWF), a secular women’s organization was formed in 1989 by women students of the Chittagong University. By 1991 it had become extremely popular…The main aims of these groups were justice for the tribal people of CHT and an end to violence. They were among the strongest voices for peace.



Flashback

by Mithun Chakma


ON THE night of 11 June, 1996… Barely 7/8 hours [later] voting for the seventh National Parliamentary Elections [begin]…at about 1:30am..Mrs. Bandhuni Chakma, Kalpana’s widowed mother got out of bed and opened the door, her whole body was trembling in fear. They came out one by one: Kalpana, her two brothers, Khudiram and Kalicharan, the latter’s wife. The house was surrounded… A soldier flashed a torch on their faces, and Kalicharan recognised Lieutenant Ferdous, who had visited their house a few days back, and two VDP members – Nurul Haque and Salah Ahmed. Amnesty International in an Urgent Action issued on 1st July 1996 wrote: ‘Six or seven security personnel in plainclothes, believed to be from Ugalchari army camp (actually Lieutenant Ferdous was commander of Kojoichari Army camp), are reported to have entered the home of Kalpana Chakma in New Lallyaghona village, Rangamati district in the early hours of 12 June. Kalpana Chakma and two of her brothers were forcibly taken from their home, blindfolded and with their hands tied.’
What happened? The Ain-o-Salish Kendra report [says], They (army) took Khudiram near a lake and told him to step into the lake. As soon as he went in, the order to fire was given. Frightened, Khudiram took shelter in the water. He swam around for some minutes, then rose up and took shelter in a neighbour’s house, he had no clothes on his body. In the meanwhile, armed personnel blindfolded Kalpana and her brother Kalicharan. He heard the firing, ran and managed to escape. While running to save his life he heard two shots being fired, and heard Kalpana screaming. Kalicharan said, ‘They shot at me and when I ran I could hear Kalpana crying out Dah Dah Mare Baja (Brother, brother save me!)…’
A cover-up attempt was made from the very beginning. Initially, the army termed it a ‘love affair’ [between Lieutenant Ferdous and Kalpana Chakma]. However, they backtracked later, and flatly denied their involvement in the abduction. When the issue refused to die down, they launched a vicious disinformation campaign. The Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission in its report Life is Not Ours (update 3) said, an NGO named Bangladesh Human Rights Commission declared at a press conference on 15th August 1996: Kalpana Chakma had been seen in Tripura (India), she herself had plotted her own abduction. Kalpana Chakma’s mother rejected BHRC’s statement and termed it a ‘blatant lie’.
After months of protest and mounting international condemnation, the government constituted a three-member inquiry committee on 7 September 1996, headed by Justice Abdul Jalil. The other members were Sawkat Hossain, Deputy Commissioner of Chittagong and Dr. Anupam Sen, professor of Chittagong University. The committee is reported to have submitted its findings to the Ministry of Home Affairs a couple of years ago, but the government has still not made it public.
Meanwhile, a storm of protests swept the CHT. A general strike was observed in Marishya, the area to which Kalpana belonged. While the Jummas wholeheartedly supported the programme, some Bengali settlers attacked a rally, and shot dead 16-year old Rupon Chakma. The settlers also hacked to death Sukesh Chakma, Monotosh Chakma and Samar Chakma, on their way to Baghaichari bazaar to take part in picketing.
Lieutenant Ferdous, [allegedly] the mastermind behind the kidnapping, is reported to have been promoted to the rank of Major and posted back to Karengatoli army camp, not far from New Lallyaghona, Kalpana Chakma’s village.
Mithun Chakma is general secretary, Democratic Youth Forum. Edited excerpts from http: //jummonet.blogspot.com/2007/06/11th-year-of-kalpana-chakma-abduction.html


Responses to Kalpana’s disappearance


Sonali Chakma

President

Hill Women’s Federation

Kalpana Chakma will always remain a symbol of resistance in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The army’s attempt to silence Jumma women by kidnapping Kalpana in the dead of night has failed and will always fail. She will continue to inspire generations of women activists in the country.
It is regrettable that the inquiry report has not been made public after twelve years of her disappearance. We demand that the report be published without further delay and Lieutenant Ferdous, the [alleged] mastermind, and his accomplices be punished.

Sultana Kamal

Former adviser, caretaker government

Executive Director

Ain O Salish Kendra

Nearly twelve years ago we lost Kalpana Chakma, a person, a co-worker and a human rights activist. Her absence hurts us immeasurably. It evokes feelings of losing a friend, but not only that, it also raises questions about our nation’s conscience. Many of us have tried our best, we have made repeated appeals to the state, but to no avail. We have no reason to believe that effective steps have been taken.
If Kalpana is still alive, we would like her to know that we still remember her, that we look forward to her return. If she is not, if our worst fears are true, that she was murdered after being abducted, we want to stress that if we fail to realise her dreams, we fail to live up to our convictions.

Khaleda Khatoon

Human rights activist

Long live Kalpana, you have given voice to the protests of Pahari women. We need you. We need more women like you. We need leaders like you.
I want to raise two issues: first, a case was registered against Lieutenant Ferdous. Why is that not being revived, does the current government not have any responsibilities in this regard? I say this especially since Devashish Ray as special assistant to the chief adviser is now part and parcel of the government.
Second, the Kalpana Chakma abduction committee report has not yet been released. Since the caretaker government is considering a Right to Information Act, I would like to propose that they begin their journey by making this report public.

Moshrefa Mishu

Convener

Garments Sramik Oikya Forum

On the twelfth anniversary of Kalpana Chakma’s abduction, I demand that the incident be investigated urgently, without any prejudice or fear, so that we can learn what really happened, and that her family be provided security.
I also demand that the army be withdrawn from the Chittagong Hill Tracts and that the hill region be made autonomous. The person(s) who abducted Kalpana must be tried. We must keep Kalpana’s memory alive, and demand that justice be done. We must pay respect to her through re-creating her struggles.
I salute you Kalpana Chakma.

Anu Mohammed

Professor

Department of Economics

Jahangirnagar University

Kalpana Chakma’s abduction urges us to look again at the nature of the Bangladesh state. Kalpana belongs to a group of people fighting against ethnic domination, a group struggling hard to be rid of the army’s suffocating grasp. She has been missing for the last twelve years. An investigation committee was formed but all those accused were successfully hidden from public view. Inequalities, oppression, discrimination continue to exist in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, and so does the struggle.
Kalpana Chakma is a symbol of protest and resistance. She will remain so forever.

Maheen Sultan

Member

Naripokkho

The struggle of the indigenous peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts for the protection of their lands, identity and cultural heritage is an ongoing one. Of the many violations suffered, the disappearance of Kalpana Chakma is one that drew attention of the human rights and women’s rights movement in Bangladesh. Twelve years on, her disappearance is still a puzzle. Demands for an official enquiry, like all other national enquiries, resulted in nothing. It is ironic that while much lip service is paid to good governance and transparency, the public has never been presented with the findings of the enquiry. The lack of transparency is particularly acute in the case of the defence forces. Just as ordinary citizens are in the dark about the defence budget and expenditures, so are we in the dark about the militarisation of the CHT, and whether any actions have been taken against the innumerable wrongs committed against our own peoples, simply because they are not Bengali.
We demand that the present government make the enquiry report public, so that justice can be done.


Kalpana’s letter to Shaikat Dewan


New Lallyaghona
1/4/96

Shaikat Da,
Greetings. I got your letter yesterday. We are in good health. But I feel unsure. Something terrible might happen any moment. I am very worried.
News from here – on 28.2.96 a miscreant called Ishak was taken away. Since then the Bengalis have been wanting to attack the Paharis. In this agitated situation, the third annual conference of Pahari Chhatra Parishad’s branch was successfully held on 7.3.96 (according to its earlier schedule). A nineteen-member Thana Committee has been formed with Purba Ranjan as the President, Dharanimoy, its Secretary, and Prabir, its Organising Secretary. The Baghaicchori branch held a cultural programme for the first time, where the 1988 play Norok was staged.
And [news from] there, Bengali agitation has increased since 11.3.96. They have been holding meetings and processions. Paharis have become fearful, ‘ready to flee’ at any moment. But I was not here. I had gone to Barkal on organisational work. I returned on the 13th and heard the details. Bengalis have forbidden Paharis from entering the bajar area or Bengali neighbourhoods, they have even forbidden Paharis to talk to Bengalis. After this, the work of uniting Paharis began. In other words, resisting attacks in the whole Kassalong area. Guarding at night has begun. On the other hand, Lieutenant Ferdous, the army camp commander of our village, has made false promises to village elders, and held meetings with them. Many other incidents, small in nature, have kept occurring. Especially, since the Bengalis have targetted four of our neighbouring villages including Battala.
In this situation, on the 19th of March, cries were heard all over Kassalong, and that infamous Lieutenant Ferdous came to our New Lallyaghona village and burnt down 9 homes that belonged to 7 families. They beat up the Pahari nightguards most severely. After this, the DC, SP and Communications Committee (JSS) Secretary Mathura Lal Chakma had meetings which calmed the situation somewhat. They were told that if Ishak was not released by the 5th [of April], Bengalis were likely to muddy the waters further. The DC and SP are unable to bring the situation under control. At present, people are fearful of what might happen after the 5th. We are leading uncertain lives.
It is Bengalis who are behind this agitation and this time we have been able to teach them a lesson. Usually, Paharis flee from their villages but now they go to those very places from where you can hear cries. Bengalis, indisciplined as they are, have been taken aback at this unity and are afraid, along with the others. The administration has also witnessed this unity.
The present situation: Baghaicchori is isolated from all other parts. Chakma telephone lines have been cut, Paharis are not given access to other lines. We are not allowed to go to the marketplace. Maybe there will be no postal communication until the situation calms down. Maybe there will be no letters even.
That’s all for now. Lastly, I send you advanced Boishabi greetings.
Yours
KC

PS: I wrote this letter hurriedly. If my sentences are awkward, please correct them.

Shaikat Dewan is a member of Pahari Chhatra Parishad. Source: Kalpana Chakmar Diary, Dhaka: Hill Women’s Federation, 2001, pp. 69-70.


Kalpana Chakma’s political life
1993-1996


1993… Kalpana’s political life began as women’s secretary of Baghaichari Pahari Chhatra Parishad.

March 1993… took on responsibilities of the convening committee, Hill Women’s Federation, Marishya branch.

January 15, 1995… took part in the first central conference of the Hill Women’s Federation, Khagrachari.

May 21, 1995… Kalpana is elected organising secretary of the central committee at the HWF conference, held in Khagrachari.

November 17, 1995… meeting of three Pahari organisations held in Naniarchar Khedarmara High School premises to express grief and outrage at Naniarchar killings in Rangamati. Kalpana addresses the meeting.

February 28, 1996… Ishak, a Bengali, is abducted from New Lallyaghona village. Tension increases between Paharis and Bengalis.
March 19, 1996… Nine houses belonging to seven Chakma families of New Lallyaghona village burnt down. Kalpana protests against the arson attack.

April 1996… Lieutenant Ferdous goes to Kalpana’s house a few days before Baishabi (New Year festivals). He is accompanied by 20-25 soldiers. Heated exchange between Kalpana and Lieutenant Ferdous.

April 12, 1996… meeting of three Pahari organisations held at the Rangamati Shilpakala Academy on the occasion of Baishabi. Kalpana appeals for unity.

June 12, 1996… at 1:30am Lieutenant Ferdous and 7-8 others in plainclothes enter Kalpana’s house, they order her, and her brothers Khudiram and Kalicharan, to go with them.
This chronology has been constructed from letters, news reports, and `Investigating the Kidnapping of Kalpana Chakma’, Ain O Salish Kendra Report, published in Kalpana Chakmar Diary (Diary of Kalpana Chakma), Dhaka: Hill Women’s Federation, 2001

First published on New Age 12th June 2008

June 13, 2008 Posted by | Bangladesh | , , , , , | 2 Comments