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Section 57, DSA, and the spirit of 1971

  • Published at 04:54 pm January 31st, 2018
  • Last updated at 06:22 pm January 31st, 2018
Section 57, DSA, and the spirit of 1971
We the people are recipients of news that we do not quite know what to make of. Suffice it to say that it certainly does not make us happy. Then again, it all depends on how you take it, or how you look at it. The larger reality is that as citizens, as men and women who believe in the high principles of democracy, in the beautiful idea that is liberalism, indeed in the ethos of Bangladesh as we experienced it through our sustained War of Liberation nearly half a century ago, we are worried. And we are worried for all the right reasons. The putatively good news is that Section 57 of the ICT Act will soon be a thing of the past. The patently bad news is that it will be supplanted by an even more draconian measure in the form of the Digital Security Act. Indeed, a good number of the provisions contained in Section 57 will be incorporated in the DSA. Add to that the comment by the inspector general of police that even when Section 57 goes, cases initiated against individuals under it will remain. Must they? Should they? Does no one in the corridors of power see the contradiction here? It is all a story of the government giving with one hand and taking away with the other. One wonders why, if the goal of the government, and society at large, is the creation of a liberal democratic society in Bangladesh, such laws as Section 57 and the Digital Security Act are necessary. One does not ignore the fact, though, that there are always reasons for the state to keep watch on those areas and people that might pose a threat to national security. That is a point one does not have any dispute with.
A good number of the provisions contained in Section 57 will be incorporated in the DSA. Even when Section 57 goes, cases initiated against individuals under it will remain
But what makes all these developments -- from the withdrawal of Section 57 to the imminent arrival of the DSA -- a reason for grave worry is that they will prove fertile ground for those who might be tempted to put people and opinions they are uncomfortable with into unnecessary trouble. In a society where the concept of justice has traditionally remained trapped in a straitjacket, there is no dearth of people to put other, well-meaning people into grave difficulties through a misapplication of the law. And of course, there is the bigger issue of how the DSA will impact journalism and all other writings that aim at an undertaking of research into Bangladesh’s history. Certain aspects of the DSA, insofar as they relate to interpretations of established historical facts, may come in the way of students of history, as well as writers and historians taking it upon themselves to delve into the various facts of the national political narrative pertaining to occurrences in the past. Where is the guarantee that some individual or individuals, taking offence at what, for them, might constitute anti-state activities, will not come forth to intimidate researchers, academics, writers, columnists, and commentators with the easily available weapon that is the DSA?  There are the non-bailable provisions of the upcoming DSA, which provisions promise to be a huge disincentive to historical analyses of issues related to the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent nation. Moreover, there is the legitimate question of how the law will affect the writing of historical fiction, a genre where writers feel free to suit their imagination to events as they have happened through the process of history. Journalists and people in other professional areas have viewed the move relating to Section 57 and the DSA with worry and justified alarm. The government would do well to rethink the entire issue.  Given the disturbing history of the many dark laws we have gone through, both in the pre-1971 era and following the emergence of Bangladesh, we can inform ourselves that we are not any more in requirement of laws that go against the spirit of democracy and that may have long-term negative ramifications for the nation. The spirit of 1971 was an opening of doors and windows for all of us in this country. Must those doors and windows now be drawn shut? And the spirit forged through the crucible of war go fugitive? Syed Badrul Ahsan is a journalist.