In Bangladesh, Islamic artists are subject to oppression too

moshiur rahman

By Talukder Shaheb

A Dhaka court on the 5th of June granted 1 day remand against a police prayer for 10 days for Moshiur Rahman, well known nasheed singer. Naya Diganta reported that remand had been sought for a vandalism case filed at Ramna police station. The court also heard prayers of remand for four other cases filed at Paltan and Motijheel and granted ex-Shibir President Fakhruddin Manik and 2 others 12 days in remand.

The lawyers of the defendants argued that there was no specific complaint against Moshiur and the other arrestees. The only reason for their arrest and subsequent arrest and toprture was the fact that they were connected to Islami Chatra Shibir. Confinement to custody by piling upon them case upon case was nothing more than an attempt to politically harass the accused.

Not a first

The arrest of Moshiur Rahman is not a first. State sponsored oppression against Islamic artists, poets and writers in Bangladesh is nothing new. Just a few days ago on the 25thof May, the birth anniversary of the great poet Kazi Nazrul Islam, police arrested well known poet Asad bin Hafez at Moghbazar as he was preparing to attend office at his institution, Preeti Publications. Police cited his involvement with Jamaat-e-Islami as the reason for his arrest and he was shown arrested in several old police cases.

Poet Asad bin Hafez who was also recently arrested as a political prisoner.

Poet Asad bin Hafez who was also recently arrested as a political prisoner.

Scenario on ground

Bangla Islamic nasheed singers, poets and writers cater to a good percentage of the population in Bangladesh. Hamds and naats are an essential part of any mahfil or public congregation. A prominent section belong to organized Islamic nasheed artist communities that can be found all over Bangladesh and have a strong local presence. Communities such as Saimum and Shondipon are well known and widely respected for their nasheeds, hamds, naats, songs, poems and plays. Homegrown communities such as Prottoy Shilpi Gosthi in Rajshahi and Panjeri Shilpi Gosthi in Chittagong have made indelible marks in their respective areas. The state however, has had the tendency to associate these communities with political organizations such as Jamaat and student organizations such as Shibir and other Islamic student organizations. The result has been that many artists have been subjected to varying degrees of state oppression.

The continuing oppression

Visit the jails and you will always find an Islamic artist or two languishing in there without any reason whatsoever other than alleged political associations. The case of Moshiur Rahman is a bit different because of his popularity. It is notable that he was arrestedback in 2012 too. The writer has had acquaintance with many Shondipon and Saimum artists who were arrested multiple times and faced jail for making songs that spoke against state oppression. Many artists have gone into hiding so as to escape the oppression. A glimpse of the overall climate of intolerance can be seen in an incident a few days ago where police and Awami League (ruling party) activists vandalized the premises of an Islamic nasheed event organized in remembrance of events of 21stFebruary. In the face of threats and intimidation, organizers were forced to close down the event at Jatrabari in the capital.

Severely clamping down on dissenting voices is what this government has been all about, and they have not let Islamic artists get out of that all pervasive noose. The legacy of esteemed poet Matiur Rahman Mollik, who has arguably been the biggest driving force of an Islamic Renaissance in terms of literature in this part of the subcontinent, lives on through these artists and close knit communities. Let us pray that better days come in the near future. Let us pray for a better Bangladesh free from the yoke of indecent foreign cultural influence.