The Ekushey Book Fair is the single most important literary event in Bangladeshi culture that has a proud history going back to the Bangla language movement of 1952. The book fair had been the main congregation of authors and readers in Bangladesh, and a festival that cherished freedom of expression and diversity of opinion. However, during the recent years, the reputation of the book fair as an open literary public sphere suffered, instead of promoting free expression it has become a vehicle of harsh censorship. The latest victim was prominent Bangladeshi publication house ‘Adarsha’. Adarsha is a prominent Bangladesh publishing house which participated in The Hague Freedom Book Fair since 2017.
The reputation of the Ekushey Book Fair is on a downward spiral since 2015, when prominent author Avijit Roy was murdered just in front of the Book fair. Later that year both of his publishers were attacked. One of them, Faisal Arefin Dipan, died while Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury survived and had to leave the country. Instead of preserving the work of Avijit Roy, Bangla academy remained silent as the Ekushey Book Fair of 2016 was absent of Roy’s book. Thus the murderers of Avijit succeeded in eradicating not only his physical presence but also his works from the book fair. This was the primary reason behind the inception of The Hague Freedom Book Fair, to present Avijit’s book during the month of his favorite literary event, which opposes the crippling censorship and suppression of freedom of expression not only in Bangladesh but in countries with a similar situation.
During the last few years, we have witnessed and condemned a series of bans imposed by the Bangla Academy on books and publications. Coupled with the ongoing threats of violence against many Bangladeshi authors and the repressive censorship laws and bans. The Ekushey Book Fair Committee itself have turned the book fair in to a vehicle of repression. This year they are barring Adarsha Publication from the book fair which had been a part of this event for many years. While Bangla Academy did not give an official cause behind this ban, the “unofficial” cause cited was that the publisher Mahbubur Rahman wrote something critical against the attack on students protesting for road safety by some goons known to be part of the government affiliated student organization. It is difficult to comprehend how a social network post critical against an attack on high school student can be the cause of a publication house getting banned from a Book Fair. The supposed link between these two events, and the very purpose of the Ekushey Book Fair Committee at this moment is beyond our comprehension. We profusely condemned this decision and urge Bangla Academy to reconsider its decision and let Adarsha to participate in the book fair.