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Bangla Academy must not be Big Brother

Published : Friday, 30 December, 2016 at 8:14 PM  Count : 397

It is bad policy clamping down on culture. We in this country recall the folly committed by the Ayub Khan regime in the 1960s when it decided to impose a ban on Rabindrasangeet in the country. That was of course in colonial times. But today, when we are expected to do nothing about the decision by Bangla Academy not to allow Shrabon Prokashoni any space at the Ekushey book fair for the next two years, we simply have to inform the authorities of the academy that we do not have to go along with their move. The reason ought to be obvious: by decreeing that Shrabon Prokashoni should not be permitted to have a stall at the Bangla Academy premises at the Ekushey book fair, the academy has aimed an arrow at Bangladesh's liberal cultural tradition. It has embarrassed itself. It has caused outrage in all of us.
And what is the nature of our cultural tradition? The answer is that books and music and all things aesthetic are linked intricately with our political history, which again is testimony to our openness as a society. Shrabon Prokashoni, led by the very progressive Robin Ahsan, has against such a liberal background of history, been arguing that the owner of Bwa-dip Prokashoni, who has been languishing in prison over the publicity and sale of a book purportedly hurting religious sentiments, be freed. The demand is perfectly valid, given that it is an image of intolerance when an individual is imprisoned over a book. If there are serious charges, they should be investigated. But to have someone simply cast into prison and with no one in authority thinking of taking corrective measures, it reflects badly on the state of politics and society.
Shrabon Prokashoni, it has been alleged, was conspiring to publicise the work for which Bwa-dip is in trouble. Robin Ahsan has denied there has been any such plan on his part. That leads to a simple conclusion --- it has been his loud defence of literary freedom that has now led to the Bangla Academy decision. That is an unhealthy thing to happen. And judging by the vocal protests which have erupted in light of the Bangla Academy move, it is very clear how disturbed citizens have become over the whole sordid affair. That calls for an explanation from the Bangla Academy. On what grounds did it go into action against Shrabon? Was the action it took a result of compulsion? If people outside the academy forced it to go for such regressive action, they should be named. Again, assuming Bangla Academy was forced to move against Shrabon Prokashoni, one can raise the very legitimate question of why it had to succumb to such pressure.

We urge Bangla Academy to withdraw its decision in the interest of literary and cultural freedom in Bangladesh. Our fear is that if today it is Shrabon Prokashoni which has earned the wrath of the so-called guardians of our culture, tomorrow it will be others. Culture has no place for totalitarian mindsets. And this is a country where Big Brother must have no place.

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