We must protect Baul singers
With its many ethnic groups, distinct cultures and dialects, as well as its hybridisation of different social traits and norms, Bangladesh is as diverse as it gets. It contains multitudes that have served it faithfully through the centuries. It is, therefore, disheartening to see how that diversity is being threatened through continuous assaults on Bauls in the country. As per a recent report by this daily, these people known for their distinctive music and way of life are living under threat of attacks and humiliation as their tormentors continue to enjoy impunity.
In western Bangladesh alone, there have been at least five attacks on Baul akhras (dens) in the last seven years. And not a single attacker has been brought to book as of now. Even this past Friday, there was an attack on a cultural event featuring Baul songs in Sirajganj. At least nine artistes were reportedly assaulted by religious zealots apparently enraged by the loud music, while musical instruments, chairs and other valuables were also vandalised. Organisers of the event said that this kind of incident had never happened before, even though they had been holding such programmes in Sirajganj for long.
What this shows is how unpredictable and spontaneous such attacks can be, and the culture of impunity that shields those behind the attacks. Even when a case is filed following an attack, it seldom leads to trial, let alone a conviction of the perpetrators. For example, on November 5, a group of attackers allegedly led by an imam of a local mosque attacked a Baul akhra in Laubaria, Kushtia. The following day, a case was filed with the Daulatpur police station, accusing 19 people. Of them, 18 were granted bail after they surrendered to the court.
In the absence of justice, victims often have to settle outside of the court with their attackers, or simply cease any legal pursuit to protect themselves. This has only emboldened the former. Besides attacks on akhras, assaults on Baul festivals have also become quite common in recent years. Even ordinary Baul enthusiasts have not been spared. One may recall that two teachers of Rajshahi University were allegedly murdered by extremists in 2014 and 2016. A physician was also attacked in Kushtia in 2014. In the age of the Digital Security Act, enemies of diversity have also been quite proactive in launching legal assaults on Baul singers and performers.
It must be reiterated that any attack on Baul events and akhras is an attack on the diversity of Bangladesh which it so proudly presents to the world. It's an attack on the Bauls' fundamental human rights which the constitution guarantees. Therefore, we urge the authorities to take stern action against the attackers. Baul music promotes harmony, tolerance and pluralism – a genre inspired by syncretic Islam. We should be proud of it, not allow it to be desecrated by fundamentalists.