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An attack on our culture

  • Published at 12:01 am December 22nd, 2016
  • Last updated at 12:14 pm December 22nd, 2016
An attack on our culture

Aday free from the physical presence of any known war criminal in the country was probably the central theme of this year’s Victory Day celebration, and it was indeed something to celebrate. This year’s extraordinary celebration saw thousands of patriots from all corners of life marching in colourful rallies, healing the wounds of the recent communal atrocities.

But while we were celebrating, a serious act of discrimination was committed against the Baul community in Netrokona district as a sanction was imposed by the state officials on a regular Baul assembly, apparently due to threats of violence made by a local Islamist group.

The great irony is that this heinous attack on Bengali culture took place on the very day the nation was paying homage to the martyred intellectuals for their ultimate sacrifice, and disappointingly, for some mysterious reason, this news story was excluded from mainstream media.

If the BBC report is to be believed -- and I see no reason why not to -- pummelled by the Islamists, Bangladesh yet again complied with a demand which by all means was illegal and criminal, when they should have had brought the members of the militant group to justice for threatening peaceful Baul citizens with violence.

One of the most spurious arguments made in defense of this act of dismay was that it was necessary for peace but, allow me to call a spade a spade, even though it might ruin the party for some officials. In terms of justice, it was a crime against humanity, an inhumane example of overriding the rights of the few by the many.

And if the Bangladesh government cares about the constitution and its international reputation as a party of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, those officers must be held accountable, along with leaders of the Islamist group.

In line with the view of Article 18 of the ICCPR and the UDHR, Section 41 of the constitution of Bangladesh stipulates that every citizen has the right to profess, practice, or propagate any religion; and every religious community or denomination has the right to establish, maintain, and manage its religious institutions.

That is not all: This sanction has also clearly violated section 37 of the constitution, if not Section 38 Article 20 of the UDHR, and Article 21 of the ICCPR.

Honestly, it is beyond my comprehension how someone can have issues with such exceptional people who sing for humanity. Well, except from the agents of Wahhabism and Salafism who already have established a cruel reputation for their heinous attacks on culture all over the world and in Bangladesh, who else?

The Bauls are becoming the victims of their evil perception of the world.

This mystical philosophy is the centrepiece of Bengali cultural heritage, and for that, Bangladesh has an intellectual property right over it, which Bangladesh claims by publishing stamps, formation of a Lalon research institute, and sponsoring Lalon fairs -- but still, threats by the Islamists remain an everyday part of life for Bauls.

Bangladesh has seen the destruction of Baul sculptures in the capital, just like the destruction of the Buddha sculpture of Bamiyan, or the destruction of ancient monuments of Palmyra.

We see Islamists threatening Bauls in public gatherings, and even worse, the torture of Baul followers were reported in the district of Kushtia at the centre of Baul culture.

But unfortunately, despite having adequate legal provisions, justice is something we are yet to see. It implies that the problem doesn’t lie with inadequate law, but rather with enforcement.

The government is playing into the hands of the Islamists, and this is alarming. As we do not wish to become a failed nation like Afghanistan or Pakistan, this is high time for the government to respond with drastic action

The Bangladeshi state, as it seems, has really become too selective about the types of crimes and criminals it punishes.

When it involves the Islamist leaders, we somehow have managed to forget the universally accepted doctrine of command responsibility, which is that a commander or a civil superior who has effective control over the individuals who committed the crime should, in certain circumstances, be responsible for those crimes.

The Bangladeshi establishment needs to understand, quoting Mark Ellis, Chief Executive of the International Bar Association, that destruction of cultural heritage is not a second-rate crime. It is a part of an atrocity to erase people.

Whether accepted or not, the government is playing into the hands of the Islamists, and this is alarming. As we do not wish to become a failed nation like Afghanistan or Pakistan, this is high time for the government to respond with drastic action. Bangladesh cannot be held hostage on the pretence of peace.

I’m equally disappointed at the Bangladeshi cultural community. Just like the mainstream media, they also maintained something close to radio silence about this matter. Many have posted jolly images of the Victory Day celebration, which is appreciable -- but no words about this atrocity.

The mystical creations of Sufis like Lalon Sai, Hason Raza, or Shah Abdul Karim are our best offerings to global culture. In the form of Baul philosophy, these Sufis have created a stunning masterpiece of humanity. This philosophy is an illustration of Bangladesh at her best, and deserves to be protected as a cultural heritage of utmost importance.

This culture of impunity towards the Islamist leaders needs an immediate end.

Nur E Emroz Alam Tonoy is a blogger and an online activist.

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