Gone Missing

The trauma of enforced disappearances in Bangladesh

“It was beyond my imagination. I was in Dubai for a long time. I came back to visit my family. It was not even in my dreams what happened to me. It destroyed everything. I have no interest in living longer now.”
Photographs by Ashfika Rahman Text by Nikita Saxena
28 February, 2022

IN 2018, the Bangladeshi photojournalist Ashfika Rahman was selected for a week-long masterclass by the World Press Photo Foundation. Participants were asked in preparation to produce a photo essay on a common theme: Generation Y. “For some time, I kept wondering, what is so special about my generation in my country,” Rahman said. Conversations with those around her did not yield a compelling result. The answer came in the form of an unexpected tragedy.

A young man who had assisted Rahman on past projects was picked up, allegedly by personnel from the security forces. He was found a day later, wounded but alive. “I got the news that he was shot,” Rahman said, and “he actually lost one of his legs.”

Rahman was already familiar with a pattern of so-called clashes between security forces and individuals they claim are criminals, which often end with the killing of the latter. Now, she contemplated a concomitant and increasingly common phenomenon in Bangladesh over the past decade: enforced disappearances. A colleague, a friend’s sibling, an old acquaintance—all of them had been targeted. The pervasiveness of these incidents was matched only by the reluctance of those affected to speak about what had happened. For Rahman, the distinguishing legacy of her generation became evident: trauma.

Ashfika Rahman is a Dhaka-based artist. Her practice straddles art and documentary approaches, with photography as her primary medium of expression. She is a faculty member at Pathshala (South Asian Media Institute) and a member of the MAPS Images agency. Her work has been exhibited across Asia and Europe.

Nikita Saxena is a contributing writer at The Caravan.