Jibon Ahmed: After deadly attack, fear still consumes me
Jibon Ahmed is a photojournalist who helped atheist blogger and activist Avijit Roy and Bonya Ahmed get to a hospital after the machete attack that killed Roy in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 2015. This column has been translated from Bengali. Nonbelief Relief has offered Jibon a stipend.
By Jibon Ahmed
Three years have gone by with little notice. During these years, I have spent many sleepless, terror-filled nights. This fear will chase me around as long as I live. I do not wish this day to occur in anybody’s life. Every day, fear chases me. Before this, I never had a fear of death — ever.
To this day, it appears often before me like a movie. When this fear wakes me up at midnight, I wonder about what I am seeing in front of my eyes. I cannot hide. It is as if I still feel the warm brain of a dying man on my palms. Then I cannot control myself. I had never experienced such a brutal scene before.
Nobody was with me. Everybody left me. I understood, in this big city, if you are in danger, nobody stands by you. I cannot ever forget this memory.
It was 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 26, 2015. At that time, I worked for the photo agency Banglar Chokhe. After the day’s work, I was relaxing and conversing with friends at a tea stall situated just next to the entrance gate where a book fair is held.
Suddenly, a woman’s intense scream caught my attention. Through the bars of the fence, I saw a motorcycle lying on the road. A woman was lying right on the motorcycle with her head touching the ground. As soon as I saw this, I immediately came out of the enclosure. After getting through the main gate and proceeding a little further, I saw a congregation of people. When I pushed my way through the crowd, I saw the bloodied body of a man, wearing a red kurta, lying on the sidewalk. Blood was oozing out of his head and trickling down to the road.
I did not know what to do. I looked around and saw that the assembled people were looking at the scene silently. But they were not coming forward to help. There were few policemen there too, but they were also there as silent spectators.
I built up my courage and proceeded toward the woman who lay fallen on the road. I shook her shoulder a few times to get her up, but she was unconscious. She eventually responded, and looked at me with fearful eyes, imagining me as an attacker.
The woman had injuries on her head, with blood oozing out and streaking down to the corners of her two eyes. I became afraid looking at her eyes and took a few steps back. I cannot forget her terrible gaze. Then, the woman stood up and asked me what had happened there. Pointing with my fingers, I showed her the man lying on the sidewalk.
The woman cried out “Avi!” and embraced him. She kept saying, “Avi get up, nothing will happen to you. Avi, get up.” At some point, she stood up and raised her hands to plead with the assembled crowd for its help.
When the woman was crying for help, the people were stepping back. At that moment, I brought out my camera and took a picture of the bloodied couple. As nobody came forward, I pushed through the crowd to get a motorized vehicle. We put them in there with the help of one or two onlookers.
As we were traveling to the hospital, the woman, Bonya Ahmed, held the body of her husband. I sat holding Avijit’s head. His skull had been hacked by a machete, and I suddenly realized that parts of his brain had come out and were touching my palm. I moved my hand and pushed those parts inside.
By that time, my body was wet from the blood that drained from Avijit’s head. I didn’t know human blood could be so warm. I can feel that heat to this day.
As we proceeded from the incident site to the hospital, Bonya was afraid that I had kidnapped them. She was pleading with me to release them; in exchange she would provide as much money as I would demand. Raising my camera, I repeatedly tried to assure her that I was a photojournalist, but she did not believe me.
On our way, there was a police checkpoint where the traffic stopped. As soon as Bonya saw the police, she shouted for help saying that I had kidnapped them. I was afraid that I would be the victim of police harassment. To my surprise, I saw, behind us, a policeman on a motorcycle. This man was at the incident site and had seen the entire event. He signaled the check-point police to let us go and we arrived at the hospital.
Their treatment was arranged in the emergency ward of the Dhaka Medical College Hospital. My photojournalist friends called me to advise me that I shouldn’t have entangled myself in this incident. My job was to take pictures. Why did I get involved with this trouble? Even though I was a bit afraid after hearing this, my answer was that my first job was to take pictures, which I had done, but then I came forward to help them as a common man, forgetting that I was a journalist.
I cleaned my bloodied T-shirt in the hospital and went back to my office. There I saw their names — Avijit Roy and Bonya Ahmed — on TV. I did not know them before. My boss advised me to hide in a place away from Dhaka for a few days. I did not agree with him and left the office.
By this time, my photos had gone viral on social media. Hundreds of comments were pouring in that accused me of taking pictures instead of helping them. I was being criticized in the TV talk shows also. Meanwhile, the police interrogated me a few times.
Under pressure from my bosses, I had to leave my job. They told me that they were not going to be responsible for my life. After Bonya got better, she told the investigating authorities that I had played no part in the incident, rather I had saved them that day. Still, nobody from the government contacted me.
Our first identity is that we are journalists. But we are also human beings. We have the sense of humanity and love for fellow humans. During our professional work, we encounter various incidents. Sometimes we have to risk our lives to do our job. Many times, notwithstanding our wishes, we cannot fulfill our humanitarian responsibility. This is because of some ethical rules that we need to follow. People still misunderstand us.
On that day, I helped the couple inspired by my humanitarian responsibility. I could have left the place after taking pictures, but my conscience would not let me do it. I did not know who they were, but I felt that I should step forward as a human being and that is what I did.
On Dhaka roads, many lie dead like Avijit, and nobody looks at them. We can understand, from this, how low our humanity and social responsibility have descended.