Cultural Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Noor inaugurated the event on Thursday morning
The eighth edition of Dhaka Literary Festival opened with a call for review of controversial laws that impinge on freedom of speech.
Amid much enthusiasm and fanfare, the three-day festival was inaugurated by Cultural Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Noor at the Abdul Karim Sahitya Bisharad Auditorium of Bangla Academy yesterday.
DLF Directors Sadaf Saaz, K Anis Ahmed and Ahsan Akbar, Pulitzer-winning author Adam Johnson and actor-director Nandita Das were also present on the stage.
In his speech, K Anis Ahmed expressed his gratitude to the government for its continued support to organise the DLF. Praising the cultural affairs minister for his contribution to creating free spaces through many cultural and literary programs, he said the DLF would not have come where it was today without such support.
However, referring to some recent laws that contradict the basic tenets of the country’s constitution, he said, “It saddens me to admit that Bangladesh has slipped a bit in recent years in rankings of Freedom House. This is in part due to draconian laws, old ones and newly passed, and their applications.”
“DLF has always believed in the importance of free speech and free thinking. For us free speech has been one of three constant things each year—women’s issues, minority and refugee rights, and free speech,” said Ahmed, also publisher of Dhaka Tribune and Bangla Tribune.
“On behalf of DLF and on behalf of the writing community of Bangladesh, through the offices of the cultural affairs minister, I would like to appeal to the government to kindly review and revise relevant laws to promote freedom of speech because we have seen revision of amendment of laws before,” he added.
In his inaugural speech, the cultural affairs minister said, “Bangabandhu believed in creativity and knowledge, and we hope to see his beliefs being implemented in the country’s cultural sphere."
Creating a safe space and imparting literary, artistic, and scientific knowledge has been immensely supported also by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina—who has always provided support for the arts and the sciences, the minister said.
"I hope the DLF will continue to contribute to engaging the young generations, and cause them to immerse in cultural practices," he said.
DLF Director Sadaf Saaz said the festival started in 2011 to have a platform to showcase the best of Bangladeshi literature and culture to the world, and bring the best of the world to Bangladesh.
"Indeed, over the past eight years, we have had 325 international speakers from nearly 50 countries. Dhaka Lit Fest has evolved from a small gathering of 600 to an event of thousands who come to listen and take part in the varied conversations and debates—on everything from poetry to current affairs, and fiction to philosophy," she said.
Highlighting women’s rights issues, Sadaf said: “Misogyny seems to be emerging in ugly and vicious ways, in step with a tendency for extremism, polarization and intolerance that we are witnessing around the world. At Dhaka Lit Fest this year, we give credence to women’s stories and voices in all spheres. A nascent #metoo conversation is starting in Bangladesh, and the aftermath of #metoo in literature will be discussed with an international panel of writers, publishers and editors.”
Extending special thanks to attendees, Ahsan Akbar briefly spoke about DLF’s growing associations with more and more international literary magazines and platforms. Granta, he mentioned, is giving the DLF attendees free digital access to their archives for three months, which happens to be one of the richest literary archives in the whole world.
He also highlighted the literary awards being hosted by the DLF. “The DLF this year will host two awards, the Cambridge Short Story Prize and the Gemcon literary Awards,” he said.
“As part of our initial mission, which is basically to take Bangladesh to the rest of the world, we started the initiative called the Library of Bangladesh to translate into English the best of Bangladesh’s modern prose and distribute them around the world,” he added.
Award-winning actor-director Nandita Das made a plea for freeing eminent photographer Shahidul Alam who is currently incarcerated.
She said: “It is a very inspirational moment here to talk about free speech being an artist, a woman … I think it would be appropriate to say that our fellow artist Shahidul Alam should have been here today.”
“This is the time we all need to come together for freedom and artistic expression, and tell the authorities that he is an artist who has inspired not only Bangladeshis but also many artists from around the world,” added Nandita.