On the night of 5 August, a couple of dozen men turned up at the photographer Shahidul Alam’s house in Dhaka. They dragged him from his apartment, bound and screaming, smashing surveillance cameras on the way out. Alam’s partner, Rahnuma Ahmed, was with a neighbour, so she could not react in time. By the time anyone fully realised what was going on, Alam had been thrown into a white van and driven off into the night’s darkness.
The following is an excerpt from “The Man Who Saw Too Much: Why the Bangladesh government fears Shahidul Alam,” by Kaamil Ahmed, published in The Caravan’s latest issue, alongside Alam’s visual account of Bangladesh’s extrajudicial killings. Subscribe now to read in full.
ON HIS BICYCLE, Shahidul Alam is easy to spot—floating through Dhaka’s congested arteries atop his slight fold-up bicycle, wearing a kurta and with his scarf flapping in the pollution-laden wind. He grew up in the residential area of Dhanmondi, one of three siblings born to middle-class parents. His father was a prominent scientist and his mother, a child psychologist.
In 1972, Alam went to the United Kingdom to pursue a doctorate in chemistry, following his sister, Najma Karim, who was already studying medicine there. He made a habit of walking the streets of Liverpool in his lungi. According to Karim, he considered it a form of national dress. He even taught some of the other students staying with him at the university’s chapel how to wear one. In college, he was introduced to activism through his involvement with the Socialist Workers’ Party.