Despite being settled at Nilphamari for many years, the Dalit community – people belonging to the lowest caste in society – did not have access to a cremation ground. However, Chabi Rani, a member of the Dalit community, sought to change all that. She led her people to seek a piece of land from the government to be allocated for them.
The community was given ten decimals of land to be used as their cremation ground. Iterestingly, it was given to them by a Muslim.
This was the story behind Rakibul Alam Khan's photograph, currently being exhibited at the photography contest and exhibition 'Building Inclusive Cultures' at Drik Gallery.
The story goes to show that relations between people are not governed by caste or religion, and is a testament to the harmony shared between cultures in Bangladesh.
Rakibul's photograph was awarded the Grand Prize at the photography contest. The exhibition also showcases 31 other photographs with compelling stories, which also highlight the harmony amongst people.
"Bangladesh is a non-communal country, and its diversity of culture is beautiful. Although we occasionally hear news of communal attacks, that is the exception and not the norm. People mostly live in harmony with one another. The intention behind organising this photography contest and exhibition was to highlight this very fact," said ASM Rezaur Rahman, curator of the exhibition. "We also want to deter extremism through this show."
"The harmony amongst the people of Bangladesh is beautifully illustrated in this show. I think everyone should see this exhibition at least once," said Rakibul.
Initially, about 2,000 photographs were submitted by photographers from all over the country. These entries were then shortlisted by judges Shahidul Alam, Aroma Dutta MP and K M Asad.
The Runner Up prize was awarded to Sardar Mohammad Rafiul Islam. His entry shows a Muslim woman, wearing a Burqa, learning to ride a bicycle at night.
Rajib Raihan's photo, which was the Second Runner Up at the competition, shows a group of volunteers carrying the deceased body of a hindu man, who died from Covid, to the cremation ground.
The grand prize winner was awarded Tk 1,00,000 and the runner up was awarded Tk 50,000 and second runner up was awarded TK 25,000.
The exhibits are also being shown around Dhaka city through five rickshaw vans. The organisers will create a virtual show for the exhibits soon.
Organised by Drik Picture Library Bangladesh in collaboration with Freedom of Religion or Belief Leadership Network and The Hunger Project Bangladesh in the capital, Building Inclusive Cultures ends today, 31 October.
TBS Picks: The winners of the contest with a description from the photographers
Rakibul Alam Khan, Grand Prize winner
Performing the last rites for their deceased without a cremation ground had become a part of the lives of the Dalit. Led by Chabi Rani, they sought a piece of land from the government. Although their first application failed, on the District Commissioner's advice, they reapplied and were awarded 10 decimals of land for a permanent crematorium, and Tk one lakh to build the enclosure.
The land was given up by a Muslim. Today, after years of struggle, the Dalit community has built a permanent Crematorium. However, they are forced to bury the dead, as cremation is often too expensive for them.
Sardar Mohammad Rafiul Islam, Runner Up
A woman in a burqa is learning to ride a bicycle at night. A woman riding the bicycle is a symbol of freedom, but these are often framed as a deviation from religious beliefs. This photo offers a counter narrative. The photograph was taken at Dhaka University.
Rajib Raihan, Second runner Up
Many people and social organisations came forward to help people in need during, and after the Covid 19 pandemic. Their dedication saw through caste or creed. From providing food to taking care of the ill, or burying the dead; they helped in every possible way.
In this picture, a few members of an organisation are seen carrying the deceased body of a person, who had died from Covid 19, to be cremated. Adverse weather did not deter them. The photograph was taken in Uttar Kattali, Chittagong on 21 May, 2020.