The Indian government did not issue visa to the acclaimed photographer and activist Shahidul Alam who was to sit on a panel at the Serendipity Arts Festival in New Delhi on last Friday.
‘It is revealing that a nation that calls itself a democracy should be so scared of people capable of speaking truth to power, but it does point out their inherent vulnerabilities,’ Shahidul said in his reaction.
He told New Age that the only way authoritarian regimes could rule was by keeping the public ignorant.
‘Preventing people from speaking freely is the only way they can hide their inadequacies. It applies to all South Asian governments and to autocrats of all shapes and colour,’ he said.
When contacted, Debabrata Chakrabarti, an Indian High Commission official in Dhaka, told New Age on Saturday that he was not aware of the issue of denying visa to Shahidul Alam.
Alam was scheduled to join a panel discussion on the political dimensions of art practices, according to an online media portal in India.
He, however, addressed the function via skype from a waiting room at London’s Heathrow airport with children’s toys scattered all around him, according to The Wire published from India. He also took questions via Whatsapp.
He addressed a packed auditorium and talked about his work in reference to projects via a slide-show which was projected on the screen for the Delhi audience.
He showed photos on forcibly displaced Rohingya people of Myanmar and Kalpana Chakma, a Bangladeshi ethnic minority woman allegedly abducted by security forces in 1996.
Alam was arrested on August 5, 2018 and imprisoned for 108 days by the government on charges of ‘spreading misinformation’ by publishing photos of a students’ demonstration against deaths due to bad traffic management.
He spoke about his time in jail. ‘I used that time productively. I convinced the wardens to let us paint. The various prisoners and I made 33 murals.
There is a gallery now in that jail.’
He displayed a photo of a boat. ‘This is by far the photo I am most proud of,’ he said.
Alam founded several institutions including the Drik Picture Library and Pathshala South Asian Institute of Photography.
He was ‘person of the year’ of TIME magazine in 2018.
He was also nominated the first person of colour to chair the World Press Photo jury in 2003.