A Dhaka court yesterday issued an arrest warrant for Baul singer Rita Dewan for "hurting religious sentiments".
Dhaka Cyber Tribunal Judge Mohammad Ash Sams Joglul Hossain issued the order, Shamim Al Mamun, bench assistant of the tribunal, told The Daily Star.
Two others, Shahjahan and Md Iqbal Hossain, who had uploaded Rita's songs to their YouTube channels, were also ordered to be arrested.
Rita Dewan was sued on February 2 by a lawyer named Advocate Imrul Hasan. The case was filed with the cyber tribunal in Dhaka. On February 3, another case was filed against her by short filmmaker Rasel Mia with the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Court in Dhaka.
The arrest warrant was issued by the court after Police Bureau of Investigation filed a report on October 29, 2020 with the court detailing the "crime".
The report details that Dewan was doing a "Pala Gaan" session with fellow artiste Shah Alam Sarkar, where the topic being debated was "Living Beings versus The Greatest".
The event was held on February 1, 2020 at a private residence in Kalihati upazila in Tangail.
Pala Gaan is a form of folk music where an extempore musical battle takes place between two bauls.
"Upon investigating videos of Rita's songs, we have found evidence of the crime. The words she chose to debate the issue hurt the religious sentiments of the audience," said PBI Inspector Sheikh Md Mizanur Rahman, adding that she had committed a crime under section 28 of the Digital Security Act.
Section 28 (1) of the Digital Security Act states that "if any person or group intentionally or knowingly with the aim of hurting religious sentiments or values or with the intention to provoke, publish or broadcast anything by means of any website or any electronic format which hurts religious sentiments or values, then such activity will be considered an offence".
"The complainant [Advocate Imrul Hasan] was at home when he came across the video, and was extremely angry and hurt," says the report, "And upon finding no way out, the complainant went to Kadamtali Police Station to file the case."
Dewan's lawyer Abdullah Al Noman slammed the issuance of the warrant. "The court could have summoned her to appear in front of it, she is not escaping anywhere," he said.
Novelist Swakrito Noman, known for authoring fiction and non-fiction books on cultural history, and who has been vocal about the prosecution of Dewan and other artists on social media, criticised the move to arrest the baul singer.
Noman, who authored "Chhotoder Purbobongo Geetikar Golpo", said, "Pala gaan takes an issue and debates the negatives and positive sides of the matter. It does not mean they believe in what they are saying -- they are only performing. At the end of the musical performance both actors come to an agreement. Rita's words cannot be taken out of context," he said.
"Pala gaan" has a rich history of critically questioning everything and having philosophical discussions about religion, Noman said.
Several historians and artistes were contacted for comment on the issue, but they declined to say anything due to fear of reprisal.
Following the filing of the case, Rita released a video apologising for hurting religious sentiments and explaining her standpoint.