Saturday, February 28, 2009

Aftermath.

The army guy at the gates dangled a carrot in front of us. "We'll let you all in if we find anything," he said. "But only if you're disciplined and behave yourselves."

He let us in, that tease, just to see people dredging the pond near the gate.

BDR Mutiny - Aftermath

But he kept to his word when he let us in because they had discovered new mass graves. But the mass graves - the star attraction - was the last stop of the media excursion into the compound. We stopped by the offices and the home of the BDR leader first. I think that put us in good stead in terms of preparing ourselves mentally for what we were going to see later.


BDR Mutiny - Aftermath

The office of Major General Shakil Ahmed, who was the army officer in charge of the BDR. His chair had been burnt out (how come?) but no blood stains anywhere despite the bullet holes in the wall behind.

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Time stood still in those rooms. The newspaper was from the day of the mutiny - the front page showing the prime minister decorating BDR soldiers at an awards ceremony the day before. For some reason, there were a lot of photos scattered around. And I also saw more than one cheque book on the table. Thought it was odd.

It was strange, to say the least, to be trampling all over what I imagine to be evidence - shouldn't some things be cordoned off at least? Photographers and reporters and camera men were ruffling through things everywhere, flipping through pages, opening windows and doors, moving stuff. Well, I can only hope the investigators has already been through it.

Then again, the news report later in the afternoon (after every living media person in Dhaka had been through the place) had the Home Minister saying she wanted everything "preserved" for "evidence". Tough luck, lady.

I wasn't exactly prepared to enter the Major's house. This was a private residence, and here we were, thronging through every nook and cranny and getting a glimpse of what their last moments were.

BDR Mutiny - Aftermath

The heavy, sticky smell of blood hit when you entered the house. The second floor didn't smell as bad, which is strange, because that's where most of the blood seemed to be.

BDR Mutiny - Aftermath

If you'll note from my previous post, I'm not sure if this photo (or any other item) was already there or "happened" to have been placed there by a photographer who entered the room before me.

BDR Mutiny - Aftermath

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BDR Mutiny - Aftermath

Nothing in the house had been left untouched.

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They found 10 bodies in the graves, including the wife of the Major. I wasn't nearby when they pulled her out. I was sitting at a corner and looking at the scene - but I knew they had found her body when everyone rushed over.

I went back to my house and had a very, very long bath.

Unethical Photographers

BDR Mutiny - Aftermath [FAKE PHOTO]

Sure would be nice if this photo wasn't entirely 100% faked and posed.

I have witnessed some pretty jaw-dropping behaviour from the local photographers here.

The unethical practices of photographers here is nothing new. And by unethical, I don't include things that fall into the so-called "grey areas" such as asking people to look away or removing a water bottle from a press conference table. I'm referring to practices that no one would ever be able to justify.

Today, one of them actually tore up a portrait photo of a Major that had been killed, found inside the office, and proceeded to take photos of the pieces. Another (could be the same guy but I'm not sure) rearranged the position of the torn pieces of the photo before taking photos of it again.

And then, he took the torn pieces and tried to put it into his pocket.

This was the point where I yelled, "What the hell??" and he quickly put them back, apologising.

He shouldn't have apologised. Doing so meant that he knew it was wrong -- and for some reason, I'd much prefer plain stupidity and ignorance.

My friends and I have spoken about this before. It's so widespread that its something that we've come to expect, sadly enough. No one ever wants to say anything in public, though. It's dangerous to cast the first stone -- I think most of us have been guilty of unethical behaviour at some point in time, and the guilt makes us all want to shut up.

I have to make clear, though, that not all the local photographers here are like this. There are many local photographers here that I respect for their diligence and professionalism. Sad to say, I have a feeling they're the exceptions to the rule.

Aftermath

An information hotline has been opened for family members to call and check to see if their loved ones has been found. The government will pay 5 lakhs to each officers' family as compensation. The opposition has come out to say the general amnesty granted was a "tactical mistake". Senior officials are now promising a speedy trial, and that the amnesty does not extend to those "directly involved" in the killings who will be will facing "exemplary punishment".

BDR Mutiny - Aftermath

One of the many family members demanding information after 3 days of waiting.

BDR Mutiny - Aftermath

A box used to hold grenades, now in possession of the police. Grenades and live ammunition were reported scattered within the compound, a reason used to justify the heavy army presence inside.

BDR Mutiny - Aftermath

Exit end of a sewage pipe which leads from the BDR HQ compound. Bodies were found here from the first day, having flowed down to the river after being disposed off within the compound itself.

BDR Mutiny - Aftermath

All manhole covers over the sewage pipe were removed to check for more bodies stuck inside.

BDR Mutiny - Aftermath

The usual crowd.

BDR Mutiny - Aftermath

BDR soldiers being held inside the hospital in their compound. They must be craving cigarettes.

BDR Mutiny - Aftermath

At the back of the soldiers' living quarters, there were pieces of BDR uniform littered about. Reports have already come in about the RAB picking up scores of BDR soldiers trying to make their way out of Dhaka dressed in civilian clothes.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

And the Tanks Came Marching In

BDR Mutiny Day 2

I know, dude.

The mutiny continued into its second day. The general amnesty had been issued. A show of handing in their arms had been made on TV. But still, the army hadn't left, and the BDR was not going to give anything up till they were sure they weren't going to be blown to bits.

So, the army brought in tanks.

(If your response was "Huh?", you are disqualified from living here because you have too much logic.)

BDR Mutiny Day 2


Rumours were going around. 120 dead inside the compound. Army is getting ready to storm the place. Evacuate the entire Dhanmondi area. Curfew. Shootings across the country. Borders become porous.

BDR Mutiny Day 2

Rumours were not fun for those with family still inside. Most of them had lost contact and had not been briefed by the police or army about what was going to happen.


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BDR Mutiny Day 2

I took as many names down as possible. I guess I was being delusional and thought someone would publish the photos and I wanted to do it professionally. Silly dreams, Jess.

The shooting started again when we had wandered off after waiting around for too long. We ran back as people ran as quick as they could, passing us and yelling at us not to go in that direction. At one point I thought it was a bad idea to be running in the opposite direction of the police - they were running too.


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The police had been brought in to replace the army, since the BDR got nervous with the army around and wanted them gone. Good call. The police ran faster than anyone when the shots began again, and gathered around a corner looking like they really did not want to be there.

Anyway, it was a lot of drama for nothing. No one got shot or injured, and within half an hour the photographers and crazy public had re-amassed at the entrance of Ambala Inn, as close as you could possibly get to the HQ without having to carry a white flag with you.

BDR Mutiny Day 2

Then the hostages started to come out, and there must've been a million classic wire photos taken by the horde of photographers.

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BDR Mutiny Day 2

We were drinking Pepsi at a nearby guesthouse, taking a break, when Munir called and all I could hear was him yelling "ARMY!". Then his text message came in "Army is coming. Go to safe place."

We ran out to see people running past us. We ran past them to try and get back towards the HQ. By now, the gun shots were increasing, but just like yesterday, I had no idea who they were shooting at.

Philip said later, "You don't hear the bullet that kills you." Not sure if that's accurate. Will have to check it out.

Munir called again, to tell me to head to the Abahani cricket field because "there are many tanks here".

BDR Mutiny Day 2

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People had started to leave.


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Well. If you have read the news reports, it was a lot of show for nothing. Things wound up after nightfall, and at about midnight, we heard the roar of the tanks as they went past our house, back to the camp.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

It's Not Over Yet

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Arrived at 11.30 am, three hours after the shootings began. Made my way through the backlanes to end up at the entrance to Zigatola, about 50 m away from the gates of the Bangladesh Rifles HQ. The stretch of Sat Masjid Road leading towards the HQ had been cordoned off completely.

Did not really know what to make of the situation and the crowd that had gathered at the Zigatola entrance -- at least, not until the army guys showed up. I think the exact word that came out of my mouth when I saw the machine guns and mortars was "FUCK".

BDR Mutiny


Children being evacuated from the school located at the entrance to Zigatola. They were the only ones who looked keen to get away. The crowd that gathered seemed fearless.


BDR Mutiny

General panic caused by random gun shots.

BDR Mutiny

There is something more to be said about the crowd. First of all - since when did people walk towards the sound of gunfire rather than away from it? Sure, they ran (see above) when it got too loud, too close. But they ran with smiles and laughter. They ran off till it was quiet, and then regrouped and came forward again.

I don't understand this. Did they not know that people had already been killed by the misfires? Was this a game to them?

And the truth is this: I would make a shitty war photojournalist. Sure, I fed off the adrenaline, but I just kept thinking to myself, this would be a shitty reason to die for.

The worst thing was that I couldn't tell where the guns were from, or what they were aiming at. I didn't know where to hide my very not-bulletproof body.


UPDATE: Pics now on PBS Wide Angle blog. More to come, perhaps. Heading out to again now.