Political Puppetry Dance in Bangladesh

I was very young when I went to a cultural program with my mother and my brother. We saw “Putul Nach”, or puppetry dance1. It was quite amusing for a 9 year old, and 20 years later, I can still recall how surprised I was to discover that those puppets never actually spoke. Rather, there were people behind the curtain who controlled the movements of the dolls, and they were the ones doing the speaking.

It was amusing for me. I just found it surprising how someone could control the movements of the dolls, even though they were in fact lifeless. I wondered how I would feel if someone tried to control my speech, my movements. The idea did not appeal to me at all, and I concluded that I would never want to become a puppet. I wanted to live my life on my own terms, and to have the right to express my own ideas and beliefs. But I did not know back then that in reality, freedom is not yet a basic right that can be taken for granted. It is still a privilege, especially in a country like mine which is affected by rising religious extremism and a government that tries to silence its critics with all its might. As a Bangladeshi we have two choices in a situation like this; either be a good puppet and go about your life quietly in the hope that nothing bad happens to you or your loved ones, or dare to speak up at your own risk.

20 years later, I am witnessing “Putul Nach” again. But this time, these dolls are not made of cotton, or clothes. The dolls are real humans- people of Bangladesh, particularly those with an opinion or thirst for the truth. And it is our government that is behind the curtain, directing us to speak what they want to hear. The people must do as they say, and if they don’t there is a dragon waiting to punish us. This dragon is called the Digital Security Act, and it is far worse than the ICT 57 Act which was already draconian. It enables the government to suppress its critics skillfully, and it has given religious fundamentalists a powerful new weapon. As a result, many cases have been filed against journalists, activists, freethinkers, and writers over the past few years. Despite concerns raised by the international community, this censorship and the ensuing brutality continues.

However, the political landscape of Bangladesh is not a black and white scenario- there are multiple shades. Speaking up comes at a cost, and puts a label on you which will likely do no justice to your real identity. If you are one of those who actively condemns the rise of Islamic radical groups, then you are likely to be branded a “Nastik” (atheist), a diehard fan of Awami League (the ruling party), or an agent of India- our neighboring country. You will have a harder time if you have declared yourself an atheist, or if you were born into a family practicing Hinduism, or any other faith. As a religious minority, you do not have the right to speak. And what if you are a Muslim and are critical of the ruling party? Then you stand to be be bashed as a supporter of Islamic extremism, or to be branded as a “Jihadi”. If you are a woman, or belong to the LGBTQ community, then there will be even more labels and humiliations that you will have to endure. It may help somewhat if you have support from some groups or alliances, but you can still never take your safety for granted. Never. You are not expected to speak up if you are a Bangladeshi, and if you do, you must speak in favor of those with power.

As a Bangladeshi, you speak up at your own risk.

By: Shucheesmita Simonti

1

 In Bengal, the tradition of puppetry has been traced back to the end of the 14th century. (https://wepa.unima.org/en/danger-putul-nach/)

Think encourages individuals to think

Think is a volunteer-led charity that makes engaging videos on history, science, and art. The charity is founded by Bonya Ahmed and Imtiaz Shams- human rights defenders who have been an integral part of annual HPP events over the past few years.

Think videos are made in several languages, including Bangla. The reason for creating multilingual content is to spread information and educate the audience in their native languages. The team members of Think include several Bangladeshi activists and professionals, residing both inside and outside the country, therefore creating a great example of the contribution made by diaspora writers and/or activists towards their countries of origin. Think Bangla is the first of its kind, with such content in Bengali being few and far between. It is a promising project that will motivate its audience to think critically, and aims at nurturing their curiosity and removing the linguistic barriers. 

Until now, Think has made some engaging videos on diverse issues such as ‘the history of high heels’, and ‘how ancient DNA is rewriting India’s history’ etc. Think has also made an informative video on the ongoing Covid-19 crisis:

About the founders:

Rafida Bonya Ahmed is a published author and moderator at the Mukto-mona blog; the first online platform for Bengali speaking freethinkers. Survivor of a deadly terrorist attack herself in 2015, she is advocating for raising awareness on fundamentalism and the protection of secular writers and activists. She received the Freedom From Religion Foundation Forward Award in 2016, and is currently a visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics. Rafida worked in the IT industry for twenty years before she decided to be a full-time writer and activist. She was a Senior Director of New Product Innovation at Equifax, USA until 2015. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Information Science from Minnesota State University, Mankato, USA.

Imtiaz is a tech entrepreneur and human rights activist who has used his experience to help apostates who suffer when they leave conservative religions. In 2012, he began creating ‘underground railroad’ networks for former Muslims around the world. In 2015, he set-up Faith to Faithless, an organization working to reduce the stigma faced by ‘apostates’ of all religions. He has featured on the BBC, Vice, the Guardian, and the Times.

Links: 

Humane First Movement campaigning against sexual violence

Humane First Movement, a collaboration partner of the Bangladesh Workgroup at The Hague Peace Projects, recently started its campaign on the prevention of sexual violence. Md. Sayem Hossain, volunteer of the movement shares his thoughts on the campaign:

Humane First Movement is running its current campaign on the prevention of rape and sexual violence against women, and I would like to share my personal views as a committed supporter of this movement.

Rape is a curse to any civilized society and social disease of the highest order. If we claim to be civilized individuals, then we must also acknowledge that this curse is widespread in our society today. However, are we realizing the depth of the problem? Often when an incident of rape happens, society looks for ways to justify the incident, indirectly siding with the rapist by pointing out the victim’s dress style, behavior, personal issues, lifestyle, etc. Is this the behaviour of civilized human beings? In our society, socially powerful rapists are eventually released, and roam freely only to commit more rapes. On the other hand, rape victims are outcasted and ostracized by society. In some cases the victim is unable to cope with the ensuing insults and social harassment and commits suicide, leaving behind family members with no other choice but to helplessly shed tears and long for divine justice. This is because the state often fails in ensuring justice, or the legal procedure is so slow that the victims and their families often lose hope of receiving it. We have witnessed how little Ayesha Moni’s mother was the lone warrior in this fight for justice. Can we really call ourselves civilized in a society where people have to resort to widespread protests every time to seek justice for rape crimes?

I would also like to share my frustration about another aspect; we shy away from calling out on a rape incident if the victim is a boy or a man. Why do we have such a narrow mindset? Rape is always rape, no matter to whom it or where it happens.

We need to remember one thing- when we overlook a crime or justify it in many ways, then we are not safe from that crime. In a society where records are not set straight through exemplary punishments for heinous crimes, it encourages the frequent repetition of these crimes. This is something that is now evident in our society as rape incidents are becoming a regular phenomenon.

If you belong to the powerful section of society, you may assume that you are free from danger. But you need to remember that your power and privileges may not last forever. Today your family might be safe, but do you have any guarantee for the future? So please be aware. When you make your closest ones aware, then they will do the same, and in this way we can spread awareness in our society.

If you raise your voice against an incident of sexual violence/abuse in the street, or in the workplace or an educational institute, you will see that others will also raise their voice. Please teach your children how to differentiate between “good touch” and “bad touch”. Be the safe space for your children so that they can share if something unwanted happens to them.

So let us begin with changing ourselves. Let us put an end to rape and all forms of sexual violence and abuse. We do not want to see more sufferers.

Let us begin now!

Note: Bengali version of this article was published by Sangbad24. Bangladesh team-HPP obtained permission to publish the translated version.

#BeHumaneFirst in a nutshell

Be Humane First in a nutshell!
Recently, The Hague Peace Projects signed a MOU with Be Humane First, a movement contributing towards promoting social cohesion in Bangladesh.

(Info-graphic prepared by Sayem Hossain, a member of the movement).

The Road Ahead

In Bangladesh, Facebook has emerged as one of the important political platforms in cyberspace. Parliamentarians, secularists, and religious extremists – everyone resorts to expressing their ideologies through Facebook. The religious extremists have been quite active and managed to instigate communal violence on several occasions, by preaching hatred, creating fake identities or hacking profiles of individuals and impersonating them.

Given this scenario, Humane First Movement, an undertaking largely based on cyberspace, has emerged as a strategic rebuttal to the growing religious fundamentalism & extremism in Bangladesh. The movement was founded by Ajanta Deb Roy, who is a prominent social media activist on issues of politics, religious fundamentalism, racism and human rights.The movement uses social media to spread the message of harmony and peace, and shares inspiring inter-faith harmony stories of individuals from different walks of life.

We, The Hague Peace Projects, have entered a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the movement last year. The goal of the collaboration is to promote social cohesion in Bangladesh, by highlighting some aspects of the movement which we believe are important for individuals and organizations working on peacebuilding; particularly in the areas of initiating dialogues between communities in conflict.

First and foremost, the movement is based online which is crucial given how Facebook is utilized in Bangladesh and among politically active Bangladeshi diaspora. The intention of the movement lies in promoting humanity above all, and it has been doing so quite well for a couple of years now, despite the challenges the movement continues to face.

Another impressive aspect of the movement lies in uplifting class barriers within the movement. Many a times, class barriers play a major role in political movements and only the privileged individuals from a society are given the opportunity to raise their voices. They are delegated the role of “voice of the community”. However, other individuals with equal amounts of drive and determination may not get a chance to express themselves or be assigned equally important roles. However, as we have been observing this movement closely and have been part of their campaigns on a few occasions, we noticed how the prerequisite for playing leading roles in the campaigns is equal to commitment and determination. The movement comprises of individuals from different walks of life, who may or may not be residing in Bangladesh. This is quite impressive in the context of Bangladesh, where privilege often shapes one’s position within socio-political movements and the way class barriers influence social dynamics.

The movement has a long way to go, but given how they are active and passionate, they have the potential to contribute profoundly towards making Bangladeshi society more inclusive and reducing social fragmentation and religious extremism. However, in order to do that, the movement needs allies – they require support on an international level. At The Hague Peace Projects, we are committed to work with them and provide a platform which enables them to address their concerns and challenges.

Mass reporting by extremists have been used against this movement to silence their voices. And this phenomenon is not unique to this case; mass reporting on social media has become a common way to suppress voices to dissent and is something that needs to be resolved to protect the freedom of speech and to make the process of promoting human rights and peace a little easier. As it is, the task of promoting peace and human rights is full of challenges and pitfalls all over the world.

Despite all the challenges, the movement acts as a harbinger of hope to reduce social fragmentation in Bangladesh. And it is for this reason, they deserve all the support they need from the international community of peace and justice.

To know more about Humane First Movement, you can follow them on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/HumaneFirst/?

You can also look them up using the following hashtags:

#BeHumaneFirst, #StandUnitedAgainstHatred, #KeepReligionOutofPolitics

​The Life and Teachings of Lalon Sai

Madeleine Meyjes:

Lalon Sai was a Bengali poet and singer whose work advocated for interfaith harmony in his work. Lalon’s songs have inspired many and his words can be returned to in order when promoting interfaith harmony. Many of Lalon’s teachings were not written but passed down orally. However, some verses have been preserved and from these, we can see Lalon’s rejection of caste and religious differences.

The details of Lalon’s life are widely known: he was born into a Hindu family around 1775. In his youth, he went on a pilgrimage and, after falling ill with smallpox, he was left to die by his companions (Capwell 1974, 129). However, Lalon was found by a Muslim family and nursed back to health. Lalon could no longer return to his Hindu family due to his time spent with Muslims, therefore, he followed the ‘non-conformist’ ways of the Bauls (Capwell 1974, 129).

The Bauls are a Bengali sect who “reject case and religious dogma” and are celebrated for their songs (Capwell 1974, 124). The oppression of lower castes by upper-caste Hindu and Islamic society encouraged the creation of “nonconformist sects” such as the Bauls. Bauls consider themselves “outsiders” of “organized religion” (Dutta 2019, 2). Lalon’s approach is typical of the Bauls with his criticism of the “caste system’ and forms of inequality perpetuated by the social order ( Dutta 2019, 3).

Lalon is an interesting figure because he is considered an advocate for what is now known as syncretism. One of the first definitions of syncretism given in 1971 by Michael Pye as the temporary ambiguous coexistence of elements from diverse religions and other contexts within a coherent religious pattern (Dutta 2019, 29) Although Lalon did not explicitly advocate for the combination of Hinduism and Islam, he did reject the differences between religions and caste. The best description of Lalon’s approach is the “pursuit of the universality of religions” (Togawa 2008, 28). His focus was on the transcendence of differences and the human experience of the divine rather than the institutions of religion.

One of Lalon’s most famous songs questions and rejects caste and religious identity: “If you circumcise the boy, he becomes Muslim…what’s the rule for women?…. Tell me what does caste look like? I’ve never seen it with the eyes of my brother!”

This text is interesting because Lalon questions the divisions used to separate followers of different religions and notes their arbitrary nature. In his work Lalon appears to apply a practical element to the apparently inherent differences in people in different faiths and castes: he questions the differences that he cannot see and feel between people and questions why there should be divisions between people of different castes and religions. Furthermore, Lalon recognizes that the “multiplicities in religion are created by men for their own interest” (Iseni and Hossain 2017,17)

His expressions of syncretism in his song and the example of his life can serve as inspiration and guidance to communities experiencing interfaith conflict. Lalon lived his life and voiced the teachings of the Baul in a humanistic manner, He adopted the Baul ways in the attempt to “transcend the boundaries of ego, sense of achievement, social hierarchy and unearned privileges” (Dutta 2019, 14). His teachings can be revisited and applied today in order to solve issues of religious discrimination.

In researching Lalon, it becomes evident that his teaching continues to have a universal value. Internationally scholars continue to refer to his work, despite the sparsity of translations, and use his words in their study of the religious history of the region of his birth, syncretism, mysticism, and reconciliation in interfaith conflict.

Bibliography

Capwell, Charles. “The Esoteric Belief of the Bauls of Bengal.” The Journal of Asian Studies (pre-1986)33, no. 2 (1974): 255-264.

Hossain, Amir and Iseni, Arburim.”Mysticism in John Donne and Lalon Shah: Similarities and Differences”. Angloramericanae Journal 2, no. 1. (2017):9-20

Togawa, Masahiko. “Syncretism Revisited: Hindus and Muslims over a Saintly Cult in

Bengal.” Numen55, no. 1 (2008): 27-43

Uttaran Dutta, and Mohan Jyoti Dutta. “Songs of the Bauls: Voices from the Margins as

Transformative Infrastructures.” Religions10, no. 5 (2019): 335.

Image Courtesy: Dhaka Tribune.

About the writer:

Madeleine Meyjes is currently pursuing a BA in International Studies in the Netherlands. Her interests include linguistics, economics, and politics. She is currently volunteering with the Hague Peace Projects and is assisting the Bangladesh workgroup with research.

Bangladesh Workgroup Signs MOU with Humane First Movement

The Bangladesh Workgroup at the Hague Peace Projects has signed a Memorandum of
Understanding with Humane First Movement which is an initiative to promote interfaith harmony in Bangladesh.

The MOU was signed by Jakob De Jonge, Director of the Hague Peace Projects and Ajanta Deb
Roy, the founder of the movement.

As per the MOU, Humane First Movement and Bangladesh Workgroup of the Hague Peace Projects will work together as advocates on social cohesion and work on the issue of fostering social cohesion in Bangladesh and among Bangladeshi diaspora in Europe and work on expanding the movement beyond the context of Bangladesh. 

Humane First Movement, which aims achieving social harmony in Bangladesh, is promoting messages of humanism and social cohesion through social media campaigning and storytelling; sharing messages of harmony and real-life stories of people from all walks of life which emphasizes on the importance of being humane and co-exist respectfully by practicing tolerance.

More information on the movement:
https://www.facebook.com/HumaneFirst/videos/551162451929516/

A Poet of Bangladesh’s Past and Present – a Tribute to Kazi Nazrul Islam on his 120th Birthday

“Of equality I sing: where all barriers and differences between man and man have vanished, where Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians have mingled together.”[i]


Bangladesh’s national poet, Kazi Nazrul Islam (*1899, †1976), sings of equality. He sings of peace. He sings, humbly, of respect and love for humanity, and for his homeland. He sings, hurt, of the divisions he has experienced, the hatred that pervades society. “I have turned mad having seen what I have seen, having heard what I have heard.”[ii] He sings, feisty, of revolt against oppression, and of rebellion against chains of ignorance. Of course, among his four thousand works, not all call out for a common humanity, but it is because of his strife for change that Kazi Nazrul Islam came to be known as the “Rebel Poet”.

 

His poetry is beautiful even when translated. As a non-Bengali native, it is impossible for me to know how unconceivably beautiful his language must be in his own tongue. His writings are flawless; even his earliest prose is so perfect that no effort could have improved it any further. It flows, so I was told, like a fountain, with a rhythm that wraps around the audience like a warm coat, and at the same time rallies every being to stand up for their rights, fuelling their drive to break out of the familiarity of oppression and ignorance. It is said that his language burns with a flame that is unprecedented in Bengali literature. Nazrul became Bangladesh’s national poet because of how uniquely it lets Bangladesh come to life – its nature, its objects, its symbols (both Hindu and Muslim!), its historical heroes (again, both Hindu and Muslim!), its contemporary hurt. Through his influence on new generations of poets, Bengali poetry as an art came closer to life.

 

Kazi Nazrul Islam was known as the “Rebel Poet” not merely because of his fiery language, or because of his desire to liberate Bengal from the British. Nazrul was a rebel because he refused to bow to anyone.[iii] It is true that he was a devout Muslim, and a proud Bengali – what he refused, however, was to be shoved into a categorization that he would have to be loyal to as an end in itself. In a speech delivered in Kolkata’s Albert Hall on December 15, 1929, he said:

 

“Just because I was born in this country and society, I do not consider myself to be solely a subject of this nation and my community. I belong to every country and everyone. The caste, society, country or religion within which I was born was determined by blind luck. It’s only because I managed to rise above these trappings that I could become a poet.”[iv]

 

Though Nazrul was not uncriticized or unopposed in his time, he gave people little reason to hate him. A devout preacher of religious symbols, he applauded religion if used as a language of love, and praised practices of various religions. Instead, it was fanaticism, superstition and ritualistic behaviour he spoke out against:

 

“Do consider the honour of martyrdom
more glorious than slavery,
Consider the sword to be nobler than
the belt of the peon,
Do not pray to God for anything petty;
Bow not your head to anyone except God.”[v]

 

“I am a poet of the present, and not a prophet of the future.”[vi] Nazrul may have claimed that his time may pass, that his writings would become outdated and inapplicable. Considering contemporary incidences of hatred in Bangladesh – riots, violent protests and extra-judicial killings – it is clear Nazrul’s dream has yet to be realized. As the national poet of Bangladesh, his poetry is taught in educational curricula, the national anthem of Bangladesh is a Nazrul song, and his person is celebrated on its own national holiday (today). Why his message has not pervaded society remains a mystery. After all, while Nazrul’s language may be magical and enchanting, his messages are never hidden. The audience need never engage long with his material. Instead, his poetry has been said to “communicate even before [it] is understood.”[vii]

It is true that his memory and dreams carry on in contemporary Bangladesh. In 2012, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister prominently declared:

 

“We want to build a Bangladesh as dreamt by national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam […] breaking the vicious cycle of poverty. We want to build a Bangladesh where every citizen will enjoy equal and basic rights. There will be no difference between the citizens. Women would enjoy their just rights. I urge all to work towards building such a Bangladesh. May Bangladesh Live Forever.”[viii]

 

On this day, his 120th birthday, we celebrate his legacy. Yet merely praising him with words is not enough, instead, our love for Nazrul should extend beyond a dull admiration, and encompass the spirit of rebellion that is so famously attributed to him. Our compassion should rise above the boundaries created by religion, caste, and social status, and should extend to joint humanness. Today, the rebel poet still has a cause to rebel for.

 

 

 

[i] Islam, Kazi Nazrul. Rebel and Other Poems. Sahitya Akademi, 2000, page 37

[ii] Choudhury, Serajul Islam. “The Blazing Comet.” New Age Xtra. June 1, 2006. Accessed May 16, 2019.

[iii] Choudhury, Serajul Islam. “The Blazing Comet.” New Age Xtra. June 1, 2006. Accessed May 16, 2019.

[iv] Kazi, Ankan. “Diminishing a Poet.” The Indian Express, June 14, 2017. Accessed May 16, 2019.

[v] Choudhury, Serajul Islam. “The Blazing Comet.” New Age Xtra. June 1, 2006. Accessed May 16, 2019.

[vi] Choudhury, Serajul Islam. “The Blazing Comet.” New Age Xtra. June 1, 2006. Accessed May 16, 2019.

[vii] Choudhury, Serajul Islam. “The Blazing Comet.” New Age Xtra. June 1, 2006. Accessed May 16, 2019.

[viii] Hasina, Sheikh. “113th Birth Anniversary of Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam and 90th Year of His Poem ‘Rebel’.” Address, India-Bangladesh Joint Celebration, Dhaka, May 25, 2012.

Image source: https://www.calcuttaweb.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=1127

Salute Avijit and Bonya

By: Shucheesmita Simonti.

It was perhaps the 27th or 28th of February when I first saw the news. It was extremely terrifying to hear about an American-Bangladeshi couple who had been brutally attacked at the Ekushey Book Fair by Radical Islamists. The husband, Avijit Roy, did not survive the attack. His wife, Bonya Ahmed, was in a critical condition. Their crime was simply that they were critical thinkers: they were atheists who advocated for freedom of expression and promoted scientific thinking. Avijit Roy was a well-known writer, blogger, and activist who founded Mukto-mona, an online platform for freethinkers. Bonya Ahmed is a humanist activist, blogger and author who continues to work towards their shared goals.

Avijit Roy and Rafida Bonya (courtesy: photos collected)

Thinking back to 2015, I recall many expressed their outrage on social media over this incident, people gathered to mourn. But it was not enough, the outrage was not as widespread as it should have been. In Bangladesh, many are afraid to express their opinions freely, especially on social media. After all, expressing one’s opinion has turned out to be one of the riskiest acts in Bangladesh, in fact it can cost you your life. And when it comes to issues such as atheism and LGTBQ rights, many are even afraid to express solidarity even if they empathize.

I will not propose any theories here or discuss legal conventions, but just put forward a very basic argument. Nobody deserves to lose their lives for being atheists, or otherwise. This is our basic human right- the right to live!

But it seems when it comes to the right to live, bloggers/minorities/secularists/atheists are at a high risk of losing their lives. I felt the year 2015 was one of the most terrifying ones I’ve lived through, as there were several bloggers and publishers who were attacked in 2015. The attacks kept happening- one after another bloggers were targeted and killed.

Many other bloggers were threatened and feared for their lives and fled abroad- perhaps never to return to the country that was once their own. Some of them left alone, and some managed to take their spouse and/or children. They left in a hurry and continue to struggle. It is not easy when you are forced to leave your country because your choices deprive you of your right to exist in the country that you were born in, grew up in, lived in for a long time if not your whole life!

If you don’t leave, you cannot live.
With regard to Avijit Roy, I can only say that the attackers may have succeeded in killing him, but the light of critical thinking that he tried to ignite still lives on. He may have lost his life, but his work will continue to inspire youths who want to think critically.

“Please understand our world in its rich and messy complexity; hold your politicians responsible; inform yourself, question, and deepen your understanding; and support the journalists and the people who are putting their lives on the line by helping us to make sense of this complex world—it matters. Avijit Roy was silenced, but I have a voice. Why me—Why not me—Why not you?”- Bonya Ahmed’s TedX Talk.
I would also like to express my thoughts on Bonya Ahmed, who continues to work tirelessly to achieve their shared dreams.

Rafida Bonya Ahmed giving a TEDx talk.

I listened to her TedX talk, and I have been fortunate enough to meet her in person. She is extremely brave and inspiring. The courage and motivation that she exhibits in continuing to work for causes she is passionate about, is an inspiration for not only other Bangladeshis, but activists who have been punished by the state, or attacked by the opposition, or forced to flee their homeland for expressing their thoughts. She is a living example many of us can draw strength from.

Salute Avijit and Bonya.

 

 

 


*The opinions expressed here are solely that of the writer.

Get in touch with the writer!  | E-mail : s.simonti@thehaguepeace.org

The Ekushey Book Fair :A Vehicle of Harsh Censorship

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.