Following uncertainty throughout the day, the program took place at Midas Centre in Dhanmondi
After daylong uncertainty, the organizers of Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography finally held an event that was attended by Man Booker Prize-winning Indian novelist Arundhati Roy at the Midas Centre in Dhaka’s Dhanmondi.
“Utmost Everything,” the author’s conversation with eminent photographer Shahidul Alam, was scheduled to be held in Krishibid Institute Auditorium at Farmgate on Tuesday afternoon.
However, in a post on Facebook at 2:36am, Chobi Mela said cancelled the event, saying Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) withdrew their permission given to organize the program over “unavoidable circumstances.”
DMP’s Tejgaon Division Deputy Commissioner Biplob Kumar Sarkar could not be reached over the phone for comment on the issue.
In another update posted around 12:32pm, the organizers said the event would be held on the 12th floor of Midas Centre at 6pm, and Arundhati Roy will speak at the discussion with the literature lovers.
Later in the afternoon, authorities at the Midas Centre reportedly cancelled the booking too, citing “unavoidable circumstances” and requesting the organizers to secure permission from “the Dhaka metropolitan authority” for the event.
After several hours of confusion, it was confirmed that the event will indeed take place at the convention centre there and the people waiting eagerly outside the venue were allowed to enter.
At the beginning of the discussion, hosted by Shahidul Alam, Roy exchanged greetings with the audience.
Responding to a query from Shahidul, she said she was here “because of you and because of all of you.
“I see a whole generation of young people raised in your Pathshala.”
Moving on with the conversation, the novelist read passages from her first fiction “The God of Small Things” and her first political essay “The End of Imagination.”
She also shared how she walked away from fame after winning the Man Booker Prize and became involved in political protests instead.
Chobi Mela, the first festival of photography in Asia, is one of the ventures initiated by Drik Picture Library Ltd and Pathshala South Asian Media Institute.
Both Drik and Pathshala were founded by internationally acclaimed photographer Shahidul, who was arrested by police in August last year in a ICT Act case for spreading “propaganda through social media” during a student movement demanding safer roads.
He was released on bail four months later.
Meanwhile, a number of civil society members issued a statement later on Tuesday evening, condemning the “cowardly and unjustifiable withdrawal of permission” that was earlier granted to organize the event with author and social justice activist Arundhati Roy at Krishibid Institution.
The signatories said they “believe that this undemocratic and arbitrary decision of withdrawal is a clear example of the shrinking space for freedom of speech, a key constitutional commitment and core value of the spirit of Liberation War of Bangladesh.”
“We are disturbed as the withdrawal of the permission by the police in the historically important month of independence of Bangladesh without giving any particular reason and on a flimsy pretext of ‘unavoidable circumstances’ is absolutely unacceptable.
“It demonstrates a gross abuse of power and cowardly intolerance of free speech,” they said.
The civil society members added that they were surprised that those who took this decision failed to realize that it also badly tarnished the government’s image before the eyes of the international community.
The signatories included M Hafizuddin Khan, Sultana Kamal, Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury, Dr Badiul Alam Mazumder, Dr Iftekharuzzaman, Dr Shahdeen Malik, Prof Anu Muhammad, Afsan Chowdhury, Robaet Ferdous, Dr Chowdhury R Abrar, Shireen Huq, Meghna Guhathakurta, Dr Asif Nazrul, Sara Hossain, Dr Shapan Adnan, Zakir Hossain, Adilur Rahman Khan, Shamsul Huda, Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Dr Shahnaz Huda, Md Nur Khan, Sanjeeb Drong, Ilira Dewan, Jyotirmoy Barua, Omar Tareq Chowdhury, Rezaur Rahman Lenin, Manzoor Hasan OBE, Prof Firdous Azim, Bashirul Haq, Masud Khan, Muktasree Chakma Sathi, and Anusheh Anadil.