<%-- Page Title--%> Exhibition <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 113 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

July11, 2003

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Lost Faces Lost Lives...

Mustafa Zaman

In a male dominated world the manifestation of hierarchy is found in its many different, at times disturbing, shades. But when the unrestraint advances of the male is obstructed or being ignored, the male responses with such vengefulness that it even put his fellow man to shame. Acid throwing is one such act of the male that over the years has turned into a social scourge, which plainly reveals the measure of cruelty to which a male can resort.

In our social milieu, the ground for this kind of extreme form of offence is stoked by the way we look at women. We live in a country where many forms of afflictions suffered by women are categorically ignored. Here it is not only interconnected with sexism but also with a definite power structure that promotes oppression as a means to keep the women folk in submission based on a certain kind of false theology that thrived under the cloak of religion that perpetuates the myth of women being easy prey to shaitan (evil). Keeping this context in mind, if one only adds the brew of the total political and social chaos and vandalism in the grip of which we as a nation find ourselves, we are able to see the consequences in myriads of social maladies born out of perverse assertion of maleness. One of the most hateful ones is certainly acid throwing.

Photographer Anisur Rahman felt the need of addressing this heinous crime. It was a visit to the burn unit of Dhaka medical College that sparred him to start recording the victims of a social atrocity that makes us all think twice about the well-being of the society we live in.
Anisur has been the staff photojournalist for the Daily Star since its inception. He writes in the brochure of the show that the idea of this exhibition occurred to him the day he saw the poor victims in dire conditions. He was moved when he found that there were victims who were unable to pay for their treatment. From that day on his mind was made up that in future he would do something for the victims. This is the event that he envisaged and, now that the idea has materialised with the help of City Bank, who sponsored the show, he has accomplished a part of his dream.
This show is the record that Anisur kept not only of the victims, but also the rehabilitation work encompassing activism to raise awareness among the people to struggle to get back to the mainstream life. The works that this man has produced during the last four years is displayed in the seminar of the Press Club.
Primarily, Anisur wanted to provide a glimpse of what becomes of the women who remains, in many respect, always at the receiving end. As women they fell prey to vicious perpetrators, as victims they are seen as helpless creatures. The pity with which they are treated also is one element that does nothing but harm. Secondly, Anisur's photos chart the struggle that they put in to retract to the mainstream life that they all lost.

The world revolves around able-bodied, physically attractive humans ready to be engulfed in the whirlpool that we named society. Where fair skin and beauty is given priority, and where even a woman with dark skin is seen as second grader as candidate for social status even in the lower middle class domain, the women who lost their faces to acid burn is sure to provoke a negative attitude. Anisur wanted to show that with effort the social condition could also be changed. He showed a keen interest in depicting how with the help of Acid Survival foundation and different women organisations the victims are endeavouring to change the scenario.
This show stemmed from the idea to raise fund for the affected. The photographer recalls an incident which incite him to decide on this venture. “Four years ago I was confronted by a patient who gave me TK 30 and a slip while asking to fetch him medicines. But I later found out that the cost of the medicine he needed was valued around TK 400. I decided to do something for them.
As a photographer Anisur combined his intention to raise money with his willingness to send a message to the Dhakaites. His show titled “No More Acid Victims” raised TK 60,000, which he has donated to the DMCH. And it also drew the crowed to the press club where he held this two-day long exhibition that started on the morning of July 4, 2003.
Among the photographs that were put on display, there was one of the first highly publicised case of Majida. She fell victim to her ruthless husband. Her husband was pressing her for dowry, and she was unable to acquiesce, and this led to acid throwing that had impaired the women for life.
Anisur Rahman has brought into view many other victims and their struggle to live a normal life. The EPZ garment worker named Nupur rejected the advances of a suitor that turned her life upside down. This incident is all too familiar to us. We have been hearing about this kind of incident repeatedly. Stories of suitors resorting to villainous acts after being refused or ignored by the girl abound in the lower income stratum of our society.
What seems most alarming that the rage of the male has led him to such extremes that the babies were not even spared. In quite a few pictures, acid-burned babies are shown. They were either in the lap of their mother while the criminal resorted to acid throwing, or were handpicked as victims to take the anger out on them, to set scores with the parents. There is one picture in this show of a mother and her child with their fresh burns that forces the onlookers to avert their gaze. Certainly the acid burn cases, even after recovery, presented in rows of photos is not a subject a human with a timid soul would be able to stomach. Yet there are few pictures that surely make even the most strong-hearted one to wonder about what sort of human has this ability to inflict such brutal a blow to another fellow human being.
Faces and bodies that bear the signs of an extreme form of crime, are not sights that one may look at the way he or she as a viewer usually looks at all the other genre of photography. Document of this sort is sure to jolt the eye of the majority. But Anisur's works have their definite functions. They are a record of a social scourge.
The photographer believes that these pictures heighten the awareness about the sufferings of others. Empathy is the keynote inspiration behind this amassing of photographs that openly shows wounds and scars. They are not there to intimidate but to mediate to the public on behalf of the sufferers; to annex them to the world of the struggling women. Otherwise these very people may have been unaware of the struggle that these women put in to go on living as normal humans. And, most importantly, this show would be instrumental in rousing the public who might be inspired to lend a hand.
Anisur has added to his oeuvre one anomalous picture of two teen-aged boys caught red-handed while trying to throw acid on a girl who was a garment worker. This particular picture is incriminating enough, the evidence against the perpetrators is recorded for the future.
Had Anisur Rahman made an effort to add a series of portraits of the criminals providing an index stating their crime and status --- delineating whether they all were tried and handed down the penalty that they disserved or whether they were even captured in the first place --- it would have brought into the light an untold though a seamy aspect of the atrocity like acid throwing. It is impossible for one man to cover a wide range of cases, but a few might have added to the show a legal dimension.


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