I have been supremely busy lately. I have eight projects in various stages of draft, but want to throw up some quality images, accompanying words and give a general shout out to Bangladesh’s photographic community.

Through my day job, I am familiar with Shahidul Alam‘s fine photography. I am more impressed by his stewardship of his nation’s photojournalist community, here, here and here. It was at Alam’s Blog that I discovered the images of Momena Jalil. I’ll simply repost the photographs and let them and the text speak for themselves.

Mother and Daughter in Cell, Momena Jalil, 2008

Mother and Daughter in Cell, Momena Jalil, 2008

They were some 21 women. Some with with children who were free but had nowhere to go. So they stayed with their mother in captivity. It was a rare chance for us; it was the opening of the new women’s prison on eight acres of land situated on the Western edge of Kashempur. We were allowed because we were women and in those ten minutes we learnt what we could not have learnt in a lifetime. Losing one’s freedom strips us of the right to live. It is the strangest feeling, a chilling feeling. Freedom denied is freedom lost in the cradle of the life.

Cell, Momena Jalil, 2008. Having spent a year in prison already, 25-year-old Rahima still cannot reconcile with her living conditions. "The air, the walls, the people, the place- all of it has been a shock for me", she says. She struggles to wear the blank and emotionless expression that the rest of her inmates wear every day, yet every time she speaks of her experience in jail, she fights back tears.

Cell, Momena Jalil, 2008. Having spent a year in prison already, 25-year-old Rahima still cannot reconcile with her living conditions.

‘It is difficult to cope with all that goes within the walls of a prison,’ she says. ‘There were times when the prison guards molested me…they do sexually abuse women,’ she says softly, hiding her face behind her white saree. As soon as the guards walk in her expression changes and she mutters, ‘we have no problems at all.’

From Jalil’s post it is obvious the system has affected the women very differently.

‘How can you not love the darkness, the stench, the suffocation and the crowds?’ asks fifty-year-old Khaleda in her raw husky voice. Her big eyes and rough expressions complement her loud and dominating voice. ‘After spending twenty-five years I don’t think I would ever want to go back. I get a taste of everything here – be it having tonnes of friends or being tortured, all of it is ‘fun’, she says sarcastically.

Khaleda knows the secrets of the prison, yet she refuses to speak up. ‘You know why I came here? My husband married another woman for no reason. He brought her home with her two children. I had done nothing. But he still did that. So I ate the two kids,’ she laughs aloud. ‘And then I got involved in a trafficking case and a lot more.’

In twenty-five years, Khaleda has seen the darkest sides of the prison. She has lived inside crumbled cells with no space to even sit or breathe. ‘I don’t like the idea of being moved to this new unit of the women’s prison. I love the people there. The Dhaka Central Jail is overcrowded, stinky, a torture hole but it’s still been my home for the past so many years,’ she says.

Khaleda is one of 200 women who are waiting to be shifted to the first female jail in Kashempur that recently opened.

Women in a Cell, Momena Jalil, 2008

Women in a Cell, Momena Jalil, 2008

She was a mother, a daughter, a sister, a home-maker, a beloved wife but today she is only a prisoner behind bars serving a life sentence. She could have been many things but situation, time, circumstance and fate took all her rights to live free in society. Society finds them unfit because they cross the line of the law; they were not born to be criminals but time took them where they committed crimes… some killed step-children, some were found trafficking in-between borders, they were too many and we had too little time to know what crimes they were in for. We had ten minutes, the guards were rushing us, it’s unthinkable to let journalists roam inside a prison. But we have been there, my colleague and I; we saw faces up close, people who live among us, their faces hold the rumours of sisters, mothers…

Advertisements