'Crossfire' debacle: Drik under siege
Drik Picture Library was forcibly closed down on March 22 by the police to prevent the launch of the photography exhibition entitled 'Crossfire', by photojournalist Dr Shahidul Alam, organized by Pathshala, South Asian Media Academy.
Curated by renowned Peruvian curator Jorge Villacorta, the exhibition included a collection of interpretive photographs and an interactive Google map which showed locations of where the bodies of persons allegedly killed in 'crossfire' by Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) were reportedly found.
As the official unveiling of the exhibition was interrupted by a police siege, the opening took place on the pavement in front of the DRIK headquarters. With a small impromptu programme, the show was inaugurated by the celebrated Indian writer and human rights activist Mahasweta Devi. Nurul Kabir, editor of New Age, M Hamid, CEO of RTV, and Jorge Villacorta, curator from Peru, were present among a host of other luminaries.
Following closure of the gallery, Shah Alam, officer in charge of Dhanmondi thana, provided the rational behind the seize. The gallery did not have permission to hold the exhibition, he opined. Though DRIK had been holding exhibitions since 1993 and never before required permission, as Shahidul Alam pointed out, the OC claimed that the exhibition would simply cause 'anarchy'.
Following the incident, the gallery served legal notice to the government demanding an end to the police blockade. The writ was filed by Dr Shahidul Alam, photojournalist and managing director of DRIK. The respondents to the writ petition were the Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, the IG of Police, the DG of RAB, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the Officer in Charge of Dhanmondi Police Station. It was only after the High Court ruling on 31st March, which came nine days after the police blockade had been set up, that spectators were allowed to view the exhibition.
This is not the first time an exhibition was subject to forceful closure. In November 2009, the exhibition Into Exile: Tibet 1949- 2009, which was jointly organized by Drik and the local chapter of Students for a Free Tibet (SFT), was also shut down by riot-geared police, with alleged pressure from the Chinese Consulate in Dhaka and their local allies.