Award-winning Indian photojournalist Raghu Rai wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday on social media platform Facebook, requesting the government not to punish Shahidul Alam, the internationally-famed Bangladeshi photographer and prominent rights activist who was arrested by plainclothes men on Sunday night. A long-time friend of Shahidul, Raghu Rai was honoured by Bangladesh government in 2012 as a 'Friend of the Bangladesh Liberation War'. Rai documented Bangladesh's plight for freedom during 1971 through powerful photos of the refugee camps, action during the war and scenes of jubilation after independence, which were published as a book titled “Bangladesh: The Price of Freedom”. Here is the full text of the letter he posted on Facebook.
Ms. Sheikh Hasina,
Honorable Prime Minister
Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh
Prime Minister's Office. Old Sangsad Bhaban
Tejgaon, Dhaka-1215, Bangladesh
My name is Raghu Rai. I have been honored by you in 2012 as friends of Bangladesh Liberation War who photographed the Bangladesh war for freedom by Mukti Bahini supported by your neighbors and friends to transform east Pakistan into an independent nation today known as Bangladesh. Bangladesh is a country of poets, writers, musicians and some of them migrated to India during the partition. Our bond is deep not only culturally but spiritually as well.
Madam Prime minister, you are the daughter of great revolutionary Sheikh Mujibur Rehman who rose against the repressive and torturous regime of Pakistani generals—and in return the generals decided to teach Bangladeshis a lesson. Thus the nation rose against Pakistan under the leadership of Sheikh Sahib and this is how Bangladesh came into being. So let's not teach our boys a lesson.
Hon'ble Madam, Shahidul Alam founder of DRIK and Pathshala has been a great admirer of Sheikh Sahib, and I have had the privilege of knowing him as a close friend for the last 3 decades. I have no doubt in my mind that Shahidul is one of those rare breeds committed to truth and honesty, and can die for his country. It seems last night Shahidul was picked up by 20-30 men from detective branch of police, and was tortured and couldn't walk on his feet. My heart bleeds for that.
We have been told that the young minds of Bangladesh demand a sense of security against the malpractices in the transport department and negligence of police to respond that has resulted into several deaths. It seems what students are demanding that any citizen with a conscience would ask for and Shahidul has just stated that to Al Jazeera channel.
Allah saves us from the unpredictable minds of this world. If any opposition and political party is using or manipulating these young minds, they are the ones to be dealt with. But faithful honest patriots like my dear and close friend Shahidul who I would call the eyes and ears of the common masses that can provide an insight into the ground reality of how the spirit of majority of the youth is feeling now, being punished for this. It reminds me of Pakistani general trying to teach a lesson to the faithfuls. Its not only me in India but many others journalists and photo journalists, artists, writers from all around the world who vouch for him and stand by him. We are deeply hurt by the news of Shahidul being detained and tortured. All he has done is to use his photographic skill and voice to capture the truth of ongoing reality in a most committed and compassionate way.
May I humbly request and plead not to punish the honest, the truthful representative of the youth. As the spirit of democracy – the truth must survive for itself that kindles the light in heart of millions of your countrymen and many of us.
Honourable Prime Minister, I hope you shall honour the humbling of the hearts, for a Shahidul Alam.
Friend of Bangladesh.