A Dhaka court today issued an arrest against Baul singer Rita Dewan, allegedly for "hurting religious sentiments".
Dhaka Cyber Tribunal Judge Mohammad Ash Sams Joglul Hossain issued the order, Shamim Al Mamun, bench assistant of the tribunal, confirmed to The Daily Star.
Two others named Shahjahan and Md Iqbal Hossain who had distributed Rita's songs via their YouTube channels were also ordered to be arrested.
Rita Dewan was sued on February 2 by a lawyer named Advocate Imrul Hasan, who filed the case with the cyber tribunal in Dhaka. On February 3, another case was filed against her by short-film maker 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 this issue hurt the religious sentiment of the audience," said the PBI Inspector Sheikh Md Mizanur Rahman.
Everything should be practiced within limits, he opined.
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 sentiment or values, then such activity will be considered an offence."
"The complainant 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 the court, 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.
He said that "pala gaan" has a rich history of critically questioning everything, and having philosophical discussions about religion.
Following the filing of the case, Rita also released a video apologising for hurting religious sentiments and explaining her standpoint.